Elf Shot at Dawn

white concrete house photography
Image from Unsplash, taken by Chris Neufeld-Erdman

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.

Good Things

Everyone knew that Violet was fragile. She would happily and completely believe the last thing she saw on Facebook or YouTube and fall in love with whatever trend was rattling around the internet, before being completely crushed when it all ended badly. She was a sweet woman, with a heart of gold and a genius touch at the upscale salon she worked at, but she was vulnerable.

Then she discovered Instagram.

‘Hang on, I need to take a picture here,’ became her catchphrase. It even came out at a fast food place.

I looked down at my unremarkable burger. “It’s nothing special. Besides, you took one five minutes ago.”

“But now you’ve taken a bite,” Violet said. “It’s more of a statement.”

“Is it?” I looked down at the soggy bread and meat. “Well, you know best.”

“It’s all about the composition,” Violet said. She frowned for a moment. “Hang on…”

I stared in disbelief as she pulled a fake twig from the plastic pot next to us and laid it across my burger, before taking another picture. “I’m not so hungry after all,” I said. “I mean, that twig has seen some stuff.”

“Excuse me,” a manager had appeared. She had probably been watching for a while and half expected this. “I have to ask you to leave.”

“Why?” Violet said. “It’s just for my followers. You know that lots of people choose where they eat from what they see on social media…” She was still protesting as I hustled her out.

The trouble with Violet was that while she was the sweetest, kindest, loveliest friend anyone could ever ask for, she had the resilience and depth of a petal. There were times when I felt I could shake her. Not that it would have done any good. I had known Violet for years, and watched teachers and classmates try. Everyone liked her, when they noticed her, and she was cherished at her salon, but she was as substantial as a sunbeam. And I think that she felt it.

After some fairly traumatic attempts at making her mark, Violet finally settled on something. She was going to be an influencer. We couldn’t keep her away from TikTok any longer. She also registered on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and half a dozen other sites as well as setting up her own website on a free platform.

“Your site looks lovely,” I said, sincerely. Violet really did have an eye for design. “Perhaps you could share hairstyling tips.”

Violet shook her head. “The salon would have a fit if I did that, and I want to keep working there. I love my job. Besides, it’s quite a crowded niche. I’ve got a better idea.”

“It’s not cleaning, is it?” I asked. Violet’s flat was so clean that you could use any surface for open heart surgery, but it was quite soulless.

Violet shook her head then shrugged. “Sort of. Cleaning is a very full niche, but I think I can make my mark – old cleaning.”

“What?” I stared at her.

“Look at this,” she said, digging a book out of her bag. “This book is nearly a hundred years old, and it has a section on how to use a mangle.”

“What’s a mangle?” I asked, looking at the tattered book in front of me.

“It presses water out of clothes,” Violet said. “It’s a sort of early spin dryer, except that it doesn’t spin.”

“I don’t even know what one looks like,” I said, an uneasy feeling growing in my stomach.

“And it tells you how to make indelible ink – look!” she said, waving the book at me. “Take 20 grains of sugar and dissolve in 30 grains of water…”

“Water doesn’t have grains,” I said as she frowned over the old print.

“No, grain is a type of old measurement. It’s tiny, like a tenth of a gram or something. But it’s all in proportion. It’s two parts sugar to three parts water. Then you add sulphuric acid.”

What!” I craned to see over her shoulder but the tiny, cramped printing defied me. “You can get Sharpies from the supermarket.”

“But that’s no fun.” Violet said. “Lots of people want to go back to homemade, natural treatments.”

“Sulphuric acid isn’t natural,” I said, “Or it shouldn’t be. Where could you get it from?”

“I can get hold of sulphur,” Violet said uncertainly. “How hard can it be?”

“Perhaps you should start with something easier that won’t terrify any followers,” I suggested.

“Hmm, perhaps,” Violet said. “But there are loads of old housekeeping books around that are going for pennies, and I can share them with my followers.”

I thought about it for a moment and I couldn’t see any pitfalls. “It sounds great,” I said. “Don’t forget to send me the links so I can follow.”

I kept an eye on things for a while. Violet was one of my oldest friends and a sort of distant cousin as well. She didn’t have much family, or at least family that was of use, so me and her other friends tried to keep her safe. And the influencer stuff was working for her. She was working hard, having fun and enjoying herself as her followers grew. To be honest, I was having a lot of fun as well. I went with her to flea markets and book fairs to scour the place for the old cookbooks and housekeeping manuals that she loved and we poured over them together in whatever cramped coffee shop we found afterwards. Violet was thriving.

