Beyond Darkness (Episode 4) A glimpse of the darkness

A glimps of the darkness

Oak Hill had been only a few days ago, yet it seemed like a very distance memory. It was not as if the terrible things he had witnessed, and done had escaped his memory, it was something far more peculiar than that. Those memories were very still vivid, but the thing about it was they somehow felt like someone else’s memories. The only way he could describe it if asked, was the feeling that you got as a child when your parents read a story for you.

You were there in the plot but only as an observer, you saw and felt each act and emotion. Yet you were somehow removed from it. Like watching a train wreck from a safe distance, yet imagining the trauma the passengers were feeling.  That antique cane he scarcely remembered buying was another extremely peculiar thing. It had become more than just a walking aid, he found himself unable to function unless he held it in his right hand. A change had taken place in him at a level he did not understand.

Not a single night had passed since coming back from Oak Hill that he had not dreamed of his own death. The dreams alternated between him dying as the result of a fall from a great height, only to dream the following night he died as a result of being hit by a speeding train. However the most disturbing thing of all was the little blonde girl, he had begun to see her now even in a waking state. He would look up to find her standing in the corner of the room; staring silently at him with those intense sky blue eyes.

The strangest thing of all was the fact his mind somehow accepted all this as normal; it was as if James Kirby found himself living in an alternative reality or dimension. He would spend his day sitting in the dusty office waiting for the phone to ring, he had also begun to drink heavily again. But in this alternate reality, the whiskey appeared to have no real effect on him. Sometimes the blonde girl would appear in the corner of the room where she would stand for long periods silently watching him drink.

The woman’s voice on the phone had a weird otherworldly quality about it, there was no small talk. It was a matter of her talking and him listening, even then it was a list of instructions more so than her even talking. However unlike the last couple of times she rang, this time Kirby felt no apprehension as he listened to her monologue. The woman wanted the Gladstone bag delivered to a left luggage locker in central station, the fact that she told him to keep the cash he had taken from the fat man mildly surprised him.

But it was just another curiosity in a world filled with unexplained things, Kirby listened to the woman, and all the while the blonde girl watched him from the corner of the room. There was something different about the ghostly girl’s expression this time, and then the thought wormed its way into his mind. She wanted him to question the woman who issued the instructions; it was if the girl wanted him to know what was going on.

The woman had hardly finished her last sentence, when Kirby spoke. The silence on the line dragged on for so long, he thought she had hung up. Cursing silently to himself he was about to hang up when she spoke again, this time he thought he detected a slight hesitance in her voice. At least her tone did not seem so confident, but even this was short lived. The briefest of pauses followed and the woman appeared to have regained her composure, her voice was once more business-like and confident.

“Mr Kirby, who I am does not really matter, however if it makes you feel better you may call Margret. We are each just a cog in the wheel, or to be more accurate we are different parts of the same machine. You have your role to play and I have mine, you already have a fair idea of what is required of you. I on the other hand have absolutely no doubts whatsoever on what my role is; in the beginning I told you that I would co-ordinate your work for you. Whereas this was a truthful statement, it does not mean that you will only act on my instructions. My role is to gather information and act accordingly”.

There was a short pause on the line, Kirby had the unusual feeling that the woman was searching for a simple explanation that he could understand. “Some of us operate in the shadows Mr Kirby, whereas you exist and operate in place beyond those shadows. As strange as it may seem to you James, in many ways you are part of a different world now. Oak Hill was a trial if you like an initiation to the places beyond the darkness. As for me the easiest explanation is that I am your link between worlds, it is time now for you to follow the path we set you on. I will always be here as your connection, however you will find your own path now”.

The static on the line told him the conversation was over; he returned the handset to its cradle. Then he glanced in the direction of the girl he had now named Lucy, but like the ghostly voice on the line, she was no longer there.

He could have driven to the station, and now twenty minutes into the long walk Kirby regretted he didn’t. The leather bag seemed to have gained pounds in weight since he started out; he needed to put it down just to take a rest. The granite steps of the building were icy cold, but they provided somewhere for him to sit and he was grateful for the break.

His intention had been to wait and watch to see who collected the bag, but the appearance of the blonde girl by the station entrance changed his plans. It took all his self-control not to call out to her; Kirby was fully aware how it would look, with him calling out to a girl that was not there. The little girl beckoned to him and turned to walk away, she was moving fast and he felt the strain of trying to keep up with her. He eventually lost sight of her, and stopped exhausted by the granite steps. A half imagined sound made him look up; there she was entering through the large oak doors.

The interior of the building was gloomy; the only illumination was a strange diffused multi-colored light. It took him a few moments to realize the strange illumination, was daylight coming through the large stained glass windows. The tapping sound of the cane tip on the quarry tiled floor, echoed in the vastness of the building. Kirby stopped a few feet inside the door and stared around. Something in his mind troubled him, and then it came to him. He had absolutely no idea when he last stepped inside a church door; logic dictated that this was not his first time inside a church. But for the life of him he could not bring one instant to mind.

Somewhere ahead of him he caught a glimpse of movement, walking slowly down the long aisle between the rows of wooden pews was like walking in a dream. Either side of him the rows of seats were shrouded in shadow, his mind conjure up images of imagined dangers that might lie just beyond his vision. The feeling of being watched from all directions left him feeling edgy.

The longer he was in the building the more his eyes adapted to the gloom. Shapes began to form in those shadows, huge threatening figures loomed from the darkness but as his vision adapted he realized they were statues. As he neared the altar another source of illumination dispelled the shadows, to the left of the altar a brass table of offertory candles bathed the area in flickering light.

The blonde girl stood beside the candles staring at one of the pews, as he approached her, he heard the sounds of someone softly crying. It was coming from the pew she stood staring at; it was not a loud outpouring of grief, rather the sound of someone overwhelmed with sorrow and hopelessness. The small figure wore a hooded jacket that hid their features, as they sat with bowed head crying softly.

Kirby stopped beside the girl and stared at the seated figure, when he looked back at her he was alone. The crying figure appeared oblivious to his presence until he cleared his throat, when the figure raised their head Kirby was mildly surprised to see an old man’s face. But even more surprising was the fact the man wore a priest’s collar beneath his coat.

The man stared at Kirby as if he was an apparition, all the while tears ran down his wrinkled cheeks. When he spoke Kirby was taken aback. “Is it my time, have you come to take me for judgement?” The quivering voice was that of a broken man. “No father, I am neither your accuser nor your judge”. Kirby replied but the look on the man’s face told Kirby he was not convinced by his answer, and then the man hung his head and continued to cry.

Kirby took the seat next to him, and waited until he had exhausted his emotions. Once the crying had stopped the man sat in silence for a while before he spoke, when he did Kirby realized he had been led to this man for a reason. The man told a story that would have sounded delusional to most; however the man with the cane was in no doubt he spoke the truth.

In the twilight world he now existed in, such things were normal for James Michael Kirby. He left the priest staring at the man that hung from the cross above the altar, the effigy of the brutalized man stared back at him with a dispassionate expression. Outside he paused on the steps and lit a cigarette, and wondered to himself why he had agreed to help the stranger.

But the reality was there in the back of Kirby’s mind, these choices had already been made for him. Just like the woman had said, he was just a part of the machine. A machine that someone or something else had put in motion.

The small town nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling tree covered hills; it was less than two hours’ drive from the city but worlds apart from the concrete jungle. Kirby pulled over to the side of the road; from the brow of the hill he could see the town and outlying areas. The place he was looking for stood at the foot of a hill on the fireside of the small town, the spire of the church made it stand out from the rest of the buildings. The man had told him that the parochial house was just behind that church.

The sign on the church door declared that the building was closed for renovations, yet Kirby saw nothing to suggest any work was taking place here. The narrow path led him meandering through the gravestones in the church yard; through an opening in the high sandstone wall at the bottom of the cemetery he found the parochial house. It was a small two story house that looked in far more need of renovation than the church; he used the handle of his cane to knock on the peeling front door.

Kirby was about to knock again when the door opened, by the sound of it, the hinges had not been oiled for a long time. The old man looked even smaller and more fragile without the hooded jacket, the hand he offered to Kirby was wrinkled and the skin was like parchment. The old man’s grip just like his appearance was fragile, but at least he looked glad to see Kirby. Inside he led Kirby to a small kitchen in the back; he offered him a seat at the table while fumbled about brewing coffee.

Kirby watched the old man as he tried to lift the coffee cup, his hand trembled so much he eventually had to use both hands to get it to his mouth. The silence dragged on until Kirby finally grew impatient. “Okay father start at the beginning and tell what is going on here”. The fear was back in the man’s eyes now, but taking a deep breath he began to tell the full version of the story he told Kirby in the church. The old man’s expression became blank, and he stared into the distance as if watching something beyond the walls of this house.

“I was already retired when this job was thrust on me, the last parish priest just up and left one night with no notice. It was only to be a temporary arrangement until they could find a new priest, but that was three years ago. Three years in which I have found myself doubting everything I ever took for granted, but most of all my faith and my sanity. Something is very wrong in this parish Mr Kirby, and I fear I have failed my calling and my parishioners. I have not opened the church or said mass in months now, and even if I did the most devout among the small community are afraid to set foot inside the building”.

The old priest eventually manged to turn the key in the big lock, and open the doors. But once they were open he immediately cowered back, and waited for Kirby to enter the church first. The man was a priest that was afraid to enter his own place of worship; Kirby began to doubt whether the man’s metal state was good. But when he entered the church Kirby immediately felt it, the atmosphere inside the small church had a bad feel to it. Something dark had taken place here and it had left a residue that permeated the atmosphere, a noise behind him startled Kirby. When he looked behind he found the old priest had got the courage to follow him inside.

The smell of urine and feces still lingered by the altar, and the white altar cloth bore copper colored stains that may have been blood. Someone had desecrated this church and in doing so, those responsible had left an evil imprint on the building. “In the beginning I would clean up the place every time it happened, but for a finish every time I came in here I felt the darkness closing in on me. May god forgive me; I eventually closed the church and have been too afraid to reopen it. I let down my flock in their hour of greatest need”. Something in the old man’s ramblings suddenly caught Kirby’s attention.

Kirby sat opposite the priest in the small kitchen. Wondering to himself, why in the world the old man had not mentioned this before. The church was only part of the problems facing the community here. What the old man had to say this time painted an even darker picture, but one that went far beyond a small church and a fragile old priest. Animal mutilation, grave desecration and the small matter of some missing children, tie in the fact that the local police seemed less than enthusiastic in their handling of it all. Then you were looking at a far bigger picture.

The main street of Cedar Grove was deserted, and it dawned on him that he had not seen another single person except the old priest since he came here. Even the small shops on either side of the street seemed empty, yet Kirby had a peculiar feeling of being watched. The priest had directed him to the small book shop just of the main street; the inside of the place was bear with nothing on the shelves but dust. The tinkle of the bell on the door seemed to echo in the empty room, Kirby was about to turn around and leave when the man appeared from a back room.

“Sorry my friend I am afraid the shop is closed, you just caught me tiding up a few things before I leave. Today is my last day in Cedar Grove.” The small man seemed pleased with this, and smiled broadly. “You see I am afraid that the population of this town are not big on reading for a hobby. Either way my work here is completed, I actually stayed longer than I had intended. However thankfully I am ready to spread my wings again, off to the next adventure”. For all his babbling and cheerful demeanor, Kirby had immediately formed the opinion that this man was scared of something.

He was smiling and chattering on but he could not hide that look of fear in his eyes, when he finally talked himself out, he shifted nervously from foot to foot staring at Kirby. When Kirby explained the reason for his visit, a puzzling expression spread across the man’s face. This quickly changed to a conspiratorial one, and he beckoned Kirby to follow him into the back room. But not before he had locked the front door and pulled the blinds. The backroom was a small office, a desk and two chairs were surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes. It looked very much like Peter Kearns had not much luck selling off his stock.

Kirby sat patiently listening as Peter Kearns fidgeted while he told his life story, but in doing so it seemed to have a calming effect on him. Peter had come to Cedar Grove more by accident than design; he had taken some time out of his job as a lecturer in modern American history.

The idea behind his sabbatical was to write brief histories, on some of the lesser known areas of the country. So he had set out from his home in the Midwest, stopping off in various communities and documenting the history of those communities. Peter had arrived in Cedar Grove two years ago, seeing there was no book shop in the small town he had set up one. This was more in the hope of drawing in the locals, to garner knowledge of the area from them.

The book shop owner abruptly stopped and glanced nervously around the small room. “Why exactly are you here Mr Kirby, and who are you working for?” Kirby realized that if he wanted Kearns to open up, he would have to come clean with him. Kearns listened to what Kirby had to say, nodding as if he agreed with what Kirby was talking about. Then he rose from his seat and retrieved a bundle of typed pages, from a brief case that had been concealed behind the boxes. He resumed his seat but kept the papers tightly clamped against his chest, it was plain to see he was still not convinced with Kirby’s story.

But in the end he just shrugged and laid the papers on the desk top between them, Kirby made no move to touch the papers instead preferring to allow the other man to dictate the pace of this. Kearns leaned forward and tapped the stack of papers with his index finger.

“This is the sum total of two years’ work Mr Kirby, nothing of any consequence in those pages came from local knowledge. You see no one in Cedar Grove is interested in the local history of the area, or at least no one is interested in telling that history. The moment I would ask any questions about this town, I would end up getting the cold shoulder. For a finish no one would even come into my shop”.

Peter Kearns paused and looked straight into Kirby’s face, as if to emphasize the importance of what he had just said. “Everything thing in there and I mean everything, I got through painstaking research of old newspapers and records at the county library. Cedar Grove may look like a quaint old world town Mr Kirby, but something sinister and dark lies just below the surface. For quite a while now I have the feeling I am being watched and followed, I even gave up the rental on the cottage I got when I came here first, I have been commuting between a small apartment in Silverton and this shop. Mind you I only open the shop on rare occasions; I suppose I still hoped someone would talk to me. The rest of time was spent in the county library in Silverton, but I am out of here shortly and glad to be going”.

The history recorded by Kearns was sketchy and full of gaps, parts of it was even hearsay from books dating back a hundred years and more. But other parts were from newspaper reports, and it seems that for a small town it had more than its fair share of missing kids stretching back many years.

Kearns watched him in silence as he leafed through the pages, when he came across a newspaper clipping from the Silverton Herald, dating back some ten years ago. Kirby looked across at Kearns, and the man nodded silently. The story was about missing people in this area of the state, a photograph of a map was included that marked last know sightings of some of them people. And a hell of a lot of them, were last seen within a ten mile radius of Cedar Grove.

“As I already told you Mr Kirby, there is something dark about this place. The congregation the priest told you about were never really his flock. There are no Christians in Cedar Grove; it was just a way for them to keep an eye on a stranger”.

