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

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the Battles

rain dropping from roof
Photo by Anna King on Unsplash

Tim put another log on the fire and then leant back. He hadn’t bothered to switch any lamps on as the light faded, and the flickering glow danced around the room, throwing shadows against the wall. It was that time of year again, when he wondered whether he had done the right thing, whether he had chosen the right path. A scatter of rain hit the window and he could hear the wind rising in the trees. There was a knock on the door.

Tim walked down the hallway, switching the lights on as he went, and checked the peephole. You didn’t get many surprise visitors this far out in the country, and he didn’t think it would be Estelle. She was visiting friends over in Rochdale and was staying the night. He did not expect to see a thin, hunched young lad, damp and bedraggled in the porch light. It could be a trick. Tim slid the chain on and cracked open the door. “Yes?”

“Mr Timothy Arndale McGuigan?” the young lad asked, shivering a little.

“Who are you?” Tim answered, peering around him for any possible accomplices.

“I’m Kane Thelwell, and I’m here on behalf of Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan.” Water dripped from his plain brown hair. “He’s asked me to pass on some messages.”

“Alistair McGuigan is dead.” Tim said flatly. “He can send no messages.”

Kane turned, as if listening to someone. “No, I can’t say that! Or that! Okay…” Kane squinted through the rain back at Tim. “The Major General says that you wanted to call your first cat Cowshed, because a friend had a cat called Cola as…”

“Alright, alright.” Tim unhooked the chain and ushered the lad in. “You’re soaked!”

Kane managed a smile. “It’s a bit wet out there, sir.”

“Stay there!” Tim ordered. “My wife would kill me if I let you drip on the sofa.”

After a brief whirlwind of activity, Kane was perched on a bundle of towels on the sofa, his hair roughly dried and a large mug of hot chocolate thrust into his hand. Tim put another log on the fire and sat back in his chair. For a moment he watched the stiff winds whipping the flames up into the chimney and turned to Kane. “How did you know about my cat Kimble?”

Kane glanced uneasily at a space at his side. “I can see ghosts.” He said. “Sometimes I get paid to help people out with hauntings and stuff.” He glanced again and nodded. “But this time I’m doing a favour for Major General McGuigan, as a way of saying thank you for his help.”

“What do you mean?” Tim said.

Kane shook his head. “The Major General wants to pass on a message to you. He says he knows that he always told you to be a soldier like him. And that you became a solicitor instead. He says that he talked about you going after money instead of glory.”

Tim pressed his lips together and turned back to the fire. After all these years, the words still stung. “I am a damn good solicitor, you know. I’ve been invited to apply for a position as a District Judge.”

Kane paused and listened to the unseen presence at his side. “But you’ll take a pay cut if you do that.” He said.

Tim shrugged. “I’m not exactly on the breadline, and judges get a respectable salary. Besides, I’ll still get a share of the profits from my firm.”

Kane sipped his hot chocolate and listened again. “The Major General says that you were handling a divorce recently, the Atkins. He said that you encouraged them to reconcile.”

“They were just going through a bad patch.” Tim said. “It would have been wrong to force the divorce.”

“But you could have made a lot of money out of it.” Kane said. “The Major General says that the other solicitor was itching for a fight.”

“They didn’t want to divorce.” Tim said. “They just needed to have a long talk. And they’re happy now.”

“The Major General said you walked away from that fight.” Kane said.

“It was the moral thing to do.” Tim said coldly.

Kane cocked his head to one side. “But you went in hard for that financial settlement.” He said. “The Cawlstone one. The Major General said you fought that like a tiger. He said you spent hours on the books over that.”

“It was the right thing to do. I was merely pursuing a fair settlement against unfair tactics by the respondent.” Tim said. “It was a challenge.”

Kane listened for a moment, then nodded. “The Major General said that you did the right thing both times. That you showed excellent judgement and good leadership.” He paused and nodded. “He says to tell you that you made the right choice, in those and the other cases he saw. That you choose your battles with skill, use well considered tactics and strategy and that he is proud of you. He says you would have made a good officer, but you’re doing pretty good where you are.” Kane listened again. “He says to tell you properly, that Major General Alistair Arndale McGuigan is proud of you, his son, and that he always will be.”

Tim swallowed. “Thank you.” He said. “And I’m proud of him.” He hesitated. “I love you, Dad.”

