I loathed shopping with my Aunt Harriet. She always wanted a bargain and she always wanted the best of everything. I had flinched as she swept into the secondhand bookshop. I knew what was coming.
“I’m only interested in First Editions,” she announced. “Of good, classic works.”
“I do have a few select copies.” The bookseller led the way to the back of the shop. I could see him mentally adding a ‘difficult customer’ surcharge. “Perhaps madam would be interested in this? It’s a first edition copy of An Expedition to Patagonia. The illustrations are exquisite.”
I glanced over Aunt Harriet’s shoulder. The faded line drawings and water colours looked insipid, but I never claimed to be a judge. “It’s very nice.”
“It’s a find my dear.” Aunt Harriet announced. “So many of these have been sadly pulled apart and the illustrations sold separately as prints for profit.”
“Indeed,” the bookseller agreed, resigned to the fate of the book.
“But these marks are unacceptable,” Aunt Harriet said. “I was looking for an elegant copy.”
“Marks occur on books of that age,” the bookseller said. “It is a natural process.”
I wandered away towards the bargain bin. I didn’t want to be drawn into Aunt Harriet’s haggling. There were the usual contents. I found a copy of the Da Vinci Code, a battered cookbook with the soup section missing, a very dated road atlas and – a treasure.
I checked and checked again. It was Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and perhaps my favourite book in all the libraries. The price was pencilled on the inside. My hands shook and I had to check yet again. I glanced across at the bookseller who was holding his own against Aunt Hattie and keeping the price firm. I looked again. This was a first edition and he only wanted ‘Clearance 50p’. I’d seen it online for hundreds of pounds.
“I’ll just get this,” I called over to Aunt Harriet.
Aunt Harriet ignored me and pointed to an infinitesimal mark on the spine. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were mildew. I don’t know how you could charge so much for a damaged copy.”
“It’s described as ‘slightly foxed’ in the catalogues and there has been some interest from abroad.” The bookseller was refusing to budge on the price.
I edged across and tried to play it cool as the assistant rang up the find, too distracted by Aunt Harriet’s antics to pay much attention. “I’m sorry about my aunt,” I said. “She likes a good haggle.”
The assistant grinned. “It’s great seeing my boss finally meet his match.” He looked over to the combatants. “It looks like they may be some time.”
I called over. “I’ll just wait in the coffee shop across the road.” And, leaving my aunt engrossed in her bargaining, I escaped with my prize.
Clare looked at her aunt. “I told you, I’m starting a new job next week. I’ll be able to help out on weekends, but I need the money.”
Sheila shook her head. “I know I didn’t pay you a full wage. But this business will be yours one day.”
“What about your kids?” Clare thought about her cousins. It seemed unfair that they should be left out. They worked just as hard as her, and she had long suspected that they had been given the same promises.
“They have their own lives,” Sheila said quickly. “Come and have a look at this. I thought we could open for the breakfast crowd. It wouldn’t be too much extra effort.” She thrust a large basket of lemons into Clara’s hands. “Bring these with you.”
It wouldn’t be too much extra effort for her, Clara thought resentfully as she trailed after her aunt. “I’ve promised them I’ll start on Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. I know it’s just a receptionist’s job, but…” Clara trailed off. “What is this?”
“It’s a concept.” Sheila said. “Look!” She flung open the door to the tables with a flourish.
“What is this?” Clara stared at the assortment of ingredients on the tables.”
“Like I said, it’s a concept.” Sheila looked smug. “Assemble your own breakfast, or have it created for you for a nominal extra charge.”
Clara’s heart sank. “What are the lemons for?”
“We can’t have Eggs Benedict without hollandaise sauce, and you’ll need lemons for that.”
