The Thing in the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can hear something,” Toran whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Watch out!” Toran cried.

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

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

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

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

I Still Remember

Photo by Mahfuzur Rahman on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will never forget the screams of those burned.

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

A Sad Memory

brown woven basket on brown concrete wall
Image from Unsplash, taken by Emma Dau

Lady Freydis sighed. Being an ageless elfen who had lived for millennia had its benefits but memories became clouded. You could remember things, but couldn’t hang them on a date. She could never remember whether it was the Battle of Trafalgar or the Battle of Waterloo that had happened first and it had caused quite a bit of bother in pub quizzes. Whole chunks of time seemed to slip out of her mind, unremembered. Other times, other happenings, slid to the back and fell behind the clutter of everyday and now. Lady Freydis would drift happily along, oblivious to any gaps until she was reminded by a picture or a place and the old memories would slide back into view.

She walked down Stonegate. York depended heavily on tourists and today it was nearly deserted. So many were wearing masks. So many looked strained or fearful. A few looked ill, to Lady Freydis’ experienced eye, but whether it was the latest sickness or something else, she didn’t know.

She remembered many plagues. They were always time of fear and pain. Elfen fed on the emotions of the people around them, and the fear, horror and despair of plagues were rich pickings. The one she remembered best was the Pestilence that struck York. The Minster was still being rebuilt and King Edward was on the throne, the third one, and people fell in the streets. And the good priests had died.

There had been a priest attached to St Mary’s, or perhaps St Olaves, called William. Lady Freydis thought it was William. The name was blurred by time but the feel him, the way his smile shone and his heart showed in his eyes remained vivid. He had known what she was but had still been kind as she sobbed on his shoulder over another of Lord Ragnar’s infidelities. He had been so scared as the sickness reached York. Lady Freydis had felt it rolling off him like waves. He may have been called Wilbur, or Wilfrid, but she remembered the tone of that fear and his courage as he pushed on to minister to the people of York. So many had died, Lady Freydis remembered. She had stepped over the bodies in the street. And Father Alwin – yes, that was his name – Father Alwin had caught the pestilence himself as he had not turned away from those who had needed him.

The bad priests fled, the good priests died. Father Alwin had never allowed Lady Freydis to nurse him properly but continued, in the few days he had left, hearing confessions from the wretches dying next to him. He heard the confessions of others on his own deathbed, confessing at last to Lady Fredis, as dispensation allowed, and had passed.

There were plague pits outside the walls, but Lady Freydis would not let the remains of Father Alwin go there. He had been a safe place for her when her heart was breaking. She would not let him be in a nameless grave jostled by many. Instead she took his remains through faerie paths and dug a grave deep in a churchyard in Stamford, unnoticed in the corner, and laid him to rest, saying the old prayers as she said goodbye.

There had been many plagues over the centuries, but none had taken someone she missed more. And every time, Lady Freydis took flowers to the dim corner of the graveyard and tormented a bad priest.

In the run up to the release of King’s Silver on 8 February, I’m revisiting previous flash fiction with a medieval tone, and I hope you like this.

The Castle

There is a castle on the hill,

A king sat there in days of old.

His knights were brave, his ladies fair,

The pinnacle of brave and bold

 

Minstrels there were, and jesters sharp.

Ministers with wisdom deep.

Priests and monks in cloistered nooks,

All knowledge gathered in his keep

 

There was a knight, a lady fair,

A false man and a desperate fight,

A riven kingdom, empty hope,

A funeral pyre and fading light,

 

The story’s old and patched with songs

On threads that wore out long ago

Who knows the truth of treasure there

Before the final overthrow

 

Young lads go there to try their hand

Digging the vaults and dusty hall

The tombs are empty, nothing’s there

A bird’s nest in a broken wall.

 

Some nights, when Venus sails the sky

And Mars is courting near the moon

They say that ghostly dancers whirl

To echoes of an ancient tune

 

Splendour and crowns have tumbled down

The painted walls have faded pale

And while we bustle round our lives

Dust slowly settles on the tale. 

