Walk in the Park

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

As first dates went, it hadn’t been too bad so far. I had met him at the local coffee shop and we had drunk a few lattes. He looked like his online profile, which was something, and the conversation had been light. He was studying computers and something that I didn’t catch or really understand and getting some side hustles with web design on the side. We shared a love of Doctor Who, agreed to disagree on Star Trek and I felt more relaxed with him than I had in a long time. I should have known it was too good to be true.

“Let me walk you home.” Ryan said. “It’s a shame to end the conversation. I feel like I could talk with you for hours.”

“I’m good.” I said. “And if you walk me home and we get talking there then I won’t get to bed early enough and I have work tomorrow.”

“Come on, let me walk you at least part of the way.” Ryan said. “Don’t pretend we haven’t had a marvellous time.”

“It’s been a great evening.” I said, “And I hope we have another one like it, but I do need to get up tomorrow.” What with one thing and another I would be lucky to get even a couple of hours sleep before work, even if he didn’t come in.

“Spoilsport.” He smiled at me and I smiled back. “Okay, let me walk you some of the way back. I promise I won’t go all the way.”

“That sounds like such a cheesy line!” I shook my head. I either gave in or he made a scene here. “But you said you lived over the other side of the city. Why don’t we walk as far as the subway terminus? Then you can get the subway back and I will be near home.”

“You aren’t that near to the subway terminus.” Ryan sounded a little sulky.

“Someone’s done their research.” I said. “But we can hang out together until you get on the subway, so we have a little more time.”

Ryan smiled. “I know you haven’t lived in this part of the city long, but I grew up around here. I know a great short cut, through the old park.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be haunted?” I asked. “I mean, I was warned about going into the old park after dark as it was dangerous.”

“Nobody believes in ghosts.” Ryan said, “And I can protect you.”

I looked at him thoughtfully. He was in good shape, but he didn’t look like he could take on a pack of muggers. What was worse, if we cut through the abandoned park, we would have to go past my home to get to the terminus. It looked like Ryan could be a problem. “I’d rather stay in public. You know all the advice that they give, about online dating, to stay in public for the first few dates and to be really careful who you give your details to? Perhaps I should just get an uber home.”

Ryan put a hand on my shoulder. Somehow it felt heavier than it should. “Please, we are having such a good time. Let’s just walk for a little while, carry on connecting and you can wait with me at the subway station.”

“And we can go past the supermarket.”

“Come on! Where’s your sense of adventure. There is nothing wrong with the park. It’s just neglected, that’s all.”

“It will be dark.” I said.

“It will be romantic.” Ryan held my hand and smiled at me. I felt incredibly uneasy.

The old park had effectively been abandoned by the council. Once it had been carefully landscaped but now it was an overgrown of tangled bushes and trees with some worn tracks through the dense growth. It was dimly lit even in daylight. We walked through the rusted gates in the dark and away from the street lights and we were suddenly in an eerie dark. I dug a mini torch out of my handbag.

“You’re prepared.” Ryan said. “I admit, it’s darker than I was expecting, but I thought you would use your phone.”

“Wouldn’t that run the battery down really quickly?” I asked as I found a path. “Is this the way?”

“I think we need to go down here.” Ryan said, pointing to a different path.

“No, this way will get us through the park quicker and nearer the subway.” I insisted pointing my torch.

“But this way will be more fun, I promise.” Ryan said.

He set off ahead of me, and I sighed and followed. The park was not safe after dark just because it was so overgrown and badly lit. If he fell, he could hurt himself badly and not be easily found. I decided that I would see him off at the subway and then send him a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ text. “Hang on!” I shouted after him.

“The park is supposed to be haunted, you know.” Ryan said as I scrambled after him. “They say that you can see ghosts here and that vampires and werewolves come here to meet.” Ryan looked around as much of the park as he could see in the small beam from my torch. “It’s a shame it isn’t a full moon.”

“Vampires and werewolves, seriously?” I said, as I hurried after him. “We’ve left the path.”

“I grew up here, remember?” Ryan turned and smiled in the glow of the torch. “I know all the tracks, like this one here.” We stumbled out onto a slightly wider path that was heading downward towards the neglected artificial lake.

“I need to get home and you need to make sure you get to the subway in time for the last train.” I said. “This is silly.”

Ryan looked around. “I’m just trying to get my bearings. Does your phone have GPS?”

“I thought you knew this place?” I was trying to keep calm. I really didn’t want to have a scene. “Come on, lets get out of here.”

“Seriously, which way is North?”

