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Demons

Blaylock went through the incantations under his breath as he packed his bag.  He would have to be word-perfect; one slip of the tongue and – well, he didn’t like to think of the consequences.  He weighed bags of salt in his hands.  Would four be enough?  Was there to time to pick up more on the way?  Perhaps the villagers would have some.  It was in their interests, after all.

The Book of Araminth… The weighty tome, rumoured to be bound in human skin, from whence he drew all his arcane knowledge, dare he risk bringing it with him?  Dare he risk leaving it behind, where the wrong hands might come across it?  But to carry it with him – it could only slow him down should the need to run arise.

He decided to take the book to the outskirts of the village where he would stash it in some outbuilding to be retrieved when his work was done.

The Sacred Daggers of Muzardo… so sharp they hurt the eyes that looked upon them.  Blaylock had rolled them in oilcloth, each handle nestled in its own little pouch.  He ran over the formation that must be used to pin a dark entity to an altar: a quincunx, first the centre where the fiend’s heart would be (if these creatures could be said to have hearts), then the corners, top left, bottom right, bottom left, and top right… Or was it top right and then bottom left?

Blaylock couldn’t remember.  He consulted the Araminth.  He’d been right the first time.  It doesn’t pay to second guess – and out in the field, there would be no time for second attempts.

The village had been plagued with hellacious outcasts for weeks.  The villagers had tried everything in their power.  The local holy man had been found, with his insides on the outside, impaled on his own steeple.  The monsters were preying on the young; it was the usual pattern: possession, corruption from within, using the host body to commit atrocities, damning the souls of the possessed into the bargain.

And now, in their desperation, Blaylock had been enlisted.  As a last resort.  It was invariably the case, when consulting a professional demon hunter ought to be the first port of call.  It was as though his clients only truly believed they were battling the dark forces of Hell when everything else had failed.

Well, Blaylock smirked, adjusting his black hat, it meant he could keep his prices high.  Desperate people in desperate times would rain money on their saviour.

He left his greatcoat unbuttoned to allow easy access to the weapons and the vials of holy water in his belt.  He strapped the Sword of Uthorn to his back and hitched the strap of his carryall over his shoulder.

He was ready.

At the door, he paused.

What if you’re not ready? A voice plucked at his mind.  What if you can’t do it?  You’ll probably stumble over the words, you tongue-tied fool!  You won’t have enough salt to draw the pentagram.  You’ll cut yourself on the daggers.  You’ll let those people down.  All those people who have put their faith in you – they’re all going to die, they’re all going to be dragged down to the bowels of Hell, all because you aren’t good enough.  You’re not good enough.  You’re worthless.  Useless, worthless, piece of shit.

Blaylock turned from the door and sat on a chair.

The one demon he couldn’t defeat had him in his clutches, and down in the valley, the village burned and the people screamed.

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Meanwhile, in the school hall…

Mr Shelley got to his feet to greet the next couple of parents who were slowly shuffling toward his table.

“Good evening.”  He flashed his teeth in a professional welcome.  “And who do you belong to?”

The woman, in a white dress that was more like a shroud, tottering on ungainly platform soles, opened her eyes wide and pierced the teacher with a stare.  Her face was pale and gaunt and her hair added two feet to her already considerable height; a black cloud over her head, shot through with a streak of white at each temple, like bolts of lightning.

“Victor,” she intoned.  She blinked, slowly, releasing the teacher from her gaze.

“Ah, yes, of course.”  Mr Shelley gestured to some chairs before taking his own seat.  “Please.”

Victor’s mother’s eyes rolled to the chairs and then rolled back again.

“We prefer to stand.”

“Suit yourselves.”  Mr Shelley felt obliged to stand up again.  “Well, as you probably know, I have Victor for Science.  He’s a remarkable boy.  So inquisitive!  So intuitive!  You must be made up.”

Victor’s father’s heavy eyebrows dropped into a frown.  A low groan emitted from somewhere deep within him.