Clara stared at the scattered assortment on the tables. When she had been unwillingly dragged into this business, her aunt had served bacon butties and strong tea. It had been Clara’s hard work that had added fresh baked cakes and proper fry ups to the menu, with some decent home made soups and more than just tea on the drinks board. It had given Clara immense satisfaction and she had thought for so long that if they just turned a corner, if they just got the extra tables, if they just opened a few hours more then she would get her reward. She turned and looked at her aunt who was watching her with a calculating eye. Life was giving her lemons, and she was damned if she was going to make hollandaise sauce at 6.30am with them. “I’m not coming back,” she said softly. “Goodbye.” She picked up some lemons on the way out, ignoring her aunt’s outraged protests. When life gives you lemons, you make lemon meringue pie.
“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.”
It took me a long time to learn how to see
fairies. I don’t mean the sort that you see in children’s books, but the fair
folk, the shining ones, the quiet presence in a country lane. I trained myself
to see a shimmer in the corner of a garden, a hint of rainbow as I walked down
a dark country lane. I watched for an unexpected glimmer. I listened for a hint
of tune that shouldn’t be playing. I waited for the scent of honeysuckle on the
An old man waited at the gate, grabbing my
arm and pulling me to one side where my mum couldn’t see. “They’re hunting you.
You need to stay safe. Carry salt or iron – or both! Or you’ll be trapped.”
I laughed and pulled away. How could they
be hunting me when it was me that was searching them out, looking for the
rainbows in dim places, listening for strange song. The glimpses were getting
longer and I knew I was getting closer. I skipped school and found strange corners
on the industrial estates where bindweed wound its way through the fences and
flies hung in the shade of scented elder bushes.
I read everything in the library and on
the internet. I joined groups and forums. They didn’t help. But I started noticing,
through the long summer holiday, that I saw more of the glimpses near elder
bushes and trees. I searched them out. I found clusters of them near abandoned
warehouses and around the edges of neglected parks. I saw glimpses of the fair
folk now, just a brief look at a face, glorious with beauty, lit from within by
their wild, magical nature.
As the year turned, I ignored school and
gloried in the change of the weather, watching the wind swirl the dead leaves
around elder bushes drooping under heavy, purple berries. I saw more of them.
They wore green and brown and the ladies had wreaths of autumn leaves in their
hair. I stayed as still as a cat, watching. As the nights grew longer and the
arguments with my mum got worse, I got closer. I could hear their singing and
their soft conversations. Finally, I saw them enter the fairy realm. I saw them
slip between two elder stems and I followed through.
The sky was alive with colours and shapes.
The trees whispered in shock as I walked into the forest and called ahead that
a mortal child was here. I could see the Lords and Ladies, the fair ones,
riding towards me, their harness jingling and the sun glinting on their shining
The doctor put down the latest report and
shook his head. “I’m sorry Mrs Taylor. All tests for drugs have come back
negative, but your daughter continues in a persistent, catatonic, hallucinating
state. We’ve tried everything to reach her, but I’m afraid that there’s nothing
more we can do. She’s lost to us.”
This is my response to this week’s writing challenge
“Thanks again, Lynne.” I took the notes
and handed over the bags of loose change. “You’re a life saver.”
“It helps me out as well.” Lynne said. “We
have to pay to get change from the bank now.”
I hurried out of the corner shop and
managed to hand over the money for the school trip as the school bus approached
the stop. “Don’t leave it to the last minute next time!” I snapped, knowing
that whatever I said would have no effect. Teenagers seemed to have selective
I went back inside and sat at my desk. I
had a stack of emails building up and in fifteen minutes the phone would start
ringing. However, first things first. I pulled over my only two indulgences –
good quality writing paper and a nice fountain pen. I pushed aside the cheap
ball point I used for work and started writing.
I laid it out beautifully. I used my
finest copperplate script to inscribe my address, date and her name. It was an
old fashioned usage, but it was elegant and stylish and continuing in the finest
copperplate I poured out my fury. That thanks to her adultery I had to
scrabble for pennies in the bottom of bags and pockets. That thanks to her selfishness
I had to scrape and budget for the basics, like school bags and their haircuts.
That I skipped my own necessities and once
again had padded to the corner shop in shoes with holes in because all my money
went on the kids that her adultery had left struggling in a broken home.
