Interruption

black ipad on brown book
Image from Unsplash, taken by Charl Folscher

Paul nearly dropped the diary he was holding when he heard the knock on the door. He placed the diary carefully on the desk and then locked the Paper Room securely before answering the door, opening just after the second impatient knock. “Hello?”

The man at the door was not as tall as Paul, and certainly not as muscled. Paul was not bulky, but he worked out. The man at the door was skinny, with a thin, pointed faced under the black-dyed hair. “Hi, I’m Theo McGuire. I think I may be a neighbour.” He grinned and waved his hands at the open fields around, sharing the humour. “I have the white painted cottage a couple of miles down the road. I was passing and I saw your car and thought I would introduce myself.” He waited expectantly for Paul to invite him in.

Paul didn’t move but smiled blandly. “Passing?” He looked over Theo’s shoulder at the empty fields around. “There are a lot of walks around here. I’m still finding my way. I walked to the farm shop this morning for milk and it felt like an expedition.”

“I love a good walk, with a nice cuppa,” Theo leaned forward, the hint unmistakable. “I swear I’ve got fitter in just the last few weeks. But you’ve been here only a day or two?”

“I work out a lot anyway,” Paul said, still unmoving. “But it’s a pleasant change from the gym.”

Theo stepped back, frustrated, and looked over the front of the cottage. “This looks ancient. How old do you think it is? I wonder what stories it could tell. It’s an out of the way place, I’m sure that there’s dark deeds that happened here.”

“I’m sure that there has been stuff happening,” Paul said, thinking of the crazy stuff in the diaries. “Just by the law of averages. I mean, dark things happen in modern bungalows and bus stations.”

“But this is so out of the way,” Theo persisted. “You don’t need to be quiet in case the neighbours hear. Anything at all could go on. And there are stories in the villages around here of really dark stuff.” He leaned in a little closer. “According to some old books, there are monsters on these moors. They talk about werewolves and the undead.”

Paul thought again of the papers in the Paper Room. Werewolves were the least of it. “No-one believes in that sort of thing these days,” he said. “But it’s an interesting superstition.”

“Perhaps we could have a chat,” Theo suggested. “I’ve done a lot of research. You’d be surprised at how much stuff is out there.”

“Are you trying to make me nervous about staying here?” Pauls said calmly. “I’d love to talk, but I’m working. Perhaps we can catch up later.”

“When?” Theo asked.

Paul looked vague. “I’ve got a lot on at the moment. But I call in at the Crown sometimes, and I’ve heard that you’re often there. Perhaps we can meet up there at some point.”

Irritation sparked in Theo’s eyes, but he kept his smile fixed in place. “Well, I’ll see you then.” He paused, then waved a jaunty hand before setting off down the drive to the lane.

Paul watched him for a few moments before shutting the door and meticulously locking it. Then he headed into the kitchen for a large cup of tea. He waved briskly at Theo who was passing the back of the garden and wondered if Richard would mind if he put up some one way film on the windows. He felt under scrutiny. Then, after watching Theo move out of sight and checking that all the doors were locked, he took his cup of tea back into the Paper Room, locking the door behind him.

He sat at the desk but didn’t immediately start back on the list he was making. Instead he sipped his tea and looked through his memories. They were dark, and coming here hadn’t helped. Vampires and werewolves weren’t the half of it. The diaries and notebooks were full of stuff about them as well as boggarts, wights, brownies, goblins and gabble ratchets. He’d had to look those up. Richard had thought it was fiction, or even mental illness. He’d waved aside the subject when he had come to discuss the delivery of the filing cabinets. He thought the notes were those of an enthusiastic folklorist, like Sabine Baring-Gould. Everyone knew that there were no such things as werewolves and vampires.

Except Paul knew better. He had been nine when it had happened. The counsellors that the foster carers had brought in had explained that the huge hairy monster that had killed his parents was just his mind making sense of a terrible tragedy. The man who had killed his parents wasn’t a monster. He had been poorly inside and had been shot by police in a standoff later. Paul had been frustrated when his frantic accounts were dismissed, and his outbursts had him thrown out of a few foster homes before he made a decision. He had been just thirteen, traumatised, skinny and unloved. No-one believed him when he talked about the monster. Plenty avoided him. So he set out to change his life.

He had stopped talking about monsters, because everyone knew that they didn’t exist. He had watched his diet, exercised and studied. It hadn’t always been easy. Not all foster homes were good and food could be scarce. He had had to take what he could get. But he had grown strong and capable. His ability to train with the various martial classes had also varied with the foster placement, but he had kept his priorities straight and now that he was an adult he made the most of all opportunities.

He’d gone beyond just physical training, though. He’d trained his mind. He had meditated, studied and pushed himself beyond his own imagination. He learned magic. He had started on the books that filled up old libraries and second-hand shops but had worked beyond that. Now he had reached the place where people asked him to get rid of spirits and curses.

When he had started going through the papers, he had been tempted to go off and get drunk for a week. Paul smiled a little wryly and took another mouthful of tea. Habits of self-control were too ingrained now. Besides, after the first shock, he felt the calmest that he had for years. These were an affirmation. They were proof that the monster that he remembered from all those years ago was real.

The question remained, what was he going to do with this information? Would Richard accept that there was a possibility that there was truth in these papers? Was it responsible to allow some of these papers into the public domain? Paul had met too many people like Theo with too much imagination and too little discipline. There were descriptions in these books that allowed those with insider knowledge to recreate spells. Perhaps the most responsible thing would be to pile them in the garden, douse them in paraffin and burn them to ashes.

Paul looked around him. He couldn’t do that. These records were the story of men and women who had fought against the dark. Sometimes they lost. Sometimes they won at dreadful cost. But these were stories of people who hadn’t given up. He wasn’t giving up on them. And it wasn’t just people. Threaded through were references to allies who were werewolves, brownies, vampires and boggarts. They deserved respect and to have at least this small corner where their struggle was remembered.

Paul picked up his pen and checked his place. He had been digging through a notebook to find dates when he was interrupted. He needed to keep going. He couldn’t let these long-forgotten people down.

As you can tell, this is part of a story. The previous parts are, first to last, Words, The Interview, and Where Do You Start. I hope that you can enjoy them, and I would love to hear what you think.