“Made up?” Victor’s mother repeated.  “You mean to insult us?”

“What?  No!  What I mean is, you must be tickled pink – er…” he took in the general pallor of the mother and the disturbing greyness of the father’s complexion.  He reconsidered.  “You must be over the moon.”

“The moon?” the mother pointed at the ceiling.  “It is the wrong time of the month to concern ourselves with that.”

She made a sound that could have been a chuckle, or could just have easily have been the lid of a coffin creaking open.

Mr Shelley laughed uneasily.  “You must be delighted with Victor’s progress.  His test results are off the charts.  I’d say this year’s Science prize is in the bag.  The Nobel Prize too, the way he’s going.”

Victor’s father let out a rumble that could just as well have been a bowling ball falling down a staircase.  Victor’s mother patted his arm.

“Hush, darling,” she purred.  “I am sure the nice teacher is doing his best.”

Victor’s father’s broad, square shoulders rose and fell in a shrug, like a pair of tombstones disturbed by an earth tremor.

“If that is all?”  Victor’s mother widened her eyes again and held out a pale hand.  Mr Shelley took it and it felt like a frozen fish.  Victor’s father slowly extended his hand.  Mr Shelley took it and shook it.  It came loose from the cuff of the large man’s boxy jacket, making a disconcerting popping noise.

“Oh, my God,” Mr Shelley was aghast.  “I had no idea – you had a – your prosthetic hand – I – I’m sorry.”

Victor’s mother snatched the appendage from the mortified teacher’s grasp and secured it in her husband’s pocket.  Her eyebrows arched imperiously.  “There is nothing fake about my husband,” she declared.  “Come, darling; perhaps the needlework teacher will prove more helpful.”

She guided her husband by his tree trunk of an arm and they shuffled away across the hall – but not before she had given the Science teacher a final withering glare.

Mr Shelley lowered himself onto his chair.

“Drink after?” the voice of his colleague from Geography, Mr Stoker, roused him from his stupor.

“Hmm?”

“Who was that pair of horrors?” Stoker nodded at the empty chairs.  “Did they think it was the Halloween disco?”

“What?  Oh.  Victor’s parents.  Bit odd but, well…”

“I don’t think so, mate,” Stoker shook his head.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you know?  Happened before you started here, I suppose.  Your star pupil’s folks died last year.  Some horrible accident.”

“Oh?”

“And that’s not the worst of it.  Day after their funeral, their graves were robbed.  Both bodies nicked!  Never seen again!  What a world, eh?  There’s some right sickos around, I’m telling you.”

Mr Stoker wandered away, muttering to himself.

Mr Shelley felt sick.  He resolved to speak to his Head of Department first thing in the morning.  See if he could get Victor transferred to another class.

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Nail Soup

Old Widow Scoggins heard a knock at her front door.  She forced herself out of her armchair and, leaning over her walking stick, padded across the threadbare carpet, wincing as her joints twinged in protest.  She managed to open the door to reveal a grubby young man, grinning up at her.  His face was dirty, but his smile shone, and his eyes shone, and the old woman couldn’t help smiling back.

A visitor!  How long since I have last had a visitor, she wondered?  Lately, there was only one visitor she was expecting, and she expected him to be tall and bony and wearing a hood.

“Sorry to bother you,” the young man bowed graciously.  “But I was wondering if you could spare a little boiling water for my nail.”

Old Widow Scoggins frowned.  The young man produced the object in question.  It was a nail, to be sure.  About two inches in length and it looked clean enough.  Wouldn’t the young man be better off asked for water to bathe in?

Seeming to understand her confusion, the young man laughed.  “Have you never heard of nail soup, mother?  It is the finest, most delicious dish.  Tell you what: if you let me have the water, I shall let you taste a bowlful of the finest fare I know.”

Without waiting to be invited, the young man brushed past the old woman and headed to the stove.  He shook his head in disappointment.  “Have you no cooking pot larger than these?”