It should never have been like this, but because of her selfishness, my
Then I let the ink dry as I addressed the letter
to my errant wife. I used the calligraphy she had always adored, that she insisted
should be used on all birthday cards and present tags, with exactly the right
flourish. Then I folded the letter, slid it into the envelope and sealed it. I
took a few deep breaths and then threw it into the drawer where the other
letters lay in a drift. Now I could turn my attention to work.
Kane stood at the back with the rest of
the foster kids. He wore a faded black sweatshirt over his darkest jeans, but it
was too cold and wet to manage without a jacket and its pale grey stood out against
the funereal black of the people at the front. The family looked very proper, all
in black with the men in tailored suits and the women wearing hats. He shifted
a little in the cold of the church as he listened to the people at the front.
It didn’t seem like the funeral of the woman he knew. They talked about her hard work taking on troubled youngsters that had been rejected by everyone else. They talked about her retiring to the flat and her membership of the local lawn bowls association. They talked about how sad it was that she had never met the right man but devoting her time to the rejected souls had filled the void when she wasn’t working as a very respectable accountant. Kane exchanged glances with the other foster kids. They were equally bewildered. This was not the woman they knew. The woman they knew had been warm and spontaneous and could out-swear as sailor, with a different girlfriend every month. She had fought for these kids, yelled at them, cried with them and celebrated every success. Not all those who came into her home were successes. Not all had survived the legacy of the care system. Some had fallen by the wayside and lost touch, but most had kept contact over the years. The older ones had done their best to contact everyone who had passed through Auntie Brenda’s welcoming door, and though some couldn’t be reached and some couldn’t make it, forty three of her foster kids were there, with ages from over forty to eighteen. They huddled together in their best clothes, silently mourning as they fumbled with unfamiliar service books and old fashioned hymns.
The priest pronounced the blessing and her elder sister followed the coffin in its stately procession out of the church, avoiding the accusing eyes of the foster children. Everyone knew Auntie Brenda wanted to be cremated. Everyone knew that she had wanted loud colours and louder music at the crematorium. She had wanted to be played out to ‘Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Fire!’ And she would have thrown a fit at seeing the kids she loved pushed to the back.
The kids followed the family, leaving a discreet gap. Kane had been one of the last ones she had taken in, before she became too sick to look after others. He glanced around him. The foster kids, the ones she had sheltered, were all pale and tense. Many were quietly crying or fighting back emotion. It had been safe to cry at Auntie Brenda’s home. It had been safe to get a kind word and a reassuring squeeze of the hand. He had known her for such a brief time and her overflowing love had wrapped around him like the best kind of blanket, warm and soft and the perfect size. When he had left, others had called in to help her out, to make sure she had food and warmth and a listening ear, just as she had done for them.
In the sadness, Kane felt anger. Auntie Brenda’s relations hadn’t been there when she was going through chemo, when the shakes hit her, when the nights got cold and dark. They didn’t sit and read to her or share the soaps with her. It had been the kids that her sister had dismissed as broken that had paid back the unstinting love that had been such a lifeline to them. Now they had taken Auntie Brenda’s funeral and made it into something alien and distant.
Kane discreetly hefted his backpack. The kids had not been invited to the small reception afterwards, but that was okay. They would not have gone anyway. Instead they had muddled together a room in a pub owned by one of Auntie Brenda’s less reputable friends and organised some food between them. They had made sure they had a loud copy of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ cued up on their iPad, along with all of the rest of Auntie Brenda’s favourite music. After some discussion, they gave Kane instructions and the contents of the backpack, and he would linger after and pay the final respects on behalf of them. They had worked it out.
After the final blessing and Auntie Brenda’s sister had thrown a small, sanitised shovel of earth onto the coffin, shielding it from the kids, the family slowly dispersed along the gravel paths of the churchyard. The kids nodded to each other. The younger ones headed towards the car park, knowing that they would be watched like hawks ‘because you never know what that sort could get up to’. One of the older ones started asking the vicar questions while another two or three started lingering around the older headstones, catching the eye of the churchwarden. Kane was unobserved.
