The Sight of an Angel

The Sight of an Angel

Sophie first saw an angel when she was five. She knew what it was, because it had great white wings and it glowed with some internal fire.

‘Look,’ she said, but no-one did.

They did not all have wings, but they were all different from ordinary people. She would see them in the street, on a rooftop, and one one occasion, hovering above a boat on the river. That one did have wings, but was not bothering to use them.

She never did see any of the winged angels flying like a bird, and as she grew up, she began to think that their wings were only metaphors.

As she grew up, she also became more aware that no-one else saw them, and she wondered why she did. Sometimes, she tested people. ‘Who’s that on the roof,’ she would ask, but never got any answers except ‘Where?’ or ‘I can’t see anyone.’

Could the angels see her? They never looked at her. Each one was intent on something, a frown of concentration on their glowing features, but they never spared her a glance.

It went along like this for many years, and she became quite used to seeing them, as if they were birds or butterflies. An alien species going about its business in the midst of human life.

Then one day she came home to find an angel in her living room. It was an awkward situation. Should she acknowledge its presence or pretend it was not there? And then, it was a worrying situation, too. Had it come because she was going to need it? She really hoped not.

The creature was a monumental presence, standing in the corner, head bowed under the low ceiling of the room, the curve of its wings compressed in the tiny space. This one was dressed in a featureless cream-coloured robe of some fine fabric, and it glowed as they all did, illuminating the room softly with its presence. It did not move or speak.

Sophie chose to ignore it. She had never been quite sure that interacting with them was allowed, and this one was so close that she was a little afraid of it.

She just went about her evening as she would if the angel had not been there. She prepared and ate her dinner, watched TV, had a shower, went to bed. All the while the angel loomed motionless in the corner of the living room.

She did not sleep much, waking constantly throughout the night to check if it had come into her bedroom to stand in the corner, watching her.

When she woke in the morning she was fairly sure that she had dreamt the whole thing — but there, in the living room, the angel still stood, as if it had not moved the whole night.

Sophie tried to pretend she could not see it, but the looming presence weighed on her. At last she cracked.

‘Just what do you want?’ she asked.

The angel raised its head and looked directly into her eyes, and she knew she had made a terrible mistake. It crossed the room in a single step, raised its hands and laid them over her face. The weight of them was immense, and they burned. When those hands withdrew from her eyes she could no longer see the angel, though she knew it was still there. Then it left, taking a part of her with it.

‘It’s like I’m blind,’ she told me. ‘Of course, I can still see the way other people do, but it’s like living in a fog. I know there are so many things that I can’t see.
‘Sometimes they brush against me, or there will be a change in the light, and I know one of them is there, but I can’t see any more. I don’t understand why they would take that away from me.’

I shivered.

‘Do you think there’s one here now?’ I asked.

‘I think so. I heard feathers. It came in with you.’

I looked around, but there was nothing for me to see or hear beyond the ordinary world.

Questions That Should Have Been Asked

Questions That Should Have Been Asked

There was a vacant stool at the bar in the black dog. Eddie slid onto it and caught Dave the barman’s eye.

‘Glenmorangie, please. Double.’

Dave nodded and turned away to grab a glass. Eddie caught sight of himself in the mirror behind the spirit bottles. Grey-faced, hollow-eyed, gaunt. Not a great look. He saw how the other patrons at the bar were leaning away from him, edging their stools further along. He probably smelled bad, he thought. The company he was keeping, it was inevitable.

Dave brought the whisky and took his money without the slightest hint of revulsion — but he was a professional, and the Black Dog having the history that it did, there were probably stranger folk than Eddie turning up on a daily basis.

‘You’re looking tired, Eddie,’ he said.

‘Tired isn’t really the word,’ said Eddie with a twisted smile he saw reflected in the mirror.

Dave moved down the bar to serve someone else, and Eddie downed the whisky in one gulp, savouring the artificial heat that lit him up for a moment or two, easing the deep chill that lay next to his bones. The effect began to dissipate, and he felt the longing for some real warmth. He looked around the bar, but he knew he would get nothing unless he tried to look more like the living.