Old Widow Scoggins, intrigued by the prospect of the soup, directed him to a cauldron over the fire.  Usually, she used it to boil her linens.  “Will that do?” she asked.

The young man let out a cry of delight.  He fetched water from the well around the back of the cottage, filled the cauldron and kept the fire well-supplied with wood.  Before long, the water was coming to the boil.  He held up his nail, gave it one last look, and dropped it into the seething cauldron.

“Now, we wait,” he stepped back.

Old Widow Scoggins nodded.  The young man was providing a morning’s entertainment, if nothing else.  The silly sausage!  Soup from water and a nail!  Ridiculous!  But I don’t get many callers, so I’ll see this through to the end…

After half an hour, the young man dipped a ladle into the cauldron.  He blew on it and took a tentative sip.  He pulled a face.  “Needs…something…”  He cast his eyes around the kitchen.

“Salt?” suggested the widow, offering the cruet.

“Bad for you,” said the young man.  “No… something more substantial… Do you have a carrot?”

“I do!” The old woman produced the vegetable.  The young man dropped it into the pot as it was.  A while later, he took another taste.  He wrinkled his nose.  “Something else…An onion?”

The old woman provided the onion.  He dropped it in without peeling it.

A while later, he took another taste.  He shook his head.  “Something else…Parsnips?”

The old woman rummaged in her larder.  “Parsnips!” she cried in triumph.  The young man slung them all into the water.

Two hours passed and still the soup was not ready.  The smell was delicious and the old woman’s stomach rumbled in anticipation.  Perhaps there was something to this nail soup nonsense after all.

“One last thing…” the young man decided.  “Kindly hand me your largest knife.”

Old Woman Scoggins fetched him her carving knife.  She even managed to dip into a curtsey as she handed it to him, handle first.  He laughed and accepted the knife with a bow.

“What’s the last ingredient?” she asked, eager to taste the soup at last.

“Meat,” said the young man, and there was a trace of sadness in his smile as he slashed the old woman’s throat.

At the bottom of the garden path, a tall, bony figure stood watching the cottage.  He was due to visit the widow that day but, he reflected as he leant on his scythe, it looked like someone had beaten him to it.

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The Meating

Dom waited in the wings of the village hall stage.  He had been to grander affairs, but he had been delighted to accept the invitation from this remote settlement – it only seemed fitting: the hamlet was not unlike the setting for his film.  He had been feted at Cannes, had wowed them at London’s Fright Fest.  His latest picture was scooping up awards like a ravenous demon harvesting souls.  And, while it may not be the most glamorous occasion, somehow this unknown, unremarkable accolade touched him more deeply than the newly-announced BAFTA nomination.

He could hear the hall filling up.  There was a buzz of conversation and the air fairly prickled with anticipation.  Dom’s palms were sweating.  He wiped them on his trousers.  The last thing he wanted was to give the local mayor or whoever a damp handshake or, God forbid, for the trophy to slip from his grasp and shatter on the floor.

Applause crackled into life as the host of the event strode on from the opposite side of the stage and greeted the audience.  There was a squeal of feedback from the rudimentary p.a. system.  Dom winced.  It was cringeworthy – he wouldn’t bother posting updates of the event on Instagram.  Perhaps it would be better for his burgeoning reputation if no one knew about this backwater beano.

He realised he hadn’t been listening to the undoubtedly fulsome introduction.  His name was being called.  The host was beckoning him onto the stage.  The applause redoubled in volume.

Dom, his throat suddenly dry, stepped out, waving cheerily.  Spotlights glared, causing him to squint.  Dazzled, he reached the podium.  The host shook him by the hand and bade him welcome.

The audience settled.  Dom coughed.

“Thank you.  Thank you for that brilliant reception,” he smiled at the crowd, although he couldn’t see them.  “It’s gratifying to find recognition for one’s work, wherever it may be.  Let me tell you, the sun-drenched beaches of the South of France pale in comparison with the picturesque greenery you have around here.”