Then she got the book. The slim, tattered volume was tucked in the back of a box of a trader at a collector’s fair, along with some random 1980s cookbooks, bought from a house clearance company. I ignored it, but it caught Violet’s attention. It was a small volume with old recipes and it seemed to call to her.

“Look at this,” she said, waving the book past my face. “It’s got little sayings around the edges of the text. Look – ‘Wilful Waste Makes Woeful Want’. It’s true, though, isn’t it? You always end up down if you waste stuff.”

I nodded hesitantly.

“And there’s a recipe for Wharfedale Pudding here. I’d never heard of that before,” Violet continued. “I can’t wait to try it.”

Work got busy for me, so I wasn’t meeting up with Violet so much. I followed her social media, of course. Every morning I dutifully logged in on all the different sites and liked and shared everything. I even skimmed the text over my morning coffee. I started noticing things, however. I remembered us chuckling over a facsimile copy of Mrs Putnam’s Receipt Book, which must have dated to the early nineteenth century. There wasn’t a mention of it in any post. There was hardly a mention of Soyer or Acton or Glasse or any of her staples. Instead it was all about that little book. She started every day with a tweet of one of the trite sayings printed at the edge of the page. There were dissections of the recipes and videos of her trying them out. There was even some quite deep research on the book’s background, which I didn’t think that Violet could manage.

But the articles seemed flatter and lifeless. There seemed nothing of the inner joy that Violet took in life. Even the language seemed different. Violet didn’t usually worry about spelling and grammar, but the over-correct text next to each picture was jarring. Finally I got a call from Violet’s boss at the salon.

“I haven’t heard from her all week,” Kylie said. “It’s not like her, and I’m more worried than anything else. Have you heard from her?”

“I’ve not heard a thing,” I said. “She’s still posting, though, so she must still be sort of okay.” Inside I was terrified. Violet lived for her job, and it was unheard of for her to risk it.

“I don’t think that means much,” Kylie said. “Violet was telling me how she sets posts up to go live weeks in advance, just in case.”

I felt a chill run through me. “I’ll call in at her place tonight,” I said. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

I wasn’t reassured when Violet opened the door. She had always been slim, but now she was barely skin and bones. Her eyes were sunken and her smile was strained. I stepped in before she had a chance to make an excuse. “Are you okay? What’s happened?” I almost stumbled when I went into the living room. Normally it was minimalist and sparse. Right now it was a mess. Plastic flowers and bits of twigs were heaped everywhere. Black coffee mouldered in half a dozen mugs scattered around. The curtains were closed even though it was bright outside.

“I’ve been a bit tired,” Violet said. “And I haven’t had much appetite. But I’ve had some meals from The Book.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. I looked around. “Where is it?”

“Hmm?” Violet’s eyes were losing focus and she was swaying.

I swore and grabbed her. “When did you last have something to eat?” I snapped as I guided her down on her chair.

“I made baked tomatoes for breakfast,” Violet murmured.

I stared at her for a moment. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a month. “Hang on,” I said, and strode into the kitchen. It was full. Packets were stacked haphazard on the usually empty counters, and the bin was overflowing. Someone had been eating plenty here. I opened the fridge. It was full. Something weird was going on. I returned to the living room. “You need to see a doctor,” I said firmly. “You’re nothing but skin and bone.”

Violet shook her head. “Honestly, I’m fine. I’m just a bit run down.”

“Kylie is worried about you, you know,” I said. “Why didn’t you at least call her?”

“What day is it?” Violet asked. She checked the calendar on her phone. “What’s happened? I think I’ve lost three days.”

“You can come and stay with me,” I said. “I’ve got a sofa bed in the living room, and it will give you a chance to relax. Come on, I’ll grab your toothbrush.”

“I have to bring The Book as well,” Violet said.

“Which one?” I asked as I rummaged in her bathroom.

“You know, The Book. The one called ‘Good Things’. It’s been an absolute life saver. And it was written in 1896, you know.” Violet looked wildly around and then relaxed as she picked up her book. “Here it is.”

I frowned as I came back in. “Are you sure that’s it?”

“Yes, look – it says ‘Good Things’ on the front.” Violet said. “And I’ll need my camera as well.”

I didn’t feel better about things when I got Violet back to my flat. I settled her down and made her some cocoa. “Are you sure you won’t see a doctor?” I asked.

“I’m fine,” Violet said. “I’ve just been overdoing it. I’ll have a look through The Book and see if there are any recipes for invalids. That will make a good blog post.”

