Choosing the Battles

rain dropping from roof
Photo by Anna King on Unsplash

Tim put another log on the fire and then leant back. He hadn’t bothered to switch any lamps on as the light faded, and the flickering glow danced around the room, throwing shadows against the wall. It was that time of year again, when he wondered whether he had done the right thing, whether he had chosen the right path. A scatter of rain hit the window and he could hear the wind rising in the trees. There was a knock on the door.

Tim walked down the hallway, switching the lights on as he went, and checked the peephole. You didn’t get many surprise visitors this far out in the country, and he didn’t think it would be Estelle. She was visiting friends over in Rochdale and was staying the night. He did not expect to see a thin, hunched young lad, damp and bedraggled in the porch light. It could be a trick. Tim slid the chain on and cracked open the door. “Yes?”

“Mr Timothy Arndale McGuigan?” the young lad asked, shivering a little.

“Who are you?” Tim answered, peering around him for any possible accomplices.

“I’m Kane Thelwell, and I’m here on behalf of Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan.” Water dripped from his plain brown hair. “He’s asked me to pass on some messages.”

“Alistair McGuigan is dead.” Tim said flatly. “He can send no messages.”

Kane turned, as if listening to someone. “No, I can’t say that! Or that! Okay…” Kane squinted through the rain back at Tim. “The Major General says that you wanted to call your first cat Cowshed, because a friend had a cat called Cola as…”

“Alright, alright.” Tim unhooked the chain and ushered the lad in. “You’re soaked!”

Kane managed a smile. “It’s a bit wet out there, sir.”

“Stay there!” Tim ordered. “My wife would kill me if I let you drip on the sofa.”

After a brief whirlwind of activity, Kane was perched on a bundle of towels on the sofa, his hair roughly dried and a large mug of hot chocolate thrust into his hand. Tim put another log on the fire and sat back in his chair. For a moment he watched the stiff winds whipping the flames up into the chimney and turned to Kane. “How did you know about my cat Kimble?”

Kane glanced uneasily at a space at his side. “I can see ghosts.” He said. “Sometimes I get paid to help people out with hauntings and stuff.” He glanced again and nodded. “But this time I’m doing a favour for Major General McGuigan, as a way of saying thank you for his help.”

“What do you mean?” Tim said.

Kane shook his head. “The Major General wants to pass on a message to you. He says he knows that he always told you to be a soldier like him. And that you became a solicitor instead. He says that he talked about you going after money instead of glory.”

Tim pressed his lips together and turned back to the fire. After all these years, the words still stung. “I am a damn good solicitor, you know. I’ve been invited to apply for a position as a District Judge.”

Kane paused and listened to the unseen presence at his side. “But you’ll take a pay cut if you do that.” He said.

Tim shrugged. “I’m not exactly on the breadline, and judges get a respectable salary. Besides, I’ll still get a share of the profits from my firm.”

Kane sipped his hot chocolate and listened again. “The Major General says that you were handling a divorce recently, the Atkins. He said that you encouraged them to reconcile.”

“They were just going through a bad patch.” Tim said. “It would have been wrong to force the divorce.”

“But you could have made a lot of money out of it.” Kane said. “The Major General says that the other solicitor was itching for a fight.”

“They didn’t want to divorce.” Tim said. “They just needed to have a long talk. And they’re happy now.”

“The Major General said you walked away from that fight.” Kane said.

“It was the moral thing to do.” Tim said coldly.

Kane cocked his head to one side. “But you went in hard for that financial settlement.” He said. “The Cawlstone one. The Major General said you fought that like a tiger. He said you spent hours on the books over that.”

“It was the right thing to do. I was merely pursuing a fair settlement against unfair tactics by the respondent.” Tim said. “It was a challenge.”

Kane listened for a moment, then nodded. “The Major General said that you did the right thing both times. That you showed excellent judgement and good leadership.” He paused and nodded. “He says to tell you that you made the right choice, in those and the other cases he saw. That you choose your battles with skill, use well considered tactics and strategy and that he is proud of you. He says you would have made a good officer, but you’re doing pretty good where you are.” Kane listened again. “He says to tell you properly, that Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan is proud of you, his son, and that he always will be.”

Tim swallowed. “Thank you.” He said. “And I’m proud of him.” He hesitated. “I love you, Dad.”

Kane looked at the space next to him and smiled a little. “I think he loves you too.” He said. “He says, goodbye.”

