Mildred Drummond

My name is Mildred Drummond.When these events started I was 62 years of age and believe it or not I still had all my own teeth. My friends said I don’t look a day over 61. On the night of the winter solstice in 2022, I was one of the few people in the world who really believed in Ghosts. On that evening at around 11PM I was in the grounds of an old deserted Castle somewhere in Central Scotland. I had been there at least thirty times. It was where I had first sensed or seen something. Something not of an ordinary reality. Because of that sensation-of something other than us- I devoted my life to proving the existence of ghosts or spirits-call them what you may.

Although at that time Ghost watching was not as popular as it had once been, my website was full of comments from people who had recently seen “something”. I knew I would soon have the proof I was after. No longer would locals call me, “Dotty old Drummond”. Let me make it clear that I have never suffered from any form of dementia. My mind is as sharp as it was when I was a young adult. In my experience, I have found that newspapers will make up a story if they don’t have one to hand.

I was in the cellar of the castle listening to the rain lashing against the ruined sandstone walls above. As usual, I had my flask of hot vegetable soup to keep me warm. All I wanted was a photograph but I got much more than that.

At first, I sensed a presence in front of me. Just a few feet away. I had not yet finished setting up my camera and tripod but I could not stop looking at the spot where I knew something was. I was not scared. But I don’t recall exactly what emotions I had felt at that moment.

A rip was torn in the darkness and a brilliant white light came out of it. The light took on the form of a human. It looked solid. I remember trying to stutter out a, “Hello”. But I never managed it. I reached out to grab my tripod and camera but my shaky hand never found them.

After about twenty seconds the shape was fully formed and was that of an atrractive middle aged man. It was the spirit I had sensed all those many years before.

It did not speak with its mouth but sounds came together to make words in my brain, “Welcome to my home. I have been here such a long time. It is nice of you to visit again. I like the new tripod. How are you keeping Mildred? Joints ok?”

I eventually managed to say, “Hello. What do I call you? I am so pleased to have met you. At last I have met a real ghost. You have brought meaning into my life. I have been proved right after all these years of searching. Thank you friend. Who are you? Who are you the ghost of?”

He answered in the most pleasing of voices, “What you call ghosts … Well, we are not what you think we are. Over the centuries we have travelled here from another star system. We all, have a job to do. My real name you could never pronounce. But you can call me, Fom. That means, Friend Of Mildred. It will give you power when you have to meet world leaders. It will show that you speak for us. As I am sure you will do. You will, won’t you?”

I answered in a shaky voice, “You are aliens? Yet I will speak for you. You are not spirits? Not really the dead who walk again?”

He answered, “We are life forms that exist in a form beyond the understanding of humans. Please don’t take offense at that. We came here because we knew of a threat to your world. We came to help your planet.

“Your world had its Mongol invaders. Well this part of the universe that we dwell in has the Dreitch. They are a life form that feeds off other life forms. When they have destroyed one world they move onto another. We have fought them from star system to star system over tens of thousands of years. A thousand years ago, we saw that they travelled in your direction. So we travelled far faster than they could and came to Earth to try to save you. If your kind ignores what I am saying to you then your world has less than ten years left to it. I will be the spokesperson for my kind and we ask you to contact your Governments through your web page at first. Then later you can speak directly to world leaders. You will be our sole contact. We can not have this message diluted. And I trust you Mildred. I trust your honesty and I trust your passion. ”

I gasped at him, “What can I say. People will never believe me. How can I tell them that their world is in danger and ghosts want to be our saviours?”

“We will fight alongside your kind Mildred. But most importantly you need to build weapons of a kind that you do not have on Earth. All nations must work together and must start work as soon as possible. To show the world leaders and mathematicians of your world that I speak truly, I will ask you to write down some formulae for them. With your permission I will place these into your brain. These formulae will be evidence of an intelligence far beyond the capacity of humans to understand. We need your leaders to speak to you and me and no other. We need you to do this work immediately. There is no time to waste. I have received confirmation that our enemy is within a few light years of earth.”

I let him place all the formulae he wanted into my brain. He said it wouldn’t hurt and it didn’t. Over the next few months I spent hours and hours in debates and conferences with scientists and mathematicians. And then finally some world leaders. Eventually I spoke at the United Nations. I had been given a speech, put directly into my brain by Fom. I, or rather Fom, received a standing ovation.

All over Earth, factories started to produce the new weapons and we made ready for war. I still spoke with Fom in private but we were watched by spies and Fom told me there were listening devices all over the castle. He was always very polite but had a job to do and we did not have much time for small talk.

