Tag Archives: #shortstory

In The Heart Of The Book (1000 word flash fiction)

bookshop 2

As she opened the latest delivery, she thought again about how lucky she was to be living her dream. In this technology filled world, running and owning her own bookshop had been a dream since childhood. The smell and the feel of actual books had held her captivated for decades. Now, in her late thirties, the books fitted perfectly around family life.

Working in the shop, the tiniest shop in the street, gave her an insight into other peoples’ family lives through the books they brought to her. In exchange for a minimal sum, she welcomed in boxes and bags of literary memories. Sometimes the bags came with a funny story about their previous owner; parents passing on children’s books told tales of babies long grown up; wives told tales on husband’s as they brought in books relating to pastimes that has been a passing phase; widowers brought in their late wife’s romance libraries, wondering how they could have read such “rubbish”. Every book in the shop came with a story.

The box in front of her was a curious mix. It had been handed in late the afternoon before by a young man a few years her junior. There had been something vaguely familiar about him but she hadn’t been able to place him. He had commented that the books had been his father’s and had long since been consigned to a shelf at the back of the garage. Something, a sixth sense perhaps, made her ask if he was sure they were all to be donated. His answer had been, “I guess so. He told me to clear out the garage.  Everything. The house has been sold and there’s no room in the new flat for everything as it is.”

The contents of the box proved to be an eclectic mix. She lifted out  sports biographies, a few books about classic cars and car maintenance, a handful of John Grisham paperbacks and a couple of Dan Brown’s. In among them she spotted a copy of a book that been one of her own mother’s favourites, The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.

With a wistful smile, she ran her hands over the familiar cover noting that, like the copy she had that had been her mother’s, this one was well-read. As she reached to put it on the shelf, a folded piece of paper fell out and drifted to the floor, landing at her feet.

Lifting the pale blue sheet of paper, she unfolded it. Finding notes inside books was one of the sneaky pleasures of the job. Over the years, she had found countless shopping lists, Christmas lists, addresses, postcards, bus and train tickets, boarding passes and the occasional more personal letter. This was one of the latter. The blue page had previously been crumpled and parts of it torn off but someone had taken the time to smooth it out and fold it carefully, stowing it safely inside the book.

Her heart skipped a beat at the distinctive flourishes to the handwriting.

The first part of the letter was missing.

My head knows I shouldn’t feel like this but my heart begs to differ and is leading it astray. The countless unspoken thoughts and conversations in my mind are safest left there…..perhaps.

Who am I kidding here? You know me inside out and well enough to know how I feel without me having to say it out loud.

We both know the risks of that…..

Resting my head against your chest, hearing your heart beat, feeling your arms around me, feeling safe, feeling wanted, feeling loved….”

The rest of the letter was lost. The bottom section of the page torn off.

Shaking the book, she hoped the missing fragments might appear but nothing. Hurriedly, she searched through the box, vainly hoping that one or both of the missing pieces might be there. Nothing.

Opening the book, she prayed she might find another clue. What she found was the possible remains of one. The top corner of the title page had been roughly ripped off but the tails of the letters from the inscription remained. Whatever it had said, it had been written by the same person who had penned the love letter. She would know that handwriting anywhere, even after all this time.

It was her mother’s.

Deciding to err on the side of caution for a while, she re-folded the letter, placed it back in between the pages of the book and put the slim volume safely on the shelf beneath the counter.

A little voice in her soul told her the rightful owner would be back for it as soon as they realised it was missing.

 

A month went by and the well-loved copy of The Alchemist lay under the counter, gradually being buried by letters and receipts. Occasionally, she would bring it out and read the letter over again, trying to work out who her  mother had been writing to.  She never mentioned the book to a  soul. It was her secret. A final connection to her mother.

 

Two more weeks passed by.

 

Late on the Monday afternoon, she was absorbed in the task of re-organising the shelves, perched precariously on the top step of the rickety, wooden stepladders she had brought from home, when the bell above the shop door tinkled. Balancing on one foot and leaning on the shelf, she half turned to see who had entered the shop.

She recognised him immediately, despite the changes caused by the passage of time.

“Hello. Be careful up there,” he said warmly. “I was hoping you’d be able to help me.”

He paused while she climbed down the ladder.

“My son brought a box of books in here about six weeks ago. I’m trying to track down one of the books that got into the box by mistake. It’s of sentimental value.”

“I have it right here,” she replied, smiling at him with a smile so like her mother’s that his heart skipped a beat.

 

(Image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)

 

 

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Silently Watching At Lammas

dark angel

A tiny vole scuttled around in the damp leaf mould in the icy cold, dark mausoleum. Sniffing the air cautiously, it ventured out from the safety of the edge of the tomb and moved slowly across the stone floor. It’s tiny paws barely made a sound as they pattered across the room. Pausing momentarily, the vole sniffed the air again. Something sour tickled its twitching whiskers. More cautiously, it proceeded across the open space. Just before it reached the sanctuary of the far side and the tiny crack in the stone that would lead to freedom, it’s paws touched something coarse and ridged. Feathers! Realising what it was, the vole accelerated to safety, reaching the escape route just as the dark angel began to stir.

