Blast from the Distant Past

I’m having something of a shake up. Traditionally I bite off more than I can chew in September. This year is no exception. You would think that at my age I would know better, but here we are.

I will be posting spooky stories and poems every day this October, just as I always do. There will be plenty of old favourites with some new stories sprinkled in. I’ll also be taking part in the October Frights Blog Hop Oct 10th-15th, which once again is organised by the amazing Anita Stewart. There are always great stories shared in that.

I’m rejigging the old ‘Tales of the White Hart’ stories. I should be able to get them into book form soon, but I have found an old, free blog that means that I can make them easily available, just as they used to be. I’d love to hear your opinions, and you can go to that blog and give your (polite) suggestions here. You, the person reading this and the one who may be interested in the stories, have the most important views.

This means that I am armpit deep in all sorts of things and a little distracted. Rather than not post, though, I thought I would share a story I wrote and put on an old blog back on the 21st May 2014. I hope that you enjoy it. And please let me know if you have any ideas, suggestions or just want to say hello. I am grateful for all who read this blog.

“Did you see her, the one with the dress?” Angie asked as she splashed the dirty cups through the water at speed.

“Her with the dress and the handbag?” Betty said. She switched to a dry cloth for the next batch of cups.  They had been washing up together after the meetings for thirty four years this June and they had perfected the routine.

“No, the one with the dress and the handbag is Zoe. She reckons that the handbag is designer and cost a fortune. But you can’t tell me that handbag is designer, I saw one just like it on the market,” Angie sniffed.

“Well she said that he was doing alright and had got a bonus at Christmas. I told her that everyone gets a bonus at Christmas but she wouldn’t have it.” Betty rattled the teacups into a stack and slotted them neatly into a cupboard.

“My Den said that he was doing well, but they aren’t spending that much. You should see the state of her sofa.  I’d be ashamed.”

“You do like your furniture nice,” Betty nodded. “Of course, he could be spending some money on her at the corner, you know, just past Mrs Henderson.  She always has nice things.”

“Her at the corner, she’s the one with the dress. She said that it was a charity shop find, but you can’t fool me. That dress cost a fortune, and her with her car in the garage.”

“She spends her money on something. There must be some money going into that house with them both working and I know they ask the lad to tip up now he’s started at the call centre, but they still have that old car.”

Angie sniffed again. “My Jim said that it was a scandal that car, they’ve had it for four years now. But I saw her in the supermarket and she had a bottle of wine in her basket.” 

Betty nodded knowingly as she switched drying cloths again. “Mind you, I heard that her aunt was the same, you know, the one who married the plumber and moved to Brighton.”

“Is it her aunt that married the plumber? Well that explains it.” There was a pause as Angie changed the washing up water.

“I see Mary’s got new curtains.” Betty rattled some more cups into the cupboard. “I would have thought she would have done something with her kitchen first. I don’t know how she cooks.”

“Mary told me that she got them second hand. You can’t tell me that they are second hand, not with those seams. And as for cooking, she buys frozen veg. I pity her husband.”

“Of course he makes up for it with the darts team. They were out again last night. Ted from two doors down came in at midnight.”

“By the way, what was the talk today?” Angie rinsed out the washing up bowl.


“The dangers of gossip.” Betty gathered her cloths for the wash.  “See you next week.”


I have never, ever known a function where the washing up wasn’t a chance for a full exchange of views.  I did ‘hear’ it in the local accent, but I am confident that the sentiments expressed are universal.  

Please Hold

person holding ballpoint pen writing on notebook
Image from Unsplash, taken by Thought Catalog

I’ve missed quite a few Mondays recently, and I apologise. I like to keep the little bits of flash fiction going as it’s a writing version of going to the gym for me. I have had something of a fail on that recently.

I also am incredibly grateful to anyone who looks in on this blog, and I don’t want to let you down in any way.

The long gap gave me time to think, and to consider what the blog is actually for. I mean, I put my flash fiction up, and I put up information about anything I’m publishing, but it feels a little limp. Is it entertaining enough? I’m not so sure.

October will be on us in 23 days at time of typing, and, as in the last few years, I’ll be posting something vaguely supernatural every day for the month. There will be a lot of old favourites, but I’m hoping to put in a few new bits as well. This is a chance for me to gear up, but also a chance for me to reset the blog.

It won’t actually be much different. You will still see the flash fiction, and I’ve been making a few notes so hopefully there will be less gaps. There will be the usual stuff about anything being published. I’m also hoping to get more into book reviews, and take some time to reflect on what writing means to me.

There is also a risk of me adding in some of the jokes, curiosities and peculiarities I see around me. The world is a strange and wonderful place, and I hope I can share.

It should start changing after the spooky October posts end on 31st October. Any and all (family friendly) suggestions will be carefully considered, but no guarantees.

Sincere thank you to all who visit this blog. You are awesome. The kindness on here has been amazing and I am always grateful. Hugs and good vibes to you all.

The Orchids

purple and green flower in close up photography
Image from Unsplash, taken by Rae Galatas

“Charles, are you listening to me?” Cynthia tapped her foot impatiently.

“Hmm?” Charles looked at his sister. “What? Look, this is incredible. I’ve managed to cross pollinate and look at the results. I may present them at the Society next month.”

Cynthia peered at the orchid that Charles was presenting so triumphantly. “It’s a funny sort of pink.”

“No, my dear, look at the markings! They are extraordinarily exquisite. And there is nothing else like these in the world! I created them in my glasshouse.”

“Most people grow pineapples in their glasshouses,” Cynthia said. “But Charles, this isn’t why I came.”

“Isn’t it?” Charles’ gaze was fixed on his orchids. “Perhaps you came to see my latest acquisition. Ellington sent it to me from Nicaragua.” He glanced up at his irritated sister. “Come and see this! I don’t suppose there’s another specimen like it in Europe. Ellington was stationed on the Mosquito Coast, you know, and retired there. You remember Ellington? Friend of father.” He caught Cynthia by the hand and dragged her from the drawing room. “It’s all the aether crystals,” Charles said. “They’ve revolutionised the keeping of orchids. It’s made all the difference.”