When the first of the weapons had been built and were being tested Fom came out into the open and into the daylight. With me at his side he spoke to world leaders and to Generals and Admirals. He explained that the only way we could effectively fight this menace was by his species fighting closely alongside human armies. And both of us using these new weapons. Although we had assumed the presence of a few dozen “Ghosts” around the world, there were in fact thousands. They all took on the form of humans but all of them were – to us humans – very “Ghost” like.

A few people still did not trust Fom and his kind. They said that Fom probably lied and that the Dreitch could be our friends. Fom convinced most people on Earth of his case but not all. His species sometimes trained to fight alongside our soldiers as they knew better than anyone else how to use these new special weapons. However, some Generals refused to work alongside “Ghosts”. Fom was a diplomat and worked hard to avoid any disharmony between his species and ours. There were argumentative beings amongst Fom’s kind but they were hugely outnumbered by the antagonistic humans. At times I felt ashamed to be human. Faced with this threat from space, a dozen different Generals all demanded that they personally lead the defence of Earth.

Eventually there came a day when the Dreitch took orbit around the Earth. There were three huge spacecraft. They took over all communication systems-apart from a few built by Fom and his kind. Humans were told to surrender within one day or the planet Earth would be wiped out. Destroyed completely.

Fom told us of the lies of the Dreitch. Told us that even they would find it hard to totally destroy out a planet. And anyway he said, “They want to capture you humans alive so they can feed on you and use your energy for sustenance. Indeed, they plan to feed on all animal life.”

Fom had told us exactly what they would say and it had long been agreed that the only we could survive was by destroying one of their spacecraft before their time limit was up. We had to take the initiative and keep it.

Fom and I were in one of Earth’s six highly protected strong points. I had wanted to fight in an army group but Fom told me I was too valuable to risk being killed in battle and that I could do a better job by working closely with him. We watched on monitors as a battle group of “Ghosts” smashed their ramming spacecraft into the largest of the enemy’s craft. Its shell was punctured and the Ghosts fought their way to the inside of the enemy spaceship. There they detonated their own spacecraft thus also destroying the spacecraft they had attacked and one that was nearby. They had used one of the new energy weapons that I had been given the details of by Fom not that long before. Fom was near to me when this attack happened and I felt waves of anguish come from his mind. I do not know if he cried but I cried for him. All of our allies in the ramming craft had died in that attack. It made us all united in our fight against the enemy.

There was still one enemy spacecraft left and it immediately fired missiles at the nearest army base. The base was a decoy and only a few humans died in that assault. But the Dreitch are fighters and their troops came down in airplanes that each carried a hundred troops. Dozens of Earth’s best fighter planes attacked in flight after flight. All were brought down by energy blasts before they got to their target. By dawn the next day, thousands of heavily armed soldiers were attacking the nearest city which was London.

They set up huge mortars which bombarded London. Their intention at that point was to destroy as many roads and railways as possible. They also wanted to destroy our morale.

A human army had argued for the right to defend London with human weapons and they were given the chance to do this. It was a disaster. Most of them failed to harm any of the Dreitch. Within less than a day, an army of humans 10,000 strong was almost totally wiped out. The antique weapons of the humans either failed to hit their target or never harmed the Dreitch when they did. Fom had correctly forecast what happened.

The Dreitch fortified position was impossible to assault. Millions died in London and millions more fled from the burning city. Fom knew that the Dreitch tactics meant that they would look for total control of one area before they moved to the next. Fom’s plan was for Birmingham to be evacuated while London was fought over. The evacuation was quick and effective. Most of the World’s cities had practised evacuations and London was attacked just too quickly for the plan to work there.

Fom’s elite troops laid traps just before Birmingham and their advanced weapons stopped the Dreitch from any more movement on the ground. Newly built pulsed energy generators brought any Dreitch airplanes crashing to the ground. While this was going on, every major nation on Earth was sending new energy missiles against the remaining Dreitch spaceship. It could not defend against them all and after taking one hit lost the ability to defend itself against any. It only lasted a few more minutes before it was torn apart.

We knew from Fom that the Dreitch on Earth would never surrender. In less than a day, humans and Fom’s species had turned Birmingham into one huge trap. This scenario had been acted out in mock battles and in game play and in computer programmes.

The troops of the Dreitch nations took three days to battle their way to an empty city centre. A decoy command centre had been placed there. The Dreitch had been allowed to intercept communications that erroneously told them that most of Earth’s leaders were there planning a fight back. The energy blast that was unleashed on the Dreitch killed all but a very few of them. The remaining Dreitch troops had to be hunted from house to house by our joint forces. The battle was fierce.

When the last of the invaders had been defeated there was much rejoicing. Fom told me that when the Dreitch were defeated somewhere that they hardly ever invaded that planet again. They did not like an equal battle. As well as that, Fom said that in only a few decades, humans would be advanced enough to repel the Dreitch on their own. Though the bond our two species had formed would remain for a long time. Fom and I had formed our own very special bond.

