Bad Night’s Sleep

You were my perfect victim.  You were young, bright and energetic and I was so glad when I stumbled across you when you visited that fake medium.  You were the only one who believed in him because you had just a hint of my presence as I followed you home, but you shook it off and eventually went to bed for your lovely, long healthy sleep.

It was glorious.  Here was someone who slept eight hours every night.  That is a gift to one of my kind.  During the day I could creep into a corner or a shadow and remain an unobserved spirit.  I would even hide under the bed.  Then, when night fell and you slid between your covers and slept, I could creep into your dreams.

You had never remembered dreams before.  When I first crept into your sleepscape I was shocked at how bright it was, filled with sunlight and good memories.  But it was also full of your energy and you were worth the effort.  It took weeks for me to make it my home.  I eroded the sunlight, filled the golden fields with a nameless dread and sent strange shapes to hunt your dreamself.  I nibbled at the corners, cutting off the good memories and making the perfect opportunities for every shameful moment of your life to echo.  Every dark thought, every insidious fear, every tiny morsel was savoured as I nurtured your sleepscape like a master nurtures a perfect pupil.

You didn’t notice at first. I’ve been around for a very long time and I don’t make mistakes like that.  Instead you noticed that you were a little tired, a little run down.  You laughed with your friends about your strange dreams and tried changing your diet around.  Once I became settled, I took a little more.  You were finding sleep harder and harder and the nightmares were scaring you.  You cut out all caffeine and went to a counsellor.  I went with you, of course, and took notes during your discussions.  You gave me wonderful tools to use for your torment.

Then you cut out sugar and went to the gym more.  I basked in the dark thoughts that were brimming in your sleepscape and fed to satiation.  I gave you sleep terrors and laughed as you woke screaming.  I noticed that your boyfriend was a little too perceptive, so I made sure your nightmares featured him.  I was relieved when you dumped him, as he was getting close to the truth.

I drained draught after draught from you as you slept, your torrid dreams feeding me to repletion.  You, however, lost weight as you tried different diets and exercises.  You went to the doctor and got sleeping pills and I celebrated.  You had started to wake a little too often and now these wonderful pills kept you in my domain for so much longer.

You were finding it harder and harder and I gave some thought to moving on.  The bright, bubbly victim I first met had gone.  You were gaunt and pale, with dull eyes and slow speech.  You dragged yourself from work to home to sleep to work and suffered.  You were now insipid fare.  I looked around for a suitable candidate, but you were now far too exhausted to speak to anyone and my choices were becoming very limited.  I couldn’t survive long without a host, but you were so drained that you were barely adequate to keep me in existence.

Thank goodness I had my lucky break.  You were far too tired to drive but at the same time you were far too tired to see sense.  You lost concentration as you drove to your work and so you swerved to miss a fragment of dream and hit a tree.  I was frantic, wondering if I would be able to transfer to one of the crowd who rushed around to help you, but they brought you into this place.

I have never been in a hospital before.  It is truly a marvellous place.  As you slip deeper into a coma and I perch unseen on the end of your hospital bed and plunder the last of your sleepscape, I have so many other potential hosts I can choose from.  The patients are not worth considering, but there are plenty of visitors, along with technicians, secretaries, cleaners, maintenance, porters and all manner of healers.  The chirpy blonde girl who chats to your unhearing form as she cleans the room is perfect. I wonder what her sleepscape looks like.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Please note, this is fiction and sleep disturbance is best addressed by checking your diet, exercise and, if necessary, consulting a health care professional.  And if you are into the wonderfully scary, check out the last day of October Frights here – get the goodies while they’re going!  

Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I sat and stared at the faded roses in the centre of the table.  My cup of coffee was cooling in front of me.  Tonight was the last night of the dark of the moon.  Perhaps it wouldn’t work.

I sat immobile, staring at the fallen petals surrounding the plain black vase.  I had made a deal.  I should get the results before the last petal fell.  Outside the sun was setting.  I needed to get up and close the curtains but somehow, after all the weeks since the funeral, somehow now I was finished.  I couldn’t go on.

I watched another petal drop.  I had worked so hard, risked so much, lost so much.  I couldn’t bear to see it fail.  Another petal dropped.  I looked down at my hands.  I had lost weight over the last month.  My hands looked like claws and my wedding ring was loose.