Kane looked at the space next to him and smiled a little. “I think he loves you too.” He said. “He says, goodbye.”

“Wait, Dad, hang on!” Tim leapt to his feet, but Kane was shaking his head.

“He’s gone home now, passed over. He’s not here anymore.”

Tim lowered himself slowly back into the armchair. He found himself breathing a little harder, as if he had been running. He let the conversation sink in slowly. He turned to Kane. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” Kane said awkwardly, sipping his hot chocolate.

“Seriously, thank you.” Tim said. “It means a lot.” He managed a smile. “And that is just the way Dad would have said it.”

“He seemed a bit hard work, but he was a good man.” Kane said. “He helped me out with a problem last week, and I don’t think I could have managed without him.”

Tim smiled a little sadly. “He was a great man to have on your side.” He hesitated. “You say you are employed to sort out hauntings?”

Kane nodded. “Well, sort of sort out. I can see and hear ghosts, but I can’t make them do what I want.” He thought for a moment. “I could never have got the Major General to do anything he didn’t want to.”

Tim laughed. “That sounds like Dad. But what is your fee?”

Kane shook his head. “No fee tonight. It’s my way of saying thank you to the Major General. I don’t mind.”

Tim looked at the hunched young lad, with his battered trainers and worn, cheap jeans. “I feel like I owe you a great deal.” He said. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?” He watched the emotions cross Kane’s face, as he struggled to resist temptation, before he gave in.

“Could you give me a lift to the station?” Kane asked.  

Bad Night’s Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Giveaway

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Kitty!

closeup photo of brown tabby cat
Image from Unsplash taken by Diana Parkhouse

“Come on, kitty, come for a cuddle,” Kane hoped he didn’t sound as helpless as he felt.

“Can you see him?” Adele called over his shoulder.

“He seems to be stuck behind the bookcase,” Kane said, “Come on, Kitler, come on.”

“I’ve never liked cats,” Adele said, trying to get a look. “But when my aunt died, well, I couldn’t let him go to a shelter. I mean, my aunt loved the evil creature.”

Kane stared helplessly at the ghost of the cat. The ghost stared back. Kane recognised the expression of bland assurance, the hint of secret wisdom and knowledge, and the pause of waiting for a thought to turn up between the furry ears. “Come on, Kitler, there’s a good kitty.”

“He was supposed to be called Sam, but after he terrorised next door’s rottweiler and dropped a live rat in front of the vicar, we thought Kitler was more appropriate.” Adele said. “He was a bit of a character.”

Kane reached out and tickled Kitler under his ghostly chin. The cat snuggled down onto the cuddle and edged forward. “He sounds a little difficult.” He could hear the phantasmal purr echoing.

“Do you know, the first week he was here, he chased a postman down the path,” Adele said with a hint of pride. “We had to collect all our post in the end, and we were blacklisted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

“Who’s a good kitty?” Kane said, as the spirit of the cat edged closer.

“I didn’t expect to miss him when he went, but I do,” Adele sighed. “I wonder if that held him back from crossing the Rainbow Bridge?”

“I think he was still happy here,” Kane said, watching the shade of Kitler push blissfully against his tickling fingers.

“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I mean, next door’s Alsatian still runs away from the post where Kitler used to sit. But he makes such a noise at night, racing around and knocking things over. It’s like he never left.”

Kane looked at the smug spirit in front of him. That’s why the ghost hadn’t moved on. He was having too much fun terrorising the household to want to see what happened next. “He is a strong character.” Any minute now, Kane thought. Any minute now the purr will turn to a hiss. I wonder if he can still scratch?

“But I’m not getting any sleep, and it’s unnerving having a ghost in the house.” Adele said. “So can you do something?”

“I’ve only really done people,” Kane said, pulling his hand back quickly as the cuddle turned instantly into an attack. Kitler glared at him. “I’m not sure how to get a ghost cat safely over.”

“Could you bribe him with ghost treats?” Adele asked. “He used to do anything for Dreamies.”

Kane stood up. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to do.” He looked around. “Aunt Brenda, do you have any ideas?”

The ghost of his foster mother tickled Kitler behind the ears. “What a sweetie. I wish I could take him home with me.”

“I’ll take it from here, my good woman!” A disembodied voice rang out before a spectral figure shimmered into view.

“Aunt Charlotte,” Adele whispered, holding on to the back of the chair.

“You can see her?” Kane asked.

