Pictures from an Unknown Past

brown paper and black pen
Image from Unsplash taken by Joanna Kosinska

“She isn’t here now,” Kane said. “She was too embarrassed.” He looked at the lady sitting opposite him. It was almost a stereotype. She sat upright, as a plumb line, ankles crossed, hands folded on her lap and not a white hair out of place.

“My mother?” Mrs Kirkdale said. “That is a surprise. She was usually quite direct.”

“I didn’t manage to contact your late mother,” Kane said. “But I managed to get in touch with someone called Ellen. She seemed very fond of you?”

“My sister? She was always good to me, despite the age difference. I miss her a great deal, you know.” Mrs Kirkdale sighed.

Kane wished he knew the right way to approach things. “You got in touch with me about a strange bequest, didn’t you?”

Mrs Kirkdale nodded. “You were recommended by Tim McGuigan. He was the solicitor for my late husband, you know. He’s very practical and not usually one for such mumbo jumbo, so I took him seriously when he suggested that I speak to someone who speaks to ghosts.” She looked doubtfully at the scruffy figure hunched on her chair, then turned her attention to the small bundle of photos and slides. “Apparently there is a lot more of these photos and some letters, if I choose to accept the bequest, along with some money. But my parents and sister left me everything anyway and I invested in a good pension so I’m comfortable. I can indulge my scruples. These look like other people’s memories. I’m not sure that it is right that I have them. It should go to family.”

Kane shifted a little as he perched on the edge of the chintz armchair. He felt desperately out of place and had no idea how to approach the news. “You were fond of Ellen, weren’t you?” he said.

“I adored her,” Mrs Kirkdale’s face lit up with the memory. “She was such fun, you know, although she was nearly twenty years older than me. In fact, I was something of a miracle baby. I don’t think my parents really expected me. They were older and set in their ways.” She sighed and looked over at the pewter framed picture sitting on the windowsill. “Really it was Ellen who brought me up and taught me about life. She was very encouraging and supportive. I always think that she should have had children herself, but she never married. Her sweetheart died in the war, you know. It was right at the end, in Berlin. Ellen never talked about it, well you didn’t, but mother said that it was dreadful luck. They had even planned their wedding. I suppose I gave her something to think about. All I ever knew was that she doted on me.”

Kane took a mouthful of excellent tea from his china mug and summoned all his courage. “Did you ever wonder about your mother being a little older than most ladies giving birth?”

Mrs Kirkdale frowned. “I must have been quite a last gasp as a baby. I think it was a shock. I don’t remember her being affectionate to me, or loving, but she did her duty. It was a different generation and she was set in her ways. She always liked things to be just so, which saved me a few times. She had to be seen as a good mother.” She laughed. “Then I scandalised her by going to university. She didn’t see me working in the labs with the first computers, as she passed away before then, but she would have been horrified.” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “And she never met my late husband, either. I’m not sure that she would have approved of me marrying an engineer instead of a doctor or a solicitor.” She took another sip of tea. “Are these evidence of my mother’s indiscretions? If so, I would be very interested.”

Kane swallowed. “These photos and slides are from your father’s family. Not the man you think of as your father, but your real father.”

Mrs Kirkdale stared. “You mean that there really was a scandal? I can’t imagine it! Mother was so proper!”

Kane shook his head. “Ellen said that it was different times, and her mother was very strict.” He hesitated. “She asked you not to blame her. She loves you very much. It’s just that, she is your mother. She thought it wouldn’t matter, as they were supposed to be married the next month, but he got called back to the front line unexpectedly and then he was killed.”

Mrs Kirkdale looked blank. “How dreadful.”

“Ellen said that your mother, that is, her mother, wouldn’t allow her to say anything, so they went into the country and then told everyone that you were a surprise baby.” Kane watched Mrs Kirkdale carefully for signs of shock.

