Interruption

black ipad on brown book
Image from Unsplash, taken by Charl Folscher

Paul nearly dropped the diary he was holding when he heard the knock on the door. He placed the diary carefully on the desk and then locked the Paper Room securely before answering the door, opening just after the second impatient knock. “Hello?”

The man at the door was not as tall as Paul, and certainly not as muscled. Paul was not bulky, but he worked out. The man at the door was skinny, with a thin, pointed faced under the black-dyed hair. “Hi, I’m Theo McGuire. I think I may be a neighbour.” He grinned and waved his hands at the open fields around, sharing the humour. “I have the white painted cottage a couple of miles down the road. I was passing and I saw your car and thought I would introduce myself.” He waited expectantly for Paul to invite him in.

Paul didn’t move but smiled blandly. “Passing?” He looked over Theo’s shoulder at the empty fields around. “There are a lot of walks around here. I’m still finding my way. I walked to the farm shop this morning for milk and it felt like an expedition.”

“I love a good walk, with a nice cuppa,” Theo leaned forward, the hint unmistakable. “I swear I’ve got fitter in just the last few weeks. But you’ve been here only a day or two?”

“I work out a lot anyway,” Paul said, still unmoving. “But it’s a pleasant change from the gym.”

Theo stepped back, frustrated, and looked over the front of the cottage. “This looks ancient. How old do you think it is? I wonder what stories it could tell. It’s an out of the way place, I’m sure that there’s dark deeds that happened here.”

“I’m sure that there has been stuff happening,” Paul said, thinking of the crazy stuff in the diaries. “Just by the law of averages. I mean, dark things happen in modern bungalows and bus stations.”

“But this is so out of the way,” Theo persisted. “You don’t need to be quiet in case the neighbours hear. Anything at all could go on. And there are stories in the villages around here of really dark stuff.” He leaned in a little closer. “According to some old books, there are monsters on these moors. They talk about werewolves and the undead.”

Paul thought again of the papers in the Paper Room. Werewolves were the least of it. “No-one believes in that sort of thing these days,” he said. “But it’s an interesting superstition.”

“Perhaps we could have a chat,” Theo suggested. “I’ve done a lot of research. You’d be surprised at how much stuff is out there.”

“Are you trying to make me nervous about staying here?” Pauls said calmly. “I’d love to talk, but I’m working. Perhaps we can catch up later.”

“When?” Theo asked.

Paul looked vague. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment. But I call in at the Crown sometimes, and I’ve heard that you’re often there. Perhaps we can meet up there at some point.”

Irritation sparked in Theo’s eyes, but he kept his smile fixed in place. “Well, I’ll see you then.” He paused, then waved a jaunty hand before setting off down the drive to the lane.

Paul watched him for a few moments before shutting the door and meticulously locking it. Then he headed into the kitchen for a large cup of tea. He waved briskly at Theo who was passing the back of the garden and wondered if Richard would mind if he put up some one way film on the windows. He felt under scrutiny. Then, after watching Theo move out of sight and checking that all the doors were locked, he took his cup of tea back into the Paper Room, locking the door behind him.

He sat at the desk but didn’t immediately start back on the list he was making. Instead he sipped his tea and looked through his memories. They were dark, and coming here hadn’t helped. Vampires and werewolves weren’t the half of it. The diaries and notebooks were full of stuff about them as well as boggarts, wights, brownies, goblins and gabble ratchets. He’d had to look those up. Richard had thought it was fiction, or even mental illness. He’d waved aside the subject when he had come to discuss the delivery of the filing cabinets. He thought the notes were those of an enthusiastic folklorist, like Sabine Baring-Gould. Everyone knew that there were no such things as werewolves and vampires.

Except Paul knew better. He had been nine when it had happened. The counsellors that the foster carers had brought in had explained that the huge hairy monster that had killed his parents was just his mind making sense of a terrible tragedy. The man who had killed his parents wasn’t a monster. He had been poorly inside and had been shot by police in a standoff later. Paul had been frustrated when his frantic accounts were dismissed, and his outbursts had him thrown out of a few foster homes before he made a decision. He had been just thirteen, traumatised, skinny and unloved. No-one believed him when he talked about the monster. Plenty avoided him. So he set out to change his life.

He had stopped talking about monsters, because everyone knew that they didn’t exist. He had watched his diet, exercised and studied. It hadn’t always been easy. Not all foster homes were good and food could be scarce. He had had to take what he could get. But he had grown strong and capable. His ability to train with the various martial classes had also varied with the foster placement, but he had kept his priorities straight and now that he was an adult he made the most of all opportunities.

He’d gone beyond just physical training, though. He’d trained his mind. He had meditated, studied and pushed himself beyond his own imagination. He learned magic. He had started on the books that filled up old libraries and second-hand shops but had worked beyond that. Now he had reached the place where people asked him to get rid of spirits and curses.

