Soul Chaser - Chap 3 - Trouble After Midnight

 Chapter Three: Trouble After Midnight
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. 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. After five nights back at work without a hiccup and my new intermediary mentor, Georgina being kind and understanding, I was feeling good despite the hollowness I still felt from Kate’s absence.
    It was as I was sipping my drink that I noticed him. Lounging against the far wall amongst a 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 on a 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. 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 one small fact. It was forbidden. I knew it and I bet my life that he knew it. He could not be allowed to break the rules. My good mood blossomed into a sense of strength and confidence.
    I watched him closely. His attention was so focused on the girl that he never noticed my intense observation. His mouth was uttering away to her, her eyes were entirely fixed upon his own, but every now and again I caught her glancing around the room. Perhaps looking for a friend she came with? Someone she knows? The way out? I couldn’t tell 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.
    He made his move. 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. When I made it to the cold, dark night outside it took a while before I spotted him turning up a corner, towards the shadowy overhang above the bar. I knew it was not long before duties called me somewhere else.
    When I had caught up he had her pinned in a corner. 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, making him turn around with a glare. I smirked in response and lowered 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, it’s ok…’
“Why can’t you just be a good boy and go home? You know the rules as well as I.”
    “I’ll teach you a lesson, harpy!” This time he charged at me, arm ready 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 tip lightly make contact with his chest.
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. 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, yet secretly guiding my weapon to its target. It’s why I loved our weaponry, it wouldn’t harm a mortal as it doesn’t exist in their realm, but to beings like me, who exist in several, well, it’s like a dagger piercing you in the back from behind a curtain.
    “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 intact, 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.
    “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.”
    With that warning, he ran back into the darkness of the city, alone. I contracted 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 Martha who I knew was also on the night shift.
    “Hi Martha, 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 sobbed upon her knees, running her trembling hands through her hair which draped down her legs.
    “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 the closed shops and open 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 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 beckoned me inside.
    I was caught off guard back 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 could see the true me.
    “You’re back early.” He said his voice full of kindness that matched his innocent face.
    “No I’m not.”
    “Yes you are. Haven’t listened to the ten o clock news yet.”
    “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.
    “And who have you brought back with you?”
    “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 false smile confirmed my suspicions.
    “Nice to meet you too Nathan.”
    “Why are you back so soon?”
    I could see Chloe pale slightly and worry 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.
    “Ah yes, as much as I love music I’d rather not go deaf as well.” A poor joke but it broke the hidden tension a bit.
    “Would you like anything, Nathan?”
    “No thanks. 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. The bluntness in his tone told me he felt as uncomfortable as I did. Chloe didn’t seem to notice.
    “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.
    “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 coffee around the kettle.
    “You have a nice home.”
    “It’s my granddad’s house. He’s away at the moment.” For a few seconds she stalled, as if she’d forgotten what she was meant to be doing, the click of the boiled kettle reminded her.
    “Are you just looking after it?”
    “No, we 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.
    “It’s ok Chloe. You’ve had a bit of an … encounter.” It was the most truthful I could be.
    “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.
    “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.
    “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.” I could feel souls slipping into others hands with each minute that passed; my quota was like a burning nag at the back of my mind.
    We both stood and she 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?” She gave me a quizzical look not really seeing beyond the title.
    “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, 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. I looked back through the living room window and scared myself at the sight of Nathan’s silhouette behind the veiled curtain, he was staring directly through the glass at me.
I’ve only met a handful of those gifted with Odin’s Sight as we called it. Where the person cannot see the physical world but they are gifted with visions of much more instead, including spirits and the like. Each encounter was so rare each new one is as deep an impact to the soul as travelling through a portal from one realm to the next. I felt like he was looking at me naked, knowing he could see the true me and not the mortal I appear to be.
I attempted to shrug the unnerving feelings away as I walked down the steps when something on the pavestones made me double back. 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 at night. 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. My mobile erupted into the theme tune of the Adam’s Family when I reached the street corner. I groaned when I recognised the caller. I reluctantly accepted the call.
“Hi Georgina. No, no, please listen. I’m fine, really. No harm done to me or any mortal. Just caught a Lycan trying it on with a girl.” A rush of reprimands squealed back at me. “I’m sorry I won’t try it again I promise.” Georgina let out an exasperated sigh. “Ok, ok, I’ll finish this one last client and then I’ll meet you back the portal on Ouse gate. See you soon.” I cancelled the call. I chuckled wearily already guessing Martha had blown the whistle on me but I didn’t begrudge her for it. She was my best friend in this crazy universe and I know she has always looked out for me like a big sister. I would teaser her about it later.

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 the 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?’
    “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…”
    “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 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. The realm of Asgard didn’t use to accept the elderly but they’ve had to mould the rules a little to keep their numbers growing now that no one dies by the sword anymore.
     “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 into the white glass. With a snap the sound of lightening the jar closed upon its new inhabitant.
    The watch in the room said twenty minutes to twelve. Bugger, Georgina had been waiting half an hour already. I ran back into the car park outside, found a concealed spot within some shrubs, scratched more runes into the soil and returned my being to the mortal realm. I sent a text to Georgina to tell her I was finally on my way before setting off one last time at a brisk pace.

*** *** ***

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 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 gold 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 was 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. She seemed normal, warm, approachable, kind and caring.
    “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.

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