“Well I was, really, wasn’t I?” Mrs Kirkdale shook her head. “Now it makes sense. I always wondered why I was born so far away from the family, and why I wasn’t christened in the local church. My mother, I mean my grandmother, was so obsessed with appearances.” She looked at Tim and smiled. “And Ellen was a wonderful mother! If you can tell her anything, tell her that. Tell her that she still has all my love.” She looked down at the photos. “Thank you. It may seem strange to matter at my age, but it’s a wonderful gift to finally know that you had a mother that loved you.” She shook her head and brought herself back to the present. “And now my late father’s family have found me. That will be fun.” She held out an envelope. “Here is the fee that you agreed,” she said, then hesitated. “And, well, it’s expected that old ladies bake cakes. Well, I can’t bake for toffee, but I can shop at Waitrose like a champ. I hope you enjoy these.” She stood and picked up a large box of assorted luxury biscuits from behind her chair. “Now, I’m sorry to rush you off, but I have a great many phone calls to make.” She smiled at him, looking twenty years younger and full of mischief. “I can’t wait to find out about my family.”

Shiny Stones

brown and white tree branch with brown and white hanging ornament
Image from Unsplash taken by Rock Staar

Sir Dylan knew deep down that he wasn’t made for this sort of work. He’d grown up in the back alleys of Holbeck, among the druggies and sex workers, abandoned any attempt at school around the age of twelve, by which time he was running drugs for the local gangs and hanging around parks drinking. He was not cut out for the more cultured and expensive area of Lawnswood. North Leeds was as alien to him at times as Mars. “So you asked your vicar?”

Mrs Girton nodded. “I don’t normally approve of patriarchal religion,” she said. “I feel that it’s an unnecessarily restrictive practice. But I’ve been desperate. I love my garden. And Kingsley hasn’t been comfortable going into the garden for months.”

Sir Dylan looked down at the Shih Tzu. It barked sharply at him. “And you’ve noticed that the garden is fading?”

“Are you really a knight?” Mrs Girton asked.

Sir Dylan sighed. “I wasn’t always a knight,” he explained, well aware that the neck tattoo and bulky muscles were not normally associated with chivalry. “I was drafted into the Knights Templar due to my experience. Can you show me the garden affected?”

Mrs Girton looked doubtfully at the amateur inkings on Sir Dylan’s ham sized hands. “You had better come this way.” She swallowed nervously and picked up Kingsley, holding the dog like a shield between her and the unfamiliar, dangerous looking visitor.

Sir Dylan followed her around the corner into the back garden. When you watched a gang of drug dealers torn apart by a pack of rogue werewolves, you had limited options. He had not chosen to lose himself in drugs, drink or madness. Instead he had joined the Knights Templar, the underground group that policed the werewolves, vampires and the rest of the non-normal community, to fight back. “I’m registered as a Special Constable, Mrs Girton. They did all the background checks.” To be honest, the Ministry of Justice had sent a strong letter to local station who had grumbled and watched him like a hawk.

“That’s reassuring,” Mrs Girton said. “Although I’ve heard a lot about police brutality.” She patted Kingsley nervously. “You know what they say.”

“They’re a good bunch, on the whole,” Sir Dylan said. He could say this safely as he hadn’t got much of a clue but the ones he had had dealings with had been straight enough – and bright enough not to trust him. A copper that trusted a tattooed, muscled thug that hunted rogue vampires was not fit for duty.

“It’s around here.” Mrs Girton said. She opened a gate into the back garden. It jingled.

Sir Dylan looked at it curiously. Bells and strips of multicoloured ribbon hung with mirrors were tied to the gate. “That’s very decorative.”

“No, I think it’s awful.” Mrs Girton said. “It’s just that I heard you can use mirrors and stones against them.”

“Against who?” Sir Dylan asked, looking around the garden.

“The Fair Folk,” Mrs Girton whispered.

Sir Dylan took stock of the garden. There was definitely an issue. It showed every sign of being cherished but there was a greyness in the air. There was a pond with some sort of fountain that had a film of dust over it. The shadows under the climbing roses seemed to be darker and not moving with the light. A dimness fell over what should have been a glorious display of flowers. “You’ve put up a lot of these things.”

Mrs Girton nodded. “I’ve put them everywhere, but nothing helps.”