I dragged out spare blankets and pillows and then looked hard at the book. I was sure that it wasn’t the book I had thought. It was plump and sleek and it seemed to gleam a little under the living room light. “I’m just nipping to the shop for some bits,” I said. “And I’ll call in at the pharmacy as well.”

“Ask if they have any quinine wine,” Violet said. “The Book recommends it.”

I stumped off down the road and, when I was sure I was out of sight of my windows, rang Kylie. “I’m really worried,” I said. “But I can’t get her to see a doctor.”

“Perhaps some time with you will sort it out,” Kylie said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “And she’s owed some holiday time. She never takes time off.”

“It’s that damn book, I’m sure of it,” I said. “She’s following health advice from a time when they gave opium to babies and put arsenic on the wallpaper. I’ll pick up something more modern at the pharmacy in the supermarket.”

“Let me know how it goes,” Kylie said. “But I’m sure that you’ll work it out.”

Violet had fallen asleep when I got in, with the book tucked in close to her. I looked closer. It had ‘Good Things’ embossed on the cover, but I was sure that I remembered it differently. I went into the kitchen, pulled out my phone and started checking Instagram. And it was there! No-one would believe me if I just came out with the words, but the book changed. Over the weeks the thin, threadbare copy seemed to swell and the cover grew sleeker at every image. At the same time, the images showing Violet’s hands holding the book grew thinner and paler until they were almost skeletal. I couldn’t hear Violet moving, but I didn’t want to take a risk. I carefully shut down my phone and poked my head back into the living room. The book hadn’t moved, but I had seen far too many horror stories. I went back to the kitchen and texted Kylie. <Check the book in Violet’s Instagram. It’s the same, even though it changes.>

Kylie texted back. <Are you sure it’s the same book?>

<According to Violet, it’s the same book and the same printing is on the cover.>

<You need to burn it!> Kylie texted. <It’s possessed.>

<How am I supposed to burn it?> I texted back. <I’m in a second floor flat with no fireplace. Besides, Violet would never permit it. She’s even sleeping with it right now. The hard part is going to be getting hold of it. We can worry about what to do with it after that.>

<I have an idea.> Kylie texted back. <I’ll be there in an hour.>

I had doubts when Kylie arrived. “Are you sure about this? I’m not sure it’s ethical. I’m not sure that it’s even legal.”

“Desperate measures,” Kylie said breezily. “And do you have a better idea?” She pushed past me into the room and stopped suddenly. “What the hell is the matter with you, Violet? You should be in a hospital!”

Violet managed a tired smile. “I’m okay, really. I’m just a little run down.”

“We had burgers for dinner,” I said. “Proper meaty ones from the butchers, with chocolate pudding afterwards.”

Kylie looked at Violet in disbelief. Violet looked like she could be blown away like a dead leaf. “Well, I’ve got something that will pick you up,” Kylie said, recovering. “I’ve got a bottle of tonic wine for you and a bottle of prosecco for us.”

I still had reservations as I brought out three wine glasses. The tonic wine was strong stuff and though Violet had wolfed down three huge burgers and two helpings of pudding, she didn’t look like there was anything to mop up the alcohol. Then I caught sight of the gleaming book nestled in Violet’s lap. I didn’t like the idea of getting Violet drunk. But if that is what it took, then that is what I would do. “Tonic wine,” I said. “It’s like the quinine wine that the book recommends. It will be just what you need.” I watched as Kylie poured a generous glass for Violet and then two more reasonable measures for her and I.

“The Book is never wrong,” Voilet said, and took a mouthful. She blinked. “What is in this stuff?”

I picked up the bottle and looked at the label. “It says it has added iron.”

“That won’t hurt,” Violet said and took another large mouthful.

“You’re looking a little peaky,” Kylie said, ruthlessly topping up Violet’s glass. “Iron has to be good for you.”

It took two and a half glasses before Violet fell asleep. I exchanged an uneasy look with Kylie. It seemed more about exhaustion and lack of resources than a couple of glasses of wine. “Let’s get a blanket on you,” I said cheerily as I stretched Violet out along the sofa. “What you need is a good night’s sleep.”

“That’s absolutely right,” Kylie said, shaking out a throw and slipping it over Violet. The book fell out of Violet’s hands and onto the floor. Violet murmured and shuffled in her sleep, but the tonic wine was too much for her. Kylie automatically bent to pick up the book, but I stopped her. I nipped quickly into the kitchen and came out with a tea towel, which I used as a barrier as I picked up the book.

“I’m going to take a walk,” I said, marching briskly to the door. “Keep an eye on Violet, will you?”

Kylie nodded, her eyes wide and fixed on the book as I marched out of the door, phone in one hand and a book wrapped in a tea towel in the other. “Be careful!”

