This is the third in a series of very short pieces. The first piece is here and the second piece is here. I hope youenjoy them.
Dave stretched and worked his shoulders. Life as a Tarot reader could be remarkably stressful. He checked the clock and grimaced. There wasn’t really time for a decent run before the next booking, but he would definitely hit the gym when the store closed. That was one advantage of having a room for Tarot reading over a new age supplies and book shop. He could keep to shop hours. There was a knock on the door. Dave groaned inwardly. “Come in.”
Martin strode in and took the chair opposite Dave. “You’re a funny sort of Tarot Reader. You don’t believe in it.”
Dave shrugged. “It says ‘for entertainment purposes only’ on the booking form. Besides, what I do is a sort of counselling. I’ve even been taking night courses for therapists.”
“I heard that you claimed them on your expense forms,” Martin said. “Anyway, I’m not here about the Tarot. It’s Paladin business.”
“What have you done?” Dave asked. Tarot reading was his side business. His main purpose was to be the Paladin of York, the defender of the unknowing normals who lived in the area against the supernatural creatures that lived among them. This wasn’t the easiest of jobs. He worked in a shop run by half the non-normal population of the area and they all seemed to have their own version of reality that they refused to abandon.
“It’s not exactly what I’ve done,” Martin said. “It’s more what I was seen to have done.”
“Does Lady Freydis know?” Dave asked. The ancient vampire shifting uncomfortably in the seat opposite him was married to the Prince of York, the ruler of the non-normal population and a barista downstairs. They weren’t exactly difficult, and they weren’t generally considered dangerous to people in general. However they had the potential for more havoc that was good for Dave’s mental health.
“Of course,” Martin said. “She thinks that it’s hilarious but that you ought to know.”
Dave’s heart sank further. “So what exactly happened?”
“I was minding my own business,” Martin said. “I had met with one of my young ladies.”
“That’s one of the ladies you feed from,” Dave said. “I thought that there were alternatives to feeding from young ladies.”
Martin ignored that. “As you know, I take great care of my young ladies, and we were having a very pleasant moment.”
“You were feeding,” Dave said.
“Yes, I was feeding, but I don’t want you to think that there was anything non-consensual involved.” Martin said. “I take great pains to make the experience pleasant for the young lady.”
“So I believe,” Dave said dryly.
“The young lady involved was very much enjoying herself. And I was rather lost in the moment myself.”
“So you were seen feeding,” Dave said. “What happened then?”
“The man interrupted us and pushed me away, telling Kayla that he would defend her.” Martin winced. “It didn’t go down well.”
Dave shut his eyes for a brief moment and shuddered. “What did you do to him?”
“I didn’t do a thing!” Martin said. “Kayla was the one who drove him off. But he said that he would hunt me down, that he wouldn’t forget this, and that he would find me and stake me.”
“What did Lady Freydis say?” Dave asked.
Martin shrugged. “She hasn’t stopped laughing at it. He is probably traumatised and out there somewhere. I’m quite worried about him. I thought I may try and look for him, but that I had better let you know. And he may come to you through the usual channels.”
“When you say you are going to look for him, you mean to explain things and reassure him, right?” Dave looked hard at Martin.
“I have not survived these endless centuries by indulging in mindless cruelty,” Martin said firmly. “And the young lad looked distressed. I want to make sure that he is alright.”
Dave ran a tired hand over his face. “I’ll have a look out for him as well,” he said. “And I’ll give Darren and Luke the heads up. What does he look like?”
Martin thought for a moment. I suppose he is about the same height as you, so tall but not too tall. He’s slim, but not skinny. He has blond hair, not bright blonde, but sort of dull like old sacking. And he has a black eye.”
“I thought you said you didn’t do anything to him,” Dave said.
“I didn’t,” Martin said. “But Kayla was really upset and has a surprisingly good right hook.” He winced in sympathy as he remembered it. “And perhaps we had better find this young man before she does.”
The first part of the story, published last week, is here.
Alex sat in the coffee bar and stared at the camera. Perhaps he should have shown the vicar the pictures. They were still on the camera, but also backed up on his PC, the cloud, half a dozen emails and two usb sticks. He flicked through the pictures on the view screen. Perhaps it was just good makeup at Halloween, but it looked too real. And if it was still on the camera, it couldn’t have been photoshopped – could it?