It was not a long walk home, back to the High street to his flat above the bakery. Stripping off his clothes, he got into the shower. The water was hot, but it only warmed his skin. They really pulled it out of you, and gave so little back.

He threw on some clean clothes, and thought he looked almost normal, maybe like someone who had been really ill, but that was normal these days, wasn’t it?

There was a club that opened at nine. He went there for some more alcohol and the possibility of contact with a warm body.

There was dancing. Eddie was a good dancer, and not pushy like so many men, so women liked to dance with him. Eventually there would be a slow number, and he would get to hold a partner, and suck in a little life. He only ever got one slow dance, though. They would start to feel unwell, blame the drink, and that would be it — but just that little top-up of vitality would be enough to keep him going.

A little before midnight he would climb up the hill, ready for another night without sleep. As he went uphill in the real world, he was fully aware that in every other way he was going downhill. If he had been able to take a bit of sleep in the daytime things might be better, but the dreams that crowded in on him when his eyes closed would not allow him that peace, being so vivid that he might as well be awake.

At the top of the hill was a house with no light in any window, but the side door was unlocked for him as usual. He stepped inside and found his way to the basement door by the light of his phone. The basement itself was lit by a multitude of ritual candles. In the middle of the space, the circle was set up for him, ready charged, tonight’s subject lying on the stone slab at its centre — a middle aged man, cold and still, looking quite peaceful. Well, that would not last.

A sheet of paper lay at the man’s feet. Eddie picked it up and read through the questions before beginning the ritual. As the incantations progressed the man began to twitch and moan. Eddie always hated this part. He tried to remember the warmth of his dancing partner’s body, even as that warmth was sucked out of him.

At last the man shuddered and sat up, puzzled, unhappy, with no control over his limbs, as if he had forgotten what they were for.

‘Hello, Arthur,’ said Eddie, ‘just a few questions and then you can go back again. Where did you hide the life insurance policy?’

Arthur scowled, his eyes swivelled in their sockets.

‘Don’t be awkward,’ said Eddie, ‘or you’ll be stuck here, and you wouldn’t want that.’

He uttered the few words that threw the body into an agonising spasm, then asked the question again.

‘Garage, toolbox,’ croaked Arthur through dry, barely usable vocal chords.

Eddie noted that and moved on.

‘Account number and passwords for your secret bank account?’

With the occasional nudge, Arthur provided all that was asked for, but with increasing reluctance and as much anger as he could muster.

‘Any other stashes?’

Arthur screamed his safety deposit box number.

‘Last one. Billy would like to know why you never loved him?’

‘Not my son,’ growled Arthur.

‘Okay, back you go, begone.’

He made the gestures of dismissal, and the body flopped back onto the slab. Next to the last question, Eddie wrote, ‘Emotional inadequacy.’

Once the final candle was extinguished he laid the paper in the niche at the back of the room and took his fee.

Dawn was breaking. He stepped out into the morning, drained, shivering, and longing again for some human warmth.

What We See In The Woods: Part Three

What We See In The Woods: Part Three

The fragment of a song was playing in Angie’s head — couple of half-remembered words and a bit of melody — over and over on a loop. She paused in her digging to try to recall the rest of the words, but could not, and went back to her task, shovelling earth out of the hole to the rhythm of a mostly-forgotten song.

A fox leapt the neighbour’s fence onto the lawn, a small rabbit hanging from its bloodstained mouth. Angie gasped. The fox looked at her, the rabbit kicked, and Angie instinctively stepped forward and reached out. The fox gave the rabbit a brutal shake, sauntered past Angie and in two jumps went over the fence at the end of the garden, into the woods.

So much for the joys of nature, Angie thought. She dropped the hardy palm tree into the hole and began to fill around its roots, wondering if it was not going to look out of place against the deciduous woodland behind it. Not so Mediterranean after all.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone watching her from the woods, someone peering through a mass of green leaves. Angie turned to look. There was rustling, but no-one there, only the trees and bushes. A bird, perhaps? They had heard owls in the woods, so maybe an owl had been looking at her. She turned away again and pretended to be absorbed in filling the hole around the roots of the palm, but all the while paying attention to that place at the edge of her vision where the shy thing might reappear.