He paused.  No one clapped.

“And it thrills me to my core,” Dom continued, “to know that my little project is earning the respect of the industry, the fans of the genre, and most importantly, the general film-going public.  Good people, like you.”

He paused again.  Still no one clapped.

“Let’s cut the bullshit, shall we?” said the host.  He made a gesture and the spotlights snapped off and were replaced by the houselights.  Dom’s eyes widened when he saw that every member of the audience was wearing a cowl.

“Your film,” sneered the host, “has caused us quite a lot of bother in these parts.  Folk snooping around, sticking their noses in our business.”

“What?” Dom blinked away the sweat that was pouring into his eyes.  “The village in my film is not real.  It’s fictitious.  I made it up.”

“Oh, it’s made up, is it?” the host snarled.  “And I suppose the ritual you show in such vivid detail is a child of your imagination as well, is it?”

“Well, yes.  Yes, it is.”

“And yet you depict our customs with documentary accuracy.”

“What?  What is this?  What customs?”

“Mr Bland, your film, The Meating, contains graphic scenes of ritualistic sacrifice, where the Chosen One is stripped of flesh while still alive.  Attendants at the rite then partake of the flesh in the belief that the Chosen One’s attributes will become their own.”

Dom blanched.  He was suddenly aware of the long and curvy blade in the host’s hand.  He backed away only to be prevented from escape by a brace of burly stagehands, each with a knife of his own.

“This is crazy!  It was just a film!  What, do you all want to become film directors, is that it?  You think by eating me alive you’ll all win an Academy Award?”

“Oh, no,” smiled the host.  “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.”

He made another gesture and a table was wheeled on.  Strapped to it was a figure Dom recognised.

“Judy!”

“You arsehole!” Dom’s wife wrestled against her bonds.  “I told you not to credit me with the screenplay.”

The host handed Dom the long and curvy blade.

“Afterwards, when it’s done, we’d all like you to take a look at some scripts we’ve been working on.”

Dom looked across the crowd.  Every person clutched a manuscript; every eye had an expectant look.  There must be over a hundred of them.  But perhaps one, just one, would show promise…  After all, the whole world was waiting for Dominic Bland’s next project…

His fingers tightened around the handle.

Judy screamed.

 

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Meanwhile, at the wedding…

“No!  No, you can’t marry her!”  Steven cried from the far end of the aisle.  In the pews, every head turned to see the source of this interruption.

Barry, the groom, shook his head and sighed.  “Ste, mate…”  He took a few steps but Zara, his intended, pulled him back.

“Don’t go to him!  Don’t listen to him!” she hissed.  Behind her veil, her lips curled in a snarl.

But Steven was striding toward the supposedly happy couple and the celebrant, whose lips were pressed together in professional silence.

“She’s not right for you,” Steven announced, his voice rising to the vaulted ceiling.

“You dare!” Lazlo, father of the bride, got to his feet.

“She’s not, mate!” Steven urged.  “Look around you.  Ask yourself a few questions.  Why did she insist on having the ceremony after dark?”

Barry scoffed.  “We have an early flight, so we’re jetting off straight after the do.”

“That’s bollocks, mate.  And why here, in this building?  You do know it’s not – whatsit – consecrated land any more, don’t you?”

Barry shrugged.  “It’ll look good in the photographs; won’t it, babe?”  He gave Zara’s hand a squeeze.

“Oh, will it?”  Steven whipped out his smartphone and snapped a few shots of the congregation.  “Look.”

He thrust the screen in Barry’s face.  “Look, that’s a good one of your mum and dad.  Your brother.  All your lot.  But look…”   He swiped to the next photo.  Barry’s jaw dropped.  In high definition, the pews of the old church stood clearly.  Clearly empty, that is.