“Aether crystals can send you mad, you know,” Cynthia said. “Alfred won’t have them in the house. And about that…”

“Your husband is an old fusspot and always has been,” Charles interrupted. “Look at this!”

Cynthia caught her breath as she entered the glass house. The humid heat almost overwhelmed her and she grasped at the nearby table to steady herself. “You could have warned me to loosen my stays!”

“Don’t touch the table!” Charles shrieked as he tenderly closed the door. “There can be no draughts or sudden disturbances. These flowers are valuable. I was offered a thousand guineas for that specimen on the counter.”

“Did you tell Helen that?” Cynthia asked.

“Helen is always so busy with the business,” Charles said. “Besides, I would never part with it.” He frowned and stroked his chin. “Though if I can get some decent plants grown from seed… But it’s a dashed tricky business, Cynthia, and I’m loathe to risk being without it.”

Cynthia looked at the black and violet flower that seemed to smirk malevolently. “The business is doing well, but Helen said that you were spending a lot on these flowers.”

“They’re orchids, Cynthia, not just flowers. Besides, now that we have all the aether heaters and humidifiers, we only have the cost of any replacement crystals. Travers sorted it all out. The new aether science has made all the difference. Look at this!” Charles dragged his sister to a large mahogany cabinet. “See – heat controls here, humidity here, all on timers. Travers sorted out everything. Of course, I have to keep on top of distilling the water. The water around London is shocking for orchids. But even the distillation is aether powered, look!” He dragged Cynthia over to a glass contraption that was hidden behind the ferns. “This is the absolute latest thing in orchid culture. I think I’m the only one in North London who has one.”

Cynthia fanned her face, desperately trying to catch her breath. “Charles, we really need to talk.”

“I know it cost a few more guineas than I normally pull out of the business, but it can stand it. Helen’s doing sterling work and so is Travers. Look, the water comes in from the mains supply here, then goes through the evaporator here. It was a devil to set up, pardon my language, but worth it. It goes out of this window here, to allow condensations – this room has to be at this temperature for the orchids, you know. They are so delicate. Where was I? Oh yes, then the condensate is fed into this flask. I don’t water automatically, though. I wouldn’t want to risk it. I had a nasty case of root rot in one of the specimens from Siam, lost quite an expensive example of Dendrobium to it, and overwatering at the port was no doubt the cause.”

“Charles, you need to listen!” Cynthia said. “Aether crystals aren’t always safe. Travers said you didn’t get any of the latest shielding.”

“Didn’t see the point, old thing, and I suppose I have been dipping into the business somewhat so I didn’t want the expense. But I have a private buyer for these, which I’ll keep for any further investment. Why, I could even turn a profit.” Charles waved an expansive hand at some unprepossessing shoots.

“Charles, do you miss Helen?” Cynthia asked.

“What do you mean?” Charles turned back to aether engine. “I saw at breakfast. No, hang on.” He stopped and thought for a moment. “No, I don’t know if I did see her. But I’m sure that I saw her at dinner last night.” He looked at Cynthia with doubt in his eyes. “Or was she at one of her meetings. The business is quite demanding, you know.”

“I need to get out of here,” Cynthia said, carefully making her way to the door. “And you need to listen to me.” She opened the door and stood there, waiting.

Charles hesitated for a moment and then rushed through the room, meeting Cynthia at the other side before carefully shutting the door. “I told you – I cannot allow draughts in there. What is so damned important?”

“Your language around ladies is dreadful,” Cynthia said, walking away and back to the drawing room where she collapsed into a chair. “And the heat of that room is insufferable. Please ring for some tea.”

Charles looked around absently and rang for the maid. “Well what is so important?”

Cynthia stared at him. “You know Helen, your wife, the one you moved heaven and earth to woo, the one that took our family business and actually made it turn a profit? The pretty woman with the red hair?”

“Yes, what about her? She hasn’t met with an accident has she?” Charles said. “Because it would damned inconvenient if she had. I’ve had a telegram this morning about a package on its way and it takes time to get a specimen settled, especially if it’s come from some distance.”

“May I remind you of your language,” Cynthia said. “Helen left you. She’s been living with her brother for the last six months and taking a salary from the business. Mr Travers, your secretary, is leaving because his father died and he needs to go back home to support his mother in Manchester. And Mrs Callaghan, the housekeeper, won’t stay another week as there is no lady of the house. You need to do something.”

“But I can’t possibly spare the time,” Charles exclaimed. “I’ve just told you, I have a package likely to arrive any day now.” He looked at her. “Are you sure that Helen left? I can’t think why she would. We haven’t had a cross word since Christmas.”

A housemaid came in and set the tea things on a side table. Cynthia waited until she left before pouring herself a welcome cup of tea. “She left just before Christmas. I helped her move. And I don’t blame her one bit! At least she’s keeping the business going. If she didn’t, you wouldn’t have the money for these orchids.” Cynthia watched her brother carefully. “If I were you, I would not upset her.”

“Why would she leave?” Charles asked, bewilderment in every inch.

“Because you didn’t attend your only daughter’s wedding,” Cynthia said. “I can’t see any way of reconciling with Helen, at least, but I would avoid antagonising her. And I think that you will need a new housekeeper as a matter of urgency.”

“Simply not possible, my dear,” Charles said. “I don’t have the time. And if that is all, I must get back to the glass house. Some of the blooms were looking fragile and I need to check the water levels.”

“At least get some shielding for those aether crystals,” Cynthia said as she watched her brother stand and head towards the door. “They can power anything, but they can send you mad.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Charles said. “I show absolutely no sign of irrationality of any sort. I’m sure that Mrs Callaghan will see you right before you leave.”

