All the short stories with our favourite characters after the end of the last book.
Hal pressed himself against the cold stone wall and tried to catch his breath. He had to risk using the torch on his phone. He didn’t want to run the battery down, but he needed to know if he was safe. The quick sweep of light showed bare stone. The fan vaulting overhead told him he was in the Chapter House. Surely Kirkstall Abbey was a safe place from werewolves. Surely they wouldn’t be able to come onto sacred ground.
Hal tensed as he thought he heard a growl near the bare stone doorway, but his mind caught up with his terror and he realised it was just the sound of a motorbike. He leant back against the rough stone. Surely they wouldn’t come in here. This had to be a safe spot. He ran a reluctant hand over his left forearm. It felt damp and sticky and far too warm. His body ached.
If he could just hold out until morning, that would be alright, wouldn’t it? Hal knew he wasn’t thinking straight as whatever was in that werewolf bite ran through him, but he felt himself holding on to a tiny core of rational thought. Werewolves could cope with sunlight, he thought, but this was Kirkstall Abbey. It wasn’t some remote spot out on the moors but only ten minutes from the centre of Leeds and next to a busy main road. Werewolves wouldn’t want witnesses, would they?
Hal found himself sinking down the cold stone wall and slumping on the damp flags. All his bones throbbed and he hunched smaller, trying to ease the pains shooting through him. He had been bitten by a werewolf. His head felt like it was on fire. He felt his thirst was ripping his throat but he didn’t dare look for water. He just needed to hold out until morning.
Lord Marius looked around in irritation at the man stumbling across the damp grass towards Kirkstall Abbey. “You are not Sergeant Anson.”
“I’m DC Jamie Flint.” He held out his hand towards Lord Marius who completely ignored it. There was an awkward pause. “Sergeant Anson is on leave at the moment. I’m covering for him.”
Lord Marius looked at him carefully. Jamie was in his late twenties with thinning hair, an oversized uniform jacket and an anxious expression. “Did Sergeant Anson tell you everything?” He asked.
“I’ve read the briefing notes.” Jamie shifted uncomfortably. Half an hour earlier he had been trying to convince an old lady to turn her music down because not all of her neighbours were fans of Frank Sinatra. He had wanted excitement, but the brief skim of the notes left by Anson hinted at more excitement than he ever wanted.
“Come this way.” Lord Marius gestured imperiously and Jamie followed. They skirted the main building and headed towards the river. A man in a battered raincoat and holding a large sports bag was there surrounded by an orderly pack of very large dogs. “We have an incident and I think it best that you deal with it.”
“Me?” Jamie nodded to the man standing around the back of the main structure and automatically holding out a hand to the nearest dog. They were immaculately groomed and in peak condition. “Good boy.”
“Don’t call him a ‘good boy’.” Lord Marius said, sardonic amusement dripping from his tone. “That is Mark Davies, leader of the local pack. I’m sure he will have much to say when the moon is not full.”
Jamie went cold. As the moon came out from behind the clouds and added to the reflections of the local street lights, he could see the pack a lot clearer. They looked like wolves. They looked like very big, well-muscled, well-fed wolves. “I’m sorry, my mistake.” Jamie said. What was it that they said in college? Never show fear. It was easier said than done. The wolf gave a sharp bark. Lord Marius shrugged.
“Mark Davies is remarkably understanding. Of course, he has a lot on his mind. Inside the ruins of the abbey is a man who has been bitten by a werewolf. You need to bring him out.”
“Is he badly hurt?” Jamie asked. “Do I need to call for medical back up?”
The man in the middle of the pack walked up to Jamie and shook his hand. “I’m Dr Dave, and I’m the medical backup.” He turned to Lord Marius. “The stray didn’t make it. His heart gave out. Perhaps it was for the best.”
Mark gave a series of sharp barks, and for some reason Jamie felt chills running down his back. “Stray?”
Dr Dave looked between Lord Marius and Jamie. “You’re new, aren’t you. Never mind. In brief, a stray is a werewolf that isn’t attached to a pack. They usually turn bad if they spend too long alone and this one managed to pick up a case of white jaw – it’s a little like the werewolf version of rabies, and there has been the first outbreak in decades running around the country. It’s treatable, if caught in time, but the stray wasn’t able to get treatment. He may not have even realised he had it. The trouble was, the condition comes with delirium and hallucinations and he bit a normal – someone who doesn’t know about werewolves. They ran inside the ruins.”
Mark gave a few staccato barks and a deep ‘woof’.
Lord Marius nodded. “Quite.” He turned to Jamie. “The pack can’t get into the building as it is too holy. They can manage most churches, but there have been some great, if unknown, saints here over the centuries who have left their mark and it is out of bounds to the pack. Besides, they can’t risk getting the white jaw themselves. Dr Dave can treat the man if he can reach him, but he may need help restraining the victim. I’ve asked for help from the Knights Templar, but they’ve been caught up with a nest of vampire fledglings in the north of the city and it will take time for them to get here.”
“Will you be able to save him?” Jamie asked.
Dr Dave looked worried. “If I get to him in time, I can treat the white jaw. I can’t stop him changing, but Mark is a good leader and will look after him. I just need to get to him.”
Another deep ‘woof’ from Mark was translated by Lord Marius. “And as he transitions – which may be tonight or at the next full moon, depending on his infection – he’s going to be affected by the site. He won’t be able to stay there long.”
“How many exits can he reach?” Jamie asked.
“Just this one.” Dr Dave said. “We’ve blocked all the others with silver, so he should come out here.”
Jamie was not reassured by the uncertainty in the doctor’s voice. He looked over the ruins. Kirkstall Abbey was a mass of broken walls, uncertain pillars, dark shadows and council railings. The roof was intact over large parts of the medieval building, creating unlit, inky caverns. In the uncertain light, it was impossible to check all angles. “I think I need more support. Like, animal control…” He flinched as Mark took a pace forward and growled. “Sorry, but I don’t know what I can do.”
“You can help save a man’s life.” Dr Dave said briskly.
Jamie peered into the matt black shadows. He couldn’t see a thing. He pulled a torch from his belt. “What are we waiting for?” He had never been so scared in his life.
There was a yelping sound from within the building, then a growl. The pack took a collective step back as the whimpering and yelping came closer. Dr Dave pulled out a syringe. “You may not have to go in.”
Jamie stared, transfixed, as a huge, bedraggled wolf limped out, its left foreleg stained and matted with blood and the great jaws drooling foam. He groped for his taser. “Everyone stand clear.” Did he give the standard warning to a rabid werewolf? Where was the damn taser? He took a quick look around. All the wolves were standing, alert and with hackles raised. Lord Marius had taken a step forward and had a large and illegal knife held in front of him. Dr Dave was moving slowly towards the new werewolf.
“Hello, I’m Dr Dave. Let me help you. All you need to do is relax and I’ll…” Dr Dave paused at the rising growl from Hal.
“I’m DC Flint.” Jamie dredged up his courage and stuck to his training. “If everyone stays calm then no-one will get hurt. Lie down on the floor…” Jamie stumbled to a halt. Hal didn’t have any hands to keep in sight. He had four paws and a tail that was stiff and angry looking. The huge head turned towards Jamie. He took a breath. “Stop there.” Jamie held up the taser. “Get down on the floor and allow the doctor to give you treatment.” His hands closed on the handle of the taser. “Police! Taser! Taser!” And Jamie fired.
To his horror, the werewolf didn’t go down. For a few awful moments, Hal twitched, then instinctively the new werewolf ignored the shaking running through him and crouched to leap.
I’m going to die. Jamie thought as the werewolf seemed to rear up, almost in slow motion, Then he recoiled as a shot rang out next to him. Whirling around he saw a thickset man with a shaved head and neck tattoo lowering what looked like an automatic pistol. Jamie looked back at Hal. The werewolf lay limp with a dark stain spreading over the thin fur.
Mark bounded up to the shooter, barking urgently. The man nodded. “It’s okay, it was only loaded with lead. Everything alright?” He looked questioningly at Jamie.
Jamie looked over to where Dr Dave was checking over the victim as the rest of the pack gathered around. He nodded. “I think so. Thank you, I think you saved my life. I’m DC Flint.”
“Sir Dylan, Knights Templar.” He held the gun pointing at the ground, showing an uncomfortable familiarity with it.