The room was getting darker.  I needed to stand up.  I needed to close the curtains, switch on the light, sweep up the fallen petals and admit my failure.  I briefly closed my eyes.  How could I have failed him so badly?  But I had done all I could.  I had thrown everything into this.

Outside the wind was rising.  I could hear a sighing of the trees.  It was all the more reason to push myself to my feet and take care of the house.  To go through the motions of closing curtains and lighting the fire as the temperature dropped.  I gripped the edge of the table and forced my head to move.  By a massive effort of will I looked out of the window.  I could hear the sighing of the wind, but the trees were not moving.  Moving became easier.  I looked back at the table as another petal dropped.

I managed to push myself to my feet.  My joints ached and my head swam but I stood and looked fully out of the window.  The last gleam of the sun’s rays slipped down and I heard a soft tap at the door.  My dead love had come back.

This is part of the October Frights Blog Hop which you can check out here.  Lots of good stuff with giveaways and great writing.  

A Test

Steve looked at the foul imp digging its claws into his expensive suit jacket.  “Are you sure it is this way?”

Armani belched, spat and scratched the dirty, tiny t-shirt covering his stomach.  “That’s the way.  Lord Darcy is through there.”

Steve stared at the wooden planks across his path.  Why the hell had an elfen decided to call himself ‘Lord Darcy’.  Where had he picked up the stupid name?  The elfen lord would no doubt be wearing a velvet jacket and a lace up shirt.  Steve leaned closer to the planks.  The trouble with these older faerie lords is that they were insanely powerful.  They were insane, they were powerful and this one wanted Steve to do something for him.

Steve considered turning back.  A large trunk of guaranteed genuine medieval prayer books would fetch a very good price – but he had to strike the deal first.  Was the money going to be worth the risk?

“It isn’t real, boss.” Armani looked bored.  “Just walk straight ahead.”

Steve tentatively touched the wood.  The grain of the planks ran from left to right, he could feel the tiny ridges and valleys and smell the pungent creosote.

“Seriously, boss, not real.” Armani chuckled coarsely as Steve pressed his fingers against the unyielding wood.  Stretching out his wings, Amani hovered in Steve’s eye line.  “Watch this.” Armani flapped forward and passed through the barrier as if it was mist.

Steve pressed his palm against the cool, grooved wall.  It was still solid.  Armani flapped back into view.  He tugged nonchalantly at one of his tattered ears.

“Actually, boss, there’s a forty-foot pit with iron spikes on the other side of this.  I think we need to find another way.”

“A pit with iron spikes?” Steve said levelly.  “I was asked here, I don’t need to do this trade.  Why are we getting these tricks?”

Armani shrugged.  “Powerplay, ego trip, practical joke, fear that if he looks weak you’ll rip him off, placating an awkward courtier, worried about werewolves, forgot he put it here, someone else put it here to screw the deal, proving that you were up to making a deal with an elfen lord – take your pick.  You’re the one that makes the deals with elfen.”

“How would it look if I just turned back?” Steve stepped back and looked at the barrier.  Armani shrugged again.

Steve took a deep breath.  He hated the elfen playing mind games, but this was a test.  He strode confidently forward and through the planks as if they were just a dream.  For a heartbeat his foot seemed to hover above the steep sided pit and the iron spikes and then was placed confidently onto the solid stone floor.  He glanced at Armani.  “Since when did ancient elfen tolerate iron.  The older the faerie the less they can bear it.  However, I don’t like being tested.” Steve was well aware he was being overheard.  “My commission has just gone up.”

Checkout the awesome writers on the October Frights blog hop here 

Tap Tap Tap

It started when the house along the street blew up.  We were told it was safe and I suppose it was.  The houses either side of the gap were fine and there was no trace of gas or anything.  But that night the tapping started.

First it was on the windows, a light, tap tap tap, like a branch against the panes in a light breeze.  Except there were no branches near my window.  Just the tap tap tap after dark.  It started to unnerve me.  There was never any trace when I pulled back the curtains to look and nothing seemed out of place when I looked at the windows from the street in daylight.

Gradually I got used to it and talked about perhaps it was mice or birds in the attic.  I even added it to the ghost stories that were exchanged at work – I live in York, after all, and there are always ghost stories.  However, as the nights grew longer and the days got cooler, the tapping changed.

