Dead Roses

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I sat and 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, somehow now I was finished.  I couldn’t go on.

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.

This is part of the October Frights Blog Hop which you can check out here.  Lots of good stuff with giveaways and great writing.  

A Test

Steve looked at the foul imp digging its claws into his expensive suit jacket.  “Are you sure it is this way?”

Armani belched, spat and scratched the dirty, tiny t-shirt covering his stomach.  “That’s the way.  Lord Darcy is through there.”

Steve stared at the wooden planks across his path.  Why the hell had an elfen decided to call himself ‘Lord Darcy’.  Where had he picked up the stupid name?  The elfen lord would no doubt be wearing a velvet jacket and a lace up shirt.  Steve leaned closer to the planks.  The trouble with these older faerie lords is that they were insanely powerful.  They were insane, they were powerful and this one wanted Steve to do something for him.

Steve considered turning back.  A large trunk of guaranteed genuine medieval prayer books would fetch a very good price – but he had to strike the deal first.  Was the money going to be worth the risk?

“It isn’t real, boss.” Armani looked bored.  “Just walk straight ahead.”

Steve tentatively touched the wood.  The grain of the planks ran from left to right, he could feel the tiny ridges and valleys and smell the pungent creosote.

“Seriously, boss, not real.” Armani chuckled coarsely as Steve pressed his fingers against the unyielding wood.  Stretching out his wings, Amani hovered in Steve’s eye line.  “Watch this.” Armani flapped forward and passed through the barrier as if it was mist.

Steve pressed his palm against the cool, grooved wall.  It was still solid.  Armani flapped back into view.  He tugged nonchalantly at one of his tattered ears.

“Actually, boss, there’s a forty-foot pit with iron spikes on the other side of this.  I think we need to find another way.”

“A pit with iron spikes?” Steve said levelly.  “I was asked here, I don’t need to do this trade.  Why are we getting these tricks?”

Armani shrugged.  “Powerplay, ego trip, practical joke, fear that if he looks weak you’ll rip him off, placating an awkward courtier, worried about werewolves, forgot he put it here, someone else put it here to screw the deal, proving that you were up to making a deal with an elfen lord – take your pick.  You’re the one that makes the deals with elfen.”

“How would it look if I just turned back?” Steve stepped back and looked at the barrier.  Armani shrugged again.

Steve took a deep breath.  He hated the elfen playing mind games, but this was a test.  He strode confidently forward and through the planks as if they were just a dream.  For a heartbeat his foot seemed to hover above the steep sided pit and the iron spikes and then was placed confidently onto the solid stone floor.  He glanced at Armani.  “Since when did ancient elfen tolerate iron.  The older the faerie the less they can bear it.  However, I don’t like being tested.” Steve was well aware he was being overheard.  “My commission has just gone up.”

Checkout the awesome writers on the October Frights blog hop here 

Protection from Fairies

If someone talks about fairies nowadays, many people think of cute, diminutive female figures.  They may have lacy wings and possibly a hat in the shape of a foxglove flower.  Some people may think of wise and beautiful nature spirits, or perhaps they may think of a coin left under the pillow in exchange for a tooth.  It wasn’t always that way.

Before The Flower Fairies

If we go back before Tolkien and Enid Blyton, there is a long tradition of dark stories about what can loosely be called fairies – spirits of the countryside.  These were spirits who were capricious and not always friendly.  They were blamed when the crops were affected by blight, the butter wouldn’t come and sheep and cattle died.  And worse – they were blamed for changelings.  These were children that didn’t thrive but who were sickly and ill.

Will o’ the Wisps led travellers astray.  Stories were told of people who would disappear and then reappear years later believing that they had only been away three nights.  Creatures like the kelpie would drag helpless passers by down into the water to drown.  Sudden afflictions like strokes were attributed to fairies.  The stone arrowheads that were found near the old stone circles were ‘elf shot’.  They were considered physical evidence of a magical attack that could leave you crippled or dead from what would now be called a stroke.    Some stories even said that fairies paid a tithe of human souls to hell.  Fairies were scary!

They were also tricky.  You couldn’t accept food or drink from a fairy.  It might whisk you away for a hundred years or bind you as their servants.  You couldn’t trust payment from a fairy.  Fairy gold had a habit of turning into dead leaves.  They would look like one thing, then another.  And you had to watch every word you said.  The slightest hint of a promise and you were bound to them.  They were elusive and mutable, and in a difficult world, they were best avoided.