Jamie took a breath. Less than an hour ago he had been dealing with a delusional ninety-year-old and her traumatised neighbours while Frank Sinatra had been belting out at window shaking volumes. Now he had seen a werewolf. He had not only seen werewolves but he had called one a ‘good boy’ and lived, tasered one, seen one shot and seen the shot one starting to regain consciousness, although looking a lot less feral but seriously frightened. In front of Jamie’s horrified eyes, the battered wolf flowed until he was a naked man, blood smeared over his arm and chest, curled up and shivering. And Jamie was standing next to the man who had shot him without hesitation.
Jamie dragged all his training, all his small experience and all his time as a copper and turned to Sir Dylan. “I hope you have a licence for that firearm.”
A Short Walk
“It’s dreamlike, isn’t it?”
Steve looked across at the figure that had appeared at his left side. “What is?”
“The entrance to Lord Rudyard’s domain.” She smiled enchantingly and tossed her bright scarlet hair back.
“I have business with Lord Rudyard.” Steve said.
“I keep the gate of his realm.” She said. “I meet all visitors. How can a mortal have business with a great elfen lord?”
“It’s private.” Steve said. Lord Rudyard had insisted that this was kept incredibly quiet. He was also far from a great lord, hanging on precariously between two rivals. “What should I call you?”
“You didn’t ask my name.” She said. “Perhaps you do know a little of the faerie realms. You don’t know enough, though. You bring no iron or steel.”
“I’ll call you Rose.” Steve said. “And Lord Rudyard is expecting me.”
“Is he?” Rose pouted. “I’m sure he’s not in a hurry, and you know we can play a little with time. Why don’t you stop and spend some time with me?” She ran a gentle hand up his left arm.
Steve raised an eyebrow. “I’m married. And I am here to see Lord Rudyard.” Elfen realms were a pain in the neck. Half of them had defences so deep it was impossible to get to them and then they complained about a lack of visitors.
“This road is intriguing, isn’t it?” Rose said, matching Steve’s steady gait. “You could walk forever on it, and it would never change. It will always be night and never dawn, always the chill autumn and never bright spring. You can keep pacing and even try running. Nothing helps.”
Steve looked ahead. It was utterly silent apart from the pad of their footsteps and the hiss of their breath, steaming in the chill, damp air. “I know about this road.”
“Do you? I doubt it.” Rose laughed, her voice seductively low. “But you can’t win. As you go down the road you will find nothing. No light, no warmth, no hope. Exhaustion will bring you to your knees and you will be crawling along this rough path until you collapse among the bones of your predecessors.” She ran a soft hand over his face. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit aside with me for a while?”
“I’m here to see Lord Rudyard.” Steve repeated.
“You can’t turn back, you know.” Rose said. “If you turn back, the road will just continue, for ever and ever, until you crumble to dust.” She ran a hand down from her throat and lower in invitation. “Are you sure you won’t sit a while with me?”
Steve looked around the unchanging bushes, nodded to himself and then muttered a few words. Magic was easy here, and Rose squeaked as she was suddenly encased in a glowing magical harness, the leash firmly in Steve’s hand. He snapped his fingers and a bright opening appeared on his right. “I think I will have a word with Lord Rudyard about his gatekeepers.” He gave the harness a tug as he strode into the hall and tried to keep his face immobile as he saw the appalled expression on Lord Rudyard’s face. “But I enjoyed the walk.”
Steve looked at Darren. “The information is here?”
Darren looked around. The church clung desperately to the past. The old style pews were still here, along with the ten foot high board painted with the Beatitudes. Illustrated scenes from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were painted around the walls. He found it faintly depressing. “Yes.” He said, absently flicking through the prayer books. It was the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer. What did he expect in a church that catered to elderly vampires. He took a photo of the numbers board with his phone.
“What does it mean?” Steve stared at the mismatched squares jumbled together in the slots.
“Hmm?” Darren said.
“That number at the top – Matt 7:7.” Steve walked up to it. “It’s some sort of code.”
“It’s the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, verse 7.” Darren said. “ It says ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you’. You should come along to Bible Class. It’s about asking for God’s blessings, usually, and often quoted in the Prosperity Gospel movement.”
“And the other numbers?” Steve said, staring up.
Darren had already turned to get out of the door. “It’s just numbers for the service. There’s the chapter and verse of the Bible readings, the Psalms, the collect and the hymn numbers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a church without something like it. And in this case they are also the map reference we need. Let’s get a move on before they catch up with us.”
Keep the Change
Mrs Tuesday looked sceptically at Ferdi who leaned casually on the counter. “That’s £8.72. Cash only.”
“You have lovely credit card readers right there.” Ferdi said, nodding at the hardware.
“But you get extra special treatment, bosses orders.” Mrs Tuesday smiled with an edge of malice. “£8.72, in cash.”
Ferdi shrugged. “It’s not always wise to carry a lot of cash around, but I usually have some on me.” He pulled out a fake designer wallet and handed over a note to Mrs Tuesday. “Where’s Jasmine?”
“Hmm?” Mrs Tuesday pulled out a small wooden device from under the counter.
“Jasmine, the cute werewolf who works here. I thought she might like to go for a coffee.”
Lady Freydis drifted over. “Jasmine is indeed beautiful.” She smiled maliciously at the goblin leaning on the counter. “And it is true that she prefers the romance of non-werewolves to her own kind.” She sighed. “It’s so romantic. She has been dating Darren King for some time. They are wonderful together.”
“Darren King?” Ferdi straightened up. “Is that the Reverend Darren King? The exorcist?”
“That’s him.” Mrs Tuesday said. “He dotes on Jasmine. It’s very sweet.”
“Wasn’t he in the Royal Marines?” Ferdi said, glancing between the two ladies. “And didn’t he sort out that nest of ghouls single handed last week.”
“He’s very patient with Jasmine.” Mrs Tuesday said. “If you ask me, she’s been very good for him.”
“And she adores him so completely.” Lady Freydis said. “It’s so heartwarming. You can feel the love and loyalty radiating from her in waves.”
“Umm.” Ferdi said. “Can you let her know that I asked after her.”
Mrs Tuesday ran the £10 note over the rowan-wood scanner. The enchantment flickered and died. Instead of a crisp tenner, she was holding a battered ten-shilling note. “Ferdi, you know these haven’t been legal tender since 1971.”
Kadogan appeared from the back room. “Is that Ferdi?”
“I must have picked up the wrong wallet. I like to keep a few curiosities around.” Ferdi abandoned the small bag of incense and the outdated banknote and backed quickly away from the counter. “I’ll just check in my car.” He turned and fled.
Kadogan frowned after him. “I do not know why he bothers attending here. Did you tell him that all prices are double for him?”
“Mrs Tuesday was charging £8.72 for a £1.99 bag of incense.” Lady Freydis said. “But I think that is acceptable.”
“Indeed, Mrs Tuesday is to be commended.” And Kadogan stalked into the back room.
Mrs Tuesday exchanged a feline smile with Lady Freydis. “I think being overcharged is the least of his worries.”
Darren glanced at the reflection in the window. The wight was still following him. He crossed the narrow street and turned into Fishergate. The wight change course after him, carefully avoiding the crowds of tourists and focused on the pursuit. Darren crossed the road, dodging between cars, then crossed back. The wight followed his every move. Dammit, thought Darren, the creature isn’t even trying to be subtle. It wants me to feel the fear.
He crossed back and then ducked down Howard Street. As he upped his pace past the quaint Victorian houses, he hoped he had remembered correctly. Howard Street was a dead end to cars, but there should be an alley at the end, which would take him out of there. He could not allow the wight to catch him in public.
He was almost jogging now, ducking into the alley way and under the leafy trees. He could feel the dark, draining presence of the wight behind him. Night was falling and the wight would be stronger as the sunlight faded. He muttered a quick prayer. He had to get the wight away from the general public. It was getting closer, moving in for the kill.
Darren glanced quickly around and headed into York Cemetery. The shadows were stretching down and across the rows of old fashioned graves. He slowed and looked along the paths. Where could he go next? There was a dry chuckle behind him.
“You let me hunt you to a graveyard? The home of the dead?”
Darren turned and looked the wight straight in its sunken eye. “You didn’t hunt me.”
“Yet here you are, alone, with me. Do you know what I am?” The wight hissed, dropping any attempt at glamour and showing its dark, fibrous shape.
“Do you know what I am?” Darren said. He made the sign of the cross and started praying.
A cat slid past his legs and leapt with effortless grace onto a nearby headstone. The image rippled and Lady Freydis sat, her eyes very bright. “And do you know what I am? I am the very angry prince who let an exorcist lead you to hallowed ground. You are not so powerful here, wight.”