He crouched down next to the grave. “I miss you, Auntie Brenda,” he said. He swallowed and opened the backpack. “We’re all sorry about the funeral, but we’re doing our best.” He pulled out a few bottles. “It’s okay, Ellis bought the drinks, so it’s legal. We didn’t do anything to get into trouble.” He glanced quickly around and tipped a bottle of the best supermarket rum into the grave. “We all know you like a rum and pep when it’s cold.” He tipped a bottle of peppermint cordial after the rum, quickly hiding the bottles in his backpack. “And it’s November. We remembered. Rum and pep between September and March, and gin and elderflower between March and September. And I promise to take the bottles to the recycling.” He glances around again. “We talked about this a lot,” he said quietly. “But we worked it out together in the end.” He pulled out a plastic bag and emptied the cheap selection into the grave. “We got you the chocolates you always asked us to buy you for Christmas, the ones you liked, but we didn’t want to put plastic in the grave, so we left the box at home. We even left you the coffee creams.” His voice cracked a little at the end.
The shade of Auntie Brenda patted his shoulder. “You did okay, you and the rest. I appreciate it.” She grinned her familiar, careless grin as she popped the echo of a coffee cream into her mouth. The ghost had regained her hair and it was back to her favourite bright pink, spiked defiantly high. “And did you ever hear such rubbish?” She watched Kane stand up and nod to the other kids who drifted away from their targets towards their cars. “She called me an accountant! I worked in a betting shop all my life and I was bloody good at it.” She threw back her head and laughed the throaty, rich laugh that Kane loved. “She would have looked like she had a lemon stuck in her dentures if anyone had said that. Come on, I know you lot. You’ll have got a party sorted out. Let’s get going.”
As first dates went, it hadn’t been too
bad so far. I had met him at the local coffee shop and we had drunk a few
lattes. He looked like his online profile, which was something, and the conversation
had been light. He was studying computers and something that I didn’t catch or
really understand and getting some side hustles with web design on the side. We
shared a love of Doctor Who, agreed to disagree on Star Trek and I felt more relaxed
with him than I had in a long time. I should have known it was too good to be
“Let me walk you home.” Ryan said. “It’s a
shame to end the conversation. I feel like I could talk with you for hours.”
“I’m good.” I said. “And if you walk me
home and we get talking there then I won’t get to bed early enough and I have
“Come on, let me walk you at least part of
the way.” Ryan said. “Don’t pretend we haven’t had a marvellous time.”
“It’s been a great evening.” I said, “And
I hope we have another one like it, but I do need to get up tomorrow.” What
with one thing and another I would be lucky to get even a couple of hours sleep
before work, even if he didn’t come in.
“Spoilsport.” He smiled at me and I smiled
back. “Okay, let me walk you some of the way back. I promise I won’t go all the
“That sounds like such a cheesy line!” I shook
my head. I either gave in or he made a scene here. “But you said you lived over
the other side of the city. Why don’t we walk as far as the subway terminus?
Then you can get the subway back and I will be near home.”
“You aren’t that near to the subway
terminus.” Ryan sounded a little sulky.
“Someone’s done their research.” I said. “But
we can hang out together until you get on the subway, so we have a little more
Ryan smiled. “I know you haven’t lived in
this part of the city long, but I grew up around here. I know a great short
cut, through the old park.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be haunted?” I
asked. “I mean, I was warned about going into the old park after dark as it was
“Nobody believes in ghosts.” Ryan said, “And
I can protect you.”
I looked at him thoughtfully. He was in
good shape, but he didn’t look like he could take on a pack of muggers. What was
worse, if we cut through the abandoned park, we would have to go past my home
to get to the terminus. It looked like Ryan could be a problem. “I’d rather stay
in public. You know all the advice that they give, about online dating, to stay
in public for the first few dates and to be really careful who you give your
details to? Perhaps I should just get an uber home.”