For forty long days and nights she had lain on the floor suffering an agony that she had never felt before. The excruciating pain had begun in her throat as she had flown back to the mausoleum on mid-summer’s night. It had burned like fire down through her chest as she had flown the few short miles. Her strength had also been waning as she had landed clumsily in front of the stone doorway. The last strands of her energy had been drained as she had pulled the door closed behind her. It was then that the full force of the pain consumed her. Agony exploded inside her, searing into her stomach. With a howl of pain, she had collapsed on the floor, dipping in and out of consciousness for the next forty days.

The vole scampering across the tips of her wings had roused her.

As she lay in the darkness, weakened and virtually lifeless, the dark angel deduced that she had been poisoned. Something she had consumed on mid-summer’s night had been tainted.

Slowly, she pushed herself up into a sitting position, the world around her spinning as she did so. A sharp pain shot through her mouth, causing her to gasp. Toothache? Disbelievingly, she ran her parched tongue over her teeth. The tip of one of her fangs was missing. With her energy reserves so depleted, the dark angel knew she would need to feed before she could regenerate the tip.

 

Glancing in the mirror, he put his left hand up to the wound at his neck. Almost six weeks had passed since he’d suffered the mystery puncture wound and still it refused to fully heal. A dark purplish circle about the size of a five pence piece marked the spot. The wound had never scabbed over but, instead, there was an almost blister-like covering to it. Occasionally, it throbbed deep inside his neck.

As his fingertips brushed the delicate blister, it burst and oozed fresh blood once more.

“Bugger,” he muttered to himself. “Not again.”

Despite both his wife and his running buddy’s nagging, he’d refused to see a doctor about the mystery wound. It was clean. There was no obvious infection and he wasn’t suffering any ill effects from it. In fact, if anything he had felt more invigorated and full of energy over the past few weeks. He had argued with both of them that it would heal in its own good time.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” he called out to his wife. “Maybe a bit more.”

Closing the door behind him, he settled his earphones into his ears, cranked up the volume on his iPod and loped off down the hill. A few short minutes later the hill evened out a little and he was faced with three choices- left took him up into the countryside and the trails, straight ahead took him through the housing estate and meant he’d have to run past the yappy dog’s house or right would take him down past the graveyard. He still avoided that road where possible after the strange encounter on it last Halloween. He didn’t feel keen to explore the trails without his buddy by his side. However, he had no desire to tempt that damn dog to take a bite out of calf. The graveyard road seemed the lesser of the three evils.

Midgies swarmed round him in clouds as he ran down the tree-lined road. The mild, damp weather had brought them out in droves. Much as he loved the warmth of late summer evenings, those tiny flying devils certainly took the edge off the enjoyment. Halfway down the narrow road, a sharp pain shot through his mouth. Toothache? With a groan, he kept running, silently cursing the thought of a visit to the dentist.

As he reached the village’s main street, the pain vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

With a sigh a relief, he headed for the coast road, looking forward to stretching his legs for a few miles. Ever since the incident with the two dead deer, he’d been training hard, finding a new turn of speed and extra stamina. On their twice weekly trail runs, his buddy had been struggling to keep pace with him, causing him to temper things when he was out with him. Now, on his own, he was free to set his own rhythm.

 

Almost an hour later, he was back at main street, still feeling fresh, despite having run around eight miles to the ferry terminal and back, and was faced with his usual dilemma – straight ahead up the hill past the yappy dog or left up past the graveyard? He didn’t fancy being a late evening snack for the dog so, again, he opted for the shorter, steeper graveyard road, praying silently that the light breeze had dispersed the midgies.

 

Wearily, the dark angel sat on the marble bench seat that ran round three sides of the tomb. She had scanned the immediate area for wildlife, hoping to track down an easy meal to rejuvenate her enough to fix her fang. The pain from it was an incessant throbbing. A mortal pain that she had long since forgotten. Trying to block it out, she trained her attention to the area outside the mausoleum, listening to the sounds of anything that could serve as a meal. Forty days without blood had taken its toll on her as well as the effects of the poison. Thinking back to mid-summer’s night, the dark angel fathomed that one of the deer must have been poisoned. She would need to be more careful in future. With a smile, she remembered meeting the runner again, albeit too briefly for her liking. With a sigh, she recalled how she’d almost been allowed to dine on his rich, exotic, ferrous blood. A divine meal yet to be savoured.

The rhythmic thud of feet approaching up the road caught her attention. Her mind was immediately filled with a vision of him powering his way up the hill towards her lair. In her vision, the dark angel could see the vein pulsing in his neck, the skin covered by a sheen of sweet sweat. Ever acute, her senses picked up on the puncture wound on his neck.

A sharp pain stabbed through her damaged fang as a cold realisation struck her.

 

Outside on the road, oblivious to the ancient mausoleum that was hidden by the trees, the runner felt the toothache return. Same canine tooth as before, only this time the pain stabbed right up into his cheek bone. He also became aware that the wound on his neck was throbbing. Casually, he rubbed his hand across his neck. His fingertips came away covered in fresh blood. Not for the first time, he wondered whether there was something in the wound. There was a definite pressing, pulsating feeling deep in his neck. Perhaps his wife and buddy were right. Perhaps he should get the wound looked at. He vowed to make an appointment with the doctor, after he’d seen the dentist about his toothache.