A groan bubbled from the wight as Darren’s prayers drained its power. It looked around wildly, but members of Lady Freydis’ court were fading into view from the cemetery shadows and blocking all means of escape. Kadogan leant forward. “And you thought you were the hunter!” There were malevolent chuckles in the group surrounding the dwindling wight. “Perhaps you should have hunted a with a little more care.”
Darren pronounced the final, Latin blessing and the wight collapsed into dark dust, blowing into the leafy calm of the cemetery. He nodded to Lady Freydis. “Thank you.”
“Not at all.” Lady Freydis said, gracefully sliding from the headstone. “We all enjoy a good hunt.”
Steve tentatively opened his eyes and squinted into the lights. As he regained his senses he realised he was strapped to a chair and surrounded by recording equipment. “What?”
“You are half elfen.” A tall man, lean and unshaven, stood at the back of the neglected room. He had a small laptop perched on a barstool next to him. “You are going to tell me everything.”
Steve shook his head and winced. “You hit me over the head when I was getting into my car.”
“You can’t escape.” There was a psychotic flatness in the man’s voice. “I’ve taken all precautions.”
“Yes, my father was elfen.” Steve said. “But I wasn’t raised by him. I was raised by my mother.” The leather straps that loosely held his wrists were scored with arcane symbols and Steve could sense some serious magical power in there.
“But you know your father, and you know other elfen. I need you to tell me everything.” The tall man tapped some keys on his laptop. “I’m starting the recording. Now, tell me about your Queen.”
Steve checked around. He was surrounded by a circle of what looked like iron filings, intertwined with red thread. A second circle of salt surrounded the iron. He narrowed his eyes. The damp patches on the bare boards probably meant a sprinkling of holy water. “Queen Elizabeth II, of the United Kingdom and other places. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“No, your real Queen, the Winter Queen.” The man insisted. “I have ways of making you uncomfortable.”
“You’ve tied me to a chair.” Steve tested the straps on his wrists. “That’s not comfort.”
“You see the runes on the straps.” The man leant forward. “It took a lot of research to find them.”
“Yeah, the magic is pretty robust.” Steve admitted. He tugged at them again.
“I know!” The man straightened. “Tell me your name.”
“It’s Steve Adderson.” Steve said. “You must know that.”
“No, your secret name, the one you hide.” The man stalked over and leant close. Steve could smell the coffee on his breath. “I can make things very unpleasant. What is your name?”
Steve looked directly into the eyes of the man and then headbutted him. As the man reeled back, Steve kicked his legs from under him and then tugged his hands free of the straps on his wrists. He kicked the circle of iron shavings aside and dragged the terrified man to his feet. “I’m half elfen. I’m also half human, you muppet.” He looked around. “Get this mess cleared up and then we will have a talk.” Steve glared at him. “And uncomfortable is the least of your worries.”
Easy Mistake to Make
“So how did you find out where I worked?” Jasmine asked suspiciously.
“I have my ways.” Tyrone said, airily.
“And those ways are?” Jasmine pressed.
“Jay saw you walk in here last week.” Tyrone admitted. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m here, and so are you.”
“I’m working.” Jasmine said. “Excuse me.”
Tyrone stepped aside to allow Jasmine to ease past as she carried a large box over to the display of herbs. “That looks far too heavy for you.” He smiled at Jasmine. “Let me carry it for you.”
“I’m fine.” Jasmine rolled her eyes and set the box down. “I’m stronger than I look.”
“You had better believe that.” Mrs Tuesday said, grinning happily.
Lady Freydis drifted over. “Jasmine, you have an admirer.”
“It’s okay, Tyrone knows we can only be friends as I have a boyfriend!” Jasmine glared at Tyrone.
“Babe, you should rethink that.” Tyrone said. “I’m good looking, I’ve got a good job lined up, and I bet I could wipe the floor with any pretender to your heart.”
“I think ‘Pretender to Your Heart’ is a very good saying.” Lady Freydis said. “Which book did you find it in?”
“Seriously, Tyrone, I’m happy with Darren.” Jasmine shoved out some packets of fern seed. “I’m sure you’ll find someone else.”
“I can’t sleep at night.” Tyrone said. “I’m dreaming of you all the time.”
“How can you dream if you are not asleep?” Lady Freydis asked.
Jasmine ignored Mrs Tuesday chuckling in the background. “I have a boyfriend. I’m very happy with him. Please, just leave me alone.”
“Never!” Tyrone declared. “I’ll never give up.”
Kadogan strolled in. “I thought I felt some embarrassment.” He looked narrowly at Mrs Tuesday. “What have you done?”
“It’s not me this time.” Mrs Tuesday said. “Jasmine has an admirer.”
“Does Darren know?” Kadogan asked.
Tyrone looked at Jasmine. “You really do have a boyfriend? I thought you were just saying that to put me off.” He shook his head. “Forget him, babe, I could treat you like a queen.”
“I advise against pursuing Jasmine.” Kadogan said. “I do not deny that it is entertaining to watch, but Darren was formerly a Royal Marine and is quite ruthless when he deals with opposition. I do not wish the White Hart to be caught up in anything unsavoury.”
Tyrone snorted. “They all say that they’re ex-army, but they never are. You put me and him against each other in the gym or sparring or whatever, and I’ll show you what a real man…” He trailed off.
Darren walked into the shop and Jasmine’s face lit up with joy at seeing him. Darren’s face relaxed a little and a warm current of love ran between them before Darren looked up. “Just water today, please.”
Tyrone looked at the hard muscled, hard faced, lethal presence that was looking so softly at Jasmine. “I’ll see you in college, Jas.”
“Only you would pick a male saint for your saint’s day.” Martin shook his head and smiled at his wife. “You had the pick of them all and you are so feminine.”
Lady Freydis smiled happily. “But I love this day. I can find violets as well as blossom and the days become brighter.” She hugged her husband. “Thank you for remembering. It has been some years since I celebrated.”
“Why Caradoc?” Martin asked.
“I knew him.” Lady Freydis trailed her hand over the heavy damask cloth set under the pretty pink runner. “He made such sweet music. I visited my cousin, she was at Merlin’s Bridge and we were passing to St Brides and we visited.” She smiled at the memory. “He knew us for what we were and he said some harsh things, but he let us listen to his music and he blessed us as we went.”
“That must have been a special moment.” Martin said. “To be blessed by a saint.”
“And you have made me this wonderful meal.” Lady Freydis sighed. “And it is so very pink.”
“I ordered the cake specially from Adele’s cousin.” Martin waved a hand at the towering confection. “She promised to bake in lots of the glitter.
Lady Freydis sighed. “I never wear pink now.”
“I know.” Martin said.
“I wore it because I thought Lord Ragnar liked it.” Lady Freydis ran a manicured finger over the iced pink tea jug.
“I know.” Martin said again.
Lady Freydis glanced carefully at Martin. “Now he is dead and I wear blue these days, and sometimes green, because it makes me think of you.”
Martin had no idea why blue or green would remind Lady Freydis of him, but he smiled. “I am blessed.”
Lady Freydis bent to catch the scent of the bright pink roses dipped in glitter. “So I hardly ever have anything pink.”
“I know.” Martin smiled.
“But I think I have always secretly liked pink, deep down.” Lady Freydis said as she caressed the vivid pink glass and the bottle of pink champagne. “I think that actually I didn’t wear pink for Lord Ragnar. I think I wore it for me.”
Martin just smiled and dropped a brief kiss on Lady Freydis’ glorious golden hair.
Lady Freydis looked up at him. “And that is why you are the perfect husband.” She reached up to kiss him passionately. “Thank you.”
“Happy Saint’s Day.” And Martin hugged her.
Wanderer in the Mist
The wanderer couldn’t believe how long he had been walking in the woods. It felt like days. The mist between the silver trees softened the edges of the world and blurred any sounds into a faint hiss. Everything looked the same and the faint echoes of song that tantalised him on the edge of his hearing were impossible to place. He paused and put a tentative hand on the ice cold trunk of a tree. Perhaps he had passed it before. He couldn’t tell. He had tried arranging stones on the paths to see if he was going in circles but when he found the stones again they were not quite the same as he remembered. They had been a little jumbled and he couldn’t be sure if they were the stones he had left there or not.
He regretted taking the dare. Everyone said that the lane led to Fairyland if you went on a full moon on May Day Eve. He hadn’t wanted to go but Harry had dared him and he hadn’t wanted to look scared. He stopped again and leant against a tree. It was funny. He didn’t feel hungry or thirsty, but he was sure he had been here most of the night. He shivered.
He looked around. It felt like days but there was no sign of dawn. Perhaps the mist was hiding it. He looked around. He didn’t remember this fork in the path. Perhaps that was the way out. He frowned. He could hear voices! He finally could hear voices!