“Wait, Dad, hang on!” Tim leapt to his feet, but Kane was shaking his head.

“He’s gone home now, passed over. He’s not here anymore.”

Tim lowered himself slowly back into the armchair. He found himself breathing a little harder, as if he had been running. He let the conversation sink in slowly. He turned to Kane. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Kane said awkwardly, sipping his hot chocolate.

“Seriously, thank you.” Tim said. “It means a lot.” He managed a smile. “And that is just the way Dad would have said it.”

“He seemed a bit hard work, but he was a good man.” Kane said. “He helped me out with a problem last week, and I don’t think I could have managed without him.”

Tim smiled a little sadly. “He was a great man to have on your side.” He hesitated. “You say you are employed to sort out hauntings?”

Kane nodded. “Well, sort of sort out. I can see and hear ghosts, but I can’t make them do what I want.” He thought for a moment. “I could never have got the Major General to do anything he didn’t want to.”

Tim laughed. “That sounds like Dad. But what is your fee?”

Kane shook his head. “No fee tonight. It’s my way of saying thank you to the Major General. I don’t mind.”

Tim looked at the hunched young lad, with his battered trainers and worn, cheap jeans. “I feel like I owe you a great deal.” He said. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?” He watched the emotions cross Kane’s face, as he struggled to resist temptation, before he gave in.

“Could you give me a lift to the station?” Kane asked.  

Writing Challenge 11th November 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

clear glass bottle with white flowers on table
Photo by loli Clement on Unsplash

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.

Thomas Merton

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

A Special Home

Photo by Renate Vanaga on Unsplash

Jenny really missed Granny. She pulled up outside the cottage and her five year old car looked shiny and new against Granny’s overgrown home and garden. In the grey, November light, it all looked so faded.

Jenny pulled out the keys and went around to the porch. It needed painting, but the hardest thing was the locked door. It had never been locked when Granny was alive. The paint may have been peeling a little as Granny faded, but there had always been a fire in the stove in the kitchen, and tea in the pot, and if Granny knew you were coming she would have baked scones, soft and fluffy and full of sultanas.

The lock was stiff, but Jenny managed to turn it and go into the cold kitchen. She’d been in a few times to air the place out, but it wasn’t the same. The crocheted throw on the little nursing chair that had been Granny’s favourite was damp and grey with dust. The curtains sagged and cobwebs straggled around the window frames.

Jenny took a breath. It was hers now, to the utter fury of her stepmother. Granny had pottered along, seemingly ageless, until she had a fall, which took her to hospital, and she had never come out. After the funeral, Jenny was shocked to find that Granny had owned a lot more than the cottage and had been quietly collecting rents on the fields around for many years. There was plenty of money for renovations and updates, though Jenny kept that away from her stepmother.

Granny had told her, before she fell into her final sleep, “You need to do it up, my girl. Get some new curtains, and that sofa has had its day. I daresay the stove will do a bit longer, but the bed is on its last legs and the carpets are almost threads. You get what you want, love, but be careful in the garden.”

Jenny paused by the window. Damp was speckling at the corners and the panes were cold to touch. The garden had been Granny’s pride and joy. Jenny had spent many happy, sunlit hours alongside her as they weeded, planted, pruned, pricked out and harvested. They had pulled caterpillars off the cabbages and fed them to Granny’s hens, placed pots of mint among the tomatoes and sage between the cabbages and sprayed soapy water over the aphids. In the rambling, purposeful garden, only one spot stayed immune from Granny. “You leave that bit alone, my girl.” Granny had warned. “Never touch it, never prune it. That’s the heart of the garden and it minds itself.”

Jenny had been fascinated by the small stand of hazel and wild rose near the gate, mingling with overgrown hawthorn from the hedge and quite impenetrable. She had never gone near it, though. It had been important to Granny, and, besides, Jenny had always been so busy. There had been the hens to feed, the garden to tend, the stove to clean, firewood and coal to stack up, cakes to bake, and, best of all, sitting in the shade of the garden, with Granny, listening to her stories while they knitted. Sometimes Granny would tell stories of years ago, like when the old lord had a manor here and he lost a bet with the local smith and had to pay a wagon of hay to every farmer. Sometimes it would be gossip about Him Down the Road and what he said at the Post Office and who had punched him for it. Sometimes it would be stories of fairies and goblins and why it was a good thing to have the swathes of honeysuckle that tumbled over the wall in heaped drifts.