Home Brewed

clear glass mug with brown liquid
Image from Unsplash, taken by Pradnyal Gandhi

“Are those your new neighbours?” Cerne waved a hand at the lads setting up some speakers next to a barbecue in the garden next door.

Home Brewed

Taranis nodded. “They moved in last week. I think they’re sharing the house while they’re at college.” He took a slow sip of his home brew. “I’ve given them the first word, and I’ve let them have a housewarming, and now we see what happens.”

Cerne looked sideways at his old friend, “You just go looking for trouble living next to student housing. I never get any trouble from any of my neighbours.”

“And where’s the fun in that?” Taranis drained the last mouthful of his beer. “This batch of homebrew came out pretty well. It’s much easier to get the ingredients these days.”

Cerne nodded. “I used to have to grow a lot of stuff myself. It’s much better now there is that internet.” He looked down at his glass, filled with golden liquid that glowed in the last of the days’ light. It tasted of summer and sunsets, with spices and lightning as an undertone, and filled a heart with wild wind and thunder and warmth of heaven’s fire. It was a brew for the gods, not frail mortals. “Are these the glasses we stole from that pub in Brighton?”

“I knew we were going to get kicked out anyway.” Taranis stood up creakily. “Especially after those bikers started.”

Cerne caught him eyeing the lads in the garden next door. “Remember, no paperwork.”

“That’s always my motto. Whatever you do, no paperwork.” Taranis wandered into his kitchen and came out again with a couple of bottles of his home brew and a plate of sandwiches, thick with roast pork. “Lisa sent some more pork around, after I sorted out the people parking in front of her house.”

“You had a word with the council, didn’t you?” Cerne said, grinning and throwing some pork to his dog, Garm, who sat patiently next to him.

“And no paperwork,” Taranis said. He poured himself another drink and topped up Cerne.

“Hey, grandpa!” The redheaded lad from next door hung over the fence, far too close to Taranis. “You want to switch your hearing aids off now. We’re going to party.”

The scruffy one with dyed dark hair slouched over the fence next to him. “And my dad’s in the police, so there’s nothing you can do. Just get used to the loud music.”

“It won’t be that loud, will it?” Taranis said, allowing a slight hint of weakness in his normally booming voice.

“This kit cost more than you ever earned in your life, grandpa,” The redhead laughed. “They’ll hear it all the way down to the Estate.”

Cerne put his hand on Taranis’ arm. “No paperw- Bloody hell!” The dark-haired lad had switched on the sound system and it vibrated through the houses and gardens, making Garm yelp in dismay.

The redhead laughed again as he turned the music down, though keeping it at a level that could rattle windows. “We’re starting off quiet, grandpa, but don’t expect it to stay this level.”

“Well I never did.” Taranis sounded frail. “That’s a very loud system.”

“Don’t overdo it,” Cerne muttered to him.

“I tell you what, young man,” Taranis mostly hid his grin from the lads. “Why don’t you have a drink on me? I’m sure we can work things out.”

“Homebrew?” The redhead looked sceptical.

“It’s a bit stronger than average, so take it steady,” Taranis said. There was a brief rumble of thunder, unnoticed by the lads, but Garm hid under the table and Cerne grinned.

“We can manage more than your cocoa, grandpa.” The redhead took a large swig and looked at the bottle. “Hey, this is the good stuff.” He passed it on to his nearest friend.

Cerne watched the redhead. “It’s taking it’s time kicking in.”

“I went for smooth rather than strong,” Taranis said. “It’s not like it’s for a proper feast.”

Cerne checked his watch. “Perhaps it was the ingredients,” he said. “Even with a smoother brew it normally hits quicker. Ahh, there it is.”

One by one the lads started shivering, huddling into themselves and staring at sights that only they could see. The dark-haired lad was rocking slowly to and fro and his blond friend was sobbing. The redhead was noisily sick in a planter next to the patio door.

“Look at me!” Taranis commanded, all trace of the frail old man gone. He waited until all their frightened eyes were turned to him and then pointed at the sound system. With a sharp crack, a bolt of lightning did several thousand pounds of damage and left an echoing silence. “Now go inside, sleep it off, and remember to think of your neighbours next time.”

Cerne watched them slink off. “That was a bit harsh, wasn’t it?”

Taranis fondled Garm’s ears as he slunk out from under the table. “They’ll be fine tomorrow. It wasn’t the really strong stuff, and there won’t be any paperwork.” He fed the huge dog another piece of pork. “Another glass?”

A little warm up to my entry in the Grumpy Old Gods Anthology, out today, which you can find here

National Meteorological Day

It’s World Meteorological Day and I found this quote:

The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for use to ignore it and wrong to often for us to rely on it

Patrick Young

I’ve been thinking of the myths and stories about gods recently and it’s led me to all sorts of snippets. For example, did you know that there is evidence for a thunder god in the reconstructed Indo European language of four thousand years ago? There is a whole section on weather gods from prehistory here in Wikipedia.

I don’t believe in weather gods and thunder gods, but I can see the appeal. When you’re counting on the harvest to keep you alive as the first farmers did, being able to appeal to a deity that might help must be a comfort, even if they are capricious. And, despite knowing the science, a thunderstorm feels supernatural. If you are in the middle of a loud one, when you can barely hear yourself for the thunder and the rain and hail is battering the windows, it doesn’t help to think about electrons and convection movements. It feels like something primeval. I’m not surprised that there is evidence of huge sacrifices of horses and cattle to appease the destructive force.

And I am fascinated that stories and myths can be traced back all those thousands of years to a people whose language we can’t fully know but which developed into so many different tongues as far apart as English and Bengali. That the stories that they told are still echoing around and finding their way out. Thor, who is definitely a thunder god, is still having his stories told in cinemas around the world.

In the flash fiction that I posted on Monday, here, I wrote about a retired thunder god. I can imagine that a retired weather deity wouldn’t be a comfortable neighbour, but I bet he wouldn’t be boring.

Things Forgotten

Today is the Saint’s Day of St Frances of Rome. She’s a medieval Italian saint that is the patron saint of motorists. Apparently an angel used to light her way as she travelled around the countryside in a quest to help those in need. My late mother would have had a fit at the thought of me invoking a saint. My view is that when you see an Audi barrelling towards you as it overtakes a learner driver that’s overtaking a tractor, it helps to have something to call on.