“Hey,” a deep voice said behind him. Alex turned around. A tall man stood behind him, slim but not skinny, with a neatly trimmed beard and short hair. “I saw those pictures.”
Alex forced a smile. “I got the camera second hand with these pictures on them. Looks like great makeup – right?”
“I’m Rhys McGee,” he said, sitting opposite Alex. “And I think we both know that it isn’t makeup.”
Alex froze for a moment, before forcing out, “What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s real,” Rhys said quietly. “But perhaps you shouldn’t be looking in a public place. If I could see them, so could anyone, or anything, else.”
“I got the camera blessed by a priest,” Alex said defensively.
Rhys hovered a hand over the camera, then paused. “That should help,” he said. “But what are you going to do about it?”
Alex shrugged helplessly. “I’m not exactly an action man,” he said.
Rhys looked thoughtfully at the skinny youngster in front of him. “I’m not going up against anything on my own,” he said. “That’s suicide. But perhaps we can do some stuff together. And I’ve worked as a personal trainer.”
Alex picked up the camera and stared at the pictures. “That’s what the priest said. That it was dangerous and that if a crime was committed then I should tell him.”
“What does an old man think he can do?” Rhys said. “Listen, I’ve got to get going, but why don’t we meet down by the river tonight, on the Lendal Bridge. They’re not supposed to be able to cross running water, so it should be safe enough.”
Alex stared at the stranger. For a brief moment he had the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff or the start of a rollercoaster. He should listen to the young, dynamic priest instead of some man that had approached him in a café. He should be sensible. He should get his laundry done before work tomorrow. He should walk away. Instead he nodded. “What time?”
“Make it around 10pm,” Rhys said. “I’ll have finished work by then, and it will be quieter.”
Rhys left the café and strode down Coppergate. Of course vampires could cross running water. He crossed the Lendal Bridge half a dozen times a day and it never bothered him. He could walk in sunlight as well, though he preferred the night and his night vision was now excellent. So was his hearing, which made the chatter filling the street and the off key busker even more annoying. Just because he could almost hear whether a coin had landed heads up did not make it a blessing.
He still couldn’t remember exactly how he became this monster. His memory was hazy. He’d met a woman in a bar a few years ago. Vivienne had been wild and edgy and he had gone back to her place and then…
He could never remember much more. There had been others around, he thought, coming and going, and lots of strange incense. Then one day, in the middle of summer, he had woken up. The old stone house was empty and all the vampires, including Vivienne, were gone.
Rhys would never forget the isolation he felt. The sensation of being adrift in a small, rudderless boat with no shore in sight. There was the gnawing hunger always at his back, a darkness in him that hadn’t been there when he was the second desk on IT support. He didn’t need caffeine anymore. He needed something far darker. And he couldn’t touch the camera.
There were advantages. When Rhys had searched the house for information, he had found some very detailed, very organised paperwork that even had his name on it. Through complicated trusts and deeds, he was now an owner of a large property set in its own grounds on the edge of the tourist haven of York. He was getting a fortune for it as a holiday rental. He hung out in a small caravan in a corner of the grounds. It gave him time to work his way up as a freelance tech guy and to work out what he was supposed to do now.
Perhaps he should speak to the priest. Whoever he was, he knew his stuff. The camera had been glowing with the blessing. Rhys hadn’t been able to get his hand near it. But then, getting a priest involved wasn’t fair. Most priests were old and frail and he didn’t want to drag one into a fight. Because that was what he was planning. He was going to hunt down every vampire he could, and he was going to destroy them. He was going to train a team, starting with Alex Poole. And they were going to get every last bloodsucker out there. All he, Rhys McGee, Vampire and Vampire Hunter, had to do was find them.
And he could start by looking through the pictures on the camera.
Alex Poole leant forward. “It’s important,” he said. “If you bless the camera then I have a chance of keeping the images.”
“And you want to keep the images of…” Darren looked at the camera and then back at Alex. “If you actually find vampires and take pictures of them, what are you going to do with the pictures?”
“It’s proof that they exist,” Alex said. “I’m sure that they do. I’ve heard all sorts of rumours. An old guard told me that there were incidents under York Railway Station a few years back.”
“I don’t remember seeing anything about that in the papers,” Darren said.
“And there have been people talking about pet rats disappearing from their cages in mysterious circumstances.”