Ryan put a hand on my shoulder. Somehow it
felt heavier than it should. “Please, we are having such a good time. Let’s
just walk for a little while, carry on connecting and you can wait with me at
the subway station.”
“And we can go past the supermarket.”
“Come on! Where’s your sense of adventure.
There is nothing wrong with the park. It’s just neglected, that’s all.”
“It will be dark.” I said.
“It will be romantic.” Ryan held my hand
and smiled at me. I felt incredibly uneasy.
The old park had effectively been
abandoned by the council. Once it had been carefully landscaped but now it was
an overgrown of tangled bushes and trees with some worn tracks through the
dense growth. It was dimly lit even in daylight. We walked through the rusted
gates in the dark and away from the street lights and we were suddenly in an
eerie dark. I dug a mini torch out of my handbag.
“You’re prepared.” Ryan said. “I admit, it’s
darker than I was expecting, but I thought you would use your phone.”
“Wouldn’t that run the battery down really
quickly?” I asked as I found a path. “Is this the way?”
“I think we need to go down here.” Ryan
said, pointing to a different path.
“No, this way will get us through the park
quicker and nearer the subway.” I insisted pointing my torch.
“But this way will be more fun, I promise.”
He set off ahead of me, and I sighed and
followed. The park was not safe after dark just because it was so overgrown and
badly lit. If he fell, he could hurt himself badly and not be easily found. I
decided that I would see him off at the subway and then send him a ‘it’s not
you, it’s me’ text. “Hang on!” I shouted after him.
“The park is supposed to be haunted, you
know.” Ryan said as I scrambled after him. “They say that you can see ghosts
here and that vampires and werewolves come here to meet.” Ryan looked around as
much of the park as he could see in the small beam from my torch. “It’s a shame
it isn’t a full moon.”
“Vampires and werewolves, seriously?” I said,
as I hurried after him. “We’ve left the path.”
“I grew up here, remember?” Ryan turned
and smiled in the glow of the torch. “I know all the tracks, like this one
here.” We stumbled out onto a slightly wider path that was heading downward towards
the neglected artificial lake.
“I need to get home and you need to make
sure you get to the subway in time for the last train.” I said. “This is silly.”
Ryan looked around. “I’m just trying to get
my bearings. Does your phone have GPS?”
“I thought you knew this place?” I was
trying to keep calm. I really didn’t want to have a scene. “Come on, lets get
out of here.”
“Seriously, which way is North?”
I ignored his hand open for my phone and
pulled up the map function myself. “It’s that way, and if we follow this path,
we’ll come out almost next to the subway. And you won’t miss your…” I was interrupted
as I turned to point to a path. Ryan snatched my phone out of my hand and threw
it into the bushes. I whirled around to glare at him. “What are you doing?”
“It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?” Ryan
said, in a low voice, running his hand over my arm. “You are in the middle of
the haunted park, in the dark, possibly surrounded by werewolves, and with a
handsome stranger. Anything could happen. And you have no way to call for help.”
He tried to pull me towards him for a kiss, but I struggled free.
“Okay, that’s it. This date is over, lose
my number.” I shone my pitiful torch where I thought my phone landed.
“I don’t think you understand.” Ryan said.
“You are alone, in the dark, with a stranger. You are in no position to tell me
what to do. I’m in charge.” He moved a little closer. “I could even be a
werewolf. That would be something, wouldn’t it, to be rescued by a werewolf.”
I swore at him and headed to where I
thought I saw a glint of grey. “What are you going to do? Leave me for the
ghosts. Leave me alone.”
“Or what?” Ryan was smirking as he
followed me. “There are no werewolves around to rescue you.” He pushed his hand
into my hair and pulled my head back. “We are going to have a nice time here,
and then we are going back to your place and by the morning you will see that I
am the best thing that could happen to you. No werewolves needed.”
