Jar on the Shelf

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.

Everything Has Changed

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

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.

Monster in the Forest

I actually took this picture myself and it’s the best one I managed all year!

“I told you to stay away from me.” Cana rolled away from him. There was plenty of room in the clearing and the fire was still bright.

“I thought we stayed close when camping in the woods,” Sion said. “To keep warm.”

“It’s past midsummer,” Cana said. “It’s not cold.” She rolled over and looked at the stars peeking through the canopy of leaves overhead. “The fire will keep away wolves and the horses will warn us if anything approaches. Get some sleep. We should reach the castle by noon tomorrow.”

“You won’t come into the castle with me?” Sion asked.

“I’ve been warned about monsters in the castle.” Cana said. “Besides, as you said, I’m just a girl.”

“Tomorrow I go to fight a monster,” Sion said. “This could be my last night on this earth. Won’t you at least make it a little warmer for me.”

“No,” Cana said, shifting her blanket a little further away from him.

“I could come back laden with jewels and gold,” Sion says. “The rumours say that there is treasure beyond counting.”

“And that is why you are going to the castle.” Cana said. “If there was no castle then the villagers could rot under monsters for all you cared.”

Sion laughed. “A man has to make his way in the world,” he said.

“I’m only here because of the steward’s orders,” Cana said. “You could turn back at any time.”

“I received no encouragement from village,” Sion said. “Don’t you fear monsters?”

“We fear them,” Cana said. “And we have learned to recognise them. You are going into this with a black eye because you couldn’t learn to take ‘no’ as an answer and the men of our village are protective.”

“And the women are no fun,” Sion said. “You are sleeping with a knife under your pillow. Don’t think I didn’t notice. Is that why the priest refused to bless me and my weapons?”

“It’s because you wouldn’t confess your sins first,” Cana said. “The whole village heard the argument.”

“Tomorrow I face a blood sucking, immortal creature that has powers that no-one can measure,” Sion said. “Won’t you warm my bedroll, to give me the comfort I need?”

Cana turned back and looked at the greasy, red face, predatory intent clear. “Save your strength. You’ll need it.” She looked coldly into his eyes. “And you’ll never make the castle if you try to force me.”

Sion laughed again. “It’s worth asking, at least.” He placed his sword in the clear ground between them. “There, do you feel safer?”

“The horses will warn of any movement,” Cana said. “Goodnight.”

Cana watched him leave the next morning and then tidied the campsite. Those who tracked the creature in the castle came at all times of year, so she stacked up firewood against the winter. She had lost count of those that she had brought here, seeking their fortune and, perhaps. fame. There had even been a few that had wanted to serve what they thought lived in the lonely fortress that was a short ride down the path. There were raspberries in the forest, and she picked a good basket full before the shadows lengthened. Then she made up the fire and waited.

She became aware of a presence. “You defeated him?”

Calixtus nodded and joined her near the fire. “To be truthful, he was a careless warrior. And he was avoiding me as he searched for the fabled treasure. I think he would have fed you to me to buy time if he could.”

“And you’re unhurt?” Cana asked.

“I can’t be hurt like you,” Calixtus said softly. “But no, he didn’t land a blow. The black eye didn’t help. Let me guess, he tried to flirt with Maria?”

“He tried more than flirting!” Cana said. “Fortunately for him, her husband reached them before she could do much.”

“How is Maria?” Calixtus asked.

“She’s well.” Cana said. “Rhia has had her baby, it’s a boy and they are calling him Calix, after you.” She frowned. “Father John’s joints are hurting him, I think, though he isn’t saying anything.”

“I’ll call in soon and see what I can do,” Calixtus said. “And I’ll have a look at the mill while I am there.”

Cana smiled. “You know so much. Perhaps you should take an apprentice.” She loosened her tunic.

“Perhaps I should,” Calixtus said. He held up his hand. “I won’t need blood for a while. The would-be warrior gave me plenty and there are many animals in the forest. But thank you.”

Cana shook her head. “You have saved us from so many monsters. Now, sit, share some raspberries and let me tell you all of the news.”

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.


“I did it!” Kane sat back in the seat and waved the pass papers at Andy. “I passed my test! Thank you!”

Andy grinned. “I told you that you could do it. Now all you need to do is keep checking your mirrors and get some practice in.” His face clouded over. “I wish I could come with you to find a car.”

Kane smiled awkwardly at the ghost of the driving instructor. “I wish you could as well. I don’t know where to start.”