I moved with purpose, down one street, then another, then I cut across a park, past an arcade of shops and then down the back of the industrial estate until I got to the canal. I hesitated. I had seen Jumanji. Things could come back from a watery grave. Then I pulled myself together. That had been a wooden box, not a paper book. Besides, there were things in the canal that would clean brass. An old cookbook didn’t stand a chance. I found the footbridge, got to the centre and shook out the tea towel, sending the book into the water with a splash.

I stood there, almost transfixed by the reflection of the setting sun bouncing off the murky water. I expected something to show for it, like lights or explosions or steam. Then I got a text alert. It was Kylie.

<Violet is looking better. She has some colour in her cheeks. Have you done it?>

Yes, I thought, as I turned back to the flat. I’ve done it.

Impish

Image courtesy of Thomas Marlowe

“Don’t worry about a thing.” Trevor smiled with deep reassurance at the nervous store owner.  “The restoration will be completely sympathetic and we will be using authentic materials and techniques throughout. It will look just like it was first built all those centuries ago.”

“I was warned about the little imp figure.” Mr Oliver had only recently bought the shop and was beginning to get unnerved by some of the unexplained happenings. “Apparently if he isn’t painted red bad things happen.”

“Red is the authentic colour for a figure of that type.” Trevor mentally added another £100 to the eventual bill. “And we will, of course, be using the type of paint authentic to the period. You would not believe some of the shoddy attempts we’ve seen.  People think it’s find to go slapping modern gloss paint over medieval plasterwork.  It’s a shame really.”

“I’m not really bothered about the paint type,” Mr Oliver said faintly. “As long as it looks a bit better.  Of course as it’s in a conservation area I have to be a bit careful.”

Internally Trevor sighed and took £100 back off the bill. “We are craftsmen, aren’t we Ryan? We like to live up to the skills of the old masters who painstakingly put together these amazing works of art. We think it’s important to keep the old traditions going. It would be tragic if the old skills were lost.”

“Tragic.” Ryan agreed from up the ladder next to the imp. “I mean, who puts an early twentieth century piece of chain on a medieval carved figure? It would make you cry. I’d say this chain was about 1932.”

Trevor made a mental note to warn Ryan about overdoing it and all three followed the chain with their eyes as Ryan threw it down on the floor.  As one they froze as a wicked chuckle came from out of nowhere.  Then they all slowly looked up at the red imp. It wasn’t there.  Trevor swallowed. “Of course I do know someone who does a very good rate in absolutely authentic carved wooden figures.”

Mr Oliver sighed a little with relief. Looking into the shop it already seemed a bit emptier. “I think that’s a splendid idea.”

Dark Cupboard

bald eagle door chain lock
Image from Unsplash, taken by Thom Milkovic

Jim looked around. “It’s not a bad little flat,” he said. “It’ll turn a good profit once we’ve tidied it up a bit.”

Steve nodded. “It really just needs a few coats of paint and perhaps new doors on the kitchen cupboards. Everything is pretty sound.”

“She didn’t want to leave,” Jim said thoughtfully. “I mean, she handed over the keys alright, and the place was cleared, but she kept warning me about the cupboard.” He nodded to the cupboard set into the wall, with chipped paint and an ornate chain.

“I’ve got the bolt cutters here,” said Steve. “I’ll get into it in a sec.”

“I’ll nip back to the van and get the camera,” Jim said. “She seemed a sweet old dear, and a little confused, but she may have been playing crafty. There could be structural stuff inside that cupboard and there go our profits.” He glanced over at Steve. “Don’t start without me, we need to document this.”

“I’ll get it opened up,” Steve said. “I’ll get the lamp shining in by the time you’re back. It’s probably where she hid the empty bottles. She was talking about spirits when she left.”

“Or it could be a Ouija board,” Jim said with a shudder. “You know I hate anything like that.” He glanced uneasily at the cupboard. “Back in a tick.”

Steve shook his head as he heard Jim clatter down the stairs. You couldn’t even read your newspaper horoscope around Jim. He hefted the bolt cutters and checked the chain. It was steel but old and the bolt cutters were top of the range. The chain fell apart without much effort.

The cupboard was dark inside, much darker than Steve expected. He pulled out his phone to use the torch and shivered as a cold draught ran through the room. He looked closer and saw a few chalked symbols, faded and barely visible under some dusty leaves, on the base of the cupboard. The stench was stomach churning.