Jenny was shaken out of her memories by a car pulling up. It was large, black and shiny and the man who got out was unfamiliar. He was slim, slightly balding and his cold eyes had an unnerving air of assurance. She made sure she had her phone with her as she went out onto the porch.

“Miss Smith? I’m Richard Simpson. I believe you refused our offer for the cottage and the land surrounding.”

“I don’t want to sell.” Jenny said quietly.

“May I come in?” Richard asked.

Jenny shook her head. “I don’t want to waste your time.”

A flicker of irritation crossed Richard’s face. “This is not a place for a young girl.” He said. “It needs thousands spending on the house to make it up to code. You do know that I could call in inspectors to check whether everything is as it should be, don’t you? I daresay that place hasn’t had its wiring checked since…”

“It’s fine.” Jenny said.

“And if there are issues with drainage, or the correct licensing on the fields, you could find yourself with extremely large fines.” Richard waved his hands towards the Thompson farm. “And you would be responsible for anything amiss on your tenants’ land.”

Jenny was fairly sure that the Thompsons were up to no good. They were always up to no good, and Granny had warned her never to ask questions as long as they paid their rent on time. “I’m sure it’s all under control.”

“Right now we have a very reasonable offer on the table, but it’s reducing all the time, and, in the end, it may not cover all the fines that may be pinned on you.” Richard smiled. “Why don’t I come inside and we can discuss things reasonably.” He looked around. “It may have all your memories but keeping a place like this takes a lot more work than you would believe, and it would be a shame to see it all fall apart. The memories would be there, but then you would have the memories of the garden being overgrown or the house falling down and draining the little money you have.” He would have patted Jenny’s shoulder paternally but she flinched back. “Why don’t we just talk?”

“Please leave.” Jenny said, hating how her voice sounded small and frightened.

Richard shook his head. “If you feel this nervous about a respectable businessman visiting in broad daylight, imagine how you would feel when it’s dark and there is an unexpected knock on the door. It could be tricky for a young girl out here on her own. Have you really thought this through?”

Jenny swallowed. “I think…” Her voice cracked and she tried to clear it. She had to be assertive. There was no-one else around.

There was a rustle from the hazel trees and a young man strode out. His dark hair was tousled and unkempt and the rough trousers with the collarless shirt and waistcoat looked out of place, but his clear grey eyes were sparking fire and he strode up to Richard without hesitation. “The lady said you should leave. So leave now.”

“I don’t know who you are, but this young woman and I…”

“She’s a lady. And she told you to leave. Last warning, you heed my words!”

“This is my business, not yours.” Richard said.

The stranger grabbed Richard by the front of his expensive shirt and stared hard into his eyes. “I can see all your little secrets, all your dark places, all your fears.” He grinned wickedly. “Which should I release first?” He let go and Richard stumbled back.

Jenny watched, horrified, as all the colour drained from Richard’s face. He shook his head. “I paid them off. It’s all over. No-one knows.”

The stranger stepped forward. “I know. And I could keep it my little secret, or I could tell the world. What do you think? Are you going to leave like the lady asked?”

They watched as Richard jumped into his car, spun around and raced up the track, swaying wildly.

The stranger looked at Jenny. “You can call me Rob.” He grinned. “It’s not my name, but it will do. Your Granny told us about you. She said you’d take over and look after us.” He looked around the little patch. “We owe her. She found a few of us in a poacher’s trap made of iron and she set us free, without asking anything for it.”

“She always had a kind heart.” Jenny smiled sadly. “And she would never ask anything for helping someone.”

“So we owe her, and we promised we would look after her and hers.” Rob said. “As long as you stay kind.”

Jenny remembered all the stories Granny told her. “I’ll stay away from your home.” She said. “And I’ll let you know the news, and if I’m making changes.”

Rob had a devilish smile. “Your Granny said you would have to do a lot of building if you were going to stay. We won’t interfere too much. And if you’re planning on staying, you’ll want to settle down.” He nodded to a farm worker coming up from Holly Farm to see what the car was about. “He should do you pretty well. And don’t forget – keep the honeysuckle.” And he laughed, walking backwards towards the hazel, until suddenly he was part of it, fading and twisting, and then he was gone.

Bad Night’s Sleep

gray table lamp beside bed
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

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.