My late mother also used to knit bikinis for Barbie dolls, and it’s National Barbie Day, as well as National Meatball Day and National Get Over It Day. For me, it’s more like an ‘Oh Bugger Day’

I was looking through some stuff for the Grumpy Old Gods Anthology (there’s a new one coming out in April, and I love the mix of them), and I found a lot of stuff. I mean, lots and lots and lots of stuff. I found stuff I started but abandoned, stuff I’d submitted, had rejected and forgotten and things that were actually quite good but needed tidying. And they are in every folder. Someone has randomly distributed my writing, scattering it in many places and under many names in a gazillion folders – and that someone was me. I know I’ve got something missing and I can’t find the dratted thing. I can remember roughly what it was about, but not what I called it about three years ago or so. Or I may be remembering something else. Or I did write it, but it got lost when the last computer died. Or it’s somewhere I haven’t thought of looking yet.

So, when it comes down to it, today is National Oh Bugger Day and also National Sort the Darn Computer Out Day. And because that isn’t particularly interested to read about, here’s something that I wrote and forgot.

Stray Dog

I nearly fell off the chair at the unexpected knocking which thundered down the hall. I stood cautiously and edged towards the side window. At least the rain had stopped for now, but it was still cold and windy. The tiny cottage was miles from any streetlight and there was no light over the door, but the moon was bright enough to give me a glimpse of the visitor.

He was tall, and looked well built, and was wearing a leather jacket and a worried expression. He banged on the door again. I crept down the hall, checked the chain and cracked the door slowly open. “Hello?”

“Hi, I’m Carl Armstrong.” He glanced over my shoulder. “Can I come in?”

“No,” I said flatly.

Carl hesitated. “I’m looking for a stray.” He looked over his shoulder at the sound of barking in the overgrown bushes surrounding the garden. “I’m looking for a stray dog. I’ve got some dogs with me, looking for this stray dog. I wonder if he had managed to get into your cottage.” He craned to peer past me again.

“There are no dogs here,” I said. “It’s just a holiday cottage. I got here yesterday and there has been no sign of a dog anywhere. Perhaps you could check with the owner.”

“The dog hasn’t got an owner.” Carl checked again over his shoulder. In the silver light I could see dogs trotting across the weed covered lawn. “It’s a stray.”

“I meant you could ask the owner of the cottage.” I could see Carl better in the light of the hall. He was good-looking enough, with short, brown hair and a friendly, open expression, but he was built like a barn and I wasn’t letting a stranger in, not even for a stray dog. “Anyway, there are no dogs in here.”

“And you don’t have a dog yourself, miss?” Carl persisted.

“No, I don’t have a dog,” I said. “Goodnight.”

I started to close the door but Carl held it open. I may as well have tried to push over a car as push past his hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name?” Carl looked at me expectantly.

“Because I didn’t give it to you. Excuse me?” I pushed ineffectively at the door.

“This stray dog, miss, is quite dangerous,” Carl looked around at the pack of dogs now lining up behind him. One of them yipped. “You shouldn’t approach any dog tonight, not even one of mine, just in case. The stray dog is not safe, miss.” There was another bark from the dogs behind him. They were snuffling at each other and restless. “In fact, the dog is sick, very sick. And that makes him unpredictable. You shouldn’t approach him at all.”

“Are you the police?” I asked.

“Not exactly.” Carl leaned back and tried to get a glimpse down the side of the cottage. “You should check all your doors and windows, miss, and make sure that they are all locked. I can come in and help if you like.”

“Dogs can’t open doors and windows,” I pointed out. “But don’t worry, I will definitely be checking everything.”

“And don’t come out if you hear some strange noises from the dogs here,” Carl said, waving a hand at his massive dogs who were now separating into two groups and heading down the sides of the cottage. “They are very well trained, but they don’t really spend much time around people.” There were a few deep woofs from the back garden. “Hopefully there won’t be any problems, but if there is…” He pushed a small card towards me, which I took reluctantly over the door chain. Carl smiled reassuringly at me. “You may like to put the number in your phone if you’re here for the next few days, in case of trouble with the stray.”

“Thanks,” I said, and closed the door firmly. I took a breath and checked the chain, turned the lock and slid the two bolts across the door. I took a step back and pulled the curtain across the door. I listened carefully. I could hear the sounds of barks and howls around the house. The dogs had reminded me a little of huskies as they had milled around behind Carl, which would explain all the noise, but perhaps with some Alsatian mixed in. They were nothing like my sister’s bad tempered shih tzu, at any rate, and far too purposeful to allow in.

I spent some time methodically working around the tiny cottage checking all the doors and windows. Half the windows on this old place were rusted shut anyway, but I checked and placed inconvenient vases and ornaments behind the bigger windows before pulling over the heavy curtains. I had come here to get away from my problems and have some peace and quiet, not to get entangled in a lost dog saga. Finally I checked the back door. It was still locked and bolted and I sighed with relief. Then I went back into the large kitchen and settled back onto my laptop.

The cottage was tiny, remote and cheap and exactly what I needed. I had been desperate to escape so I had thrown my case in a car and driven into North Wales, carrying on until I was tired. Now I was somewhere I couldn’t pronounce, just past Llandegla, and surrounded by dogs.

It wasn’t too bad, I thought, as I settled down in the most comfortable chair in the house next to the small open fire and opened my laptop. The wi-fi was surprisingly good and the house was finally warming up despite the autumn chill. I had bought an insane amount of firewood with my groceries and this morning I had lit a fire not only in the kitchen hearth but in the grate in the small parlour at the front of the house and in the lavender scented dormer, which had helped. The house was clean, although unlived in, and it was enough for me. I checked the card that Carl had pressed on me and start searching the internet.

I tried to ignore the insistent barking and howling that was echoing around the outside of the house and garden. Carl had claimed that his dogs were well trained but they certainly weren’t quiet. I took a mouthful from my mug of coffee and frowned. According to what I could find, Carl was a chef at a pub just outside Chester. There was nothing about the half dozen dogs that had been prowling behind him earlier. I checked deeper. Carl was definitely not a fan of social media, but I tracked him through a few qualifications and college message boards. He was perhaps the only dog-owner I had met who hadn’t filled their pages with pictures of their pet. He was apparently single, seemed to be close to his family, and had nothing to give a reason why he should bang on my door late at night and talk about stray dogs. I took another mouthful of coffee.