It was the day after my birthday, 22nd of September, when I sat bolt upright in bed.  The tap tap tap was now coming from the living room.  I remember how frozen I felt, pinned to my bed as the gentle tap tap tap seemed to patter against the wooden floor.  I crept to the door of my bedroom and listened.  There were no human footsteps, no rustle of clothes and no sigh or grunt of someone moving.  I opened the door just a crack, peering out into the hall.  No light shone from under the living room door.  As I gathered my courage to confront the noise, the tap tap tap faded away and I realised it was dawn.

That was three days ago.  I forgot about the tapping as I went away for work.  I lost myself in the hectic pace of the conference and the after conference drinks, happy to forget about strange noises, but now I was back.  There was no sign of any disturbance in the house.  Nothing had moved.  I had a quick shower and got into bed with Netflix playing loudly as I wriggled down into the bed.

But it didn’t drown the tapping.  I can hear it now, tap tap tap in the living room.  I am lying here, terrified, as the tap tap tap gets nearer and nearer.  The tapping is in the hall now and getting closer to my door.   I pick up my phone from the bedside cabinet and scroll through my contacts, looking for the number that had been forced on me.  Now I was desperate.  I found the name – Rev D King, Exorcist.  My fingers trembled as I dialled the number, burrowed under the covers.  Dawn is two hours away and the tapping is getting closer.

 Image from free-images.com

Quiet Library

 

“We have to do something.” Elsie whispered.  The faded ghost peeped around the corner.  “She’s in a world of her own.”

“You can’t interfere with someone’s love life.” Mr Kennington said.  In life he had been a head librarian and he still had the habit of authority.

“She didn’t realise that he couldn’t see us for years.” Elsie said.  “She’s not going to notice that he’s besotted by her.” Elsie sighed.  “It’s so romantic.”

“She may not like him.” Mr Kennington pointed out.

The third of the library’s ghosts drifted over.  “It’s up to him,” Tony said.  “Unless she’s got a boyfriend somewhere else.”  He looked nervously at Elsie and then looked away quickly.

“That’s not the only reason she would refuse.” Mr Kennington said.  “After all, the young man is not likely to be a good provider.”

“We only know what Rhia told us.” Elsie said.  She looked wistfully between Rhia, sorting out the classic fiction, and Liam, who seemed engrossed in his computer.  “Tony, go and have a look at what he’s looking at, there’s a love.”

Tony looked at Mr Kennington, who nodded.  The ghost of the teenager, the only one who had any understanding of computers, disappeared through the wall and slid into place behind Liam.

Elsie and Mr Kennington carefully composed themselves as Rhia picked up a faded book and walked passed them to the back rooms.  Mr Kennington sniffed as soon as Rhia was out of sight of Liam and wagged a faded finger.  “Your cleaner did not attend again this morning.  It is completely unacceptable.  You need to speak to her.  In fact, it was Mr Liam who did that vacuum thing and dusted this morning.”

Rhia managed a smile.  “Hello, Mr Kennington.” She sighed.  “Liam can’t afford to pay the cleaner any more.  He said he’ll take over that job.”

“It is inappropriate for the owner of the library to dust.” Mr Kennington said.  “The first owner, his esteemed ancestor, would never had done such a thing.”

“We need new subscribers.” Rhia said.  “People aren’t coming here.  Liam doesn’t know what to do.  He says people don’t like old books anymore.”

“Hi,” Tony said awkwardly as he slid out of the wall behind Rhia.  She jumped and turned around.

“Tony, I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Rhia said.  “Anyway, I need to get on.  I’m going to see if I can do something about this spine before it goes.”

 

The ghosts watched her as he walked briskly into the back room before Elsie and Mr Kennington turned to Tony.  Tony had only been dead three years and had managed to keep up with a lot of the technology.  He shook his head.

“I think Rhia’s right.  He’s looking at stuff like auctions and articles on the best way to sell old books.  He looks pretty down as well.”

“See,” Mr Kennington nodded.  “He’s not a good provider.  Rhia is mostly sensible and would not chose a husband who couldn’t provide for her and a future family.”

“It’s not really like that these days.” Tony avoided Mr Kennington’s eyes.  “Anyway, it looks bad.  Perhaps he can ask her for a date once he has sold the library.”

“What?” Mr Kennington snapped, before taking a deep breath.  “He can’t sell the library.”

“It’s not going to happen.” Elsie said with fake confidence.  “I mean, we live here – if you know what I mean.”

“We’ll probably be still here, but I think they’ll turn this into a bar or some flats.”