“Really?” Darren said helpfully. He looked at the camera then back and the thin, eager face of Alex. “And if you get a picture of a vampire, how do you prove that he or she is a vampire?”
Alex paused for a moment. “I’d have to follow them, to make sure that I got a proper picture.”
“Don’t you think that would be a little risky?” Darren asked.
“That’s where the blessing would come in,” Alex said. “If you blessed the camera, they wouldn’t be able to touch it.”
“It wouldn’t stop them touching you,” Darren said.
“Oh!” Alex sat back, suddenly thoughtful.
“Another important point is that a blessing or a prayer isn’t like an action in a video game. It’s about faith, and intent, and the will of God. It’s not something that settles on the camera like dust.” Darren said. “But let’s go further. If you find a vampire, and get a picture that is definitely of a vampire without any doubt, what are you going to do?”
“Stake it, of course,” Alex said.
Darren looked thoughtfully at the slight young man sitting opposite. “Apart from putting yourself in extreme danger, what would happen if you got it wrong?” He watched as Alex hesitated.
There was a knock on the door and Egerton stuck his head in. “Ian and Dean are here for the Bible study,” he said. “I’ve left them in the living room.”
“I’ll be a few minutes,” Darren said. He turned back to Alex. “Do you have evidence that a crime has been committed?”
Alex shook his head. “But if vampires are prowling our streets, then no-one is safe.”
“I am not going to tell you that vampires do not exist,” Darren said carefully. “And I can believe that they walk the streets. For all you know, the people waiting in my living room could be a vampire or werewolf.”
“That’s not possible,” Alex interrupted. “No vampire or werewolf could come into a vicarage.”
Darren looked thoughtful. “I’m an exorcist, as you know. I’ve seen many strange things. And I’ve seen people with all the disadvantages trying to live a normal life without hurting anyone. I’ll bless you and the camera, but I advise you against vampire hunting. And if there is any crime being committed, apart from possibly fraud, come to me. I’ll make sure that the authorities listen.”
“You don’t believe in vampires,” Alex said flatly.
“I believe that perhaps this isn’t a good idea,” Darren said. “But I will never refuse a blessing. Some things are beyond my judgement. Please, put the camera on the table and we can pray.”
“The flowers are late!” I rushed into the kitchen, my wedding dress bunched around my waist and my veil askew. I looked at my husband-to-be. “I knew we shouldn’t have trusted that florist.” I took a deep breath. “And I knew we shouldn’t have got ready together. It’s supposed to be unlucky.”
Tim sighed. “It’s just nothing. It’s probably meant to allow the bride a little peace to get ready without the groom asking a lot of questions and causing fuss. We aren’t doing all the fuss.”
It made a sort of sense, but I was still frantic. “What about the flowers?”
“Can’t your little friends help out with that?” Tim asked.
“You know I don’t like you calling them that,” I said. I manouevred my skirt over a stool and sank down. “They’re the fair folk – if you have to talk about them at all.”
Tim walked over to me, put his hands on my shoulders and kissed me gently on the forehead. “Well, whoever they are took a lot of getting used to. I’m still not sure they approve of me. But I love you, friends and all, and don’t worry.” Tim grinned, that crooked grin that I loved so much. “Besides, they’re more like family, really, and we all have awkward family. I mean, you’ve met my Auntie Violet. She is far worse than misplaced car keys and iffy reception for the radio.”
I smiled back for a moment. “Lots of people call this house haunted, but it isn’t really. I just have friends.” My face fell. “But no flowers – and you know that the minister said he wouldn’t go ahead if we were late. We can’t wait around for the dratted florist. What are we going to do?”
Tim took my hands and gently squeezed them. “My darling, we agreed that this is about the marriage that we are going to have for the rest of our lives, not one day. We agreed that we would remember the things that went wrong as fun stories and not as awful events.” He grew serious. “I wish my mum was able to come, but we lost her last year. I wish your family was still here. I wish that your bridesmaid hadn’t eloped with my best man a week before it was all due to happen. I wish all sorts of things. The flowers, well, it’s just another story. As long as we get married, that’s all that matters. I love you.”
I smiled back. “I love you too.” I sighed. “I hope the fair ones are happy. They haven’t interfered so far, which is a good sign.” I disentangled my voluminous skirt from the stool and stood up. “They mean a lot to me.” I pulled myself up and settled my veil. “They’re the last of my family. Come on, we can’t be late. We can do without the flowers. Let’s go and get married.”