“I don’t know, father.” The voice of a young man said. “The signs are mounting up. There is something coming to Leeds and I’m not sure what.”
“I do not wish to believe it, Steve.” An older voice said. “But I fear it is true.”
The wanderer ran towards them. “Hey, hey there! Can you help me? I’m lost.” He ran into the clearing and then stumbled to a halt. A tall, dark man with devilish green eyes was dressed in what looked like Medieval armour and was facing a slim man in a sharp suit.
“I am Lord Marius,” the man in armour said. “This is my son, Steve Adderson. Why are you here?”
“Harry dared me.” The wanderer looked between the two men. “This is Fairyland, right?”
“Yes, it is.” Steve looked at him. “Have you been here long?”
The wanderer smiled ruefully. “It seems like days. Do you know the way out? It’s just that if I’m out too late my mam won’t let me listen to the coronation on the radio.”
“Coronation?” Lord Marius asked, amused.
“Yes, King George VI. He’ll do a better job and at least he’s married to a proper lady.” The wanderer looked between the two men and their suddenly set expressions. “What’s the matter?”
“I’ll explain it.” Steve said. “I’ll meet up later, father.” He turned to the wanderer. “We need to get out of this domain and have a long talk. What’s your name?”
The wanderer stared at him for a long moment. He had come into Fairyland, some time ago. He had come because of a dare from Harry. He wanted to get back to listen to the coronation on the radio and he couldn’t if his mam was cross and he seemed to have been wandering for a long time. Those thoughts had run a track around his mind for longer than it seemed, with nothing else on his mind. “I can’t remember.”
“It’s not haunted.” Darren stalked into the flat’s entrance hall.
DC Hines flinched as a moan echoed through the flat. “Are you sure about that?”
Darren gave him an impatient look. “Yes, it’s just magical effects. I’m just here as a favour to your boss.”
The air temperature dropped and, despite the lights, it seemed a little darker. DC Hines swallowed. “How dangerous is this?”
Darren appeared unaffected. “It’s just like watching a video. It’s nothing.”
DC Hines looked around. “I’ve got the warrant. All we need to do is find the disc.” He quickly checked the bathroom. “Normally I take a team-” He flinched as a growl sounded at his shoulder. Darren ignored it and moved into the living room.
“It’s not ideal to get a team in here,” he said. “And the effects are likely to increase the longer we are here. We need to get a move on.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” DC Hines asked, checking the toilet cistern and taking a quick look behind the bath panel.
“It’s magic.” Darren said. “It’s not my field.”
“But you don’t seem affected by it.” DC Hines said, trailing after Darren and then coming to an appalled halt in front of the shelves of discs. He swore.
“I’ve seen it all before.” Darren said, glancing around. “And, fortunately for us, it was done by an amateur.”
DC Hines opened the first of the cupboards. “I’m going to need a team to get all these out,” he said. “I mean, there are thousands and he’s going to argue about every single disc.” He started taking photos, his hands shaking a little at the deep growls.
“We haven’t time.” Darren said. “There’s too much at stake. Stand still, for heaven’s sake.”
DC Hines watched as Darren paced slowly around the room, the growls rising and falling as he moved. “What’s going on?” He retched as a foul stench wafted through the air.
Darren shook his head. “What a complete amateur.” He kicked over the large potted plant on the floor by the cabinets and pulled out a large knife from his jacket.
“Is that knife legal?” DC Hines asked.
Darren ignored him and prised off the base of the plant pot. “The growls got stronger when I got near to this.” He grimaced. “And the stinkbomb was set off.” He pulled out a small, plastic wrapped package from the dirt underneath the plant. The knife slit the packaging with unnerving ease and a clear case containing a single, unmarked disc fell out. “It’s how I knew where to look. Like I said, a complete amateur.” He handed the case to DC Hines. “We can check it in the car, away from the special effects.”
DC Hines, swallowed, nodded and moved with speed towards the door. “Thank goodness he was old school.”
“That’s vampires for you.” Darren said, following DC Hines out of the door and shutting it carefully behind him. “Just be thankful it wasn’t on reels of tape.”
“I’m not convinced I need to be here.” Darren hunched into his leather jacket and tried to ignore the trickle of rain down his neck.
Lord Marius lounged casually against the traffic light. “Of course it’s a ghost,” he said. “Bad people were buried at crossroads. What else could it be?”
Darren looked at him for a moment. “Let’s look at the facts. There’s a higher than average death count at this junction. It’s mainly motorbikes, but a few cars have crashed with fatalities. It could be a bad road layout, difficult local conditions, mis-timed light changes, local kids messing with the signals, poor road condition, demographic of drivers, location of nearest pub – all sorts of stuff.”
“There have been strange stories from survivors,” Lord Marius said. “And talk of a grey figure appearing without warning.”
“There are always strange stories from survivors.” Darren said. “At least, strange stories that are supposed to come from survivors but have nothing to do with it. And some of the stories may be strange, and may be actually told by a survivor but are more to do with trying to hide that they were driving under the influence. And a strange figure jumping out could just be a local nutter.”
“This is a very old road,” Lord Marius said. “I remember it being built.”
Darren knew he was being baited, but it passed the time. “What do you mean, it’s an old road. If it’s that old, it wasn’t built.”
“I mean, I remember the legions building it.” Lord Marius said. “The bend over there is because there was once swamp and mire.”
Darren walked slowly up to the very edge of the pavement and looked both ways. The road was remarkably straight for this part of the country. “This was a Roman road?”
“The legions built it first,” Lord Marius said. “I watched them for hours as they worked so hard. The road crossing is later.” He waved an expansive hand. “But I know of several suicides that were buried here.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Darren said. “Besides, ghosts usually attached to their place of death. It’s probably something that’s more your territory.” He stretched. “And we’ve probably frightened off anything that’s hanging around.”
“Do you really think I’d allow us to be noticed,” Lord Marius said smoothly. “That would defeat the purpose of bringing you here.”
Darren glared at him. “You have cast an enchantment on me?”
Lord Marius paused. “I should have asked first?”
“Damn right you should have asked.” Darren snapped. “Who the hell do you think you are? I am not one of your subjects, I’m doing you a favour by turning out on a night like this and you throw enchantments at me?” He advanced slowly towards Lord Marius. “Get the enchantment off me now!”
Lord Marius flinched. “Please accept my many apologies, Reverend Darren King, I merely thought that I was making suitable preparations. I also have food and drink with me.”
“Do you honestly think I’d accept food or drink from an elfen?” Darren paced around in fury.
“There is a candidate coming.” Lord Marius lost interest in Darren’s fury as he heard the deep roar of an engine approaching.
A motorbike was racing down the road, taking the bend far too fast. Darren knew the signs. It was a kid, barely legal to drive, without a helmet or decent gear. There was nothing to protect him in an accident. The rider wobbled, frantically trying to hold it together as the bike, far too big for him, swayed and bucked at the curve.
“No you don’t!” Lord Marius called.
Darren spun around as a grey-cloaked figure loomed out of the shadows and shambled towards the road. Lord Marius grabbed it, then ducked as the figure swung a knife at him. Darren tried to assess what was happening as the bike’s brakes squealed behind him as the kid finally got some control. What was this creature? It sliced forward with the knife and Lord Marius leapt back quickly, stumbling on the uneven path. The creature followed its advantage and punched at Lord Marius, missing his head but catching him on the shoulder, spinning him around and sending him staggering. Lord Marius punched it hard, frantically trying to buy some time, and it slammed back into the pole. As whatever it was pushed back towards Lord Marius, Darren saw a visible dent in the pole, but no singe marks or frost. It was probably safe to hit. He kicked hard at the hand holding the knife, watching the multicoloured traffic lights gleam on it as it jerked, but it wasn’t dropped. Darren’s heart sank, not an easy opponent. He feinted another kick and then hit it hard on the back of its head. Lord Marius followed up and punched the creature hard in the stomach and it dropped, retching.
“My apologies.” Lord Marius bent forward, backhanded the creature and then pulled back the hood. “You were correct, Minister Darren King. It is an elfen. A very unimportant elfen who is very, very sorry.”
“They stopped tying flowers.” The elfen wore a glamour like an older woman with disarranged silver curls and smudged, old-fashioned makeup. She looked furtively between the two standing over her. “When someone dies, people tie bunches of flowers to the poles. I like the flowers.” She rubbed wrinkled and arthritic hands together. “So I made sure there was always a reason to tie the flowers.”
Darren checked the road. The kid and his motorbike had long gone and the road was empty. “Remove the enchantment, Lord Marius.”
