Extract 34

clear glass bottles on table
Image from Unsplash taken by Charl Folscher

Ian sat in the battered waiting room and tried to relax. Trent sat at his feet, panting and wild eyed. That was the problem. Trent was a werewolf, the same as Ian, but Trent was stuck in wolf form. He couldn’t change. As the leader of the pack, Ian had a duty to its members. However, he was in something close to a veterinarian’s office and his mouth was dry with the tension. But Trent needed help and it was beyond the home remedies of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. They had to turn to the one doctor in York that specialised in non-normals.

The icy, older lady who was busy behind the desk noted the flashing light above the scarred door. “Dr Williamson will see you now, Mr Tait.” She glared at Ian as he hesitated. “Please do not keep the doctor waiting.”

Ian forced himself to his feet and tugged at Trent. Trent whimpered but scuttled behind him, paws skidding wildly and his ears flat with fear. Ian knocked on the door and went in.

“Good afternoon,” Dr Williamson said. “Take your time and get your bearings.” He stood and walked to the head of the table. “I never try and rush a nervous werewolf.”

“It’s okay, Trent,” Ian said. “It’ll be fine.” As Trent pressed himself against Ian’s legs, Ian looked around. It was definitely a specialised treatment room. Most doctors didn’t have a treatment table with restraints – some in strange places. Most doctors did not have a burly boggart keeping an eye on things in case things got out of hand. And most doctors did not have huge saws, knives and augurs ranged in the glass cabinets surrounding the room. On the other hand, most doctors did not have a tray of best quality dog treats on their desk and a patient expression. Ian ran a comforting hand over Trent’s flanks and turned to the doctor. “It’s Trent, here. He’s stuck as a wolf. I don’t know what to do.”

“Hmm,” Dr Williamson patted the table. “Just jump up on here and let me have a look.”

Trent whimpered again, but, after a stern look from Ian, jumped onto the table, skidding a little on the polished steel. Dr Williamson selected an instrument from his desk. “Let’s have a look at your eyes, hmm.”

Ian kept a firm hold of the collar around Trent’s neck to stop him from bolting. Collars were worn by werewolves when they were out and about ‘in fur’ to stop awkward questions, and Ian was glad of the handhold. “It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt you.”

Dr Williamson examined Trent’s eyes and ears and felt along his lupine rib cage. “You’re in great condition for a young lad,” he said. He slipped in the stethoscope’s ear pieces and listened to Trent’s heart. “But stressed.” He turned to Ian. “Was he part of the pack that brought down the stray last week?”

Ian nodded. “We all turned out for that. It was a bad business.”

Dr Williamson nodded. “I hear a lot about non-normal stuff, one way or another,” he said. “I patched up a few of the stray’s victims. He made quite a mess of them. I’m glad you took him out.” He looked closely at Trent. “That stray was a murderer. He was a killer. He left some kids with injuries that they would carry for the rest of their lives, if they weren’t suddenly plunged into being werewolves. He was the worst of strays and you and yours did your duty.” He held Trent’s terrified gaze. “You were a stray once, I know. You were without a pack. You scrounged and begged and hid in the shadows.” Dr Williamson leaned closer. “And I bet you never so much as snapped at anyone, no matter what the provocations. I bet you didn’t growl, you didn’t snarl, you didn’t bite. You kept your head down and did your best. That’s why you didn’t end up like that stray that you helped to stop. That’s why you would never end up like that stray.” Dr Williamson didn’t break eye contact. “Hand me extract 34 please.” He frowned in thought. “Fifteen millilitres, undiluted.”

“What’s that?” Ian asked, holding the young werewolf firm as Trent’s paws slid in panic across the steel bench.

“Thank you,” Dr Williamson took the tiny cup of brown fluid from his burly assistant, ignoring Ian. “Open wide.”

Trent fought frantically to escape but Ian, pushing aside his doubts, prised open Trent’s jaws to allow Dr Williamson to tip the medicine inside. Trent gasped, coughed, swallowed, coughed again and shuddered as he changed back into his human form.

“There are some spare clothes behind the screen,” Dr Williamson said as Trent sat up. “I’d like them back later.”

As Trent dived behind the screen, Ian leant in close to Dr Williamson. “Neat brandy?”

“In this case, it wasn’t what was delivered, but how,” Dr Williamson grinned. “Nice young cub, that. I’m sure he’ll do well. But it’s always the good ones that get hit by this stuff hardest. Good thing that he’s got you looking out for him.”

Ian relaxed. “Good thing that he had you treated him.” He nodded in approval as Trent emerged wearing joggers and sweatshirt a little too big for him. “Thank you, doctor, thank you so much.”