He shoved the phone away.  “You’ve got some app or something that’s doing that…”  But he didn’t sound convinced by his own words.

“Mate…”

Behind them, Zara’s family were on their feet.  Their black outfits, more suited to a funeral than a wedding, seemed to fan out, like cloaks.  Like wings.

“Here, love,” Steven thrust a garland of garlic at the bride.  “Something for your bouquet!”

Zara recoiled, hissing like a startled snake.  She tore off her veil, revealing a screaming maw, brimming with needle-like gnashers.

Her father flew to the rafters, screeching and spitting.  Steven pulled out a machete and lopped off the celebrant’s head.

“Here you go, mate,” he handed Barry a wooden stake.  Barry looked at it and blinked.  He seemed to come to his senses and plunged the sharpened stick into his fiancee’s heart.  Zara gaped, dumbstruck, and exploded in a cloud of ashes.

“Now we’re cooking,” grinned Steven, standing back-to-back with his best mate.

“What are you doing the rest of your life?” laughed Barry.

And then the fun really started.

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Rosie’s Christmas Wish

“Right, that’s it; I’ve got his room ready.  Just how he left it.”

Jim despaired as his wife came down the stairs.  He took the vacuum cleaner from her and returned it to its cupboard.

“Rosie, listen…”

“Oh, no!  Don’t you start!” she breezed past him.  “I haven’t time for your negativity.  I have to make his favourite biscuits.”

Jim sighed.  Every year it was the same.   He knew and she knew those biscuits would go uneaten and eventually be put out for the birds.  It would be the same this year and every year henceforward.  Their son would not be home for Christmas.

While the biscuits were cooking, Rosie checked the travel information websites, looking for news of road closures, train cancellations, delayed flights, anything that might account for her son’s postponed arrival.

“Rosie, love,” Jim gently closed the laptop.  “You have to stop this.  You have to move on.  He’s not coming home.  Ever.”

Rosie shook her head, eyes brimming.  “It’s going to be different this year!  I know it is!  He will come back, he will!  I’ve been told he will.”

Jim frowned.  “What do you mean, you’ve been told?”

“While I was shopping in town today, I went to the Christmas market.  And I saw a little stall at the end of a row.  I thought it was empty but a woman appeared and beckoned me to come with her behind the shutters.  I thought, hey up, something’s dodgy but then she said his name – she said Steven’s name! – so of course I went with her and she told me she had a message for me – for us – from Steven.  And that message is he is coming back for Christmas!  Oh, isn’t it wonderful?”

It was Jim’s turn to shake his head.  “And much did it cost you, this supposed message?”

Rosie shrugged.  “It’s not about the money.  It’s what she said.  Steven is coming home at last!”

Jim ran a hand down his face.  Damn that gypsy fortune teller or whoever she was!  Preying on my poor, grieving wife!  Steven won’t be coming home.  That was the unassailable truth of it.  Steven is dead, and I should know, Jim wailed inwardly, because I killed him.

Oh, I didn’t mean to.  It was purely accidental.  An argument that got overheated.  I lashed out.  I didn’t expect – and, oh God, I’m so sorry, Steven, I’m so sorry, Rosie – our beautiful boy.

There was a knock at the door.

Rosie jumped up with excitement.  Could it be…

Jim hurried to the hall, to get to the front door before she could.

It couldn’t be Steven, it couldn’t be!  Jim had driven hundreds of miles to bury the body in a remote forest.  There was no way on Earth…

There was another knock at the door.

“Go on, then!” Rosie swatted at him.  “Let him in.”

Jim blocked the door.  “No.  No, love.  It’s not him; it can’t be.”

“That woman said –”

“I don’t care what that woman said.  She was lying to you.  Taking advantage.  It’s not Steven.  It can’t be!”

“Well, open the door and we’ll see about that.”

The knocking continued, becoming louder and more insistent.  Jim’s stomach sank and his legs trembled.