“Of course.” Lord Marius waved a hand. “And once again my apologies. Thank you for your aid.”
“We probably won’t be able to prove anything in a court of law.” Darren said, working his hand. The elfen kneeling in front of him had a skull like iron.
“Do not worry.” Lord Marius smiled maliciously. “I will educate this creature to the error of her ways. It may take some time.” The kneeling elfen flinched.
“Thanks.” Darren straightened his jacket.
“I am extremely grateful for the aid,” Lord Marius said. “I was taken by surprise at the attack. I feel I owe you a minor debt of honour.”
“Don’t worry about the attack,” Darren said. “If you take this off the streets then we’re even. But I won’t forget about the enchantment.” He turned and strode down the hill towards his car.
Lord Marius looked after him thoughtfully. “I wonder if I shall regret that enchantment.” He paused for a moment, then kicked the kneeling elfen hard in the head. “No matter, I shall concentrate on the matter in hand.”
A Sad Memory
Lady Freydis sighed. Being an ageless elfen who had lived for millennia had its benefits but memories became clouded. You could remember things, but couldn’t hang them on a date. She could never remember whether it was the Battle of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo that had happened first and it had caused quite a bit of bother in pub quizzes. Whole chunks of time seemed to slip out of her mind, unremembered. Other times, other happenings, slid to the back and fell behind the clutter of everyday and now. Lady Freydis would drift happily along, oblivious to any gaps until she was reminded by a picture or a place and the old memories would slide back into view.
She walked down Stonegate. York depended heavily on tourists and today it was nearly deserted. So many were wearing masks. So many looked strained or fearful. A few looked ill, to Lady Freydis’ experienced eye, but whether it was the latest sickness or something else, she didn’t know.
She remembered many plagues. They were always time of fear and pain. Elfen fed on the emotions of the people around them, and the fear, horror and despair of plagues were rich pickings. The one she remembered best was the Pestilence that struck York. The Minster was still being rebuilt and King Edward was on the throne, the third one, and people fell in the streets. And the good priests had died.
There had been a priest attached to St Mary’s, or perhaps St Olaves, called William. Lady Freydis thought it was William. The name was blurred by time but the feel him, the way his smile shone and his heart showed in his eyes remained vivid. He had known what she was but had still been kind as she sobbed on his shoulder over another of Lord Ragnar’s infidelities. He had been so scared as the sickness reached York. Lady Freydis had felt it rolling off him like waves. He may have been called Wilbur, or Wilfrid, but she remembered the tone of that fear and his courage as he pushed on to minister to the people of York. So many had died, Lady Freydis remembered. She had stepped over the bodies in the street. And Father Alwin – yes, that was his name – Father Alwin had caught the pestilence himself as he had not turned away from those who had needed him.
The bad priests fled, the good priests died. Father Alwin had never allowed Lady Freydis to nurse him properly but continued, in the few days he had left, hearing confessions from the wretches dying next to him. He heard the confessions of others on his own deathbed, confessing at last to Lady Fredis, as dispensation allowed, and had passed.
There were plague pits outside the walls, but Lady Freydis would not let the remains of Father Alwin go there. He had been a safe place for her when her heart was breaking. She would not let him be in a nameless grave jostled by many. Instead she took his remains through faerie paths and dug a grave deep in a churchyard in Stamford, unnoticed in the corner, and laid him to rest, saying the old prayers as she said goodbye.
There had been many plagues over the centuries, but none had taken someone she missed more. And every time, Lady Freydis took flowers to the dim corner of the graveyard and tormented a bad priest.
Rose jerked awake from where she had been dozing. The knock on the door had sounded like thunder in her dreams. She rushed to the window and peered through the dusty nets.
Ellen joined her at the window. They both looked out at the slim young man. “Is this it?” Ellen asked. “Have they found Mary?”
Ruby stood at the entrance to the room, too nervous to join them at the window. “Does it look like good news or bad news?”
The door knocker sounded again. “We should answer the door.” Rose said, sounding braver than she felt.
“What if it’s bad news?” Ellen asked. “What if they haven’t found Mary? What if she can never come home with us?”
“Is it a man or a woman at the door?” Ruby asked, edging a little closer to the window.
“It’s a man.” Rose said, peering a little further then darting back against the cobwebs as their visitor looked up at the window. “He’s wearing a suit.”
“Does he have anyone with him?” Ruby clenched her hands into fists.
Rose shook her head. “He’s got a box, though, all draped with a silk cloth.”
“Is that good news or bad news?” Ruby asked.
“It has to be news about Mary.” Ellen said. “We should answer the door.”
“What if it is another ‘favour’.” Ruby said flatly. “We’ve worn ourselves to shreds doing ‘favours’ for those who should have helped us. Perhaps they think we need to do more.”
The knocker thundered again. “We have to answer the door.” Rose said. “We should all go.” The man was looking around curiously. An expensive car stood at the end of the weed covered drive. “He may leave and then we will never know.”
The sisters tiptoed into the hall. “We can’t ignore this.” Rose said. “We have to take courage and think of Mary.”
It was Ellen who finally slid open the chain and turned the stiff lock. The neglected door creaked a little as she dragged it open. It was a cold, late autumn day with damp in the air, but the man did not rush. He nodded politely and stepped in. He looked around, and, without saying a word, pulled the dusty hall table to the centre of the hall. Then he placed the box reverentially on the table. The sisters didn’t speak as he carefully pulled off the black cloth and folded it neatly, tucking it inside his heavy, expensive overcoat. The sisters could barely move, transfixed by black, lacquered box. The man deftly removed the lid and removed an urn. He checked that it was safe and centred. Then he looked around the hall. The sisters did not make a sound. The man bowed politely again and left, closing the door behind him.
The sisters finally relaxed as they listened for the old gate creaking shut and the car purring away. Then they crowded around the urn. The three ghosts, finally reunited with the ashes of their beloved sister, faded away.
Sir Dylan knew deep down that he wasn’t made for this sort of work. He’d grown up in the back alleys of Holbeck, among the druggies and sex workers, abandoned any attempt at school around the age of twelve, by which time he was running drugs for the local gangs and hanging around parks drinking. He was not cut out for the more cultured and expensive area of Lawnswood. North Leeds was as alien to him at times as Mars. “So you asked your vicar?”
Mrs Girton nodded. “I don’t normally approve of patriarchal religion,” she said. “I feel that it’s an unnecessarily restrictive practice. But I’ve been desperate. I love my garden. And Kingsley hasn’t been comfortable going into the garden for months.”
Sir Dylan looked down at the Shih Tzu. It barked sharply at him. “And you’ve noticed that the garden is fading?”
“Are you really a knight?” Mrs Girton asked.
Sir Dylan sighed. “I wasn’t always a knight,” he explained, well aware that the neck tattoo and bulky muscles were not normally associated with chivalry. “I was drafted into the Knights Templar due to my experience. Can you show me the garden affected?”
Mrs Girton looked doubtfully at the amateur inkings on Sir Dylan’s ham sized hands. “You had better come this way.” She swallowed nervously and picked up Kingsley, holding the dog like a shield between her and the unfamiliar, dangerous looking visitor.
Sir Dylan followed her around the corner into the back garden. When you watched a gang of drug dealers torn apart by a pack of rogue werewolves, you had limited options. He had not chosen to lose himself in drugs, drink or madness. Instead he had joined the Knights Templar, the underground group that policed the werewolves, vampires and the rest of the non-normal community, to fight back. “I’m registered as a Special Constable, Mrs Girton. They did all the background checks.” To be honest, the Ministry of Justice had sent a strong letter to local station who had grumbled and watched him like a hawk.
“That’s reassuring,” Mrs Girton said. “Although I’ve heard a lot about police brutality.” She patted Kingsley nervously. “You know what they say.”
“They’re a good bunch, on the whole,” Sir Dylan said. He could say this safely as he hadn’t got much of a clue but the ones he had had dealings with had been straight enough – and bright enough not to trust him. A copper that trusted a tattooed, muscled thug that hunted rogue vampires was not fit for duty.
“It’s around here.” Mrs Girton said. She opened a gate into the back garden. It jingled.
Sir Dylan looked at it curiously. Bells and strips of multicoloured ribbon hung with mirrors were tied to the gate. “That’s very decorative.”
“No, I think it’s awful.” Mrs Girton said. “It’s just that I heard you can use mirrors and stones against them.”
“Against who?” Sir Dylan asked, looking around the garden.
“The Fair Folk,” Mrs Girton whispered.
