15Mar

Remix Project: Story Three

Now here’s an interesting one, this time from Adrian Faulkner, who discusses his approach on his blog.

One of the things I really liked about Mark’s story was the mix of Urban and fantastical elements. I liked how it was Nike trainers and Hugo boss shirts, with ghostly tigers and spectral eagles. I wanted to try and keep some of that and my idea was to turn it on its head. Make the world fantastical and replace the fantasy element with something from the real world. It was a tall ask, but where’s the fun in writing if it couldn’t all go terribly wrong.

I’m also a big proponent of traditional fantasy tropes still being of relevance. And I think that’s what I also wanted to do here. Tell a story of Elves and different houses of magic to show how it can be used to tell a story about race, prejudice and arranged marriage. That’s nothing new really, but I suppose that’s me injecting an element of my style into the story. But at the same time, in-jokes to stew at the tavern aside, I wanted there to be a contemporary elements so that you knew you were reading a fantasy story written in the 21st century, not the 1970s.

I really like stripping away the contemporary elements – I’d not expected anyone to do that, but I think it’s certainly one of the wonderful quirks of this remix project, to see the various approaches and thought-processes used by different writers.

If you want to see the whole remix project discussion and stories, click on the category label.

Salam glances over his shoulder across the street where painted signs offer every kind of provision at a discount rate. Scents of garlic and spiced oils and breads cling to his leather jerkin. Fire mages huddle together, casually watching passers by. They step in and out of evening shadows.

Enchants echo from shop doorways. Love potions, cheap as chutney. Carts lurching down the potted track, almost running over his feet, although they’re less confrontational than the routes he remembers back in Kamr, but this is Charania, and even though he is in the middle of the Elven community, on a street where you can buy kobolds for less than a single gold piece, and visit a bazaar on the noonday, weather permitting, he feels more exposed than a dwarf in the forest of Tewnon.

As long as Salam is in people’s vision—under anyone’s gaze—he knows he can remain safe. In some hidden corner they’re probably watching him, waiting for him to make that mistake of stepping where none of the city’s many guard patrols can see you. It makes meeting Baseema so much more difficult, but there isn’t much choice. Perhaps he should find somewhere more discreet, but here, in front of everyone, he hopes at least he can meet her without a direct threat.

‘Jamvullir.’ The word is whispered from the darkness. Could have been spoken by any number of people. He knows the obscenity is directed at him from someone who wants to kill him, someone from his own community. A fire disciple wouldn’t do his research to be so offensive—street boys use the usual ‘Washy’ and follow it up with a fist or a blade. Salam’s dealt with that before, sure, beaten up anyone who’s tried it on, left them bleeding in the street. He’s had his fair share, too, like most Elven kids—punches to the ribcage, knives to the throat. By street urchins twenty years ago, thieves with more elegant clothes now. Or caught between Satyr gangs pitching for turf of stone and wood.

Politicians have other things to talk about. In this city it’s all about the Giants these days anyway, and no one looks upon this street, the one someone took right out of the Elven Kingdoms.

He has a nagging sensation he’s out of his depth.

With no one stopping to make more of it, he assigns the comment to his paranoia.

Finally, a carriage pulls up.

A girl opens the coach door, makes a move to get out, then pauses.

She gestures for him to come to her, the subtle and teasing tilt of the wrist. Black hair, black dress. Gold and red bangles next to the jewel-encrusted bag like she’s stepping right out of the plays he sees when he visits his Aunt Jaswinder. This girl is his Rai. His Goddess of Fire. Next to her he’s the Water God Khan, all ruffled hair and high cheekbones, a dazzling lightning-white smile, and every bit as fragrant. If this was one of the plays, a bard would be singing a song as he sees her, and he knows it.

Cautiously, she beckons him to the carriage—a small gesture, a tilt of the wrist. He looks around, straightens the collar on his jacket, flips up his sleeve to reveal his new bracelets and rings. Then he struts.

Her name is Baseema and she’s all he ever dreamed of.