 

As his footsteps receded, the angel set staring down at her feet, not fully believing what she had just uncovered. Could it be true? How could it even be possible Carefully, she ran her tongue over her broken fang, certain now that it’s missing tip was lodged in the runner’s neck. With equal certainty, she now knew what had poisoned her. It had been those few delicious drops of his blood…but why?

 

(image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)

For info –  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lammas

 

So, what would you do?

latte-stock-photo

So, if you came face to face with your favourite actor/rock star/sports star in a normal situation, what would you do? If they were “off duty”, would you approach them? Would you ask for that obligatory “selfie” or an autograph on the only scrap of paper you have in your purse, most likely a receipt for something mundane?

It’s a conundrum I’ve thought about occasionally over the years and never really drawn any finite answer to. I’ve frequently thought that, as I live in a reasonably small town and am used to seeing familiar faces about town, I’d most likely nod and say “hello” thinking it was someone from school or work or an old neighbour…..then several hours later go “Damn, that was So And So!” (ha ha…..it’s happened!- Mike Oldfield in Debenhams in Glasgow a long time ago!)

A few years ago, I wrote this while pondering such a situation.  Enjoy!

 

The Tale Of A Skinny Decaff Latte

With a quick glance at the clock on the dashboard, I figured I had just enough time to spare to treat myself to a well-earned and much needed caffeine fix before my next appointment. Signalling to my fellow drivers, I slowed down and turned off the main road down the narrow twisting slip road into Gourock’s water front car park- the Swimming Pool car park to us locals. As usual, the car stereo almost drowned out the warning bleeps from the reversing sensors; as usual, I heard them just in the nick of time. One of these days I knew I wasn’t going to and would be rewarded with a resounding expensive “crunch”! Grabbing my bag, I scrambled out of the car, checking twice on my way across the car park that I had locked it. A narrow alley led me from the car park back up onto the main thoroughfare and right to the doorway of my caffeine source- Gourock Coffe Co.

Pushing open the heavy door, I inhaled the heavenly aroma of coffee as I looked to see if my favourite table was free. It was. In my hurry to get to my caffeine fix, I had barely noticed the hire car that had parked haphazardly outside or the driver inside, who was talking animatedly on his phone. With a sigh, I slipped off my jacket and sank down into the squishy, soft, velvet-covered chair. The coffee shop was surprisingly quiet for a Monday afternoon. Only one other table was occupied. Spotting my arrival, the owner, Robert, called over from behind the counter, “Usual, Coral?”

“Please, Robert,” I replied then added, “And a fruit scone and jam too.”

Reaching into my bag, I brought out my phone debating with myself “Candy Crush or Facebook?” Facebook won and I watched the screen as it connected to the shop’s WiFi. While the newsfeed was loading, I heard the door open, felt the draft of cold, autumn air rush in as a tall, slender man entered, his puffy, bomber jacket zipped up and a black beanie hat covering his head. It struck me as odd that he was wearing sunglasses on a dull October day in Gourock. There was something vaguely familiar about him but I barely gave him a second thought as he sat at the window table across from mine.

“There you go. Medium Americano, no milk,” said Robert, setting down the hot mug in front of me. “And my last fruit scone. Enjoy.”

“Thanks.”

As I sliced the scone in half, scattering crumbs across the table, the owner went to take the man’s order. Robert was blocking my view but I could see that the new customer had removed his hat and glasses. They were just visible on the table from where I was sitting. His soft American voice caught my attention. I knew that voice! I’d know that voice anywhere. Not surprisingly, I listened as he ordered a large, skinny, decaf latte. On the table in front of me my Facebook newsfeed had opened. The first post on there was that day’s photo from the fan page of the very man who was now sitting ten feet away from me.

My hands trembled as I fumbled the foil top on the portion of strawberry jam. Flustered, heart racing, I attempted to spread the jam onto the scone and only succeeded in dropping the knife on the table, with a resounding clatter. The noise echoed round, causing the new arrival to glance over in my direction. He smiled at me. My heart skipped a beat as I flushed scarlet with embarrassment.

On the table beside him, his phone buzzed and vibrated. Instead of answering it, he ignored it, turning instead to gaze out of the picture window at the panoramic view of the Argyll Hills, Ben Lomond looming in the distance. A few seconds later, his phone buzzed again and, again, he killed the call and then again, a third time, as a young waitress brought him his latte.

Trying to act normally, I pretended to be reading the screen contents of my phone while actually watching him sneak a spoonful of sugar into the mug then sip the hot, milky coffee. His long, slender hand was shaking as he lifted the mug to his lips. Something about him looked sad, haunted almost.

How I managed to eat my scone and drink my own coffee, I will never know. (Maybe that caffeine habit is worse than I feared.) All the while, I kept my own counsel but discretely observed him sip half-heartedly at his latte. There was an aura about him that seemed to scream “I need my own space for a while.” Repeatedly his phone buzzed and every time he declined the call. I drank in everything about him. His fine features; his long hair, with a hint of grey appearing. After a few mouthfuls of his coffee, he stood up and removed his jacket. I recognised the fine black and grey striped hoodie he was wearing underneath from the interview I had watched on YouTube over breakfast a few hours before. I risked a glance beneath the table as he sat back down and noted his trademark worn leather boots. What size were his feet? Ten? Eleven?