Cynthia listened to the door close firmly, then took a long drink of her tea. She had never felt more worried in her life.

Broken Cage

white spider web on brown wooden wall
Image from Unsplash, taken by Batuhan Dogan

Darren leant back against the wreck of the sofa and looked over to Sir Dylan. “How are you doing these days?”

Sir Dylan shrugged. “I’m okay, I suppose.” He ducked out of the way of a flying mug and flinched as it smashed on the wall behind him. “Do you think we should help out?”

Darren shook his head. “It would be a shame to spoil their fun.” He watched as Flynn grabbed a boggart by the neck and tried to squeeze, but what looked like a werewolf in fur hit him hard in the side and knocked the boggart out of his hold. He spun around, caught the werewolf by the tail and threw it hard against the wall. It slid down, whimpering. Lord Marius, snarling through a spatter of someone else’s blood, was trading punches with Mercury. Mercury was putting up a hard fight, but he was starting to fall back.

“They’re going to have to pay to put the flat right,” Sir Dylan said. “I mean, it’s trashed.”

Darren looked around as one of Lord Marius’ warriors kicked a severed head against the wall where it left a dent and a mark that would be really hard to clean. “The brownies will sort it out. Have you ever seen what brownies can do? They take a real pride in their work. Of course, they’re expensive. If I didn’t have to be so careful, I’d definitely get them in. And they are wonderful when they clean a church. They don’t miss a corner.”

“It’ll need to be a full refit,” Sir Dylan said as an armchair flew across the room and caught a boggart squarely in the stomach, winding them and pinning them down long enough for Flynn to grab them.

Darren ducked out of the way of a stray piece of coffee table. “Lord Marius is not happy to find these sort of games going on. He has strong views. Apart from the risk of getting noticed and upsetting the local Knights Templar, if anyone should be extorting the locals, it should be him.” Darren grinned at Sir Dylan. “Lord Marius will make sure that he confiscates all the profits and it won’t be a hardship to refit this place. All we need to do is make sure that it’s to taste of Mrs Cook.”

Sir Dylan thought of Mercury’s latest victim and glanced around the wreckage. “It will have to be pink.”

“It will have to be completely replastered first,” Darren said as he watched sparks fly from an ambitious elfen next to Mercury.

Steve Adderson, waiting in the wings, raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think so.” He gestured casually and the elfen dropped like a stone.

Darren and Sir Dylan moved back a little as the battle raged. The neighbours were already starting to peer out of their doors and a few phones were being pulled out. Darren shook his head. “We need to wrap this up.” He nodded to Steve. “Any chance of messing up the phones for a few minutes?”

“Not a problem,” Steve said, and muttered a few words.

Darren stuck his head back into the shell of the living room. “We are getting attention and the police will be here soon.”

Lord Marius’ eyes narrowed and he roared with fury, grabbing the reeling Mercury and slamming his head hard into the nearest door frame. It cracked. As Mercury sank to the floor, he looked around. “Get this filth out of here!”

Elfen shimmered around the room. Darren found it unnerving as, without any sort of flourish or warning, the members of Lord Marius’ court disappeared. One minute they were flinging a goblin against the mantlepiece, the next minute both they and the goblin were gone. The remains and captives were whisked away until only Lord Marius and Steve were left facing Darren and Sir Dylan across the unconscious form of Mercury.

“I will make all this good,” Lord Marius said casually. “I’ll get the brownies to clean up and I’ll send an interior decorator to meet with Mrs Cook.” He glanced down at Mercury who was slowly coming to his senses. “I shall also personally apologise to the poor woman, affected by one of my own, taking advantage of an elderly widow.” His eyes narrowed as he hauled Mercury to his feet. “And I shall make an example.” He glanced over to Steve.

Steve was looking grim. He disappeared through a door for a moment and came back with a large shape covered in a grey silk throw. “I have a special surprise for you, Mercury,” he said. “You’ve terrorised elfen and normal for decades, if not longer.” Steve’s cold smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Now it’s your turn.” He pulled off the covering and Mercury flinched at the sight of the broken mirror.

“You can’t do this to me.” Mercury looked desperately from Lord Marius to Steve and then turned to the exorcist and the Knight Templar. “You have to help me.”

“We really don’t,” Darren said. “You have made too many people suffer.” There was a finality in his shrug. “Besides, it’s not our jurisdiction.”

“No, it’s mine,” Lord Marius stated. He nodded to Steve who began a low voiced chant. There were strange harmonics and the remaining glass in the windows vibrated.

Mercury shook his head in disbelief. “You can’t, you can’t…”

Lord Marius held him high and at arm’s length. Mercury thrashed helplessly but Lord Marius’ grip was relentless.

Sir Dylan shivered as a cold breeze ran around the room and he turned away. Darren watched, unflinching, as Mercury was stripped of his glamour until all that was left was a small, skinny twisted thing. Steve checked with Lord Marius, and, at the nod, Mercury seemed to flow and swirl, like oil in water, into the broken mirror. There was a long, inhuman wail, then silence.

Darren walked forward and peered at the shattered reflections. He could see a myriad of himself, reflected in the crazed and damaged glass. And in the very corner, almost out of sight, was a frantic elfen. If he caught the angle just right and tilted his head, he could see Mercury’s mouth opening and closing. There was no sound. “Seems like a just punishment to me,” he said.

The Castle

There is a castle on the hill

A king sat there in days of old

His knights were brave, his ladies fair

A pinnacle of brave and bold

Minstrels there were, and jesters sharp

Ministers with wisdom deep

Priests and monks in cloistered nooks

All knowledge gathered in his keep

There was a knight, a lady fair

A false man and a desperate fight

A riven kingdom, empty hope

A funeral pyre and fading light

The story’s old and patched with songs

On threads that wore out long ago

Who knows the truth of treasure there

Before the final overthrow

Young lads go there to try their hand

Digging the vaults and dusty hall

The tombs are empty, nothing’s there

A bird’s nest in a broken wall.

