Short Story: Things That Go Drip In The Night

“That shower is dripping again.” It was three o’clock in the morning, and nobody was in the mood for it. I certainly wasn’t.

“I did it last time.” Kay’s grumpy half-assed voice was surprisingly clear for someone who had been snoring mere seconds ago.

“You’re nearer. Go on, won’t take a second.” I pretended to be barely conscious, slurring my words slightly.

“No. Your turn. I told you to fix it when you got in and you wanted to curl up on the sofa instead.” Kay’s back was curved aggressively at me as she hugged the armful of duvet to her chest and exposed me to the night air.

“Ahhh! Bitch!” I yelled – though only half-heartedly – as goosebumps broke out up and down my skin. I tried without success to haul the covers back, but my wily woman had already rotated like a spindle to cocoon herself. She glared sleepily out at me, face framed by tousled hair that was well on its way to being the poster-child for bed head.

“Go on Dorian. You can have the covers back when you’ve sorted it.” She affected a stern tone, and then promptly ruined the effect with a giggle and by sticking her tongue out at me. I sighed dramatically and pulled my t-shirt back down to at least try and preserve some body heat. At least the carpet was warm enough when I swung my legs round and sat up.

The ensuite bathroom was only a half dozen steps or so away as I walked round the end of the bed. In general principle I tried tugging the end of the duvet as I passed, but Kay drew her feet up and there was no give in the material. I pulled a sad face at her on my way past; she farted in retaliation.

“Charming!” I called, and flicked the light on in the bathroom suite. All the better to glare at the shower head which was stubbornly dripping every twenty three seconds. I knew that because I’d been lying in the dark counting the intervals for what felt like the last half hour or so. I’d been having a particularly nice dream about an ex just before waking, so that hadn’t put me in the best of moods to start with. I certainly wasn’t going to throw that into the debate about why I didn’t want to get up either.

In the warm light of the spotlights it took me a moment to spot the tiny water elemental curled in the tray of the shower. Each drop that fell replenished the mass lost to the drain in a slow pulse in the battle of surface tension against gravity. I sighed and turned the shower head on and off, making sure to tighten the valve properly this time. The small puddle of water at my feet seemed to grin through its ripples in response.

“Right,” I said, “no more of this, it’s making us both cranky. You can stay the night if you’re quiet, but it’s straight down the drain in the morning. – sooner if you wake either of us before dawn.” I reached to the shelf by the shower hose and selected a large pink sponge. I placed it right in the middle of the puddle and made sure it overlapped where the drips had been falling. Then I stomped back out into the bedroom. Kay had already restored the duvet evenly over the bed and was busy snoring again.

“I’ll call a plumber in the morning.” I said. I curled up to spoon behind her and kissed the tip of one pointed ear.

“Thank you darling.” She said, and squeezed my hand. Sleep came quickly.

Short Story: See What’s There

The first time I met Dorian, I was hiding in the branches of a holly tree, tucked in a space at its centre behind the sharp leaves. I was hiding from the elves who had taken to playing in the wide fields beyond the edge of our garden. If that sounds a wonderful thing, then you’ve never seen elves play.

They are curious about how things are put together, but they define any living creature that isn’t an elf as a thing. While they are creatures that provoke wonder, you don’t want them to play with you. They had, just on this afternoon alone, taken apart a wheelbarrow, the remains of an old bedstead, a family of squirrels, and my pet rabbit when he escaped his cage run and squirmed over the stones of the low boundary wall.

The other problem was that the fields at the end of my garden weren’t always there, so telling my parents or indeed any other grown-ups about the elves was difficult as they weren’t there when I dragged anyone along who would listen.

The elves knew I was there. When my parents turned their backs on the wall to tell me off again about wasting their time I would see their faces in the trees and bushes. They would smile, revealing sharp teeth in wide mouths, and beckon to me. My parents thought I was trying to hide tears of childish remorse rather than tears of terror.

The doctors told me it wasn’t real, and I really wanted to believe them. I tried to agree with them and deny what was right in front of me, but I know they could tell I was lying to them. They wanted to give me pills, but my parents refused to let them, and I wasn’t sure if in that moment I loved or hated them more for it.

So there I was, hiding in the holly bush one afternoon because the elves were right next to the wall and I didn’t want them to take me away to play. I could smell the copper taste of fear, adrenaline, and blood in the air and felt frozen in place.

And Dorian walked into the garden, accompanied by my parents. I didn’t know who he was of course, he was just a tall thin grown-up in a suit, with short hair and a slightly floppy fringe. My parents were talking to him in the serious way they did with the doctors which told me everything I thought I needed to know; and he was nodding in that slow way the doctors did.