Inside my head, a battle was raging- one half of me saying go and speak to him; the other half saying leave him to enjoy his coffee in peace and quiet.

A message flashed up on my Facebook page asking if I was excited about heading to the Hydro later for the gig. It was Susan- who else? She had been outside the venue for hours already. With surprising calm, I typed back, “Having a coffee and enjoying the view. Will be up as soon as my friend finishes work. Should be there around 6. X” She would never believe me if I said exactly what view I was enjoying. He was meant to be thirty miles away where she was! Why was he here?

I finished my coffee and scone before he was halfway down the large mug. Not entirely trusting myself to remain calm for much longer, I got to my feet and prepared to leave. He was still staring out at the view of the ferry crossing the river as I put on my jacket and gathered up my belongings. At the counter, I handed over a twenty pound note with shaking hands and said to Robert, “That’s for mine and the guy over at the window’s. Send him over another latte and a slice of carrot cake. My treat.”

Stuffing the change into my pocket, I left without a backwards glance and headed back down the alley way to the car park. Had I imagined that? Had it really been him?  Yes, it had been. Why had he been there? I would never know. Did I regret not speaking to him? Yes and no. As I reached the car, I looked back up at the cafe window. He was watching me. Raising his coffee mug, he nodded then smiled that beautiful smile of his.

 

Those of you who know me may have guessed the inspiration for this   😉

(image sourced via Google -credits to the owner)

(If you ever see me drinking decaff, I’ve been kidnapped and it’s a plea for help!)

 

 

The Soul Searcher II

With her heart pounding in her chest, she stared at the long-haired stranger in disbelief; with her heart racing, she felt herself flush scarlet as she noted how hot he looked.

Feigning anger, she drew herself up to her full height of five foot three and demanded, “What in the hell are you doing in my garden?”

“Enjoying the view,” he replied casually, noting her petite figure and the curve of her breasts. “And waiting for you.”

“You’re trespassing!”

“Technically, you are correct,” he agreed without showing any signs of moving from his reclined position on the bench. “Stunning view by the way, Anna.”

“How do you know my name?” she asked sharply, instantly feeling stupid. Of course, he knew her name! He had read into her soul back at the coffee shop. This stranger knew more about her than she was comfortable with.

He raised one dark eyebrow at her and smiled. Despite herself, she felt her heart skip a beat.

“You really need to learn to shield those thoughts, Miss Maitland,” he chastised warmly.

Staring awkwardly down at her feet, Anna confessed, “I don’t know how to.”

Getting gracefully to his feet, her uninvited guest said, “I can teach you. It’s easy once you know how. Now, you inadvertently mentioned a chicken casserole. It would be a shame for the wine to go to waste.”

“I don’t see any wine,” countered Anna, looking round for signs of a bottle.

Suddenly, she picked up on a thought from her guest and her eyes flew towards the beach. Sure enough, nestled between two small rocks, just covered by water, lay two bottles of wine.

“Two bottles? Are you trying to get me drunk?” she asked, the icy edge to her tone melting somewhat.

“Not at all. They were on offer. I can’t resist a good deal,” he said as he took a step towards her. “I’m Jarrod, by the way. Jarrod De La Cruz to be exact.”

“Fancy name.”

“Spanish ancestry,” he explained with another heart melting smile. “Now, can we talk over dinner?”

Silently, Anna surveyed him, sub-consciously probing his mind in an effort to determine if she was in danger.

“I won’t harm you,” promised Jarrod. “On my grandmother’s life, I won’t touch you.”

“Fine,” she relented, as her heart sang with joy. “Fetch the wine and come in.”

 

The kitchen of the small cottage was surprisingly spacious. It was one of Anna’s favourite rooms in the house, largely because of its picture window views over the beach towards the river beyond. A tantalising aroma of chicken casserole filled the air, adding to the warm homely feel to the room. While she waited on Jarrod bringing the wine up from the beach, Anna fetched two wine glasses from the glass fronted cabinet then turned to put two plates in the oven to warm. She had just set two places at the large pine table when Jarrod walked into the room.

“Sorry. I had to make a quick phone call,” he apologised. “Had to let the others know where I was.”

“Others? Those hairy guys from the coffee shop?”

“The very ones,” he said with a smile. “I told them I’d catch up with them tomorrow in Glasgow.”

Before she could reply, Jarrod added, “No, they’re not lying in wait to turn up here to rape and pillage you. Relax, Anna. They’re in an Indian restaurant in Paisley. And as for me, I’ve no intention of touching you.”

Her sixth sense caught the hint of the lie in that last sentence.

“So, what are your intentions, Mr De La Cruz?”

“Patience, Miss Maitland,” said Jarrod, opening the first bottle of wine and pouring two half glasses. “You might want to put the other bottle in your fridge or do I need to go back and put it in the river to chill some more?”

Obediently, Anna stowed the unopened bottle in her bare refrigerator then busied herself serving their meal.