As I’m gearing up for the release of King’s Silver, I’m revisiting my previous dips into medieval fantasy. I wrote this a long while ago, but I thought it would be fun to share it again. It’s one of the favourite poems I’ve written.

A New Start

File:Bermuda (UK) image number 123 Shepherds Pie dinner dish at restaurant.jpg
Image from WikiCommons, taken by tomwsulcer and in the public domain

You can find Alex’s story from the beginning here.

Alex sat in the café of the White Hart, leaning forward over the hot coffee that had been placed in front of him. Jack and Martin were arguing.

“I can’t believe how irresponsible you are!” Martin yelled. “That young lad could have been killed.”

“Well he wasn’t,” Jack said. “He’s just had a bit of a wander in the land of the elfen. No harm done.”

“No harm!” Martin yelled. “He almost died.”

Alex turned to Dave who was sitting next to him. “So Martin is a vampire, right?”

Dave nodded. “But he’s not a bad guy, you know.” He thought for a moment. “Well, not really. As far as we can tell, all his lady friends are only enthralled for a short while, and they always end up better off in some way. We keep an eye on him.”

“Could you do anything against him if you needed to?” Alex asked. “After all, you’re supposed to protect the local – what did you call it? The local normals?”

“Dammit, Jack, when are you going to realise that times have changed?” Martin yelled.

Dave looked apologetic. “It would be tough. But that isn’t a reason to give in.”

Alex thought about that for a moment. “And Jack is a nature spirit of some sort.”

Dave nodded. “No-one is exactly sure and Jack isn’t sharing, but that’s about right.”

Jack grinned insolently at Martin. “You should have a half naked harem of gorgeous women lounging around the feet of you and your wife.” He jumped back, but not quickly enough as Martin grabbed him around the throat.

“And those two there are werewolves?” Alex asked, nodded at Ian and Callum who were intently watching the argument.

“Yeah,” Dave said. “They are really the good guys. They didn’t hesitate to help look for you, and they always turn out if there’s trouble. Ian’s in charge.”

Alex looked at the hard muscled, hard faced man watching Martin and Jack and didn’t doubt it. “And Lady Freydis is a sort of fairy and is in charge?”

Dave nodded. “She’s Martin’s wife, and we call her an elfen.” Lady Freydis was watching with interest as her husband shook Jack by the throat like a terrier with a rat.

“She’s an elfen,” Alex repeated. “And Rhys is a vampire?”

Dave sympathised as he heard the confused hurt in Alex’s voice. “I don’t think Rhys wants to be a vampire. I think he wants to take revenge on all of them. But he’s speaking to Dean, who didn’t want to be a vampire either, and Dean will sort Rhys out. We’ll look after him.”

“Somebody has to, the poor kid,” an old lady said, placing a plate in front of Alex. “I’m Mrs Tuesday and underneath my glamour, the illusion of what you see when you look at me, I’m a horrible hairy monster that’s strong enough to sort most of this lot out. Now eat up. I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil. You can call in for dinner for at least the next week or so. I bet you haven’t had a proper hot meal for months. Dinner is usually at seven, but I can always keep a plate warm if there’s a problem.” She put a second plate in front of Dave. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to get a meal here now and again.” She stalked away.

Alex watched Mrs Tuesday bustle back behind the counter and then looked down at the magnificent portion of shepherd’s pie in front of him. “Is she serious?” he asked Dave.

Dave picked up his fork. “She’s definitely a huge hairy monster under there, and I’ve seen her pick up a washing machine and carry it like it was a bag of sugar, but the scariest thing about her is just her. She just knows what to say to reduce you to a speechless mess. And she just knows all the stuff you hope that she’ll never guess. Don’t cross her.” He picked up an enthusiastic forkful. “But she’s a cracking cook!”

Alex had a taste and agreed with Dave. He could feel the savoury mouthful warming him. “I’ll definitely be around for any meals she wants to hand out.” He watched Jack struggle futilely against the stranglehold and then disappear into nothingness leaving Martin lurching forward.

“I hadn’t finished with you!” Martin yelled and vanished, presumably following Jack.

“You’re supposed to start work here on Monday,” Dave said, “but I think that you’re already part of the family with everything that’s happened. Welcome to the White Hart.”