Sir Dylan took stock of the garden. There was definitely an issue. It showed every sign of being cherished but there was a greyness in the air. There was a pond with some sort of fountain that had a film of dust over it. The shadows under the climbing roses seemed to be darker and not moving with the light. A dimness fell over what should have been a glorious display of flowers. “You’ve put up a lot of these things.”
Mrs Girton nodded. “I’ve put them everywhere, but nothing helps.”
Sir Dylan stepped forward. He had got into the Knights Templar by being good in a fight, but he had developed a few instincts over the years. He could feel the elfen presence, but he didn’t want to get anything started in front of Mrs Girton. He looked over to her. She was hugging Kingsley, who was growling at a stand of bamboo. He sighed. That was the problem with things nowadays. People could learn just enough to get into trouble but not enough to get out of it. Bright stones, dream catchers and windchimes hung from every available corner and was enough to drive anyone insane. And Mrs Girton was right – no elfen could get past that lot. “Mrs Girton, you haven’t kept something out of your garden. You’ve trapped it in.” He checked the area and then strode over to the side that bordered onto the trees sheltering the golf club. Most of the shiny gewgaws were firmly wired into place but he managed to unhook the stones, wired with intricate patterns, and create a gap. “Out!” he snapped.
“What?” Mrs Girton asked over Kingsley’s barking.
“I’m talking to the elfen,” Sir Dylan said. “And I said, out!”
A breeze rattled around the garden, shaking the blossoms, overturning a planter and ruffling the surface of the pond before shooting past Sir Dylan and then out.
Mrs Girton stared around her garden. Already it seemed brighter and Kingsley’s tail was wagging furiously. She put him down and watched as he raced around, sniffing happily. “So it’s gone?”
“Yes, it’s gone,” Sir Dylan carefully hung the stones back up. But I would be careful if I were you. How long were they trapped here?”
“It’s been over a year,” Mrs Girton said. “I mean, we bought the house for the garden and the view, and of course it’s near the golf course for my husband, but it has never felt right. And Jeff won’t play there anymore. He says he never has any luck. He goes to Alwoodley.”
“Then I suggest you move,” Sir Dylan said. “They won’t have been any happier than you, and they bear grudges for years.”
“But I’ve only just sorted out the kitchen!” Mrs Girton wailed.
“Then it will be a great selling point,” Sir Dylan said. “You have my number, if anything happens.” He turned towards the gate.
“How much do I owe you?” Mrs Girton asked. “I’ve got my purse in the house.”
“Just keep me in your prayers, Mrs Girton,” Sir Dylan said. “And I’ll be very grateful for that.”
How do you Tell?
Carol cracked open the front door and peeked through the tiny gap. “Can I help you?”
Sir Dylan smiled brightly as he forced the door open and strode in. “May I come in?” he asked as he stood in the hall, checking out the layout of the small house.
“You can’t come in!” Carol said, her voice wavering. “Please leave.”
“Leave now, before something dreadful happens,” a voice boomed from the kitchen at the back of the house.
Sir Dylan flung open the kitchen door. The room was icy, far colder than outside or the rest of the house, and incense smoke hung heavily in the air. A plate flew off a shelf and through the air, past his ear, and smashed dramatically on a cupboard. The tall, thin man standing in the centre of the room was holding a Bible and gesturing dramatically. He didn’t look around. “Leave now, while your soul is still safe.”
“Hello, Foxglove,” Sir Dylan said.
The tall man froze and then spun around. “It’s Foxbane.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Sir Dylan said, taking the Bible out of his limp grasp and setting it down respectfully on the nearby counter. “You’ve been warned about this.”
“I swear that this is a genuine exorcism,” Foxbane said. “Absolutely 100% genuine. This poor lady came to me when unexplained cold and draughts affected her home.” He looked behind Sir Dylan at Carol who was hovering helplessly. “There was unexplained activity and some damage. I was helping her out of the goodness of my heart.”
Sir Dylan backed away a little, keeping an eye on Foxbane as he asked Carol, “How much did he charge?”
“It’s true that I went to him,” Carol said. “Someone on Facebook recommended him, and I’m paying in instalments.” She laid a trembling hand on Sir Dylan’s arm. “It’s all real, you know, all of it. It’s been a nightmare. I’ve not been able to sleep properly for months.”
Sir Dylan looked at her. She was an older woman, with deeply shadowed eyes and tension lines around her mouth. She did not deserve Foxbane’s games. “I know it’s real,” he said. “But it’s not exactly what you think.” He pulled a small monocle from his pocket and peered through it.
“Look at us,” Foxbane said to Carol. “Who looks more trustworthy?”
Carol looked at Foxbane. He looked tall and urbane, with a silver streak in his dark hair. His expensive suit and shirt looked a little rumpled from the effort of the exorcism and his silk tie was askew, but he looked erudite and in control. Sir Dylan was wearing a leather jacket over a cheap t-shirt and battered jeans. His heavy boots were scuffed and tattoos covered his thickly muscled arms and ran up his neck into his closely cropped hair. Carol eyed the knight nervously. “It all seems very complicated.”
Sir Dylan glared at Foxbane. “I’ve spoken to Lord Marius, and he says that he would like to deal with you himself.” He eased something out of his pocket with his free hand. “He’s not happy.”
Foxbane pulled himself up to his full height. “I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t care,” Sir Dylan said. “But he gave me some stuff to help me out.” He threw a chain at Foxbane which wrapped itself loosely around his neck and hung over his arms. As Foxbane stood pinned and immobile, Sir Dylan held out the monocle and peered through it before his hand shot out and grabbed what seemed to be thin air. Without warning his hand was clutching the throat of a red-headed young man who wriggled wildly as Sir Dylan dropped the monocle and pulled out a second chain. “Hello, Catkin.”
“It’s not Catkin, it’s Willow,” the man hissed, clawing at Sir Dylan’s fingers tightening around his throat.
“Yeah,” Sir Dylan said, dropping the chain around Willow’s neck. He turned his back on the two frozen figures and tried a reassuring smile at Carol. “I’m sorry that you were bothered by this, ma’am. I’m afraid you’ve been targeted by scammers.”
“But you saw that plate move…” Carol trailed off. Willow had appeared from nowhere and he and Foxbane were now frozen underneath the thin chains, their outlines fuzzy and indistinct.
“These aren’t human,” Sir Dylan said, “Or they’re differently human, or whatever the latest phrase is. They’re elfen. They’ve done it before. One causes psychic disturbances in a house, one tries and fails to exorcise the ‘spirit’. Then they suggest you move out, as it’s the only way. Obviously you won’t get a decent price for a house with flying plates, but they can recommend a broker. So you sell your house to them at below market value and then they flip it and sell on. House prices are going up around here, aren’t they?”
The colour drained from Carol’s face. “I’ve had a few letters asking for me to sell, but it was my mum’s house and I’d hate to leave it…” She trailed off.
“Have you given them any money?” Sir Dylan asked.
“I gave them £200 on deposit when they came in,” Carol said, still pale.
Sir Dylan strode over to Foxbane and started rummaging through the frozen elfen’s pockets. It took a few attempts as he delved into the shiny stones, fake rings and feathers, but he found a wallet and extracted £300 before replacing it. “That’s your money and a little compensation for the inconvenience,” he said as he handed over the money. He reached into his own pocket and pulled out a card. “If you have any more problems, or you know someone who needs an exorcism or has supernatural problems, call me. We don’t charge.”
Carol looked down at the card. “Knights Templar?”
Sir Dylan nodded. “It’s changed a bit since the Middle Ages.” He rummaged around in his pockets again and pulled out a small, marquetry box. “Try to forget about this. With a little luck, you’ll never need to talk to us again.” He flipped open the lid and braced himself against the kitchen doorframe.
Carol watched as the two frozen figures twisted and turned in place, dissolving into strings and ropes of colour that curled and writhed before being sucked, rattling, into the small box. The chains fell to the floor with a clatter as Sir Dylan snapped the box shut. “Is that it?”
“That’s it,” Sir Dylan agreed. “I suppose it seems an anti-climax, but you shouldn’t have any more problems.” He tucked the box into an inside pocket and picked up the chains. “Don’t feel bad about getting played. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially if you are unfamiliar with this sort of thing. I’ll see myself out.”
Carol stood in the middle of the kitchen listening to the heavy boots treading down the hall and the slam of the door closing behind Sir Dylan and slowly relaxed. The scent of incense still hung in the air, but as she picked up the brush to sweep up the pieces, she realised that the room was finally getting warmer.