Tim led me outside ready to drive to the church, then stopped. I almost fell over as I bumped into him and then stared. A small bundle of wild flowers lay across the boot of the rental car.
Tim picked them up tenderly and looked around. “Thank you for this,” he said to the empty air. “An amazing gift on our wedding day.” He turned to me. “Your family have given their blessing. Let’s go and get married.” He looked around again. “And I’ll save you some cake!”
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 winter air.
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 hair.
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.”
She was finally dead. My bitch of a grandmother had finally shuffled off the mortal coil. Everyone knew she was a witch, and she held it over the heads of her family like a dagger. She always acted like she knew everything as well. What was worse, she wouldn’t tell me how to do it.
“You have no warm blood in your heart,” she’d tell me. “You don’t care about anyone but yourself. You’ll never make a witch.” I hated her more every time she told me this.
And she was so precious about her things. A very select few were allowed to look at her notebooks – not me of course – but none of her grandchildren were allowed into her pantry or among her jars and boxes. At least, Annette and Daisy managed to have glimpses, once they were older, but I had always been shut out.
I hadn’t expected her to have a proper funeral, and I hadn’t expected so many to turn out. There must have been over a hundred in the hall afterwards, most of them bringing their sad pyrex casserole dishes filled with something vegan. I don’t see why my mother couldn’t get it catered, but she always was a cheap cow.
I wasn’t going to stick around and simper over someone I was glad to see gone. Annette and Daisy were red eyed and sniffling, but I didn’t care. I was going to do something I had always wanted to do, and no-one was going to stop me now.
I left as soon as they started passing round the instant coffee and headed straight to my grandmother’s house. It hadn’t been touched, of course, and my cousins had been too respectful to do anything before the funeral. They had been left all the magical stuff, of course. I just had the money. It stung that grandmother had done that because she thought it was all I cared about. If she hadn’t been cremated I would have danced on her grave.
I had been in and out of the old house all my life and I knew its ways. I slipped around the back of the house, got the spare key from under the plant pot and let myself in. All of my life I had been fascinated by a jar on the high shelf. Once, when I was around thirteen, I thought I had heard it calling to me and tried to reach it. The old bag had stopped me then, but she couldn’t stop me now.
I stood on a chair, took the jar down, set it on the scrubbed table and paused. I could hear Daisy and Annette shouting to me as feet pounded up the path to the house. They weren’t going to stop me now. The lid was stiff at first, but then it turned easily. I could hear the singing as the lid loosened and then finally, it was open.
I could hear Daisy calling down the hall, screaming at me to stay back, but I didn’t care. Now I could see inside the tiny perfect world, marvel at the minute and delicate fronds. Except now they were not so tiny. The fronds whirled, whipping around like vegetable tentacles, sprouting and stretching, growing faster than I could watch. The jar shattered as I fell back, too small to contain the writhing plants which were sprawling over the kitchen, feeling their way along to the surfaces and grabbing at me. The fronds were strong, far stronger than a plant should be and I couldn’t break free. They tightened around my throat and as I gasped for air, a cold green tendril slid down my throat. I could hear Daisy screaming as everything went black.
Zoe sighed. It had been a long day at work but now she could relax. She could have a salad and a glass of wine in peace. Mark would be over later, and they could watch a film before another romantic night. She felt that her life was perfect. She set the table in the dining room, lit one of her favourite candles and uncorked the wine. There was a knock on the door.
“Hello, Zoe.” Ryan pushed past her.
Zoe couldn’t breathe. She shut the door and leaned against it as she watched Ryan saunter up the stairs. What could she do now? For a short, awful moment she listened to Ryan moving around upstairs, then she forced herself upright, went into the dining room and poured herself a glass of wine.
“You know I don’t like you drinking.” Ryan said. “And you’ve redecorated.” He looked around. “In fact, this is the only room that’s still fit to see. You never understood how to achieve elegance.”
“I cremated you.” Zoe drained her glass.
“Apparently there was a mix up at the morgue. I was embalmed instead.” Ryan turned around mockingly, flexing his shoulders. “And I’m not in bad shape. I’ve no idea who I was swapped with. Obviously they enjoyed golf.” Ryan threw a golf glove on top of Zoe’s salad. “I told you again and again that salad isn’t a real meal.”