Trouble is, like most dreams, she’s almost out of reach.

The coach door closes. Cartwheels rattle. The carriage heads out past the gaol, up towards the City walls with a lurch that forces them into an embrace that would’ve happened anyway. Inside the carriage they kiss, unable to let go, tongue sliding over tongue. It might be out of sheer desperation for their situation. Might even be the danger. Or it could simply be because they’re teenagers in love. Salam can’t be certain of which.

He looks at her.

‘I’ve missed you,’ Salam says. ‘I tried to get a message—’

‘He intercepted all the messengers.’

‘Your father?’

She nods. ‘I’ve not got long.’

‘Where we going?’

‘Who knows,’ she says, and he doesn’t want to think about any of the double meanings behind her words.

When they kiss again he notices something’s not quite right, the texture of her lips perhaps.

With all the suddenness of a thunderclap, she lurches back, holds his face, and says, ‘Salam, he’s going to kill us.’

‘Oh.’

—–

‘Baseema, you have brought upon this household great shame,’ her father said, his eyes full of contempt, hands energised glowing red with fire magic. His usual pose, in his usual grey trousers, blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

‘I know, Father, I’m sorry.’ She looked left. She looked down. She looked anywhere but at him.

‘This will not do. He is a water disciple.’

‘He doesn’t take it seriously though,’ Baseema said.

‘This is supposed to make it better, no? A boy with half a faith? Accha! I have lined up for you a good fire apprentice and this is how you treat me. You kiss him, your hands all over him. And in public! And your wedding to Anish is entering the planning stage. And do you know what people will be saying about me? This isn’t good for the temple.’

‘But I love him!’ Baseema said, tears pooling on the tip of her chin.

‘I won’t hear anymore of it.’ He moved to strike her, then paused, as if to think better of it, something he seldom did. ‘Go help your mother. Now.’

‘But, I do. I really do love him.’

‘His reputation is bad. He has no future.’

‘He’s got a job—’

‘Selling pots and earthenware, no? And a water disciple with no rune markings! Useless boy. I won’t have it, and that’s my final word. Would you dare go against my word? I’ll burn you.’ He stood, his hands glowing redder as if to say, Try me, just try me, and maybe he would next time.

She shook her head, then left the room to the distant sounds of enchants to the fire goddess while her Uncle Indra nodded his head to the rhythms as if in a permanent state of trance.

—–

‘I can’t run forever,’ Salam says. ‘I can’t keep hiding like this. We’re always, like, having to get from place to place really quickly. I don’t like it.’

They are running through the city centre, heading towards the town square, the rain pooling in the muddy streets. Old ladies with tiny parasols. Young ladies in soaked summer dresses. Dwarves sitting in the taverns laughing at everything, smoking. Gnomes, trolls, goblins—every race with something to live for except Salam and Baseema, whose dangerous love affair has become the talk of their neighbourhood. Salam is annoyed. No father to turn to, no mother to help him out. All he has is Baseema, and she’s part of the problem.

‘But he’ll kill you,’ Baseema says. ‘He’s said as much. If he sees us together he’ll beat me again. Look at this—’ She lifts up the sleeve of her black dress to reveal a burn across her arm.

‘Bas,’ Salam says, in a state of shock. ‘How could he—’

‘He gets what he wants. You know how important his reputation is. I’ve overheard him talking, you know. Now people are, like, looking for you.’

‘We could leave the city,’ Salam says, filling with hope. ‘We could go together. Go anywhere! Make a start. Change our names. Mr and Mrs Sanjay Underhill.’

‘He has acolytes everywhere! He’d find us.’

‘Then what d’you suggest?’ Salam says, his hands out wide, rain streaking down his shirt.

‘I’ve told you, you’ll find out when we’re there.’

‘Where the hell’s there?’

‘Down there.’ She indicates the main street down towards the Western gate.

‘Where we going?’

‘To solve our crisis.’

They set off down the street, dodging puddles, rain still falling, a cluster of faces damp and miserable. They head west across the city, holding hands, staring around, examining every face for signs of murder.