Sir Dylan stepped forward. He had got into the Knights Templar by being good in a fight, but he had developed a few instincts over the years. He could feel the elfen presence, but he didn’t want to get anything started in front of Mrs Girton. He looked over to her. She was hugging Kingsley, who was growling at a stand of bamboo. He sighed. That was the problem with things nowadays. People could learn just enough to get into trouble but not enough to get out of it. Bright stones, dream catchers and windchimes hung from every available corner and was enough to drive anyone insane. And Mrs Girton was right – no elfen could get past that lot. “Mrs Girton, you haven’t kept something out of your garden. You’ve trapped it in.” He checked the area and then strode over to the side that bordered onto the trees sheltering the golf club. Most of the shiny gewgaws were firmly wired into place but he managed to unhook the stones, wired with intricate patterns, and create a gap. “Out!” he snapped.

“What?” Mrs Girton asked over Kingsley’s barking.

“I’m talking to the elfen,” Sir Dylan said. “And I said, out!

A breeze rattled around the garden, shaking the blossoms, overturning a planter and ruffling the surface of the pond before shooting past Sir Dylan and then out.

Mrs Girton stared around her garden. Already it seemed brighter and Kingsley’s tail was wagging furiously. She put him down and watched as he raced around, sniffing happily. “So it’s gone?”

“Yes, it’s gone,” Sir Dylan carefully hung the stones back up. But I would be careful if I were you. How long were they trapped here?”

“It’s been over a year,” Mrs Girton said. “I mean, we bought the house for the garden and the view, and of course it’s near the golf course for my husband, but it has never felt right. And Jeff won’t play there anymore. He says he never has any luck. He goes to Alwoodley.”

“Then I suggest you move,” Sir Dylan said. “They won’t have been any happier than you, and they bear grudges for years.”

“But I’ve only just sorted out the kitchen!” Mrs Girton wailed.

“Then it will be a great selling point,” Sir Dylan said. “You have my number, if anything happens.” He turned towards the gate.

“How much do I owe you?” Mrs Girton asked. “I’ve got my purse in the house.”

“Just keep me in your prayers, Mrs Girton,” Sir Dylan said. “And I’ll be very grateful for that.”

Tap Tap Tap

Image by Anne Nygard on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Kept My Word

Tell them I came, and no one answered,

That I kept my word,” he said.

– Walter de la Mare, The Listeners

‘Tell them I kept my word,’ he said

As the storm clouds gathered overhead

With the setting sun tainting them red

‘Tell them I came, as was my right

But the locked Great Hall was shuttered tight

And the echoes mocked in the fading light

He rested his head on the deep grained wood

The sunset glowed on his travel stained hood

‘Tell them I came as I said I would.’

‘Tell them I travelled over the seas

Across the great rivers and under the trees

But I kept my word and I held the keys’

A raven cawed in a twiggy nest

The wind was rising in the west

‘Tell them, say that I did my best.’

‘I saw strange stars and stranger skies.’

But he listened in vain for the listeners sighs

‘I kept my word, all else is lies.’

At the edge of the sky the thunder growled

And the rising wind wept soft then howled

At the dead Great Hall the traveller prowled

‘I kept my oath and now am free

I no longer approach on bended knee.’

He opened his hand and dropped the key

It seemed like no stroke of luck or chance

That the heavens threw down their fiery lance

As he rode away with no backward glance.

He felt the heat hard on his back

The Great Hall flamed from the lightning’s crack

But he still rode on down the weedy track.

I seriously recommend the original, and you can read it here

Originally published July 1st 2014

Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cherry Blossom & Haunted Music

pink petaled flower bloom during daytime
Image from Unsplash taken by Yustinus Subiakto

Cherry Blossom

It was an interesting place to meet, Elaine thought as she sipped her coffee.  It was public, but not too public.  She was sitting outside the café on the decking overlooking the park underneath the rustling trees.  It was early in the year and not many people were braving the brisk spring sunshine, but Elaine was glad of the fresh air.  It was public enough that she could call for help if she felt threatened, but quiet enough for a private conversation.  The email she had received had stressed that the conversation should be private.

The cherry blossom around the café had just started to come out.  It was a little early this year.  Elaine looked at the breaking buds.  Somehow it didn’t reassure her.  There had been cherry blossom when she had met Keith, there had been cherry blossom when he proposed.  She had hoped that there would be cherry blossom when she got married at the end of the month.

She pulled out her phone and tried to distract herself from running through the lists for the wedding.  It wasn’t working very well.  There had been something compelling in that email that meant that she couldn’t refuse to meet, but she really didn’t want to know what it meant.