“And I told you again and again that you needed to eat less meat. That’s why you died of a heart attack.” Zoe poured herself another glass of wine.
“And I warned you that I would come back from the grave. When I was dying I was very clear. The house was to remain exactly as it was. You were to dress in black and remain faithful to my memory. Not that bit of rubbish you’re wearing. You’re thirty-three, Zoe, not a teenager.” Ryan smiled thinly. “But here I am. I don’t suppose you kept my clothes as I instructed. Wearing another dead man’s suit isn’t my style.”
“I sold your clothes.” Zoe said quietly. “I sold your car, your record collection, your shoes and your power tools. I don’t know if I can divorce a dead man, but I am not staying.”
Ryan grabbed her wrist, hard. “The only place you are going tomorrow is work and then to buy new wallpaper. What were you thinking? You’ve painted everything, it’s just not good enough. You should be glad I’m back.”
“You can’t make me.” Zoe said, tugging her hand away from the unexpectedly strong grasp. There was a giddy rush. She had never said that to Ryan before and he wasn’t expecting it.” You can’t make me do anything. After all, you can’t stop me having money for the bus fare to work as all the money is now in my name now, legally.”
“I never liked you working in that office.” Ryan muttered. “There were too many divorcees.”
“You can’t hide my clothes. I’ve got a suitcase stashed in my car for the weekend and the money to get new stuff. I have friends that would worry if I didn’t get in touch after a few days and a very nice boyfriend who would definitely come to claim me.” Zoe defiantly poured another glass of wine and took a long drink. “I’ve just got a promotion. I’m an Area Manager now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ryan snapped. “We both know you’re too stupid to get a decent job. That’s why I wanted you at home, to protect you.” He looked away from her. They both knew he was lying. “And I told you, I don’t like you drinking wine.”
“You’re dead.” Zoe said. “You don’t have an opinion.”
“Pour the wine away, you stupid girl.” Ryan loomed over her.
“I could call the police and say that a strange man has forced himself in here and could he come and get you.” Zoe said recklessly, drunk on the sudden ability to disagree with her revenant husband.
“I would say I was your husband and point to our wedding photos.” Ryan paused and looked round. “There are no photos of me.”
“I burned the lot.” Zoe took a deep breath. She had to keep her head. “This house is in my name only now. You have no right to be here. I want you to leave.”
“This is my house and you are my wife.” Ryan snapped and grabbed at Zoe. She jumped back and ducked behind the table.
“I really loved you, really, really loved you. When you died I cried for weeks.” Zoe made a grab for her car keys. “But I’ve made a new life and I’m alive and you’re dead.”
“Come here!” Ryan lunged desperately at Zoe across the dining table, knocking into the candle. It fell against his sleeve. Zoe screamed as the flame caught hold of the fabric and raced up the sleeve.
“What’s happening.” She looked round for something to throw over him.
“I was embalmed, you stupid girl. I’m flammable.” Ryan was panicking.
Zoe tried to remember her training. “Lie down.” She pulled up one of the rugs. “I can smother the flame.”
Ryan screamed. The flames had caught hold of him now and he was burning up. “Do something you stupid girl.” It was too late. Ryan threw back his head and howled as flames gushed from his mouth. The stench was unbearable. Zoe tried to throw the rug over him but Ryan staggered away, stumbling into the wall and leaving scorch marks and ash. Then he crumbled.
Zoe methodically dampened down the scorch marks and opened all the window. She looked at the ash covered, burned carpet, the marks on the wall, the soot on the ceiling and sighed with a sort of relief. Even Ryan would admit that she had to redecorate now
They got Jenkins just as dawn broke and the mist was sidling away from the valley. It was elfshot, straight in the chest above the heart. We carried him back as he raved, our legs dampened and cooled with the morning dew and the light spilling golden through the mist and down the valley. Into the farmhouse we took him and put him near the roof with a Bible next to his bed and a rosary over the bedstead. The priest was slow to come but prayed hard when he came and someone was always watching as Jenkins told us about the sky kingdoms sailing through the skies like swans and cooed at pictures on the walls that only he could see.
The hen keeper could hear his shouts as she collected her eggs and topped up the water trough. The cows being milked in the cool dairy with rowan twigs hung above the stalls could hear his cries. Neither the doctor not the priest could pull the elfshot as Jenkins sang wildly as if under a mackerel sky.