“You’re right.” I snarled, my fangs
lengthening as I grabbed his arm and twisted until he was on his knees,
screaming. “No werewolves needed at all.”
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
“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
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
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
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.
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.”
Jessica looked at me. “You know about plants.” She thrust her phone at me. “What is this? I need to get it now!”
I looked. “I think it’s a butterfly palm. It’s a nice plant. Why are you getting a plant. Plants die just by looking at you.” I had know Jessica for years and she is the only person I knew who could kill a spider plant. She could kill anything green. She always swore that lettuce wilted faster around her.
“But my mother is coming to visit.” Jessica said. “And last time she was here, she gave me this plant.”
Mrs Ford, Jessica’s mum, was an avid gardener. She even wrote the gardening column in the church magazine. “So what happened to the plant. It looks pretty healthy and it must have been hard even for you to kill.”
Jessica winced. “I hate plants. Mum was always so obsessed over them and knew all their Latin names and everything. It put me off them for life. As soon as she was on the train back, I took it to a charity shop.”
I looked at the luxuriant plant in the picture. “Next time donate it to me. That looks beautiful, and they can be expensive.”
“What am I going to do?” Jessica said. “Mum is bound to ask questions.” Her shoulders slumped. “I feel such a disappointment.”
“She’s not disappointed in you.” I said firmly. “You two just have different skills. You know how she always gets you to check the bills and she can never cope with numbers.” Jessica stayed downcast. I gave her a quick hug. “I’ll take you shopping for plants tomorrow. We’ll pick up a nice butterfly palm, put it in a dark corner and keep her distracted with your knitting.” Mrs Ford loved Jessica’s knitting.
The next morning I was regretting my offer. Jessica was hopeless around plants. “This one looks great,” I said, picking it up.
“Hang on,” Jessica said. “We can’t get one too healthy or mum will suspect something.”
“How about this?” I found I sad specimen in the corner, heavily marked down.
“Mum would have a fit if she thought I had neglected her plant so much. You know what she’s like – they’re her babies.”
“What about this?” I picked up a slightly wilted one from near the heating duct.”
“Mmmm” Jessica was undecided. “Do you think it is the right size? I mean, it’s a little bigger than the picture.”
“Your mum was last here six months ago.” I said. “You always visit her, remember. The plant should have grown.”
Jessica looked the plant over, turning it this way and that. “It looks too nice to take to my house.” She ran a finger over the leaves.
“Which is why you are giving me that plant as soon as your mum is on the train and I’ll keep it safe for you. You can even tell your mum that I asked for it.” I said. “Come on, let’s pay for this and get it home. Your mum will be here in an hour.”
Jessica picked her mum up at the station while I finished the finishing touches on Jessica’s flat. It was a bright, sunny afternoon but the unsparing sunshine couldn’t find a speck of dust or scrap of lint anywhere. I made the coffee and put out some biscuits as I heard Jessica’s car draw up outside.
Mrs Ford came in and gave me a warm smile and a hug. “Mandy, it’s good to see you again. How are you doing? Still with Dan?”
“Dan who?” I grinned. “I’ll get you a coffee Mrs Ford.”
“Hmm, let me see, was it Kai? Or Jude? Or wasn’t there a Jason?” Mrs Ford teased as she slipped out of her jacket and looked around the room. She spotted the plant and walked over to pick it up. “That is a beautiful plant.”
Jessica rushed over as her mother expertly checked the dryness of the soil. “I bet you didn’t think I could keep a house plant alive all this time, but I did. I think I’ve done okay, actually. I call her ‘Gertie'”
“Jessica, I love you dearly, but I do wish you wouldn’t panic and fib.” Mrs Ford sighed. “I gave you a house plant last time because I thought the room looked bare without something green, but I know you very well.” She shook a sorrowful head at her daughter. “The plant I left with you was artificial.”
Retirement hit hard. For the first three months I don’t think I
moved far beyond my flat. I wasn’t
completely cut off. I would do my little
bit of shopping, speak to my daughter, speak to my daughter-in-law and
sometimes I would call in at the local community centre coffee mornings, but mostly
I stayed in.