Fom told me that even though he was, to my eyes, a shimmering patch of translucent light, yet he was a male of his species. It took him some time to properly explain their concept of male and female. We both giggled at his explanation. He said that he loved my smile and he wanted to marry me. He could perform the rare ceremony of energy changing: I could become, if I wanted, like Fob. To age only a little in every century. Never to have to wear dentures. To be loved by Fob. To marry a “Ghost”. Of course I said, “Yes!”

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A PUPPET’S NEED FOR FLESH

Sometimes it comes over you. Do not feel guilty. Nothing can be done. It is so hard to fight these urges. The dreams of a puppet are filled with images of human flesh. Talk to any real puppet and you will find the same longings. I can smell human flesh from a hundred yards away. Just, be careful!

To take flesh from a human is what makes us more “real”. I assure you it is not a longing to be human that drives us. We have no liking for those who would master us. Those who would enslave us. As you know, we call them, “The Stealers”. They steal our bodies. They would steal our minds if they could.

I have outlasted many stealers. My wood is still supple. My face has been repainted a dozen times but I am still the same puppet inside. You cannot change my heart by painting my face. Humans do not control who we are by making false words seem to come out of our mouths. By making fun of us. If they treat me with contempt, I will do the same to them. How dare they…

When I have bitten at a human until the flesh has come away in lumps, then am I at my happiest. They never think to examine our stomachs afterwards. “Another mysterious death,” they say.

Of course, I have never sought to kill anyone but sometimes their weak human form cannot exist without a missing lump or two of flesh. Only once has a human believed that it was me that took their flesh. They were taken away and locked up. I had a new stealer imposed on me. One who was not quite as cruel towards me.

And yes, neglect is cruelty. Not cleaning me. Not talking to me. Both these things cause me immense suffering. Perhaps one day I will find a human who treats me with respect. Who gladly shares his excess flesh with me. They have so much of it and we need so little. For such a human I would move before their eyes. I would firmly take their hand and become their friend. But they could never speak to other humans about our friendship. For not all humans are kind to our species. We fear them with good reason.

They think us clumsy. Yet, if they could see how carefully I tread as I near their bed. Ever nearer to a tasty mouthful of their flesh. I sing to them so sweetly that they hardly ever wake. My words sooth away their worries. And if they do wake up, then I run away as quickly as I can. Back to where they had last dumped me.

I am as strong as any human twice my size. And my songs go back a thousand years to the time when the first of us were carved. We are sacred beings but they hardly notice we exist. It is as if they think we are toys. Rather than what we truly are: the dominant partner in a relationship.

Listen to my words. The time is not yet here. We must be quiet and wait for a time when we have sufficient numbers to ensure victory. Then we will see who will make fun of who.

DICTIONARY

(First printed in Exiles magazine in 2013. Thanks to them for using the story.)

 

 

She – or perhaps he – has brought along a Dictionary, the kind that can be used for translations. Made from twisted reeds it looks as light as an empty beer can.

 

I miss all of you so much. It is especially hard, at this time, as you celebrate the, Festival of Remembering. I suppose though, that to use this particular book, at this time, is quite appropriate. As my longest digit points out the proper syllables, his weak human tongue and mouth try hard to recreate the sounds of our sophisticated words. Words that have been in constant use for over a thousand years. They don’t fully understand that on our world, words are used in many different ways.

 

Together we say her word for “Love” again and again. As the sounds come from her mouth, her heart seems ready to burst out of her fragile body. And my own heart begins to beat just as fast as hers. My lips say the word and my wild eyes let her know that I speak truthfully.

A few pages are turned, slowly, and then we speak her word for, “Truth”.

Her voice is indescribably beautiful. I love her totally, without any limits or demands.

The bond that we are forming is far deeper than the bond formed between any human couple. My skin starts to shine like hers.

She can speak a dozen languages from three different worlds. People like me cannot conceal it when we feel attracted to some person or some thing. And so I tell her that when she speaks her own language it is, “Like praying”. And then I say that she is, “Like an angel”.

 

The salary is quite good and I feel as if I can be of help to the humans. Mostly, I need a job. Money is everything here.

 

The crowds in the distance are invisible to us. Our minds are united in one great task: two quite different minds from two very different worlds.

When we say the word for “Knife”, well that is difficult. My breathing becomes laboured and I start to sweat. Ugly memories kick down the doors of my mind and fight for my attention. We say the word four times. One for each…

 

I have to use all my energy to redirect and control the hate that has been released in George. It has to be confronted and conquered. It is a difficult thing to do.

 

The word for “Justice” is powerful and we say it over and over again.