I ignored his hand open for my phone and pulled up the map function myself. “It’s that way, and if we follow this path, we’ll come out almost next to the subway. And you won’t miss your…” I was interrupted as I turned to point to a path. Ryan snatched my phone out of my hand and threw it into the bushes. I whirled around to glare at him. “What are you doing?”

“It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?” Ryan said, in a low voice, running his hand over my arm. “You are in the middle of the haunted park, in the dark, possibly surrounded by werewolves, and with a handsome stranger. Anything could happen. And you have no way to call for help.” He tried to pull me towards him for a kiss, but I struggled free.

“Okay, that’s it. This date is over, lose my number.” I shone my pitiful torch where I thought my phone landed.

“I don’t think you understand.” Ryan said. “You are alone, in the dark, with a stranger. You are in no position to tell me what to do. I’m in charge.” He moved a little closer. “I could even be a werewolf. That would be something, wouldn’t it, to be rescued by a werewolf.”

I swore at him and headed to where I thought I saw a glint of grey. “What are you going to do? Leave me for the ghosts. Leave me alone.”

“Or what?” Ryan was smirking as he followed me. “There are no werewolves around to rescue you.” He pushed his hand into my hair and pulled my head back. “We are going to have a nice time here, and then we are going back to your place and by the morning you will see that I am the best thing that could happen to you. No werewolves needed.”

“You’re right.” I snarled, my fangs lengthening as I grabbed his arm and twisted until he was on his knees, screaming. “No werewolves needed at all.”

Everything Changes

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Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

This is a repost of an old story from last year, but I thought it was suitably spooky. And while we are talking about spooky stories, there is a wonderful selection of spooky stories from the Fantasy and SciFi Readers Lounge, including an entry to the Anthology from yours truly, in a promotion that lasts until November 9th 2019, which you can find here https://storyoriginapp.com/to/kTrsibP

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.”

Not My Cup of Tea

Photo by Austin Wade on Unsplash

Kane managed a forced smile as he stood to shake Mrs Roberts hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m glad you can make it.” Mrs Roberts waved him to a seat. She set up her tablet and quickly flicked to the information. “You’re Kane, you live in Carlton Court down the road and you freelance. You are looking for a job in this shop to learn new skills and meet new people.” Mrs Roberts looked at him coldly. “This is not a dating site. This is a respectable coffee shop.”

A ghost of an elderly woman standing behind Mrs Roberts sniffed. “She may say it’s respectable, but the way they waste the cakes is shameful.”

The elderly man’s ghost next to her nodded. “You would have thought after eighteen months she would have got the cupcake order right.”

“They call them muffins.” The woman said. “It’s a disgrace.”

“What exactly is your freelance work?” Mrs Roberts asked.

Kane had practised this with the ghost of Auntie Brenda. He couldn’t say that he saw ghosts and sometimes he either talked them into ‘going home’ or passed on information such as the location of jewellery or recipes in a restaurant. “I practise a form of counselling.” He said with as much conviction as he could muster.

“I see that one of your references is that incredibly expensive restaurant in Chapel Allerton.” Mrs Roberts said, making a note. “Why are you coming to a small coffee shop after working there?”

“I didn’t work there as a restaurant worker.” Kane tried to keep calm. He really needed a steady income. He was making decent money as a ghost translator, but banks, credit cards and landlords needed something more tangible. “I was contracted as a freelance counsellor.” Mr Jervis needed something like counselling at the end of it and Kane still had to go in every month and play mediator between the old, dead chef and the new, living owner.

“That one looks like he might be worth keeping.” The elderly woman said. “He looks desperate enough to learn.”

“I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.” The elderly man sniffed. “Perhaps he could eat up some of the surplus cake order.”

Kane tried to avoid looking at them. Mrs Roberts looked down the list. “You put that you prefer morning shifts. Is that to fit in with this freelance stuff?”

Kane nodded. “But I’m very flexible.”

“I bet he’s flexible.” The old lady smirked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to find out how flexible in the back room.”

The elderly man shook his head. “She never took her opportunity when we managed to lock her in the back room with the last lad that worked here. I would have thought it would have been perfect.”

“I even fused the lights.” The elderly lady said. “It takes a lot of effort to move electricity and she didn’t appreciate it.”

“I don’t approve of divorce.” The elderly man shook his head. “And she’s no age.” He looked Kane up and down. “He’s a bit young, but he should manage.”

“You can start tomorrow, if you like.” Mrs Roberts said. “6.30am sharp, I’ll show you how to set up.”

“I wish she would, but it would just be the café.” The elderly woman muttered.

Kane stood up. Auntie Brenda would be disappointed, but she would understand. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can work here. The ghosts are a little too much.”