Kirby asked him how he knew this, and the man got all nervous and shifty again. Eventually he started talking again.

“I explored the area every chance I got, one evening I was out driving in the hills. I spotted a convoy of cars and trucks going into the woods, the next day I went back to see what they had been up to. There is a clearing deep in the woods and in the center is a flat rock like an altar, the symbols on it are Satanic and it looked like someone died there”. Kearns got up and went to the brief case again, this time he returned with two more pieces of paper.

One was a copy of a very old newspaper clipping with a grainy photograph of the town sheriff; he was an absolute giant of a man towering above the people standing near him.  The next was another newspaper clipping of the current sheriff taking delivery of the new patrol car. It was the same man, the only problem being that the photographs had been taken a hundred years apart. “You see Mr Kirby these people worship a different god than your priest, and he seems to be more demanding”.

Kearns walked Kirby to the door and all but shoved him onto the pavement, but Kirby stood his ground until the man told him where to find that clearing in the woods. The bookshop owner had all but closed the door, but then he hesitated. “There is something rotten at the core of this town, and I for one do not want to be around when it reveals itself. Take my advice Mr Kirby, leave this place as soon as you can and tell the priest to do the same”. He stepped back inside and closed the door before James Kirby could even reply, but Kirby had a feeling the man was giving sound advice.

The blonde girl stood statue like among the headstones, watching the man with the cane as he approached. It was the first time he had seen her since the evening in the church, when he drew near; she raised her arm and gestured towards the gateway to the parochial house. Kirby immediately knew something was wrong, he looked in the direction she was pointing and when he looked back she was gone.

A part of his mind wondered why he accepted her presence unquestionable, but in his heart Kirby believed he was now as much a part of her world, as she was of his. He had traveled down the rabbit hole, and now there was no going back.

The peeling wood was splintered and the door hung forlornly from one rusting hinge, Kirby could almost smell the priests fear hanging in the still air. There were very little signs of a struggle but then again, he did not believe the frail old man was capable of putting up much of a fight.

Outside parallel lines stretched across the pea gravel of the yard, abruptly finishing by a set of tire tracks. He knew instinctively that the lines were made by the toes of the holy man’s shoes, as he was dragged across the yard. The tracks turned in a semi-circle and seemed to have headed in the opposite direction to the town, Kirby walked to the dark saloon and climbed inside. He knew where they had taken the priest, and he had a bad feeling it was too late to save him.

It was dusk before Kirby found the small road leading into the woods, a mile or so down the road he came up on the group of parked cars. Among them was a new police cruiser, the bookshop owner had been right all along, the whole town was bad. He found the clearing on a narrow trail a hundred yards from where he had parked; the perimeter of the clearing was ringed by a circle of black candles.

Each candle was placed on a skull, some were animal skulls and quite a few were obviously human. Of these the majority seemed small and underdeveloped; they were obviously children’s skulls. The group of people surrounding the flat rock were all naked, except for one who wore ceremonial robes and a mask. This person towered above the rest, and Kirby knew it was the sheriff.

The naked wizened body tied to the rock, whimpered as the huge man approached. The man in the robes raised his hand and something glinted in the dull light, before Kirby could react the hand fell swiftly in the direction of the old priest. A cheer rose from the naked on lookers and the old man stopped whimpering; Kirby took aim and squeezed of a shot just as the man with the knife moved.

Panic erupted and within moments naked figures ran in all directions only to be swallowed up by trees, Kirby stepped into the circle and approached the naked figure lying on the rock. The priests head hung backwards over an ornate bowl; the bowl was already half full as the blood from his throat flowed down the rock and into it.

Kirby stood transfixed by the dead man’s vacant stare; he somehow felt the old man was looking accusingly at him. There was nothing more he could do here, he had failed the priest and even he could not take on an entire community. The faintest of sounds drew his attention away from the rock altar, the huge cop no longer held a knife, he had retrieved a hand gun from somewhere.

The impact of the bullet lifted Kirby clean off his feet and drove him backwards against a tree trunk; the giant man was almost on him now. With his last once of strength, Kirby managed to lift his own gun. It took four hits in the centre of the big man’s chest before he eventually fell; Kirby leaned back against the tree exhausted.

His vision seemed to narrow and he felt his strength seeping away, dark shapes gathered around him now. Shadowy things that reached hands like wisps of smoke in his direction, they plucked at his jacket and whispered in lisping voices. Kirby could not make out the words, but he knew they were here to draw him so far into the darkness that he would never return.

His eye lids felt heavy as led, he blinked and when he opened his eyes again she was there. The blonde girl stood between him and the shadow things, they retreated in fear from the blonde girl. He could still hear them whisper but there was fear in those whispers, his eyes closed again.

Kirby drifted in and out of consciousness over the next few hours; whenever he awoke she was kneeling by his side her ice cold hand clamped over his wound. When he finally awoke properly, it was day light and she was gone. Kirby was still weak but the bleeding had stopped, someone had been back and taken the sheriffs, and priest’s bodies. The trappings of the ceremony had been removed too; all that remained was the copper colored stains of the priest’s blood on the rock altar.

Kirby had no recollection of the drive back from Cedar Grove; he had a faint recollection of her small hand on the wheel beside his. Climbing the stairs to his apartment had been an ordeal, but when he awoke in his own bed the following day the wound had completely healed. A vivid star shaped scar remained, and the faint outline of her hand where it had stemmed the blood flow.

 

 

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Beyond Darkness (Episode 3) Baptism of Fire.

Baptism of fire

He struggled to hold her gaze, to silently offer her some sign of hope but to his eternal damnation he failed. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, well if this was true then the young girl’s soul was already dead. Those lovely sky blue eyes that once sparkled with innocence and hope, now stared back at him with hopelessness and what he also believed was condemnation. In his mind he had on more than one occasion stood steadfast and true; he had stepped forward and in a commanding voice screamed “No, those children will remain here tonight where they are safe”. Alas this was only in his mind, to his shame he was just a weak and frightened old man.

“Hurry the fuck up old man, the kids will miss the party”. One of the well-dressed young men in the expensive suits barked at him, while his partner sniggered beside him. His hand trembled so badly he could not get the key in the lock, eventually the key was snapped form his hand by the man in the suit. He opened the exit door that led out onto the car park at the side of the building, before ushering the children outside where the van with the blacked out windows waited. The children filed slowly passed him their heads hanging as they stared at the ground; the feeling of desperation was palpable. For all the world they looked as if they were walking to the gallows.

Something inside the old man snapped and he grabbed the suited figure by the shoulder, the young blonde man swiveled with impossible speed and the heel of his hand connected with the old man’s chest. It took a while before he managed to regain his feet, outside all the kids except one were already inside the van. The little blonde girl stood looking back at him, that look in her eyes would haunt him for whatever time he had left on this earth. Then she was gone and the man who knocked him walked back towards him. “Mind your own business old timer, those kids are guests of some very important people. So just do you job and you may live to draw your pension”.

Joe Pierce had come to this very children’s home as a very young boy, it became the only home he ever knew. When he was old enough he started working here, it was a good place back then. But things had changed so much in the past few years; a new organization took over the running of the charity. Shortly after that things began to change, rumors became rife of children been taken on trips late at night.

Trips that changed them, he did not believe it at first. Only when he was put on this shift to cover a colleague that was ill did he see it was true, and god forgive him he was unable to stop it. Just before he finished the shift the van returned, the kids filed passed him and they all looked dazed as if they were drugged. The little girl never returned.

The good book that brought him so much comfort over the years lay open on the kitchen table in front of him. But the words refused to come into focus for Joe Piece, instead a vision of the blonde girl filled his mind.  It was a vision that was dominated by her blue eyes, blue eyes that stared with condemnation into his very soul.

The pen seemed to move of its own will after a while, when he finally finished there were two pages of neat writing. A quick trip into town and the die was cast, once the letter was safely posted Joe returned to his neat little house. Now that he had finally found the courage to speak out, Joe Pierce knew instinctively that his days working with the children were over. In one way it was a relief, it had become soul destroying to see what was going on and be unable to stop it.

In the cosy little sitting room, Joe took the photograph of his beloved Martha from the mantel piece. Sitting in his favorite chair he spoke softly to her, it was a habit he had found himself doing more and more lately. He told of the beautiful little blonde girl that in a different world may have been the daughter they never had. He told of her radiant smile and amazing blue eyes, he was careful to hide the bad things that happened. Martha was in heaven ten years now and she would be happy, she did not need to hear of the evil that men do here. Joe sat in that chair talking nonstop to his long dead wife, until two days later they came for him.

The Bakelite phone on the desk shattered the deathly silence of the small office, its shrill tones dragging him back from the world where a crazy old man had been obsessed with unsolved cases. It was less than a week since he left his old life behind, yet it seemed millennia since Jim Kiely had ceased to exist. The phone continued to ring and James Kirby stared at it as if it was something totally alien to him, the truth was that he was terrified to answer the call.

Deep in his mind he knew that once he answered that call, everything that had gone before would become real. A Rubicon would be crossed once he picked up that call, yet deep inside he realized that Rubicon was already far behind him. The disembodied voice sounded as if it came from a world beyond this one, as if someone had crossed the line from the afterlife just to speak with him. But what surprised him most was the voice was female, not only female but young.

His mind threw up visions of a young attractive woman with rouge lipstick, he knew it was ridiculous but that is what his mind showed him. “Mr Kirby you do not know who I am, but I am a colleague of the late Mr Brody. I will be the one that that allocates your work load, and I have a case for you. A courier will drop off a file at your office later today, I have been reliable informed that you are capable of carrying out these tasks. I will be in contact later if you have any questions regarding your assignment”.

It suddenly dawned on him that since picking up the receiver, he had not uttered even a single syllable. If this troubled the person on the other end of the line, she gave no hint of this. He felt foolish now and he desperately searched for something to say, anything that would even suggest he a modicum of intelligence. He cleared his throat as if he intended to speak, but he could not find a single word to say.

For some reason it reminded him of his adolescents back in Middle America, back then he was always dumb struck when it came to talking to women. There was a click on the other end and the line went dead, he sat there for a while with the receiver still to his ear. Then feeling even more foolish he hung up.

The courier that arrived with the manila folder was in stark contrast to the whistling mailman, he remembered from another life. He reminded James of a man who despised his job, the surly courier practically threw the file at him before turning and walking away with a word. James had a sudden urge to call after the man. “You are welcome”. But he knew for a fact his sarcasm would be lost on the man, he settled for slamming the door and limping back up the rickety stairs to his office.

The manila folder somehow looked threatening on the desk in front of him, not for the first time in the past few days he craved a drink. Eventually he took a deep breath and opened the package, a series of glossy black and white photographs were the first thing he saw. They were of a large complex set in a rural area, in one of the photographs a small group of men in suits stood outside what looked like the main building. They stood with exaggerated smiles as they posed for the camera; a large polished granite slab towered above them.

“Safe Haven Home, for Boys and Girls Est 1927”.

The legend on the shiny stone proudly declared. For some reason the photograph gave him the chills. The next thing James Kirby picked from the folder was a clipping from a local newspaper, The Oak Hill herald. The photograph he had just at looked at was reproduced at the head of the article. It was what seemed like just a local interest story, it detailed how the home had passed from the management of the original founders, to a new charity funded by local philanthropist group. The smiling men in the suits were the new board of management. The news piece went onto heap praise on the new benefactors, and to forecast a bright new future for the home and those who would be fortunate enough to avail of its facilities.

Kirby remained staring at the newspaper clipping long after he had finished reading it; he already had a bad feeling about this. The next thing from the file was a booklet detailing the history of this illustrious charity; it was founded by a Catholic priest to cater for the orphaned and abandoned children of Middle America. But since the Catholic Church was having problems of its own now, it was felt that that new management would be better. The last item in the folder was a facsimile of a handwritten letter of two pages, the writing was neat and the story was damning. Joe Pierce’s letter was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle; James Kirby knew instinctively what would be required for him.

He was on his second glass of Irish whiskey when phone rang for the second time that day; Kirby’s first instinct was to place the whisky bottle in the bottom drawer of the desk before he answered. When he had done it he felt foolish, how would the caller know that he was back drinking. “Have you had time to look at the folder yet”, the woman asked before he even had time to say hello. When he answered yes, he immediately wondered whether his voice had slurred slightly. However the woman continued immediately to outline what he already knew would be his case, as he listened to her monologue he suddenly found his mind back in the lawyer’s office. And the screams of that child on the tape, echoed somewhere in the recesses of his mind.

“Mr Kirby, Mr Kirby, are you still on the line”. The woman’s disembodied voice dragged his mind back from that terrible recording; he cleared his throat and answered her. “Good I thought I lost you for a moment there, this is your last ever chance to back out. However I can assure you Mr Kirby, just like that tape Mr Herbert played for you. These children cannot depend on our judiciary for justice, we are their only hope”. With these words the last vestiges of the person he once was, became totally eradicated; James Kirby hardened his heart and embraced his new role. He was now Judge, Jury and executioner.

The dull throbbing in his back sent shooting pains down his leg, he had been behind the wheel for eight hours now and there was still over eight hours driving left. When he came across the small town in the middle of nowhere, he pulled in to look for a room for the night. Kirby climbed out of the car with great difficulty, even then he had to stand leaning on the car for twenty minutes before the pain eased. They had told him in the beginning that he would need a crutch, but he had steadfastly refused to do so. Now as he hobbled along the sidewalk towards the small hotel, he wished he had something to lean on.

The following morning as he returned to the car, he spotted the tiny curiosity shop with the canes in the window. Once he felt it is his hand he knew it was for him, it was of dark polished hardwood and the handle was a silver wolf with small rubies for eyes. It was far from cheap but Kirby knew he had to have it; outside it took only a few steps using the cane and he felt it. The transformation was complete, something about this antique walking cane made him feel different. It was as if all that had gone before was wiped away for ever, James Kirby had come of age.

The bar went from the buzzing sound of multiple conversations’, to deathly silence the moment the man with the cane entered. The tapping of the cane tip on the bare boards sounded inordinately loud in the silent bar, he could feel the eyes of the patrons boring into his back as he made his way to the far booth in the corner. It was obvious that strangers were treated with suspicion in Oak Hill; the pretty waitress that took his order was the only friendly face he saw in there. Slowly but surely the conversations resumed and Kirby sat in the shadows of the booth and watched the locals, later in the night the crowd had all but dissipated and Kirby saw his chance to strike up a conversation with the waitress.

The girl was friendly and appeared flattered at his attention, she readily offered information about the town and locality. But when he asked about the Safe Haven Home she suddenly looked nervous, she glanced in the direction of where the barman stood staring at her. Then without explanation she abruptly turned and walked away from the booth. Kirby was just preparing for bed later, when the soft knock came to the motel room door. The carpark outside looked deserted and he wondered if he had imagined the knock, he was about to close the door when she appeared from the shadows.

