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

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!

Iron Crown

The legendary Iron Crown was now just rusted metal.  He pushed aside the rubbish on the floor and picked it up.  It was still surprisingly heavy.  He turned it over in his hands and even though it was so decayed he could feel the power in it.  It was heavy with more than the physical iron.  Centuries of being the loadstar for every ambitious heart had left their mark.   Had it been worth it?  Had all the scheming and plotting been worth the pain?  Had the brief season of rule been worth rending the world apart.

He glanced through the gaps in the ruined castle walls.  The sun was getting lower.  He had to leave before night fell and the Dark Ones walked.

The Door

 

“Can you see the door?” The guy lounging against the tree seemed to have always been there, but I was sure he hadn’t been there when I stopped to get my water bottle.  I needed to pay more attention,

“Of course I can see the door.  It’s an art thing, isn’t it?” I took a quick mouthful of water.

“An art thing?” The guy straightened and moved over.  He looked skinny under the designer jeans and fancy sweatshirt and his eyes were dark blue and slanted under his thatch of fair hair. He moved like a cat.

“Yeah, an art thing.  You know, some installation or thing where they make the world brighter.” I wiped the sweat from my face with my bandana.  It was warm even in the shade.  “I mean, it’s a steep drop the other side.  That’s a door to nowhere.” I leant over the rails and looked down at the steep, bracken strewn slope.  The door had a handle the other side and I wondered what was the point of a handle that no-one could reach.  Then I wondered what the point of a door was in a fence above a drop.

“A door to nowhere?” The guy beckoned me closer and against my better judgement I followed him to the door.

“It’s just a junk door.” I glanced up and down the path.  There was no-one else around and I started to feel uneasy.

“It’s the door to fairyland.” The guy grinned mockingly and bowed before pulling the door open.

What the…” I couldn’t guess what I was going to say.  The door opened onto a level path that cut across a clearing in spring woods towards a stream that gurgled in sparkling sunlight.  I moved back and looked to the side of the door.  The steep drop remained in the late summer shade and the bracken was looking tired.  I stepped back in front of the door and I could feel a fresh breeze on my face and the scent of spring woods and violets wafted past.

“Welcome to fairyland.” I felt a sharp shove to the small of my back and I staggered forward through the door and into the spring clearing.  I heard a door slam behind me and I whirled around.  There was nothing.  The woods continued into the deeper thickets.  The door was gone.

Elfshot at Dawn

They got Jenkins just as dawn broke and the mist was sidling away from the valley.  It was elfshot, straight in the chest above the heart.  We carried him back as he raved, our legs dampened and cooled with the morning dew and the light spilling golden through the mist and down the valley.  Into the farmhouse we took him and put him near the roof with a Bible next to his bed and a rosary over the bedstead.  The priest was slow to come but prayed hard when he came and someone was always watching as Jenkins told us about the sky kingdoms sailing through the skies like swans and cooed at pictures on the walls that only he could see.

The hen keeper could hear his shouts as she collected her eggs and topped up the water trough.  The cows being milked in the cool dairy with rowan twigs hung above the stalls could hear his cries.  Neither the doctor not the priest could pull the elf shot as Jenkins sang wildly as if under a mackerel sky.

He died at sunset, not well, and we did not bless the day the Shining Ones, the Fair Folk, the Faerie returned.

Grave Insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image taken from WikiCommons, Cemetery by a Ruined Church by Hermann Lungkwitz, in the public domain

Domestic Demon

“I’m sorry, darling.” Darren smiled nervously at me.  “But it is only twice a year, and it is only from Thursday to Tuesday.”

I took a deep breath.  “Of course, I know.  Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye, but that’s okay.  She’s your mother and we both love you.  That’s why I’ve got the day off to get the house all set up for her.”

Darren winced.  “I’ll pick her up from the airport.  I’ll pick up a takeaway on my way back.”

“Absolutely not.” I said firmly.  “I’ll make a lovely casserole and that way it doesn’t matter if you are a little late.”

“Thank you, darling, I do appreciate it.” Darren gave me a quick kiss and hurried off to work.