She heard a car pull up and looked round.  An immaculate BMW had parked next to the café and a slim man got out, holding a large manila envelope.  He glanced around and then came over.  “Hi, I’m Steve Adderson.  Thank you for meeting me.”

“Why did you email me?” Elaine wished she could take the words back.  She had wanted to be so reserved and dignified.  She sounded desperate.  A cherry blossom petal dropped onto the table in front of her.

“I’m here on behalf of a client.” Steve looked around quickly and sat down opposite Elaine.

“Who?  Who are you acting for?”

“My client wishes to remain anonymous, but he knew your grandfather, Herbert Pettigrew.”

For a moment a pang squeezed Elaine’s heart.  She missed her grandfather.  “Did they work together?  Or what?  How did he know my grandfather?”

“My client felt indebted to your grandfather but never had a chance to repay that favour.” Steve smiled faintly.  “You could call it a strange inheritance, a bequest of a favour owed.  When he came into possession of some information he thought it important that he let you know at the earliest possible time.”  He pushed the envelope over to Elaine.  “He considers the debt paid.” Steve hesitated.  “You may not like what you see, but there is no malice on behalf of my client.  It’s well meant.”

Elaine watched Steve stand and walk briskly over to his car, get in and drive away.  When he was finally out of sight she pulled the envelope towards her.  Her fingers trembled as she opened it and pulled out a sheaf of blown up photos.

She had sort of guessed, sort of half known.  Keith was very keen on getting married but not so keen on her.  She slowly worked her way through the photos.  Keith holding hands with a mystery blonde.  Keith kissing the blonde.  A candid shot through a window showing Keith and the blonde in bed.  The picture that hurt the most, though, was perhaps the least compromising.  Keith and the blonde were sitting opposite each other in a café.  They weren’t touching, they weren’t even close, but they were sharing such a look of intense love that Elaine broke.  She carefully slipped the photos back into the envelope with trembling fingers and watched the cherry blossom petals fall, too numb for tears.

person playing piano
Image from Unsplash taken by elCarito

Haunting Music

“Hi.” Elaine smiled awkwardly at Steve.  “The wedding didn’t go ahead.”

Steve stayed professional.  “I’m sorry you had such an upheaval, but perhaps it’s for the best.  Is this the piano?”

Elaine nodded.  “My grandfather always said it was a gift from someone special.  I suppose it’s a wrench to part with it, but I need to make some changes and the money will come in useful.” She managed another smile.  “Cancelling a wedding with less than a month to go is expensive.”

Steve was checking the piano with care.  “The money has arrived in your account, hasn’t it?”

Elaine nodded.  “I triple checked.”  She looked through the window at the movers Steve had brought.  They were waiting patiently by the van and Elaine got the impression that this was a very specialist type of movers.  “I’m planning on selling everything up and going travelling.  Or perhaps I’ll go back to college.  Or move somewhere exciting.” She shrugged.  “I’m going to do something.”  She ran her fingertips in a farewell over the battered upright piano.  “It’s haunted, you know.  I know lots of people don’t believe me, but I’ve heard it playing at night.”

“It’s not haunted, it’s enchanted.  May I?” Steve pulled out a small, dusty button that looked like it had belonged to a long-discarded toy.

“Of course.” Elaine had no idea what she was agreeing to but watched with interest as Steve carefully placed it over a decorative rose on the top of the piano.

“You’re not easily shaken, are you?” Steve asked.

Elaine looked him up and down.  He was a slim young man in a sharp suit who looked like this was the first time he had left an office in a decade.  She had been raised with grandfather’s folk tales and horror stories.  “I am really not easily shaken.”

Steve pressed the button.  There was a faint click and then with no further warning a pair of ghostly hands appeared above the keys.  They stretched professionally, ran themselves up and down the keys in some scales and then started playing a wild Hungarian waltz.  Elaine didn’t recognise it, but it was evocative of moonlight, red roses and reckless romance.  She found herself almost hypnotised with the swirl of music.  She half closed her eyes and she could imagine herself dancing with dark strangers in a clearing in the wild woods.  She felt a sense of loss when the music spun into a breathless crescendo and the hands disappeared.  Steve put the button back in his pocket.