When he had started going through the papers, he had been tempted to go off and get drunk for a week. Paul smiled a little wryly and took another mouthful of tea. Habits of self-control were too ingrained now. Besides, after the first shock, he felt the calmest that he had for years. These were an affirmation. They were proof that the monster that he remembered from all those years ago was real.

The question remained, what was he going to do with this information? Would Richard accept that there was a possibility that there was truth in these papers? Was it responsible to allow some of these papers into the public domain? Paul had met too many people like Theo with too much imagination and too little discipline. There were descriptions in these books that allowed those with insider knowledge to recreate spells. Perhaps the most responsible thing would be to pile them in the garden, douse them in paraffin and burn them to ashes.

Paul looked around him. He couldn’t do that. These records were the story of men and women who had fought against the dark. Sometimes they lost. Sometimes they won at dreadful cost. But these were stories of people who hadn’t given up. He wasn’t giving up on them. And it wasn’t just people. Threaded through were references to allies who were werewolves, brownies, vampires and boggarts. They deserved respect and to have at least this small corner where their struggle was remembered.

Paul picked up his pen and checked his place. He had been digging through a notebook to find dates when he was interrupted. He needed to keep going. He couldn’t let these long-forgotten people down.

As you can tell, this is part of a story. The previous parts are, first to last, Words, The Interview, and Where Do You Start. I hope that you can enjoy them, and I would love to hear what you think.

Where Do You Start?

Paul pulled up in front of the stone cottage with a sigh of relief. He was a city lad, born and bred, and the country roads had been a challenge. The drive with all the narrow lanes, blind corners and dry stone walls inches away from the car had been harrowing. He got out and stretched. The roads may be a nightmare, but there were compensations. The air was fresh and the only sounds he could hear were birds and sheep, apart from the thumping coming from the cottage window. He knocked politely on the door. “Hello, is that Mike?” he called.

There was a patter of feet and the door flew open. A small brunette, flushed and out of breath, smiled at him. “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Carol.”

“Of course I remember you,” Paul said. “We met at Richard’s house, during the interview.”

Carole grinned. “It’s good to see you. Come on in. I’ll give you a quick look around. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“I’d love one,” Paul said, relaxing a little. “The drive here was terrifying.”

Carol laughed as she led Paul inside. “You’ll get used to it. Okay, this is the hall…”

Carol showed Paul around the deceptively large cottage. “I was in the middle of giving it a good clean when you knocked. Richard has suggested that I come down here once a week to give it a turn out, depending on how you feel.” She looked around the plain, plastered walls. “It could do with it. The place has been neglected for years. Anyway, once you have had a fire going for a while, it will warm up.” She led him out of the back door. “Firewood is there.” She waved an arm at a well stocked store. “And you can get propane in Hebden Bridge. That’s probably the best place to call in for food, or Halifax, or even Burnley. There isn’t a town close.”

“I’m not used to it being so quiet,” Paul said, looking out the window to the rolling moor. “But I can see me getting used to it.”

“I moved here from London,” Carol said. “It was a real shock to the system. By the way, the electricity can go in bad weather. Follow me and I’ll show you where we keep oil lamps and candles. There are some solar powered lamps as well, on the shelves in the kitchen, but Richard is old fashioned and he likes to make sure that we are all prepared.”

Paul peered at the cupboard under the stairs. “What’s in the safe?”

“Hmm?” Carol looked again. “I’ve no idea. I’ll ask Richard. Anyway, on the subject of being prepared, you can’t always get a signal for mobile phones so we use landlines.” She led Paul across to the large living room. “There’s a list of useful numbers next to the phone. You may want to copy them into your mobile. Mike runs a construction business and Richard works in IT so between them they can sort out most things. I’ve stocked the kitchen with the most obvious things, but there are farm shops around for any extras, and you can always pop in to somewhere like Todmorden or Haworth.”

Paul followed Carol into the kitchen. “I don’t think that there’s a house within miles. I can’t exactly knock on a neighbour’s door to borrow some milk.”

Carol laughed. “Well, we’re just up the hill. I usually have a good stock cupboard.” She frowned. “With more jobs working remotely, a lot of people have been moving up here. I’ve had a few people knock on my door, and there’s one that seems very persistent.” She shook her head and clicked the kettle on. “I’m sure that you’ll be fine. I’ve got tea and coffee in here, and I put a few packets of rice and pasta in the cupboards. I baked some biscuits and cakes for you – I’d like the boxes back, please – and I put a few meals in the freezer.”