Some nights, when Venus sails the sky

And Mars is courting near the moon

They say that ghostly dancers whirl

To echoes of an ancient tune

Splendour and crowns have tumbled down

The painted walls have faded pale

And while we bustle round our lives

Dust slowly settles on the tale. 

A Game of Cards

“No, absolutely not!” Flynn said.

The hulking boggart facing him grinned. “You need the information. I have the information. You give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want.” The grin widened. “And what can go wrong with a game of cards?”

“You’re planning on playing poker with the Rev Darren King,” Flynn said. “He’s an exorcist. He’s a vicar. He’s used to facing demons. I’m not sure he even knows the rules, Vernon.” He looked around the cavernous warehouse at the watching boggarts and wondered if facing demons would be easier.

“That’s what I thought,” Vernon said smugly.

“I know the rules,” Darren said, irritation rolling from him in waves. “What are the stakes. I won’t stake my soul or anything that will affect my mission.”

Vernon hunkered down on one side of the kitchen table pulled to the centre of the hall. “It’s easy. We both start with equal chips. If you win, I tell you all I know about Mercury. If I win, I still tell you about Mercury, but you owe me a favour. And I won’t breathe a word about anything if you don’t play.”

“You really need to see someone about your gambling addiction,” Darren said as he sat on the hard kitchen chair opposite Vernon. “What are the rules?”

“I thought you knew the rules.” Vernon scoffed.

“I mean, is it the Texas game that I’ve heard about?” Darren said. “And is it played with a standard deck or is it like piquet where some cards are removed?”

Vernon’s grin couldn’t get wider, but he looked a happy boggart as he picked up the cards. “It’s a standard deck, draw poker. Bring over the drink, boys.”

“I’m just on water,” Darren said. “You know what I face. And I’m always on call.”

“That’s fair enough,” Vernon begrudgingly agreed.

“Let me play instead,” Flynn said as he watched Vernon expertly riffle shuffle. “I can give you a good game.”

“But then I don’t get to boast that I played cards with Darren King,” Vernon said. He handed the cards over to Darren. “Deal.”

Darren shuffled the cards with a loose, overhand shuffle and frowned at Vernon. “This is a waste of time.”

“Not if you want that information,” Vernon said, watching a young boggart in a mini skirt and heels stack the chips in front of the players. She poured a large whisky for him and placed a bottle of water next to Darren. “Go on, padre, let’s play cards.”

Flynn didn’t want to look. Darren wasn’t exactly wholesome. He had what looked like a good relationship with his girlfriend, and was a working minister as well as an exorcist, but he wasn’t exactly a little ray of sunshine. Darren had no tolerance for fools, no time for idiots and was ruthlessly determined. He also lost the first two hands. He wasn’t the sort of man who played cards. He would be more likely to read an improving book. Why couldn’t he have taken Darren’s place? Of course, if Darren just lost the games then at least they would get the information quicker. They would still owe Vernon a favour, though, and he wasn’t a nice boggart. The rotting warehouse was cold and damp but Flynn could feel a trickle of sweat between his shoulder blades and his stomach was churning. He straightened up. He was an immortal elfen that could deal with any amount of boggarts and was not in the mood for nonsense. On the other hand, Darren was mortal and comparatively fragile. He helped himself to a glass of the cheap whiskey.

“This place is a mess,” Darren said as Vernon dealt the next hand. He unscrewed the cap on the water bottle. “You should get yourself a decent place.” He took a mouthful from the bottle and grimaced. “Really? You had to use cheap vodka? You could have at least used the decent stuff.”

Vernon’s eyes narrowed. “I thought vodka didn’t taste of anything,” he said.

“Neat vodka is hard to miss,” Darren said, picking up the cards and looking around. “Do you have rats here?”

“Do rats bother you?” Vernon asked hopefully.

Darren stared at him. “I wouldn’t last long as an exorcist if they did. I just thought I saw one.” He threw in a chip.

Vernon glanced down at his cards. “We don’t usually get them in. Perhaps they followed the scent of fresh meat?” His heart wasn’t in it, though, and Darren’s mocking smile wasn’t help. “And I’ll raise.”

Darren grunted. “I’m sure a lot of your boys would be better in somewhere warm out of the draughts,” he said, tossing in another chip. “Just halfway decent chairs would make a difference.”

“What, and all nice covers and that?” Vernon sneered. “These are street boggarts. What sort of boggarts are you used to?” He threw in another chip.

“I used to have Mr and Mrs Appuck in my parish, and I see quite a bit of Mrs Tuesday,” Darren said, throwing his chip in. “Their houses were immaculate.”

Vernon grunted as he tried to ignore the reference to some of the most feared boggarts in the country. “That’s the old ways, though. We don’t need any of that.” He checked the diminished stack of chips and his hand. “I call.”

Flynn kept his face carefully neutral as Darren’s flush beat Vernon’s two pair. A suspicion started to grow as Darren bickered over the water that was brought to replace the vodka. Darren wasn’t paying that much attention to his cards, apparently, just throwing in the chips as he grumbled. Vernon was insisting that the water was fine and suddenly found himself once again running his decent full house into a straight that Darren had given no sign of holding.

“I suppose I do have the advantage,” Vernon said, ignoring his dwindling stack of chips and dealing the next hand. “Normals can’t read boggarts. It’s a well known fact.”

“Fold,” Darren said after a glance, pushing his cards away from him and taking a drink of the water. “That’s better, and nice and cold. I don’t suppose you need a fridge down here.”

“There is nothing wrong with this place,” Vernon said, scowling as he pulled in the tiny stake. “And it’s discreet.”

Darren sighed as he took the cards and shuffled. “Did you never think that activity in an abandoned warehouse would look suspicious?” He dealt the cards. “You’re going to get more attention here than a nice bar or restaurant where you expect to see people coming or going.”