Ian sat in the battered waiting room and tried to relax. Trent sat at his feet, panting and wild eyed. That was the problem. Trent was a werewolf, the same as Ian, but Trent was stuck in wolf form. He couldn’t change. As the leader of the pack, Ian had a duty to its members. However, he was in something close to a veterinarian’s office and his mouth was dry with the tension. But Trent needed help and it was beyond the home remedies of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. They had to turn to the one doctor in York that specialised in non-normals.
The icy, older lady who was busy behind the desk noted the flashing light above the scarred door. “Dr Williamson will see you now, Mr Tait.” She glared at Ian as he hesitated. “Please do not keep the doctor waiting.”
Ian forced himself to his feet and tugged at Trent. Trent whimpered but scuttled behind him, paws skidding wildly and his ears flat with fear. Ian knocked on the door and went in.
“Good afternoon,” Dr Williamson said. “Take your time and get your bearings.” He stood and walked to the head of the table. “I never try and rush a nervous werewolf.”
“It’s okay, Trent,” Ian said. “It’ll be fine.” As Trent pressed himself against Ian’s legs, Ian looked around. It was definitely a specialised treatment room. Most doctors didn’t have a treatment table with restraints – some in strange places. Most doctors did not have a burly boggart keeping an eye on things in case things got out of hand. And most doctors did not have huge saws, knives and augurs ranged in the glass cabinets surrounding the room. On the other hand, most doctors did not have a tray of best quality dog treats on their desk and a patient expression. Ian ran a comforting hand over Trent’s flanks and turned to the doctor. “It’s Trent, here. He’s stuck as a wolf. I don’t know what to do.”
“Hmm,” Dr Williamson patted the table. “Just jump up on here and let me have a look.”
Trent whimpered again, but, after a stern look from Ian, jumped onto the table, skidding a little on the polished steel. Dr Williamson selected an instrument from his desk. “Let’s have a look at your eyes, hmm.”
Ian kept a firm hold of the collar around Trent’s neck to stop him from bolting. Collars were worn by werewolves when they were out and about ‘in fur’ to stop awkward questions, and Ian was glad of the handhold. “It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt you.”
Dr Williamson examined Trent’s eyes and ears and felt along his lupine rib cage. “You’re in great condition for a young lad,” he said. He slipped in the stethoscope’s ear pieces and listened to Trent’s heart. “But stressed.” He turned to Ian. “Was he part of the pack that brought down the stray last week?”
Ian nodded. “We all turned out for that. It was a bad business.”
Dr Williamson nodded. “I hear a lot about non-normal stuff, one way or another,” he said. “I patched up a few of the stray’s victims. He made quite a mess of them. I’m glad you took him out.” He looked closely at Trent. “That stray was a murderer. He was a killer. He left some kids with injuries that they would carry for the rest of their lives, if they weren’t suddenly plunged into being werewolves. He was the worst of strays and you and yours did your duty.” He held Trent’s terrified gaze. “You were a stray once, I know. You were without a pack. You scrounged and begged and hid in the shadows.” Dr Williamson leaned closer. “And I bet you never so much as snapped at anyone, no matter what the provocations. I bet you didn’t growl, you didn’t snarl, you didn’t bite. You kept your head down and did your best. That’s why you didn’t end up like that stray that you helped to stop. That’s why you would never end up like that stray.” Dr Williamson didn’t break eye contact. “Hand me extract 34 please.” He frowned in thought. “Fifteen millilitres, undiluted.”
“What’s that?” Ian asked, holding the young werewolf firm as Trent’s paws slid in panic across the steel bench.
“Thank you,” Dr Williamson took the tiny cup of brown fluid from his burly assistant, ignoring Ian. “Open wide.”
Trent fought frantically to escape but Ian, pushing aside his doubts, prised open Trent’s jaws to allow Dr Williamson to tip the medicine inside. Trent gasped, coughed, swallowed, coughed again and shuddered as he changed back into his human form.
“There are some spare clothes behind the screen,” Dr Williamson said as Trent sat up. “I’d like them back later.”
As Trent dived behind the screen, Ian leant in close to Dr Williamson. “Neat brandy?”
“In this case, it wasn’t what was delivered, but how,” Dr Williamson grinned. “Nice young cub, that. I’m sure he’ll do well. But it’s always the good ones that get hit by this stuff hardest. Good thing that he’s got you looking out for him.”
Ian relaxed. “Good thing that he had you treated him.” He nodded in approval as Trent emerged wearing joggers and sweatshirt a little too big for him. “Thank you, doctor, thank you so much.”
“My pleasure,” Dr Williamson said.
“I’ll pay on the way out,” Ian said. “Thank you for treating us.” He watched Trent almost dancing on the way out and winked at the doctor. “And to show our gratitude, I’ll send around some top quality extracts of our own, for you to sample.”
“I look forward to testing them,” the doctor grinned.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Lady Freydis sighed. “It is the autumn equinox,” she said. “They used to call it Mabon.”
“Did they?” Fiona looked warily at Lady Freydis. She was looking wistfully into the distance as she polished the coffee machine.
“The day and night will be the same length,” Lady Freydis said softly. “An equal balance between light and dark. Then the nights will lengthen and the air grow chill. Frost will fall.”
“Are you feeling well?” Fiona asked.
“I agree.” Kadogan seemed to appear from nowhere. “The daylight hours dim and the night deepens.”
Mrs Tuesday came out of the back room with a tray of muffins. “What is going on?”
“You shouldn’t be carrying that with your bad back,” Fiona said. “You should be taking it easy.”
“There is no threat of grave danger to the White Hart,” Lady Freydis said. “Just the wheel of the year turning.” She sighed as she wiped the nozzles. “I always think of it as the sunset of the year. The long day of summer is over and now we sink into darkness to Yule, at the year’s midnight.”
“You’re bored,” Mrs Tuesday said, ignoring Fiona’s efforts to take the tray. “That’s what it is.”
Kadogan nodded. “It is strange that we have no great peril,” he said. “But the shop is flourishing.”
“Thank goodness for the mail order business,” Fiona said. “It’s really helped over the last year or so.”
“It seems so placid,” Lady Freydis said. “And it’s autumn.”
“It will soon be Christmas,” Fiona said. “We’re always busy then.” She looked at Mrs Tuesday, who shrugged. “And there is the new store opening,” Fiona added.
“Is that definitely happening?” Lady Freydis asked.
“Yes, we’ve discussed this,” Fiona said.
“I have some grave doubts,” Kadogan said. “It is very near the border with Leeds, and Lord Marius may wish to interfere.”
“I would not allow that,” Lady Freydis stated. She frowned. “I could visit occasionally, to ensure that the coffee was being prepared correctly.”
“And knowing that I will not be able to constantly monitor candles in two places concerns me,” Kadogan added.
Fiona sighed deeply. “We’ve all discussed this. The main shop stays here, but the depot for the mail order and space for secondhand furniture and gently used magical equipment go to the second shop. It’s about space. You know how expensive rent is in York.”
“I suppose so,” Lady Freydis said. “But you are making a mistake. It is autumn, the sunset of the year. The White Hart was opened near the spring equinox, in the dawn of the year. It is inauspicious.”
Mrs Tuesday slotted away the final cupcake. “Trust me, when you find out who will be in charge there, you won’t be bored.”
“Are you sure that he’s a proper vicar?” Mr Jennings asked as he watched their guest stalk across the office.
“I went through the Bishop’s office to get him,” Leanne said. “And he seems to know what he’s doing.”
Mr Jennings frowned. “I’m having enough trouble keeping staff, what with one thing and another. The last thing I need is a ghost. He needs to sort this out.” He marched across to the man in the centre of the room. “Reverend King, can you tell me what’s going on?”
“Please, call me Darren,” the exorcist said. He glanced around the office again. “So you are saying that you get cold chills after dark, and that people have talked about the cat acting oddly – why have you got a cat?”
Mr Jennings felt the conversation running away from him. “We have mice. And we think that they’ve caused a problem with the heating. This is a busy office, Reverend, and the office gets very hot during the day with all the computers. I needed to try and fix the problem with the air conditioning and stop the mice getting in. So we got a cat and it acts funny.”
Darren looked hard at the man in front of him. “When you say that the cat acts ‘funny’, what exactly do you mean?”
“Well, it’s a bit of a b-” Mr Jennings broke off, not want to swear in front of a man of the cloth. “When he catches a mouse, he usually brings them to one of the staff.” Mr Jennings pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his sweating face. He struggled to meet Darren’s unwavering stare. “Sometimes he makes the girls squeak a bit. Then he takes it away. Well, he’s started to do that to a space.”
“What do you mean a space?” Darren asked.