Behind him, the letterbox rattled.  Blue-grey fingers poked through and a voice, harsh and croaky but still recognisably their son’s said, “Hello, Mum.  Merry Christmas!  Hello, Dad.  We need to talk.”

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The Morning after Hallowe’en

The friar emerged from the crypt, blinking against the morning sun.  It was later than he had expected; there had been no cockerel crowing to herald the dawn.  He found the bird – little more than a collection of scattered feathers now and the odd gout of blood.  Who would do such a thing?

Not who, he corrected himself.  What?

His heart quickened as he picked his way down the hill to the village.  From a distance, he could see the tiny settlement was quiet – too quiet.  No vehicles were on the roads.  No pedestrians bustled around.

There was no sign of life.

The friar thrust the back of his hand into his mouth, trying to stave off the horror rising in his gorge.

I must not get ahead of myself.  I must find out for sure…

But he knew it was true.  Despite his warnings, everyone was dead.

Fools!  Damned fools!

At the end of the only thoroughfare stood the general store.  Still shuttered but an arc of blood splashed in an upstairs window confirmed the friar’s fears.

Shaking his head in sorrow, with revulsion leaping in his stomach, the friar crossed to the saloon.  He found the doors unlocked but the place abandoned.  Debris of the night before was all around: empty glasses, discarded bottles, the odd upturned piece of furniture.

Something moved on the stairs.   The friar froze.

“Who’s there?”

Silence.  The friar held up his hands to show they were empty.

“I will not hurt you,” he smiled.  “Please.”

With a sob and a shuffle, a child peered over the banister.

“Peter!” the friar cried.  “Come down, child!  Let me look at you.”

The boy hesitated then descended.  The friar inspected Peter’s throat and wrists for injury and was relieved to find the skin unbroken.

“I’m hungry,” Peter snivelled.  “Mama – her bed – empty.”

More relief.  The child had not walked into an horrific scene.

“I shall find you something,” the friar shuffled to the kitchen.

“Not pumpkin!” the boy followed.  “I’ve had enough pumpkin.”

Despite himself, the friar chuckled.  More pumpkin might have saved them all.  He found some bread that wasn’t too stale and set about toasting it, rummaging in the cupboard for jam or some such.

“Father, where is everybody?” the boy chewed thoughtfully on the crust.  “Is it true?  Were they taken in the night?”

The friar nodded sadly.  “I am afraid so, my boy.  Despite all the warnings, they are gone.”

“But – but – that’s not fair,” the boy scowled.  “They did everything they were supposed to.  Dressing up as scary monsters.  Carving scary faces into pumpkins to frighten the evil spirits away.”

“Yes,” said the friar.  “But not at the right time.  You see, my boy, one must do all these things on the appropriate evening or else the magic will not work.  But we live in an age of convenience.  People want to observe the traditions but only if it is fun to do, and if it is convenient.  And so, everyone did their dressing-up on Saturday night.  And I’m sure everyone had a lot of fun.  But last night was when it mattered.  But no one bothered.  They were all partied out.  And they have paid a heavy price.  We have these traditions for a reason and they are not to be taken lightly.”

The kitchen door slammed shut as though shoved by an invisible hand.  The friar wheeled around.  The boy elongated until he towered over the holy man, his teeth bared, sharp and glistening.

“No need to sound so smug about it, Father,” a deep voice rumbled.  “You’re an irrelevance, a throwback.  Obsolete.”

“Perhaps,” sighed the friar.  He whipped a small pumpkin from his robe, a snarling face carved into it.  The thing that had been Peter recoiled, screeching.  “But I still know what works.”

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Sheep-watching

Taran pulled the cloak around him.  It didn’t stop the shivers but it blocked out some of the biting wind.  Feeling sorry for himself, he rubbed his hands.  Beside him, the torch flickered; if it went out, he’d be stuffed.  It was hours until morning and he daren’t show his face back at the village before dawn.