The young waitress glanced nervously about, before brushing past him without waiting for an invitation to come inside. She was halfway through the stiff whisky before she began to speak, within a short period of time Kirby had learned all about the rumors surrounding the children’s home. As luck would have it the girl was an inmate of the home at one stage, and she still visited. Later as she left, Lucy paused by the open door. “Be careful Mr Kirby there is nothing safe about Safe Haven, old Joe Pierce tried to change things and he ended up hanging in his own garage”. Then the nervous girl disappeared into the shadows outside.

The van with the blacked out windows pulled into the car park by the side exit door shortly after nine p.m., Kirby watched the two well-dressed men exit the van and go around the front. Something about their demeanor struck a chord with him, it finally came to him. They looked like they had military training, or at the very least looked like security men of some description. Twenty minutes later the side door opened and the men in suits led four kids out and ushered them into the van, one kid protested and the suit with the blonde hair beat the crap out of the kid before forcing him into the van.

The electric gates at the rear of the house swung silently open and the catering van pulled out, Kirby just about managed to squeeze through the gap before they closed again.  The van that had brought the children was parked near the rear of the big house, in the hour since the children were brought a number of high end cars had arrived through the front gate. Two security guards had checked the occupants of each car before they were allowed to enter the grounds. Now that he had gained entrance to the grounds Kirby felt a surge of panic, what did he do now? The choice was made for him when the security guards began to patrol the grounds, he eventually found a tool shed that was open and he hid out.

Hours later he was awoken by the sound of the van being started, through the gap in the tool shed door he watched the kids being loaded back into the van. They walked in a zombie like fashion; he had seen this before with junkies on the street. As soon as the van left he made his way to the service door, it was locked solid. Staying in the shadows now he circled the huge house, there was no sign of the security guards now and most of the high end cars had left. He waited until the host waved off the last of his guests and went back inside, and then he circled the house again. Kirby finally gained entrance through a basement window that had been left unlocked.

The fat man in the red velvet smoking jacket sat behind the big antique desk, he sipped from a brandy goblet as he leafed through the stack of photographs. A strange smile on his ruddy features grew larger with each new picture he studied; he was so engrossed in his viewing he never even noticed Kirby in the shadows. Every now and again some particular photo captured his attention, and he would make a creepy chuckling sound. It was only when he rose and moved the large portrait to open the hidden safe, that Kirby made his presence known. Even then the man showed no sign of panic or remorse, instead his features just showed a certain disdain towards his uninvited guest.

The chubby little hand delved inside the safe, and Kirby cursed to himself. But when he withdrew it, his hand held only a bundle of cash. Kirby watched the money arch through the air and lands at his feet. “Be a good man and take the money and leave, nothing you can do can touch us. We are above the law my friend and you have a choice, leave with the cash and never come back. Or leave in a body bag”. Kirby watched the fat man’s hand inch forward toward the underneath of the desk top. “The sound of the silver wolf’s head striking his bald pate made a hollow sound like a hammer striking a coconut shell, it had all happened so quick Kirby did not even remember moving.

The fat man dropped like a stone, and the bundle of photographs scattered like a deck of cards. Kirby stood over him and looked down, his eyes were glazed but the fat man’s chest rose and fell as he panted, James Kirby looked at him and searched for some reaction inside himself, but nothing came. Not anger nor remorse, not even surprise at his own capability to dole out extreme violence, it was as if he no longer felt any emotion.

Kirby stooped with difficulty and gathered the photographs, with each of the horrifying images he saw something happened inside him. Not so much a surge of emotion, more like an expulsion of any emotion he had left. It was replaced by a deep dark coldness that seemed to fill a void inside him; a strange thought occurred to him that this is what it must feel like to be dead.

In the corner of the study Kirby found a black leather Gladstone bag, he filled it with the contents of the safe. There were several address books and mountains of child abuse photographs; right at the back he found an envelope with a separate series of photographs. The robes had deep hoods that hid the features of those that wore them, but the short fat stature of the one with most elaborate robe told him it was the man who lay groaning at his feet. He was the one who held the ceremonial knife that had butchered the little blonde girl with the unusually blue eyes, Kirby stared at her desecrated form and the coldness inside grew.

Once he had everything including the bundles of cash carefully inside the bag, it was only then he realized he had not put the leather gloves on. Putting them on now he wiped down anything he had touched, he worked meticulously without hurry or fear. The fat man was coming around now and groaned softly to himself, Kirby searched the desk drawers and took any papers he felt might be relevant.

A movement in his peripheral vision caused him to turn towards the fat man; he was up on one elbow now. The toe of Kirby’s leather brogue caught him square in the chin; he gave a long sigh and drifted back into unconsciousness. Even when the contents of the brandy decanter soaked him the fat man did not open his eyes, taking a match from the desk top Kirby sparked it and dropped it on the man.

He was halfway across the yard when the screams reached him, it would be too late for the fat man now. Kirby had not left the room until he was sure the man was well alight, by the time Kirby had manged to scale the wall from the roof of the tool shed. The glow of flames lit up the front lawns; later in his rear view mirror he could see flames in the upstairs section of the big house.

He was just entering the outskirts of Oak Hill twenty minutes later, when the fire engine passed him at speed with its siren blaring. Back at the motel room he lay on the bed fully clothed, he needed to rest for a while he had a couple of loose ends to tidy up before he left.

The blond guy in the dark suit dropped his partner, outside the non-descript apartment block. A brief conversation between them ended with the blonde guy sniggering loudly, before starting the engine of the van and driving off. Twenty minutes later he pulled off the road into the grounds of a small cottage, being the senior member of the partnership had its perks. No crappy apartment in town for him, instead he got the nice cottage in the countryside. When he had locked the garage door, the blonde guy began to turn but suddenly hesitated. Years of training kicked in now as he sensed he was not alone, by the time he turned to face the man with the cane his gun was in his hand.

Kirby was standing not six feet from him, the nine millimeter pistol pointed directly at the blonde man’s face. Kirby watched the man’s expression; he could see the calculated look in his eyes. Moments seemed to drag on for an eternity until the man shrugged his shoulders and dropped the gun, but the blonde guy showed no fear. Preferring instead, to stand there with a condescending grin on his face.

“Do you even know who we are, or what you have walked into”. Before another word left his lips Kirby pulled the trigger, the nine millimeter shell enter just below his right eye. It exited on the back left hand side of his head taking most of the skull with it. For some reason it did not come as a surprise to Kirby, that the id in the man’s wallet was Federal this reached far into the justice system. Kirby just threw it on his body and walked away, there would be a lot more like the dead blonde guy he thought. He would kill as many as it took to bring the children some kind of justice.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Darkness ( Episode 2) No Turning Back.

no going back

The old man seemed to have shrunk even more in stature, his skeletal body scarcely noticeable beneath the blankets. The soft glow from the oil lamp on the bedside table gave his ravished features a ghostly appearance, now and again the dying man would groan softly in his sleep. Watching from the easy chair in the shadows Jim Kiely wondered at the old man’s strength and resolve, even since he had become bed ridden he steadfastly refused any pain relief. “It befuddles the mind Jim and there is still a lot I have to tell you” Kevin would reply anytime Jim suggested some morphine to ease the pain.

Six weeks had passed since Jim had agreed to Kevin Brody’s conditions to continue his work, six weeks and Jim had barely scratched the surface of the mountain of information the old man had accumulated over the years. Jim began to notice the deterioration in Kevin after the first couple of weeks, but he had never dreamed the end was so close. Now the old man was hovering in that twilight place between life and death, and just at the time when the doubts had returned to haunt Jim. Apart from the legality of what Kevin was suggesting Jim had a strong inclination that he just may not have it in him to see it through.

Perhaps the dying man had been mentally unstable all along; the scrap book detailing the deaths of those men may just have fitted conveniently into Kevin Brody’s delusions. Now that the old man was not constantly lecturing him, Jim had begun to see things differently. There was no possible way that Kevin could have run this operation without help, too many years locked away in the basement of the police station had eroded the man’s sanity. Years of isolation with access to files containing details of crimes too horrifying to imagine, may have finally broken Kevin Brody’s grasp on reality.

A half heard sound disturbed the train of thoughts tormenting Jim’s mind, the old man was awake and had somehow pulled himself into a sitting position in the bed. Jim rose and went to the bedside; he lifted the glass of tepid water to the old mans cracked and dry lips. Only a few drops entered the man’s mouth, the remainder dribbled down and created a damp patch on his pajama top. A skeletal hand came from beneath the bed covers and weakly pushed against the glass, Jim returned the glass to the bedside table as the dying man tried to clear his throat. When he spoke Jim had to lean forward with his ear almost on Kevin Brody’s cracked lips, even then he had to concentrate to hear the whispered words.

“I can feel your doubts Jim and I do not blame you, what I have asked you to do is a daunting task. I go to meet my maker with blood on my hands, but the evil that is out there is far darker than even those files would hint at. Sometimes in life we are asked to cross the thin line between good and evil, the reason for this is that sometimes, evil can only be defeated by another form of evil. Now I must go to see what price I must pay for my evil, I have spoken to Joshua Herbert he will give you my final instructions. Once you have read my final wishes you may you choose whether to stay or go, if you decide to stay you will not be alone and if you decide to go I absolve you of your promise and Herbert will give you the two thousand dollars and the key to the car”.

The old man took a deep breath and it sounded as if his lungs were filled with water, the bubbling sound as he exhaled made Jim’s blood run cold. The moments dragged on as he waited for the old man to speak again, Jim’s back was aching now from stooping over the bed. But he was afraid to shift positions in case he missed something Brody said, but in the end he need not have worried. Kevin Brody had passed onto another life, leaving him alone with those terrible doubts. Jim found a screw driver in the kitchen drawer and forced the lock on the drinks cabinet, staring into the dusty interior he finally laughed to himself. Crazy Kev had made sure he stayed sober tonight, the cabinet was empty.

The pretty brunette passed him on her way out of the office without a second glance, Jim guessed she did not recognize him in clean clothes and freshly shaved. Either that or she had a pressing lunch date, the door to Joshua Herbert’s office stood open and he beckoned Jim inside. The lawyer sat silent and stone faced as Jim read the short letter, it was in what he presumed to be Kevin Brody’s handwriting. The instructions were simple and to the point, if he intend to fulfill his promise. Jim would have to take care of Brody’s burial by himself, and if not Herbert would provide the money and transport for him to leave. Almost as if by afterthought Brody had added a post script to the letter, this writing looked shaky as if he could not steady his hand when writing. “If you are still in doubt, ask Joshua to play the tape. It may help you decide.”

Jim pushed the play button on the reel to reel tape recorder; the sound of static filled the can headphones on his head. Moments later Kevin Brody’s voice replaced the static, it was weird listening to a man’s voice when he knew the same man lay dead in the cottage not two miles from here. “Jim if you are listening to this, then you still have not made up your mind. Please listen to this tape; it was recorded in the home of a high profile politician. It may give you some idea why I have been doing what I have, and why someone must continue doing the same.” The static sound returned for what seemed like an eternity, for a moment he felt that the rest of the tape was blank.

It was very faint at first like a sound half imagined in a fevered mind, but it gradually grew to fill the ear pieces of the headphones. The chanting continued to build until it became a crescendo of voices; the words were lost to him and sounded gibberish. But something about the tone of the chanting instilled fear in the listener, suddenly the chanting ceased only to be replaced once again by static. Then a man’s voice clear and distinct speaking in a language that Jim could not place, the man would speak and the crowd would answer in unison. A sudden urge came over Jim to tear the headphones from his ears and leave as quickly as possible. But like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car he was mesmerized by the words.

Shadowy images began to worm their way into his mind as he listened, things he could not define but that scared him. Then the sound of the man and his followers went silent again, Jim felt his heart thundering against his ribs as he waited. At first he could not make out what he heard next, a whimpering puppy perhaps. But the child’s screams that followed soon belied his first impressions; he was paralyzed as the screams of anguish entered his head and wormed their way into his very soul.

The silence returned only to be broken by sounds of sobbing, but these sounds did not come from the ear pieces they came from deep inside him. Then Kevin Brody’s level tones came over the headphones a short sentence that would change him for ever. “It was a ten year old girl Jim, her body was never recovered”.

The old cemetery lay in an isolated place miles from anywhere, the moon light played over the old headstones leaving monstrous shadows. Jim hoisted the bundle wrapped in blankets onto his shoulder, even with a bum leg and damaged spine it was little bother to him. By the time Kevin finally passed away he weighed no more than a malnourished child.

The moonlight lit his way as he picked his steps among the headstones. Finally he found the grave in the far corner of the small cemetery, only then did he need the torch to ensure he was in the right place. There on the granite Celtic cross was the name he was looking for, Kevin Brody’s name and a date from over two years previous. The prophesy was about to become self-fulfilling he thought as he began to dig.

If carrying the body was easy, then digging the grave was hell on earth. His back ached something awful, and he was drenched in sweat by the time he hit the lid of the casket. A moment of panic struck him when he opened the lid, it took him a while to realize the dark shape in the casket was just a canvas ruck sack. Jim removed the sack and placed Kevin’s body in a grave that had been ready for him for quite a while. Once he had finished back filling the grave he was shattered, he threw the spade over the nearest hedge and wearily dragged the ruck sack behind him to the car.

On the drive back to the cottage he wondered whether he should have said a prayer at the graveside. But prayers would never come easy to him again; he had dark work to do.  Back at the cottage he slumped on the couch with the ruck sack at his feet, he just meant to rest for a while before opening the mysterious bag. It was a while later when he was awoken by the sound of a knock on the door, startled he moved as quietly as possible to the hallway.

Who could be calling in the early hours of the morning, and more importantly who even knew he was here. “Open the door Jim, it is only me”. It took a moment for him to place the voice, when he opened the door Joshua Herbert stood on the porch and beside him was the pretty receptionist. “My apologies for calling at this late hour Jim, I had some things to attend to before coming here”. He stood back and let them enter; the brunette even treated him to a brief smile.

Jim felt silly as he sat there while the brunette restyled his hair, it seemed a strange time of night to have a makeover. When she finished Herbert examined her work before having her take a head shot of Jim with a camera she produced from her shoulder bag. Jim had protested in the beginning, but Joshua Herbert had convinced him that a new identity was imperative.

It was clear to Jim now that all this had been planned for quite a while. It had already been decided before he even began Brody’s work, Jim Kiely had to disappear. Before they left, Herbert introduced the girl. “This is Kathy, apart from one other person she is the only one that knows you even exist anymore. Kevin brought Kathy to me a long time ago, if he had not she would have ended up like the girl you listened to on the tape earlier”.