Kane felt bad for Mrs Roberts as her shoulders slumped, but the appalled expressions of the ghosts would keep a smile on his face for a long time.

Writing Challenge 21 October 2019

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

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

Photo by Austin Wade on Unsplash

Never regret something that once made you smile.

Amber Deckers

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

Grave Insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just in Case

“You can’t be too careful.” Dan said as he nailed another horseshoe on the top door. “The fairies cause problems.”

Yvonne looked critically at the horseshoes. “Shouldn’t they be the other way up?”

Dan looked shocked. “If they are on the other way, all the luck would drain out.”

Yvonne chose her words with care. “Dan, you know that fairies aren’t real, right?”

“How can you be sure?” Dan asked, standing back and looking at his handiwork. “You know that there are a lot of strange things in this world that never make the papers.”

Yvonne nodded. “Absolutely. But have you ever seen a fairy?”

“That’s not the point.” Dan said. “Milk is going missing from the dairy.”

“And that’s nothing to do with the local cats?” Yvonne asked. “What other proof?”

“The iron keeps them away.” Dan said. “It proves that it’s working.”

“Did you ever see a fairy before you put the iron up?” Yvonne asked.

Dan rubbed his sleeve over the latest horseshoe to knock off the dust. “Just because I haven’t seen a fairy, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

Yvonne sighed. “You’ve been a vampire here for four hundred and seven years. If there were any fairies around here, I think you would have noticed by now.”

Child in a Sweet Shop

He looked carefully at his outfit.  He had to get the look exactly right, it could make all the difference between success and failure.  There was an all night screening of the Twilight films and he could not miss this opportunity.

 He was naturally pale but his blond hair was a problem.  The old fashioned top hat that he had picked up on the internet should cover it and give the right feel.  He had considered a cane but he hoped there would be times in the evening when he wanted both hands free.  There were likely to be a lot of young ladies at the screening.

The suit had been a problem.  He had found one eventually in a second hand shop.  The black suit jacket had velvet lapels and the waistcoat was nicely cut.  He had been meticulous to get rid of any faint trace of the iridescent dusting powder.  With the slightly flared trousers it said very clearly that this was a man who had not quite got the decade right. 

He had wondered about the shirt.  He may have wanted to look as if he couldn’t keep up with fashion after all this time, but there was no way he was wearing 1970s drip dry polyester with a frill.  He had settled for a deep crimson silk shirt.  It was brand new, but silk was an old fashioned material and he could always say that he had ripped his favourite brushed nylon shirt in a fight with a werewolf.  With well polished shoes and a heavy, plain signet ring he should look the part.

He checked he had his ticket and plenty of cash.  He didn’t want to break the look with a credit card and if he got lucky with a persuadable lady he didn’t want to give too much information about himself, just in case.  The taxi outside sounded the horn.  

“Going to the screening?  You look just like a vampire, mate.  It makes a better night if you put a bit of effort in to look the part.” The taxi driver sighed.  “I used to have a suit like that forty years ago.  Of course, I was a lot thinner then.  Well, you won’t be lonely tonight, I bet you’ve got a hotel room booked.”

He smiled enigmatically and gave the driver a generous tip.  Looking at the crowd there were others who had aimed for his intended look but he prided himself that he had hit closest to the mark.  He was already getting interested glances and he thought it would not take much to entice the pretty brunette near the popcorn stand to a secluded corner to ‘talk’.

Carefully keeping his expression immobile, inside he was laughing wildly.  He may be seven hundred and thirty two years old and a vampire but looking at all those pliable, gullible necks made him feel like a child in a sweet shop.  

The Faerie Wall

Keep away from the wall, my child,

It keeps us from the faeries wild.

It keeps us from their faerie fear.

Keep away, my child, come here.

They blight the cows and cost us money

They steal the bees and take the honey

They spoil the butter in the churn

They cause the cakes and bread to burn

They steal our children, blight our wheat,

Ruin pigs and taint the meat.

Keep away from the wall, my dear,

Keep away, my child, come here.  

A Sense of Wonder

red and white concrete house near mountain
Photo by Cassie Boca on Unsplash
A house in Iceland

I think of this time of year as something of a dreamtime. The weather is stormy, the colours are vivid and it feels like stories are in the air along with the whirling leaves. It’s the month of Halloween, and I’ve aimed to post something every day, whether it’s old or new, just to acknowledge that this time of year is sort of supernatural.

Hand on heart, I don’t believe in vampires or werewolves. I keep an open mind about ghosts and know that as a (really rubbish) Christian I ought not to believe in nature spirits. But I do believe that it’s fun to act as if you believe, as if there are wonderful worlds just beyond our view, and that there is a magic in the world – within reason of course.