We all must take out turn, his mother had admonished, although Taran had never seen her hobble up the hills.  He caught himself.  It was unfair.  Of all the people he knew, his mother was the hardest-working member of the community.  Everyone was in debt to her for something or other: some balm for a sick child, some potion for a nervous husband…

A rustling sound wrenched him from his thoughts.  He tensed.  His ears strained to determine the direction… There it was again.  Taran swallowed and reached for his staff.  The heft of it, and the nails sticking from the end, gave him comfort, made him a little bolder.

The rustling stopped.  He could hear the creature’s breath, gargling in the back of its dread throat.  It sounded close.  Too close.

Taran held his breath.  A pair of red eyes glinted, looking at him, looking into him.  Low laughter rumbled.

“And so you have come, my boy.”  The voice was deep but soft like velvet to the ear.  Taran frowned; he hadn’t expected the sheep-killing beast to have the power of speech.

A shadow stepped in front of the torchlight, the silhouette of a man.  Tall he was and broad-shouldered.  His hair was shaggy, flowing to the small of his back.  His hands were claws.

“Do not be afraid,” the shaggy man soothed.

Taran leapt to his feet, brandishing his spiked staff.  “I’ll not let you take no more of our sheep,” he vowed.

The man laughed.

“Oh, my boy!  The times I have heard that!  Do you know, this would be so much easier if they just told you the truth.”

Taran was puzzled.  “Are you telling me you do not take our sheep?”

The man stepped closer.  Long teeth glinted in the torchlight.

“Put the stick down and let me embrace you.”

“No!”  But Taran found he couldn’t move.  The man plucked the staff from his grasp and cast it aside.  His arms enfolded the youth and the heat of his embrace made Taran swoon and collapse.

He woke at midday, his head pounding.  Panicked, he looked around.  The torch had burned out and the scene was strewn with bits of wool and patches of gory red.

I have failed! Taran cursed himself.  He trudged back to the village, prepared to face the approbation of his elders.

But they cheered when he approached.  The whole village was there to welcome him, to celebrate his return.

Taran didn’t understand.  “Another sheep –”

His mother rushed forward and silenced him with a hug.  She planted kisses on his cheeks and neck.

“My boy, my sweet and lovely boy!” Tears coursed down her face.

The mayor clasped his hand and squeezed it tight.  “Well done, my boy,” he grinned.  “Now you are truly one of us.”

The mayor encouraged everyone to cheer.

What big teeth he has, Taran noticed for the first time.  What big teeth they all have!

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A Night Out

Charlie ducked out of the club and turned up his collar against the damp night air.  Another disappointing night.  There simply weren’t the pickings anymore.  Oh well, the students would be back in town in a couple of weeks and suddenly the sea would have plenty more fish.

A figure stepped from the alley between the club and its neighbour, an all-night kebab shop.  Eyes glinted beneath the figure’s hoodie.

“Oh, you’re not leaving already?”  The voice was rich, deep and more than slightly mocking.

Charlie shook his head to signify he wasn’t interested but the man in the hoodie blocked his path.

“I was watching you,” the voice continued.  “Across the bar.  You were looking for something – for someone.  Looks like you didn’t find him.”

Charlie shoulders twitched in a shrug.  “There’ll be other nights.”

“There’s still this one.”  The hooded head jerked toward the alley.  “And it’s still young.”

“And so are we!” Charlie laughed.  “All right then.”

He followed the stranger into the alley.  The walls were wet and slippery; on one side, the pulsating music, a dull, humming throb that got into your bones; on the other, the spicy aromas of the kebab shop, the tang of overcooked fat, the stench of death.

Charlie unzipped the hoodie, revealing the stranger’s incongruously frilled shirt, like something from a costume drama, from a time long ago.  The stranger’s hands, pale and skinny, reached for the buckle of Charlie’s belt.   His mouth nuzzled against Charlie’s neck while his long fingers searched in Charlie’s underwear.