Pamela, my mother-in-law, did only visit twice a year, the first weekend after the Christmas break and the first weekend in July.  It was some awful ritual where a demon was unleashed twice a year.  They could make a Nicholas Cage movie out of it.  As for the takeaway, I was not falling for that again.  Four years ago I had made the mistake of allowing Darren to pick up a pizza on the way back.  For the last four years I had been hearing about how a proper wife made her husband meals, no matter what the circumstances.

I slouched into the kitchen.  I had never felt less like being a domestic goddess.  It was all so humiliating.  I was far too particular, according to my friends, and wasted far too much time cleaning.  According to Pamela, I was a slattern.  Every inch of this house would be scrutinised.  Last time I thought I had her.  There was no dust on the top of the kitchen cupboards and the walls had been washed down.  I had put brand new bedding on her bed and I had dusted behind every stick of furniture.  I had had the oven professionally cleaned and steamed the carpets.  The old witch had actually taken the drawers out of her dresser and found dust on the inside of the frame.  She had been so smug, sitting opposite me in my kitchen, eating my food which I had cooked, while Darren sat between us, twitching.

I looked around my lovely, clean kitchen.  Not only would she go over the room like a forensic detective but she would also sigh and complain that it looked too bare.  “It’s a shame you don’t have any knickknacks around,” she had said last time.  “Of course, not everyone has a flair for decorating.  Perhaps it is just as well that you haven’t tried.” She had smiled a wide, fake smile and patted my arm.  “I’ll bring you some nice things next time I come.  Then you won’t have to worry about getting it wrong.”

The old trout had great taste – for 1972!  I knew that she would have a suitcase full of cheap tat when she turned up, and that it would have to be in the same place she left it when she returned six months later – and she would know if the plastic grot had been moved an inch.  I swear the old bat had a photographic memory.

I threw together a boeuf bourguignon and put it on slow.  I’d already taken out every removable drawer in the house and cleaned behind them.  All the carpets, curtains and rugs had been steamed last week.  Not only was the bedding in her room new but so was the curtains.  I’d cleaned all the lampshades yesterday and dusted all the lightbulbs.  I sighed and started to pull out the fridge.  Then I paused.

Why was I playing her game?  Why was I running round in circles trying to get her to like me when nothing short of a sharp blow to the head would ever make her accept the woman who stole away her baby boy?  I’d been doing it wrong for years.  If she ran out of things to check I swear she would pull up the floorboards.  Okay, if she wanted something different, she could have something different.

By the time Darren’s car pulled into the drive I was finished.  I ached with the efforts, and I had had to get a few friends to help out.  It had been entirely worth it.  I looked around as I heard Darren carefully reversing into the garage.  The kitchen was smeared with jam and I had done my best to give a greasy feel by spraying the wall with the oil spray I used in cooking.  I had found some kitchen curtains in a skip which were now drooping at the window.  I had gone to every friend and neighbour and scrounged the contents of their vacuum cleaners.  After some trial I found that a light mist of water helped the dust of a dozen homes cling to walls, sink and bath.  I had put a mouse trap at the back of her dresser, just where it would get her if she checked, and I put the contents of four dryer filters under her bed.

The trip to the charity shop had been the most fun.  The house was awash with ‘accents’.  Our house was now a temple to the worse taste that ever landed on an Oxfam donation table.  There was plastic everywhere.  I had also got some extremely washed bedding from the charity shop and begged some curtains for Pamela’s room that they were going to send to the rag man and rubbed damp instant coffee granules along the edges for an added artistic touch.  I had had fun, and so had my friends.  Everyone had got photos.

I turned round as Darren unlocked the door.  “Darling, my mother’s plane has been delayed and she has decided not to come until the Christmas break after all…” He stopped as he walked in to the kitchen.  There was a long pause.  “Darling, would you like a drink?”

Originally posted May 15th 2016

Everything has Changed

 

Zoe sighed.  It had been a long day at work but now she could relax.  She could have a salad and a glass of wine in peace.  Mark would be over later, and they could watch a film before another romantic night.  She felt that her life was perfect.  She set the table in the dining room, lit one of her favourite candles and uncorked the wine.  There was a knock on the door.

“Hello, Zoe.” Ryan pushed past her.