“There’s nothing here, Jim,” Steve called, heading to the windows. He had to get some fresh air into this room. “But we may have a sewer line issue.” He tugged at the window catch. “Have you got some WD40?” The window was jammed, no matter how hard he pushed and shoved. He frowned. They had been fine earlier and there had been nothing in the survey. He could hear Jim on the stairs. He had better get the chalk marks wiped off before he got here, or he would have a fit. “Hang on, Jim, I need a cloth.” Steve strode over to the door, shivering as another blast of icy stench ran over him, and grabbed the door handle. It wouldn’t move. “Jim, the door’s stuck. Give it a push, will you?”

There was a rattle. “I can’t shift it,” Jim said. “Is there a lock?”

Steve peered at the door. “I can’t see anything.”

“I’ll get the toolbox,” Jim called. “Back in a tick.”

The light in the room dimmed. Steve turned around, hit by another icy, stinking draught, but there was nothing over the window and the sun seemed just as bright. He shivered as the room got colder and, as he heard a low, malicious chuckle, he wondered if they would have been better leaving the cupboard alone…

How Do You Tell?

top view photography of broken ceramic plate
Image from Unsplash, taken by Chuttersnap

Carol cracked open the front door and peeked through the tiny gap. “Can I help you?”

Sir Dylan smiled brightly as he forced the door open and strode in. “May I come in?” he asked as he stood in the hall, checking out the layout of the small house.

“You can’t come in!” Carol said, her voice wavering. “Please leave.”

“Leave now, before something dreadful happens,” a voice boomed from the kitchen at the back of the house.

Sir Dylan flung open the kitchen door. The room was icy, far colder than outside or the rest of the house, and incense smoke hung heavily in the air. A plate flew off a shelf and through the air, past his ear, and smashed dramatically on a cupboard. The tall, thin man standing in the centre of the room was holding a Bible and gesturing dramatically. He didn’t look around. “Leave now, while your soul is still safe.”

“Hello, Foxglove,” Sir Dylan said.

The tall man froze and then spun around. “It’s Foxbane.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Sir Dylan said, taking the Bible out of his limp grasp and setting it down respectfully on the nearby counter. “You’ve been warned about this.”

“I swear that this is a genuine exorcism,” Foxbane said. “Absolutely 100% genuine. This poor lady came to me when unexplained cold and draughts affected her home.” He looked behind Sir Dylan at Carol who was hovering helplessly. “There was unexplained activity and some damage. I was helping her out of the goodness of my heart.”

Sir Dylan backed away a little, keeping an eye on Foxbane as he asked Carol, “How much did he charge?”

“It’s true that I went to him,” Carol said. “Someone on Facebook recommended him, and I’m paying in instalments.” She laid a trembling hand on Sir Dylan’s arm. “It’s all real, you know, all of it. It’s been a nightmare. I’ve not been able to sleep properly for months.”

Sir Dylan looked at her. She was an older woman, with deeply shadowed eyes and tension lines around her mouth. She did not deserve Foxbane’s games. “I know it’s real,” he said. “But it’s not exactly what you think.” He pulled a small monocle from his pocket and peered through it.

“Look at us,” Foxbane said to Carol. “Who looks more trustworthy?”

Carol looked at Foxbane. He looked tall and urbane, with a silver streak in his dark hair. His expensive suit and shirt looked a little rumpled from the effort of the exorcism and his silk tie was askew, but he looked erudite and in control. Sir Dylan was wearing a leather jacket over a cheap t-shirt and battered jeans. His heavy boots were scuffed and tattoos covered his thickly muscled arms and ran up his neck into his closely cropped hair. Carol eyed the knight nervously. “It all seems very complicated.”

Sir Dylan glared at Foxbane. “I’ve spoken to Lord Marius, and he says that he would like to deal with you himself.” He eased something out of his pocket with his free hand. “He’s not happy.”

Foxbane pulled himself up to his full height. “I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t care,” Sir Dylan said. “But he gave me some stuff to help me out.” He threw a chain at Foxbane which wrapped itself loosely around his neck and hung over his arms. As Foxbane stood pinned and immobile, Sir Dylan held out the monocle and peered through it before his hand shot out and grabbed what seemed to be thin air. Without warning his hand was clutching the throat of a red-headed young man who wriggled wildly as Sir Dylan dropped the monocle and pulled out a second chain. “Hello, Catkin.”

“It’s not Catkin, it’s Willow,” the man hissed, clawing at Sir Dylan’s fingers tightening around his throat.

“Yeah,” Sir Dylan said, dropping the chain around Willow’s neck. He turned his back on the two frozen figures and tried a reassuring smile at Carol. “I’m sorry that you were bothered by this, ma’am. I’m afraid you’ve been targeted by scammers.”