“Well, your friend Den will know a few people, but don’t let him talk you into something that’s not absolutely on the level,” Andy said. “Check online for all the papers that they should have, and don’t accept any excuses.”

“You can’t leave the car, can you?” Kane said. He frowned. “I wish there was some way to help you.”

April interrupted them, walking over from the test centre and sticking her head into the car. “I’m getting a lift home now,” she said, grinning at Kane. “You can drive the car back. Take your time.” She put her hand on her pregnancy bump. “I need a long nap, and I don’t want to be disturbed.”

Kane watched her get into her husband’s car and smiled. “She’s just being kind, really.” He turned to look at Andy. “So what now?”

“I’ve been thinking,” Andy said. “When you realise that you’re a ghost, you find yourself wondering where you went wrong, what you did and how to put it right.” He forced a grin. “I couldn’t go out and look for answers, but I’ve done a lot of thinking. It’s unfinished business.”

Kane nodded. In his experience, ghosts usually hung around because they were too stubborn to go or were too attached to a place or person. He’d seen a few cases where the ghost couldn’t let go because of a guilty conscience, though, or, as Andy had said, unfinished business. “I haven’t seen a haunted car before.”

Andy sighed. “I think I know what it is,” he said. There was a brief shift as he was suddenly in the passenger seat, seatbelt fastened and clipboard in hand. “Why don’t you drive us out to the park. We can talk there.” He grinned again. “Your first trip as an independent driver. Off you go. Don’t forget to check your mirrors.”

“You did a good job saving April, you know,” Andy said as they drove. “It means a lot to her.”

Kane smiled. “It was you that saved her really, telling me what to do. She says that she may give him Andrew as a middle name. And I’m going to be a godfather.”

“That’s nice,” Andy said gruffly. “I haven’t got any kids.” Uncharacteristically, he looked out of the window and made no comment as Kane made a mess of a left turn. “I think it’s that holding me back.”

“That you have no kids?” Kane asked. “I don’t think that can be changed.”

“No,” Andy said. “It’s just…” He looked down at his ghostly clipboard. “I was a copper, then I was a driving instructor. I banged up a few bad lads in my time. I was straight, and I did my best, but when I got hurt holding a shield wall in a riot, I left.” Andy glanced across to Kane who was concentrating on an awkward junction. “It’s okay, take your time and then keep to the right. That’s it, well done. Anyway, just before I snuffed it, I took on a lad for lessons, and I recognised his name. I’d put away his dad.”

“Was he angry?” Kane asked.

Andy shook his head. “He said that I’d done everyone a favour. Take it from someone who’s seen it – there are some dark places in this world.” He looked at Kane. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you, not after you were in care.”

Kane shook his head and carefully changed up into third gear. “So what happened?”

“He said he was okay with the lessons, and I gave him a bit of a discount,” Andy said. “He was a nice lad. He didn’t take after his father, that’s for sure. We would talk as we drove, like you and I have, and I put him in the way of an apprenticeship I knew was coming up. I thought it was the least I could do, as it was my fault that he didn’t have a dad speaking up for him.”

“Did he get it?” Kane asked.

“The apprenticeship? Yeah, and from what I heard he was doing well.” Andy looked down again at the clipboard. “He was keeping his head down and working hard. I was helping him out, giving him lessons without him having to worry about paying straight away. And he was doing well.” Andy paused. “Why don’t you pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

Kane checked his mirrors, indicated and stopped. He turned the engine off and turned to look at the ghost. “You were becoming a father figure to him, weren’t you?”

“He wasn’t much older than you,” Andy said. “And he was doing his best. I could give him some ideas, help him out a little. I took him and his girlfriend out for a meal once. She was nice as well. Quiet, but calm, you know.” He sighed. “Anyway, we came to the test. He failed the first two times, but that wasn’t a problem. I was poorly on the day of the third test, but I wasn’t going to let him down.” Andy turned away from Kane and stared straight ahead. I was waiting in the office when I was taken ill. I died before I got to the hospital.”

There was a long silence. Kane wished he knew what to say. Even after the last few years of helping spirits, negotiating with them and, at times, telling them off, he never knew what to do when faced with emotional pain, from either the dead or the living. “Did you ever find out?”

Andy shook his head. “I thought he’d do it this time. He was turning out to be a great driver – very calm in a crisis. I can’t seem to let go of it.”