“People always said I had a presence,” Aunt Charlotte said smugly. “And now I’ve come for my Sam before he gets exorcised or some such nonsense.” She grabbed Kitler firmly around the middle and hoisted him, unprotesting and stunned, into her arms. “He’s coming home with his mummy.” She turned to Adele. “You did your best for mummy’s little kitty. You should get that painting I left you valued, the one that you put in the spare bedroom.” She sniffed. “If you appreciated art, you would already know about it. The certificate of authenticity is tucked behind the frame at the back.”

Adele and Kane watched the ghost of Aunt Charlotte with her malevolent companion fade from view.

“Have they definitely gone?” Adele asked. “I mean, both of them?”

Kane smiled reassuringly. “I’m pretty sure that they won’t come back either.” He watched Adele sag with relief.

Auntie Brenda nodded in approval. “You’re going to find it very quiet around here now,” she said. “Perhaps you should get another cat.”

Kane decided that was one message he was not going to pass on.

Shadow in the Corner

brown and green house on green grass field under white clouds and blue sky during daytime
Image by David Stamm on Unsplash

Welcome to October. Once again I am planning on publishing something a little spooky or supernatural on every day of October 2020. Most of it will be reposts of flash fiction you have seen in the past, but there will be a few new tales in the mix, so keep an eye out! And of course I will be part of the October Frights run by the amazing Anita Steward and sharing the scary goodness on here during the run between 10th and 15th of October. I hope you enjoy!

It’s an old stone house with a tall stone tower

It’s bent and battered but it still holds power

And the priests keep blessing but the dark’s still calling

So the cattle’s brought in soon as night starts falling

We’re the edge of the kingdom so we don’t pay taxes

And the only human sounds are the woodcutter’s axes

So the lords don’t bother and we like it that way

Though few who come to work here have the heart to stay

There’s a new girl in the kitchens and we have to warn her

Of the stain that hides in the shadow in the corner.

Please Hold

My time management is spectacularly poor. This is not a secret. I fail at getting things done on time. I’m trying to break that habit, but it’s a work in progress.

You may have noticed that there isn’t a writing prompt this week. I enjoy writing prompts, but I noticed that I was the only one taking part. This is not necessarily helpful. I also now have an editor who has plans for my writing (hi Rebekah, you are awesome!).

At the same time, life in the real world is pressing down and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. So I’m shaking things up a little. I won’t be posting any more writing challenges. I don’t think that they’ll be missed. I will, however, aim to publish one piece of flash fiction every week after the end of October. I look at it as my gym. The little pieces of flash fiction, quite seperate from anything else, keep my writing in trim.

You may have noticed that this starts after the end of October. I have a few deadlines swinging over my head, some for the awesome Three Furies Press, some for other projects. I have also signed up for the amazing October Frights, organised by Anita Steward, which is a group of writers sharing scary stuff between 10th October and 15th October. And, in the past, I’ve tried to post something spooky every day for October. I thought it was important for me to keep up the tradition. So October is likely to be very busy (and fun!). This year there will be a post every day of October with a little supernatural fiction. Around two thirds of the posts are old favourites. I enjoyed reading through the back pages of my blog and dipping into past stories and I hope you will enjoy them as well. There will be a few new pieces, though, with a supernatural twist, and I hope you will enjoy them.

After October and the wonderfully spooky time of Halloween, look out for weekly flash fiction, news of what I have been up to and book reviews. I have a backlog of reviews I have promised to do. Did I mention I’m appalling at time management? I’m sorry if I owe you a review. And I’m sure that there will be bits and pieces that follow on to all the strange places that my writing visits.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free. I am always incredibly flattered to think that anyone has read this, and I would love to hear from you.

Book Review: The Crow Journal by Finn Cullen

The Crow Journal by Finn Cullen is a wonderfully evocative, meticulously researched, intricately woven tale that slots in impeccable references to mid Victorian London and joins them seamlessly to a chilling tale of faerie, enchantment, adventure and treachery.

The story is told in a style that would have been familiar to Dickens or Conan Doyle. Here’s an excerpt to give some flavour:

The carriage ride was not a long one, and my companion was not inclined to conversation. I was thoughtful myself after my encounter in the court of Green Jack. I had not gained the answers I sought, but I had taken a first step into the realm of Faerie. More importantly I hadn’t lost my life in the taking of that step. There in the safety of the cab’s compartment it began to dawn on me how perilous that encounter had been. Thorn’s ruthlessness had been clear, the memory of those cold killer’s eyes would not soon leave me, and the sense of power that came when I recalled the vast landscape face of Green Jack himself was daunting.