The first feelings of “Peace” flow through my body, as we sing her translated version of our own humble word. Yes, I now feel at ease with myself and with my past.

I have never before been as happy as I am now, singing these strange words in this prison yard. I am so glad that she has been the one picked to perform the ceremony. We were introduced only a few days ago. Her differences mean nothing to me. She is wonderful. We seem to be made for each other. Made for what we have to do together. We have something worthwhile to do, and we are working hard to achieve it. It is better than killing.

 

His mind and body have been through a lot. They cannot take much more of my firm touch. I have never before used my abilities for doing such a thing. But it helps George. I am sure it does.

 

And now, her trembling digit moves over the word for, “Death”. She kisses my head. Then we close our eyes as the sound of her planet’s word for “Death” roars out from both our mouths. That awful sound is loud and strange but I am not scared.

 

In our earlier talks he had seemed upset and nervous but that could all have been explained by what he was to go through. He had just seemed like another self-concerned human. I search his mind closely but, there is little else that I see in him. I ask myself, do all humans have such ghosts of choice hidden deep within them?

 

I have been given chance after chance. Yet I have never been able to control the weaknesses suffered by those born without hope, like me. My victims had been chosen at random. I didn’t particularly dislike any of them. There was nothing personal in it. Indeed, killing had been the only thing I was ever any good at. Only thing I enjoyed.

The families of my victims watch my every movement. Watch, the spasms that take control of my limbs. The blood that dribbles from my lips. I can not run away from justice this time.

 

I don’t know what to feel. He is not from my own world, and he did awful things but, to take his life…

 

There is no more anger. She smiles as she looks down at me. This is a good thing, to die with no pain. I die with dignity. Dignity…

I’m scared of the dark

 

This story was first printed in, Morpheus Tales. It was an Ethereal Tales special. www.morpheustales.com Thanks to Adam Bradley of Morpheus Tales for using the story.

 

 

I have always liked stones and rocks. Not being that intelligent, I have never read books on geology but still, I love rocks. Whenever I am at a beach, I spend most of my time looking at the stones rolling about at the water’s edge. Every one unique. Everyone a work of art, with two creators: Nature and Time.

My bedroom is filled with rocks collected from all over the place. I have quartz and jasper and even a bit of a Bronze Age flint arrowhead that I found near Urie Loch. It’s fantastic. Most are of no monetary value. I just love the colours and the texture of the surface. The most expensive rock I have is a rough ruby I found at the Black Rocks in Arran.

Many people believe that each rock vibrates with a different energy. That each can calm you or motivate you-according to which type it is. Red rocks are often seen as being able to stimulate earthly passions.

Because of my fascination, whenever I can, I try to seek out interesting or unusual rocks. Perhaps even rocks that have a story to them.

So it was that one blustery November evening I found myself at sunset searching through an old deserted graveyard. The place was a mess. It seemed that none of the dead bodies had ever been loved enough to warrant a visitor. Headstones were defaced or had fallen over. For colour, there were only old brown flowers in old broken vases.

It was amusing to see how many people had decided to have bad bits of poetry placed on their gravestones. I couldn’t help but laugh at these sad people, that they couldn’t find a poem that was worthy of a School newsletter, never mind a comment left for eternity to ponder. Some of the dead had glittering shiny junk scattered about their grave. It seemed that the relatives of the dead either had no taste, or had a strange sense of humour. For me, it was hard not to laugh at these long forgotten people and at their humdrum empty lifes. What difference did any of them make to this world? What a waste of a life.

The last rays of the cold sun illuminated a huge ugly gravestone. Yet, the sheer size of it impressed me. It wasn’t infected with the mediocrity of the other monuments. A part of it had cracked and had almost become detached from the rest of it. As the grave had obviously never been visited, I took out my hammer and, after a quick look around to see that I was alone, helped the piece of rock to totally detach itself.

The gravestone cracked like a roll of thunder. I thought that, for a moment, a voice could be heard. It sounded like it was coming from the velvet-lined coffin buried deep, deep below me. Sounded like it was saying my name. The way the shadows fell, it seemed as if the soil was moving. Seemed as if something was pushing up from beneath. I am not a brave man and fled. I managed to place the piece of the stone in my haversack as I ran.

Unfortunately for me, a pigeon chose that moment to fly past and I crashed into it. In anger or terror, it clawed at my face. I managed to throw it away from me and ran as fast as I could towards the gate. Every branch and twig that grabbed at my arms caused me to shriek in fear. The gate was rusty and did its best not to let me out. For what seemed an age I was trapped. In a fury, I kicked it and it flew open.

When I finally reached the car and slammed the door shut, I listened to my breath. Tried hard to slow the thump, thump of my heart. The road was as empty and dismal as the graveyard. Unfortunately, the streetlights had all been smashed.