At least chasing down the digital footprint of Carl Armstrong gave me something to think about and I wasn’t sitting and brooding about my ex-boyfriend getting engaged to my sister. They had been pretty decent about it. He had broken up with me when he met my sister and had avoided my family for months until my sister got transferred to his office and the rest was inevitable. I had given them sincere good wishes, kept meticulously sober throughout their engagement dinner, handed in my notice at work and fled. They would be very happy. I needed space.

The noise from the dogs was getting louder. I wondered if I dared to risk peaking through a curtain. I put another log on the fire instead and settled back down. There was something chilling about the howls echoing around the nearby fields. I wondered if they were really looking for a stray dog, or whether there was something more sinister. Carl had looked like one of the good guys, but then apparently so did most serial killers.

I set the old-fashioned coffee percolator on the plate over the fire and rinsed out my mug. I peaked through a chink in the thin kitchen curtains. Carl was clear in the moonlight, crouched and talking urgently to one of the huge dogs. I stared for a moment, transfixed. Seeing Carl, who was tall and extremely well-built, crouching next to one of the dogs and looking up, demonstrated their massive size, and it wasn’t just height, like a Great Dane. These looked muscled and hardened, and their immaculate coats gleamed in the moonlight. If the stray was anything like these, I would have no chance. I shivered and went back to pour my coffee.

I had a little more luck tracing Carl’s family. They had apparently owned the Red Lion for generations. There was an online form for bookings and a sample menu, which looked pretty appetising. There was even a picture of the family winning the village tug of war competition. I could see the family resemblance. They were all tall, strong and reasonably good-looking, although most did not look as easy-going as Carl. There was nothing about dogs.

There was an eerie howl echoing along the valley. I checked the clock. It was quarter past midnight and far too late to be looking for a stray. I stared at the fire and wished I had less imagination. Carl had said he was sick. Perhaps he was carrying a new plague developed in a top secret facility. I shivered, then stood and took the last mouthful of coffee in the mug. I didn’t feel sleepy but I did feel cold. I could get a jacket from the bedroom.

The hall still felt damp and I shivered as passed the unheated bathroom. I quickly looked in. I had remembered to check the window, which had rusted shut, but there were no curtains to pull. I paused for a moment in the chill. The room was eerily bright as the full moon shone unhindered and reflected brightly around the polished white tiles. There was no need for a light. Every detail was starkly illuminated in the glare.

For a second the window went dark as a shadow moved across and then it smashed. I screamed in shock and then screamed again. A older, naked man, scrawny and underweight with a crazed look in his eye was climbing in heedless of the risk of broken glass. I backed out of the bathroom and slammed the door shut and raced towards the kitchen. I could hear the scrabble for the bathroom handle and then a desperate, hoarse voice. “No, no, nooooohhh…”

I skidded into the kitchen and grabbed for the poker. “Get away from me!” I whirled around ready to swing. The man was on all fours, lurching and ungainly, his eyes rolling and froth dripping from his slack mouth. Then he flowed. Suddenly instead of the skinny junkie there was a large, drooling hound, its ribs showing through its matted, grey streaked fur and its eyes were rolling. Instinctively I swore and swung as hard as I could at whatever it was.

It wasn’t enough. The hound yelped as the poker caught it, but I didn’t have the strength and the dog barely slowed, leaping at me and snapping, its claws scratching deep as I scrabbled to keep away. There was a blur of teeth, claws and stink as I was nearly overwhelmed, then I fell backwards over the chair by the fire. I grabbed the percolator and hurled it at the dog. The scalding coffee splashed into its face and it screamed and fell back. I took the chance to race out of the kitchen. The front and back doors were locked and the windows were fastened. The quickest way out was through the broken bathroom window.

I dived into the bathroom, locked the bathroom door and wriggled quickly through the window frame, falling awkwardly onto the flower bed outside, rolling out of the mud and on to my feet. Which way now? My phone was on the kitchen table, next to my car keys. I had to head for help. I could hear the creature crashing against the bathroom door and howling. I couldn’t stay here. But where was the nearest help?

“Kelly, over here!” I looked around and saw Carl beckoning me over towards the lavender hedge. “It’s okay, we’re here to help.”

I could hear the door splintering behind me and I swore and ran over to where Carl and his dogs were crouched. In the cold, pale light I looked at the dogs and then over my shoulder. “They’re like him, aren’t they?”

“It’s complicated.” Carl said awkwardly. “But they’re not going to attack you.”

I could hear a crash and another howl inside the cottage. “Werewolves.” I managed. “It’s all werewolves.”

“It’s not exactly what you think.” Carl said. “Yes, but we won’t hurt you. Hang on, you’re bleeding.”

“Are you a vampire?” I asked, my head starting to swim.

Carl looked offended. “Of course not. I’m a werewolf, just the same as the rest of us, but I’ve got clothes with me. It’s not the done thing to walk around naked in front of strangers unless you’re in fur.”

An icy wave ran through me. “I don’t feel very well.”

Carl grabbed my arm. “How did you get this wound?”

I looked down at the jagged tear on my arm. “I’m not sure,” I mumbled.

“Did Roy bite you?”

“Roy?” I stared at Carl. How could a werewolf be called ‘Roy’?

The biggest of the werewolves barked urgently at Carl, who nodded. “Roy is sick. He’s got white jaw. It’s really bad and can send a werewolf crazy. He didn’t have a pack, but he kept himself to himself and didn’t cause any trouble. But now he’s not in his right mind. He may have bitten you.”

“It could have been the glass in the window,” I said.

The main werewolf barked again. Carl nodded. “You’re right, dad.” He turned to me. “We’ve got some first aid stuff in the van in the lane. We’re only supposed to track Roy down, poor lad. There’s a doctor on his way, and some more official back up, but we came prepared. We need to get you cleaned up.”

“I’m sure it’s just the glass in the window.” I said, feeling queasy as I watched my blood drip slowly from my arm.

“Come on, let me give you a hand,” Carl said. “White jaw is pretty bad.” He looked around at the jumpy werewolves who were watching the bathroom window with care. “But it’s easy to treat if it’s caught early enough and we’ve got a great doctor.