He looked straight at me, through the camoflage of the holly tree, and then did something the doctors never did. He winked at me. Then he did something no other adult had. He looked at the elves, and he frowned.

And you know what? The elves looked at him, and took a step back from the wall. They’d never done that before.

My parents retreated back towards the house. They were still in the garden, but far enough away to give us space. That’s why, when Dorian waved to me, I crawled back out onto the lawn and went over to him.

“You see them?” I said, and I couldn’t keep the suspicion from my voice.

“Oh yes,” he said, in a soft voice that made me think of my mum’s voice when tucking me in bed at night, ” and they’re not going to frighten you any more. Promise.” He held his hand out to me and after a glance at my parents, I took it.

The world shivered a little around us as we turned to look at the fields and the elves in it. The sun and clouds looked different on their side of the wall, more like a Summer’s day than the early Spring that kept threatening rain.

“They want to play because you can see them. It’s not something that many people remember how to do when they’re not babies any more. You’re right not to trust them though.”

“They’re horrible. I don’t want to see them any more.” I said. The elves were watching us, hands resting on the hilts of their wicked knives. Dorian crouched down to talk to me, face to face.

I can make them go away, or I can make sure you don’t see them again. Which would you prefer?”

“Are you going to give me medicine? Is there something wrong with me like the other doctors said?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, no. You’re better at paying attention and seeing what’s really going on if that’s any better?” For some reason I just felt that I could trust him. I nodded, slowly.

“They’re scary.”

“Yes they are. Hiding in the holly bush was a good idea. There used to be hawthorn bushes along that fence weren’t there? I’ll tell your parents to plant new ones. Now, how about we tell them to go away?”

“They won’t listen.” I’d tried shouting at them before. It never worked. Dorian smiled at me.

“They’ll listen to me. Trust me.” The strange thing is, I did. I gripped his hand as tight as ten year old me could. He looked across at them. “Hey! Longshanks, Knifenose, and Prettyboy! You know who I am, so go away. The wall’s going back up and you don’t want to get caught in it.”

There was a moment where I thought they were going to come and get us, and I really needed to go to the loo all of a sudden. I crossed my legs. The shiver in the air around us got stronger, making me feel like we were a plucked guitar string.

“Don’t make me call the missus.” I heard him say, and then, just like that, the shiver stopped, the field was gone, and so were the elves and the blood. Rain had started to fall at some point, so we all went back indoors and I was properly introduced to Dorian, who had been hired as my counsellor.

My parents did replant the hawthorn bushes after that, and the elves and the field never came back. Nonetheless, Dorian and I did talk about the elves, or at least about my memories of them and how they had faded like old dreams over the following weeks.

He’s teaching me how to focus on what’s really there and to tell the difference between that and what most other people see, but I’m not noticing the difference much these days. Dorian always seems a little sad around the eyes when I say that, but mum and dad are happier that I’m not seeing things any more, so that’s what’s important.

Isn’t it?

Short Story: Run Around

Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument. Doubtless these are wise words; but when there’s a baying pack of werewolves on your track (again), the urge to swear quite loudly is considerably more difficult to resist. I thought I’d distracted them by diving through the restaurant and it’s kitchen. I thought I’d lost them in the evening crowds around Covent Garden. I’d even hoped that jumping in a taxi and tipping extra would get me enough of a head start to make my trail go cold.

No such luck. The pack had all the tenacity of the hungry, coupled with the anger of the betrayed, and seasoned with that tricky human knack for subterfuge. I’d hoped that I could at least match the latter while outrunning the former. I had hoped to talk my way out of things when it all started heading south, but you know when you get that sinking feeling that the other person already made their mind up? Yeah, trust me, it’s worse when your audience really is hoping you’re going to die on stage.

So let me give you some context here. My name is Dorian Quiller, and I spend an awful lot of time these days choosing discretion as the better part of valour. People ask me to fix things that go bump in the night. Those things are usually quite happy not to be fixed, and believe me I can really relate to that.

This evening had started quite simply, with an email from someone who had obviously been talking with an old client of mine in Southall. He was running an adult learning course in stand-up comedy which usually cumulated in an evening above a bar near Leicester Square where everyone performed material. He was a bit spooked, if you’ll pardon the phrase, by a visit from the boys in blue.

Apparently the worst-rated acts from the last three courses he’d run had ended up going to pieces shortly afterwards. To be more precise, each had been found in pieces, in what had been thought to be animal attacks. What had got him reaching for my email address wasn’t the suggestion that he had anything to do with it; but that when he’d tried and failed to recall anything about performances on the nights in question.