“But you saw that plate move…” Carol trailed off. Willow had appeared from nowhere and he and Foxbane were now frozen underneath the thin chains, their outlines fuzzy and indistinct.

“These aren’t human,” Sir Dylan said, “Or they’re differently human, or whatever the latest phrase is. They’re elfen. They’ve done it before. One causes psychic disturbances in a house, one tries and fails to exorcise the ‘spirit’. Then they suggest you move out, as it’s the only way. Obviously you won’t get a decent price for a house with flying plates, but they can recommend a broker. So you sell your house to them at below market value and then they flip it and sell on. House prices are going up around here, aren’t they?”

The colour drained from Carol’s face. “I’ve had a few letters asking for me to sell, but it was my mum’s house and I’d hate to leave it…” She trailed off.

“Have you given them any money?” Sir Dylan asked.

“I gave them £200 on deposit when they came in,” Carol said, still pale.

Sir Dylan strode over to Foxbane and started rummaging through the frozen elfen’s pockets. It took a few attempts as he delved into the shiny stones, fake rings and feathers, but he found a wallet and extracted £300 before replacing it. “That’s your money and a little compensation for the inconvenience,” he said as he handed over the money. He reached into his own pocket and pulled out a card. “If you have any more problems, or you know someone who needs an exorcism or has supernatural problems, call me. We don’t charge.”

Carol looked down at the card. “Knights Templar?”

Sir Dylan nodded. “It’s changed a bit since the Middle Ages.” He rummaged around in his pockets again and pulled out a small, marquetry box. “Try to forget about this. With a little luck, you’ll never need to talk to us again.” He flipped open the lid and braced himself against the kitchen doorframe.

Carol watched as the two frozen figures twisted and turned in place, dissolving into strings and ropes of colour that curled and writhed before being sucked, rattling, into the small box. The chains fell to the floor with a clatter as Sir Dylan snapped the box shut. “Is that it?”

“That’s it,” Sir Dylan agreed. “I suppose it seems an anti-climax, but you shouldn’t have any more problems.” He tucked the box into an inside pocket and picked up the chains. “Don’t feel bad about getting played. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially if you are unfamiliar with this sort of thing. I’ll see myself out.”

Carol stood in the middle of the kitchen listening to the heavy boots treading down the hall and the slam of the door closing behind Sir Dylan and slowly relaxed. The scent of incense still hung in the air, but as she picked up the brush to sweep up the pieces, she realised that the room was finally getting warmer.

Child in a Sweet Shop

He looked carefully at his outfit.  He had to get the look exactly right, it could make all the difference between success and failure.  There was an all night screening of the Twilight films and he could not miss this opportunity.

 He was naturally pale but his blond hair was a problem.  The old fashioned top hat that he had picked up on the internet should cover it and give the right feel.  He had considered a cane but he hoped there would be times in the evening when he wanted both hands free.  There were likely to be a lot of young ladies at the screening.

The suit had been a problem.  He had found one eventually in a second hand shop.  The black suit jacket had velvet lapels and the waistcoat was nicely cut.  He had been meticulous to get rid of any faint trace of the iridescent dusting powder.  With the slightly flared trousers it said very clearly that this was a man who had not quite got the decade right. 

He had wondered about the shirt.  He may have wanted to look as if he couldn’t keep up with fashion after all this time, but there was no way he was wearing 1970s drip dry polyester with a frill.  He had settled for a deep crimson silk shirt.  It was brand new, but silk was an old fashioned material and he could always say that he had ripped his favourite brushed nylon shirt in a fight with a werewolf.  With well polished shoes and a heavy, plain signet ring he should look the part.

He checked he had his ticket and plenty of cash.  He didn’t want to break the look with a credit card and if he got lucky with a persuadable lady he didn’t want to give too much information about himself, just in case.  The taxi outside sounded the horn.  

“Going to the screening?  You look just like a vampire, mate.  It makes a better night if you put a bit of effort in to look the part.” The taxi driver sighed.  “I used to have a suit like that forty years ago.  Of course, I was a lot thinner then.  Well, you won’t be lonely tonight, I bet you’ve got a hotel room booked.”

He smiled enigmatically and gave the driver a generous tip.  Looking at the crowd there were others who had aimed for his intended look but he prided himself that he had hit closest to the mark.  He was already getting interested glances and he thought it would not take much to entice the pretty brunette near the popcorn stand to a secluded corner to ‘talk’.

Carefully keeping his expression immobile, inside he was laughing wildly.  He may be seven hundred and thirty two years old and a vampire but looking at all those pliable, gullible necks made him feel like a child in a sweet shop.  