“Flats?” Mr Kennington said.  He didn’t always remember modern terminology.

“Apartments, small sets of rooms where people live.” Tony said helpfully.

“But then how will my Albert ever find me?” Elsie asked, her pale eyes wide.

“He isn’t coming back.” Mr Kennington said with as much patience as he could manage.  “You have been dead over 100 years.  If Albert was going to come back, he would have already got here.”

“I waited for him.” Elsie said.  “I promised him.  I said I would wait and always be in the library whenever I could so no matter what happened while he was away, he could find me.”

“I have overseen this library for nearly two centuries.” Mr Kennington pulled himself to his full height, such as it was, and drifted slightly upwards.  He shook his head sadly.  “It is all my fault.  I have spent far too much time coaching Tony and now that Mr Pierce and Miss Ellis have found peace, well, we are spread thinly.” Mr Kenning shook his head.  “Not that I blame either of you,” he said quickly.  “It’s been a pleasure to see you come on, young Tony, and I certainly don’t want any more deaths in the library.”  His translucent finger tapped at his pale chin.  “We shall have to have an advertising campaign in all the appropriate newspapers.  Perhaps even a picture!”

Tony shrugged.  “People don’t bother much with papers these days.” He said.  “Besides, adverts cost money.  If Liam can’t afford a cleaner then he can’t afford hundreds of pounds and a marketing manager.”

“He shall have to sell a book.” Mr Kennington said. “It’s a dreadful thing for a library to do, and it should be resisted until there is truly no other way.  Fortunately, I have been holding something in reserve.”  He drifted towards the classics section.  “It was before your time, Elsie, but Charles Dickens visited Leeds.”  Mr Kennington sniffed.  “He was not complimentary about our good city, but he did sign some copies of that Oliver Twist book.” Mr Kennington’s mouth twisted.  He was not a fan of serialised fiction.  “I know he signed quite a few, because a rascal came in and tried to force Mr Horace to purchase them.”  Mr Kennington shook his head.  “There was a dreadful scene and several of the dozen books he brought in fell down the crack at the back of the bookcase.  No-one noticed as the rogue got quite vocal and had to be escorted out.  Mr Horace threw his books at him afterwards.  I couldn’t get out to see what was happening, of course, but the constabulary were called and there was quite a scuffle, Mr Dickens being popular.”

The ghosts drifted over to the classics section.  Sure enough, behind the collected works of George Bernard Shaw, was a crack where the thin pine of the original shelves had split.  Elsie slid in to check.

“They’re dusty, of course, but they seem okay and you can still see their autographs.  But we can’t tell Liam.  He can’t see us.”

Mr Kennington looked over to where Liam was slouched at his desk, his head in his hands and a blank look on his face.  “We tell Rhia and hope that she can persuade Mr Liam to invest the small sum raised by the books into an advert in the Yorkshire Post.  And then,” he said, shaking his head, “We need to work out how to get them respectably married – once Mr Liam can provide properly of course.”  He frowned.  “Do you think that they will raise enough funds with those novels?”  He shook his head.  “I shall start working on contingency plans, just in case.”  He cast his eye over the two ghosts.  “The library must go on!

Iron Crown

The legendary Iron Crown was now just rusted metal.  He pushed aside the rubbish on the floor and picked it up.  It was still surprisingly heavy.  He turned it over in his hands and even though it was so decayed he could feel the power in it.  It was heavy with more than the physical iron.  Centuries of being the loadstar for every ambitious heart had left their mark.   Had it been worth it?  Had all the scheming and plotting been worth the pain?  Had the brief season of rule been worth rending the world apart.

He glanced through the gaps in the ruined castle walls.  The sun was getting lower.  He had to leave before night fell and the Dark Ones walked.

Haunted

Many walk past his statue.  School children sketch it and history teachers wave wildly as they walk its bounds.  His name is in legend.  But for those who have the sight, his ghost huddles at the foot of the bronze, sobbing inconsolably, his hands shielding his head, as he remembers the blood shed in his wake.

The Door

 

“Can you see the door?” The guy lounging against the tree seemed to have always been there, but I was sure he hadn’t been there when I stopped to get my water bottle.  I needed to pay more attention,

“Of course I can see the door.  It’s an art thing, isn’t it?” I took a quick mouthful of water.

“An art thing?” The guy straightened and moved over.  He looked skinny under the designer jeans and fancy sweatshirt and his eyes were dark blue and slanted under his thatch of fair hair. He moved like a cat.