After they had left he sat on the couch trying to figure out how all this had come together, it was evident now that Kevin Brody had not been working alone. Herbert, Kathy and one other, but who in the hell was this one other person. Jim was beginning to feel as if he had been set up from way back, but the cries of that child still echoed in the recesses of his mind. It was a while before he even remembered the bag he had taken from the casket, when he opened it yet another surprise awaited him.

The first thing he saw was a nine millimeter automatic pistol complete with a leather shoulder holster and a box of shells, all of these sat on a stack of money the likes of which he had never seen before. An envelope with his name on it contained a short note in Brody’s handwriting. “You are in now Jim and there is no going back, when the doubts appear, remember that child’s screams. Joshua will put everything in motion; trust him with your life”. The realization suddenly hit Jim like a ton of bricks; for all intents and purposes his old life was gone forever.

Three days later Jim found himself once again back in the lawyer’s office, Herbert sat opposite him silent and pensive as he waited for Kathy to enter. The pretty girl entered carrying a number of paper shopping bags; she left the bags next to Jim’s chair before walking behind the desk to stand next to her boss. The briefest of glances were exchanged between them, before Herbert took a thick manila envelope from the desk drawer and slid it across to Jim.

Up to this Jim thought his life had changed dramatically, but the contents of the envelope took the thing to a whole new level. Jim tipped the contents on the desk in front of him, and stared in amazement at the mound of documentation. Everything was there down to the finest detail, passport, drivers license, birth certificate and even army discharge papers. The passport and drivers license carried copies of the photographs Kathy had taken the night he buried Brody, he had to admit they made him look different somehow.

The frightening thing about it was the fact it was his photograph but another’s name, each piece of documentation was under the name James Michael Kirby. A cold feeling suddenly came over him, this was not a game and Kevin Brody and Joshua Herbert had gone to extreme lengths to put this plan in action.

A strange thought suddenly came to him, if they are willing to go to these lengths to set this up. Then what would they be willing to do to make sure he kept silent about it, as if the diminutive man behind the desk could read his mind he suddenly broke the silence.

“Welcome to your new life Mr Kirby, everything that went before this no longer exists. You must adopt quickly James, this is who you are now and never forget that. The people we hunt are not random individuals, they are ruthless and organized. These people have been conditioned to be without a shred of empathy, they are to a person, disciples of Lucifer. They follow a dark path and commit unspeakable deeds; our job is to bring justice to them.”

Nothing in the man’s expression hinted at what he was really thinking, but Jim could not help but wonder if Herbert himself was capable of murder. After all that is what they had recruited him to do, in the end he came to the conclusion that Joshua Herbert attorney at law would indeed be capable of killing. Especially to keep secret the crusade he and Brody had been carrying out for god knows how long.

The lawyer delved into the desk drawer again, he handed a small gold case to Jim, inside were business cards. James M Kirby Private Investigator was printed on the front of the cards on the back an address he did not recognize in China town.

“This is your new business address James, a lease in your name covers a small office and above it living quarters. It is nothing fancy but it is paid up for the next couple of years. With a new life James, comes a new image; I took the liberty of having Kathy do some shopping for you”. Herbert gestured in the direction of the bags she had left beside him. “Also your P.I. license is all taken care of, so everything about you is legitimate Mr Kirby. The cottage and all it contains will be administered by Kathy and I, just as it has been for many years. A safety deposit box has been leased in your name in the city; you can keep the contents of the ruck sack there.”

The silence that suddenly descended on the small office, told him the meeting was finished. A thousand questions rushed around his head, but he had a peculiar feeling that Herbert had covered everything he intended to say. Just as he got to his feet he caught Kathy nudging her bosses shoulder from the corner of his eye, and the lawyer cleared his throat and spoke again. “Kathy will drive you back to the cottage, with your bags. She has the keys to your car parked in the garage out back, when you are ready, return the key to the cottage to her. We shall be in contact Mr Kirby; there is no need for you to ever return to this place again”.

Everything fitted him to perfection, the suit coat and even the fedora hat would have been out of his price range, even when he had been working. For some strange reason the moment he had dressed in his new clothes he began to feel different, it was as if had actually become James M Kirby the moment he put them on.

He watched the pretty brunette drive away before getting in the dark colored Chevrolet saloon; the newspaper on the driver’s seat caught his eye as he moved it. It was opened at page six; a grainy photograph of a covered body on some train tracks is what caught his attention. The story beneath detailed the tragic accidental death of one Jim Kirby, the story was dated four weeks back, the day he had left the west coast to come here. There really was no going back for him now, Jim Kiely was dead and only James M Kirby remained.

 

 

Beyond Darkness(part 1) A choice of Evils.

probing the darkness

One moment Jim Kiely was fast asleep, and the next moment he was wide awake. Wide awake, with his heart pounding in his chest, his body covered with a film of clammy sweat that soaked into the stained bed clothes. He had been awoken by the same terrifying dream, in his dream he had been falling again, only to wake before his body hit the concrete. The throbbing pain in his lower back and right leg serving to remind him that he had hit that concrete at one time, of late he wished he had not survived that fall.

The light curtains on the grimy windows of the small apartment failed to keep the early morning sunshine out, it always depressed him more on a bright morning to see the squalor of his surroundings. In the tiny kitchen the strong smell of stale booze lingered, Jim had not paid his electric bill in weeks so even a cup of coffee was out of the question. He eventually found a whiskey bottle with a tiny amount of liquor still remaining; taking the bottle he limped out side and sat on the concrete steps. Here he lit his last cigarette and savored the last of the fiery amber liquid.

It was just after six A.M. and the heat was already stifling, what had possessed him to come out here in the first place was beyond him. Almost three thousand miles across the country, just to end up living like a bum. Jim had learned a harsh lesson; you can run from a situation but not from your memories. As if on cue his mind suddenly drifted back to that day, the day that changed his life. His body suddenly gave an involuntary shiver, just for a moment he felt cold. It was as if he was no longer here on the west coast at the height of summer, but back there on an ice coated fire escape.

It should have been a simple arrest; the guy they were to lift had no form for violence.  A nobody with a long list of petty crimes to his name, but he was a potential witness to something far bigger. The run down tenement building appeared clearly in his mind, as if he was once again standing in the alleyway looking up at it. His partner had taken the front entrance and Jim made his way up the treacherously slippy fire escape. The rusted steel rungs glistened in the moonlight from a coating of ice; Jim was breathing heavily and his hands burned by the time he got to the landing outside the apartment, he was bent over trying to catch his breath when the suspect exited the window and collided with him.

Everything seemed to suddenly go into slow motion; he was driven backwards against the rail. The world seemed to turn upside down, and Jim was staring at the star filled sky and his hand grasping the rail above him. The last thing he remembered before his fingers slipped was the horrified look on the suspects face. Then he was falling for what seemed an eternity into the darkness. The next time he opened his eyes it was a week later, and he was staring at the harsh fluorescent lights of the hospital room.  He was alive but this was only the start of his misery.

When he was finally able to walk again, they did offer him a desk job. But at that stage the drink had already taken over Jim’s life, he sought relief from the constant pain, discomfort and bad dreams. He found temporary relief at the bottom of a whisky bottle, at first a couple of stiff hits made him feel better. But in the end he needed total oblivion, so Jim Kiely and the police force parted company by mutual agreement. So in a moment befuddled by alcohol, Jim took his small lump sum and miserly pension and headed for the west coast. That was five years ago, and his dream of a new beginning had long since soured.

The sound of cheerful whistling brought him from his muse; Jim hid the bottle behind his back as the whistling mail man approached. “Morning Mr Kiely and a beautiful morning it is”. Jim felt a sudden surge of anger bubble to the surface as he watched the smiling man approach; nobody who had any real understanding of the world should be as cheerful as that mailman. But just as quickly the anger dissipated, after all his misery had nothing to do with this man. Jim noticed the way his hand trembled as he accepted the two envelopes from the mailman, but if the man noticed this, he gave no sign. Instead he tipped the peak of his cap and walked away cheerfully whistling.

The anger was completely gone now, only to be replaced by a deep sadness and a feeling of self-loathing. Jim wiped the tears from his eyes, before holding the now empty bottle to his lips in an attempt to drain the last drop from it. A thought he had been desperately trying to ignore for a while, suddenly filled his mind now. Jim Kiely had enough, and he decided that today was going to be his last day on this earth. Back inside the grimy little apartment the sense of hopelessness just grew. He eventually found a pen after much searching, but he could not find even a scrap of paper. It would have been funny only for the fact it was so tragic, things were so bad he could not find enough paper to write a suicide note.

Slumping on the kitchen chair his tears finally began to flow in earnest, now the dam had burst he felt as if he would never stop. But like most things in his life, the bout of crying just petered out.  It was as if the tears were his last vestige of strength, once he stopped he felt totally exhausted. Exhausted but his mind was clearer than it had been for quite a while, it would have been a futile effort to leave a suicide note and he could see that now. Apart from the whistling mailman, he doubted if anyone in this whole city even knew his name. When he was gone no one would even read his last words.

Now that he had some clarity Jim was calmer in himself, he had nothing left to live for and it would be better to just slip quietly away. Looking around the dismal little apartment his eyes fell on the guitar in the corner, he had bought it from his lump sum when he left the police. Back then he had a daydream about learning to play it and making a living busking in the sun, but like most things since his fall Jim quickly lost interest, the drink had taken priority. The guitar sat in the corner in its case gathering dust, that and his grandfather’s watch were the only two things of value he possessed. If he had known how things would work out, Jim would have sold them a long time ago.

His gaze had traveled a full circle now, and he found himself staring at the two envelopes on the kitchen table. It really did not matter now what they contained, but out of force of habit he reached for them. As if to cement the feeling of desolation that was over him, the first one contained an eviction notice for none payment of rent. Jim screwed the offending letter in a ball, and then threw it on the pile of other threatening notices that were already overflowing from the paper bin. He stared at the second envelope for a long time, before finally shrugging his shoulders and opening it. This one contained something totally different, however for some reason he found this letter even more disturbing.

Jim read and reread the letter several times, suddenly he realized why he found the contents disturbing. This letter had put him a predicament that he had not been expecting; it had presented him with another choice besides ending his own life. Jim had honestly believed he had made his final decision in life and with that his mind felt at peace, but even now the doubts began to creep into his mind. The fear of having to continue this miserable existence was a real fear for him; Jim screwed the letter up and threw it after the first one. Then with only one thing on his mind, he dressed and left the apartment for the last time.

The vibrations through his feet told him the train was very near now, he turned his gaze to the track and the huge machine came hurtling into view. This was going to be even easier than he had hoped, “close your eyes and takes a deep breath, just step forward now and it will all be over”, and the voice in his head told him. But Jim’s body betrayed him yet again, his feet suddenly seemed glued to the spot. Only when the speeding train passed inches in front of him did his feet lose their hold, and then it was only to allow him to be driven backwards onto the embankment. Jim lay on his back looking up at the clear blue sky, until he finally found the strength to get back on his feet.

Jim’s mind seemed to have shut down, because the next thing he remembered was sitting back at the kitchen table with the crumpled letter smoothed out in front of him. It was from a law firm in a town in upstate New York; Jim had somehow been named as sole heir to the estate of one Kevin Brody deceased. It took a hell of a lot of mind searching before he finally nailed down where he had heard the name before. Mind you he had never heard the man addressed like that, to all and sundry Kevin Brody was known as the preacher or crazy Kev. Jim tried to piece together the last time he had set eyes on the man, and even what he looked like.

It was when Jim was a rooky detective, not yet trusted to partner someone in a real investigation. His designated job was to run errands, mainly of which was to go to the records department in the basement and fetch relevant files. Kevin Brody was the man in charge in that windowless area below the main building, bit by bit the memories of the man came back to him.

Apparently Kevin had been a dam good detective at one stage, but somewhere along the line his mental state went downhill. So he was banished to the bowls of the building among the dusty files, here he sat pouring over old cases beneath the crucifix he had attached to the wall. No one bothered with Kevin but Jim always tried to make conversation with him. Eventually they formed a relationship of sorts, not anything like a friendship, but when Kevin was in the mood to talk Jim listened.

A mental picture of the man began to form in his head now, tall gaunt and deathly pale. Jim would wonder sometimes, whether the paleness was as a result of working in that windowless room below the ground. Jim also remembered that the man wore a rosary around his neck; it was plain to see as Kevin only wore open neck shirts. Apparently it was his growing interest in religion, which had sealed his fate and banished him to the records department. None of Kevin’s colleagues wanted to go out on the streets with a “Jesus freak”. Hence Kevin’s two most popular nick names, the preacher or just plain old crazy Kev.

Jim never really believed the man was crazy, a little eccentric maybe, but crazy never. As a matter of fact Kevin Brody was a virtual encyclopaedia of information on old cases, and on more than one occasion he had pointed Jim in the right direction on various investigations. Brody was obsessive about one other thing besides religion, a thick file he kept under lock and key in his steel desk. Jim had lost count of the times he caught the man obsessing over this file. But anytime Jim tried to sneak a peek at it, Brody would quickly close it and lock it back in the drawer. Jim did ask him one day what was in that file, and a strange vacant look came into Brody’s eyes.

“It is the big one Jim, the one that nobody wants to investigate. This is the one that will get you killed; once you begin to investigate pure evil then you must be prepared to die”. That was the only time Jim ever had an inclination that just maybe they were right about him, and Kev really was crazy. However once the file was safely locked away again, Brody returned to normal or at least as normal as he got. Jim never again asked about the file, and looking back now it was probably the last time he had spoken to Kevin Brody. One day the man in the basement just upped and disappeared, and with him the file he was obsessed with. The police force made a half-hearted effort to find out what had happened to him, but in the end it petered out, after all he was just another crazy person.

The throbbing pain in his back and right leg, prompted Jim to get to his feet and hobble around the room. Walking seemed to ease the pain, the only light in the room now came from the street light outside. Shuffling around here in the shadows opened another avenue of thought in his mind, he had become every bit as lost as crazy Kev. It was at that very moment his mind was made up, perhaps the trip back east would help him find himself again. Life comes down to simple choices a lot of the time, Jim could stay here and surely die or go back and take one last chance to live.

After much haggling Jim walked out of the pawn shop with sixty dollars, even though the watch and guitar were worth a hell of a lot more. Standing in the queue to get the coach ticket a sudden urge came over him to turn around and head for the nearest bar. But in the end he settled for a couple of bottles of cheap hooch from the liquor store next to the station, and some barbiturates from a street dealer hanging around the station lobby. The combined effects of these would ensure he slept for most of the long journey; the thoughts of the marathon cross country coach ride terrified him. If the truth of the matter was known, the thoughts of trying for yet another new start, terrified him even more.