Luckily, there is none, and upon realising this, in the sanctum of this side of the city, they kiss again, Salam’s hands sliding in an explorative fashion along Baseema’s drenched thigh. There are so many words for love in Elfish and the common tongue yet none of them describe what he feels. What she is to him transcends language, transcends culture. Nothing can describe this most simple of emotions.

If only her father would agree, she thinks, realising that not all fathers in her culture think like he does.

Ten minutes later they are near the Western gate, near the small cluster of shops set into the city walls. They walk past the gatehouse, then back down a lane of houses much more glamorous than Salam’s lodgings. Maybe one day he’ll save enough to live somewhere this nice, somewhere for him and Baseema. The rain ceases, the air a little fresher than before. Baseema pulls him to an oak door.

‘Here we are,’ she says.

‘What?’

‘The answer to our problems. Now, Salam, I want you to be careful. Treat this woman with the greatest of respect.’

‘Who is she?’ He stares into her bright round eyes that seem nestled more than usual into the dark delights of her face. All he wants is to be with her. Is that too much to ask?

‘Dyrnb.’

The word strikes Salam hard. Witch.

They knock on the door. Baseema points out plants in a window box above the entrance. Roses. Buddleias. Mint. Rosemary.

The dull churn of the street in the distance.

The door opens of it’s own accord, like some ridiculous stories of witchcraft. Smells of spices. Wafts of incense smoke. A vague drone of enchanting. And there is something otherworldly that Salam can’t place. Apart from that one sensation, it doesn’t much look or feel like the residence of a witch.

‘Kach! Well don’t just stand there,’ a voice shouts, heavily accented. ‘You’re letting out the heat of the fire. I’m not made of money!’

With more bustle than a street market crowd, Salam and Baseema enter the house and shut the door. An old woman hobbles down the stairs in traditional fire clan clothing, both her floorboards and ankles creaking, then when she reaches the bottom she eyes them with an intensity Salam hasn’t known since before his grandmother died three years ago. ‘Salam. Baseema. You’re here at last.’

‘How . . . ‘ Salam says. ‘How did you know our names?’

‘Kach!’ she says, waving her hands in despair, surprisingly energetic for someone so old. ‘Baseema sent word to me yesterday.’ She regards Baseema. ‘Where did you find such a bright one, no?’ The old woman limps into another room, indicating for them to follow. ‘Come, come.’

After they are seated on the floor in a room covered with drapes, the woman—the Dyrnb—brings sweetcakes and tea.

‘What is it you want? Tell me,’ the witch says.

Salam shrugs, stares at Baseema, who, with a sigh, begins their story.

After ten minutes the witch gazes towards them, and it occurs to Salam that her eyes are stereophonic, pointing in different directions. In another room, a chant reaches a crescendo.

‘You wish for protection only?’

A silence.

She points to Baseema. ‘Speak!’

Baseema says, ‘I don’t want my father hurting. I just need to know that Salam and I can be safe. Safer, at least. We’re desperate. Please, help us.’

‘A simple task, although the will of the gods will determine the full outcome,’ the witch says, then leaves momentarily in a haze of aromatic smoke. She returns with a plate, and several tiny gold statues. Salam notes they are of hooded men. The witch spits on them, scrapes her saliva in patterns around the plate, begins an incantation in a language that is nearing Elfish, then drifts beyond that, a hushed murmuring that possibly transcends any understanding. Smoke sizzles up from the statues and for a brief moment Salam thinks ghosts have entered the room. It happens so quickly he can’t be certain.

‘It is done, isn’t it,’ the witch says.

‘What, just like that?’ Salam says. He wants to ask more questions, but the look she gives him informs says that this would be unwise.

—–

Baseema smiled awkwardly at the introduction. It wasn’t as though he was offensive, was it? It was more the fact that he hadn’t asked for the introduction at all, and neither had she.