“You haven’t been dead long, have you?” Kane asked. “Because he probably still lives in the same place. I can go and ask, if you like?”

“That would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it?” Andy said.

“You’d be surprised,” Kane said. “But I could at least take a message.”

Kane came back to the car from the tiny flat above the shops and slid into the driving seat. The ghost next to him didn’t even turn his head. Every translucent inch of him was rigid. Kane wished that he could at least put a friendly hand on Andy’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, he believed me,” Kane said. “Especially when I reminded him about the crumpets and the parking bollard.”

Andy managed a chuckle. “That’s a story that you couldn’t make up. So, what was it? Did he do it?”

Kane nodded. “He passed, Andy, he passed! He said it was the best and worst time as he came in to tell you and you were gone.”

“I knew he would do it,” Andy started to fade.

“And he said that once the house you left him gets transferred over, he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. He says that you made it possible.”

As the ghost faded, Kane could see a hint of a tear in Andy’s eye. “That’s wonderful news. She’s a good lass and they’ll look after each other.”

“Andy, listen, he said that you were like a dad to him, and that he’ll never forget you.” Kane said quickly.

There was just the faintest trace of the old driving instructor in the air but a soft ‘thank you’ drifted out before Andy was gone.

Kane sat for a moment and stared at the space where Andy had been. Then, taking all of his courage in his hands, he drove off, fully alone in the car for the first time.

You can see the start of this story from yesterday here, and Kane’s story, from the beginning, is here.


gray asphalt road
Image from Unsplash taken by George Hiles

Kane shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m not sure that this is a great idea. We’ve gone for miles. Perhaps we should turn back.”

April checked her mirrors and then, indicating, pulled into the side of the road. “I really wanted you to check out my new car. I mean, I had Den check out the engine at his garage, but I sensed a presence, and I was wondering if it was okay.”

Kane hunched lower in his seat. All of the foster kids that had been part of Auntie Brenda’s life knew that he could see ghosts. He had passed on enough stern and supporting messages. It was still quite awkward. “I know that there’s a man in the car,” he said carefully. “But we haven’t spoken.” He looked closer at April. “You’re looking very pale. Are you alright?”

April grimaced. “I shouldn’t tell you, really, but I’m expecting. I’m only a few weeks gone, but I’m feeling a bit rough.”

“Congratulations!” Kane said. “Will I get to be an honorary uncle?”

“Of course!” April said. “Ooh, I really don’t feel well.”

Kane felt the start of panic. “What do you mean? What’s the matter?”

April’s face lost the last of her colour. “I feel all woozy.” She slumped against the steering wheel.

“April! April! What’s happening?” Kane patted her hand, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Dial 999,” the voice from the back of the car said firmly. “We need to get her to a hospital.”

Kane turned around and saw the ghost of a man in his late fifties, with greying hair, glasses and a calm expression. “Yes, of course.” He pulled out his phone. His panic quadrupled. “I can’t get a signal!”

“Okay, keep calm,” the man said. “I’m Andy, and we can deal with this. Take a breath. Now, first things first. Check quickly for breathing and pulse.”

Kane fumbled a bit but managed. “April, can you hear me?”

“Mmm?” April’s eyes rolled back in her head.

“That’s a good sign,” Andy said. “Now, get her into the back of the car and get her legs higher than her head.” He looked at Kane’s expression. “It’s okay, I know the techniques. Get out of your side first – check for traffic!”

Kane stumbled around to April’s side and opened the door. “Come on, April. We need to make you comfy.”

“Check your phone again,” Andy instructed, still calm and measured.

Kane shook his head. “I’m still getting nothing.” He looked around the desolate countryside. April had driven them to the hills above Bolton Abbey and there wasn’t a soul in sight. “I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s okay,” Andy said. “You can do this. We need to get April to some medical attention, and that’s not going to be a problem.” He gave Kane a hard look. “I can’t do anything physical, so it’s down to you, but I can tell you what to do. And I know this area well. I know all the short cuts and back roads and we’ll have her in Skipton General Hospital before you know it.”

His calming voice was having an effect, but Kane was still panicking. “How are we going to get her there? I can’t get a signal!” He looked around wildly. “It could take me hours to walk back down to the road.”

“You’ll have to drive,” Andy said. “But first, get April into the back with her legs higher than her head.”

Kane grunted and struggled as he followed Andy’s instructions and half lifted and half guided April into the back. “I can’t drive.”