The small town looked absolutely dismal in the biting wind and freezing rain, and it matched his mood perfectly. Once the booze and barbs were gone the journey became hell on earth, the pain in his leg and back from the uncomfortable seats was made even worse by withdrawal symptoms. The thin clothes he wore were practically useless and he was freezing the moment he stepped off the coach, but he was here now and there was no turning back. The first person he asked was able to direct him straight to the law firm’s office, and now standing on the pavement outside his biggest hope was the heating would be on inside.

The pretty brunette behind the reception desk looked uncomfortable with his presence; she pulled back in her chair when he leaned over the desk. Mind you he could even smell his own body odour at this stage, rather than go into a long explanation Jim just handed her the letter. The pretty girl held it pinched between one finger and her thumb as she read it, as if the paper was contaminated by his touch. She muttered something he did not catch before gesturing towards the chair at the far wall, and then she hurried off somewhere as if relieved to get away from him. Feeling even worse now he slumped in the chair, unconsciously he tried to fix his hair. There was a time he thought when she might have been interested in him, but that was in another life time.

The small man with the wire rimmed glasses gestured to the chair opposite him, without lifting his eyes from the letter on the desktop in front of him. The words on the page scarcely cover two thirds of the page, yet he continued to study it, as if it were a large and complicated volume. Jim had the distinct impression the lawyer was attempting to find some kind of get out clause, something in the short letter that would allow him to send Jim packing from his tidy old world office. After what seemed an eternity the lawyer muttered something under his breath, before lifting his gaze to Jim.

Funnily enough nothing in the man’s eyes hinted at anything close to disdain, instead all Jim saw in those eyes was something akin to mild curiosity. “Good afternoon Mr Kiely, my name is Joshua Herbert. I was the legal representative of the late Mr Kevin Brody of this county and the executor of his will”. The small man abruptly stood and offered Jim his hand, Jim self-consciously wiped his own hand on his jacket before shaking the man’s hand. To his surprise the man had a strong firm grip, and treated him to a friendly smile. Herbert resumed his seat and lifted the handset of the Bakelite phone, swiveling his chair he spoke softly into the phone and hung it up again. Moments later the brunette entered the office carrying a folder of files.

Herbert waited until she had left and closed the door behind her, only then did he turn his attention to the paperwork. A long period of silence followed as the lawyer scrutinized the contents of the folder, Jim squirmed in his chair and wished the meeting was over. “Now then Mr Kiely everything seems in order here, if you can provide me with some form of identification we can proceed”. Herbert seemed to take an inordinate length of time meticulously examining the old drivers license, it was three years out of date but it was the only identification he possessed.

Eventually Herbert slid the license back across the desk, and tapped his fingers on the file while staring into the distance. Eventually his eyes returned to Jim, this time there was a different emotion in them but one Jim could not decipher. “Okay Mr Kiely I will delay you no longer, it is time we got down to business”. Jim sat in stunned silence as Herbert outlined the detail of the will, for the second time in a short time he wondered if Kevin Brody really was crazy. He had bequeathed a man he barely knew, a house, car, and all his worldly belongings in addition to almost twenty thousand dollars. This whole situation was beginning to get stranger by the moment.

It was dark by the time Jim had walked the two miles to his new home on the outskirts of the town, his thin clothes were soaked through and he felt cold to the very core. The small cottage was surrounded by a dilapidated picket fence, and the grounds were overrun with briars and weeds. Once he closed the door behind him he stripped off his wet clothes, in a press next to the kitchen stove he found a thick blanket and wrapped it around him. He was exhausted now and he lay on the couch in the small living room, within minutes he was asleep. Outside the cold rain had slowly turned to snow, and inside Jim trembled in his troubled sleep.

The crackling of the wood in the fireplace woke him; the glow from the fire illuminated the center of the room leaving the corners in darkness. It took Jim a few moments to realize where he was and the fact that something was not right, and then it struck him. Who had lit the fire? He sat up as quickly as his damaged body would allow, all the time trying to probe the shadows for anyone hiding there. The soft voice from somewhere beyond the glow of the fire light made his blood run cold. “Take it easy Jim, I mean you no harm. I really am happy you took me up on my offer”. It took all of his self-control for Jim to prevent himself from screaming out loud.

Sitting there wrapped in the blanket that was concealing his nakedness, Jim felt more vulnerable than he could ever remember. A scrapping sound from the darkness was followed a flaring match, Jim watched the disembodied little flame as it moved to the left. Here it hung in the darkness until the wick of an oil lamp caught flame. Even then all he could see was a pair of hands one of which placed a glass globe over the burning wick, while the other hand adjusted the flame. When the oil lamp finally illuminated the corner of the room, the man came into view. Jim could scarcely believe his eyes; the man looked old and weak but very much alive. Kevin Brody laughed softly to himself as Jim stared in disbelief at him.

Jim finished dressing while Brody went to rustle up some supper, the clothes were old fashioned and ill-fitting but at least they were dry and warm.  He had begun to question crazy Kev, but the old man insisted he dress and they eat first. Jim had watched him shuffle out of the room; he walked with the aid of a cane and was stooped over almost double. The intervening years since he had seen him last, had obviously not been good to Kevin Brody. The man appeared to have aged beyond his years; he looked far older and more fragile than what Jim would have guessed was his actual age. But the man’s eyes still burned with an intensity that belied the husk of a body he now found himself inhabiting.

The small cottage was clean and Spartan and appeared not to have any electrical supply, the only illumination coming from the ornate old world oil lamps. Supper was a simple affair of meat stew and bread, it was only when he began to eat that Jim realised how hungry he was. Kevin sat watching him wolf down his food, while the old man scarcely touched his own. When he had finished Kevin led him back to the sitting room, where they sat by the fire. Kevin filled two glasses of whisky, before returning the bottle to the cabinet and locking it with a key which he then placed in his waistcoat pocket. Once again Kevin watched him drink the glass in two gulps without touching his own, Jim looked longingly at the locked cabinet, but no offer of a refill was forthcoming from the old man.

The silence between was getting more awkward by the moment, Jim could not help himself and asked for another drink. Kevin gave him an unfathomably look before handing over his own untouched drink, Jim took a small sip and left it on the side table. This one he was going to have to drink sparingly and he knew there would not be another at least this night. Kevin sat staring into the flames for what seemed an eternity before he began his story, to Jim’s surprise the man’s voice was strong and clear. Even though he spoke barely above a whisper, each of Kevin’s words was clear and concise. Jim found himself being drawn into a world he could never have even imagined, a world so strange and dark it would have been easy to dismiss the story as the ramblings of a crazy man.

However the most frightening thing about the whole situation was the fact that Jim was now totally convinced that Kevin was far from crazy. “First of all Jim I wish to apologise for the subterfuge by which I brought you here, and second of all to assure you that everything I possess in this world is now yours, including that twenty thousand dollars in the bank account. As a matter of fact there is another tidy sum in cash that shall be yours too; however Jim like most everything in life, all this comes with certain conditions. Should you choose to decline these conditions, I will give you two thousand dollars in cash and a car to take you back to your old life, with one promise on your behalf that you will forget all about this and the fact that you ever set eyes on me”.

Kevin lapsed into silence again and returned his gaze to the flames in the fire place; Jim struggled to find something to say. The offer of two thousand dollars and a car sure was attractive, and with the kind of money he would have no difficulty forgetting this man and his strange proposition. Once he got a few bottles of whisky inside him, Jim could even forget his own name. However deep inside his a head a small voice told him he had to hear the whole story, for the first time in a very long time his curiosity had been aroused. In the end Jim just sat in silence and waited for the old man to continue, the glass of whiskey on the table beside was even forgotten.

The older man finally returned his gaze to Jim and began to speak again. “I am nearing the end of my life Jim and when my time comes, I want to leave this corrupt world knowing someone will continue my work. You were the only one that showed even the slightest interest in what I actually did in that basement; you once asked me what was in the file I kept under lock and key. Well Jim therein lays the conditions attached to my offer to you, if you wish to have all I have to offer then you must agree to continue my work. I also need you to understand that if you agree then your life will never again be the same again, it is the ultimate case that no one wants investigated. The case that can get you killed Jim, just like I told you all those years ago”.

If Jim was to live to be two hundred years old, then he still could not understand what happened next. Without and forethought or real understanding the words came out. “I will continue your work Kevin”. What was even more surprising to him was the fact that once he said those words there was no regret. Looking back after, which he would find himself doing on many occasions over the years? Jim came to the realisation that it was not even remotely about the money, but from that moment on Jim swapped one addiction for another. Perhaps he subconsciously wanted to finish what he could not do on the train track that morning, but either way the task he agreed to take on was every bit as dangerous as a speeding train.

The concealed trapdoor in the kitchen led to a basement room below the house, it was the entire length and width of the cottage above it. When Kevin lit the oil lamps Jim stood in the center of the room and looked around in astonishment, three of the walls were covered in bookshelves. Two of these rows of book shelves were filled with files like the one Kevin was obsessed with in the basement of the police station, the third row of shelves contained dust old books dealing with Satanism and other religious themes. The final wall was covered in old photographs, most of which depicted pre teenage boys and girls. A row of steel cabinets stood beside an office desk and chair near the center of the room.

“Here you have it Jim, what you see before you represents the last twenty years of my life. I must warn you that once you enter the rabbit hole, god only knows how far down it will take you. The evil I have unearthed reaches to the very core of our society; there are many very powerful people with blood on their hands. I foolishly believed at the start that once I uncovered enough evidence, that it would only be a matter of presenting it to the proper authorities and justice would be served. When I finally realized that the evil had infested even our justice system, it was then I decided to disappear. It is easier for a dead man to hide, so apart from Joshua Herbert and yourself the rest of the world believe I am dead”.

A short ironic laugh followed his last statement before crazy Kevin resumed his story. “Mind you Jim, pretty soon I will not have to pretend anymore, I have terminal cancer. This cottage and the money was bequeathed to me by mother’s uncle, so none of it is in my name. Joshua was the executor of that will also; he will deal with any cash withdrawals you wish to make. So for all intents and purposes you too Jim have disappeared, I have been observing you from a distance. Your life has spiraled out of control, now I offer you a purpose in life for however long you manage to hold on to your life. But make no mistake about this Jim, once you start delving into this darkness your life will be constantly at risk”.

The following couple of weeks were among the strangest Jim had ever experienced, if he had thought the fall from the fire escape had been life changing, then this totally altered his very perception of life. Kevin Brody had started out investigating a missing child case, and he had somehow stumbled onto a portal to hell.

As Jim pored over the files he was exposed to a world where pedophilia and child sacrifice were the norm, and the people involved held powerful positions. It did not take long for a niggling doubt to take seed in Jim’s mind, something deep in his mind that he could not quite get to grips with. It was only when he came across a grainy photograph of a group of men, standing smiling behind four frightened looking children. That the penny finally dropped, a number of these men were high ranking police men and clergy.

That niggling doubt was out in the open now and he could see it clearly, many of these men were above justice. The chances of getting anything to stick against these men was next to impossible, when he confronted Kevin about this, things took an even stranger turn. Kevin listened to his concerns, with a strange look in his eyes. Then he dropped the bombshell. “Yes Jim I have been meaning to talk to you about this, I too finally came to the same conclusion. I found a way around this; however with my failing health I am afraid the task will fall to you now”. The old man shuffled off and returned with a scrap book of newspaper clippings, he handed it to Jim before once again leaving the room.

The news clippings dated back over six years and corresponded to the time Kevin Brody had disappeared, each of them dealt with the untimely deaths of various people. They all had two things in common, the first being they had all died in mysterious circumstances. The second one and the one that finally made Jim understand the situation, was the fact that all these people had been named in Kevin’s files as perpetrators of crimes against children. The softly spoken words directly behind him startled Jim. “You see Jim, you are correct in your assumption. These people will never face trial for their abominations; someone needs to give these children justice. Therefor we must set ourselves up as judge, jury and executioner”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Toy Maker

the toy maker

Jakub cursed under his breath again, as yet another black bin liner burst spewing its rancid juices on his already stinking work clothes. These fucking people were nothing short of greedy pigs, every year they did the same thing. They would buy enough food to feed a small village back home, then they would let it spoil or worse still threw perfectly edible food in the garbage.

They wished everyone a happy Christmas then greedily hoarded food and possessions that they had little regard for, food and possessions that invariable ended up being hauled to the dump by his company or hundreds more like it. Back home in Jakub’s country they knew the real meaning of Christmas; back in his country the ordinary people did not waste food while their neighbors went hungry. It was just two days since Christmas day and they were already racing out to buy more food and drink, they would flock to the sales like rabid animals to accumulate even more possessions.

He hated this country and the way of life, supposedly well educated people were caught up in a downward spiral of greed and unsustainable debt. Still he earned more money than he could back home and with this he helped his family to live well, but just as soon as things picked up in his native land, he would return.

Jakub trudged wearily up the rickety stairs of the tenement building he lived in; he hoped he would not meet any of his neighbors on the stairwells. Even he found it hard to stomach the stench of garbage the wafted from his work overalls, he could not wait to get indoors and put them in the washing machine. He had scarcely closed the door when he undressed and placed his work clothes in the washing machine, then he hurried to the shower.

Once he had finished his meager meal, Jakub sat down to his favorite task of the evening. Placing his tool kit on the kitchen table, he placed his glasses on his face and began to empty the bag he had brought home from work. He spread the toys out and began to meticulously clean every inch of them, only when he was certain they were thoroughly cleaned would he begin to repair what he could of them. Those that were beyond repair would be scavenged for spare parts; it gave him great satisfaction to give these discarded toys a new lease of life.

The vast majority of toys he repaired would be distributed to the poorer children of the neighborhood, sometimes he would keep some of the finer pieces and send them home to his family. This was Jakub’s hobby and his way of trying to balance out the unjust way, in which this society worked, he was trying to give a little to those who had nothing. However he also gained from the exercise, he had always wished since childhood to be a toy maker. That and the fact it helped to stop him brooding about his self-imposed exile in this country, when you are far from home it is never good to obsess on those left behind.

The environment most migrants worked in was never friendly and a lot of the time it was downright hostile, he had learned to live with this. He would pretend not to hear their racial remarks and would never allow himself be drawn into confrontational situations. By and large the local workers had given up on trying goading him into fights; in return he had ignored their snide comments. However something about the atmosphere at the depot this morning felt strange, no one seemed willing to even look in his direction.

Jakub was at a loss to know what in the hell was going on; when his name was called over the loud speaker he knew it was not good. Climbing the stairs to the office was like climbing the scaffold to his own hanging, when he walked into the office something told him this job was over for him. On his walk back home he kept stopping to look at the letter of termination, he was in shock and hoping every second he would wake from a bad dream.

Back in his own kitchen he stared at the offending piece of paper in utter disbelief, “Theft” the word screamed accusingly from the paper and echoed deep in his mind. He had taken some broken and discarded toys from the garbage bins, toys that were no longer needed or wanted by their owners. This company and this land of the free would condemn him to shame, all because he had taken broken toys to give to those with nothing.