I have tried to raise my son with a sense of wonder and curiosity in the world, along with my husband who is a consummate story teller himself. I started young. When my son was maybe three years old, we walked past a hole next to the pavement and I pointed at it and said that anything could live down there, even a dragon. That was a mistake. Son refused to walk past it. I had to pick him up and carry him. Later I had to explain to a nursery worker exactly why my son was talking about dragons on the way to school. He only calmed down when we told him that Daddy had gone to the dragon and punched it on the nose, so there wouldn’t be any trouble.

A few weeks later we passed a similar hole. I thought I had learned my lesson and told him that rabbits could live down there. Son was only three, but he gave me a look that said, ‘You’re saying rabbits, but you’re meaning dragons’.

That is why I love reading about the elves in Iceland. There is an article here about them. It’s not a question of whether the elves are real or not. It is all about a world where there is room to believe in them. It is about a place where you can accept a little magic without worrying about what people think. For me, it isn’t about the elves. It is the spirit of generous tolerance to other people’s harmless beliefs that needs celebrating. It is a thing of wonder and we need more of that in the world. Sometimes we need to believe that the elves’ church needs protecting or that there is a dragon down a hole, just for the magic of it.

Out of the Mist

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I have always liked walking in the mist. It feels like walking inside a story. I love the way it can soften the world and make the most mundane corners magical. 

It was more than mist tonight. It was a heavy, swirling, writhing fog. Local radio had put out weather warnings and the police had recommended that if there was any choice, people should stay at home. It had been taken to heart. The last few hours of my shift at the store had been extremely quiet.

Mum had rung as I was dragging on my coat. “I’m sorry, love, but I don’t think it’s safe for your dad to come and pick you up. You can’t see across the road. Will you be okay walking if you go past the church and stick to the main road? It shouldn’t take you long.”

“I’ll be fine walking home.” I said, wrapping my scarf firmly around me. “I’ll cut down the back of the estate.”

“You can’t do that!” My mum had been horrified. “Not at this time of night!”

“Mum, it’s only 9pm and no-one is out.” I peered through the back window as my boss pulled down the shutters. You could barely see the edge of the pavement. “Besides, I don’t think any attacker would be able to see me in this murk.”

“Go past the church and stick to the main road.” Mum said firmly. “It won’t take much longer and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

“Okay.” I said, picking up my bag and heading for the door. “I’ve got to go now, Mum, see you in a bit.”

I nodded goodnight to my boss who was locking the shutters and headed carefully along the pavement towards the estate. If I cut through that way, I could get home almost half an hour earlier. Besides, I couldn’t see how much safer I would be on the main road. I would be risking walking next to a road that drivers could barely see.

I strained my ears as I reached the main road. I couldn’t hear anything. I’d never known the town centre so quiet. I could hear the faint hiss of the traffic lights as I got close to the crossing, but there was no other sound. I couldn’t hear any cars, or footsteps or any sign of life at all. I paused and felt the water droplets settling coldly on my skin. Crossing the road was a step into the unknown.

It wasn’t so bad once I got away from the glare of the streetlights on the main road and into the shortcuts. The estate was normally a hive of activity full of small businesses and traffic no matter what time it was. Even this late there was usually a mechanic working late or the carpet firm stacking their vans for the next day. Tonight, however, it was silent.

I walked briskly down the alleys and shortcuts, past the rag people and the appliance repair centre. The usual scatter of half-finished washing machines was there under their plastic covers, misted by water droplets and barely visible as I walked within touching distance. I looked around to get my bearings. All the landmarks had disappeared. On my left should be the main road and that meant that I needed to go straight and cut between the empty unit and the double-glazing place. I tilted my head and pulled my scarf loose. I couldn’t hear anything, and I didn’t want to miss my turn. I pulled out my phone to see if the maps were any use, but I couldn’t get a signal.

This is what it felt like to be truly lost, I thought, as I made an educated guess and headed across the road, tripping on the kerb. But if I squinted then I could just see that the fence had the double-glazing advertising on so I must be in the right direction. I heard a growl.

I wasn’t good with dogs. I wouldn’t hurt one, but they scared me half to death. Even my auntie’s elderly westie made me nervous and the growl ahead of me was low and menacing. I leant forward into the fog. “Good boy…” I took another step forward and the growl intensified. I wasn’t ready for this. I tried moving to the right a little and I heard paws pad on the cracked concrete. “Good boy.” I said with as much conviction as I could manage. I tried moving straight ahead again but once again I was met by the ominous growl. 