“My pleasure,” Dr Williamson said.

“I’ll pay on the way out,” Ian said. “Thank you for treating us.” He watched Trent almost dancing on the way out and winked at the doctor. “And to show our gratitude, I’ll send around some top quality extracts of our own, for you to sample.”

“I look forward to testing them,” the doctor grinned.

A Small Sprig

“I don’t know why people press flowers in books,” Ken said as he dusted down another stack of hardbacks. “It’s awful for the books and it doesn’t do much for the flower. Why don’t they use blotting paper and then put it in a frame?” He sighed and tipped out another sprig of faded leaves. “At least this one hasn’t stained the pages too much.”

Lynn looked around the crowded room. “Do we really need to go through all these books now? Perhaps we could go for a walk and get some fresh air. It’s a lovely day.”

“It will take more than a day to get through these,” Ken said. “And don’t forget, we have another shipment coming at the weekend.”

Lynn stood up and dusted off her jeans. “I’ll make us a cup of tea,” she said as she picked her way through the towers of stacked books.

The kitchen was just as full. Her late uncle had left her everything. The exasperated landlord had piled the hoarded contents of Uncle Tim’s house into storage and sent Lynn the bill and now the contents of the storage units were being sent down by instalments from Scotland to their Bristol town house. Boxes and boxes of junk were travelling hundreds of miles to pass under Ken’s inspection.

Lynn poured boiling water on the teabags and looked around the kitchen. It was crammed. Uncle Tim had collected some beautiful enamelware and Lynn had suggested that they throw out the mismatched utensil pots and the tea and coffee tins that had come free with her saucepans and use the lovely, warm cream pots and jugs, but Ken was talking about how much the enamelware would fetch and thought that they should keep the old stuff. She added sugar to Ken’s mug and then topped up both drinks with milk. She didn’t want the money. She wanted Uncle Tim back. She carried the drinks back to the living room.

The books were dusty, mainly from Uncle Tim’s house, and Ken had dark smears on his face and shirt. “Thanks for the tea. It’s dry work. I’ve tossed the flowers I’ve found so far into the bin, but some of them have still stained the books. It’ll affect their resale value.”

“What? Some of those were put there by mum! I remember her putting them there.” Lynn stared at him.

Ken shifted awkwardly. “Well your mum’s been gone for a bit now. I don’t suppose she minds now that she’s in a better place.”

“I could have planted any seeds on her grave,” Lynn said. “Why did you do that?”

“I said that it will give a better resale value. We could get enough for a wedding if we sell this lot and get a good price for the enamelware, and perhaps we could get a better car for me, depending on what else is sent down. At least the landlord seems to have been honest. It doesn’t look like he kept back anything valuable. This is a first edition by Hemingway novel. I’ve found the same copy is over £7000 online.”

Lynn looked at him and then back at the book. “I remember Uncle Tim reading that story. He kept that copy for best and read and re-read paperback versions. He loved his Hemingway.”

“Lucky for us he did,” Ken said, making a note in a notebook and putting it to one side. “We could sell this place and get something a little nicer under both of our names. Something with a bigger garden.”

“You hate gardening,” Lynn pointed out as she stared at her partner. He’d been in her life for eighteen months now. Why had she not seen him clearly before? The house was hers, the car was hers, and all these treasures from Uncle Tim belonged to her. Ken didn’t even share the bills. He just paid for the Sports Channels that he had insisted on. At least she had held out for that. She didn’t even remember inviting him to stay. He had been living with his mother and after a while the nights he had stayed over had merged until he never left.

“But it will be nice to relax in a garden,” Ken said. “We can have a quiet glass of wine at the end of the day, perhaps with a barbecue.”

Lynn looked around and started sorting through the books. She was sure it would be here somewhere. “I’m very happy here,” she said. “And the neighbours are lovely.”

“I know that you’re close with the neighbours, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit,” Ken said. “You know, now and again.”

He had never liked her friends, Lynn remembered. She hardly seemed to see them nowadays. There always seemed to be something else happening. She shifted a stack of books and found what she was looking for – Pride and Prejudice. She had been holding it as she had excitedly told Uncle Tim about Ken, how they had met on a walk and how he seemed absolutely perfect. Uncle Tim had insisted that she picked a spray of borage from the border and preserve it, as a memory, so that she could look back one day and remember the excitement. She shook the pages carefully and caught the brittle fragment as it fell.

“That looks newer,” Ken said. “I wonder who put that there.”

“I did,” Lynn said. She tossed the small sprig into the bin. “And I’m not moving. But you are.”

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

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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

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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.”