Friday, 9 October 2009

Completed draft sequel to 'The Old Ways Never Die'

Midnight Tricks: Draft One

The music throbbed, pulsed and rocked up through my table, through my glass and disturbed the surface of my drink. It was also starting to shake my brain more than I’d like. Music back in my day was a lot more sociably pleasing in that it didn’t leave you with a headache to precede the hang over from the alcohol. I never did understand how the youth of this modern generation could get any enjoyment from this loud, rapid procession of beats and noises. I guessed it might have some echo of their Neolithic past when the earliest form of music was used to send people into a trance like state. In modern times the trance was a lot more active than simply rocking on your knees and wailing to the spirits, it involved so called ‘dancing’ in the dark with music so loud even shouting won’t get you heard, only screaming would. But what did I know; I wasn’t part of this generation in any context. I was around long before any of the throng near me was conceived.
I glanced at my mobile for the time as it was too dark and none of the fast moving rays of rainbow lasers and lights stayed long enough on my table for me to look at my watch. Ten to nine. I smiled with relief that I wouldn’t have to reside there much longer before I was due to meet my next client.
It was as I was sipping my drink once more that I noticed him. Lounging against the far wall amongst a little group of lads and girls, a good head taller than the rest and if anyone cared to notice the tallest person in the room next to the DJ who was a on stage. His type always failed to realise that it was merely their height that gave them away no matter how normal they may appear to be on the outside. Normally on a night like that I wouldn’t have even considered any form of interaction with him on any basis, each side prefers to avoid the other but on this occasion he was doing something that was rather worrying.
He was talking to a girl. Now to anyone in the world that would seem perfectly typical of a night club scene, boy meets girl, boy likes girl, vice versa and at some point make the beast with two backs as Shakespeare so cleverly put it. Except this would be no ordinary coupling and what made it worrying was the fact that it was forbidden. I knew it and I bet my life that he knew it. He could not be allowed to break the rules.
I watched him closely; his attention was so focused on the girl that he never noticed my intense glances at him. His mouth was uttering away to her whose eyes were entirely fixed upon his own but every now and again I caught her glancing around the room herself. Perhaps looking for a friend she came with? Someone she knows? The way out? I couldn’t tell for sure but the fact that they even broke eye contact at all meant that his regular charms weren’t working. And if he wanted her as much as I thought he did then I was nervous about what he would try next when being the ‘perfect gentleman’ failed to seduce her.
He made his next move just before it was time I introduced myself to him, he came closer to her, rested his hands on her hip and shoulder and guided her towards the door. The girl showed a little bit of concern by trying to grab hold of someone who I could only presume she knew but if she didn’t then she really was desperate. She tried to communicate something but He stepped forward, said something and was waved away with the girl followed by wolf whistles from the acquaintance.
I grabbed my mobile, shoved it in my bag and shuffled through the crowd after them determined not to loose sight of them. When I made it to the door and cold dark night outside it took a while before I spotted him turning up a corner towards the shadowy overhang in front of the closed café’s and newsagent above the bar. I walked after them trying to be discrete. I knew it was not long before duties called me somewhere else but I had already decided that this matter was far more important.
When I had caught up he had her pinned in a corner, pressing himself hard upon her, forcing her tight against the wall. Even from a small distance I could hear her small mutterings of ‘no’ and ‘stop’ and ‘I really must go’ none of which would work now he was in a different state of mind. I whistled sharply making him turn around with a glare. I merely smirked in response and dropped my handbag to the floor.
“Someone’s being a naughty boy.”
“Leave us alone. This is none of your business.” He grunted back, his voice as hoarse as someone who has eaten crushed glass. He spun back around to the girl who looked visibly frightened now. I could hear his voice immediately become smooth and caring, muttering ‘just ignore her, its ok…’
“How about you leave us alone and go back to your kennel, dog.”
“Who are you calling dog, harpy!” This time I had struck a cord which is what I had intended, as long as I could direct his attention at me the girl might gain her senses enough to run away. He was stomping towards me already in his big army style boots. His breed really was too big to ever not be noticed.
“Why can’t you just be a good boy and go home eh? You know the rules as well as I. Or must I teach doggy a lesson?”
“I’ll teach you a fucking lesson bitch!” This time he charged at me, arms raised for a punch. I simply knelt down, grabbed something from my bag and pointed it at him until he stopped a foot away from me. I smirked again as I felt the spear head tip lightly make contact with his chest when he stopped. Others around us wouldn’t be aware or even see the weapon I was threatening him with but I could and even if he couldn’t I knew he felt it. His clenched mouth and cautious glances were evidence of it. To the few stragglers and late night strollers in the area it would only appear to them that I was pointing at him with arm outstretched, secretly guiding my weapon to its target.
“Listen, you know it’s wrong, I know it’s wrong so why don’t we agree that I’m right and you get to go home with your tail still in tact, how’s that for you?” I pushed upon my spear ever so slightly into his lower chest to make him wince and a few smoke wisps escaped from his ever so slowly smouldering shirt. “Or would you like to be docked?”
“I won’t forget this.” He growled at me as he lowered his arm.
“I’m sure you won’t but you’ll probably thank me for it later when your Alpha finds out the trouble you’ve been getting up to. Now run along and go find a nice bone to munch on instead.”
With that warning, reminding him of how it wouldn’t be only me that would give him a hard time, he backed off and ran back into the darkness of the city. I quickly compacted my spear and put it back in my bag. Then I heard the crying. The girl hadn’t left as I had hoped. I took out my mobile again and rang Joanne who I knew was also on the night shift.
“Hi Jo, listen something’s come up I won’t be able to make my next appointment can you do it for me? … You sure? … Thanks no no it’s nothing too serious, I’ll tell you about it later. Got to go. Oh yeah the name is Mr Lancaster. Thanks again. See ya.” Putting it away I approached the girl casually as possible.
The poor thing was running her trembling hands through her hair which draped down her legs as she sobbed upon her knees.
“What’s your name?” I asked in a low voice kneeling down beside her.
“Chloe.” She managed to brush some hair aside and look at me. I could sense the fear in her heart and the questions brewing inside her mouth.
“Chloe, I’m Jenny. How about we get you home? Do you live far from here?”
“No … not far.” She attempted to stand up but her legs weren’t obeying.
“Here.” I offered my hand which she grasped like an elderly woman. I managed to pull her up and pass her handbag. “Where to?”
“Just ten minutes this way.”
I allowed her to lead the way through the centre of York, past closed shops and open bars and clubs towards the river where we took a left turn and walked down by the Ouse. As we walked we talked briefly, about casual everyday things, never about what had happened. I was glad I had decided to allow this detour of my plans to occur because each time the shadows shifted ever so slightly I knew that my absence would mean a very different fate for Chloe.
We soon arrived in a quiet, narrow residential street. Few houses were awake with life but I was relieved for Chloe’s sake that we stopped at one that did have lights on and a TV flashing colours through the thin curtains. Her hands were still unsteady as I held open her bag for her to find her keys. She opened the door slightly and shouted inside.