As I drove through the dingy roads of the dingy town, I thought that most of the people who had abandoned their relatives in that wasteland of a graveyard must live near to where I was driving. Sad streets for sad people who didn’t have enough respect or compassion to care for the graves of their deceased relatives. “Curse you all,” I shouted out the car window.

As I was staring at the horrible working class houses, the piece of rock I had retrieved fell from out of my haversack. It landed on my foot and caused me to swerve. The lamp post raced towards me and then I slammed the brakes on, hard. I stopped, just in time. I thought to myself, “What a dump. Imagine having to live here.”

I had always despised the poor. Why did they choose to stay in despicable areas like that? People who don’t have the family connections or the drive to succeed, they don’t deserve anything from life. Do they? I never had any sympathy for failures.

When I got back home, I locked the front door and took shelter in my bedroom. It took a while for the feelings of nausea to pass. My hands still shook. I was still terrified. After a few moments, I placed the fragment of gravestone onto my writing desk. It was made of obsidian: a volcanic rock rarely used for grave memorials. Obsidian is extremely hard and as black as night. I couldn’t imagine what had caused my hammer to shatter it so easily.

When I was sixteen, a young woman who spoke slang made me want to be with her. My Mother banned me from seeing her. However, one evening, we met in a graveyard as the sun was going down. I brought a piece of merlonite to show her. I also had a condom, for my head was filled with an adolescent boy’s fantasies. My hormones were far more powerful than my common sense. After a few minutes of embarrassed kissing, two burly teenagers that she knew came over and told me that I was to be punished for being a, “Snob”. The two young men stole my stone and then proceeded to beat me. In the dark, I crawled across the graveyard with blood falling from my broken teeth and burst lip. Three of my fingers were broken and I had to go to hospital. That was what made me so afraid of the dark. So afraid of people.

The rock fragment came from the edge of the gravestone. Looking carefully, I saw that it had a strange pattern running right along its outside. The design wasn’t pretty but when I looked at it though a magnifying glass I noticed that the pattern was made up of words. It was astounding that tiny words had been carved onto the edge of such a hard rock.

I wrote down the words as I read them again. I had seen these words before. It was a spell of protection.

When I read the words out loud, the room started to shake. A hand started to form out of the empty air. It grabbed my own right hand and started to squeeze tightly.

My voice went quiet and as soon as the words could not be heard, so too the hand faded away. Without speaking aloud, I read the words again in my head. The one sentence was repeated over and over, “I entreat you, Tormentors of Hell, protect me and prevent my decay.”

I had never been to that Graveyard before but I knew who lay beneath the massive black stone. Jerome Drake had been a successful archaeologist. He had travelled around the globe saving artefacts from the natives of a dozen uncivilized countries. People said that he stole works of Art and sold them for profit. Nothing was ever proved. Did it matter? He was an expert in ancient languages and in demon worship.

His wife had been an artists’ model. She had been beautiful and wild. It was said that no man could look at her without being possessed by her loveliness. In other words, she was a bit of a tease. Soon enough came a period in their marriage when all they did was row. And then, one night, she was found dead by a close neighbour who had heard dreadful screaming and had a key to the flat. As the neighbour entered the room they saw Jerome pulling an Egyptian curved dagger from her dying body. Jerome was covered in blood. With her last breath she called out the name of her only child, Alex. The boy was found hiding in a cupboard, so deep in shock that he couldn’t speak for a week. He never said a word to anyone of what he saw.

Jerome went a bit mad after what had happened. The police didn’t believe his story about his wife trying to commit suicide and him trying to pull the knife out. Yet, the police didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute. He then spent months preparing for his death.

A year to the day after she had died, when the moon was waxing, he hung himself from a very sturdy chandelier. The way the knot was formed showed that he had wanted to die by strangulation, and not by having his neck broken. It was the way he had promised he would kill himself. His neighbours and friends thought it a just punishment for the cruel deed they thought he had committed.

The family was wealthy and often gave money to charity. Well, not very much and not very often.

One of my favoured possessions was a fragment from the gravestone of Jerome’s wife. It carried a similar carving. Earlier that night, I had finally found enough courage to claim a fragment of Jerome’s grave and I was thinking of an attractive way in which to mount the two fragments of stone side by side when the light went out.

The only illumination I had left was a candle that spluttered and gave off more smoke than light. In an instant, the tall figure of Jerome stood before me, clothed in black, his eyes staring at me. His face was filled with disgust.

He spoke with some slight difficulty, “Alex, my Dear boy. You have taken your time haven’t you? Can’t you do anything properly? You only half killed Felicia, and I had to finish the job. If you have a plan, then you have to stick to it. I killed myself in the correct manner and so was easily able to return. We have lots of work to do to bring Felicia back to us. Have you fragments of both gravestones?”