Panting, Charlie sought to pull back the hood, to get a look at the man he was snogging.  The stranger froze, stepped back.

“If you don’t mind,” he said in steely tones, “I’d rather keep it on.”

Charlie laughed.  “I’ve been with worse, mate.  Don’t worry about it.”

The man took another step back.

“Bloody hell,” said Charlie.  “What are you, some kind of vampire or something?”

“Actually,” the man straightened, “I am.”

He swept back his hood to reveal a high forehead, the blue-black hair in a sharp point, the eyes red rimmed and hungry, the cheekbones sharp as the fangs teasing the thin line of his lips.

“It’s not a problem, is it?”

“Not for me,” said Charlie.  “You do what you want, mate.  Just not with me, OK.  Not being funny but it just won’t work.  I’m a – a – Undead too.”

He lifted his Britney T-shirt to reveal the stitches and scars of an autopsy.

“Impressive,” the vampire traced the Y shape with a pointed fingernail.  “But not my thing.  I need the blood of the living.”

“And I need their life-force to keep me going.”

“Oh well, no harm done.”

“No fun had either!” laughed Charlie, pulling his shirt straight.  “Tell you what, Sniffers is still open across town.  We could double up, try our luck there.”

The vampire zipped up his hoodie and linked his arm through Charlie’s.

“Double trouble!” he chuckled, “I’ve never done a three-way.”

They stepped out into the street.  The vampire’s grin glinted in the streetlight.  “I’ll get us a cab.”

alley

 

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Breakfast in Bed

Rebecca woke with a start.  She froze, listening hard.  She held her breath.

Someone’s in the house!

She hitched herself onto her elbows and wondered whether she should get out of the bed and hide underneath it – or the wardrobe, perhaps… Or the window.  She could climb out, then there was a short drop to the garage roof, the neighbour’s fence…

Who am I kidding?  She lay back, head reeling.  How much did I have to drink last night?

Footsteps on the stairs struck terror in her heart.  She whimpered; the handle on the bedroom door turned.

“Morning!” came a chirpy voice, a man’s voice, as a tea tray came in followed by the man in a cardigan who was carrying it.  “Oh, good; you’re awake.”

He held the tray over the bed until Rebecca sat up, then he placed it on her lap.

“Croissants and jam, coffee black, grapefruit juice, just how you like them.”

Rebecca gaped in horror.  “How did – how do you know?  How did you get into my house?”

The man smiled patiently, the circular lenses of his spectacles resting on the ruddy apples of his cheeks.

“There’s no need to get upset, love,” he whispered.  “It’s only me.”

Frowning, Rebecca shook her head.  “No, no, no!  I don’t want this!  I don’t know who you are!  You could be trying to poison me for all I know.”

She flung the duvet aside, sending the breakfast tray clattering to the floor.  She tried to swing her legs to the floor but the effort made her swoon.  She fell back onto the pillow.  The man stooped over her and covered her with the duvet.  He stroked her face.

“There, there,” he cooed.  “No harm done.  You’re just a little confused.  What kind of husband would I be if I minded a bit of confusion after all our years together?”

Rebecca’s mind reeled.  Husband?  Years?  This was all news to her.

She searched the man’s face for something – anything – she might recognise.  He looked kindly enough, she supposed, pleasant… but who the hell he was and what the hell his name was, she had no clue.

“The doctor spoke to us about this, remember,” the man retrieved a syringe from the bedside table.  “And those nice people at the dementia club.”  He tapped the barrel of the syringe and pushed the plunger with his thumb.  A spray of droplets sprang from the needle’s tip.

“There’s a good girl,” he smiled as he took Rebecca’s forearm.  “This will help you calm down.”

As the needle went in, Rebecca stiffened.  Images flashed across her mind.  A hand over her mouth, a dark alley, the boot of a car.  And that voice, that same soothing voice, calling her Sally and saying how glad he was to have her back.

croissant

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