Elfshot at Dawn

aerial photography of river between mountains
Photo by Mario Álvarez on Unsplash

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.

A Short Walk

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

“It’s dreamlike, isn’t it?”

Steve looked across at the figure that had appeared at his left side. “What is?”

“The entrance to Lord Rudyard’s domain.” She smiled enchantingly and tossed her bright scarlet hair back.

“I have business with Lord Rudyard.” Steve said.

“I keep the gate of his realm.” She said. “I meet all visitors. How can a mortal have business with a great elfen lord?”

“It’s private.” Steve said. Lord Rudyard had insisted that this was kept incredibly quiet. He was also far from a great lord, hanging on precariously between two rivals. “What should I call you?”

“You didn’t ask my name.” She said. “Perhaps you do know a little of the faerie realms. You don’t know enough, though. You bring no iron or steel.”

“I’ll call you Rose.” Steve said. “And Lord Rudyard is expecting me.”

“Is he?” Rose pouted. “I’m sure he’s not in a hurry, and you know we can play a little with time. Why don’t you stop and spend some time with me?” She ran a gentle hand up his left arm.

Steve raised an eyebrow. “I’m married. And I am here to see Lord Rudyard.” Elfen realms were a pain in the neck. Half of them had defences so deep it was impossible to get to them and then they complained about a lack of visitors.

“This road is intriguing, isn’t it?” Rose said, matching Steve’s steady gait. “You could walk forever on it, and it would never change. It will always be night and never dawn, always the chill autumn and never bright spring. You can keep pacing and even try running. Nothing helps.”

Steve looked ahead. It was utterly silent apart from the pad of their footsteps and the hiss of their breath, steaming in the chill, damp air. “I know about this road.”

“Do you? I doubt it.” Rose laughed, her voice seductively low. “But you can’t win. As you go down the road you will find nothing. No light, no warmth, no hope. Exhaustion will bring you to your knees and you will be crawling along this rough path until you collapse among the bones of your predecessors.” She ran a soft hand over his face. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather sit aside with me for a while?”

“I’m here to see Lord Rudyard.” Steve repeated.

“You can’t turn back, you know.” Rose said. “If you turn back, the road will just continue, for ever and ever, until you crumble to dust.” She ran a hand down from her throat and lower in invitation. “Are you sure you won’t sit a while with me?”

Steve looked around the unchanging bushes, nodded to himself and then muttered a few words. Magic was easy here, and Rose squeaked as she was suddenly encased in a glowing magical harness, the leash firmly in Steve’s hand. He snapped his fingers and a bright opening appeared on his right. “I think I will have a word with Lord Rudyard about his gatekeepers.” He gave the harness a tug as he strode into the hall and tried to keep his face immobile as he saw the appalled expression on Lord Rudyard’s face. “But I enjoyed the walk.”

Steve is the hero in ‘Across a Misty Bridge’, a series of stories which tell of his journey from a call centre employee to a magician that can chain the elfen, and which is free, along with a swathe of other wonderful stories, on Story Origin until 9 November 2019 here https://storyoriginapp.com/to/kTrsibP

Writing Challenge 28 October 2019

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them.

Rose Kennedy

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Book Review: Grumpy Old Gods Vol 1

Confession time – I got accepted for their anthology Grumpy Old Gods Vol 3. Another confession – instead of doing my research, I only read their other stuff after I got accepted. Third confession – I liked it a lot more than I expected. As always, the review is completely honest and a true reflection of how I feel. I may have been accepted into a later anthology, but I wouldn’t have fibbed. We have all read books where the best thing you can say about them is that they were the perfect size to put under the table leg to stop it wobbling, and while I would have found something tactful to say if I didn’t like it, fortunately for my conscience, I loved this.

Grumpy Old Gods Vol 1 is a collection of thirteen stories from different authors, all of them about the former deities that are now out to pasture or somehow superannuated. The authors have taken the idea of the old gods and run with it. I don’t want to put in spoilers, but these are great stories. Some are just hilarious, others are sweetly sad.

It’s a great selection. Many of the stories go across more than one pantheon, so you get wonderful quotes such as, ‘Odin, Merlin, Zeus and Nubis sat around a table playing spades and debating the part humanity would play in the coming Apocalypse,‘ while others stick to one tradition and mythology. There is a great selection as well, as we have stories that refer to Norse, Greek, Egyptian and First Nation beliefs, which is wonderful to dip into.