I froze. I could just about make out the shape a few yards in front of me and it was huge. It seemed nothing more than a shadow against the fog, but it was shaped like a large Doberman, long legged and fierce with pricked ears. I backed away a few steps, stumbling again on the kerb. I watched the dog pad unhurriedly behind me with a faint rumble of threat in his throat. I tried to take another step back towards the way I came, but the dog was not tolerating that either.

My hands were trembling so much that they could hardly hold my phone as I tried again to get a signal. There was nothing, and the great beast slowly approached me, cutting me off from the town centre and the road curving left. “You want me to go right, boy?” I said. The words hung in the damp air. The dog took another step towards me and I could see cold light reflected in his huge eyes. “Okay, good boy.” I stumbled towards the right.

I was always told never to run from a dog, and it wouldn’t be safe for me to try. I felt the awful cold sensation of the great dog’s gaze settle between my shoulder blades as I headed right, away from the town and away from my route home. I tried to catch my breath and slowed a little. Once again the beast growled, low and purposeful, his breath warm on the back of my head, and it stank.

I quickened my pace a little, but the fog was too dense to move at any sort of speed. The dog seemed satisfied, though, and apart from the hum of the intermittent street lights, all I could hear was the pad of his paws and his even breathing.

It seemed to take forever before we moved directly under a street light, although it was only a few minutes. I recognised the corner. On the left was a sign writer and on the right was some sort of storage. If I made a run for it, I could race down the alley behind the sign writer and reach the town centre in only a few minutes. I glanced back and stumbled in shock as I saw the beast properly. He was huge, his head nearly at the height of my chest, with staring eyes that gleamed in the reflected light. His jaws were large with a tongue lolling incongruously over oversized, gleaming teeth. I froze.

For the longest minute I just stood there, trying to keep my stomach inside, trying to just to keep breathing as I stared at the monster in front of me. I couldn’t make sense of it – it wasn’t a Doberman or a Rottweiler or anything I recognised. Perhaps it was one of those ‘part wolf’ breeds that were cropping up. Whatever it was, it was terrifying.

He gave a low ‘woof’ and padded forward. The thing may not have spoken, but it was clear – I needed to keep going in the right direction. I stumbled forward, loosening my scarf as I tried to scrabble my wits together while what looked like a hell hound padded gently after me.

Where were we going? I didn’t know this part of the estate well, but we seemed to be heading towards the edge near the motorway. I could see the faint gleam of the lights in the distance and the sound of cars, muffled through the damp air. I swallowed and stumbled, catching hold of a wall looming out of the fog to keep my balance. There was a cemetery the other side of the motorway. Was that where I was being herded? Another low ‘woof’ reminded me to keep moving. I kept going.

The great beast started shifting a little, moving up on my right-hand side and guiding me left as I shied away from him. I could hear his breathing far too close as I rounded the corner near the tyre storage, smell his stinking breath and hear the relentless pad, pad, pad of his great paws. Maybe I should try and make a break for it or maybe I should try and find a weapon in the rubbish strewn across the path.

Then I forgot everything. The fog thinned in the air from the underpass and through the mist I could see the remains of a van. It had crashed down the bank from the motorway above us and landed awkwardly in the middle of the road. The windshield was smashed, and the glittering shards were stained with blood which trailed from a broken figure that had been thrown across the path and landed across a low wall. I raced over, oblivious to what the dog wanted.

He was only young, younger than me, with his shock of brown hair matted with blood and his eyes sunken in his pale face. I caught hold of his hand. It felt icy.

“It’s okay, I’m going to ring for an ambulance now. We’ll get you sorted out.” I frantically looked over him. There was blood everywhere, seeping through his thin t-shirt and trickling out of the corner of his mouth.

There was a faint pressure on my hand as he tried to squeeze it, the strength fading from him. “It’s okay. I just didn’t want to die alone.”

“No, you are not going to die.” I heard my voice break. “I’m going to call the ambulance, it’s going to be okay…” I stopped. The light had gone out of his eyes and something indefinable had left. I fumbled for my phone, and finally I got a signal. I was just too late.

I looked around for the dog, but there was no sign. As the fog turned to rain, I thought I could make out some faint paw prints in the blood that had splashed across the street, but they faded and before I could be sure they were being washed away.

It’s the last day of the October Frights Blog Hop, so I ended on what I hope is a high note. Don’t forget to check out the awesome posts on the other amazing blogs taking part:Are You Afraid of the Dark? , The Word Whisperer , Hawk’s Happenings , Carmilla Voiez Blog , M’habla’s! , CURIOSITIES , Frighten Me , Winnie Jean Howard , Balancing Act , James P. McDonald , greydogtales