“A restaurant?” Vernon stared at Darren in disbelief, then checked his cards. He glanced at the small pile of chips at his hand. “I raise.”

Darren pushed in his chips. “And you get a nice bit of cash from the business. Of course, you have to have a bit about you to do the wages and all that, but it’s surprising how it can work. You could even open a casino. The bank always wins.”

“I know my way around a poker table,” Vernon said. “All in.” He pushed the last of his chips towards the centre.

Darren pushed his chips in. “You would be better off supervising,” he said.

“Full house,” Vernon said, placing down his cards.

“Straight flush,” Darren said, placing his own cards down. “Now, tell me all about Mercury.”

Flynn was uneasily aware of the boggarts crowding around. It was an odd atmosphere. On one hand, this cocky vicar had just beaten their leader without apparently paying attention. On the other hand, Flynn got a sense that the gambling was becoming a problem. He breathed a little easier. They were probably going to get out of here in one piece.

Vernon smiled ruefully at Darren and held out his hand. “I’ve got it all typed up and I’ll send it to the usual email,” he said. “Thank you for the game.”

“Thanks,” Darren said. He hesitated. “What favour were you going to ask?”

Vernon shrugged. “My youngest is getting married in a few months, and it would have looked good to have someone like yourself tying the knot.”

Darren stared at him for a moment and then laughed. “I love doing weddings. Let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I hardly ever get to do weddings.”

Vernon nodded. “I guess you get too many funerals.”

“More than you can imagine,” Darren said with a grimace. “But that’s the nature of the work.”

Flynn interrupted. “We need to get on,” he said. He nodded to Vernon. “Good game to watch.”

Vernon snorted. “Watch me get beat. I’ll get the info to you.” He thought for a moment and then shrugged. “Mercury is a bastard. I’m not saying I’m helping out an elfen and a normal, but give us a call if you need some back up. Just don’t tell anyone.” There were nods around the room. Mercury had no friends here.

They had driven a few miles before Flynn turned to Darren. “Where did you learn to play cards like that?”

Darren didn’t glance from the road. “I used to be in the Navy, remember, in the Royal Marines. I learned to play cards there. And it came in very useful when I sat up with Mrs Tuesday for a week when she had pneumonia. She really knows how to play cards.” He flicked a quick glance at Flynn and then turned back to driving. “Mrs Tuesday is an elderly boggart with an evil sense of humour and makes Vernon looks like a toothless pussycat. She’d have had those boggarts cleaning so that you could eat your dinner off any surface in the place and left them grateful to her. After that, Vernon wasn’t so tough.”

“You learned to play like that from an old lady?” Flynn asked sceptically.

“From an older boggart card sharp with a dirty mind,” Darren said. A notification rang from his phone. “It sounds like Vernon has kept his word. Let’s see how close we can get to Mercury now.”

Mirror Mirror

Rose opened the door a crack and timidly peered at the two men outside in the grubby yard. “Hello.”

“Good evening,” the dark haired man said. He was impossibly handsome and his hard muscles showed under the thin, well-washed shirt. The air of dangerous focus that hung around him was at variance with his clerical dog collar. “My name is Darren King, and this is my associate, Flynn.”

“I preferred being called Vertiver,” his associate grumbled. He was just as tall and muscled but more casual in t-shirt and jeans. A shock of thick red hair hung to his shoulders. He noticed Rose’s appraising gaze and smiled like the devil. “I didn’t realise that you were so young and beautiful. We should have been here sooner.”

Rose found herself blushing and tried to claw back some control. At 24 she was no longer used to being thought young, and she hardly thought she was pretty. “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested.”

“In what?” Flyn leant against the door frame, at least six inches taller than her and full of flirtatious intention. “You don’t know why we called.”

“The Church fund?” Rose guessed. It had to be some sort of scam.

“May we come in?” Darren asked, glaring at Flynn.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Rose said. “I mean, as a woman living on my own, I have to be careful. I’m sure that you are both perfect gentlemen, but I don’t want the neighbours to talk.”

“But you don’t live on your own, do you?” Flynn leant in a little closer.

Rose stepped back involuntarily. “I want you to leave,” she forced out, “Or I’ll call the police.”

“You can call the police if you like,” Flynn said. “He’s with them, sort of.”

“I’m not police,” Darren snapped. “Flynn stop intimidating this woman.” He turned to Rose and tried a professional smile. “We have reason to believe that you have a haunted mirror.”

Rose stared at him as all colour drained from her face.

A deep voice behind her spoke. “It’s okay. We knew that this day would come.”

Rose shook her head. “I can’t lose you.”

Darren and Flynn exchanged glances as Flynn pushed past Rose and into the tiny hall with Darren following close behind.

The hall was a marked contrast to the grubby yard and grubby street outside. Inside was completely different. Pale walls and clever lighting gave an illusion of airy space in the narrow entrance. The wooden floor was polished and a subtle hint of lavender hung in the air. The men followed Rose as she retreated to the living room. Darren shut the front door firmly behind them.

The living room was a similar revelation. Outside there was a dirty street, cluttered with rubbish. Inside was a cool, understated minimalism centred around an unexpectedly ornate mirror. It had a flat copper sheen, picked up by the few decorating accents, and it only showed the magical inscription to the knowledgeable.

In front of the mirror was a transparent, ghost-like figure, an older man, with streaks of grey in his dark hair, lithe and slim in a grey, three piece suit. Magical energy whirled between the pale hands. Rose grabbed the iron poker and whirled to face them. “I don’t know how you found us, but I won’t pay you and you can’t take him. Leave us alone.”