“Take me with you.” Elaine said impulsively.  “It looks like the best adventure I could take.  And you look like you need a PA.  I am an amazing PA and I would be no trouble.”  She put a pleading hand on his sleeve.  “Please.”

“Are you sure?” Steve asked quietly.

“I’ve left my fiancé, quit my job and given up my lease.” Elaine said.  “I’ve set myself up to go looking for adventure.  I think that actually adventure has come looking for me.”

Two stories, the first with uncanny help from the past, the second with haunting music, from Across a Misty Bridge which you can find as a downloadable read on Story Origin or you can read it here.

Everything Changes

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is michael-d-beckwith-577526-unsplash-1024x683.jpg
Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

Hal pressed himself against the cold stone wall and tried to catch his breath. He had to risk using the torch on his phone. He didn’t want to run the battery down, but he needed to know if he was safe. The quick sweep of light showed bare stone. The fan vaulting overhead told him he was in the Chapter House. Surely Kirkstall Abbey was a safe place from werewolves. Surely they wouldn’t be able to come onto sacred ground.

Hal tensed as he thought he heard a growl near the bare stone doorway, but his mind caught up with his terror and he realised it was just the sound of a motorbike. He leant back against the rough stone. Surely they wouldn’t come in here. This had to be a safe spot. He ran a reluctant hand over his left forearm. It felt damp and sticky and far too warm. His body ached.

If he could just hold out until morning, that would be alright, wouldn’t it? Hal knew he wasn’t thinking straight as whatever was in that werewolf bite ran through him, but he felt himself holding on to a tiny core of rational thought. Werewolves could cope with sunlight, he thought, but this was Kirkstall Abbey. It wasn’t some remote spot out on the moors but only ten minutes from the centre of Leeds and next to a busy main road. Werewolves wouldn’t want witnesses, would they?

Hal found himself sinking down the cold stone wall and slumping on the damp flags. All his bones throbbed and he hunched smaller, trying to ease the pains shooting through him. He had been bitten by a werewolf. His head felt like it was on fire. He felt his thirst was ripping his throat but he didn’t dare look for water. He just needed to hold out until morning.

Lord Marius looked around in irritation at the man stumbling across the damp grass towards Kirkstall Abbey. “You are not Sergeant Anson.”

“I’m DC Jamie Flint.” He held out his hand towards Lord Marius who completely ignored it. There was an awkward pause. “Sergeant Anson is on leave at the moment. I’m covering for him.”

Lord Marius looked at him carefully. Jamie was in his late twenties with thinning hair, an oversized uniform jacket and an anxious expression. “Did Sergeant Anson tell you everything?” He asked.

“I’ve read the briefing notes.” Jamie shifted uncomfortably. Half an hour earlier he had been trying to convince an old lady to turn her music down because not all of her neighbours were fans of Frank Sinatra. He had wanted excitement, but the brief skim of the notes left by Anson hinted at more excitement than he ever wanted.

“Come this way.” Lord Marius gestured imperiously and Jamie followed. They skirted the main building and headed towards the river. A man in a battered raincoat and holding a large sports bag was there surrounded by an orderly pack of very large dogs. “We have an incident and I think it best that you deal with it.”

“Me?” Jamie nodded to the man standing around the back of the main structure and automatically holding out a hand to the nearest dog. They were immaculately groomed and in peak condition. “Good boy.”

“Don’t call him a ‘good boy’.” Lord Marius said, sardonic amusement dripping from his tone. “That is Mark Davies, leader of the local pack. I’m sure he will have much to say when the moon is not full.”

Jamie went cold. As the moon came out from behind the clouds and added to the reflections of the local street lights, he could see the pack a lot clearer. They looked like wolves. They looked like very big, well-muscled, well-fed wolves. “I’m sorry, my mistake.” Jamie said. What was it that they said in college? Never show fear. It was easier said than done. The wolf gave a sharp bark. Lord Marius shrugged.

“Mark Davies is remarkably understanding. Of course, he has a lot on his mind. Inside the ruins of the abbey is a man who has been bitten by a werewolf. You need to bring him out.”