He died at sunset, not well, and we did not bless the day the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk, the Faerie returned.
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 true.
“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 work tomorrow.”
“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 way.”
“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 time.”
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 dangerous.”
“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 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.” Ryan said.
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.”
Welcome to the third day of the October Frights Blog Hop! I hope you enjoyed my contribution and will look out for another story tomorrow.
And why not dip in to the giveaway of great stories at Story Origin? You can find them here. It’s a selection of free stories from some of the people taking part in the October Frights Blog Hopand you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.
I have always liked walking in the mist. It feels like walking inside a story. I love the way it can soften the world and make the most mundane corners magical.
It was more than mist tonight. It was a heavy, swirling, writhing fog. Local radio had put out weather warnings and the police had recommended that if there was any choice, people should stay at home. It had been taken to heart. The last few hours of my shift at the store had been extremely quiet.
Mum had rung as I was dragging on my coat. “I’m sorry, love, but I don’t think it’s safe for your dad to come and pick you up. You can’t see across the road. Will you be okay walking if you go past the church and stick to the main road? It shouldn’t take you long.”
“I’ll be fine walking home.” I said, wrapping my scarf firmly around me. “I’ll cut down the back of the estate.”
“You can’t do that!” My mum had been horrified. “Not at this time of night!”
“Mum, it’s only 9pm and no-one is out.” I peered through the back window as my boss pulled down the shutters. You could barely see the edge of the pavement. “Besides, I don’t think any attacker would be able to see me in this murk.”
“Go past the church and stick to the main road.” Mum said firmly. “It won’t take much longer and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“Okay.” I said, picking up my bag and heading for the door. “I’ve got to go now, Mum, see you in a bit.”
I nodded goodnight to my boss who was locking the shutters and headed carefully along the pavement towards the estate. If I cut through that way, I could get home almost half an hour earlier. Besides, I couldn’t see how much safer I would be on the main road. I would be risking walking next to a road that drivers could barely see.
I strained my ears as I reached the main road. I couldn’t hear anything. I’d never known the town centre so quiet. I could hear the faint hiss of the traffic lights as I got close to the crossing, but there was no other sound. I couldn’t hear any cars, or footsteps or any sign of life at all. I paused and felt the water droplets settling coldly on my skin. Crossing the road was a step into the unknown.
It wasn’t so bad once I got away from the glare of the streetlights on the main road and into the shortcuts. The estate was normally a hive of activity full of small businesses and traffic no matter what time it was. Even this late there was usually a mechanic working late or the carpet firm stacking their vans for the next day. Tonight, however, it was silent.
I walked briskly down the alleys and shortcuts, past the rag people and the appliance repair centre. The usual scatter of half-finished washing machines was there under their plastic covers, misted by water droplets and barely visible as I walked within touching distance. I looked around to get my bearings. All the landmarks had disappeared. On my left should be the main road and that meant that I needed to go straight and cut between the empty unit and the double-glazing place. I tilted my head and pulled my scarf loose. I couldn’t hear anything, and I didn’t want to miss my turn. I pulled out my phone to see if the maps were any use, but I couldn’t get a signal.
This is what it felt like to be truly lost, I thought, as I made an educated guess and headed across the road, tripping on the kerb. But if I squinted then I could just see that the fence had the double-glazing advertising on so I must be in the right direction. I heard a growl.
I wasn’t good with dogs. I wouldn’t hurt one, but they scared me half to death. Even my auntie’s elderly westie made me nervous and the growl ahead of me was low and menacing. I leant forward into the fog. “Good boy…” I took another step forward and the growl intensified. I wasn’t ready for this. I tried moving to the right a little and I heard paws pad on the cracked concrete. “Good boy.” I said with as much conviction as I could manage. I tried moving straight ahead again but once again I was met by the ominous growl.
I froze. I could just about make out the shape a few yards in front of me and it was huge. It seemed nothing more than a shadow against the fog, but it was shaped like a large Doberman, long legged and fierce with pricked ears. I backed away a few steps, stumbling again on the kerb. I watched the dog pad unhurriedly behind me with a faint rumble of threat in his throat. I tried to take another step back towards the way I came, but the dog was not tolerating that either.