Barnaby Silver, having finished the first part of his magical training with his kindly mentor, Doctor Moran, journeys from a remote village in Yorkshire to London. He is searching for news of his father, who he never knew. His mother, a magus or magician, had fled London when he was a baby. Now he needed to find out about his father.

His quest takes him through the darkest streets of mid Victorian London and the dangerous lands of faerie. Interlaced with the search for his father is the intrigue and scheming of the magi, the magicians that are now based in London after moving from Glastonbury.

The story has plenty of great action scenes and lots of plot twists, although only a hint of romance. As a story, it stands alone but there are a few strands left that suggest further great stories may come.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Window

brown brick wall with green plants
Image from Unsplash, taken by Random Sky

“It’s easier to show you,” Kate said.

“We wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t seen it,” Kes chipped in.

Kane looked nervously at the couple. “I’ve never dealt with a haunted window before,” he said. “They’ve always been haunted by someone.”

Kes shrugged his broad shoulders. “We didn’t know where to turn until you were recommended.”

Kane sighed. “Show me the problem, please.”

Kate led them into the small back room in the tiny terrace. “We sunk a lot of money into this. We always came in the evenings, though, and when we look back, the old owner always rushed us out of this room.”

“We thought of suing the surveyor,” Kes said. “But how do you explain this in court?”

Kate went over to the far wall where thick curtains hung and pulled them back. Kane stared as Kes switched on the light. The window was completely bricked up. Kate saw his confusion. “We thought we could have it knocked through, but, well…”

Kane watched in disbelief as Kate’s hand passed through the apparently solid brick and rapped smartly on what sounded like a glass pane. “I think I see.”

“It looks normal from the outside,” Kes said. “You can even see the furniture in the room and everything.”

Kate nodded. “We asked the previous owner.” She sighed. “He had inherited the house from his aunt. Apparently the old lady had seen her fiancé kissing another woman through this window, and so she had it bricked up.”

“She never married, or even dated, as far as the nephew knew,” Kes said. “It’s a very sad story.”

“I’ve never done a window before,” Kane said carefully. “I’ve only done people.” He thought for a moment. “And dogs.” He walked slowly up to the window and pressed his fingers against what looked like dark brick. They passed through and rested against cool glass. “Could you give me a moment?”

Kane waited until the door had shut quietly behind him and then looked carefully around. It took a moment, but he saw her, a bent old lady huddled in the corner. “Hello, Miss. I’m Kane. Are you okay?”

“I’m so ashamed,” the frail figure said. “I’ve never forgave myself.”

“I knew it wasn’t just a window,” Kane said. “There is always someone there.”

“I found out later that it was his sister,” the shade of the old lady said. “It had just been a peck on the cheek anyway, but I was so jealous.” The ghost of a withered hand wiped away a translucent tear. “And afterwards, well, I just couldn’t look him in the face. I had said such dreadful things.”

“I’m sure he knew that you didn’t mean them.” Kane said sympathetically.

The old lady’s ghost shook her head. “I couldn’t live with myself. I wouldn’t see him. I couldn’t even bare to read his letters.” She gestured to the ghost of the brickwork. “I had to do this.”

Kane stared at the ghost of the brickwork and then back at the old lady. “Who took it down?”

“My nephew, Arthur, took it down.” The old lady slowly approached the window and stood next to Kane. “I should have done that years ago, and I was glad that he had.” Tears slid down the wrinkled cheeks. “I should have gone to him years ago, and now it’s too late.”

Kane thought for a moment. “But it isn’t really too late,” he said. “You could find him now.”

The old lady was suddenly still. “You mean, apologise? It’s too late for that. And I could never find him now.”

Kane shrugged. “People seem to manage once they’ve passed over. And perhaps you could just talk to him. You can explain.”

The old lady slowly shook her head. “I need to apologise. I need to go and find him.” She slowly faded into the dim light in the corner of the room. As her presence left, light flooded in as the ghosts of the bricks on the window followed her.

Kane sighed as he turned to call in Kate and Kes, his heart breaking a little for her sadness. He had dealt with enough ghosts to be unsurprised by her stubbornness.