It’s Nearly Here!

First of all, check this out! It’s available for pre-order here and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.

My first medieval fantasy novel is coming soon! The wonderful people at Three Furies Press have been absolute saints as they edited, especially as I got hung up on research. They deserve medals, or, at the very least, strong liquor.

This is the first novel I started writing. I was fleshing out the idea back in the 1990s. Since then I’ve had two steampunk novels published by the awesome Three Furies, self published some urban fantasy and generally had fun on my blog with all sorts of flash fiction. I always wanted to come back to this, though. It’s a big deal for me.

There will be a sequel, of course, and while I was working on that (and very much enjoying it), I realised I couldn’t remember a tiny detail from King’s Silver. So I skimmed over and realised that I had missed a huge chunk of detail and would have to ditch at least a thousand words from Castle Viburg. Harsh language may have been used.

As I was deleting, I thought that it was really possible that a reader could know a lot more about a book than the writer. I’ve been kicking ideas for this novel for thirty years. Not all of them made it into the book. Then there’s dialogue that I may have written recently but decided to delete, or a quick change of name because I realised I’d used the same name twice for minor characters. Some writers take years to hone each word to perfection, immersing themselves in their world. I envy them. When I write, I write quickly and I can forget the details. It’s the difference between being on a leisurely canal barge and a busy ferry. The canal barge has the better journey, but I get bored and want to keep moving.

I’ll be posting further details nearer release. I had such a wonderful time writing this, I hope that you will feel able to enjoy it.

Only the Bravest

The faerie domain underneath York where Lady Freydis, Prince of the non normals, ruled, was not the most stable of places. Like all homes of the elfen, it reflected the mind and the mood of the ruler. This was a problem as people kept giving Lady Freydis lifestyle magazines. There could be minimalist and boho in the same issue. Lady Freydis would read articles on ‘twenty ways to use yellow in your decorating’ and the next day her hall would be like the inside of a buttercup.

Today was relatively calm with a ‘Handmade, Homemade House’ feel. Dave and Steve crossed the strewn rag rugs, passed the beautifully upholstered, throw covered sofas and joined Lady Freydis in her private study (‘use books as accents to give a calming feel’) where at least the chairs were comfortable. Dave nodded at Martin, Jack and Kadogan standing next to Lady Freydis. This looked serious. They sat down warily.

“Thank you for joining us,” Lady Freydis said. “You are under my protection while in my domain and can walk where you will without fear.” Dave and Steve exchanged worried glances as she turned to Martin. “I blame myself. But there was so much confusion. You weren’t here, you don’t know what it was like.”

“I saw some of the aftermath,” Martin said grimly. He looked over to Dave and Steve. “Apparently a vampire called Rey made a play for the throne of York while I was sleeping.”

Steve nodded. “He tried to get to us through Fiona. I dealt with it.”

Dave still had nightmares about Steve’s destruction of Rey. “But that was years ago.”

Lady Freydis waved a hand. “There was a lot going on at the time, if you remember, and then there was all that dreadful darkness infecting everywhere, and the disembodied hands. So no-one really checked the station. Besides, the elfen can’t get there easily. There’s too much iron.”

“What has happened?” Steve asked. “I thought Rey’s little domain under there collapsed when I killed him.”

Lady Freydis shifted a little in her pink, overstuffed armchair. “The part of his little patch that was underneath the station mostly collapsed, but there were still loose ends that overlapped into the faerie domain under York. We didn’t really get near there because all the iron nearby made it hard for us to notice.”

Martin’s expression was dark. “We thought that we had unravelled all of the dark essence left behind, but someone or something seems to have found that small pocket and it’s let loose again. It’s spreading through the domain.”

“Fortunately I’m in charge now,” Lady Freydis said, “But I need help with this.” She looked at Steve. “I would owe favour and gratitude to someone who could brave the iron and close the connections to my land. I do not feel comfortable having an entrance that I can’t guard.”

“What is more to the point, someone has got in there,” Martin said. “We could have anything or anyone wandering around.”

“I’m mobilising my defences, but it’s a tricky part of the realm,” Lady Freydis said. “I’m doing my best with aid from the werewolves, but even Mark is struggling with the conditions.”