I could hear another crash in the cottage. Dimly I wondered how much I would be charged for all the damage. There was a lull in the banging and then a thumping against the front door. The leader of the werewolves barked urgently at Carl, who nodded.

“Roy is hallucinating. He seemed to get fixed on this cottage for some reason. He’s a good man, really, normally wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Carl looked down at my arm. “I’m sure it’s just the glass, really.”

“And if it isn’t?” The world seemed to be fading in and out.

“It’s okay. White jaw can be treated,” Carl said awkwardly. He looked around as the leader woofed urgently. The front door of the cottage bulged and burst outwards. A slavering werewolf staggered out.

It was an awful sight. Foam dripped from his mouth and ran into the matted fur around his neck and chest. His hands and arms were flowing from human to wolf and back, leaking blood from hand or paw and flinching any time he tried to use them. The back paws stayed wolf like but were also bleeding from the glass in the bathroom and he was swaying as he advanced towards me.

Carl pushed me behind him as the werewolves formed an arc, baying at Roy to keep him back. Roy slumped down and started to crawl forward. I was glad to lean on Carl as he helped me back away from the snarls and the snapping. “How did you know my name?”

“I called in a favour and looked up your details from your car.” Carl wasn’t paying full attention. His eyes were fixed on Roy who was struggling forward, snapping at the encircling werewolves.

“Is that legal?” I asked.

Carl forced his horrified gaze away from Roy. “I really need to get that arm cleaned up. Lean on me.”

There were horrified yelps from the werewolves as, in a sudden surge of unexpected energy, Roy leapt over the nearest werewolf and then bounded towards me. Carl pushed me behind him as the drooling beast gathered to spring and then there was a loud explosion. I flinched and stumbled but Carl caught me. I stared first at the stranger who stood next to us, impassive, slowly lowering a large handgun, then at Roy, slowly flowing back to the shape of a skinny, naked old man with black veins spreading over his pale skin.

“I’m sorry, Carl,” the newcomer said. “I know you had a soft spot for Roy. But he was too far gone. I had to take him out.”

“It’s okay, Mike.” Carl said quietly. “If we could have just caught it a few hours earlier…” He trailed off, staring sadly at the pitiful remains. He looked up slowly at the barks from the leader. “Okay, dad, I’ll get Kelly out of here.” He managed a smile at me. “Come down to the van and I’ll get you cleaned up. This is Mike Doyle, and he’s a pretty good medic. He can have a look at it.”

“There’s a doctor on the way,” Mike said soothingly. “He’ll get any infection sorted out.”

“How about the werewolf thing?” I asked, still unable to look away from Roy as a chill ran through me followed by a wave of fever. I felt Carl exchange a look with Mike.

“It may not have been a bite,” Carl said, “And, if it was, it’s not so bad being a werewolf.”

I felt darkness slide over me. My last thought as I passed out was, ‘and the first thing I do as a werewolf is to faint. What a great start.’

Do Werewolves Eat Dog Biscuits?

I need to consider the sites I subscribe to. I mean, I quite like knowing that today is (probably) an anniversary of the first Bible printed at Gutenberg in 1455 and that it’s also the anniversary of the siege of the Alamo. I just worry that I am too easily distracted. I also worry about my priorities as my attention has been mainly caught by the idea of National Dog Biscuit Day.

I don’t have a dog but I’ve occasionally bought hand baked, artisan treats or supermarket snacks for my brother’s dogs. I’m always bewildered by the choice. And then I start wondering – do werewolves eat dog treats.

I suppose it depends on the werewolf type. If it was a werewolf from something like An American Werewolf in London then I don’t suppose that they have much opportunity. They would be too busy ravening and rending to bother much with the supermarket own brand meaty snacks or hide chews. On the other hand, the werewolves from my world that you find in The White Hart are quite happy to snack on the good stuff, even in human form.

As an aside, I did have a quick internet search about whether humans could eat dog biscuits. On the whole, I don’t personally recommend it. Most of the sources said something along the lines of, ‘if you must then it probably won’t kill you’. There were far more articles about why dog biscuits are bad for dogs.

But going back to werewolves, would their shopping basket have washing up liquid, a bag of potatoes, some sausages and a family pack of kibble? Would they make the choice to have value brand soap so that they can get top of the range meaty bites? Or would it be something that they could knock up in their own kitchen between full moons?

I found a recipe for homemade dog biscuits here. I’m not sure about icing them, but they look inoffensive and would be okay for non-werewolves. But what about allergies? I know of at least one Alsatian that has a gluten intolerance. Would the werewolves have the same issue with chocolate that dogs have? That really would be a curse – every full moon, you grow hair, turn into a beast and can’t eat chocolate! And if the chocolate issue applied all of the time, regardless of the moon, then that would explain a lot about werewolves raging and ravening. People denied chocolate may not necessarily be reasonable.

Asking questions like, ‘do werewolves eat dog biscuits?’ can get some really interesting answers, and some of those answers turn up in my books, like Tales from the White Hart. So I suppose that I shall carry on with my subscriptions to those sites and see what else comes up.

I’d love to hear what you think about werewolves and dog biscuits, so feel free to leave a comment.

After the Dark Storm

“It’s getting quieter now,” Brother Aran said. “And it should be dawn soon.”

Father Dorian nodded. “Yes, it’s quiet.” He sighed and pushed himself up from the wooden settle. His old bones creaked. “They said that it would likely finish before dawn.” He pinched out the single candle. Faint light shone through the shutters. “The wind has stopped.”

“What happened last night?” Brother Aran asked. “It sounded like demons racing around the village.”

Father Dorian picked up the jug of water. “Would you like a drink, my son?”

“I will share some with you,” Brother Aran said. “And we should be able to go out and get more soon.”

Father Dorian rubbed a weary hand over his face. “It will soon be time for the morning worship.” He watched Brother Aran pour the last of the water into two cups and drank gratefully as he listened carefully at the shutters. He took a deep breath and then opened them. Dawn sunlight streamed in.

Brother Aran sighed in relief. “Thank goodness. It sounded like the devils of the infernal pit were in the village this morning.” He looked past the old priest. “And I think that they may have been. There is quite a mess left behind.”