“Is he badly hurt?” Jamie asked. “Do I need to call for medical back up?”

The man in the middle of the pack walked up to Jamie and shook his hand. “I’m Dr Dave, and I’m the medical backup.” He turned to Lord Marius. “The stray didn’t make it. His heart gave out. Perhaps it was for the best.”

Mark gave a series of sharp barks, and for some reason Jamie felt chills running down his back. “Stray?”

Dr Dave looked between Lord Marius and Jamie. “You’re new, aren’t you. Never mind. In brief, a stray is a werewolf that isn’t attached to a pack. They usually turn bad if they spend too long alone and this one managed to pick up a case of white jaw – it’s a little like the werewolf version of rabies, and there has been the first outbreak in decades running around the country. It’s treatable, if caught in time, but the stray wasn’t able to get treatment. He may not have even realised he had it. The trouble was, the condition comes with delirium and hallucinations and he bit a normal – someone who doesn’t know about werewolves. They ran inside the ruins.”

Mark gave a few staccato barks and a deep ‘woof’.

Lord Marius nodded. “Quite.” He turned to Jamie. “The pack can’t get into the building as it is too holy. They can manage most churches, but there have been some great, if unknown, saints here over the centuries who have left their mark and it is out of bounds to the pack. Besides, they can’t risk getting the white jaw themselves. Dr Dave can treat the man if he can reach him, but he may need help restraining the victim. I’ve asked for help from the Knights Templar, but they’ve been caught up with a nest of vampire fledglings in the north of the city and it will take time for them to get here.”

“Will you be able to save him?” Jamie asked.

Dr Dave looked worried. “If I get to him in time, I can treat the white jaw. I can’t stop him changing, but Mark is a good leader and will look after him. I just need to get to him.”

Another deep ‘woof’ from Mark was translated by Lord Marius. “And as he transitions – which may be tonight or at the next full moon, depending on his infection – he’s going to be affected by the site. He won’t be able to stay there long.”

“How many exits can he reach?” Jamie asked.

“Just this one.” Dr Dave said. “We’ve blocked all the others with silver, so he should come out here.”

Jamie was not reassured by the uncertainty in the doctor’s voice. He looked over the ruins. Kirkstall Abbey was a mass of broken walls, uncertain pillars, dark shadows and council railings. The roof was intact over large parts of the medieval building, creating unlit, inky caverns. In the uncertain light, it was impossible to check all angles. “I think I need more support. Like, animal control…” He flinched as Mark took a pace forward and growled. “Sorry, but I don’t know what I can do.”

“You can help save a man’s life.” Dr Dave said briskly.

Jamie peered into the matt black shadows. He couldn’t see a thing. He pulled a torch from his belt. “What are we waiting for?” He had never been so scared in his life.

There was a yelping sound from within the building, then a growl. The pack took a collective step back as the whimpering and yelping came closer. Dr Dave pulled out a syringe. “You may not have to go in.”

Jamie stared, transfixed, as a huge, bedraggled wolf limped out, its left foreleg stained and matted with blood and the great jaws drooling foam. He groped for his taser. “Everyone stand clear.” Did he give the standard warning to a rabid werewolf? Where was the damn taser? He took a quick look around. All the wolves were standing, alert and with hackles raised. Lord Marius had taken a step forward and had a large and illegal knife held in front of him. Dr Dave was moving slowly towards the new werewolf.

“Hello, I’m Dr Dave. Let me help you. All you need to do is relax and I’ll…” Dr Dave paused at the rising growl from Hal.

“I’m DC Flint.” Jamie dredged up his courage and stuck to his training. “If everyone stays calm then no-one will get hurt. Lie down on the floor…” Jamie stumbled to a halt. Hal didn’t have any hands to keep in sight. He had four paws and a tail that was stiff and angry looking. The huge head turned towards Jamie. He took a breath. “Stop there.” Jamie held up the taser. “Get down on the floor and allow the doctor to give you treatment.” His hands closed on the handle of the taser. “Police! Taser! Taser!” And Jamie fired.

To his horror, the werewolf didn’t go down. For a few awful moments, Hal twitched, then instinctively the new werewolf ignored the shaking running through him and crouched to leap.