“Um,” said Jack.

“I can see if I can get in from the station end,” Steve said. “Perhaps I can bring in a couple of werewolves with me from there. It sounds like we need to move in numbers.”

“Um,” Jack repeated, shifting uncomfortably where he stood.

Lady Freydis nodded. “I can only think of it being a fierce and powerful enemy, finding a weak spot and entering my domain from a hidden entrance – one that is full of dark, distorted power. It is not a safe place. Only the bravest can travel there.” She turned to Dave. “There is a chance that it is an unknowing normal, and you may be needed to explain things. That’s why I invited you.”

“Um.” Jack was looking more uncomfortable by the second.

“I’ll take Ian and Callum in with me,” Steve said. “Callum has some experiences of Rey’s paths anyway. We’ll start from the station…” He stopped and looked hard at Jack. “Anything that you want to share?”

Suddenly Jack grinned, bubbling over with mischief. “Do you remember that amateur vampire hunter? The one who saw Martin feed? Damned indiscreet, by the way.”

Martin stared at him as he saw the implications. “You are kidding.”

“You see, he found out about vampires when he got hold of a second-hand camera that used to be Rey’s. Apparently Rey liked to take pictures of his food.” Jack shrugged. “Everyone seems to take pictures for their social media, but Rey’s images were a little specialised.”

“So there is now proof vampires exist all over the internet,” Martin stared in horror.

“I don’t think that they’re out for general release,” Jack said, “Just safe, in several places. But it made Alex rather keen to fight vampires.”

“Trust me,” Dave said, “Rey would make anyone want to fight vampires.”

“He’s terribly clever,” Jack said. “The vampire hunter, I mean. He’s not a great warrior, or even a fighter, but he worked out where Rey lived and broke into the apartment.”

Martin turned to Lady Freydis. “You didn’t think to check where Rey lived?”

Lady Freydis shrugged. “There was a lot happening, and I wasn’t in charge.”

“Your little friend broke into someone’s flat?” Dave asked.

“Well, sort of,” Jack shrugged. “He used lockpicks. I was quite intrigued. He wasn’t fast, but he was remarkably skilful. We found quite a few bits of useful information. And some truly dreadful clothes. The man had no style.” He looked around. “There was a lot of mail as well. Apparently there was enough money in an account to cover the direct debit and so the rent was still paid. The landlord left him alone. But there was so much dust. It took a while to dig out the information.”

“Would the information include how to get into an elfen domain through the passages underneath York station?” Martin asked with dangerous calm. Jack shrugged again.

“And what are his chances of survival?” Dave asked.

Jack lost his smile. “His chances are quite slim. And that makes me sad, because although he is quite weak and very scared, he just wants to do the right thing. That is something that should be praised and protected.”

“You can come in with us, then,” Martin said. “From the sound of it, we will need all the help we can get.”

“I have an address for his other vampire hunter,” Jack said, “Though I haven’t met him yet. I’ll fetch him.” He hesitated. “The vampire hunter, he’s Alex Poole, the young man you hired for the White Hart. He wanted to find information on vampires.”

Steve looked appalled. “He’s only a young lad. I was worried that he’d not be strong enough for the warehouse!”

“I remember him,” Lady Freydis said. “We may be able to reach him. I remember that there is a strength inside.” She took charge. “Martin, use the information from Jack and his vampire hunter to get into the domain from the station side. Steve can go with you as well as Ian and Callum. I’ll lead a rescue party from my side, but I don’t know how far in we can get. And it’s been at least twelve hours. We can’t waste any time.”

“I’ll pick up Darren as well,” Martin said. “He knows the vampire hunter and hopefully the young lad will trust him – if we can find him in time. Dave, you had better go with Lady Freydis in case she meets him first. Jack, I’ll meet you at the War Memorial at the corner of Station Rise in thirty minutes.” He caught the eye of his wife and nodded.

“And I’ll leave now,” Lady Freydis said, the glamour around her shifting from an elegant cocktail dress to utilitarian leather jacket and jeans. She glared at Jack. “And then you and I will be having a long conversation.”