“Nathan, it’s just me.” She swiftly beckoned for me inside but her pleading looks quashed my silent answer of ‘no’ so I followed her in.
Inside was rather surprising as the décor didn’t suit her young age. The carpet was mosaic tiled, the walls were dolphin blue grey papered and there was a border of white and light blue swirls around the edge of the hallway hemming you in your surroundings. I felt like I’d gone back to the 1920’s just by stepping through the door. I was brought back to the present by the appearance of the presumed Nathan in the doorway to the left. A shiver went up my back and circled around my head.
His pearl white eyes roamed jaggedly around the corridor alighting upon me for the shortest of seconds but in that minute time frame I knew he had seen me.
“You’re back early.” He said his voice full of kindness that matched his innocent face.
“No I’m not.” Chloe retorted.
“Yes you are. Mock the Week has only just started which means it after nine.”
“There’s no fooling you is there.” Chloe smiled but only weakly, when you’re talking to a blind person you don’t have to be convincing.
“Who’s your friend?”
“Oh this is…”
“Jennifer.” I answered stepping forward and shaking his free hand whilst the other held his stick. “But you can call me Jenny.” His eyes didn’t look in the direction of my voice but his smile confirmed my suspicions.
“Very nice to meet you Jenny, I’m Chloe’s brother.”
“Nice to meet you too Nathan.”
“Did you two have a nice night then?”
I could see Chloe pale slightly and worry in her eyes as she thought up something to say so I answered for her.
“It was quiet and a bit boring so Chloe suggested we come back for a coffee instead. At least that way we could hear ourselves talk.” I chuckled as the small joke.
“Ah yes as much as I love music I’d rather not go deaf as well.”
“Would you like a coffee Nathan?”
“Oh no thanks, I’m just about to start my hot chocolate anyway. Besides Mock is back on so I’ll leave you girls to it.” With that he slowly turned himself around and walked back into the living room and the laughing sound of the TV.
“Kitchen’s this way.” Chloe whispered.
We went down the hallway and entered a brightly lit room with terracotta walls, sandy tiled floor and pale wooden cupboards and furniture. Along the shelves were many jars of delicately arranged peppers, chillies, peas and other colourful foods set in layers. I never understood their purpose in my own mind because they were made for pure decoration not for use which is a bit of a waste in my opinion. Then again I came from an era where decoration was only a concept available to those who could afford it.
“Do you have sugar?”
“No. No sugar thanks just a bit of milk.”
I let her wander around the kitchen gathering the mugs, spoons, milk and tea bags around the kettle.
“You have a nice home.”
“It’s my granddad’s house. He’s away at the moment.”
“Are you just looking after it?”
“No, we do live here. Nathan and I have been with Granddad since we were very young.” She poured the water into the mugs and stirred each before passing me one. “I haven’t said thank you yet have I?” she smirked ever so slightly, a tiny spark of her usual self appearing in her eyes.
“It’s ok Chloe. You’ve had a bit of an … experience.”
“Yes…you could call it that.” She said very quietly as we both sat down around the small table. “But I am grateful for your help. I don’t know what would have happened.” She went pale and distant again.
“Don’t think about it Chloe, you’re home safe now. That guy won’t bother you again.”
“I hope not…did you know him? He seemed to recognise you.”
“Not directly no, I just know his brother and we both know he can be a bit demanding of the opposite sex.” I swallowed the warm coffee casting a quick look through the kitchen window but all I could make out were our reflections. “So what do you do for a living?”
“I work a kiosk at the railway station. What about you?”
“I work for a company that deals in prearranged funerals.” Not entirely true but closer to the truth then some lies I’ve heard my colleagues tell.
“You don’t seem the type of person that would deal with such a …”
“Morbid subject? Yes, a lot of people say that to me. But then the way we work is that it isn’t as morbid as you may think. People not only find great relief in knowing that such matters are taken care of after their gone but it can also be an enjoyable experience. A lot of our customers find pleasure in making their passing a unique and unforgettable experience. The only problem is people’s views about death and the afterlife. That’s why people not in the business just see black clothes, mourners and coffins when they hear the word funeral.” What I said was true about the genuine prearranged funeral business but my own work at least fitted the unique and unforgettable part. As my clients never forget their encounters with me and each client takes the matter in a very unique way. A lot of the time it’s complete disbelief, panic and fear.
“That might even sound a lot more fun than my kiosk job.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“No it’s not that, I just feel I’ve been in retail a bit too long in my life. I started working in a supermarket when I was sixteen and I have just never thought of trying anything new.”
“Why don’t you leave and try something new then? Is there a job you’ve always wanted to try?”
“Not really, I’ve never had great dreams about my life and at the moment my job fits my family life better as it gives me the flexibility needed to care for Nathan. Granddad is retired so my work pays for what I and Nathan need so we don’t eat into his pension as little as it is for him.”
“Ever thought of doing a part time course to learn new skills?”
“No, I might look into it one day.”
“Well maybe you should seriously consider it as you are working for two after all so a better job with better pay and the chance of something new might be what you need.”
“Saviour and life councillor, is there anything you can’t do Jenny?” She gave me a genuine smile for the first time that night.
“Nah, it’s not like that, I just hate to see a life wasted. I always encourage people to make their own happiness when I can.” I finished my drink. “I think it’s time I should be going otherwise I will miss the next bus home.”
We both stood together with friendly smiles and the escorted me to the door quietly.
“Thanks again for everything tonight Jenny. I really appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it Chloe, here’s my card, call me if you need to talk about anything.”
“Final Choice? That’s a funny name for your company.” She gave me a quizzical look not really seeing beyond the title. Of course the choice our clients make are lot more serious then simply choosing which flowers to have at their funeral.
“Kind of suits it really, after all anything you decide to happen for your funeral is your final decision and action in this life. Anyway, I hope we see each other again, try and enjoy the rest of your evening.”
“I’ll try, safe journey.”
“Night Chloe.” I let her shut the door on me as I made my way down the steps but before I walked any further I turned around and knelt to the pavement. I was just about to engrave a rune of protection into the concrete when I noticed some markings already there. Their auras were faint but to my unique eyes they still shimmered like star dust. Marks that resembled many of the runes I know and practise. These were Elder Runes, a set only the Gods themselves know from when Odin first discovered them. It explained why such strong magic caught my eyes. I couldn’t make out their entire meaning but they all seemed to be wards of some kind. Someone had already protected this place, but who and why? I presumed some spiritual being had perhaps inhabited this place a long time ago and wanted to be protected from the dangers that still stalk the shadows tonight. I thought no more about it as I laid down my own runes to keep the protection up-to-date but that’s not to say I wasn’t curious as I looked back up at the house, trying to guess when it was first built. I peered around the shadows beyond the light of the house, sensing no feral presence I made my way back towards the district Hospital, determined to catch up with my quota for that night.