Darren raised a sceptical eyebrow then, with snakelike speed, caught Rose’s arm, lifted, turned and pulled. The poker clattered onto the floor leaving Rose trapped in an impersonal, iron grip. Flynn moved with equal speed. His hands darted out, tangling his own magical energy into the glow in front of the ghost and unravelling it, reeling it in and catching it in a spinning, glowing sphere above Flynn’s left shoulder. Colour drained from the apparition and it faded into a translucent shadow. There had been barely enough time to breathe and suddenly Rose and the spirit were completely at the men’s mercy.

“I wish people would not jump to conclusions,” Darren said. “You have a haunted mirror, obviously. We are here to release the spirit. If there is any threat, we would deal with it, but it appears that there is an amicable arrangement here. I can’t see any reason for us to be involved any further once the spirit is released.” He grinned. “If the spirit behaves, that is.”

Flynn was staring at the apparition. “Lucius? Is that you?”

“Vertiver, what are you doing here? I was searching for you but got trapped.” Lucius managed a roguish grin. “I wasa at least aware enough that they couldn’t control me. They gave up trying to make me haunt properly, but they still sold on the mirror. I laid low, until I was lucky enough to meet Rose.” He paused and looked at Rose with love in his eyes. “Unfortunately they were still tracking me. We’ve been trying to hide from them.”

“You did a good job,” Flynn said. “I would never have thought to find you in a dump like this.” He smiled at Rose. “But the decorating is as excellent as ever.”

“You know who is tracking you?” Darren asked. “I’m trying to catch up with them. Flynn isn’t the only spirit we’ve managed to release over the last few months. Someone or something, somewhere, is making a fortune from fear, while trapping non-normals and effectively torturing them into slavery.” He released Rose and stepped back warily.

Rose stared at him. “You’re not going to try and take Lucius away.”

Darren shook his head. “Flynn should be able to release him. But we should step out of the room while it happens. Perhaps the kitchen?”

The kitchen was as minimalist and airy as the rest of the house. Darren leant against the counter. “How do you feel about Lucius?”

Rose blushed. “It’s complicated.”

“Do you love him,” Darren asked.

“Like I said, it’s complicated,” Rose said. “I think so. And I think he loves me.”

“Has he said so?” Darren said.

Rose felt her face glowing with embarrassment. “He said that he gave his word it was love and not lust that he felt,” she said. “He promised.”

“That sounds like love.” Darren said. “I’ll have a proper talk later, but you know that your life is about to get…” Darren searched for the right words. “Fairytale romances can be difficult. But they can work.”

“They can?” Rose asked cautiously.

Darren nodded. “I’ll have a proper talk later. For now, do you have records of any contact with the people looking for Lucius? Someone called Mercury?”

Rose nodded. “I kept everything.” She pulled out her phone. “I’ve saved everything, taken photos of the letters, made notes of conversations, times and dates – the whole lot. And I’ve saved it in plenty of places as well.” She jumped as a sudden crack rang through the room next door.

Darren ignored the noise. “Here are some places to send copies,” he said, pulling a small notebook from his jeans pocket and scribbling some notes. “Once you have sent them, change passwords and find another safe place to copy them. There shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s best to stay safe.” He tore out the page and handed it to Rose. “We’ll take it from there.”

Rose shook her head. “I’m sure that Lucius will want to be involved,” she said. “I don’t think you could stop him.”

The sound of Flynn swearing and the smell of brimstone seeped into the kitchen. Darren took no notice. “It may take some time for Lucius to regain his strength. Besides, he needs to look after you. Mercury doesn’t like being thwarted. We’ve heard enough to ask you and Lucius to move to a safe house.”

“A safe house?” Rose stared. “But I thought you weren’t police.”

“Other people than police have safe houses,” Darren said. “And you and Lucius have a lot of catching up to do.”

Tied In

Darren looked around the small flat. The chill of an unwelcome and supernatural presence hung heavily and the bunch of flowers his host had brought in with them was already shrivelling in its supermarket cellophane. “Yes, there is definitely a problem.” He frowned. “Can you tell me a little of the background.”

Emma looked around her, wondering where to start. “It’s been going on for a few weeks. I thought it was the guttering at first. I got mildew on the wallpaper in that corner, for some reason, but the plaster behind it was dry. The landlord couldn’t work it out.”

“What’s the landlord like?” Darren asked.

Emma shrugged. “I’ve been here around three months. He leaves me alone, and I’m glad of it. But the boiler is in good working order and the appliances are quite new.” She looked anxiously at Darren. “I’m tied into the lease for another nine months. I can’t just walk away from it. I need to get this sorted.”

Darren grunted. “What about the neighbours?”

“There’s a man downstairs, a little older than me,” Emma said. “He’s in his late fifties, I suppose. He works in the week and gets drunk on Saturdays.” She grinned. “He starts singing punk anthems around 8.30pm and is usually quiet by 10. He seems pleasant enough. I’ve not really spoken to him.” She nervously adjusted a cushion. “Won’t you sit down?”

Darren shook his head. “How about upstairs?”

“The flat directly above is empty,” Emma said. “It was a mother and a couple of kids. They moved out the week I moved in. I’ve not heard any noises. Apparently the leases ran from the same dates. She was tied in as well.” She watched Darren pacing up and down the flat with leashed energy. He was not her idea of a priest. Priests, in her opinion, were not tall, well-muscled and ridiculously handsome. And they definitely did not wear well washed supermarket jeans with heavy boots, a faded black shirt and a leather jacket with their dog collar. They also had better people skills. Emma felt that she was getting marks deducted for silliness. “I suppose you could get in there, if you needed to.”

“I’d rather not start by breaking and entering,” Darren said. “Do you know why the people above left?”

“I thought priests could get all sorts of permissions,” Emma said. “I can give you the number of the agency.”

Darren peered through the blinds and out over the car park. “I’m not good with bureaucracy. And did they say why they were moving?” He turned and gave Emma a pointed look.

“Sorry, Phoenix next door said that they were moving in with the woman’s boyfriend,” Emma said. “Are you sure that I can’t get you a cup of tea or coffee?”