“I mean, he’ll go to an empty space and drop the mouse and look up,” Mr Jennings said. “It causes a lot of disruption when that happens, and we’re already struggling with a backlog.”
“Hmm,” Darren said, looking around.
“I’ve heard that cats are very psychic animals,” Leanne said.
“They’re really just difficult,” Darren said.
Leanne shivered dramatically. “That’s it, that’s a draught of cold air.”
Darren looked up, then around the office. “Could you give me a moment, please, and do you have any recordings of the cat giving a mouse to something that isn’t there?”
“Of course,” Mr Jennings said, and bolted out of the room, closely followed by Leanne.
“He’s very good looking,” Leanne said slowly, “But very stern.”
Mr Jennings looked back at the door. The exorcist was younger than him, muscled and impatient. “I don’t think I’d risk nicking anything out of his collection box.” He sighed. “Have you got anything on your phone?”
Leanne shook her head. “I’ll text the rest of the office and see what they’ve got.”
“And I’ll see if any of the security tapes in the warehouse have anything,” Mr Jennings said.
They had not been looking long, though, before Darren opened the door and beckoned them back in. “I think I’ve found the problem,” he said. “Let me guess – the people most affected sit here, and here, and here?” He indicated three chairs, widely spaced.
Leanne stared. “How did you know? Are you psychic? Did the ghost tell you?”
“I am not at all psychic,” Darren snapped. “You have got the settings on the air conditioning mixed up. The air conditioning is programmed to come on at 6pm instead of 6am. At this time of year, it’s starting to get dark but the office is warm after a day when the office has been full of people and computers. I’ve reset the timers, using a twenty four hour clock, and you should have no more trouble.”
“Is that all?” Leanne said, disappointed.
“There are some places that aren’t haunted, even in York,” Darren said.
“And you’ve saved me a big bill for the air conditioning,” Mr Jennings said. He grabbed Darren’s hand and shook it wildly. “I think I owe you at least half of that, plus any fee for the call out.”
“Just make a donation to the food bank,” Darren said. “If you give me a moment, I’ll just say a few prayers and a blessing, to reassure the staff. And I wouldn’t worry about the cat. They do odd things.”
“They do, don’t they,” Leanne agreed. “My nana’s cat used to get into laundry baskets and…” She trailed off as Mr Jennings dragged her out.
Darren waited until the door closed behind them before turning to the ghost of the old security guard. “Thanks for the tip off about the air con,” he said. He smiled gently at the spirit. “Now, it’s time for me to send you home.”
Just a Little Garlic
Paula carefully opened the door and gestured for Ian to step through. “Come in,” she said, shutting the door and locking it. “Would you like a tea or a coffee?”
“A tea would be nice,” Ian said, following Paula into the kitchen. “Are you okay?”
It was a reasonable question. Paula looking like a deep breath would break her and her elderly face was strained. She forced a smile. “I am a little concerned. That’s why I asked you here.”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not keen on me, I know. I married your niece and you play nice, but you’ve never warmed up to me.”
Paula licked her dry lips as she filled the kettle. “You’ve always been good to Jeanette,” she said. “And I’m very grateful for it. And heaven knows that poor kid deserves some luck in life. Her mother is dreadful.” She flicked the kettle on and pulled out two mugs. “You said tea, didn’t you?”
“Yes, no sugar.” Ian watched Paula fumble with the teabags. “I treasure Jeanette, and I make no secret of it. I’m lucky to have met her. I’m even luckier that she will have me. And you know my family have welcomed her. You were at the wedding.”
Paula dropped the teabags. “I’ve never been to a happier wedding,” she said as she scrabbled around for the teabags. “But you’re a werewolf.”
“Yes,” Ian said. “And so are most of my family.”
Paula pulled a fresh box of teabags out of the cupboard and struggled with the wrapper. “Jeanette always looks so happy.”
Ian took the box from her and opened it before casually dropping the teabags into the mugs. “You didn’t ask me to come around just because I am a werewolf. You’re obviously terrified.” He frowned for a moment. “Well, you’re safe. Try and relax.” He fidgeted with the bowl on the kitchen counter, avoiding Paula’s eyes. “I’m not like that. I never have been.”
“That’s garlic,” Paula said, holding on to the edge of the counter.”
“Hmm?” Ian said, tossing a bulb and catching it. “I love garlic,” he said. “Jeanette always grows extra for me.” He shot a hard look at Paula. “It’s vampires that are affected by garlic, not werewolves.” He set the bulb back in the bowl and picked up the boiling kettle. “Let me. You’re a bag of nerves.”
Paula swallowed. “You like garlic?”
“You should have silver against werewolves,” Ian said impatiently as he made two mugs of tea. “Come on, Paula, what is it? I’ll always go the extra mile for you. Jeanette told me how good you were to her growing up, and she needed it. Just try not to treat me like a monster.” He pushed a mug into Paula’s cold hand. “What is it?”
“There’s something in the garden,” Paula said quietly. “I hear noises, but I can never see anything. I’ve looked as much as I’ve dared, but I’ve seen no-one.”
Ian looked at her and then out of the window. It was dark outside and the huge garden was hidden from the window. “You’re scared of me, but you’re more scared of what could be out there.”
“The garden is getting too much for me,” Paula said. “It’s quite overgrown at the end. I thought it could be something…” she trailed off. “I never used to quite believe in werewolves.”
“I’ll have a look,” Ian said.
“You will be careful, won’t you?” Paula said, catching hold of his arm. “If there’s something dreadful out there, I don’t want you to be hurt.”
Ian patted her hand. “I can take care of myself. But lock the door after me and watch out of the window, just in case.”
Paula watched the hard faced, hard muscled man disappear into the shadows at the bottom of the garden. Even if she didn’t know that he was a werewolf, she would have found him intimidating. There was an unforgiving air around him. But she had seen him with her niece and their kids and Ian doted on them. And Jeanette absolutely adored her husband, it was clear a mile off. Paula peered into the darkness. She had heard a few stories through the years and seen enough not to dismiss what she was told. Besides, there had been a lot more large, wolf-like dogs at the end of the wedding then there had been at the beginning. Some of them had had bowls of beer.
She picked up her tea and took a reassuring sip. Surely there would be nothing. A doubt gnawed at her. What if she had sent Jeanette’s husband into trouble? What if it was darker than he could deal with? What if things went wrong? She couldn’t really call the police if it was something worse than a werewolf.
There was a commotion in the darkness and Paula nearly dropped the tea. It splashed wildly on the counter as she jumped but Paula didn’t dare stop to wipe it up. Instead she stared through the window, wondering what was going on. Something was emerging from the darkness. It was Ian with two teenagers. Paula started to breathe again. The young lad had the start of a black eye and the young girl was scarlet faced as she hastily buttoned her top. Behind them, Ian’s face was carefully expressionless, but Paula could see a glint of amusement in his eyes as they got closer. She unlocked the door.
Ian gave the lad a small shove. “What are you going to say?”
“I’m sorry, Miss, for trespassing in your garden,” the teenager blurted out.
“We won’t do it again,” the girl added.
“And why won’t you do it?” Ian said firmly.
“Because we realise that we were being disrespectful,” the lad said, glancing nervously back at him.
“And what are you going to do to apologise?” Ian prompted.
“We’ll come back tomorrow in the day to weed the front drive,” the lad said.
“We’re really sorry,” the girl added. “We didn’t think that you would realise we were there or that you would be worried.
“So, off you go and get back here around 10am, and no messing about,” Ian said with an almost paternal authority. His face stayed set in stern lines until the teenagers were well out of sight before he broke into a grin. “A little youthful romance,” he said. “They genuinely didn’t mean to scare you.” He chuckled. “The lad was accusing me of all sorts until I got his attention and explained. The lass was just about dead with embarrassment. But they’ll do something useful and that will be the end of it.” He frowned. “But I can’t have people thinking that no-one is bothered. I’ll come around tomorrow and get some tidying up done. Jeanette’s really the gardener, but I can at least get the worst of it cleared until she can come down here. Just make a list of what you want doing.”
“There’s no need,” Paula said.
“You were there for Jeanette when she needed you. That means that there’s every need,” Ian said firmly. “I’ll see you tomorrow – don’t forget to lock the door.”
Paula watched Ian stride away before carefully locking the door. She finished her tea and washed the mugs. Ian was intimidating, tough and relentless and looked like he was made of iron. But she remembered his grin after the teenagers had left, and the kindness he had shown her. Perhaps he was safe after all. She would have to make something for him as a snack tomorrow. Paula smiled. Perhaps she could make him garlic bread.