Tag Archives: #shortstory

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…….