You can read the story of Alex from the start here

Christmas Tradition

It’s that time of year. People are dusting off their Christmas traditions and huddling inside away from the cold, dark days. In Iceland, there is a tradition of Jolabokaflod where people give each other gifts of books on Christmas Eve and then settle down to read them straight away. The more I hear about Iceland, the better it sounds.

Mind you, knowing how people are, those books may be read with different degrees of enthusiasm. I honestly think that there will be lots of happy people curled up with their favourite author, or a favourite genre, or even a completely new type of book that is perfect for opening up new ideas and thoughts in a wonderful and well-received way. I also suspect that there will be people muttering in corners, ‘My mother-in-law got me a book on Swedish Death Cleaning and I know exactly what she means by that!’

We don’t have that tradition in our family, mainly because my lovely husband has mostly audio books and I read a lot of books on a reading app, so we don’t usually buy physical books. Son reads in fits and starts and I just let him get on with it. Besides, he’s old enough to raid our bookshelves now when he feels like it. I also don’t want to force reading on him because he is overloaded with schoolwork and I would feel guilty trying to make him do anything more.

Speaking of schoolwork, son has been blessed by some amazing texts for his school syllabus, and one of them is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We don’t have many Christmas traditions, but one of them is watching A Muppet Christmas Carol every year. We snuggle in, have the room nice and toasty with a scented candle, pile up snacks and drinks and enjoy. It’s years since I read the original, but I dipped in again the other night. I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the original work made it into the Muppet version. I have watched dozens of versions over the years, but I think that the Muppets get it the closest. Drop a comment if you agree or disagree. I’d love to hear what you think.

One thing that struck me was the original story, written in nineteenth century London, doesn’t have much to do with religion. It refers to Christianity, but that was natural for a nominally Christian writer in a nominally Christian country. However, it doesn’t really bother with theology. It talks about people, and a reminder that people are important. That it is worth cherishing the bonds of love and friendship. That it is a human duty to look out for others who cannot look out for themselves.

The language of the original is dated. Some of the expressions are unfamiliar to a modern reader. It’s a cracking story, though, and the dozens of films inspired by it (some a lot better than others) take up the sentiment. It seems that there is a deeply ingrained impulse to have a celebration at the darkest time of the year and to remember those who need a little help. I have watched A Muppet Christmas Carol so many times I can practically repeat the dialogue along with the film. I’m still looking forward to it though. It’s not a bad Christmas tradition.

Lucky Meeting

This is the second in a series of short stories and you can find the full story here

Alex sat in the coffee bar and stared at the camera. Perhaps he should have shown the vicar the pictures. They were still on the camera, but also backed up on his PC, the cloud, half a dozen emails and two usb sticks. He flicked through the pictures on the view screen. Perhaps it was just good makeup at Halloween, but it looked too real. And if it was still on the camera, it couldn’t have been photoshopped – could it?

“Hey,” a deep voice said behind him. Alex turned around. A tall man stood behind him, slim but not skinny, with a neatly trimmed beard and short hair. “I saw those pictures.”

Alex forced a smile. “I got the camera second hand with these pictures on them. Looks like great makeup – right?”

“I’m Rhys McGee,” he said, sitting opposite Alex. “And I think we both know that it isn’t makeup.”

Alex froze for a moment, before forcing out, “What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s real,” Rhys said quietly. “But perhaps you shouldn’t be looking in a public place. If I could see them, so could anyone, or anything, else.”

“I got the camera blessed by a priest,” Alex said defensively.

Rhys hovered a hand over the camera, then paused. “That should help,” he said. “But what are you going to do about it?”

Alex shrugged helplessly. “I’m not exactly an action man,” he said.

Rhys looked thoughtfully at the skinny youngster in front of him. “I’m not going up against anything on my own,” he said. “That’s suicide. But perhaps we can do some stuff together. And I’ve worked as a personal trainer.”

Alex picked up the camera and stared at the pictures. “That’s what the priest said. That it was dangerous and that if a crime was committed then I should tell him.”

“What does an old man think he can do?” Rhys said. “Listen, I’ve got to get going, but why don’t we meet down by the river tonight, on the Lendal Bridge. They’re not supposed to be able to cross running water, so it should be safe enough.”