“Delicious,” complimented Jarrod after the first few mouthfuls. “Now, how long have you searched souls untamed?”

“Pardon?”

“Your mind was wide open back there in the coffee shop. Shows lack of training. Who taught you how to read minds and search souls, Anna?”

There was a serious note to his voice that caught her by surprise.

“No one,” she answered honestly. “I’ve always been able to do it. When I was little, I thought everyone could do it.”

“You were born able to do it?” exclaimed Jarrod unable to mask his astonishment. “I thought there was something different to you. Tell me about it.”

It wasn’t so much a suggestion as a command and before she realised what she was doing, Anna had told her uninvited guest about the challenges of growing up, the torture of travelling to college on public transport as she was haunted by a cacophony of conversations, the mental cruelty of lectures where her mind followed every day dream of every inattentive student while she consciously tried to focus on the lecturer. She explained the immense relief and inner peace she had found when she bought the cottage and secured a job that she could do from the solitude of her own home. Understanding entirely, Jarrod nodded periodically as Anna told her tale.

“I feel your pain,” he sympathised warmly. “First lesson. How to shut out the noise.”

Anna stared at him open mouthed, “How?”

“It’s easy,” promised Jarrod. “Do you always wear that turquoise ring?”

Anna nodded.

“Focus on it. Focus on everything about it. The texture. The shape. The colour. The silver band. The silver setting around the stone,” instructed Jarrod. “Now, keep that focus but try to pick up my thoughts.”

For a few seconds Anna enjoyed blissful silence as she focussed on her mother’s turquoise ring. After about thirty seconds, she allowed her concentration to lift a little. Immediately, she could hear Jarrod musing about the colour of her underwear. Before she could shut him out again, he began to laugh.

“White lace works for me, Miss Maitland,” he teased as she flushed scarlet in front of him.

“That was cruel!” she protested with a smile. “Is it really that simple to shut the voices out though?”

“Yes,” assured Jarrod. “It takes practice to hold that degree of focus but you’ll soon get the hang of it.”

“Thank you.”

“Lesson two is just as important,” began Jarrod as he refilled their glasses. “You must learn to shield your own thoughts. Learn to preserve your soul from prying eyes.”

“I never suspected anyone was looking before today,” revealed Anna softly. “I didn’t know there were other people like me.”

“You’ve had a long, lonely journey, haven’t you?”

Anna nodded slowly.

“OK. Lesson two,” he stated. “You kind of need to cloak your mind. It’s another visualisation technique. This is harder. Takes more practice. There are a few ways to do it too so you need to experiment a bit.”

He paused to sip his wine.

“Imagine a thick, dense, fog then bring it down around you. Disappear into it. Lose yourself in it. Trust that nothing can penetrate it. Nothing can see you. Focus on it. Believe in it.”

Tentatively, Anna tried to imagine a foggy cloud around her. Her first few attempts were patchy and Jarrod easily managed to find a way into her mind.

Before she became too frustrated, he suggested an alternative, “Try visualising a mirror instead. The mirror side is pointing away from you. The mirror is reflecting everything away from you.”

Again, Anna experimented with the technique described only this time with greater success. It took Jarrod over five minutes to find a chink in her protection.

“Well done,” he praised as she finally let her shield shatter around her. “For a first attempt that was none too shabby. It’ll get easier with practice. Promise.”

“Thank you. I’ll work on it,” vowed Anna as she took a sip of her wine. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, but I reserve the right not to answer.”

“What brought you here?”

“There’s an obvious answer in there, Miss Maitland, and its parked outside,” he teased, playing with her a bit. “Business and pleasure though is a more accurate answer.”

“And the business bit?” quizzed Anna, trying to learn more about her guest.

“Well, I can’t say too much. I’m looking for something.”

“And the pleasure?”

“Apart from having dinner with you?” he teased with a smile. “The pleasure’s getting to ride with the guys I was with earlier. We’re touring around but I need to leave them in a couple of days.”

Jarrod paused for a moment then decided to take a risk, “You could help me out here if I find what I’m looking for.”

“Me? How?”

“Look after it for a short while.”

Alarm bells rang in her overly cautious mind. What if this charismatic stranger was a drug dealer? What if this parcel she was being asked to look after was illegal?

“Calm down,” he said quietly. “And did you listen to anything I taught you earlier?”

“Sorry,” apologised Anna. “But, can you blame me, Jarrod? This has not been the most conventional meeting or evening.”

“I guess not,” he said with a sigh. “I’m working under cover. Hanging with the boys is my cover. They genuinely are my friends, before you ask. My investigations and probing around have been quite fruitful today. I’m pretty sure what I’m looking for will be on the last ferry tonight. I plan on being at the ferry terminal to collect it. However, I need somewhere to keep it safe for a couple of days.”

“Under cover for who?” quizzed Anna, sensing he was being honest with her.

“I can’t say,” apologised Jarrod. “It’s confidential. I need to be in Glasgow tomorrow to catch up with the boys. We’re heading to pick up the owner of the package. If you could guard it for two or three days till I get back it would save me a lot of trouble.”

“Is it too big to take on the bike with you?”

“Not exactly. More like too fragile.”