Protection from the Fair Ones

Fairies were seen as a risk to your food, your family, your life and even your soul.  Of course people were going to try and protect themselves.  The first thing anyone turned to was iron.  Horseshoes were nailed over the door, but it had to be the right sort of horseshoe.  It had to be a horseshoe that had been used and in most districts it had to be nailed with the points up.  If you couldn’t get a horseshoe (and iron was expensive) then iron nails could be hammered in to the lintel, the mantelpiece or even the bed where a woman was giving birth.

A stone with a hole in it was also considered a good protective charm.  It couldn’t be a hole which had had a hole drilled in it.  Instead it had to be a stone that was found to have a hole in it naturally, from somewhere like a river bed.  These were often hung in stables and byres to keep fairies from knotting manes and tails into ‘elf locks’ and drying up the milk.

Salt was also a good source of protection.  It could be sprinkled across thresholds and lintels if the family felt threatened.  Rowan wood was another source of protection.  Rowan was known as a magical tree, both dedicated to fairies and used as a protection against them.  St John’s Wort was another remedy against fairy attack.

If an unlucky traveller had to travel and feared fairies and being led astray, they could turn their coat inside out and carry a piece of bread in their pockets.  And it was not uncommon for church bells to be rung when there was a storm to frighten away the evil spirits and any fairies that were affecting the weather.  Although as stories evolved in the Christian society of the Middle Ages, fairies respected churches.  Indeed, in today’s Iceland, elves are thought to have a bishop and their own churches.  A road was diverted to accommodate an elvish church in Iceland only recently, though I feel that this isn’t a belief in fairies, but a tolerance of a belief in fairies, which is to be encouraged.

Conclusion

All in all, fairies are not all sparkle and shimmer.  In folklore they are dangerous, duplicitous and difficult.  So slide an iron nail into your pocket, turn your coat inside out and beware!

 

Keep away from the wall, my child,

It keeps us from the faeries wild.

It keeps us from their faerie fear.

Keep away, my child, come here.

 

They blight the cows and cost us money

They steal the bees and take the honey

They spoil the butter in the churn

They cause the cakes and bread to burn

 

They steal our children, blight our wheat,

Ruin pigs and taint the meat.

Keep away from the wall, my dear,

Keep away, my child, come here.

For more wonderful things from the October Frights blog hop, have a look here and dip in!  There are great stories, amazing giveaways and lots of scary fun!  

October Frights: The Bells of St Brigit’s

The bells of St. Brigit’s are calling tonight,

The moonlight is sparkling over the sea,

The stars are shedding their magical light,

And my lover’s dead soul is calling to me.

 

The roses are breathing their passion filled scent,

The soft waves are hissing onto the sand,

The bells chimes are ringing an empty lament,

I feel the blessed touch of my lover’s cold hand.

 

Down the stone staircase and out to the sand,

Across the storm wreckage to the now quiet sea,

My lover steps slowly away from the land,

A final farewell and he’s now lost to me.

Starting off my contribution to October Frights Blog Hop with The Bells of St Brigit’s.  Check out what else is happening elsewhere!    http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=797504

First and Third Saturday

The first and third Saturday are set in stone

And nothing may disturb them.

It is inviolable that she goes, through wind and weather

No let or hindrance permitted

 

First the train ride, then the bus,

Then the long walk up the wooded hill.

Dragging the flowers and the cleaning kit

Into the murmuring cemetery.

 

It is a ritual, disposing of the old flowers from the grave

The browned leaves and petals on the heap,

The washing of the neat urn on the grave

The snipping of the stems

 

The flowers renewed, she wipes the headstone,

Trims the edges, picks up the gravel

Waters the tiny alpines in the cracks

Brushes off the dead leaves.

 

Nothing stops the pilgrimage.

And once the grave is neatened, then she sits and reads

Perhaps in the shelter near the church

Perhaps on the stone seat near the tree

 

The first and third Saturday are hers, defended

And who could argue against tending to a grave.

Who’s grave?  She doesn’t know but cares

Because they gave the gift

Of the first and third Saturday, unassailable.

October is Awesome!

In the last few months, I’ve managed to connect to some really awesome indie authors.  They are doing some great stuff, and I’ve been encouraged and inspired.  I’ve taken the chance to sign up to some great online and blog events.

Of course, October is a great month for those who write about ‘things that go bump in the night’ in all their flavours.  This means that there are a gazillion blog posts, articles, giveaways, book reviews and articles sloshing around the web.  I’ll be taking the opportunity to share some of these.  It also means that I have committed to far too many things – but that is par for the course!