In the hospital all was silent and still. As it should be when I’m working. Noises other than my own and my clients always signal a problem. The doctor and nurse didn’t utter a word either. He remained one step outside the door whilst she had frozen with her fingers about to make contact with the buttons on the machinery around the man in the bed. He was also motionless. But then again I hadn’t woken him up yet so it wasn’t entirely surprising. There was a small matter of his genuine condition to be clarified before I did anything else.
Reaching into my hessian pouch I held I took out a handful of dried Ash leaves from our holy tree and crumpled them upon the man. They thankfully floated slowly through his form to lie underneath him. If they did make contact with any unwelcome present within his form than least to say it would have the same affect silver supposedly has to werewolves. Having now confirmed he is in a stable condition I banged the butt of my tall spear, now out and visible at its glorious length, three times upon the floor.
“Mr Fergusson, you can wake up now.”
As usual he didn’t respond instantly, waking up from their experience is never easy. I should know having been through it myself. Mr Fergusson stretched, yawned, rubbed his eyes, scratched his small curly grey beard and then sat up in a rush of action. He looked at me in shock and I looked at him due to his surprising reaction.
“Send me back.”
“Sorry?” I asked completely confused now. Most people usually ask me who I am first and why I’m dressed funny or the most common is ‘am I an angel?’ Not Mr Fergusson apparently. He seemed to have some sense of leaving the world.
“Send me back. Send me back now.”
“I’m sorry but you seem to have got your wires crossed. You haven’t left anywhere. You’re still in the hospital.”
“Don’t lie to me I know the truth. I know what’s happened to me and I know why you’re here. What you don’t realise is that I’m needed back there. You have to send me back or…”
“You can’t go back Mr Fergusson, no one can or will. You are no exception to the fact. You have to come with me whether you like it or not.”
“No! No! You don’t understand, if I’m gone they’ll…”
“Listen Mr Fergusson, I understand perfectly well what this feels like so don’t tell me I don’t understand your position. I had to leave people too, we all do when this day comes and you know what, they’re always just fine without you. Your family moves on, your children grow up and friends make new friends. That’s life. So just focus on your memories because that is all you and they will have left of your life. Please don’t delay it anymore. It is time.” I swiftly flung back my swan feather cloak to reveal the large glass jar I held in my right hand, with a tap of my finger the top flipped back and the magic took over. Having died primarily through old age he got the special treatment of the old methods of soul collection, unlike those who died from disease or famine, they had to be tested before we served them their final notice on earth.
“No! Please! The children…they need me….they’ll get them…” He made one broken final plea for mercy before the vortex in the jar sucked his soul inside it, each atom of him disappearing in the pearl white glass like a dry sandcastle being blown away in the wind. With a snap the sound of lightening the jar closed upon its new inhabitant.
“I’m sorry Mr Fergusson; I’m just doing my job. I don’t get to make these decisions. And I’m glad for it.” I muttered to myself, the doctor and nurse showing no attention or opinion to my own. The watch in the room said twenty minutes past two in the morning. In just over half an hours time my night shift would be over. Being so close to home time I went to the nearest window, opened it and flew out into the night, heading for the nearest portal point to bed.