“Okay,” Andy said. “Put a blanket over April – there’s one on the parcel shelf. That’s right.” He looked carefully at Kane. “I’m going to tell you what to do, and you’re going to follow my instructions and we will at least get as far as the main road.”

“I haven’t even got a provisional licence!” Kane said. “I can’t do it.”

“April needs you to do it, Kane,” Andy said. “Just listen to me. I was a police officer for twenty years and a driving instructor for another ten. I can talk you through this. All you need to do is keep your head. And you need to do that, because April is looking poorly.”

Kane looked down at April. Her breathing was laboured and she was terrifyingly colourless. “Okay.”

Kane walked around to the front of the car and, after a heartbeat of hesitation, climbed into the driver’s seat. The key was in the ignition. He turned the key.

Suddenly Andy was sitting next to him, complete with clipboard and a spectral seatbelt. “Put your seatbelt on, please, Kane. We don’t need two casualties.”

Kane nodded and put the seatbelt on. “We need to turn around, don’t we?”

“You were in foster care with April, weren’t you?” Andy said. “You must have had a go or two in a car.”

Kane shrugged. “I was usually a passenger. And it was years ago.”

Andy looked at him thoughtfully. “Okay, let’s start. Clutch in first, release the handbrake and we’ll find a good place to go around.”

Kane pressed a pedal.

“No, the clutch,” Andy said. “No, the other one. That’s it.”

The car lurched forward.

“Check your mirrors,” Andy said. “Just in case. No, just a glance! Keep steering straight.”

Kane frantically corrected the line of the car.

“We’re coming up to a gate so just move a little past it, that’s right. No, wait a minute, stop. No, that’s the accelerator. That’s it.”

The car lurched to a halt. Kane could hear the stress in Andy’s voice.

“It’s okay,” Andy said. “I’m going to ask you to do things that I used to take weeks to build up to. It’s fine. Now, find reverse. That’s it, clutch down, and I want you to release calmly and slowly.”

The car stalled.

“We can do this,” Andy said. “The important thing is to know that this is the easiest way to get April to some help. We focus on the outcome. Now, clutch down, slowly up and now turn the wheel to the left. No, the other left. That’s it. Nice and slow. Slowly! Slowly! And stop!”

The car stalled, inches from the drystone wall. Kane managed to get his foot on the brake.

“Well done,” lied Andy. “Now, we need to make sure that we take care coming away. Start steering now before we start the car. It’s not good for the tyres, but let’s be practical. That’s right. Now, we are going to start the car, make sure that we have plenty of revs before we release the brake and then we are going to turn right. Okay? Now, make sure that the handbrake is on. Good.”

Kane took a breath, turned the ignition and eased his foot down on the accelerator.

“Not too many revs,” warned Andy. “Right, now slowly release the handbrake and-”

Kane let out the handbrake and then shrieked as the car hurtled out, skewing wildly to the right and roared painfully down the road. He took his foot from the accelerator and his knuckles turned white on the steering wheel.

“Keep it steady,” Andy said, keeping his voice even with effort. “Now second gear, clutch down, change the gear and slowly up.”

The car stalled.

“It’s okay,” Andy said. He was gripping the spectral clipboard with some force. “Handbrake on, into neutral, ignition, release handbrake, into first, that’s it! Now into second! Well done!”

The car trundled along at fifteen miles an hour.

“I think we need to show that there is a hazard,” Andy said. “Let’s get the hazard lights on.” He glanced at Kane’s set face. “We’re going to slow to a stop, put on the hazard lights and then start again. It warns others to give us space if we need it. You can do this.”

The car stalled.

“Kane, look at me,” the ghost said. He waited until the white faced lad turned to him. “You have to do this for April. There are going to be lots of stalling and lurching and crunching, and it’s going to be scary. But if you listen to me, you can get April to safety, and she needs that.”

Kane looked back at April, whose breathing was fast and shallow. He nodded, put on the hazards, gear in neutral, ignition, first gear, second gear and then carefully around the corner.

“Country lanes can be tricky,” Andy said. “But we haven’t got too far to go before we get to a main road and we’re bound to get a signal there. Now, keep it steady. Don’t worry about the bend, just dip the clutch and don’t panic.”

The car lurched suddenly forward, swung wildly across the road and lurched before settling back down to fifteen miles an hour.

“Well done,” Andy lied again. For a moment, the spectral clipboard shook in his hands. “You can do this. We can be down to Bolton Bridge before you know it. Now, keep it steady, don’t worry about the rise.”