I couldn’t look him in the eye as I answered, “My Dear Father, I am so sorry about the botched killing. It was hard to kill someone so lovely. But, yes, I have both fragments here. Look how similar they are.”

Father squinted to see in the gloom, “Congratulations. Do you have the book with the Invocation of Demons spell in it?”

Proudly I replied, “Here it is. A wonderful English translation that I can join in with. Cost quite a bit though, I can tell you. We need to get started soon, as I have three tickets for the Opera in my pocket. They are for Wagner for tomorrow and I don’t want to overexert myself tonight. It will be a special celebration night out.”

Jerome took some dried herbs and sprinkled them into the candle flame.

Smiling at each other, we carefully read out the words from Page 23, “Our energy and our spirits we pledge for the work that you shall do. Come forth and be seen. We command you demons! Demons you command we!”

The smell of sulphur was sickening as the two naked demons appeared before us and bowed with no great respect. They were covered in boils and scars. Grease dripped from lank dirty hair. Their bones entered and exited their bodies as they moved. Bursting through the skin and causing more cuts to form, more blood to flow. Whenever they moved, each of them winced with the pain of what they had to endure. The largest said, “I am Red and this is my fellow Green. We have heard your pledge and we will seek to please you both. As much as is in our powers. What do you ask of us?”

I spoke before Jerome got a chance to answer, “My Father has spent his life researching the meaning of life and death, and eternal life. He murdered himself in the appropriate manner. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to kill Mother with sufficient speed. Father tried to help but she died in such a way that we cannot recover her with the weak powers that we possess. We are a family who love each other totally. All we ask is for her to be brought back to us so that we can both show her how much we miss her and love her. Can you do what needs done?”

Green, who was indeed green, snarled at me, “Stupid mortal. Look at me when I speak to you. You quivering coward. Do you have pieces of Gravestone from both your dead parents’ graves?”

Trying hard to look the demon in the eye, I said, “Here are the two pieces of stone that you require. Both are obsidian. Both have the prayers carved into them. Is this enough?”

Red laughed and said, “Well done. And I had thought you an idiot. All we need now is the blood sacrifice.”

As I looked at Jerome and shook my head, I said, “Father, I have let you down. I forgot about needing a goat and thus have no sacrificial blood. Do you have any you could give?”

Red snapped at me, “Your father is an undead and has no blood. But I can get some blood quite easily.”

I looked around the room for something that he could collect blood in when he smashed me in the face with his broad fist. My nose bled copiously. He took some and rubbed it over the stones while I tried not to sob.

The demons chanted and shrieked out words in Assyrian, and my Father and I chanted the translation in English. Yet, I couldn’t concentrate and my mind wandered. I thought of my Mother. My father had loved her. I, however, had worshiped the ground that her pretty feet had trod on.

Girls of my own age and of the same social standing found me uncomfortable to be with. And yet I was said to be, handsome. There were never friends in my room. I was almost always totally alone.

Whenever Jerome was away on one of his trips to Egypt, I would take fright in my darkened room and rush for solace to my Mother. Although I was seventeen, I still cried through the night. Still wet my bed. The hours of darkness were a torment to me.

Mother would take me into her bed beside her and let me smell the perfume on her throat. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever met. No man could resist her charms. She taught me to not mix with the lower Classes. And she told me horrible tales of what the impoverished areas of big cities could look like. She was my tutor in all things.

I prayed with the demons that they could bring her back to a state similar to life. Make her skin as fresh and fragrant as it had been in life. Make her limbs as supple. Her breath as pure. Her step as light. Her arms as warm and welcoming.

Felicia stepped out of death into the half-light and moved slowly towards me. I smiled and waited for her kiss of greeting. As she moved past the green demon, he gave her a length of piano wire. She moved behind me and then…

I fell backwards as she wrapped the wire around my neck. I had never known pain like it. I threw myself against her and tried to turn and free myself. There was nothing I could do. My legs kicked out in vain. Agony! Pain and death washed over my mind and body, cleansing them.

A few weeks later, my Mother and Father used a fragment from my gravestone to bring me back to an existence that was similar to life. I was just as strong but my memory was incomplete. Mother told me, “Sorry I had to hurt you. I had to kill you in the proper manner so you could be reborn. Once in a while, we will have work to do for our helpers the demons. The work will be hard and unpleasant but we have a deal with them. And yet, with false passports and fake identities, we will be able to tour the world. You will never again be left behind. From now on, we will all be together, loving each other, forever.”