Going through any portal always makes me feel like I’ve just walked through a waterfall of ice cold water. ‘It cleans the soul’ as my mentor Kate often said each time I complained about it. I guess it did in a way, washes away all the earthly mortal attachments to allow you to pass through into the higher spiritual realm. Sure as anything woke you up though. Walking along the many colours of Britfrost’s rainbow gave me time to think about my night shift but it also gave me chance to hear the constant humming of the souls I kept in the jar. It was the hum of a hundred butterfly wings clapping together as soft as felt. I would be glad when I released them to lead their new lives in the pleasant realm of Asgard. Before long I had reached the golden doorway that leads home, I took out my staff, stomped it three times once more, Odin loves that number, and it opened.
Usually I see the large grassy field full of every wildflower created and Odin’s golden hall glistening like a large piece of ore pushed up from the earth on the hillsides beyond. This was not what I saw at first when I was about to enter Asgard’s realm. More precisely what worried me was who I saw first.
Frigg, wife to Odin, Queen of the Aesir Gods and motherly guardian to all natural life. It was she who stood staring at me without giving anyway any hints as to why, stood in the doorway with a pleasant smile and welcoming eyes. She in her pale blue and white cotton dress trailing down to her golden sandals. Nothing about her seemed dangerous, in fact she seemed the complete opposite, she seemed normal, warm, approachable, kind and caring, most noticeably friendly.
“Valkyrie, come with me, there is something important we must talk about before you go to the hall of freedom.” She said her tone so friendly and polite it was hard for me to say no or even gather the courage to ask ‘why?’ and ‘what about?’. After all, the Aesir hardly ever revealed themselves to us former mortals, especially ones who weren’t original believers in the northern pagan faith. It is that fact that worried me to the core as we walked together through the grass and into the eternal realm of spring.

The End
(For now...)

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