“And I definitely won’t get into trouble with the police? No thugs are going to turn up here trying to steal it?”

“I promise you it’s safe. No police. No thugs. No one.”

Against her better judgement, Anna felt herself nod.

“Miss Maitland, I think I love you!” declared Jarrod smiling at her.

At the sight of his smile and those dark brown eyes, the last of her reservations melted. Something, fate perhaps, had brought Jarrod into her life and Anna felt compelled to go along with his plans. Swiftly, he explained that he’d leave around eleven, meet the boat and be back by eleven thirty.

“Where will you stay tonight?” asked Anna, realising that locally his options at that time of night would be limited.

“I’ve a tent in my rucksack. I’ll camp outside, if that’s ok?”

“Nonsense,” she heard herself saying. “I’ve a comfortable couch. You are more than welcome to sleep on there.”

“Only if you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

 

Shortly before eleven, Jarrod rose to leave for the ferry terminal. While they had waited for the clock to tick round, he’d coached her on a few more basic ways to both use and shield their shared talent. When she had quizzed him on how he had developed the skill, Jarrod had explained that he’d developed the talent after a car crash when he was a teenager. The crash had killed his parents and left him in a coma for a week. When he’d come round, he discovered he could hear what everyone was thinking. With a catch in his voice, he’d confessed that’s how he had learned of his parents’ death. He’d read the mind of one of the nurses.

 

While he was gone, Anna cleared away the glasses and dinner dishes then ran upstairs to fetch a quilt and pillows from the airing cupboard. She left them neatly folded on the floor beside the couch, hoping that her guest would be warm enough overnight.

A short while later, Anna heard the distinctive roar of Jarrod’s motorbike, listened as it stopped outside then heard his footsteps on the path. He knocked at the back door before stepping into the warm welcoming kitchen.

In his arms, he was carrying a sleeping child.

The Imp – part fourteen

As she stepped down from the wagon, a wave of panic engulfed Amber. Where was she going to go? What if Jem didn’t want to see her? How was she going to even find him?

Taking a deep breath and clutching her sleeping son close to her chest, she slipped across the bustling courtyard into the dark shadows. For a few minutes, she watched as the wagons were unloaded and the goods carried into the storage cellars and the stable block. A door opened and a young kitchen maid came out carrying a tray of beer mugs. The aroma of food wafted across the courtyard over her hiding place in the shadows, reminding the fairy/elf of just how hungry she was. Dare she risk simply walking into the castle kitchen?

While she deliberated, the maid disappeared back inside, closing the door behind her.

If she stayed in the shadows she reasoned that she could reach the sanctuary of the stable block unseen and hide in the hay loft until she could work out a better plan. At least amongst the sweet hay, both her and the baby would be warm and dry.

Silently Amber slipped along the wall through the darkness towards the dim light of the stable block.

 

“Mistress Morag!” called Jem as he came charging into the kitchen, clutching his daughter to his chest. “Where is she?”

“Where’s who, sir?” asked Urquhart’s sister as she turned to face the prince. “Who are you looking for? And why isn’t this little princess tucked up asleep in her cradle?”

“Amber,” stated Jem as if it were obvious who he was seeking. “I saw her from the nursery window. She was in the courtyard. She’s here!”

“Well, no one’s come in here, sir!” retorted Morag sharply.

Without another word, the prince marched across the kitchen towards the door. The cool night air hit him as he stepped out into the courtyard, leaving the warmth of the castle kitchen behind him. For a few moments he stood watching the hustle and bustle around the wagons as they were re-loaded for the return journey through the portal.

“Where is she?” he whispered softly to his baby daughter who was snuggled into his shoulder. “Where’s your mama?”

If it was him, where would he have gone? Where would he hide?

 

The sweet smell of the straw mixed with the pungent aroma of horse as Jem and the baby entered the stables. One of the horses whinnied as the prince passed its stall. In his arms the baby began to squirm and fret. She let out a pitiful wail that echoed round the vast space. There was a rustling noise in the hay loft above them.

“Amber?” called out Jem softly. “Are you up there?”

Silence.

After what seemed like an eternity, he heard another rustling noise accompanied by a few creaks from the wooden rafters.

“Jem? Is that you?”

His heart swelled as he heard her beautiful musical voice. It was a voice that he hadn’t dared hope he would hear ever again.

“Yes it’s me,” he replied, his voice suddenly thick and hoarse with emotion. “Come down. Please.”

Keeping his gaze on the ladder, the prince waited with bated breath until he saw her soft leather boots step onto the top rung. With her back to him, the fairy/elf slowly descended the ladder. He worn leggings rode up exposing her ankles, both of which were red raw, chaffed from the chains from her tree prison cell. The tips of her wings poked out from below her travelling cloak, the flickering light from the lanterns causing them to shimmer softly. He long auburn hair hung limp and loose down her back. He could tell she was thin and frail, despite the cloak.

As she reached the bottom rung, he took a step towards her.

 

Stepping down onto the dry dirt floor, Amber paused before turning around. Her travelling cloak was still drawn around her, shielding the makeshift sling that cradled her baby son. Taking a dep breath, she turned to face Jem. The night had Urquhart had tried to reverse the witch’s spell, she had collapsed before she had seen whether the wizard’s magic had been strong enough to succeed against the dark curse.