Weeks later Jakub found himself worse off than those he had tried to help, no one wanted to hire a man who had been sacked for theft from another job. He was hungry and cold as he trudged the streets in search of work, in another week he would be homeless, as he would be evicted from his apartment. But even worse than the hunger and cold was the shame, he was too ashamed to even contact his family back home. How could he tell them he had been branded a thief, from this shame another even stronger emotion took hold.

Hatred, hatred for the people at work and the boss who fired him, and hatred for the rich greedy people who discarded things while others went hungry. Jakub wandered the streets aimlessly, fueled by hatred and anger that burned like a fire in the pit of his stomach. But even the hottest of fires eventually begins to cool and he found himself in a part of the city he did not know, it was a strange feeling to find yourself at a place without any recollection on how you had got there.

Jakub looked around for any familiar land marks but nothing in this area seemed familiar, the street he was on led to the entrance of a city park. He began to trudge wearily in that direction, he would be able to rest for a while on one of the park benches. Just inside the entrance gates to the park a small crowd were gathered, Jakub walked towards them, perhaps one of them could direct him back to his own neighborhood.

The crowd of people by and large had the appearance of being just as badly off as himself that look of hopelessness in their eyes told the same old story. The people had gathered in a semi-circle around a man who preached from a soap box, Jakub listened for a moment as the man preached to his hapless audience. It was the same old clap trap that was always aimed at the downtrodden, he entreated these unfortunate people to place their trust in god.

Had he not been so weary he might have once again flew into a righteous rage, but it was effort enough just to turn away in disgust. Jakub pushed his way through the people, the man’s empty rhetoric ringing in his ears. God would not save either him or any of these poor fools, they were the bottom of the food chain and that is where they would remain. Now he was beyond the crowd he looked back and spat on the ground, a feeble show of his contempt for those who would believe in such lies.

Jakub found a wooden bench and eased himself wearily on to the hard surface; he was freezing now and so very tired. He would just grab a quick nap before trying to find his way home, it seemed like he had just blinked when the soft voice spoke in his ear. When he opened his eyes the first thing that struck him was the man’s fine clothes, whoever he was he was certainly not down on his luck. The man offered him a silver engraved hip flask, Jakub looked at him suspiciously. But the man smiled warmly back at him, it was the first gesture of kindness he could remember for quite a while.

In the end he shrugged and took the drink, the brandy burned its way to the pit of his stomach. From there the warmth spread throughout his body, and for the first time that day he felt almost human again. A couple of sips later and Jakub was telling the man his life story, the stranger listened carefully and nodded sympathetically as Jakub told of his fall from grace at his work place.

When he had exhausted himself from talking, the stranger made him the most unusual proposition Jakub had ever been made. Things could not get much worse he thought as he shook the stranger’s hand, he could scarcely believe he was about to start working at a job he had always wanted to do.

Jakub stared disbelievingly at the man who stood before him signing the delivery docket; it was less than twelve months since this same man had thrown him out of his job. Yet here he was smiling at Jakub and wishing him a happy Christmas, there was not a single sign of recognition in the man’s face. Still that was good, as his new employer always said they had to go about their business discreetly. The man opened the packages and stared in disbelief as he laid the handmade toys on his office desk, who in the world would send him such gifts at Christmas. Still these were all collectables, not to be played with but displayed and admired.

Two tin soldiers crafted expertly down to the razor sharp bayonets on their muskets, they would make brilliant paper weights and conversational pieces. He looked at the packaging but it contained no hint of their origin, still he thought better not look a gift horse in the mouth. He place them carefully on the corner of his desk, he would try and find out later who had sent them.

This was a busy time of year and he was soon lost in mounds of paper work, it would be a long day. The refuse collection business was getting cut throat, too much competition. Every year after Christmas he would find some excuse to get rid of employee’s and hire cheaper labor, this year would be no different so he needed to plan ahead.

Being the boss had quite an upside but also a sprinkling of negatives too, the cavernous depot building below him was silent as the grave and in complete darkness. His employees had long since sat down to their evening meal, yet here he sat in his office working away. Mind you he would much rather be in a cosy office than dealing with stinking bags of refuse, anyway he was almost finished his evening’s work.

Nothing left to do now but pick who would be sacked after the Christmas festivities; he got up and went to the locked drawer at the bottom of his filing cabinet. He took out his secret list or as he liked to refer to it, Santa’s naughty list. It was a list of his foreign employees; it was always easier to get rid of them as they were not trusted by the other workers. Just like last year he would close his eyes and stab his pen onto the list, and like Jakub last year whoever’s name was hit would be sacked, once the worst of the Christmas rush was over. A sudden noise from the darkness below interrupted him before he could make his choice, going to the office door he listened for a while but no further sound reached his ears.

Tiredness he thought, my ears are playing tricks with me. He needed to finish up and go home, a hot shower and a couple of glasses of fine cognac was what he needed. It took him moments to figure out what was missing from his desk when he returned, suddenly it dawned on him. The tin soldiers where in the hell did they go, he really was suffering from exhaustion he must have put them away somewhere.

He sat heavily into his plush leather office chair. Maybe I have been working too hard lately, he thought as he lifted the pen again. The sudden searing pain in his shin caused him to yelp like a frightened pup, it felt like broken glass had been jabbed into his shin bone. Another flash of white hot pain shot up from his other leg, as something sharp jabbed his calf muscle.

He pushed back the chair quickly and looked down. This time he screamed on top of his voice as the soldiers stabbed him again and again with their bayonets, their little tin arms moved like a blur. There were pieces of trouser cloth and bloody flesh flying through the air. One of them jammed his bayonet in the ankle socket of his right leg, when he could not pull it out; he resorted to using his razor sharp teeth. By the time Jakub entered the office all that remained of his former boss was a heap of mangled flesh. He quickly picked up the tin soldiers and placed them in his shoulder bag, he needed to take them back to clean them. They had still plenty of work ahead of them; he really was enjoying being a toy maker.

A Christmas treat…

A Christmas treat

Community service really sucked, Charlie sometimes thought he would have been better off with a short custodial sentence. To add insult to injury they had made him dress up in this fucking ridiculous Santa suit, he hated when his mates came by to take the piss out of him. Still he supposed if you looked hard enough you could find a silver lining in most dark clouds, the one in this situation was the fact he got to case a lot of houses in the posh areas of town.

As a matter of fact looking at it from a different angle this could be just his ticket out of this shit hole of a town, some of the places he got to visit reeked of money.  A thought suddenly occurred to him, I’ve been looking at this from the wrong angle altogether. He needed to use this opportunity to his advantage.

His community service consisted of visiting the well to do areas of the city collecting clothes from rich donors; these clothes would be distributed to the homeless over the coming Christmas season. In reality he could not have asked for a much better disguise, after all this time of year people dressed in a red suit and hat with a false beard all looked pretty much the same.

No one that got turned over would ever be able to identify him from any other Santa walking the streets and there was quite a few of them. Suddenly Charlie’s situation did not seem half as crappy as he had thought earlier, yes maybe this whole thing was one big Christmas present.

Charlie made his way down the quite tree lined residential street; the houses here would all run into six figures in value. This was just the type of area where he could earn a nice Christmas bonus; it would be easy pickings if he was careful. Flyers had been posted in each letter box the week before, now it was a matter of calling to the doors and picking up any clothes they wished to donate.

The plan was simplicity itself, he just needed to identify the more vulnerable home owners, and then create an excuse to have a nose around the house. Once he found a home that might be worth the risk he would return that night to burgle it, if needs be he could bring some of his low life mates with him. But better again he might just find a soft touch, one where he could have it all for himself.

A few hours later and Charlie was less enthusiastic and in foul humor, every house he had called to had been alarmed and he was treated with suspicion. His dream of a big Christmas treat was fading fast, he would try a couple of more houses and then he was out of here. At this stage he couldn’t care less if the charity reported him for breach of his community service order.

Charlie was tired now and dejected, he was sweaty and the fucking false beard was irritating the hell out of his face. Not only was he not feeling the festive spirit, if the truth was told he felt like killing someone. Charlie rang the door bell and heard the chime echoing somewhere deep in the bowels of the big old house, he shifted his weight from leg to leg irritably while he waited.

One more second and he was out of here, eventually he thought fuck it and turned to walk away. He was half way down the garden path when the front door opened; he turned back in a temper. The frail old lady stood at the door with a beaming smile, she looked at least a hundred years of age. Something in his mind told him his luck had changed; the little old woman looked as he could blow her over with a deep breath.

Charlie braced himself and put on his best smile, he approached the woman with a cheerful demeanor. As he drew nearer he saw she was grasping one of the fliers requesting unwanted clothes, this was going to be easy he wouldn’t have to explain to the old bag why he was here. Up close the woman resembled a skeleton covered in translucent skin, the frail old bag looked older than god.

Charlie treated her to his best Santa impression as he cheerfully called out ho ho ho merry Christmas, the ancient thing appeared to find this hugely amusing and she cackled hoarsely. She stood back and beckoned Charlie into the lobby of the big old house, this was going to be child’s play he thought happily.

The frail old woman gestured to a bundle of clothes strewn across an antique chair in the front hall, and then she muttered something about getting a box to put them in. He watched her disappear down the hallway, she moved with surprising agility for her apparent age. Charlie stood staring at his surroundings; it was as if he had stepped back in time.

Every piece of furniture on view was antique; the paintings hung on the walls looked to be originals to his untrained eyes. This place was certainly going to be rich pickings for him; he just needed to find out from the old crone just who else lived here. He walked over to the clothes he was here to collect, they were from another era altogether. The suits and over coats were all tailor made and just might fetch a pretty penny from a vintage clothes outlet, he would take a better look at them when he got them to the van.

When the old woman arrived back with the box, Charlie learned something that really made his day. The old woman started to rattle on about her husband, the old dear was obviously senile. She told him a story of how her husband had fallen foul of a witch doctor in the Caribbean, that she said, was the reason she was getting rid of his clothes. But the best part was that she wanted him to call back later to help her sort out some more stuff, Christmas was beginning to look a lot better now.

Charlie was buzzing with excitement later that evening as he made his way back to the old lady’s house; this whole thing was turning out to be quite the Christmas bonus. He had gone through the pockets of the suits and coats; he had found a silver money clip with almost five hundred bucks and a pocket watch that would easily fetch a grand. God only knows what he could rob from the house itself.

Charlie had now come to the conclusion that the old lady was going to become dispensable if the merchandise was worth it.  He followed the old lady up the main stair case, in the master bedroom she had piled clothes all over the king size bed. Charlie decided to play along with the charade for a little more and began packing the clothes neatly into boxes, something suddenly caught his attention and he began to panic.

The clothes were all different sizes and different styles; however the old lady assured him that it had always been just her and the husband in the house. He decided it was best not to pry anymore as she appeared slightly agitated when he questioned her. The fact that she was alone in a house full of treasures was enough for him, so Charlie worked diligently packing the clothes for the homeless.

Charlie could scarcely stop himself from laughing; the old crone had given him a five dollar tip and was now pouring him an expensive brandy. The contents of the living room itself must be worth a king’s ransom, he thought as he gazed around while she filled the drinks. Once he had his drink he would dispatch the old bag and retrieve his well earned bonus, it was turning out to be a very merry Christmas indeed.

Charlie savored the brandy and thought he would take the rest of it with him when he left, she was blathering on about how her husband had been struck down by some voodoo or other crap. She was boring him to death, her monotonous voice was putting him to sleep. I need to kill this bitch he thought as he struggled to keep his eyes open, kill her and get out of here with the booty.

The pain in his wrists and a weird sensation of gliding along woken Charlie, he watched the paintings on the walls glide past him. It took him quite a while before realizing he was tied to a wheel chair, when they came to the locked door the old woman came from behind him with the keys.

She wheeled him into the dark room and closed the door behind them, when she turned on the lights something in his mind snapped and he began to laugh hysterically. “Meet my husband” the old woman said softly. Charlie only began to scream when the thing began to eat his face. “He has never been the same since he came back from the Caribbean, but he does love a treat at Christmas”.

Christmas Forest.

Christmas forest

Old George looked in the mirror as he fixed his woolen scarf tightly around his neck; it was getting colder by the day. He paused from his task to study his reflection turning this way and that studying his profile; he really was amazed sometimes that he had survived this long. When Martha had passed away he decided he would follow her just as soon as he taken care of the funeral, now he was shocked to think that it was twenty plus years since she left.

Thirty four years a husband and almost twenty two a widower, it had been heart breaking watching her in the last twelve months of her life. She had gone from a fine buxom woman to a skeletal pathetic figure in such a short period of time; he took care of her as best he could. Outwardly he was confident and cheerful; inside he was dying a little every day just like Martha. Mervin their only son was always too busy to drive up from the city to see his ailing mother; she would always have an excuse for his absence even though George knew that inside she was devastated.

George would nod and agree that their son was a man to be proud of, a successful business man who did them proud. But inside the resentment grew stronger with each passing day, a man that would put his career before his dying mother was no one to be proud of. But George kept his own council and agreed with her; after all she had enough troubles without him adding to them.

Mervin eventually did turn up, but it was only on the morning they buried her. George struggled to stay civil towards him, and in the end he managed to do so by reminding himself it would be how she would want it. Mervin swanked about with his latest trophy wife on his arm, looking suitably grief stricken. They had hardly finished filling the grave and he was into his car and heading back to the city, George turned from the grave side and watched him leave with a feeling of resignation.

Funnily enough he thought he would have been angrier, but in the end it did not really matter. George had no intention of hanging around to build bridges with his only son; instead he had made up his mind to follow Martha just as soon as he had put his affairs in order. It wasn’t as if he had a lot to leave to anyone anyway, the medical bills and funeral costs would account for the vast majority of his life savings. After that it was just the cottage they had made their home and a couple of hundred acres of land covered in old forest, Martha had really loved it out here in the country side.

They had managed to live a reasonably idyllic lifestyle far from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, but even that would not last as the sprawling urban monstrosity crept ever closer. When they bought the property all those years ago the city was a distant place, but over the years it had followed them and was now less than a dozen miles down the road. Now that he had made up his mind, George was happy that he would not live to see the day when the city caught up with them.

It must have been just over a week after the funeral when he decided it was time for him to join Martha. Everything had been dealt with; Mervin was to get the cottage and whatever cash was left after his burial. But the land on which the forest stood would be bequeathed to the preservation society as a wildlife sanctuary; it kind of tickled him to know Mervin would be furious. His son had mentioned it on a number of occasions that the land would be prime development property once the city arrived on their doorstep; it was his way of showing his displeasure with his son.