“Phoenix?” Darren said. “What sort of name is ‘Phoenix?’ Does she think she’s a superhero?”

Emma thought of the plump, dishevelled lady next door. “No, I don’t think so,” she said. “She told me that her name was revealed to her in a sitting. I think she used to be called Tina.”

Darren stared. “What?”

Emma smiled weakly. “She’s very nice, but into the new age stuff. You know, Tarot cards and crystals and stuff. I never believed in it much, until this.” She gestured helplessly at the blackened flowers on the table. “I think I’ve heard it described as, ‘weird washing powder and knits her own rice’. She follows an alternative lifestyle.” Emma trailed off a little in the face of Darren’s evident disapproval. “She’s saving up for a smallholding.”

“Does she look like she could farm?” Darren asked.

“Um…” Emma didn’t like to be cruel but the man downstairs had more than once been called to help Phoenix with spiders. Besides, she didn’t seem like the outdoor type. “I’m not sure.”

Darren shook his head. “Let’s hope that she’s bad at saving.” He paced back across the room. “What’s this?” he asked, waving a hand at the macrame wall hanging.

“Phoenix gave it me,” Emma said. “She seemed to think that it was lucky.”

Darren looked closer. “How long has it been here?”

“She gave it as a house-warming present.” Emma looked embarrassed. “She was insistent that I put it up straight away, and she always checks that it’s there. It’s not really my taste.”

Darren frowned. “Did you tell Phoenix about the problems?”

Emma nodded. “She said that the previous tenant had the same issues and that’s why he moved out as soon as the lease ended. But then she said she knew someone from her spiritualist group who could help me out. She was quite keen, but I felt better with someone more traditional.” Emma shot an uncomfortable glance at Darren, who looked absolutely nothing like a traditional priest. “I didn’t want to offend her, but I don’t feel comfortable with crystals and that.”

Darren sighed. “Do you have anywhere to stay if things go bad?” he asked.

Emma looked around nervously. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if your neighbour starts harassing you?” Darren said, looking closer at the macrame piece. “Do any of her group turn up here?”

Emma thought for a moment. “I don’t think that I’ve seen anyone. And I can’t just leave here – like I said, I’m tied into the lease.”

“It depends,” Darren frowned and then pulled out a pocket-knife. “The flat isn’t cursed. This knotted thing is.”

“What?”

“It’s a scam that seems to have been doing the rounds of the area,” Darren said. “A nice neighbour brings in a housewarming gift that you have to put up straight away. And that neighbour can keep coming around and checking that it’s still in place. After all, the neighbour is so nice and helpful so you can’t really stop them coming in. And that knotted thing holds a curse.”

“It’s macrame,” Emma interrupted. “And it is nice.”

“Yes, quite pretty,” Darren agreed. “But the nice neighbour, Phoenix in this case, knows someone and while they won’t charge, they will accept donations to their group. It’s all for good causes and above board, of course. They make sure that you’re so grateful that the curse has gone that you’ll be generous. And they’ll encourage you to come along and be part of that group. Before you know it, you’ll be buying their crystals at inflated prices, and paying for workshops and blessings and courses in their faith.” Darren almost spat the last word out. “I’m a minister of the Anglican Church, the Church of England. My faith is my rock. And I’ve worked with all sorts of Christians, from Greek Orthodox to the most austere Presbytarian, and their faith has been just as solid. I’ve worked with Imams from the mosques, and Buddhists and Sikhs and Wiccans and pagans and all the shades of faith, all of them taking strength from their beliefs. This is nothing to do with belief. This is to do with greed and spite and malice.” He took a deep breath. “Could you give me a moment to compose myself.”

Emma watched in silence. Darren appeared to be praying in front of the macrame hanging. She could feel the atmosphere changing around her. There was still the edge of decay and despair, but now there was a charge of electricity around the room, like the beginning of a thunderstorm. She jumped as there was a knock on the door.

“Emma, are you alright?” Phoenix called through the door. “Is everything okay?”

“Keep her away from me,” Darren muttered as he frowned at the macrame in front of him. He muttered some words and a quick flash of purple light ran around the knotted hanging.

“It’s okay, Phoenix,” Emma called. “I’m just in the middle of something.”

“My telly’s gone all funny,” Phoenix called. “How about you?”

“I’ll check in a minute, Phoenix, and I’ll be around to let you know,” Emma said, stalling.

“Are you having a manifestation?” Phoenix called. “Should I call Mercury? He can be here in twenty minutes. I’ll give him a call, shall I?”

“No!” Emma shouted. “I mean, no, it’s okay. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Let me in, Emma,” There was an unexpected steel in Phoenix’s voice. “I can help.”

Emma forced herself to stay back from the door. Phoenix’s voice was strangely compelling and it rang around her head like a chimed wineglass. “Just five minutes.” She looked back at Darren who was raising a hand slowly towards the hanging. He muttered a few words in what sounded like Latin and carefully, every inch of him braced for action, slit the rope at the bottom of the hanging.

Emma was flung back by the force of the blast as something hot and foul-smelling washed over her, pushing at her like a tidal wave. At the same time she heard her door splinter and Phoenix fell into the room through the ruined frame. Darren turned and spat out a few strange words which Phoenix seemed to knock physically aside. To Emma’s horror, Phoenix bounded across the room with unheard of grace and speed and grabbed Darren by the throat. Darren raised his shoulder, spun, broke the hold and continued around to get the momentum for a hard kick to Phoenix’s side. Phoenix gasped and then swung a wide, arcing punch but Darren ducked under. “Get out!” he yelled to Emma.

Emma turned to the door but lightning flashed across the room and blocked her path. She turned back. Darren was fighting hard against Phoenix, who seemed, somehow, to be a lot stronger than usual, and, as Emma watched, Phoenix picked up the sofa and hurled at Darren, who ducked. Emma turned back to the door as the sofa frame cracked behind her. The air in front of her seemed to be somehow thicker there, somehow darker. The lightning swirled and crackled, discharging around the ruins of the door frame and the corners of the windows. A shadow was forming.