Paul stopped for a moment. He wasn’t used to this. “It’s very kind of you,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“It’s not a problem,” Carol said. She handed him a mug and beckoned him outside. A stone bench stood behind the kitchen door, looking over a tiny, unkempt back garden and then across a dry stone wall to the moorland. “No-one has lived here for years.” She frowned. “I think there’s some sort of mystery going on. I don’t know if Mike is planning to convert it to a holiday cottage or something.” She shrugged and took her seat at one end. “All I know is that there is a stack of papers that Mike and Richard want sorting. Oh, I nearly forgot.” Carol waited until Paul was sat next to her and handed over a key ring. “Front door, back door, meter cupboard and these two are the paper room.” She dropped the keys into Paul’s waiting hand. “Richard would like you to keep the paper room locked at all times.” She looked over towards a large house in the distance. “I’ve started keeping the doors locked at Darke Manor,” she said. “I never used to, but since Theo McGuire started prowling around, I’ve not felt as comfortable.”

“I can’t imagine leaving a door unlocked,” Paul said. “I’ve always lived in the city. But I’ll be careful.”

Paul watched her leave and then unloaded the car. He had kept things to a minimum. His exercise equipment, some clothes, toiletries and laptop didn’t take up much space. His books and notebooks had taken up a little more. Paul looked around carefully before opening the boot. When you practice magic in a room in a shared house you learned to be discreet and you learned to work with the bare essentials of tools. It still took up most of the boot, however, and the polished wooden cases that he had commissioned were a contrast to the battered holdalls and supermarket bags that held the rest of his stuff. He really didn’t want anyone to see these. He carried the equipment to one of the spare rooms. He could always hide it back in the car on the days that Carol came cleaning, or perhaps he could shove them in the locked paper room. Paul wondered how much there could be in there. There was bound to be space if he was careful.

 Paul took his time. Richard and Mike had been clear. His job was to make sense of a collection of handwritten notebooks and papers, get them in some sort of order and catalogue them so that there was a rough guide to what was there. They seemed very trusting, Paul thought, as he sat on the stone bench and had the protein shake and salad that he had brought with him. There were no guidelines, no timesheet, and no hint that they would even call in regularly. They seemed to think that the job would take a while, and the pay was quite generous, so what was the catch? They hadn’t even asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Paul carefully tidied the remains of his lunch away, grabbed a notebook and, after checking that the front and back doors were locked, opened the so-called paper room. For a long moment he just stood and stared. He hadn’t expected this.

Carol had not been allowed in here, that was obvious. Apart from the generous amounts of dust, there was no hint of cleaning spray hanging in the atmosphere like the rest of the cottage. Instead it was musty and the air felt dead and overstuffed. It was a large room and dozens of side tables were heaped with bundles of papers, notebooks, files, maps and battered books. A couple of generous mahogany bookcases on the far wall spilled over with wedges of more notebooks and papers. The wide window was barred and locked, with dirty net curtains hiding the view and filtering the light. Opposite was a huge map that looked older than Paul, complete with pencil notes and rusty push pins. Someone had brought in a small folding desk and computer chair and, from the drag marks, shoved another box of paper out of the way to set them out. A fresh post-it note was stuck to it. Paul carefully shut the door behind him and went over to the desk. The note read, ‘filing cabinets and filing supplies arriving Monday. Please inform if more needed. R.’

Paul put his tea and notebook down on the table and turned around several times. Where did he start? What was all this stuff? He picked up the nearest notebook and opened it at random. The handwriting was haphazard and the pencil was smudged, but Paul could read the title at the top of the page – Rogue werewolf at Carter’s Farm. He picked up another random book. Attempted demon summoning at Carr End. He strode over to a stack of leather bound books and tried to decipher the titles. His eyes widened as he read Amphitheatrum Sapientae Aeternae, Solius Verae. He’d only ever heard of that as he researched alchemy. He never thought that he would ever hold a copy – it went for thousands online.  

Paul sat down carefully in the cheap computer chair and stared around him. What on earth had he found? And what was he supposed to do now?

You can find the first part of Paul’s adventure, Words, here and you can find the Interview here.

The Interview

“Please, come in. I’m Mike Dixon and this is Richard Darke. We are the trustees behind this project. I hope that you found us without too much trouble.” Mike gestured to a chair in the well-furnished study.

Paul Kidson smiled and sat down. “The roads are a little tricky up here in the wilds of the Penines, but I checked a map before I came and I have a very good satnav.”

“Would you like a tea or a coffee, Paul?” Richard asked. “I think that anyone who makes it as far as my house deserves some refreshments.”

“Thank you, a cup of tea would be nice.” Paul looked around the study. “Is this where the job is?”

Richard shook his head. “I’m afraid it isn’t. Hang on, I’ll just shout for my housekeeper.”