Zoe couldn’t breathe.  She shut the door and leaned against it as she watched Ryan saunter up the stairs.  What could she do now?  For a short, awful moment she listened to Ryan moving around upstairs, then she forced herself upright, went into the dining room and poured herself a glass of wine.

“You know I don’t like you drinking.” Ryan said.  “And you’ve redecorated.” He looked around.  “In fact, this is the only room that’s still fit to see.  You never understood how to achieve elegance.”

“I cremated you.” Zoe drained her glass.

“Apparently there was a mix up at the morgue.  I was embalmed instead.” Ryan turned around mockingly, flexing his shoulders.  “And I’m not in bad shape.  I’ve no idea who I was swapped with.  Obviously they enjoyed golf.” Ryan threw a golf glove on top of Zoe’s salad.  “I told you again and again that salad isn’t a real meal.”

“And I told you again and again that you needed to eat less meat.  That’s why you died of a heart attack.” Zoe poured herself another glass of wine.

“And I warned you that I would come back from the grave.  When I was dying I was very clear.  The house was to remain exactly as it was.  You were to dress in black and remain faithful to my memory.  Not that bit of rubbish you’re wearing. You’re thirty-three, Zoe, not a teenager.”  Ryan smiled thinly.  “But here I am.  I don’t suppose you kept my clothes as I instructed.  Wearing another dead man’s suit isn’t my style.”

“I sold your clothes.” Zoe said quietly. “I sold your car, your record collection, your shoes and your power tools.  I don’t know if I can divorce a dead man, but I am not staying.”

Ryan grabbed her wrist, hard.  “The only place you are going tomorrow is work and then to buy new wallpaper.  What were you thinking?  You’ve painted everything, it’s just not good enough.  You should be glad I’m back.”

“You can’t make me.” Zoe said, tugging her hand away from the unexpectedly strong grasp.  There was a giddy rush.  She had never said that to Ryan before and he wasn’t expecting it.”  You can’t make me do anything.  After all, you can’t stop me having money for the bus fare to work as all the money is now in my name now, legally.”

“I never liked you working in that office.” Ryan muttered.  “There were too many divorcees.”

“You can’t hide my clothes.  I’ve got a suitcase stashed in my car for the weekend and the money to get new stuff.  I have friends that would worry if I didn’t get in touch after a few days and a very nice boyfriend who would definitely come to claim me.” Zoe defiantly poured another glass of wine and took a long drink.  “I’ve just got a promotion.  I’m an Area Manager now.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ryan snapped.  “We both know you’re too stupid to get a decent job.  That’s why I wanted you at home, to protect you.” He looked away from her.  They both knew he was lying.  “And I told you, I don’t like you drinking wine.”

“You’re dead.” Zoe said. “You don’t have an opinion.”

“Pour the wine away, you stupid girl.” Ryan loomed over her.

“I could call the police and say that a strange man has forced himself in here and could he come and get you.” Zoe said recklessly, drunk on the sudden ability to disagree with her revenant husband.

“I would say I was your husband and point to our wedding photos.” Ryan paused and looked round.  “There are no photos of me.”

“I burned the lot.” Zoe took a deep breath.  She had to keep her head.  “This house is in my name only now.  You have no right to be here.  I want you to leave.”

“This is my house and you are my wife.” Ryan snapped and grabbed at Zoe.  She jumped back and ducked behind the table.

“I really loved you, really, really loved you.  When you died I cried for weeks.” Zoe made a grab for her car keys.  “But I’ve made a new life and I’m alive and you’re dead.”

“Come here!” Ryan lunged desperately at Zoe across the dining table, knocking into the candle.  It fell against his sleeve.  Zoe screamed as the flame caught hold of the fabric and raced up the sleeve.

“What’s happening.” She looked round for something to throw over him.

“I was embalmed, you stupid girl.  I’m flammable.” Ryan was panicking.

Zoe tried to remember her training.  “Lie down.” She pulled up one of the rugs.  “I can smother the flame.”

Ryan screamed.  The flames had caught hold of him now and he was burning up.  “Do something you stupid girl.” It was too late.  Ryan threw back his head and howled as flames gushed from his mouth.  The stench was unbearable.  Zoe tried to throw the rug over him but Ryan staggered away, stumbling into the wall and leaving scorch marks and ash.  Then he crumbled.