She liked to decide things for herself. She decided to wear long flowing dresses when Uncle Indra suggested that the low cut top might be perfect for such a day, again—and when he wasn’t trying to dictate her fashion he was fixed to the women of ill repute who walked the streets with all those hip-swaggers and body shapes and the wide eyes and blinding smiles, so Baseema was perfectly entitled to wear what she wanted to, thank you very much. Besides, it wasn’t as though he didn’t spend enough time in the taverns, drinking and watching the girls dance. Every other day there would be some questionable tavern he needed to run an urgent errand to. Sometimes she thought Uncle Indra would prefer to live his life in the tavern rather than the temple. In her happier days she remembered him dancing through the lounge as her mother cooked spiced meats, picking her little frame up and spiralling her around to some chant. The taverns were maybe not such a bad place. Sometimes she felt an urge to join him.

Her father insisted on her studying the ancient fire texts, that even though a woman could never become an acolyte, it would give her knowledge. Knowledge was important, young lady, knowledge will get you places. She said she didn’t want to do that, but study fashion, then it started the biggest argument, raised voices, and where her mother would end up crying into the flour. To stop her mother being upset, Baseema agreed to do what her father instructed. She knew her place. She didn’t get to make many of her decisions.

He was one of the most well respected Fire mages in the Eastern Hemisphere. A man at the helm of dozens of temples, and had his own man servants,, yessir. His empire included stables, taverns, a string of farms from Nap to Millan. Fingers in other pies, too, but she rarely knew about those, and he never spoke of them. A proud man, he was a noted member of the community, a donator to charity when he could afford it, and a demon equestrian, in the fashion—so he always claimed—of the great warrior Dwant Anubit.

It was her father who had made this next decision, to arrange for this meeting with this apprentice, someone no older than she was and who seemed more frightened than was really necessary for the occasion.

‘Hullo,’ the apprentice said.

‘Hi.’

They held each others gaze for about a second, maybe less. Whilst their families clustered like storm clouds, she looked away into the distance, with troubled thoughts. Would this be the man she spent the rest of her life with?

She was so bored of him already, and he’d only said the one word.

‘This is Anish,’ her father said. ‘He is being training to be a mage, isn’t that right Anish? Top cent-per-cent.’

Anish nodded.

Her father slapped the young lad on the back. ‘Anish’s father owns several temples in the Northlands. I think such a union would be proud for our family, no? Don’t you think so?’

Too skinny, she thought. No muscles. Too quiet. Too ugly. His nose is the size of the Raja Islands. More to the point, he wasn’t someone she chose. She wanted Salam. Handsome, dangerous Salam. An air of mystery about him. Someone who could make her laugh. It didn’t matter he didn’t have a proper future. He made her feel so wonderful, so aroused. When he kissed her, new realms were opened up. Salam was a passionate man. And his eyes were to die for.

Would there be any choice in this? Is this really how things were in the Twenty-fifth Cycle of the White Mage? It wasn’t as though she hated arranged marriages—she had known some very happy outcomes. Years of bliss. Some of her friends still wanted to be wed in such a way, made things easy for them. It was just that it wasn’t for her. Her heart wasn’t in it. Her heart was elsewhere. Her heart was with Salam.

The apprentice in front of her was nothing more than a business transaction.

‘Baseema?’ her father said. ‘You would think this would serve our family well, this union?’

‘Yes, father.’

—–

Forest Row, 4a.m. All Salam’s loose change has been invested in ale and stew, and he’s shambling across streets he knows aren’t safe at this time of night. He doesn’t care. Tonight he has managed to see Baseema in Median, best tavern in the city. A Dwarf bard butchered traditional Elfish jigs and should not be forgiven for his sins. However, Salam has, for the moment, got his fix of love.

It comes back to him in staccato drunken images—

Dancing with Baseema. Hands on her waist for much of the evening. Standing in shadows, his lips over hers as the crowd clap and the music thump in time. He remembers licking up her neck. Remembers her sitting on his lap near the fire. Ale, a crown a pint, a bargain. The two of them. No one else. No family interfering, denying them the only thing they want.