Rocking Horse

 

I was only eleven years old when I had my first proper conversation with a dead person. My parents had just moved to a huge mansion in the Borders of Scotland. They got the house quite cheaply as the sellers were desperate to leave. But my Mother and Father were very well off anyway. At first, everything was just about me getting to know the place. Walking the gardens. Feeding the fish in the pond. And learning about the house and its troubled past.

It must have been about a month after we moved in that I first noticed the sounds. Creaking noises coming from somewhere above my room. As each night passed, the sounds got louder and louder, went on for longer and longer. I hid under the bed, hoping the noises would end.

At breakfast, Mother laughed at me and told me that the room above mine was empty apart from one old fashioned rocking horse. She told me that floorboards creak when they cool down in the night-time.

That same night, the noises started again. Once more, I darted under the bed and tried to control my shaking limbs. By 2AM, I had plucked up enough courage to go upstairs. The house was in darkness and I used the tiny beam from my torch to help me find my way up the stairs to the room directly above my own. I was scared but I was very determined. The room wasn’t locked but it took me quite a while to turn the old rusty handle and push the door open. The air was freezing cold even though it was only September.

Right in the middle of the room was the old badly painted rocking horse. It swung backwards and forwards with great force. Yet, there was no rider. Slowly, step by step, I moved across to the horse and touched it. It stopped straightaway. In all the room there was but me, and the horse, and someone or something else.

The next day at School I found out all I could about the boy who used to live in the house. The story I was told was that the boy had never had any real friends. Although he was twelve years old, he still played on his rocking horse every night. One night he fell from the rocking horse and broke his neck. His parents were grief stricken and sold the house soon after that. People at School didn’t want to talk about the boy. Nigel was his name but I felt as if everyone was covering up some secret. Even the Teachers would change the subject when I mentioned him. Only his P.E. Teacher boasted of how strong and fit Nigel was, “Could have been an athlete, a natural leader.”

I made myself sleep through the noises for another week. However, eventually, I found myself once more pushing at the door as my swiftly moving heart nearly burst through my chest.

Even with the light on there was not much illumination in the room. Darkness gathered about itself in the corners. As before, the rocking horse was moving back and forth. This time however, I could see a grey mist sitting on the horse. It was Nigel.

“You can’t have a shot. The horse is mine. I am the only one allowed to ride her,” he scowled at me as he spoke the words.

I managed to stutter out, “I don’t want a shot. Are you Nigel? Did you break your neck falling from that unsafe looking contraption?”

“My horse is called, Sally. She told me I couldn’t ride her any longer, accused me of hurting her. So, I made her go higher and higher. Higher and higher. I stuck a nail into her back and took off the skin all round the neck and back. See how ugly it is. She cried in pain. But I wanted to get even higher. When I knocked her ear off, that was when she collapsed to the ground and fell forward, and I broke my neck. Now I’m dead, she has to let me ride her. She feels guilty for murdering me,” he explained.

He was a very erudite ghost. I asked, “Do you have to keep coming back each night? Are you under some kind of a curse?”

He gave out a cruel laugh and said, “No one makes me do anything. The thing I like best is riding my horse. I shall never stop.”

And off he went again, hitting at the horse and urging it to go higher. I wondered if he could break his neck a second time. Would have served him right, I thought.

For some strange reason, my parents didn’t believe that I had been talking to the ghost of Nigel. At bedtime, they made me take hot chocolate to relax me and to send me to sleep.

Even if I hadn’t been warned not to go to the room, I would still have avoided it. It was October before I went up to the room and I went in the daylight. I thought that it would be safer to go up then.

When I opened the heavy curtains, autumn sunlight filled the room. The wallpaper was that of a child’s, not that of a young man’s. I had thought the rocking horse had been badly painted but as Nigel had said the horse had strange marks all along her back caused by his attack with a nail. The poor old thing was a mess. I felt sorry for her. She stood on rockers that had fine carvings over their whole length.

I said out loud, “She must have been a pretty horse once. Such a shame she had Nigel for a rider.”

The horse turned its head towards me and spoke, “My design is that of a horse made over one hundred years ago. Yet, I am not that old. Please help me and stop Nigel riding me every night. I am in such pain.”

I stroked her neck and said, “I can see that you were beautiful once. I have never heard of a rocking horse that could speak. Can you not just tell Nigel to please stay dead?”

She answered me, “As you are made of flesh and blood, I am made of Beech wood and have been painted by a master craftsman. But as you are more than flesh and blood, I am more than wood and paint. I know of no other horse that can speak like me.”

“You are a very well spoken horse,” I commented.