I really enjoyed the excellent, well presented, well written stories. I am definitely going be reading Vol 2 just for pleasure, and I sincerely recommend this anthology.

New Books

Photo by Taisiia Shestopal on Unsplash

“Good afternoon. I’m Mr Kennington. I was the first Head Librarian when this establishment opened, in 1803, and I’ve haunted here ever since my death.”

The new ghost smiled and shook Mr Kennington’s ethereal hand. “I’m Rose Donnelly.” She smiled, a figure in her late fifties, dressed in ghostly Victorian skirt and blouse and with an air of energy and determination around her. “Apparently I’m attached to the books.”

“As am I.” Mr Kennington nodded. “This is Toby. He passed on the premises two years ago.”

Rose tactfully didn’t ask the details but shook his hand. “You look about the same age as my great-great-grandson.” She said. She smiled a little sadly. “It was a shame that he decided to get rid of the collection, but there wasn’t the money and he needed to sell the house, so that was that.” She rubbed her hands briskly. “Besides, they were practically untouched. He spent most of his time on his top lap.”

“Laptop.” Toby said, without thinking. He was watching Elsie. The third ghost was peering over Rhia’s shoulder at the latest display she was putting up.

“Quite.” Rose said. “Who are the ladies?”

“Elsie has been here since she passed away from the influenza, back in…” Mr Kennington thought for a moment.

Tony drifted over to the display. “1919, apparently.”

Rhia looked over her shoulder. “Do you mind?”

“Rhia is the current Head Librarian.” Mr Kennington said quietly. He took Rose’s arm and quietly drifted back into the stacks. “She is somewhat in love with the owner of the Library, Mr Liam Kelshaw. And she is the first employee who can see us.”

“Is that convenient or inconvenient?” Rose asked.

“It has had its uses.” Mr Kennington said. “I managed to direct her to some items which were sold and secured the future of our library, and I’ve deflected her from a few other bits and pieces that I have salted away for future necessity. I cannot, however fully approve.” He sighed. “The ghost is Elsie. She is a good girl, who has always done her best, but she was never much of a reader. She met her young man here, as it was warm and dry and away from her mother, and promised to meet him here when he got back from the Front.”

“And he never came back?” Rose asked.

“I sincerely believe he was a casualty, rather than an unfaithful beau.” Mr Kennington said. “Unlike Elsie, he was a reader, and had great promise. The Great War took many good souls.” He drifted back to the main room. “Elsie doesn’t always keep up with things.” Mr Kennington said. “But she does her best.”

“That’s my name, there.” Elsie said, pointing at a list on the board in Rhia’s beautiful calligraphy.

“That’s right.” Rhia said. “Elsie Stretton, Spanish influenza.”

“And that’s my nan, and my auntie.” Elsie pointed.

“All the people in the parish who died of Spanish Flu.” Rhia said. “I’m trying to show how many were infected.”

“And this is the names of the soldiers who died overseas of the Fluenza.” Elsie said. “That must have taken some working out.”

“I’m a good researcher.” Rhia said. “And I had some help from Toby. He’s wonderful with computers.”

“And that, that’s Albert.” Elsie said, suddenly quiet.

“Albert Birkenshaw, yes he died of the Influenza when he was at Etaples.” Rhia said, shuffling through the copied photos. “It’s very sad. A lot of soldiers who survived the Great War were killed by the Spanish Influenza.”

“My Albert is dead?”

Toby laid a gentle hand on her insubstantial shoulder. “It’s has been a while.” He said.

“Albert was an estimable young man, with great potential.” Mr Kennington said. “I was always confident that he would have returned if at all possible.”

“My Albert is dead?” Elsie repeated. “So he won’t come back to meet me here?”

“I’m afraid that he won’t be able to meet you here.” Mr Kennington said. “He would never let you down if he could possibly help it.”

“Albert can’t come here to meet me.” Elsie said. “If he could, he would.”

“Indeed.” Mr Kennington said sadly, as Elsie started to fade.

“And if he can’t meet me here, why am I waiting?” Elsie said. “What if he’s waiting for me outside the Pearly Gates? I can’t be hanging around here.” There was barely a trace of her left, a wisp hanging in the air. “I’ve got to go and meet my Albert.”

“Goodbye.” Mr Kennington said softly to the empty air. “And God Bless.”

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!