Now, his Ale drunk and him needing to urinate in the next half hour, stew beginning churn in his stomach, Salam stumbles, drunken, across the vacant streets of the city. How much longer will he have to put up with this secrecy, this torturous hiding?

Two noises—he knows daggers have been drawn. Salam looks around, can see nothing in the weak moonlight.

‘Salam . . . ‘ The voice is vaguely recognisable although three figures walk in front of a closed shop in which last summer you could charms and poultices for the price of a loaf of bread.

The streets are a blur. ‘Who—?’

‘Leave her alone, Washy. You’ve already been told to get away from her. Call this your final warning, yes?’

Salam lurches backwards from the three tall men. Elves, linen around their mouths, hoods drawn down low. Six inch blades in the hands of two of them.

The other holds a long wooden pole, points it in Salam’s direction.

‘Leave who alone?’ Salam says, thinking it a useless thing to say.

‘If it isn’t you, Salam, it’s gonna be her. You’ll both be dead. You don’t want that. Just leave her alone.’

Before he knows it the pole is brought into his stomach repeatedly, folding him to a right angle. He throws up down his silk shirt he bought cheap from a trader in the markets. Salam falls backwards, clutches the wall for stability. The pole is driven onto his back and he falls forward into the wall, then onto his knees, vaguely aware of his grazing, glad that the alcohol is numbing his pain. He crouches like a dog, spits the last of his sick on the pavement. A boot into his ribs, into his face, and Salam coughs blood.

To one side he suddenly notices a shape—notices it only because it glows white. It is an ethereal business, a brightness not a lit torch can match. His pummelling ceases as the three men step back. The glow forms the shape of a boy, Bench hoodie drawn up over his Burberry baseball cap. Nike Air Max. He’s twice the size of any of the urchins Salam’s ever seen on the streets, and grins with an intent that makes even the city’s most feared assassins look soft. A boy. Smirking. Walking forwards, flick knife glinting in his hand. Through metal railings that remain intact after he passes. The three men are stationary, cemented to the spot by this most ghostly of glares from the boy.

The apparition gazes across them as if it’s reading a menu. It chooses the one with the pole in his hands, leaps forwards with an almighty thrust of his knife and blow from clenched fist, forces the assailant to the pavement. A crunch of spine, a slash across the face, a smash of skull. Blood pools darkly across the road. The other two sprint past the shop, arms windmilling, their footsteps loud in the absence of sounds before the dawn.

‘What,’ Salam says, staggering upright, ‘what took you so long?’

The boy regards Salam for what seems like a day before smirking.

—–

Uncle Indra watched his brother open the sack in the back of his cart. From where his horse was grazing, you could see the old mine site in the distance. No one had passed by for ten minutes, a courier on horseback the last figure fading into the dusk. Wind rippled across a darkening field of grass.

‘Bhai. Come closer.’

Indra walked around to see inside the bag, and his eyes widened in shock. He never expected a sword to be so big. His brother smiled, placed a hand on Indra’s shoulder with a firmness that said, It’s okay, trust me.

Indra spoke in Elfish. ‘You want me to do it?’

‘I’m her father. If this doesn’t work, I’ll get involved. I want to try getting some young men to rough him up a bit first. See how that goes. It might be enough. This is our second plan. I want you to know about it now, early, so you have time to prepare mentally. Third, I’ll deal with Baseema personally, okay? Keep it in the family, though, no?’

Indra said, ‘Where did you get the sword?’

‘Best you don’t ask.’

‘When is a good time?’

‘Whenever you feel it necessary,’ his brother said. ‘Just bear in mind our reputation if she persists with this Salam boy. Think of the reputation lost. I’ll give her a chance, but we must find an appropriate time.’

‘Where shall we get rid of his body?’

‘I have any number of commercial channels through which to dispose of it. I know of fishermen . . . ‘

‘A good choice,’ Indra said.