I have no idea how the guy came to the conclusion there was something unusual going on that couldn’t be explained by the presence of alcohol, or how he knew Hari. The offer of a night out in town and the possibility of some half decent comedy wasn’t to be sniffed at, especially as it was a bit of a skint month. I’d left Kay doing online Christmas shopping (yes, I know it isn’t even May yet), and jumped on a train to Waterloo.

Now, when you have a tendency to see what’s really there and are walking through areas redolent with history and heightened emotion, things can be distracting. There are memories of ghosts in window reflections, and the music of the past plays in the tinkle of bicycle bells and engine roars. And of course, Jonah’s venue had at least three ghosts in the audience and a travelling cold spot on the narrow wooden staircase.

The ghosts weren’t the problem. That would have been the rowdy group of students who took over one end of the back row and started heckling the performers. I was backstage, watching for trouble when they started. Heckling is something that any stand-up comedian has to deal with, so at first I wondered if this was a set-up as part of the course assessment. Two things dismissed that thought.

First was the annoyance on Jonah’s face, and as he tried to compere between acts that didn’t improve. Second was the feeling of the air on stage getting thicker, and the increasingly wooden expressions on both audience and performers’ faces. The familiar prickling sensation in my protective tattoos were my best clue. Something or someone, and it didn’t take a genius to guess who, was pulling a Veiling on the room.

Veilings are pretty much what they sound like – hiding the truth from the world. In this case it was making everyone not care about the increasingly bestial and aggressive students now openly jeering and debating who they were going to eat out of the performers. I’ve heard of comedians being thrown to the wolves, but never thought it could be literal in this day and age.

Now Kay will quite happily tell you I have less sense than a March hare when it comes to people in trouble – especially when it comes to women. It’s probably not going to be a surprise then when I tell you that everything hit the fan when they started to advance on the last act of the night: a mid-thirties woman called Shona.

She was stuttering and stammering through her routine despite the mind-numbing influence of the jackal-faced creatures now starting to gather at the foot of the stage. Most of the audience was sitting slack-jawed in a stupour. The rest of the class and Jonah weren’t faring much better. I noted that even the ghosts seemed to have lost a degree of animation.

That’s when I stepped out onto the stage and started talking loudly over Shona. I started with a couple of one-liners in quick succession and then faltered in the face of the frankly hungry expressions on the werewolves. Rather stupidly, I ventured the beginning of a knock-knock joke. Silence fell.

There we were. Comedy club critics, red in tooth and claw on one side; yours truly wishing I’d thought this through on the other. Fortunately I have another talent that helps in moments like these. I lie for a living.

Oh, I’m not talking about spinning tall tales, though I’m told I’m reasonably entertaining when I get going. I’m talking about being very convincing when i need to be. Convincing enough to make people believe the improbable, and to be able to push that suspension of disbelief quickly into the realms of the impossible. If I do it fast enough and well enough, I can trick the universe into going along with things for brief periods.

That’s how I was able to casually reach into my pocket and pull out an ampoule filled with what can best be described as military grade nasal nausea and spray it over the werewolves. It’s a nasty trick, an improbable thing to have to hand, but not so impossible that the universe couldn’t not believe I’d do it. There is a shorter word for this type of trickery and lies: magic.

I wanted them so angry at me that they would forget the comedy club and come after me. Spraying them with something that surely had skunk oil in a porta-loo on top of road kill at a chilli cook-off competition definitely fit the bill. I just wish that sometimes I would remember to stop and think of the end game before setting things in motion.

So that’s how I came to be running into the no man’s land woods out the back of the Sunbury skatepark, having bailed out of the cab a short while ago. The horrendous stink still clung to the vehicle rather than to me – how lucky, I know – and that gave me enough time while the pack chased it another few miles to pick my spot.

When they finally worked out where I was, they came creeping through the hole I’d cut in the wire fence. I’d bent the wires back so it wasn’t easy, and I’m sure the scratches they got getting through continued to endear me to them. I wanted all their attention to be on me. I didn’t want to shout to get it. In short order I had my attentive audience. Their leader, a grey-furred brute, approached but stopped when my hand dipped into my pocket. I flourished another vial, this one emblazoned with even more lurid warning labels. Several of the werewolves flinched.

“If I drop or damage this, you will never get the scent out of your nostrils so back off.” I spoke calmly. I had improved my argument. It would never have worked with wild animals, but that’s the point people forget with werewolves: there’s still a mind in there to intimidate and then talk to.

Now to open negotiations, and prove again to the universe that there’s more than one way to spin a story round on its axis. I guess in some ways this proved to be more of a shaggy dog story than even I anticipated.