Amber found herself face to face with the tall handsome prince she had admired at court over a year before; the tall prince she had bedded in this very stable. His hair was covering part of his face but the wizened imp was gone. Seeing him standing there with their baby daughter in her arms was too much for Amber. Tears flowed silently down her pale cheeks.

Seeing her emotions crumbling, Jem stepped forward and put his weaker arm around her.

“No tears, Amber. You’re safe now,” he assured her warmly. “This little princess has been missing her mama.”

The baby was reaching out towards her mother, instinct telling her that this was someone she needed in her life.

With a smile, Amber drew back her cloak to reveal the sleeping baby underneath. Jem’s eyes were wide in surprise.

“And this little prince has been missing his father and his sister.”

Rendered speechless, Jem felt tears fill his own eyes as he gazed down at the sleeping baby. He marvelled at his pale blonde hair. He smiled when he saw the tiny elf ears.

“My son?” he breathed softly. “Twins? I never guessed.”

“I never knew,” confessed Amber as she reached out to take her daughter’s tiny outstretched hand. “My grandmother wouldn’t let me keep them both. She only reluctantly allowed him to stay as all he can stomach is my milk.”

She swayed slightly on her feet as fatigue took over.

“Let’s get you indoors,” suggested Jem, concerned at how frail and tired she looked. “Get you some supper. Get you warm. Artie and Morag are going to be thrilled to hear that you’re home.”

“Home?” she echoed with a wistful smile. “You’ve no idea how good that sounds.”

 

Her unannounced arrival caused quite a commotion in the palace kitchen. Eyes brimming with tears of joy and relief, Morag fussed over Amber and the sleeping prince. Before she became completely overwhelmed, Jem intervened and asked that some supper be brought up to the nursery. Without further ado he guided his family out of the kitchen leaving Morag issuing orders to the maid.

The nursery was warm and a welcoming log fire burned brightly in the hearth. Carefully Amber loosened the bindings on her makeshift sling and lifted her son out. The movement disturbed the baby, rousing him from his magic induced slumber.

“May I?” asked Jem, anxious to hold his tiny son.

“Swap,” said Amber with a smile. “I’ve missed her so much. You’ve no idea how hard it was to let her go.”

 

By the time Morag brought a tray into the nursery with their supper laid out on it, both Jem and Amber were sitting beside the fire cradling a sleepy baby.

“Why don’t you put those two into the cradle together and eat this while its hot,” suggested the older woman warmly. “They need to bond too.”

“Morag’s right,” agreed Amber. “There’s a strong bond between them. A telepathic bond.”

“Pardon?”

Quickly she explained about probing her son’s mind and seeing visions of his sister in her crib.

“That explains a lot,” admitted Jem, recalling his own restless nights with a fretful baby. “Did you give them names? I’ve avoided naming our little princess until I could see you again.”

“I had two names in mind but I never named our son either. I was too scared to. Frightened that my grandmother would go back on her word and take him away too.”

“What names?”

“Jade and Jasper,” she whispered, scared to voice the names out loud in case it brought more ill luck tumbling down on them.

“I’d chosen Jade too,” confessed Jem with a smile. “Jasper I like. Suits him.”

While Morag busied herself setting out their meal on the table, they settled the twins in the cradle. Immediately the babies reached out for each other and lay side by side facing each other, babbling away.

“Now, how about you tell me what happened to you,” suggested Jem quietly, anxious to hear her tale. “And about how you managed to escape.”

Over supper Amber recounted her story, explaining about the twins birth, her tree top prison, the visits from Blain and the plan to ship her off to the elves to be dealt with. She shed fresh tears as she told Jem of the risks Blain had taken to help her escape then she wept for the homeland she could never return to.

“Sh, Amber, you’re safe now,” he soothed. “You’re home.”

 

Slamming her glass down on the table, Greta declared, “One of us needs to go back! We need that ruby.”

“Well, Karina can’t go,” retorted Isabella sharply.

“True. Look at the mess she’s already caused,” muttered Greta glowering at her sister. “Isabella, it needs to be you.”

“Why not you, sister dearest?”

“Because I need to remain here to keep an eye on our darling delinquent sister and to continue the search for the fourth stone,” stated Greta bluntly. “It needs to be you who fetches the ruby.”

“And how do you propose I do that?”

The three sisters sat in silence pondering the question. The minutes ticked by as they stared at each other.

“You’ll simply have to steal it,” said Karina eventually. “They’ll be on the lookout for one of us. But you’ll have to deal with that wizard first.”

Reluctantly Isabella nodded.

 

Three days had passed since Amber and Jasper had arrived at the palace. At Jem’s insistence, they had been left alone to bond as a family and for Amber to begin to recover from her ordeal. He’d had the castle medic treat the wounds to her ankles and had then ordered her to rest.

“Enough is enough!” declared Urquhart sourly as he barged in on their breakfast. “We need to put our heads together. We need to get to work. Something tells me that those witches will make another attempt to recover the ruby before the next full moon.”

“What makes you so sure?” quizzed Amber softly.