A flock of birds began to carve arcs into the sky, liquid-like movements. Their calls heightened Indra’s sense of isolation. This sort of business was messy, but necessary. Shame would cast a shadow on their family for years. They would lose influence, respect. He knew it would be difficult for other people to understand. If word ever got out onto the streets, he would be called evil. Let us hope, he thought staring at the weapon in the sack, that Baseema sees sense quickly, so I don’t have to use it.

—–

Salam, on the long walk home from the shop. evening, people walking into taverns, riding horses that he can only dream of owning. There’s an air of anticipation for the upcoming holiday, something he lives for, a misplaced energy where maybe anything can happen, and the city is alive on it.

Women walk by, skirt material in obvious short supply, but he isn’t interested. He has plans with Baseema, has been saving up for three weeks to take her out to dinner. A new tavern in the expensive side of town, as it happens, only the best. He must go home to change first. A new black shirt, new black trousers. He’ll be a looker, that’s for sure.

Half an hour later he criss-crosses three alleyways, hears four different types of music from Dwarven ballads to Elven laments . Puddles float the spectrum-glitter of human waste. He checks one of the town clocks: plenty of time yet.

A sudden kick sees Salam fall forwards.

He grasps the metal railing that runs alongside a property for steadiness, turns, is confronted by an old man holding a sword.

‘Enough, Salam, lad,’ the man says. ‘Just don’t move a thing, no?’ Brown waistcoat, white shirt, a heck of a grey beard. His voice is uncertain. This is obviously no professional. ‘If you move I’ll cut you down, okay?’

‘What?’ Salam says, eyeing all the time the edge of the blade.

‘You have come close to Baseema too much, no. You have brought much shame.’

The alley is long. No escape route. People know better than to interfere with a scene like this. No one will rescue him. It’s just him and the old man.

Shadows seem longer, darker than before.

‘I love her,’ Salam says.

‘Accha! How can someone so young know what love is, eh? You tell me?’

‘I know what it is. I love her. I want to look after her.’

‘Love is being able to pay for food, pay for a houses, a horse. Well-being for children. That’s love. You youngsters think you know it all, isn’t it.’

‘No, that’s money you’re talking about,’ Salam says, a hint of daring in his voice, ‘not love.’

‘Same thing.’

Sweating, Salam glances up, sees the shape of a boy running down the alley towards them, the same ghostly texture as the boy from the other night. He is immense, the size of a giant, and pulls out a gun. Within seconds bullets penetrate the back of the man with the sword, the weapon falling to the ground, forcing Salam to jump several steps backwards.

A scream, and the man is shot at point blank range, falling backwards into the rubbish that litters the alleyway. For several minutes Salam stands there, staring at the sword, on the edge of throwing up, realising that it’s because of the witch that he’s still alive.

The boy walks over. Salam doesn’t hear it, only notices its approach with the faint shadow it casts.

‘Enough of this,’ Salam says. ‘Enough hiding. Enough running. It’s sick, isn’t it?’

The boy stares blankly.

‘Let’s go to Baseema’s house. I wanna confront her father. You’re on my side. You with me?’

The boy mouths something that could be a reply, raises an arm as if to beckon Salam to follow him

Salam obliges, says, ‘Just take it steady, all right?’

With a kick that sends a bottle shattering into the wall beside the dead man, they run between the buildings, out onto the street and then far beyond. Slowly, from the other alleys and streets, other boys follow. Wind ruffles his hair, a chill goes down his spine, but he feels bizarrely safe in the company of the boys. He feels liberated. No one can touch him. Can people see them? Are they caused by my imagination? Does the witch charge for these things by the hour?

An hour later, Salam lands outside a detached house in Mapperley Park. Posh. A boy bounds over the gate. Others spiral up the drainpipes. A door opens: a man in a blue shirt runs forward screaming, his arms waving as if he’s on fire. A boy chases him, laughing. The garden soon becomes awash with ghosts. Brandishing knives, guns, knuckledusters, they all gather in their powder-white glow, and tread a circle around the man who Salam notices is Baseema’s father.