“Yeah, an art thing.  You know, some installation or thing where they make the world brighter.” I wiped the sweat from my face with my bandana.  It was warm even in the shade.  “I mean, it’s a steep drop the other side.  That’s a door to nowhere.” I leant over the rails and looked down at the steep, bracken strewn slope.  The door had a handle the other side and I wondered what was the point of a handle that no-one could reach.  Then I wondered what the point of a door was in a fence above a drop.

“A door to nowhere?” The guy beckoned me closer and against my better judgement I followed him to the door.

“It’s just a junk door.” I glanced up and down the path.  There was no-one else around and I started to feel uneasy.

“It’s the door to fairyland.” The guy grinned mockingly and bowed before pulling the door open.

What the…” I couldn’t guess what I was going to say.  The door opened onto a level path that cut across a clearing in spring woods towards a stream that gurgled in sparkling sunlight.  I moved back and looked to the side of the door.  The steep drop remained in the late summer shade and the bracken was looking tired.  I stepped back in front of the door and I could feel a fresh breeze on my face and the scent of spring woods and violets wafted past.

“Welcome to fairyland.” I felt a sharp shove to the small of my back and I staggered forward through the door and into the spring clearing.  I heard a door slam behind me and I whirled around.  There was nothing.  The woods continued into the deeper thickets.  The door was gone.

Elfshot at Dawn

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 elf shot 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.

Grave Insight

“I miss him.” Geoff said, looking around the hall.

“So do I, but I hate admitting it.” Stephanie took off her Chanel coat and hesitated for a moment before hanging it on the peg next to Uncle Jeremiah’s dusty jacket.  “He never approved of me.”

“Or me.” Geoff took off his own faded jacket.  He thought it was quite a spectrum as he hung his jacket up next to his wife’s fuchsia model.  Uncle Jeremiah’s old jacket was probably older than most vintage cars.  Stephanie’s up to the minute coat was probably worth more than most vintage cars and was absolutely right for a top flight barrister.  His own humble raincoat was not as old as Uncle Jeremiah’s but was far more battered and had been bought only with practicality in mind.

“I looked over the will.  It’s not worth contesting, but what was his solicitor thinking?” Stephanie ran a finger over a dusty table and shuddered.  “I mean, the house is signed over to us, all the bank accounts are closed and the estate is considered settled.  But there is still around a million pounds unaccounted for.”

“It’s not unaccounted for, according to Colin.” Geoff had not had a good opinion of the solicitor.  “It’s hidden in the house.”

“To be precise, the whereabouts is hidden in this house.” Stephanie sighed and got out her phone.  I suppose I had better start making a list.”

“What do you mean?” Geoff opened the door into the sitting room and wandered in.

“Well, a list of what we need to do.” Stephanie followed him, automatically straightening some sagging cushions.  “It all needs a deep clean and we should probably redecorate.  This is a beautifully sized room with a great view of the garden and we could strip out all these bookcases and go for something more minimalist.” Stephanie trailed off as she checked the side table and adjusted an ornament on the mantelpiece.

“It wouldn’t be the same.” Geoff said.  He stood motionless in the centre of the room, an older, greying man with a nondescript sweater and faded jeans as his curated, blonde wife darted around the room, unable to stay still.

Stephanie paused.  “No, it wouldn’t.  I can’t imagine it changing.  It would be like losing another member of the family.”

“It needs a good clean,” Geoff said, “And perhaps a lick of paint, but I can’t imagine it ever changing.  There has always been a sofa at that angle, so that you can watch the birds in the apple tree outside.”

Stephanie tested the sofa with a cautious hand.  “Do you know how hard it is to get hold of a decent upholsterer these days?  But it’s sound.” She checked the small bookcase in the corner.  “I mean, I can imagine replacing the sofa but putting the new one in the same place.  I can imagine different books in the bookcase, but I there always has to be a bookcase here.” She sat down suddenly.  “I wish we had seen more of Uncle Jeremiah in the last few years.”

“My nerves couldn’t stand it.” Geoff said, sitting next to her and taking her hand.  “He would be arguing that you should be at home in the house and why wasn’t I in the London office.  You would be arguing that he was an old fossil and when was he going to get out of the nineteenth century.  He would be complaining about how much you spent on handbags and you would be complaining that he hadn’t replaced his wreck of a car.  It would be murder.”