Thank goodness, after three months of
slowly settling into place, I decided I was not going to come to a stop. I started with a morning walk. I would wait until the school run had
finished and then I would walk the five minutes to my local park, half an hour
around the paths, and then sit and overlook the small lake while I drank a
flask of coffee. And that’s when I met
She looked the same age as me and had the
same air of striving to find a purpose.
I saw her every morning, and after a week or so I smiled in recognition,
and she smiled back. We were two old
ladies sitting in the park, and we recognised the fight against drifting slowly
into the sunset.
A smile grew into a timid, ‘Good morning,’
and then a comment on the weather, and a little chat about the day, and
suddenly we were friends.
It was only ever that half an hour,
between 9.45am and 10.15am, that we met.
I brought enough coffee for two and she brought biscuits. We talked about our children, and their
partners. Her son was finding being a
parent hard. I talked about my worries
over my daughter-in-law’s job. She told
me about her volunteer work at the library and I shared jokes about my time
helping in a charity shop. Then we would
dust the crumbs off and set off in different directions to go back to our
lives, a little energised and encouraged by that touch of contact with someone
We managed to meet up in all sorts of
weather. If it was raining she brought a
huge golf umbrella that we wedged between us and I had an old picnic blanket to
put on the damp bench. We used the umbrella
for shade if it was too hot and I brought iced coffee. I brought back sweets from my holiday to pass
on to her grandson and she gave me cuttings from her scented geranium that
flourished on my windowsill.
But we never exchanged names. That would have been ‘odd’. We had talked about the weather and stray
chitchat for so long without names that it would almost be bad manners to ask
about names now. I knew her son-in-law’s
name, and the place where her daughter worked, but not her name. And she knew where my daughter lived and my grandson’s
school, but no name. It was an unspoken
taboo. After so long, how could we bring
it up now?
Then she stopped coming. I was worried, of course, but what could I do? I didn’t have a name or a telephone
number. It would be intrusive to try call
her son-in-law or ask those regular dog walkers that greeted her every morning
as we sat and talked. One week turned
into two weeks, and then it was a month.
I started bringing my own biscuits to have with my coffee. But I didn’t dare miss a day in case my friend,
my dear friend, suddenly was able to make it one more time.
Then, after too many weeks, one of the dog
walkers stopped as she walked passed. “It’s
so sad about Gwen, isn’t it?”
“I’m sorry?” I said.
“Gwen,” he said, gesturing at the empty
space beside me on the bench. “It was so
sudden, and the family are devastated. I
didn’t see you at the funeral?”
I withdrew a little at the small but
definite hook for gossip. “I’m afraid I didn’t know.” A cold wave ran through
me. “What happened?”
“A heart attack in her sleep, they
said. It was very peaceful.” The dog walker
leaned over me. “Are you okay?”
“It’s just a shock.” I said. “I’m glad it was peaceful.”
“Would you like me to take you home?” The
dog walker said, tugging her dog back to her.
“No, I’m fine.” I said, lying, my hands
trembling as I clutched my plastic cup of coffee.
“It’s no trouble at all.” The dog walker
said firmly. “Come on, let’s get moving.
I’m Rachel, by the way, and this mutt is
I managed a smile at the beautiful dog. “He’s very handsome.” I said, as Rachel
helped me to my feet. “I’m Sarah.”
“He’s a bit of a mix.” Rachel said, and
chatted about nothing as she guided me home and made sure I was safe in a chair
with a fresh coffee. “And I hope I see
you tomorrow on that bench. And if you
bring the coffee, I’ll bring the biscuits.”
Rachel is a good friend now, and I have her name, and her phone number and I am always glad to dog sit, but I still miss Gwen. Gwen understood. Funnily enough, I didn’t know her name, but I knew her birthday, after all our conversations. So today, after Rachel has left with Bruno, I can leave some flowers for my friend, with a name on the card, before I go home to the quiet.