My hands were trembling so much that they could hardly hold my phone as I tried again to get a signal. There was nothing, and the great beast slowly approached me, cutting me off from the town centre and the road curving left. “You want me to go right, boy?” I said. The words hung in the damp air. The dog took another step towards me and I could see cold light reflected in his huge eyes. “Okay, good boy.” I stumbled towards the right.
I was always told never to run from a dog, and it wouldn’t be safe for me to try. I felt the awful cold sensation of the great dog’s gaze settle between my shoulder blades as I headed right, away from the town and away from my route home. I tried to catch my breath and slowed a little. Once again the beast growled, low and purposeful. His breath was warm on the back of my head, and it stank.
I quickened my pace a little, but the fog was too dense to move at any sort of speed. The dog seemed satisfied, though, and apart from the hum of the intermittent street lights, all I could hear was the pad of his paws and his even breathing.
It seemed to take forever before we moved directly under a street light, although it was only a few minutes. I recognised the corner. On the left was a sign writer and on the right was some sort of storage. If I made a run for it, I could race down the alley behind the sign writer and reach the town centre in only a few minutes. I glanced back and stumbled in shock as I saw the beast properly. He was huge, his head nearly at the height of my chest, with staring eyes that gleamed in the reflected light. His jaws were large with a tongue lolling incongruously over oversized, gleaming teeth. I froze.
For the longest minute I just stood there, trying to keep my stomach inside, trying to just to keep breathing as I stared at the monster in front of me. I couldn’t make sense of it – it wasn’t a Doberman or a Rottweiler or anything I recognised. Perhaps it was one of those ‘part wolf’ breeds that were cropping up. Whatever it was, it was terrifying.
He gave a low ‘woof’ and padded forward. The thing may not have spoken, but it was clear – I needed to keep going in the right direction. I stumbled forward, loosening my scarf as I tried to scrabble my wits together while what looked like a hell hound padded gently after me.
Where were we going? I didn’t know this part of the estate well, but we seemed to be heading towards the edge near the motorway. I could see the faint gleam of the lights in the distance and the sound of cars, muffled through the damp air. I swallowed and stumbled, catching hold of a wall looming out of the fog to keep my balance. There was a cemetery the other side of the motorway. Was that where I was being herded? Another low ‘woof’ reminded me to keep moving. I kept going.
The great beast started shifting a little, moving up on my right-hand side and guiding me left as I shied away from him. I could hear his breathing far too close as I rounded the corner near the tyre storage, smell his stinking breath and hear the relentless pad, pad, pad of his great paws. Maybe I should try and make a break for it or maybe I should try and find a weapon in the rubbish strewn across the path.
Then I forgot everything. The fog thinned in the air from the underpass and through the mist I could see the remains of a van. It had crashed down the bank from the motorway above us and landed awkwardly in the middle of the road. The windshield was smashed, and the glittering shards were stained with blood which trailed from a broken figure that had been thrown across the path and landed across a low wall. I raced over, oblivious to what the dog wanted.
He was only young, younger than me, with his shock of brown hair matted with blood and his eyes sunken in his pale face. I caught hold of his hand. It felt icy.
“It’s okay, I’m going to ring for an ambulance now. We’ll get you sorted out.” I frantically looked over him. There was blood everywhere, seeping through his thin t-shirt and trickling out of the corner of his mouth.
There was a faint pressure on my hand as he tried to squeeze it, the strength fading from him. “It’s okay. I just didn’t want to die alone.”
“No, you are not going to die.” I heard my voice break. “I’m going to call the ambulance, it’s going to be okay…” I stopped. The light had gone out of his eyes and something indefinable had left. I fumbled for my phone, and finally I got a signal. I was just too late.
I looked around for the dog, but there was no sign. As the fog turned to rain, I thought I could make out some faint paw prints in the blood that had splashed across the street, but they faded and before I could be sure they were being washed away.
Welcome to the second day of the October Frights Blog Hop! I hope you enjoyed my contribution and will look out for another story tomorrow.
And why not dip in to the giveaway of great stories at Story Origin? You can find them here. It’s a selection of free stories from some of the people taking part in the October Frights Blog Hopand you may find a new favourite author. Just in case, there is an associated Book Fair here, where you are always welcome.
While I am talking about the goodies going on, there is the panel taking place today which you can find herewhere some of the authors who are part of this amazing event will be chatting