I will be posting most days.  Not only will I be linking to other authors during October, but I’ve committed to posting quite a few bits from me.  So, if you like a supernatural flavour, keep an eye out!  Today I’m sharing the link to Timothy Bateson’s blog, and the post which kicks off his amazing ’31 Days of Halloween’.  In case you don’t notice, I’m on 24th, but, to be honest, I’m really looking forward to reading all the great stuff that’s scheduled.

Also coming up is October Frights which is an intensive five days of all things Horror and Paranormal.  I will be posting and sharing a lot so brace yourself for loads of links and some original fiction from me.

In other news, I’m still working on the newsletter.  I have the content, but I’m getting bewildered by the legals.  The first edition will go out as soon as I can manage.  The link to subscribe is here, if you are interested.  And for anyone who missed it, here is the latest instalment from the White Hart.  Happy reading!

Tap Tap Tap

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.

 Image from free-images.com

Getting Busy

I’m not quite getting the hang of the whole ‘author’ thing.  I like writing, and I like to think I’m good at it, but the whole marketing thing is a whole new world.

It’s an exciting new world, though, and I’m enjoying some of the adventure.  I had never heard of ‘Blog Tours’ or ‘Facebook Takeovers’ or ‘Guest Posts’.  Now I’m finding out about these wonderful things and, what is even better, enjoying dipping in to other people’s writing.

I’ve signed up to be part of blog tours.  This means I’ll will be doing reviews, hosting guest posts and generally interacting with some amazing authors.  Watch this space for what is happening.  I have also had a story accepted into the ‘Glass and Ashes’ anthology and the blog tours and publicity for that are going to be awesome!  I’m feeling overwhelmed, but in a good way.

In other news – the first newsletter will absolutely definitely be out next Friday 5 October, and I absolutely definitely will have worked out how to do it by then.  Not only will I do everything to make sure I comply with all regulations, but I will also include any updates on what I am doing, a household hint from Mrs Tuesday’s extensive collection and a short piece of original fiction.  You can subscribe to the newsletter here, if you are interested.  And I will absolutely, definitely have the next instalment of the White Hart up this Friday.

Thank you for stopping by.

Quiet Library

 

“We have to do something.” Elsie whispered.  The faded ghost peeped around the corner.  “She’s in a world of her own.”

“You can’t interfere with someone’s love life.” Mr Kennington said.  In life he had been a head librarian and he still had the habit of authority.

“She didn’t realise that he couldn’t see us for years.” Elsie said.  “She’s not going to notice that he’s besotted by her.” Elsie sighed.  “It’s so romantic.”

“She may not like him.” Mr Kennington pointed out.

The third of the library’s ghosts drifted over.  “It’s up to him,” Tony said.  “Unless she’s got a boyfriend somewhere else.”  He looked nervously at Elsie and then looked away quickly.

“That’s not the only reason she would refuse.” Mr Kennington said.  “After all, the young man is not likely to be a good provider.”

“We only know what Rhia told us.” Elsie said.  She looked wistfully between Rhia, sorting out the classic fiction, and Liam, who seemed engrossed in his computer.  “Tony, go and have a look at what he’s looking at, there’s a love.”

Tony looked at Mr Kennington, who nodded.  The ghost of the teenager, the only one who had any understanding of computers, disappeared through the wall and slid into place behind Liam.

Elsie and Mr Kennington carefully composed themselves as Rhia picked up a faded book and walked passed them to the back rooms.  Mr Kennington sniffed as soon as Rhia was out of sight of Liam and wagged a faded finger.  “Your cleaner did not attend again this morning.  It is completely unacceptable.  You need to speak to her.  In fact, it was Mr Liam who did that vacuum thing and dusted this morning.”

Rhia managed a smile.  “Hello, Mr Kennington.” She sighed.  “Liam can’t afford to pay the cleaner any more.  He said he’ll take over that job.”

“It is inappropriate for the owner of the library to dust.” Mr Kennington said.  “The first owner, his esteemed ancestor, would never had done such a thing.”

“We need new subscribers.” Rhia said.  “People aren’t coming here.  Liam doesn’t know what to do.  He says people don’t like old books anymore.”

“Hi,” Tony said awkwardly as he slid out of the wall behind Rhia.  She jumped and turned around.

“Tony, I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Rhia said.  “Anyway, I need to get on.  I’m going to see if I can do something about this spine before it goes.”