The New Building

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Taken by me

Kane Thelwell looked around nervously and slid into the church hall. It should be safe enough. All he had to do was keep his head down and no-one would look at him twice. He was just so desperate to get out of his small room and at least be around living people, even if he didn’t feel comfortable speaking to them, that he risked this trip to the church coffee morning.

It was standard stuff. Three old ladies were serving tea and coffee from a huge, overcleaned urn in one corner, together with a selection of bacon butties, sausage sarnies and toast. Another table had a selection of home made cakes. Kane looked over them and decided to buy one later. In his experience, competition between the ladies meant that the cake stall was always worth a visit. There was a sad selection of battered paperback books that had probably been trundled out every Monday for years, and a rail of ‘nearly new’ kids’ clothes.

The best thing about this was that the church hall was new. It was so new that you could hardly find it on the internet. It was a brand new, purpose built complex with a church, a church hall, a selection of meeting rooms and a large and extremely modern kitchen area. This was not a haunted building. It hadn’t had time. Besides, it had been blessed, so it had to be ghost free, right?

Kane couldn’t remember when it had started. He had always been faintly aware of ghosts, even when he was a child. There had always been the faint whisper on the edge of his hearing, the faint flicker on the edge of his field of vision and the sensation of not being alone. It was only as he got older, however, that the ghosts had started talking to him. As a young teenager in foster care, he had been glad of a sympathetic conversation and the old railwayman who had died forty years before in the bedroom now allotted to Kane had been a good listener with some sound advice. Kane had missed Eddie when his placement ended there. Then there had been Millie. She hadn’t been very helpful when it came to sorting out survival in a hostile household, and she hadn’t always listened, but she had some good stories and some great advice about how to talk to girls, which had been a real help to a fourteen year old.

The placement after that hadn’t been so much fun, and the elderly schoolteacher who had died in that room five years before was not sympathetic. He was, however, surprisingly tolerant when it came to helping Kane with his homework. Kane’s school attendance had been erratic at best even before he got into the system, but Mr Kettering had stood behind Kane as Kane scrolled through teaching sites on the council issued laptop and then patiently talked through the work Kane had missed. Kane had been almost sorry when the acerbic Mr Kettering finally passed over, comforted by the knowledge that he had got one more troubled boy through his exams.

His next placement had been a halfway house. There was no question of him going to college, despite his good grades, but the converted Victorian townhouse had been okay, and with the three ghostly parlour maids, the spirit of the old lady who had been the matriarch of a large family and the shades half a dozen kids and teenagers, there had never been a dull moment.

But that’s when it turned. One of the other, living, members of the facility had overheard Kane’s half of a long conversation with Mary, the maid from 1908, and had reported him to the resident social worker. When blood tests showed Kane to be drug free, a few further observations and careful questions led to Kane being held for psychiatric evaluation. That had been six months ago, and while Kane had illicitly stopped taking his medication, he was aware of being monitored in that same halfway house. Now he was careful.

Kane smiled nervously at the old lady as she poured him his tea, picked up his sausage sarnie and found a seat in the corner. As a defence he pulled out his battered phone and put in the headphones. There was nothing to listen to. Kane hadn’t been able to afford to pay for any phone calls for months. But if anyone saw him talking, perhaps they could assume he was having a conversation.

The sandwich was perfect – the sausages were crispy and brown sauce oozed from the soft, white roll as he bit into it. Then Kane’s heart sank. He could see ghosts. He could see their faint outlines as they wandered around the hall and inspected the latest information on the notice board. He started to bolt down his sandwich. He had to get out of here before the ghosts realised that he could see them. He drained the last of his tea, but he was too late. The ghost of an elderly lady caught his eye.

Kane’s heart sank as she grabbed her companion’s insubstantial arm and tugged the elderly gentleman towards Kane. He looked towards the door but it was too late.

“Hello, dear, I’m Margaret and this is Herbert. Herbert was the first minister on this site.”

Kane positioned his phone so he looked like he was making a call. “I thought this site was new.”

Herbert shook his head. “They rebuilt on the same site. I was completely against it, of course. I always said that there were issues with the traffic when the new supermarket was built.”

“Nobody listens to us, of course.” Margaret said sadly. “And now all we can do is listen to the endless rumble. It affected the foundations of the old building.”

Kane looked out of the window and onto the busy street. He could see the ghosts’ point. Traffic was edging along in a jam just before the turn off to the massive supermarket. “It’s progress.” He said quietly.

“We noticed the cracks in the cellar in the old building before anyone else.” Herbert sighed. “They never listened to us, and by the time the committee had spotted them, it was too late.”