The car laboured up the hill, the engine almost banging.

“Just a little more on the accelerator,” Andy said carefully.

The car shot over the top of the hill, careered around the blind bend, and shot down the slope. The engine screamed.

“Just gently touch the brake,” Andy said.

The car lurched violently, then continued at speed.

“No, just gently touch it, that’s it.” Andy kept the encouraging note in his voice with effort. “And let the car slow down nice and steady.”

The car lurched, growled and stalled.

“You’re doing very well for a first time,” Andy said. “Especially in the circumstances.”

They both looked around. April was alarmingly still and seemed unaware of the rollercoaster the drive was.

“Check your signal,” Andy said. “We may just need to get the car safe.”

Kane checked his phone. “Nothing, no, hang on…” He unbuckled his seatbelt.

“Handbrake on first!” Andy yelled.

The car was starting to roll away as Kane dived for the handbrake, then jumped out of the car. There was a tiny flicker of a hint, but nothing concrete. He forced himself back in the car. “Nothing.”

“But there was nearly something.” Andy was being carefully encouraging. “So we keep going. Now, seatbelt on, into neutral, ignition. Come on, you can do this. It’s all straightforward.”

It took Kane ten minutes to travel the next three miles. He could feel the sweat on his face, and his whole body ached as the tension took his toll. The car lurched, gears crunching, then stalled or shot forward in unpredictable ways before crawling around yet another blind corner. Through it all, Andy’s calm voice kept Kane going. That, and the laboured, rasping breathing from April in the back.

“You’ve done brilliantly,” Andy said. “Absolutely brilliantly. I couldn’t ask for more. Now I want you to slow down and steer to the side where there’s a gate. You can stop there. It’s okay. That’s it, easy on the brake. Handbrake on, engine off and there we are! Well done. Now, you see that in front of you. It’s a telephone pole.” Andy grinned at Kane. “You may not be in a condition to recognise it, but it almost certainly means that there’s a signal.”

Kane pulled out his phone and checked. He noticed that his hands were shaking. “I’ve got a signal!” He looked around at April. She was scarily still.

“Good, now check your maps and make a note of where we are. Then call 999. They’ll get April the help you need.” Andy smiled. “And you had better get back into the passenger seat. We don’t want them to want to check your licence.”

Instead, Kane got out and leaned over April as he made the call. She was cold and clammy now, and he eased the blanket over her as he passed on all the information. As he hung up, he turned to Andy. “Thanks. I don’t know what I would have done.”

“You would have managed something,” Andy said breezily. “Now, while we’re waiting, I’ll run through some of the Highway Code. After that start, I’ll get you through your driving test, no problem.”

Kane rubbed April’s icy hand. “Perhaps it can wait,” he suggested.

“No time like the present,” Andy said briskly. “And you don’t want to be fretting while you wait. Now, what is the speed limit on a road with no markings but streetlamps?”

Kane tucked the blanket closer into April and wondered how he could get out of this one. A ghost for a driving instructor was all he needed.

If you are interested, you can read Kane’s story from the beginning here. The poor lad doesn’t always have an easy time.


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.”

The Picture

“I don’t know why you’re so fascinated by that picture,” Freddie said. “It’s nothing special. My mother was an art student once. She painted a few pictures.”

Alice continued to stare at the painting. “Why?” she asked. “Every time I see that picture I ask myself, why? Why did she frame it like that?”

“I don’t know,” Freddie said impatiently. “You know what my mother was like. She probably found a cheap frame.”

“But it’s a shame. It should be mounted properly, with a proper matte backing and a larger frame, perhaps a darker one, and a decent amount of wood, not those skinny sticks.”

“Well, it’s all ours now, so take it and reframe it.” Freddie looked around his late mother’s flat. “All of this is ours now. What a mess.”

“You keep saying that your mother had money, and the will said that she left it to you and to not waste what you’re given, but there’s nothing really here.” Alice stared at the painting. “Except this painting.”

“It’s just something she did as an art student.” Freddie frowned and checked the piece of paper in his hand. “The solicitor said that she talked about having planted the money in the flat.”

“Planted…” Alice murmured, still staring at the picture. “Mind you, I don’t think she had two pennies to rub together. Look at the state of this flat.”

“She was careful with her money,” Freddie said. “And she liked a bargain.” He glanced at his expensively dressed wife. “You could have learned a thing or two.”