Mike shuffled the papers in front of him as Richard yelled for Carol, his housekeeper. There was something about Paul that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. The man had come for a job interview. He should be the one shifting nervously in his seat. Instead he seemed to be completely in control. “So, your last place of work shut down?” he asked.

Paul nodded. “The owner wanted to retire. None of his family were interested and, to be honest, it was an old fashioned business that wasn’t keeping up. Mr Andrews, my boss, wouldn’t deal with emails, for example. I had to print it all out for him. He refused to have a website. It was a shame because it was a nice place to work.”

Mike flicked through the papers. “You ran the office, according to this. Does that mean all of it?”

“I sent the accounts to the accountant once a year,” Paul said. “But I did everything else. Mr Andrews paid for me to take courses at night school.”

Mike met Richard’s eyes. The qualifications looked promising, with a lengthy list of certificates. “A small cottage comes with the job, or rather, the job is inside a small cottage. Are you prepared to move here?” The man was too controlled. There didn’t seem to be a stray movement.

“As you can see, I left a foster home a few years ago,” Paul stated. “I’ve lived in house shares since. I don’t really have any roots. Moving here would be a bonus. The area is beautiful.”

“Do you have any connection to the area?” Richard asked.

Paul shook his head. “No, I just saw the advert and thought it would be interesting.”

“It’s interesting, alright,” Mike said. “There is a mass of documents and books that need cataloguing. There are boxes of diaries that need transcribing and, well, just a load of stuff that needs sorting out. The cottage has a room full of paperwork and, to be honest, we don’t know where to start.”

There was a knock on the door and a young woman came in with a trolley. “Sorry to interrupt.” She held up a teapot and looked questioningly at Paul.

“Milk, no sugar,” he said. He stretched out a hand to take the cup and his shirt sleeve rode up, exposing part of a livid burn.

“That looks bad,” Richard said. “How did you get that?”

Paul looked at his arm. “On the oven,” he lied. “To be honest, I’d forgotten about it.”

Carol smiled brightly, handed Mike and Richard their cups and left.

“That was my housekeeper,” Richard said. “She gave the cottage a bit of a clean for whoever gets the job, and we’ve supplied a few basics. Some of the work will be done up here, and she’ll be around. She’s very efficient.”

Paul sipped the excellent cup of tea and smiled. “I’m sure she is. The job said that those of a superstitious nature should not apply.”

Mike had been dreading this sort of question. “A lot of the papers refer to folk beliefs,” he said airily. “We think that there may have been a sort of code, or perhaps ongoing mental issues…”

Richard jumped in to help him. “If you are bothered by the idea of ghosts and such then perhaps it isn’t the job for you. And some of the books are of what could be considered an ‘occult’ nature.”

“We think that people got carried away. I mean, no-one believes in magic anyway,” Mike added.

“Of course not,” Paul said. “But I’ve always found folk belief fascinating. It would be interesting to see what’s there.”

“We might consider publishing some of the papers later, or donating to a museum or library,” Richard said. “For academic purposes only,” he added quickly. “They would need to be in order for that.”

“Are there a lot of papers?” Paul asked.

Mike shuddered in spite of himself. “There’s about a ton of them. And all the little diaries and notebooks in leather bindings, stacked three deep in the bookshelves. We expect the work to take at least a year.”

“So we have to ask about how you would feel being so isolated,” Richard said. “We can be all but cut off over the winter, and the power goes down regrettably often.”

“The chance of some peace and quiet after the last few years sounds wonderful,” Paul said. “I’ve been cooped up with roommates and the thought of a bathroom that I don’t have to share sounds wonderful.”

“Would you like to take your tea into the living room and wait,” Richard asked. “I’d like to have a word with Mike.”

They watched Paul pick up his cup and leave. Mike closed the door carefully and then the werewolf and vampire looked at each other. Mike shook his head. “It’s got to be him. I mean, I don’t think that he’s the one but he’s the one meant to do the project. No-one else has applied.”

“There’s some strange forces at work,” Richard said. “I hope that he isn’t too interested in occult documents. We would have our hands full then. But we need the stuff in order for when the Paladin turns up.”

Mike shook his head. “It feels wrong. The Prince hasn’t been out of his domain for, what is it?”

“I haven’t seen him out of his lands for about two hundred years,” said Richard. “He was never really interested in vampires like Nathan and I anyway. I’ve heard that he’s become too susceptible to iron, like all the old and powerful elfen. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was replaced.”

“And that’s a war I want our pack to stay out of,” Mike said. “It never ends well for the werewolves. But, well, it’s not right that we’re looking out for a Paladin.”

“What choice do we have?” Richard sighed. “I suppose we had better tell him that he’s got the job.”

Richard and Mike are from ‘Dinner at Dark’ and you can read more about the world in which this is set here, ‘The World of the White Hart

And you can read the first part of Paul’s story here, in a little flash fiction from last week.