Father Dorian unbolted the door and removed the wooden bar. The courtyard was untouched, and the cottages and pens of the village that the priest and his apprentice had blessed were also safe. Beyond that was chaos. Branches and leaves were tumbled all around and scorch marks ran along the track to the forest. “Thank the Holy One Most High that the forest dwellers warned us.” He winced at the pain in his bones, then carried on. “

Brother Aran swallowed. “What are they like?”

“The forest dwellers?” Father Dorian limped across the courtyard and towards the chapel. He sighed. “I was younger than you when I first saw them. The old priest here was the first man that they met.” He looked sadly past the untouched bounds of the village to the battered meadow. “I forgot to bless the pasture. I blessed the fields, but I forgot the pasture.” He turned to Brother Aran. “They came at the same time as the goblins, but from the forest, not the mountains. When I first saw them, I thought that they were angels.” He shook his head. “They are not. Nor are they goblins or men. But there is such a light in them.” He limped up to the chapel door and rested for a moment. “I am failing, and I shall have to take you to meet them soon to pass on the duty. But you must never tell the lords about them. You must never tell the kings or the soldiers or the merchants. I fear that our good friends would be hunted like goblins, and they do not deserve that.”

“Why should they hunt them?” Brother Aran asked.

Father Dorian looked sad. “Great men fear what they cannot control. These strangers in the woods, they have such knowledge of the stars and the forest. They have a grace in them that shames us mere men. It would shame the lords and they would not tolerate it. And they are kindly to us, in this village. They warned us about this devil’s storm, and they share knowledge of healing. We cannot betray them.”

“They’re not demons, are they?” Brother Aran asked. “Because back in the city they said that it was dangerous to study the stars too much.”

“If they are demons, they are strange ones,” Father Dorian said, opening the chapel door and walking towards the high table. He bowed creakily. “They send for me to baptise their children, and they pay their tithe more readily than many villagers.” The old priest waited until Brother Aran had bowed respectfully. “And after the worship here on a Sabbath, I go to the forest and preach again to them. They listen better than all the villagers combined.” Father Dorian sank onto the bench in the corner. “They do not know who they are either. They study the stars to find out.” He stretched his bad leg out in front of him. “I fear that I will not live to see their answer. Say the prayers, my son, and read the passage of the day. Then, after we have eaten, I will take you into the forest with a gift. You can meet them and we can thank them for the warning.” Father Dorian ran a weary hand over his face. “Because without that warning, I suspect that we would all be in pieces. We owe them our lives, and perhaps our souls. We should take a good gift.”

Brother Aran’s hand trembled as he lit the candles on the high table. After the terror of the storm in the night, now he was going to meet the strangers in the forest. He opened the prayer book and found the right passage. It didn’t matter whether he was scared or whether he was eager. He had a duty. He couldn’t guess what waited in the forest. He had to go, regardless. He was called to bring the faith to whoever needed it. Yesterday he had said the last prayers over an old man in a dark hut and blessed a plough. Today he would go into the wild wood and pray with strange creatures that were not ruled by the king. The dark storm had passed and now they continued, just as they should. He took a breath and started to pray.

I’ve Improved

The Forgotten Village by [Lyssa Medana]

I got my first one star review today, or rather, I noticed it today. Someone had given an awesome rating to King’s Silver and had felt very disappointed after reading The Forgotten Village. To be honest, I’m not sure that I blame them. King’s Silver was written and published with Three Furies Press who absolutely rock, are really patient with me and great at sorting out erratic punctuation. They also are able to divide text into chapters, which is utterly beyond me. The Forgotten Village is a very different kettle of fish.

In fact, the story of The Forgotten Village is a perfect example of my life and how I seem to fall into things. I sort of self-published it by accident. I was not in a particularly brilliant place, my son was tiny, I felt very isolated and my family was having a hard time. My uncle was starting to fade and my elderly father was coming to live with us. I had always wanted to write, so started with an urban fantasy story that didn’t really come from anywhere. I was playing around while the story I really wanted to write (ironically enough, King’s Silver) simmered away on the back burner. I posted the story on a writing website, which I’ve long since forgotten, and got some good feedback.

I also got someone who wanted to buy the rights to the book. For a moment I was dazzled. I imagined getting enough money for a new kitchen. Then I took stock, and realised that I would be lucky to get enough for a new toaster. I wasn’t sure about the person who asked, either. I couldn’t find any trace of them, and they would have bought all the rights. I already had a sequel in mind, which I wouldn’t have been able to write if I sold the first, and so I decided against it.

I had just started hearing about self publishing so I thought that I would have a go. I went on Amazon and Smashwords, uploaded the file and away I went. That was back in 2012.

I don’t feel qualified to advise people who would like to write. All I can suggest is do what I do – observe, daydream and write. Write lots. And keep nibbling away, even if it’s just a word or a line, and keep going. My personal life was absolute chaos for a few years after that, but I picked myself up around 2017 or 2018 and now I have three books with the Three Furies Press, a few more planned and some great ideas for my own stuff.

The one star review complained about poor editing (guilty as charged) and one dimensional characters (probably). Of course my instinctive reaction was to deny it. But really, it means I’ve got better. I’m a better writer now than I was ten or twelve years ago and I am getting better with every book. And that is awesome. If I wasn’t getting better, I would be doing it wrong.

I’m getting better thanks to the feedback and encouragement of Rebekah and Isa at the Three Furies, as well as loads of others, like Julia, along the way. I am still writing because of support and kindness from people on this blog and my mum blog, and people around me, and I’m very grateful. And I am sort of grateful for that one star review. It’s a reminder that I’m getting better. And that is not a bad thing.

Dreaming

As I sleep, my faerie lover

Curls against my back and sighs

Deep in slumber, resting with me

Dreaming of pearlescent skies

Matching me in dreaming’s dances

Stepping through my idling mind

Petals fall in springtime meadows

Winter’s cares are tossed behind

When I wake, I don’t remember

In the dirty light of day

My days are creeping through my autumn

But in my sleep, I dream of May.

The Thing in the Night

Toran looked anxiously at the hillside. “Perhaps we should wait for Lord Deveric’s instructions. This is something new.” There was a murmur of agreement in the group of villagers surrounding them.