“The old building had its problems, of course.” Margaret said. “They had a lot of trouble with the heating.” She looked wistfully out of the window. “Everything is working well, but there is so much traffic.”

“If there was only a way to escape this.” Herbert followed Margaret’s gaze. “Some way of leaving this endless rumble.”

“Is there a way?” Kane asked.

Margaret leaned forward, sinking slightly into the table. “You can see us. Perhaps you can find a way to get us some peace. That’s all we want.”

“If we could just find a way to silence the endless rumble.” Herbert said. He looked around the bustling church hall. “It is all so different from my day.”

Kane looked at Herbert who was wearing a frock coat and stiff collar and then glanced over to the young mums in leggings. “Time change.” He managed.

“And not for the better, young man.” Margaret said. “Surely you are willing to help us?”

Kane drew a breath to answer and then froze as a stern and elderly minister stalked over towards his table. Kane shrank back into his chair, miserably aware that a skinny youngster apparently talking to himself was never going to get a warm welcome.

The minister leaned down on the table and, to Kane’s utter shock, spoke directly to Margaret. “Are you causing trouble again?” He looked over at Herbert. “You both know better than that. This poor lad came in for a drink and a sandwich. He did not come in to be harassed by two ghosts barely better than poltergeists.”

Herbert pursed his lips. “I beg your pardon!”

“Which story were you telling? The tale where you just needed a picture of your descendants? Or the one where you needed to see pictures of the town.” The minister looked between the two ghosts. “Don’t tell me you were trying the traffic one again. You are on your last warning.”

“You are no fun.” Margaret pulled herself upright, drifting slightly above the ground. “It’s not like we meant any harm.”

“You never do.” The minister snapped. “But I’m still having to counsel those you contact.” He shook his head. “I think you need to leave this young man alone. And I am warning you, one more episode like this and I’m banishing you back to the churchyard.”

Kane watched the two affronted ghosts drift away through the nearest wall and then turned to the minister in surprise. “You can see them?”

“Most of us here can,” The minister smiled sympathetically. “But we’re an unusual bunch.” He hesitated. “I can talk you through some techniques to avoid the supernatural, if you like, or learn more about it.”

“I would really like to learn more about it.” Kane said without thinking. He paused. “I’d like to be able to ignore them as well, at least, the annoying ones.”

“I’m Charles Easton, the minister here.” Charles held out his hand. “If you’re free on Wednesday, I’m in my office all afternoon. We can have a chat.”

Kane automatically shook the minister’s hand. “I’m Kane Thelwell.” He said. “Pleased to meet you.” He took a breath. “I’ll be back on Wednesday.”

“Excellent,” Charles said briskly. “Excuse me, I need to speak to Mr Matthews.” And he was gone.

Kane took the last mouthful of his tea and stood up slowly. He couldn’t wait to tell the ghosts back home about this.

Just in Case

“You can’t be too careful.” Dan said as he nailed another horseshoe on the top door. “The fairies cause problems.”

Yvonne looked critically at the horseshoes. “Shouldn’t they be the other way up?”

Dan looked shocked. “If they are on the other way, all the luck would drain out.”

Yvonne chose her words with care. “Dan, you know that fairies aren’t real, right?”

“How can you be sure?” Dan asked, standing back and looking at his handiwork. “You know that there are a lot of strange things in this world that never make the papers.”

Yvonne nodded. “Absolutely. But have you ever seen a fairy?”

“That’s not the point.” Dan said. “Milk is going missing from the dairy.”

“And that’s nothing to do with the local cats?” Yvonne asked. “What other proof?”

“The iron keeps them away.” Dan said. “It proves that it’s working.”

“Did you ever see a fairy before you put the iron up?” Yvonne asked.

Dan rubbed his sleeve over the latest horseshoe to knock off the dust. “Just because I haven’t seen a fairy, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

Yvonne sighed. “You’ve been a vampire here for four hundred and seven years. If there were any fairies around here, I think you would have noticed by now.”

Dimming

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

He left yesterday morning. He wanted me to go with him, but I insisted on staying. Someone needed to look after the chickens and keep an eye on things. He said he would be back before I knew it with someone to sort out the generator.

It seems a long time ago. It’s a long time since I had a charge on my phone, and longer still since the last log burnt out of the fire. Now all I can do is watch the flame ebb on the lamp and wait.

And all the time the pad of paws pacing around the house grows louder. I hope the lamp lasts the night.

Wrong Funeral

Image from Pixabay by Hans

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.”

You can find Kane’s story from the beginning here