Alex stared at the stranger. For a brief moment he had the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff or the start of a rollercoaster. He should listen to the young, dynamic priest instead of some man that had approached him in a café. He should be sensible. He should get his laundry done before work tomorrow. He should walk away. Instead he nodded. “What time?”

“Make it around 10pm,” Rhys said. “I’ll have finished work by then, and it will be quieter.”

Rhys left the café and strode down Coppergate. Of course vampires could cross running water. He crossed the Lendal Bridge half a dozen times a day and it never bothered him. He could walk in sunlight as well, though he preferred the night and his night vision was now excellent. So was his hearing, which made the chatter filling the street and the off key busker even more annoying. Just because he could almost hear whether a coin had landed heads up did not make it a blessing.

He still couldn’t remember exactly how he became this monster. His memory was hazy. He’d met a woman in a bar a few years ago. Vivienne had been wild and edgy and he had gone back to her place and then…

He could never remember much more. There had been others around, he thought, coming and going, and lots of strange incense. Then one day, in the middle of summer, he had woken up. The old stone house was empty and all the vampires, including Vivienne, were gone.

Rhys would never forget the isolation he felt. The sensation of being adrift in a small, rudderless boat with no shore in sight. There was the gnawing hunger always at his back, a darkness in him that hadn’t been there when he was the second desk on IT support. He didn’t need caffeine anymore. He needed something far darker. And he couldn’t touch the camera.

There were advantages. When Rhys had searched the house for information, he had found some very detailed, very organised paperwork that even had his name on it. Through complicated trusts and deeds, he was now an owner of a large property set in its own grounds on the edge of the tourist haven of York. He was getting a fortune for it as a holiday rental. He hung out in a small caravan in a corner of the grounds. It gave him time to work his way up as a freelance tech guy and to work out what he was supposed to do now.

Perhaps he should speak to the priest. Whoever he was, he knew his stuff. The camera had been glowing with the blessing. Rhys hadn’t been able to get his hand near it. But then, getting a priest involved wasn’t fair. Most priests were old and frail and he didn’t want to drag one into a fight. Because that was what he was planning. He was going to hunt down every vampire he could, and he was going to destroy them. He was going to train a team, starting with Alex Poole. And they were going to get every last bloodsucker out there. All he, Rhys McGee, Vampire and Vampire Hunter, had to do was find them.

And he could start by looking through the pictures on the camera.

Just a Point

Kent waved the letter at his wife.  “It’s the valuation.” He ripped it open.   Rupert watched carefully.

“You can’t be thinking of selling it.” Alison said.  “It’s been in your family for generations.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “And you know painting is haunted.  Look what happened last time it was sent for cleaning.”  Rupert nodded.  At least someone else was paying attention.

“Those sort of accidents are normal for a house of this age.” Kent looked uneasily over his shoulder.  “And we have to face reality.  We are in a Grade I listed English Stately Home with a leaking roof.  We can’t just get any old tiles from the local builder’s yard and get the cheapest quote plus scaffolding.  Did you see how much the only firm I could track down wanted?  We need the money.”

“Do you want to sell it?” Alison asked as Kent pulled the letter out of it’s rich, cream envelope.

Kent shrugged.  “No, I don’t.  It’s part of the place, I was fascinated by the old man in the picture as a child.  But sentiment won’t patch the roof.”  He absently straightened out the letter.  “I wish we didn’t have to.”  He straightened his shoulders.  “And if I’m not getting a good enough offer, I’m keeping it.  There are grants, after all.”

Jenkins stuck his head round the door.  “It’s Soames about his business proposition.  He’s in the study, sir.”

Rupert waited until Kent and Alison had left the room and inspected the letter.  He concentrated.  Kent would certainly sell for £350,000 but while the figure was flattering, he could not let the portrait go.  It took some work to manipulate it but by the time Kent got back the offer was £35,000, take it or leave it.  The old ghost knew that Kent would never settle for that.  The portrait would be safe for now.  Rupert tapped his ghostly finger on the polished mantle.  Now how could he help with this business idea?