Alice ignored him and looked around the tousled flat. “That sofa is older than I am! And that side table is scratched to bits.”

Freddie slowly lowered himself onto the sofa and relaxed. “I remember this sofa. It’s one of the comfiest I’ve ever sat on. Mind you, it needs a new cover.” He looked at the side table, cluttered with dirty cups and dried up houseplants. “Though the table isn’t fit for anything. It was only cheap chipboard to begin with.”

Alice turned back to the picture. “Planted. Your mother really liked this painting, didn’t she?”

“Hmm?” Freddie settled himself in a corner of the sofa and looked around again.

“I mean, it’s so striking, and in such a central place.” Alice leaned over. “I bet that’s where she put her savings book. Behind the picture. Or perhaps there’s a safe.”

“She liked the picture because she already had it and it took up enough wall to make it look decorated,” Freddie said dispassionately. He looked around again. “I remember those mugs from when I was a kid. She got them as a free gift.”

“How much money did your mother leave?” Alice asked. “I mean, just a savings book with a hundred pounds or so wouldn’t take up much room.” She grasped the picture and, after a quick struggle, lifted it down.

“The solicitor who handled it all has already paid the inheritance tax and that was a fortune,” Freddie said. “It’s more than a small savings account.” He frowned, then sighed. “She did love her plants. I suppose she wanted us to take care of them, but they died before we got the news.” He reluctantly pulled himself out of the comfy corner of the sofa. “What are you doing?” he asked Alice.

“The information – it’s behind the picture!” Alice said as she wrestled with the painting. “Look, it’s about plants, and everyone knows that you can keep papers behind pictures in frames.”

Freddie shook his head and started lifting the houseplants. “You need to take that picture, reframe it, hang it where you like and then forget about it.” He lifted a formerly magnificent specimen of philodendron. Between the pot and the pot stand was a key. “The safe deposit box key. Mother was never that complicated.”


tree against golden sun
Image from Unsplash, taken by Simon Wilkes

Lady Freydis sighed. “It is the autumn equinox,” she said. “They used to call it Mabon.”

“Did they?” Fiona looked warily at Lady Freydis. She was looking wistfully into the distance as she polished the coffee machine.

“The day and night will be the same length,” Lady Freydis said softly. “An equal balance between light and dark. Then the nights will lengthen and the air grow chill. Frost will fall.”

“Are you feeling well?” Fiona asked.

“I agree.” Kadogan seemed to appear from nowhere. “The daylight hours dim and the night deepens.”

Mrs Tuesday came out of the back room with a tray of muffins. “What is going on?”

“You shouldn’t be carrying that with your bad back,” Fiona said. “You should be taking it easy.”

“There is no threat of grave danger to the White Hart,” Lady Freydis said. “Just the wheel of the year turning.” She sighed as she wiped the nozzles. “I always think of it as the sunset of the year. The long day of summer is over and now we sink into darkness to Yule, at the year’s midnight.”

“You’re bored,” Mrs Tuesday said, ignoring Fiona’s efforts to take the tray. “That’s what it is.”

Kadogan nodded. “It is strange that we have no great peril,” he said. “But the shop is flourishing.”

“Thank goodness for the mail order business,” Fiona said. “It’s really helped over the last year or so.”

“It seems so placid,” Lady Freydis said. “And it’s autumn.”

“It will soon be Christmas,” Fiona said. “We’re always busy then.” She looked at Mrs Tuesday, who shrugged. “And there is the new store opening,” Fiona added.

“Is that definitely happening?” Lady Freydis asked.

“Yes, we’ve discussed this,” Fiona said.

“I have some grave doubts,” Kadogan said. “It is very near the border with Leeds, and Lord Marius may wish to interfere.”

“I would not allow that,” Lady Freydis stated. She frowned. “I could visit occasionally, to ensure that the coffee was being prepared correctly.”

“And knowing that I will not be able to constantly monitor candles in two places concerns me,” Kadogan added.

Fiona sighed deeply. “We’ve all discussed this. The main shop stays here, but the depot for the mail order and space for secondhand furniture and gently used magical equipment go to the second shop. It’s about space. You know how expensive rent is in York.”

“I suppose so,” Lady Freydis said. “But you are making a mistake. It is autumn, the sunset of the year. The White Hart was opened near the spring equinox, in the dawn of the year. It is inauspicious.”

Mrs Tuesday slotted away the final cupcake. “Trust me, when you find out who will be in charge there, you won’t be bored.”