She turned back to the fight. Darren was keeping Phoenix at arms’ length, dodging and blocking as he weighed up his options. “Emma, you need to get out,” he yelled.

“The door’s blocked.” Emma turned back and flinched as a sharp crack of thunder echoed through the flat and suddenly there was a man standing there, tall dark and absolutely furious. He glared past Emma, as Phoenix swung Emma’s favourite lamp at Darren’s head. Emma flinched as the lamp hit a mirror.

The stranger gestured at Phoenix who spun around as she noticed his presence. “No!” she cried out, “No, I can explain…”

The stranger gestured again and Phoenix twisted, wreathed in the same purple lightning. Somehow she was being folded, smaller and smaller as lightning crackled around the room. In front of Emma’s appalled gaze, the untidy, plump woman was turning and twisting like an origami crane, her features blurring as she shrank. Darren stepped clear. “Wait a minute!”

It was too late. Phoenix screamed one long, last scream and then twisted into a small, knotted, brown bundle of tattered hair and fur which fell with a prosaic thud onto the floor. Emma stared and then jumped as the stranger stepped forward and bowed to Darren.

“My thanks for your rescue, sir. I apologise for any distress and inconvenience to you and your fair lady. I am Vertiver, and I have been trapped by this creature…” he waved a dismissive hand at the bundle on the floor, “…for far too long. I owe you my life, and more.”

Darren shook his head. “No, I’m happy to help.”

“My life was a mere existence, trapped and twisted, forced to perform harsh magics.” Vertiver bowed to Emma. “I apologise for the unpleasantness I brought. I swear that I would not willingly torment a lady.” He turned back to Darren. “My rescuer, my lord, I owe you my freedom. I cannot turn away from my obligation.”

“You can,” Darren said with conviction. “You really can.”

Vertiver shook his head. “You are mortal. I shall pledge to serve you for the rest of your days. That is my oath and my word. I can do no less after being freed from that prison, that dark, dreary, desperate dungeon where I was bound by their cursed knots.”

“No, not at all.” Darren stumbled over his words in his haste to get them out. “No obligation, seriously, my duty.”

“But it is my honour. And no service could be more onerous than the labour recently forced,” Vertiver said, bowing again. “You are a priest? Well, that should make my service interesting and with far nobler deeds than my late captor.”

“Bloody hell,” Darren said.

Eggs for Breakfast

“These are hard,” my mother said. “You should make some new ones.”

“Sorry, I’ll get them done now,” I said.

“I don’t know why you can’t them right first time,” Mother complained. “It’s not like you never cook eggs.”

“Sorry,” I said as I put the pan back on the heat. “Maybe I should get the pan hotter first.”

“You never think!” Mother said. “You’re going to have to have them. I can’t have them going to waste. And what about dinner? I suppose you haven’t thought about that?”

“I’ve got some chicken out of the freezer,” I lied, knowing what would come next.

“I don’t fancy chicken,” Mother said. “I think that we eat too much chicken. Is that toast fresh?”

“Yes, it’s just come out,” I said as I buttered it quickly and slid it on to the plate. I pushed it over to her and cracked two more eggs into the pan.

“You could have at least cut the toast for me,” Mother said. “I have to do everything. You have no consideration for me. I’ve had such a bad night.”

“Sorry,” I repeated, as I quickly poured tea into her mug. “Here, this will help.”

Mother took a sip. “Is this milk okay?”

“It’s fine,” said, turning the eggs. “I had some in my tea when I got up earlier.”

“It tastes off,” Mother said. “Could you open a fresh carton?”

“It’s the last carton,” I said. “I usually pick it up after work, but there was that after work meeting, remember, and I didn’t have time before getting home to cook dinner.” I slid the new eggs onto her warmed plate and pushed the toast nearer.

“You’ll have to pick up some tonight, and some eggs. We seem to go through so many eggs with you wasting them.” Mother shook her head sadly. “So what are we going to have for dinner if we can’t have chicken?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“You should know!” Mother exclaimed. “You are the one in charge of the kitchen, you should know what we have. We’ll just have to order pizza. I know you say you don’t like it, but you should have thought of that before getting the chicken out. And today of all days! You know I’m out for the day with Mrs Timmins and you didn’t even press the blue dress.”

“What blue dress?” I asked, bewildered.

“The one in the wardrobe. It’s been there so long that it was looking sad. I’ve had to put on this pink one. Of course, if you took me out more, it wouldn’t matter so much.”

“But you know I work,” I said wearily and took a bite of the eggs she’d rejected. They tasted fine.

“I keep telling you that you should give up work and get carer’s allowance. You and me could be quite cosy, just the two of us here,” Mother said. “I don’t know what you need your job for. They only pay a pittance.” She looked out of the window. “There’s Mrs Timmins – I have to go! Where have you put my bag?”

I watched her leave, sipping my tea as she glared one last time at me through the window as she climbed into Mrs Timmins’ car, then breathed out. Finally she was gone. I dumped my unwashed plate and mug into the sink and raced upstairs to grab my one remaining bag. My job paid extremely well, thank goodness, though she never knew, more than enough for the very reasonable rent on a tiny flat near work. The down payment had cleared, I’d picked up the keys and today was the day I moved away from Mother and into my own home. And what was more, I thought, as I shut the door and pushed the keys back through the letterbox, I would never, ever have to eat eggs for breakfast again.

Dreaming

As I sleep, my faerie lover

Curls against my back and sighs

Deep in slumber, resting with me

Dreaming of pearlescent skies

Matching me in dreaming’s dances

Stepping through my idling mind

Petals fall in springtime meadows

As winter’s cares are tossed behind

When I wake, I don’t remember

In the dirty light of day

My days are creeping through my autumn

But in my sleep, I dream of May.