It was a bright frosty morning when George walked deep into the forest, carrying the length of rope he had purchased from the village hardware. The bird song filled the air and the air was fragrant with the scent of nature, a morning Martha would have gloried in. I shall tell her all about it when I see her he thought as he drank in the sights, sounds and fragrances; he wanted to remember everything in order to be able to describe it to her. George stopped in the clearing with the big old oak tree; this was one of her favorite places and a fitting place to start his journey to her. George spent a while longer taking in his last view of this earth, he felt not an ounce of fear or regret. It was like leaving one country to begin a new life in another, all he felt was a giddy anticipation for the unknown things to come.

George stood precariously balanced on a log and placed the rope around his neck, he placed the knot carefully to one side of the back of his neck. As George stood there taking a last look at his surroundings, his thoughts were a jumbled mess. His mind jumping between scenes of their life together, and hopes that it would be quick and painless. Then he kicked the log from beneath his feet, the pain was excruciating for a few moments and he thought his head would burst.

Then a strange calmness came over him and he could see her waiting for him at the edge of the clearing, it was just how he had imagined it. Then he had the strangest sensation of hands pulling him away from her and backwards at an enormous speed, he cried out her name in anguish. He was being taken away from his beloved Martha, as a myriad of small strong hands took the weight of his body.

He felt as if he was floating to the ground, then nimble fingers were working at the area of his throat that burned like fire. George had never felt so alone and abandoned as he did at that very moment, it was more than a soul could take. To be that near to her and be unable to reach her was worse than when he had first lost her. Then at the height of his anguish, everything mercifully faded to blackness.

The first gasp of air seared his throat and chest like molten metal, he tried to cry out but only a croaking noise came from his lips. When he opened his eyes it took a while for them to regain focus, then he saw the clear blue sky above him framed by the tree tops. The fucking rope must have snapped was his first reaction, but when he tried to reach his hand towards his throat someone grabbed his hand and prevented him from moving his arm. Whoever held his arm had very small hands, like a child but much stronger. More small strong hands moved behind his head and shoulders, they helped George to a sitting position on the forest floor.

At first he was frightened when he saw what surrounded him, surely he must be hallucinating. Perhaps his suicide attempt had left him with some kind of a brain injury, later he would look back at this moment and laugh. This was to be old George’s first introduction to a race of beings that inhabited the forest, a race much older than the humans that now surrounded them. Over the years that would follow he would learn that these people were as diverse as all of mankind, ancient and wise, helpful and deadly.

George was to find a new reason to live; all of his remaining years on this earth would be spent learning about these creatures and keeping a record of all he learned of them. At first he believed that they were all the same as the kindly ones that saved him that day, but as time went on he found that there were good and evil ones, just like humans. But unlike the human race they had one cord that bound them together, the fierce urge to hide their existence and protect their environment from humans.

The striking of the old grandfather clock brought George back to the present, it was two pm and he needed to hurry. He had been invited to a celebration by his friends in the forest, it would be the only company he would have again this Christmas. They had a different reason to celebrate, but George liked to think they were doing this for him as a kind of Christmas present. Yes! He looked at it as a family Christmas get together, beside the creatures made the most exquisite spirits that would put the finest of whisky to shame. Much later George made his way home unsteadily in the darkness; he was quite inebriated and staggered along humming a Christmas carol to himself. They had offered to accompany him but he left them to get on with their party, he would be okay once he got onto the country road that led passed his cottage. George stepped from the edge of the forest onto the road surface; he never even heard the car that hit him. The drunken teenagers stopped the car for a moment, but then panicked and drove off leaving George to meet his beloved Martha.

Mervin was pacing the floor of his study like a caged animal; his world was caving in around him. All the sure fire investments he made had let him down, he was now out of options. The astute business man was staring bankruptcy square in the face, but that was not the worst of it. Mervin had persuaded some very unsavory people to invest their money with him; these people would want their pound of flesh. When the phone rang he ignored it at first, but whoever was on the other side was persistent.

Mervin listened with mounting euphoria as the county sheriff detailed the sad news; his old man had just been killed in a hit and run. He did not know whether to laugh or cry with relief, this was the best Christmas present George had ever given him. Mervin hung up without as much as a thank you for the call; he did a little dance of joy before running to the bedroom to tell his wife the good news.

She had been cold towards him ever since his fortunes were dwindling, but these glad tidings would heat her up no end. Once that forest was leveled he would be sitting on some of the most valuable development property in the history of the state. Happy Christmas George he thought to himself, for once in his miserable life his father had made him happy.

Mervin could barley restrain himself from punching the smug old attorney square in his wrinkled face, what kind of moron would allow George to just sign away all that valuable land. What he could get for the cottage and the small sum of cash would hardly keep his wife in lingerie and jewellery for a few months; he got up and stormed out of the office slamming the door behind him. Back at the cottage he vented all his anger at the meager furniture and brick-a-brac, smashing most of it to pieces.

It was then that things took another turn of events, a broken drawer turned out to have a hidden compartment. Inside this he found the leather backed journal, it was filled with his father’s neat handwriting. Mervin sat on the floor amidst the devastation and began to read the book, when he was finished he could not have been happier. This was solid proof that his father had been of unsound mind when he made the will, the old fucker had lost his marbles.

Mervin was over taken by a fit of laughing; old George had believed for years that fairies lived in the forest. This would be his ace in the hole, once this book was read out in court the whole will would be dismissed, Mervin being the soul surviving family member would inherit the whole lot.

Later as Mervin detailed his happy discovery to his wife over the phone, small strange little ears listened outside. Over the next few nights Mervin on more than one occasion awoken to strange scurrying noises in the cottage, but he put it down to either vermin or the stress he had been under. However his wife would be traveling from the city the following night, the next day they would lodge papers contesting the will.

The book detailing George’s delusions was safely tucked beneath his mattress. Once they had proved his insanity he would never have to spend another second under this roof.

They both were a little worse for wear as they made their way upstairs; the champagne had them well inebriated. They had spent the last couple of hours drinking and laughing at the vivid descriptions of Georges fairies in the book. Some of them were in fact quite fearsome by his descriptions, he really was quite insane. Mervin followed behind her with the book in one hand, his other hand busy at her stocking tops. Tonight would be a memorable one he thought as she sighed, in the room he grabbed her as she moved to turn on the lights.

He fumbled with her skirt; she laughed and switched on the lights. Mervin was on his knees his head beneath her skirt when she began to scream, he was suddenly sober. When he took his head from her skirts he too began to scream, the things were far more fearsome looking then George could have ever described. When they finished with him one of them bent and picked up the book, Mervin’s hand was still attached to it though the rest of his body was scattered about the room. Now that the creatures from the forest had what they had come for, they left quietly taking the book and the unconscious woman with them.

Ghosts of Christmas past.

Ghosts of Christmas past

Peter stood polishing glasses and facing the big ornate mirror behind the optics, he found his eyes were continuously drawn to the man at the far corner of the bar. He had been coming in every day since the start of December; he was a model customer in every way. He was polite, a big drinker and good tipper, he would sit at the same corner of the bar every day and drink his way through a bottle and a half of Irish whisky. The amazing part of it all was, he would get up and walk back out the door as if he had not touched a drop, and Peter had never seen him argue with anyone or get loud. But yet something about the man made him feel uneasy, he had spent hour after hour trying to pin point what it was but he was still none the wiser.

Now he found himself once again analyzing every little nuance of the strangers behavior, from the way he lifted his whisky glass to the way he held his cigarette. There appeared to be a faint sense of aloofness about the whisky drinker, it was almost as if he was here and yet not here. The only difference Peter could see in the man was a subtly one, the nearer it got to Christmas the longer the man stayed at the bar and the more whisky he consumed. Lately the man’s consumption of alcohol had crept up to over two bottles of Jameson a day, yet he seemed no more effected by the larger volume liquor than he had been when he started drinking here. The man still walked from the bar the same way he had entered, he remained sure of foot and without a hint of slur in his voice.

Long after the last punter had staggered home, Peter remained behind the bar cleaning up. However tonight he just could not concentrate on his work, his mind was filled with off the wall theories regarding his mystery punter. This whole thing was getting more ridiculous by the day, why in the name of god he should be obsessed by this man was beyond him. This was a busy downtown bar and all kinds came through the doors, even more so during the festive season.

It was not as if Peter was a rookie at this job, he had been tending bar in different cities since he was a teenager, he always believed he had seen and heard it all. Yet here he found himself obsessing over this guy like a school girl over a high school football star, he wondered if he was beginning to lose his marbles. Maybe he needed some time off to build a life for himself; it just was not healthy to find yourself too interested in the lives of others. Peter had only one more chore and that was him finished for another night, he just had to wipe down the counter top and put the bar stools up.

He lifted the bar mat and gasped at what lay beneath, the guy was a good tipper but this was ridiculous. A crisp hundred dollar bill was folded neatly beneath the beer mat, this over generous tip just serving to reignite his obsessive curiosity about the man. Later as Peter made his way home through the empty streets he made himself a promise, he would sit down with the mystery man and try to have a chat with him. Then he would attempt to put his burning curiosity out of his mind for once and for all, after all the guy would eventually disappear off the radar just as quickly as he arrived.

The next couple of nights were hectic at the bar; many of the local offices were having their Christmas drinks parties. Peter had hardly the time to bless himself and the whisky drinker faded from his mind, the big day was looming large on the horizon and silly season was in full flight. He suddenly found himself in great demand, not only as a bar keep but as a confessor and target for quite a few tipsy office girls. It always amazed him just how amorous some ladies felt when they had drink on board, he had quite a collection of phone numbers given to him that he would never use.

The same ladies, who whispered the most outrageous things in his ear when drunk, would scarcely look in his direction when they were sober. One thing was for sure, the Christmas time brought huge celebrations and equal amounts of guilty regrets. Peter went about his job and watched the carnage that was the season of goodwill, but did his best to remain detached from the helter-skelter of emotions fueled by the liquor.

It was the day before Christmas Eve before the stranger entered his mind again; he had left a colleague looking after the bar while he popped out for some last minute shopping. When Peter got back to the bar, the stranger sat in his usual corner. His colleague whispered urgently in his ear, telling him the guy was well into a bottle of whisky. The bar had not yet begun to fill up; and only a handful of punters came and went. At some stage during the quiet period, Peter found he was alone in the bar with the stranger.

Peter filled a large glass of Jameson and left it in front of the man, wishing him a happy Christmas. Moments passed in silence before the man lifted his head and thanked Peter; there was an unfathomable look in the man’s eyes. Something crossing between pain and sadness, then he spoke softly. “Many happy returns my friend, may it pass quickly and take its ghosts with it”. A cold shiver passed quickly down Peter’s spine, something about the man’s reply conjured dark images in the back of his mind. Peter stood there for what seemed an eternity and could not think of anything to say, in the end he returned to polishing the glasses and watching the whisky drinker in the mirror.

An urgent little voice in the back of Peter’s mind warned him to give the man a wide berth; it was as if he suddenly discovered the stranger carried something terrible and contagious. But for some inexplicable reason he was now more curious than ever regarding this man, the small voice in his head spoke more urgently, “Curiosity killed the cat” it said.

This night turned out to be another hectic one and Peter was run off his feet, at the end of the night he exhaustedly ushered the last drunk out. After securing the door he returned to the bar to find the stranger still seated in the corner, briefly he wondered how he had missed him while clearing the last stragglers out. Peter’s first impulse was to storm over to the man and aggressively ask the man to leave, but the urge to learn what was the man’s story, had not gone away. Peter was no novice when it came to drinking, but after a little over an hour he found he was slurring his words. The man had a tolerance for alcohol like no one he had ever seen, it was as if the whisky had turned to water in his glass.

They had been chatting and sinking whisky for the past hour and Peter had barely managed to get any meaningful conversation from the stranger. At this rate he would pass out from drink before the man told him anything, in the end the Dutch courage took over and he asked the man straight out. This is where things really began to get interesting, either the man was totally delusional or he was taking the piss out of Peter big time.

He told Peter a story straight from the pages of a horror novel, what really put the icing on the cake was when he told Peter he could prove his story. By now the drink was really kicking in and Peter was past the point of rescue, in for a penny in for a pound he told himself as he locked up and they left the bar.

Peter did his best to will himself sober; he had made some colossally poor decisions through drink in his time. But this had to be the daddy of all his stupid moves, here he was steaming drunk, in a car with a man who had consumed over two bottles of whisky driving him to god knows where. If that was not bad enough the stranger was taking him to see the ghosts that haunted him at Christmas, this was insanity at its best.

By the time they reached the big house on the outskirts of the city, he was beginning to sober up. But before he had a chance to demand the man take him back to the bar, the stranger was at the door unlocking it. Judging by the size of the house and grounds it was easy to see how the stranger could afford those generous tips. With little choice left to him Peter followed the man inside, he found himself in opulent surroundings of a bygone era.

The stranger stood in a doorway at the far end of a long hallway; he beckoned to Peter to follow. By now all but the smallest of effects remained from the whisky as the adrenaline pumped through Peter’s system. With pounding heart he walked into the huge living room, if the things seated around the room had ever been human it must have been a very long time ago, they whispered among themselves in strange lisping tones. The scream from Peter was cut short as the stranger pulled the razor sharp blade across his throat, just before the darkness took over completely the man spoke. “I am sorry Peter but they always insist on more company for Christmas”.

 

Santa’s little helpers.

santa's little helpers

Philip pressed his face against the cold plate glass of the shop front; he cupped his hands around his head to block off the glare. As he watched in awe at the long line of parents and children in their fine clothes, some day if he ever got money he would be in that queue too. Philip gasped in total disbelief at how badly some of the children behaved, one little boy was throwing a tantrum and actually kicked his mother in the shin. A little blonde girl with a Shirley Temple hair style stuck her half eaten candy cane in the hair of a girl in front of her.

To his total dismay the parents of these children chose to ignore the deplorable behavior of their off spring. Surely Father Christmas would reprimand them for their unacceptable behavior, but again to his shock these very same brats returned from Santa’s lap carrying magical looking packages wrapped in fine paper. Perhaps Santa had looked away just as they committed their poor behavior, after all Father Christmas was a very busy man. For the umpteenth time Philip checked his pocket to make sure he had not lost the little piece of paper with his list on it, his list consisted of two lines.

His first request was for some medicine so as his mothers back did not ache so much after work, the second was a single toy soldier for himself. Just one would do if he could get one a year he could build up a collection. He watched and waited patiently in his threadbare clothes doing his best to ignore the biting wind, occasionally he would leave his vantage point and stamped his feet and flap his arms to try and dispel the cold.