Sir Selwyn shook his head. “We can’t risk waiting. So far only cattle have been taken. It could be a child next.”

Toran closed his eyes against the thought. “Goblins come in numbers. We all know that. What if we are overrun?”

“There are only traces on one set of tracks,” Sir Selwyn said. “And it is unheard of for goblins to come down from the mountains before the snows. It may be just one.”

“Lord Deveric should be leading us instead of dancing in Aldberg,” one of the men muttered.

“None of that talk!” Sir Selwyn snapped. “I know you, Berun. You’re brave enough after a drink. I’m sure if you have a beer or two, you can keep up.”

There were a few quiet chuckles around the group but they fell quiet. Berun clenched his fist. “Pardon, Sir Selwyn, but it is the Lord who should protect his lands.”

“I don’t know what he is doing or why,” Sir Selwyn said, “But the tracks are now and we are here now and I can’t risk a real person being taken. It’s bad enough losing the cattle. Istan lost his best bull two nights ago, and Agatha lost half her flock of goats. I don’t know how she will manage. We cannot lose more this close to winter. So my squire, Toran, will go with me to the cave. The rest of you, stay close to the village, with plenty of light, and keep watch. Protect our own.”

Orvin nodded. “We’ve brought all the beasts to the Infield, and we’ve got the dogs as well.” He hesitated. “If there are a lot of goblins, you won’t be able to drive them back.”

“If there are more than three goblins I shall come back here and make better plans,” Sir Selwyn said. “But we need to know. If there is a troop of the goblins already down from the mountains, then we can send word to the king’s court and Lord Deveric will return. He is a good lord.”

“It may be that there is no trace tonight at all,” Toran added. “We blocked the entrance to the cave this morning. It may still hold, and we will be spared more raids.”

“Or we will find out how well they move stone,” Berun muttered. “My grandfather said there were no goblins when he was young, that they came out of nowhere. That it took years to learn how to protect ourselves. What if it is something else new?”

“Enough,” Sir Selwyn said. “It could just be bandits, and they have been around since the time of the ancients. We will deal with whatever we find. Take your posts and pray for a quiet night.”

Sir Selwyn and Toran trotted towards the waterfall in the woods. The moon was bright and the damp path gleamed. Toran found himself peering into the dark shadows. “It took ten men to get the boulder in position to block the cave,” he said. “Do you think that the goblins could have moved it.”

“I don’t know,” Sir Selwyn said, also scanning his surroundings. “Whenever I’ve faced goblins, I’ve always been aware of their numbers and speed, but not their strength. They’re scrawny little things.”

“Do they really carry poisoned knives?” Toran asked.

Sir Selwyn nodded. “Some of them, not all. It’s always the numbers, not the poison on their stone knives. Now, quiet, and keep alert. We’ll leave the horses by the boundary stone.”

The path was tricky in the dark, and it took longer than expected to reach the clearing. The moon was dipping behind clouds and it was getting harder to see the way.

“I don’t want to light the lantern,” Sir Selwyn muttered. “I don’t want to alert anyone, especially if it’s bandits that are raiding.” He stumbled over a tree root and bit back a curse. “But I don’t want to break my neck in the dark either.”

Toran stifled a yawn. “Won’t it be dawn soon?”

Sir Selwyn paused for a moment and thought about their travel. “We’ve got an hour or two yet, lad. And I don’t want to miss them.” He strained to see through the gloom. “This way, I think.”

Toran followed him. There was barely a gleam from the moon and only his familiarity with the path was keeping him steady. “I can hear water.” He murmured.

“I can hear something else as well,” Sir Selwyn whispered. “Light the lantern, but keep it hooded.”

They crept closer to the waterfall, the trickle slowly growing into the roar of a stream swollen by autumn rain. Sir Selwyn moved a little quicker, trusting that the sound of the water would hide their approach. Whoever was there was not trying to be quiet. They could hear the thrashing of branches even over the sound of the falls. “Get the lantern ready,” Sir Selwyn hissed.

Toran held the lantern out in his left hand away from him, his short sword in his right hand. Sir Selwyn had his sword out as well as they crept closer. The moon shone briefly over the clearing. Toran looked at Sir Selwyn. “The boulder has gone,” he breathed.

Sir Selwyn nodded and pointed near the pool. “Look.”

The carcass of a large cow had been dumped at the water’s edge, its broken neck at a grotesque angle. In the brief moonlight, the blood seeping into the water made a dark patch. Sir Selwyn touched Toran’s arm and pointed to the other side of the clearing. Broken ferns and branches made a gap in the woodland. Something had dragged the cow through there. Sir Selwyn eased towards the gap and pointed at some of the destruction. “They went that way,” he mouthed, pointing down the new track. “Follow me and keep the lantern ready.”

It was surprisingly easy to follow the tracks, even in the deep darkness between the trees. Enough moonlight was getting through to give a shape to the darkness, and whoever had gone this way had left a clear path. The going was still slow, though, and painstaking as the men picked their way through the woods in pursuit of the cattle thief.

“It will be dawn soon,” Toran said quietly. “It’s getting lighter. Whoever it is may be coming back this way soon to hide in the caves.”

Sir Selwyn nodded. “Well thought. Keep alert. We’ll hear them before we see them.”

“They’ve headed towards the Far Lea Farmstead,” Toran said. “But there’s no-one there. They’re staying in the village.”

“Then whoever it is will be back soon.” Sir Selwyn said. “We’ll wait here. They are likely to be coming back for the cow no matter what. Get the lantern ready. As soon as they approach, shine a beam right at them and I’ll attack.” He caught Toran’s doubtful look. “Or we’ll know to get back to the village as quickly as possibly to raise the alarm.”

“I can hear something,” Toran whispered.

Sir Selwyn strained his ears, then nodded. “I hear it too,” he said. He worked his sword shoulder and took position behind a sturdy oak. “Get ready, lad.”

As the figure burst through a stand of birch, Toran raised the lantern and shone a beam straight into its eyes. It let out a pained screech and lurched towards Toran, who backed away.

“What in the Name of the Most Holy One is that?!”

Sir Selwyn swore loud, long and hard. “Run, lad, run for your life. Get to the village and warn them. Run!” He raced forward, his sword swinging.