 

The ghosts watched her as he walked briskly into the back room before Elsie and Mr Kennington turned to Tony.  Tony had only been dead three years and had managed to keep up with a lot of the technology.  He shook his head.

“I think Rhia’s right.  He’s looking at stuff like auctions and articles on the best way to sell old books.  He looks pretty down as well.”

“See,” Mr Kennington nodded.  “He’s not a good provider.  Rhia is mostly sensible and would not chose a husband who couldn’t provide for her and a future family.”

“It’s not really like that these days.” Tony avoided Mr Kennington’s eyes.  “Anyway, it looks bad.  Perhaps he can ask her for a date once he has sold the library.”

“What?” Mr Kennington snapped, before taking a deep breath.  “He can’t sell the library.”

“It’s not going to happen.” Elsie said with fake confidence.  “I mean, we live here – if you know what I mean.”

“We’ll probably be still here, but I think they’ll turn this into a bar or some flats.”

“Flats?” Mr Kennington said.  He didn’t always remember modern terminology.

“Apartments, small sets of rooms where people live.” Tony said helpfully.

“But then how will my Albert ever find me?” Elsie asked, her pale eyes wide.

“He isn’t coming back.” Mr Kennington said with as much patience as he could manage.  “You have been dead over 100 years.  If Albert was going to come back, he would have already got here.”

“I waited for him.” Elsie said.  “I promised him.  I said I would wait and always be in the library whenever I could so no matter what happened while he was away, he could find me.”

“I have overseen this library for nearly two centuries.” Mr Kennington pulled himself to his full height, such as it was, and drifted slightly upwards.  He shook his head sadly.  “It is all my fault.  I have spent far too much time coaching Tony and now that Mr Pierce and Miss Ellis have found peace, well, we are spread thinly.” Mr Kenning shook his head.  “Not that I blame either of you,” he said quickly.  “It’s been a pleasure to see you come on, young Tony, and I certainly don’t want any more deaths in the library.”  His translucent finger tapped at his pale chin.  “We shall have to have an advertising campaign in all the appropriate newspapers.  Perhaps even a picture!”

Tony shrugged.  “People don’t bother much with papers these days.” He said.  “Besides, adverts cost money.  If Liam can’t afford a cleaner then he can’t afford hundreds of pounds and a marketing manager.”

“He shall have to sell a book.” Mr Kennington said. “It’s a dreadful thing for a library to do, and it should be resisted until there is truly no other way.  Fortunately, I have been holding something in reserve.”  He drifted towards the classics section.  “It was before your time, Elsie, but Charles Dickens visited Leeds.”  Mr Kennington sniffed.  “He was not complimentary about our good city, but he did sign some copies of that Oliver Twist book.” Mr Kennington’s mouth twisted.  He was not a fan of serialised fiction.  “I know he signed quite a few, because a rascal came in and tried to force Mr Horace to purchase them.”  Mr Kennington shook his head.  “There was a dreadful scene and several of the dozen books he brought in fell down the crack at the back of the bookcase.  No-one noticed as the rogue got quite vocal and had to be escorted out.  Mr Horace threw his books at him afterwards.  I couldn’t get out to see what was happening, of course, but the constabulary were called and there was quite a scuffle, Mr Dickens being popular.”

The ghosts drifted over to the classics section.  Sure enough, behind the collected works of George Bernard Shaw, was a crack where the thin pine of the original shelves had split.  Elsie slid in to check.

“They’re dusty, of course, but they seem okay and you can still see their autographs.  But we can’t tell Liam.  He can’t see us.”

Mr Kennington looked over to where Liam was slouched at his desk, his head in his hands and a blank look on his face.  “We tell Rhia and hope that she can persuade Mr Liam to invest the small sum raised by the books into an advert in the Yorkshire Post.  And then,” he said, shaking his head, “We need to work out how to get them respectably married – once Mr Liam can provide properly of course.”  He frowned.  “Do you think that they will raise enough funds with those novels?”  He shook his head.  “I shall start working on contingency plans, just in case.”  He cast his eye over the two ghosts.  “The library must go on!

Meet for Lunch

I know the step I have to take,

I know the choice I have to make.

I smile and try to take a bite,

My mouth is dry, my throat is tight.

I take a sip of lukewarm tea,

Look up and see you watching me.

I hoped that we would share a meal

Before I tell you how I feel.

Aware of hurt and furtive looks

I blurt out, ‘your new sandwich sucks.’