Baseema runs out shouting. ‘What is going on? Salam? What’s this? What are you doing here?’

Salam says, ‘This is our doing. This is what the Drynb has done to help. We asked for it.’

A scream. Her father is on his back, a boy with one foot on his chest. ‘Get off! Accha! I’m sorry. Help me. Help!’ He begins to sob, and prods tentatively at the Nike trainer.

Salam approaches, calls back the ghosts. Waves his hand to pull them away. Baseema’s father gets up, a look on his face that suggests he is astounded Salam has the power to control the boys. He rubs his eyes to regain some pride.

Salam struts like a cocky, street urchin. ‘Mister, this is all because you wont let me and Baseema be together. I’ve got news for you. We’re protected. Every time you try to do something, they save me. They’re on my side. I reckon you should let us be. They’ll follow you everywhere. They’ll never let you win.’

‘And what if I do not? You think you can come into my garden and—’

Salam clicks his fingers and the boy pounces, punches Baseema’s father to the floor in a sliding arc of mud. The boy smirks. A knife brushes his cheek.

‘See?’

‘Arey! All right! Just get it off.’ There’s something in the old man’s eyes to suggest he doesn’t accept this fully, something between confusion and fear.

Salam calls for all the boys to back off, for them to give some space.

‘If you hurt her,’ her father says, ‘I won’t let any ghost stop me from getting you.’

‘You’ve been hurting her enough already, don’t you think? I’m the one she cries to every time you burn her, every time you stop her doing what she wants to. It’s her life. I’m the one who holds her softly, tells her it’s okay. I’ll do anything to keep her happy. These ghosts are here to keep her happy.’

‘Fine. Whatever.’

‘So you’ll get rid of this Anish guy?’ Salam says.

A boy twists his knife so it glints as if to back up the point.

Baseema’s father nods.

‘Come on, Bas, we’ve got dinner plans.’

She stares at her father, the look on her face indicating she’s too fearful to even move.

The boy points the knife before his face.

‘Go, go,’ he says, waving his hand to her, unable to take his vision off the spectre before him.

She runs over to Salam, holds his hand, and the ghosts disappear one by one into the rhododendrons, with Baseema’s father rubbing the back of his head in disbelief at the scene. There are footprints on his shirt. He stomps towards his house kicking plants along the way, cursing in both common tongue and Elfish.

—–

Baseema’s father sits sulking in his study, door locked, hundreds of old religious texts scattered across the floor being the only evidence of his tantrum. He stares at a framed painting of Baseema, to the right of the miniature statue of a horse. Both items take centre stage in his study basking in the glow of the lighted candle.

He seethes with anger. He looks out the window onto his back lawn. It is night time. The moon forces bold shadows across his lawn. He contemplates what had happened earlier. Could it be true that these ghosts are protecting his daughter’s interests? How is it possible? Why can a father not show love for his daughter any more?

An image of the Washy boy, Salam, enters his mind. He reaches into his desk, moves to draw out a knife. As soon as his fingers touch the blade, he hears a sudden noise from the back garden. Strangely, he senses it’s his own voice screaming, a twisted premonition that injects him with fear. He walks over to the window, shaking, to look out into the night. There, nestled in the blackness of the bushes, a faint glow. Two white eyes, staring back him. He pushes the window out, fractionally, the air chilling the room.

If you listen carefully you can hear a gun being cocked.

—–

That weekend, Salam and Baseema return to the house of the Drynb to say a thank you. They find no one there, no trace of her existence. No answer at the door. No smells of spices, no drifts of incense. They peer through the window and can see nothing. The walls are bare.

Salam asks neighbours, curious to find out a little more about the witch. There is no information. All he discovers is that in the Elven Kingdoms she may have be murdered for knowing witchcraft, stoned to death, burned. It’s unlikely she’s gone there.

Baseema approaches with the scents of lavender. ‘What are you up to?’ She asks. ‘You have me to look at now, and there’s no one to stop you doing that.’

He grins as she pecks him on the cheek.

A promising noonday opens up. A promising year.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.