“I’ll not leave my lord,” Toran shouted, but he felt sick. It wasn’t a goblin that they faced, nor was it a man, It was something else like he had never seen. Whatever it was stood a head and a half taller than Sir Selwyn, who was a tall man. But it wasn’t cleanly built and athletic, like the knight. Instead it was a lumpy figure, like handfuls of river clay squashed together by a child. Dull, small eyes gleamed in the light of the lantern and a half formed face snarled as it swung a thick fist towards Sir Selwyn.

Sir Selwyn jumped back and swung. The creature didn’t try to move out of the way and the sword sliced into its arm. But it didn’t get far. “It’s got a hide like boiled leather,” Sir Selwyn yelled. “Keep the light in its eyes.” He swung again.

The creature yowled. Slime trickled from the cut, but the thing still swung again at Sir Selwyn, flinching at the light. Sir Selwyn dodged back but slipped and lost his footing.

“Over here!” Toran yelled, desperately dancing back to distract the thing as it loomed over Sir Selwyn. It turned and lumbered towards him, before suddenly screaming in pain. Sir Selwyn rolled to his feet and took his chance. He sliced the sword across the back of its legs. This time he had got the aim and the power he needed. The thing toppled forward, hamstrung and howling.

“What is it? What is it?!” Toran cried.

“Stay clear of it,” Sir Selwyn said. “It’s not finished yet.”

Toran stumbled further back, directing the lantern at it. “This is no goblin.”

Sir Selwyn stepped away from the swinging arms. “It’s not even a big goblin,” he yelled over the cries of the creature. “It’s a different shape. I don’t know what it is.”

Torun stared at the thing, lumpen and huge, flailing around at them as it howled in pain and frustration. “What do we do?”

Sir Selwyn stared at it. “I’ll stay here,” he said. “You get the men up here with nets. If we can pin its arms, we can finish it off and take the carcass to Lord Deveric. He’ll know what to do.” He glanced at the tops of the nearby mountains, already gleaming gold. “But wait until the sun’s up. There’s no point in taking risks.” He stepped back quickly as the creature managed to lurch closer to him.

“I’m not leaving you,” Toran said. “I mean, I’m not leaving you, sire. They’ll hear the noise down in the village. They’ll come and see.” He skirted quickly away from the creature that had dragged itself to its feet and was hobbling painfully back towards the waterfall and its cave.

“Use the lantern in its eyes again,” Sir Selwyn dodged as the thing flailed madly, trying to get past and to its lair. “We can’t risk it getting underground. We’ll never be able to track it there.”

“The sun is almost up,” Toran said, twisting the horn panel on the lantern to direct a beam. “The light won’t work much longer.”

The creature flung up a thick arm to shield its face from the lantern but then slowed to a halt. Sunlight flooded down the slopes as the sun rose, the rays shining straight into the thing’s face. Sir Selwyn braced, ready to swing again and then stopped. He looked closer, and then leaned forward.

“Watch out!” Toran cried.

“It’s not moving,” Sir Selwyn said. He slowly reached forward with his sword and tapped the shape. It rang like iron on rock. The creature still didn’t move. Sir Selwyn moved closer still and rapped his mailed fist onto the creature’s arm. “It’s rock. It’s solid rock.”

Toran looked at the sunlight shining into the clearing and then back at the shape. “It was trying to get back to the cave before dawn. It couldn’t stand sunlight.” He touched the slashed leg. It was dry like a stone split for building.

Sir Selwyn stared for a few moments more, then turned to Toran. “Get back to the village. Bring back the priest to see what it is and to pray over it, and all the men of the village you can quickly find. Tell them to bring hammers. We’ll smash this thing to rubble before nightfall. And we use the rubble to block the damned cave.” He sank onto a fallen tree, his face set. “Go! And then we will send word to Lord Deveric, and he will know what to do.”

A little insight into the world of King’s Silver, out tomorrow.

I Still Remember

Photo by Mahfuzur Rahman on Unsplash

The plague came with a pedlar from over the mountains. First I buried my mother, then my wife. I buried my eldest son, then my father, then my youngest son. I buried my neighbours as their bodies lay in the street and even the crows stayed clear. I huddled at home with my daughter and we prayed and tried to keep our minds in the firelight.

As the cold nights crept in, the deaths stopped. I dug our vegetable patch, rethatched the roof and joined the rest of the village who survived in prayers at the church. Together we dragged together plans for the autumn ploughing and sowing. We organised the care of the orphans and the old. But the gaping loss continued. The new priest did his best and blessed our houses.

Then the dead moon came, the turn of the old year, the time the old priest warned us about and the new priest feared. The graves in the churchyard moved and shifted, like the blankets on a bed. We heard murmurs in the night and taps at the window. Dogs had to be chained up as they barked at shadows and cats went missing. Nanna Marie was found dead, savaged by something wild.

The new priest took charge and we scoured the village and he blessed our homes and fields. He blessed the small patches of herbs and roots we kept near our doors and the leaves stopped turning black. He held prayers just before sunset every evening. It wasn’t quite enough.

The graves were more disturbed. We took hunting dogs into the woods but found no wild beasts. Adela was found dead next to her gate, and her husband went mad with grief and hung himself. Rumours started about the dead returning.

I saw my wife, my darling wife, bloated and bloody, at the gate, right at the edge where the priest’s blessing ended, calling to me, calling that she was cold, that she was hungry, how could I turn my back on her love? I hid my daughter under the blankets and prayed by the fire. Nobody slept.

The priest called us together and persuaded us, ordered us and put us under a ban unless we dug up our recent dead. I sobbed as I obeyed. They were foul coloured and writhed in the sunlight. We burned them, all of them, and kept the fire going all that day and through the night and all the next day. We then knew peace and the village is safe now. The spring has come and the fields flourish. Too many of us still suffer and struggle with sleep, but it fades for the younger ones.

I will never forget the screams of those burned.

This was originally published on 24 September 2019, before I had heard of Covid. It was an echo of how people in the medieval mindset would see vampires, very differently from the Bram Stoker story, Dracula. I hesitated before reposting it. I’m revisiting my medieval stories as I get ready for King’s Silver to be released on 8th February, and perhaps now, after getting used to the troubles that have come with Covid, this is worth another look. I hope that everyone stays well and safe.