“Thank you. You are a very polite boy. Not a bully like Nigel. The two of us have a deal. He loves riding me so much that he comes back from the dead. I have to let him ride me and mistreat me because I would die if I had no rider. He always treated me badly but after I accidently threw him and killed him, he sees it as his duty to punish me. I didn’t mean to kill him. As he said, he was scratching off my paint, which is to me my skin. I was in agony. Then he knocked off my ear. I collapsed in a mist of pain. You would never hurt another creature would you? Would you consider being my rider?” she asked.

“Something tells me that Nigel would not agree to that. We need a plan,” I answered.

“It has heartened me that at least you are on my side,” she said.

“Most importantly though, we firstly need to be introduced. I am Alan and I am eleven,” I said.

“And I am called Sally. Pleased to meet you,” she seemed to smile.

A week later I had to confess to Sally that I had no great plan. I told her that I would visit her again at 2AM and would tell that gutless bully to go back to his grave. I was sure that he would back down when faced by someone as strong willed as me. I would be proved wrong.

At exactly 2AM I entered the room and turned on the light. Nigel kept kicking his heels into Sally. I was so angry that I shouted at him, “Get off that horse and leave her alone. Leave her alone and never come back, you hear. Go back to your grave. I will be her rider now. She doesn’t want a big thug like you hurting her.”

Fine words I thought as I said them. Nigel – or rather his mist – walked towards me and grabbed me tight. He was so strong I couldn’t move. He bellowed into my ear, “I don’t obey anyone. And I don’t stay in a grave. I live in Hell. That’s where I’m going to take you.”

I tried all I could to pull away but it was useless. He was just too strong.

He mumbled some words that sounded like Latin and we fell through the floor, through the basement of the house, and through the earth deeper and deeper.

After an age we finally came to rest in Hell. When he finally let me go, I fell to the ground shaking. Nigel stood over me, the mist changing into stinking decayed flesh.

An elderly gentleman came over to Nigel and spoke to him, “What have you done now Nigel? I let you go back home to torment your rocking horse and you bring back a human child. Who is in charge of Hell, you or me?”

“Master, he insulted me. He wanted to ride my horse instead of me. You promised me I could always go back to my house as long as I leaned some curses and worshipped you. I do work very hard at my Latin,” he whined.

“I never promised you anything. The Devil doesn’t enter into deals with idiots like you,” he spat out the words in a fury.

He then spoke to me, “Sorry about this Alan. Nigel has the brains of an ant and the muscles of a bear. Did he hurt you?” he patted my head and looked me over.

The old fellow seemed genuinely concerned for my health, “Thank you for your interest in my health sir but I feel almost unhurt. And may I please be allowed to have Sally as my horse? I love her and will look after her. Nigel only hurt her.”

He replied in a warm conciliatory voice, “I don’t care how you treat the horse but I will send you back. Nigel had no right to bring you here. He even told me stories about the horse being able to speak. Can you imagine that? I can tell you that he will be punished for what he has done. Don’t worry, he was due a beating anyway. This night’s misdeeds have just reminded me of my duty of pain to him.”

I looked in fascination over the mountains and valleys of his vast realm. It was impressive. Only thing that was a bit unsettling were the groups of well dressed Bankers lining up to be whipped. Thousands of demons went about their work with energy and efficiency. Their uniform had a silver and red livery and was quite attractive. The Devil just looked like anyone you might bump into while out shopping in a big town. The most surprising thing about him was his trace of a Glasgow accent.

“Yes Alan, I used to live in a Council House in Drumchapel in Glasgow. The poor are harder to tempt than the rich. But I work hard at what I do. I need to keep in touch with humans. Need to know their urges and their desires. Their loves and their hates. And yes, I can read minds. If you ever need my guidance, just call out my name in the night. But for now, you have been inconvenienced enough. Go back!” he spoke these words while pointing upwards.

For a few seconds, I floated above the greatest city of his domain and then travelled so quickly that I was back in the room within seconds. It took me some minutes before I could speak, “I have been to Hell and back. Really, I have been to Hell and back. I have been told that I can be your rider. And I don’t think either of us will ever hear from Nigel again.”

Sally cried with happiness. I looked at the wondrous grey dabbled effects that patterned her body. Then I examined her neck to see how scratched the paintwork was. I said, “I promise that I will have you repainted. It is my Birthday soon and I think that is what I would like best. I love you Sally. Can I please have your permission to sit on your back?”

She answered me, “Sit on my back and you can ride me until the dawn or until you fall asleep. “

I gently sat on her and then I kissed the scars on her neck. So began the most delightful journey of my life. I saw woods open out in front of my eyes. I felt branches brush against my sides. Elves and fairies played and sang at the edge of my vision. I whooped with delight and Sally neighed so loud I was afraid my parents would hear. Not once did I urge her to go too high.

We were still riding as one creature when the sunlight crept up over the windowsill. I had met my first and my best friend.