“My right big toe has been buzzing for a week. A sure sign of impending danger.”

“If you say so, Artie,” said Jem stifling a laugh. “What do you need us to do to help?”

“Read,” stated he boy wizard. “We need to find the legend or song or verse that tells them what stone they need as well as your father’s ruby, the emerald and the sapphire. We also need to find it before they do.”

“Logic says it will be a diamond,” said Amber calmly. “I’d start with the dwarf chronicles.”

“Why?” asked Jem curiously. “Dwarfish literature is simply awful to read. So dull and monotonous.”

“Dwarves mine diamonds,” said Urquhart. He paused for a moment, “But they also mine rubies, emeralds and sapphires in one particularly rich region. We need to find some southern dwarfish books.”

“Do you have any?” asked Amber hopefully.

“No.”

“Did my mother?” asked Jem remembering that one of her vast collection had already proved to be invaluable.

“I have no idea,” sighed the wizard. “Do you still have the key to her chamber or do I need to speak to your father?”

“I still have it. Let me finished eating then I’ll help you to look,” replied the prince. “What would a southern dwarfish book look like?”

“Ornate, if it was given as a gift to the queen. Very ornate,” stated the wizard, “But small.”

“I think I know the very book,” mused Jem.

 

High up in the mountain keep, the three witches gathered at the entrance. With a click of her fingers, Isabella transformed herself into a snowy white owl. Silently, her sisters watched as she spread her wings and flew from the keep.

 

 

The Soul Searcher

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All around her was the buzz of conversation. In her mind, there was the constant murmur of unspoken thoughts.

Silently, she sipped her coffee and continued to gaze out of the window at the river view outside. The local ferry was passing the cafe, it’s bow wave disturbing the calm water.

Entering a crowded café was always a challenge to her sensitive soul. Venturing out from her cottage into town was a weekly endurance event.

Voices everywhere!

The constant babble almost drove her insane.

As she took a bite of her scone, she tried to block out the cacophony of conversation.

“I can hear you listening,” came a clear male voice in her mind.

She dropped the scone back onto the plate. Eyes wide, she scanned the café, searching for the face that went with the voice.

“I can see you searching for me.”

A chill ran down her spine and she began to tremble.

For over twenty years she had gone to great lengths to hide her enhanced listening abilities. Coping with it as a child had been torture. Being a teenager had been even worse. School and college had been like a prison sentence to her. As soon as she had graduated, she had sought out a job that allowed her to work from home, saved up for the mortgage deposit then bought her secluded cottage and retired from the world around her as much as was possible.

She’d heard millions of unspoken conversations over the years. Inadvertently eavesdropped on  innermost thoughts. Every unspoken word ringing in her mind as clearly as if they’d been spoken out loud beside her.

Never had someone spoken to her in her own mind before.

She felt instantly violated.

“You appear to have dropped your scone.”

“Who are you?” she asked silently. “Where are you?”

Silence.

Carefully she filtered through the dozens of conversations going on around her. Breaking all of her own unwritten rules, she searched the thoughts of the customers in the café in an effort to find “him”.

None of the voices matched.

Her senses picked up a strange silent spot near a table where six guys, all in their twenties or early thirties, were sitting. All of them had long hair, tattoos, biker jackets and had their motorcycle helmets stowed under the high stools they sat on. None of them were looking her direction. All of them were pouring over a map spread out on the table.

With shaking hands, she picked up her scone and took a nervous bite. A bead of jam stuck to her lip. She deftly licked it away.

“Strawberry or raspberry?” asked the voice, its tone mildly curious.

“Raspberry,” she replied silently before realising what she was doing.

“I prefer blackcurrant myself.”

“Who are you?” she asked again, scanning the room.

“A fellow soul searcher.”

“A what?”

“A soul searcher. At least that’s what I like to think I am.”

“Well, you’re not searching mine,” she snapped indignantly.

“Too late. I already have,” mused the voice. “You’re worried that you’ll miss the deadline on the article that’s open on your laptop at home. You’re going to pick up your dry cleaning when you leave here. You have chicken simmering in the slow cooker in your kitchen for dinner. Enough for two meals. Oh, and you forgot to put wine in the fridge before you left. Pinot Grigio.”

Her blood ran cold. Fear began to seize her.

All thoughts of finishing her scone and the coffee vanished.

Grabbing her bag, she paid for her coffee and fled from the café into the street.

 

By the time she had walked the three miles homes, carrying her dry cleaning, she had almost calmed down. As her beach front cottage came into view, she spotted a large Harley Davidson parked on the pavement. There was no sign of the rider.

Quickly she ran down the steps to her front door. A shadow at the side of the whitewashed house caught her eye.

Someone was sitting on her bench gazing out at the river.

Slowly she made her way round the narrow path .

A young man, more or less her own age, sat there with his long denim clad legs stretched out in front of him. His leather jacket and helmet lay beside him on the bench. Long dark hair tumbled down over his shoulders, cascading down his back. His eyes were closed and she wondered for a moment if he was asleep.

Suddenly his eyes opened. They were deep, dark brown, liquid pools of  melted chocolate. He smiled.

“I brought the Pinot Grigio.”

 

 

To be continued…….