I’m going to die. Jamie thought as the werewolf seemed to rear up, almost in slow motion, Then he recoiled as a shot rang out next to him. Whirling around he saw a thickset man with a shaved head and neck tattoo lowering what looked like an automatic pistol. Jamie looked back at Hal. The werewolf lay limp with a dark stain spreading over the thin fur.

Mark bounded up to the shooter, barking urgently. The man nodded. “It’s okay, it was only loaded with lead. Everything alright?” He looked questioningly at Jamie.

Jamie looked over to where Dr Dave was checking over the victim as the rest of the pack gathered around. He nodded. “I think so. Thank you, I think you saved my life. I’m DC Flint.”

“Sir Dylan, Knights Templar.” He held the gun pointing at the ground, showing an uncomfortable familiarity with it.

Jamie took a breath. Less than an hour ago he had been dealing with a delusional ninety-year-old and her traumatised neighbours while Frank Sinatra had been belting out at window shaking volumes. Now he had seen a werewolf. He had not only seen werewolves but he had called one a ‘good boy’ and lived, tasered one, seen one shot and seen the shot one starting to regain consciousness, although looking a lot less feral but seriously frightened. In front of Jamie’s horrified eyes, the battered wolf flowed until he was a naked man, blood smeared over his arm and chest, curled up and shivering. And Jamie was standing next to the man who had shot him without hesitation.

Jamie dragged all his training, all his small experience and all his time as a copper and turned to Sir Dylan. “I hope you have a licence for that firearm.”

Seeking

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

It took me a long time to learn how to see fairies. I don’t mean the sort that you see in children’s books, but the fair folk, the shining ones, the quiet presence in a country lane. I trained myself to see a shimmer in the corner of a garden, a hint of rainbow as I walked down a dark country lane. I watched for an unexpected glimmer. I listened for a hint of tune that shouldn’t be playing. I waited for the scent of honeysuckle on the winter air.

An old man waited at the gate, grabbing my arm and pulling me to one side where my mum couldn’t see. “They’re hunting you. You need to stay safe. Carry salt or iron – or both! Or you’ll be trapped.”

I laughed and pulled away. How could they be hunting me when it was me that was searching them out, looking for the rainbows in dim places, listening for strange song. The glimpses were getting longer and I knew I was getting closer. I skipped school and found strange corners on the industrial estates where bindweed wound its way through the fences and flies hung in the shade of scented elder bushes.

I read everything in the library and on the internet. I joined groups and forums. They didn’t help. But I started noticing, through the long summer holiday, that I saw more of the glimpses near elder bushes and trees. I searched them out. I found clusters of them near abandoned warehouses and around the edges of neglected parks. I saw glimpses of the fair folk now, just a brief look at a face, glorious with beauty, lit from within by their wild, magical nature.

As the year turned, I ignored school and gloried in the change of the weather, watching the wind swirl the dead leaves around elder bushes drooping under heavy, purple berries. I saw more of them. They wore green and brown and the ladies had wreaths of autumn leaves in their hair. I stayed as still as a cat, watching. As the nights grew longer and the arguments with my mum got worse, I got closer. I could hear their singing and their soft conversations. Finally, I saw them enter the fairy realm. I saw them slip between two elder stems and I followed through.

The sky was alive with colours and shapes. The trees whispered in shock as I walked into the forest and called ahead that a mortal child was here. I could see the Lords and Ladies, the fair ones, riding towards me, their harness jingling and the sun glinting on their shining hair.

The doctor put down the latest report and shook his head. “I’m sorry Mrs Taylor. All tests for drugs have come back negative, but your daughter continues in a persistent, catatonic, hallucinating state. We’ve tried everything to reach her, but I’m afraid that there’s nothing more we can do. She’s lost to us.”

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.  

Bad Night’s Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is the first day of the October Frights Blog Hop. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blogs with their spooky content!

Night to Dawn Magazine & Books LLC, Hawk’s Happenings, Heidi Angell, Curiosities, James McDonald, Always Another Chapter, Spreading the Writer’s Word, Yours in Storytelling, Carmilla Voiez, Hello Romance, GirlZombieAuthors, Frighten Me, M’habla’s!, Angela Yuriko Smith, Brain Matter, NLCARTERWRITES.COM

The Giveaway

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