Hours later he still stood in the same spot, his tummy rumbled with the hunger and he was freezing. By now most of the lights in the big store had been turned out and the long queue at the grotto was down to the last stragglers. As soon as the last child left Philip nipped down the alleyway at the side of the store, here he waited at the back door for another quarter of an hour in the freezing cold. When the metal door swung open he felt his heart start to pound with excitement, the sight of the man with the red suit managed to dispel the cold and tiredness from him. Philip timidly approached the man and clearing his throat he managed to speak, “Santa can I give you my list”

The heavy set man turned towards him, but instead of a cheerful smile he wore a scowl of anger. Philip cowered back as the man snapped the paper from his hand; the tears started when the man screwed up his list and threw it to the ground. The man’s voice was hoarse and filled with anger when he spoke, ” Piss of kid, I am off duty”. Then he pushed pass Philip knocking him to the cold ground.

Philip crawled to the wall and sat with his back to it, he could barely breathe from crying. He watched the Santa from the store walk away without a backward glance; Philip was left alone and devastated in the alleyway. Well at least he felt alone, but in the shadows at the far end of the alleyway, strange yellow eyes watched the drama unfold.

Christopher Collins was probably the last man on earth that anyone could accuse of being good with children, yet every year he got four weeks of well paid employment as a store Santa. His only qualification being the fact that he was obese and vaguely looked like Santa, that was where the similarities began and ended. Christopher was a foul mouthed bad humored drunk; every relationship that he ever had was ended by his quick temper and quicker fists.

Christopher did have kids of his own but they would be adults by now, many years ago he had come home on Christmas Eve drunk and in foul humour. When his long suffering wife asked him for housekeeping money, he had beaten her badly and walked out leaving her bleeding on the floor and his three young kids in hysterical tears.

Christopher went straight from his shift to the nearest tavern, where he sat at a bar drinking neat whisky as fast as the bar keep could pour them. He hated Christmas and he hated kids. All day long he had to sit there while the snotty nosed little bastards sat on his lap begging for presents.

The only thing that got him through this job was the disturbed little fantasies he conjured up in his twisted mind, he would sit there as the kids lined up and fantasise about taking an axe to them. On more than one occasion in different towns he had been fired for cursing at kids and parents, this whole Christmas lark made him sick.

The more Christopher drank the more he fumed and felt sorry for himself; he soon got loud and unruly. In the end the bar keep had to physically ejected him, when he started ranting at the top of his voice about fucking Santa and the bastard kids. He lay on the path outside the bar raving until they threatened to call the cops, so he pulled himself to his feet and started down the street on unsteady legs. In the back of his liquor befuddled mind a plan was formulating, he had a spare key to the back door of the store.

He had stolen it from the office just for an occasion like this; he was too drunk to drive and had no intention of paying a taxi fare to his digs and back again in the morning. No he would slip in the back door and sleep it off in the toy store room at the back, he would be awake well before the shop opened and would slip out for breakfast.

Christopher stood swaying at the entrance of the alleyway; he looked up and down the street to make sure the coast was clear. Then when he was sure no one was watching he hurried down the alleyway, happy with the fact that he had managed to gain entry without being observed.

However for the second time that day Christopher was observed doing something he should not do, the eyes that saw him may have been a strange yellow color and not quite human. But they had already taken measure of Christopher and the man he was, they flitted between the drunk and the crumpled piece of paper the little boy had handed to Christopher earlier. Just as Christopher closed the door behind him, several more pairs of yellow eyes locked onto him.

It was the night before Christmas Eve and Christopher’s whisky sodden mind could never have imagined what this season would bring him. Inside the building the drunken man fumbled his way through the darkness, while outside in the shadows strange lisping voices formulated their own plan of action.

Christopher lay curled up in a drunken stupor among the toy soldiers and other toys, his snores could be heard on the top floor of the big shop. Christopher snored right up until the end; his last view when he did wake was the circle of strange yellow eyes staring at him. His final sensations were of excruciating pain and a mind full of regrets on how life had treated him.

As the last of Christopher Collins’s miserable life drained from him, small claw like hands gathered toys from the floor around him. They sorted through them being careful to discard the ones stained with blood; elsewhere in the department store other small hands went through the shelves of the pharmacy department.

Philip lay curled in a fetal position beneath the thin blanket; he tried to concentrate on the Christmas’s before his dad had gone to heaven. In the end he fell asleep to the sound of his mother’s soft crying from the kitchen below, his last conscious thought was he could do without the soldier if only Santa would bring the medicine for mum.

The following morning Philip woke to the most amazing sight he had ever seen, he leapt from his bed and ran down stairs; his mother was asleep at the kitchen table. She woke to his excited cries, “Mum, mum Santa has come and brought what I wished for and far more” He led her upstairs and now it was her turn to be excited. “I knew that man at the store was not the real Santa” Philip cried. “The real Santa has yellow eyes, I saw them last night”.

Churchyard Halloween.

A churchyard Halloween

The two things he hated most about this time of year were the fucking mountains of dead leaves he had to clear, and those dam kids that thought it was funny to play tricks on him. The autumn always seemed to bring the worst out in those spoilt brats. Last year he had damn near soiled his britches over them. He had collected a pile of dead leaves to burn in the far corner of the graveyard behind the church, but moments after he set them aflame there was an almighty bang that near scared him to death. Those snotty nosed little bastards had hidden fireworks in the leaves while he was at lunch; the sound of their spiteful laughter still rang in his ears. Those degenerates had hidden behind the gravestones and just laughed at him, while he stood there shaking in his boots.

Being the care taker of St Vincent’s church and cemetery was not exactly his dream job; but back when he had started first George thought it was only a temporary thing. He had thought of it as just a job to tide him over, until he got something better. But if he was truthful with himself it was the only job he could ever hold down, the vicars that came and went over the years by and large tended to turn a blind eye to his short comings. Mind you he did not really see them as short comings, but one or two of the vicars had mentioned them to him over the years. The truth of it was that George Crimmins was a foul tempered, lazy git, not to mention a hopeless drunk.

The sun was shining but the air was so cold George’s breath made vapor clouds when he exhaled, it had been blowing a storm during the night and the pathways in the church grounds were ankle deep in Sycamore leaves. He really did hate this time of year, he hated the cold and he hated the extra work load. He put his hand into the inside breast pocket of his donkey jacket and pulled out the flat bottle of whisky, it was still only nine a.m. but George was already half pickled. His breakfast had consisted of two cuts of burnt toast and three cups of tea topped up with Scotch, if it was summer he would already be taking a nap behind one of the headstones.

This particular morning in mid-October found him in an even more miserable mood than usual, yet another new Vicar had been appointed to St Vincent’s. The old one having been retired due to ill health, George had liked working under the old Vicar. Due mainly to the fact that the Vicar had been suffering from the early stages of dementia, the old fool scarcely knew what day it was and this left George pretty much to his own devices. This and the fact that the Halloween season would be in full flight shortly, those kids found it funny to torment him even more at this time of year. These combined factors were a source of major malcontent for him, and hence his inebriation even earlier than usual this morning.

The sound of someone clearing their throat behind him, made George almost topple over. He had been leaning against one of the old crypts and had dozed off. He turned quickly with the intention of delivering a mouthful of profanity to whoever had startled him; but luckily he just about managed to bite back the words before they escaped his lips. The tall man wearing the clerical garb towered over him scowling, even in his intoxicated state George immediately recognized the fact he was looking at his new boss. The new Vicar stood there with an expression on his face like thunder. A bull dog chewing a wasp came to mind and George almost sniggered out loud.

The Vicar moved closer and leaned his head forward towards George’s face; he inhaled through his nose and moved back quickly. The color of the man’s face was turning puce now, and the look in his eyes was pure anger. “After lunch I want you to go inside and remove the cobwebs that are hanging everywhere in the church, the place looks liked it has been abandoned. Things are going to change around here Mr Crimmins and you had better get used to that fact, I will not tolerate tardiness, laziness or drunkenness. This is a centre of worship Mr Crimmins and not some place for you to while away your drunken hours.”

George was struck speechless by this unexpected onslaught, and could only nod his head in mute acknowledgement that he had understood the man’s instructions. The tall priest turned on his heels and left in quickstep form, George watched him leave with a growing sense of bewilderment. He had worked under six different Vicars over the years, but this one already looked like he was going to be the worst. George took the whiskey bottle from inside his coat and took a good belt to steady his nerves, a couple of more swallows later and his shock had begun to turn to anger. How dare that cheeky prick of a vicar speak to him like that, he had thirty years of service given to this parish. Thirty years of hard graft deserved better than the way he had just been treated, in the few short minutes since he had met his new boss George Crimmins had already developed a strong hatred of the man.

If he thought he hated his job before this, then he suddenly found a whole new level of dissatisfaction with it now. Rev Mathew Higgins might just have been put on this earth to torment George, every morning a fresh list of chores was pinned to the tool shed door for him. If that was not bad enough the vicar made a habit of visiting him on the job at least twice a day, he would suddenly appear as if out of thin air. One moment George would be alone and then out of nowhere Higgins would materialize, the tall man did not even try to hide the fact that he sniffed the air close to Georges face to see if he had been drinking. George began to call these little visits hid daily sobriety test, but it really pissed him off. The whiskey had always helped him get through the day, now the days dragged on as if they were in slow motion.

The tines of the rake snagged on something heavy hidden beneath the dead leaves, “fucking branch” George muttered to himself. Using the toe of his boot he pushed the leaves back from whatever the tines were stuck in, the high pitched scream echoed around the church yard. It took him a few moments to realize that high pitched scream had come from him, the severed arm caught on the tines of the rake held his gaze hypnotically. When it seemed to move he screamed again at the top of his voice, he dropped the rake and turned to run. The tall man standing directly behind him solicited a fresh bout of screaming from the hapless George. It was only when the vicar grabbed his shoulders in a vice like grip and shook him, did George manage to gain some control self-control.

“What in the name of God is wrong with you man, have you been drinking on the job again?” The Vicar pulled George closer to him and stuck his big snout in his face sniffing his breath, George just stood there whimpering like a frightened puppy. “Come on man pull yourself together, what is the matter with you?” George tried to answer but he could not get the words out, instead he just pointed a trembling hand in the direction of the object that had terrified him. The bigger man roughly shoved him one side, and strode purposefully towards the severed limb that appeared to trying to dislodge itself from the tines. The vicar picked the grotesque object up and pulled it from the tines; he pushed the arm in the direction of George’s face.

A strange whirring sound emanated from the arm, the Vicar turned it over in his hands until he found the switch. When he moved the switch the arm ceased wriggling, up close now it was plain even to George’s terrified mind that the arm was just a cheap rubber prop. The Vicar muttered something under his breath and threw the arm to the ground, and then he treated George to a withering look of disdain before striding off. The Vicar had no sooner disappeared from sight, when George heard them. The little bastards were hiding somewhere in the sea of headstones and laughing at him, he picked up the arm and threw it as hard as he could in the direction he thought they were hiding. All this served to do was make them laugh harder at his expense, it was still a week until Halloween and they were already making his life a misery.

The next couple of days found George in a deepening spiral of anger and depression, those damn kids had made him look like a complete imbecile in front of the Vicar. Not that the Vicar needed much prompting to think badly about him, George would dearly have liked to tell the Vicar to shove his job up his backside. But he was in no position to do this; after all he needed this job. So George reverted to his normal coping mechanism whiskey, come five p.m. every day he was out the gates and down to his local pub. There he would down a couple of swift ones, before picking up a bottle from the attached off license to see him through the night. The unfortunate part of it all was the more whisky he drank, the deeper his anger and shame grew.

The night of Halloween George left the pub a little more under the weather than usual; he stopped by the church yard gates and opened the bottle of whiskey. Leaning against the giant Sycamore he took a couple of stiff hits from the bottle, it was cold tonight and he had a bit to walk yet. He had just put the bottle carefully back in his pocket when something caught his eye, lights moving slowly through the old part of the cemetery. Down there the graveyard was populated with elaborate crypts, the graves of the old gentry. Fucking kids was the first thing that came to his mind; it was not the first time they had tried to break into these crypts. Bolstered by the alcohol and his desire for revenge, George crept in the direction of those lights being careful to use the headstones for cover.

George watched the group of people from a safe distance, it was hard to tell if they were kids or not but he was willing to bet it was the same ones that had tormented him. He watched as the group holding lanterns walk slowly in the direction of a large old tomb, suddenly they seemed to just up and vanish. It took a long time for his befuddle mind to figure out what had just happened, but then it came to him. That old tomb had an entrance at ground level, a large granite slab that hid stone steps leading into the tomb itself. What were those brats up to he wondered? Then a plan suddenly came to him, he could get those little bastards back for all they did to him, and he could also prove to the new Vicar that he was no moron.

The granite slab was proving a lot heavier than George had anticipated, but he was not going to let this opportunity go a begging. He eventually manged to move it from where it leaned on the tomb wall, it fell back into place with a hollow thump. Through a small crack between the slab and ground he could still see a faint glow from the lanterns; also he could here strange angry sounds. George smiled to himself with satisfaction and hurried away to put the final part of his plan into action. The Vicar stood in the doorway in his dressing gown, a look of anger and dismay on his face. But George was not backing down this time; he had every intention of showing those kids and his new boss that he was not a man to be trifled with.

The entire walk back to the graveyard the Vicar mumbled angrily under his breath, George could not hear most of it but he did here the word drunk and something about him getting the sack. However nothing the holy man could say now would dampen his spirits, a long reckoning had come at last and those kids were about to get their just rewards. When they got to the tomb the Vicar stood there with a condescending look on his face, he held the lantern aloft and looked at George as if he was mad. With a feeling of great satisfaction George pointed at the ground, the crack of light was plainly visible and the sounds were clear to be heard. When the Vicar looked down his expression soon changed.

If it was hard to close the entrance to the tomb then it was even harder to reopen it, the ground appeared to have formed some kind of suction on the granite slab. The two men pulled and dragged for all they were worth with no luck, all the time they worked the angry mutterings from beneath them grew more intense. He really hoped those kids were peeing their pants, in the end he had to take the Vicar’s lantern and go to the shed for tools. With the help of a shovel and crow bar they finally manged to get some lift on the slab, they prised up one side and they both lifted it. The Vicar grabbed the light and headed down the steps, leaving George to hold the slab in place.

The man of the cloth paused on the steps and glanced back at George, the condescending arrogance he usually displayed was noticeably absent now. It was replaced with an apprehensive look and George felt great satisfaction in this, the vicar seemed to sense this and dug deep inside for courage. With a show of false bravado the vicar turned and went into the bowels of the crypt, the sounds from inside had stopped now and he could hear the footsteps of the vicar on the stone floor. Then total silence descended that seemed to go on for an age, the silence was eventual disturbed by a strange pitiful whimpering sound. It was not long after that the inhuman scream of fear and agony split the night; the arm that was thrown from the crypt was not false this time. It was the vicar’s right arm and it still held the lantern, George dropped the heavy stone slab back in place and hurried off. It looked very much like there will be a new boss in St Vincent’s, was his immediate thought as he left the graveyard.