Zoe methodically dampened down the scorch marks and opened all the window.  She looked at the ash covered, burned carpet, the marks on the wall, the soot on the ceiling and sighed with a sort of relief.  Even Ryan would admit that she had to redecorate now.

 

Originally posted April 29th 2016

Burning up

“Are you sure you’re okay, ma’am?” The policeman was trying to be kind.

“It’s the shock.” His colleague said quietly.

“Would you like a tea or a coffee?  We’ve called a neighbour over to sit with you if you need it.”

“I’m fine.” I said, trying to breathe normally.

“There’ll be a lot of press speculation.” The first policeman said.  “We’ve had a lot of calls.  I suggest you get a legal representative and get a statement drafted.  Don’t feel you have to answer any calls.”

“I think my husband has a solicitor.” I said, then corrected myself.  “He had a solicitor.”

“He was in a hotel with his secretary, I believe some sort of business trip.  She may want to talk to you but perhaps it’s best if you don’t speak straight away.” The second policeman was trying to judge if I knew about my husband’s affair.

“There will have to be an inquest, of course.” The first policeman was watching me carefully.  “Perhaps you should sit down.”

I looked at him blankly.  This was all so unexpected.  “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?” I asked the police.  “I’ve got some biscuits in.”

The police exchanged glances.  “I’ll put the kettle on.” The second policeman said calmly.  “I’m sure I’ll be able to find everything.”

“You need to aware that the internet have taken this up as a case of spontaneous combustion.  Someone filmed it on their phone.  I wouldn’t look at it, if I were you, ma’am, it’s distressing.” The first policemen gently eased me into a chair.  “We are going to have to take some samples, the people are on their way, we’ll be as discreet as possible.  It will all be returned to you.”

“Whatever you need, officer.” I murmured.  A cup of over sweetened tea was pushed into my hand.  “Take whatever you need.”

Because they would find nothing.  I kept my diaries on my laptop which was currently at work.  I kept my tools in my friend’s garage.  And no-one believed that ‘How to Cast Spells and Influence People’ was a book that actually worked.

Originally published November 27 2015

Impish

Image Thomas Marlowe (c)

“Don’t worry about a thing.” Trevor smiled with deep reassurance at the nervous store owner.  “The restoration will be completely sympathetic and we will be using authentic materials and techniques throughout.  It will look just like it was first built all those centuries ago.”

“I was warned about the little imp figure.” Mr Oliver had only recently bought the shop and was beginning to get unnerved by some of the unexplained happenings.  “Apparently if he isn’t painted red bad things happen.”

“Red is the authentic colour for a figure of that type.” Trevor mentally added another £100 to the eventual bill.  “And we will, of course, be using the type of paint authentic to the period.  You would not believe some of the shoddy attempts we’ve seen.  People think it’s find to go slapping modern gloss paint over medieval plasterwork.  It’s a shame really.”

“I’m not really bothered about the paint type.”  Mr Oliver said faintly.  “As long as it looks a bit better.  Of course as it’s in a conservation area I have to be a bit careful.”

Internally Trevor sighed and took £100 back off the bill.  “We are craftsmen, aren’t we Ryan?  We like to live up to the skills of the old masters who painstakingly put together these amazing works of art.  We think it’s important to keep the old traditions going.  It would be tragic if the old skills were lost.”

“Tragic.” Ryan agreed from up the ladder next to the imp.  “I mean, who puts an early twentieth century piece of chain on a medieval carved figure?  It would make you cry.  I’d say this chain was about 1932.”

Trevor made a mental note to warn Ryan about overdoing it and all three followed the chain with their eyes as Ryan threw it down on the floor.  As one they froze as a wicked chuckle came from out of nowhere.  Then they all slowly looked up at the red imp.  It wasn’t there.  Trevor swallowed.  “Of course I do know someone who does a very good rate in absolutely authentic carved wooden figures.”

Mr Oliver sighed a little with relief.  Looking into the shop it already seemed a bit emptier.  “I think that’s a splendid idea.”

 

Originally published June 14th 2014