“He didn’t understand us.” Stephanie looked around.  “But he was always there.”

“I know, my dear.” Geoff said.  “The problem was, he was always there with an argument.  And then your career took off and I was busy with the kids.  There was never the time.”

“At least you called him.” Stephanie’s thin fingers clung to Geoff’s sturdy hand.

“I rang for a listen at least twice a week.” Geoff agreed and smiled.  “Come on, let’s look around.  According to Colin, we need to have a grave insight.”

Stephanie snorted.  “I suppose we need to look out for stone crosses.”

“That would fit Uncle Jeremiah’s sense of humour.” Geoff helped his wife up and they wandered back into the hall.

It was hard, going from room to room.  Every room had a ghost of an argument and a swathe of happy memories.  The study was the hardest.  It seemed to have become Uncle Jeremiah’s living space, with a tray for his meals sat on a table near the door with a salt cellar perched in the corner.  Photographs were everywhere you looked.

“Look, do you remember this?” Stephanie picked up a picture.  “It was the summer after we married.”

Geoff looked over her shoulder.  They looked so young in their dated clothing, sprawled on the unkempt lawn at the back and filled with joy.  “I remember.  We had the most amazing time.  We had most of our meals in the garden, played cards for matchsticks every night and you and he had a ding dong battle about the Children’s Act.”

Stephanie shrugged and put down the picture, wiping her dusty fingers on a tissue as she wandered around the room.  “Geoff, come and have a look at this.”

Geoff followed her to a dim corner.  “That’s a lovely picture, and it’s full of graves.  Perhaps it’s a clue.”

Stephanie looked hard at the painting.  It looked nineteenth century, with dark, small leaved trees and sprawling shadows.  Graves framed the path to a ruined church and it pulled you in to its sombre centre.  “If Uncle Jeremiah was here, we would be having an argument right now about Romanticism versus Classicism and I would be quoting Byron and he would be talking about Tchaikovsky.” She swallowed a lump in her throat.

Geoff leant forward.  “I bet this is the clue.  This tells us where the money has been stashed.”

“I suppose so.” Stephanie straightened the picture.  “It’s got graves on it.  Perhaps we need to count them or something.”

“At least it doesn’t refer to his grave.” Geoff said, his head to one side as he studied the picture.  “He was cremated and his ashes scatted at sea.”

“He said he was going to do that so I couldn’t dance on his grave.” Stephanie took a deep breath.  Hardened barristers did not cry.

Geoff frowned.  “It’s not a very good clue.  I mean, shouldn’t it have a map or a motto or something?”

“You are a genius with numbers, my darling, but you never worked out how Uncle Jeremiah’s mind worked.  The grave is a red herring.” Stephanie lifted the picture down.  It was surprisingly light and left dust marks across the sleeves of her silk blouse.  “He would never give us a plain clue.” She turned the painting over.  On the back was a small key and a nondescript envelope taped to the corner.  She laid the picture face down on the desk and picked at the tape holding the key as Geoff worked the envelope free.

“It’s numbers.” Geoff said, spreading out the slip of paper.

Stephanie wasn’t paying full attention.  The key was small but well made.  She looked around the room and the large, mahogany desk had keyholes in its drawers.  She found which lock the key fitted on the third attempt.

“At least, it’s numbers but I don’t think it’s about the numbers.” Geoff said.

Stephanie turned the key in the oiled lock and pulled open the drawer.  It held a handbag, a beautiful, Hermes Birkin bag, in her favourite fuchsia pink.  She picked it up and stroked the immaculate surface.  The clasp moved easily under her fingers and nestled inside the perfect lining was a note addressed to her in Uncle Jeremiah’s spiky handwriting.

“It’s a bank account number.  I’m pretty sure it’s international.” Geoff said but Stephanie wasn’t paying attention.  She unfolded the note.

Dearest Stephanie, Over the years I’ve come to appreciate more and more that while you may not be my idea of a good wife, you are perfect for Geoff and an asset to the legal profession.  Please forgive an old man his mistakes.  And don’t go spending all the money on handbags.  This one should be enough. Jx

Behind her, Geoff was checking his phone.  “It’s a Swiss account.  We’ve found the money.  Stephanie, we’ve found the money!” But she couldn’t answer.  All she could do was choke back the tears as she hugged the bag.

Image taken from WikiCommons, Cemetery by a Ruined Church by Hermann Lungkwitz, in the public domain