It took a while, but at last she heard the undergrowth rustling and saw two large round eyes watching her. That could be an owl, she thought, but it was hard to see anything else but leaves.

Angie wondered what she could do earn its trust. What might it want? Owls were carnivores, so the next day she brought out a piece of steak and laid it on the flat top of the waist-high fence. she retreated to watch from the house, but no owl showed up. Eventually a magpie swooped down and carried off the steak.

Perhaps it was not an owl. She laid a row of peanuts along the fence and stayed in the garden, half-heartedly pruning a rampant buddleia. This time it came. Softly, slowly, as if they were playing a game of statues. Each time she turned a little towards the creature it stopped and seemed to vanish, but when she turned away the eyes opened again, fixed on her, and came a little closer. Now she could tell that it was not a bird, but some other creature. All she could determine from the limits of her peripheral vision was that it was larger than a fox, and had eyes set in the front of its head, like a human.

She stood quite still. There was a quick flurry of movement and when she turned to see, all the peanuts were gone and so was the creature.

The next day she set out more peanuts and stood quite still next to the fence, looking away from the direction of the creature’s approach. After a while she sensed its presence and then saw it softly sneak towards the peanuts. A swift movement took the nuts and the creature retreated.

Without looking round, Angie placed a few more nuts on the fence. Minutes passed as the creature moved up again and took the nuts. She replaced them and turned part way towards it, trying to make out what it was as it crept towards the nuts.

They repeated these moves several times. Each time Angie turned a little more to face the creature, though never looking directly at it.

Eventually it waited just beyond the fence for her to drop more nuts. She did, and fingers like twigs brushed her hand. It was hard not to react, but she managed.

Pulling the last few nuts from her pocket, she laid them down. As soon as she saw the movement, she turned her head to look, and saw two large brown eyes in a face made entirely of leaves, a short body covered in shaggy brown lichen, and little twiggy fingers filled with nuts. They looked at each other for a moment.

She gasped. The creature gave a low squeal and sped away, vanishing into the bushes.

Angie was never able to coax it out again while she was in the garden, but she continued to leave out peanuts, and something always ate them.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories

‘Can you see the pattern?’

‘Not really.’

He joined the dots on the map with his pencil.

‘Is that better?’

Radiant arms stretched out across the map.

‘All coming from here,’ he said, stabbing the centre of the pattern. ‘And what is there?’

‘The museum,’ I said.


‘You drew some dots on a map,’ I said, ‘and then you joined them up. What does that prove?’

He waved the Haunted Shuckleigh booklet at me.

‘The dots are all the hauntings in this book. Don’t you see what it means?’

‘First,” I said, ‘I doubt if that book contains all of the so-called hauntings in this town. If it did, you’d just end up with a map that looked like it had caught measles. Second, you sound like someone from Ghostbusters. But not Bill Murray, which is a shame.’

In spite of my disbelief in his diagrams and theories, I allowed Maxwell to talk me into persuading the museum, where I work as a junior curator, to allow a ghost hunting night in the building. It was a paid event and there were a surprising number of people willing to pay to spend the night in sleeping bags on a hard floor, hoping to be scared.

I took them all down to the renovated basement, one of the oldest parts of the building. They shivered deliciously when I told them all about the skeletons discovered under their very feet, at least two of which had died by violence.

Maxwell turned out the lights and we stood in silence until a rash of squealing broke out, several people in the crowd claiming to have been touched or heard whispering. No more than the scares in a cheap ghost train, I thought. Maxwell probably had an accomplice in among the paying punters. this was how he made his living, after all, telling ghost stories.

He propounded his theories about the museum as a nexus for occult energies.

‘This building, founded on the burials of seven murder victims,’ he exaggerated, ‘has, over the years, accumulated objects of occult power from the town and its surroundings. We do thank Sally Jamieson,’ he smiled at me, ‘for having the courage to spend the night here with us, when no other member of the museum staff I have asked would even contemplate staying here after dark.’

They gave me a round of applause, but I felt slightly used. I did not know that he had ever asked anyone else, and my colleagues’ sympathetic looks and murmurs as they left for the night took on a different shade of meaning. I had assumed that they just understood how much of a pain it would be to spend the night with a crowd of crazy ghost hunters, but now it looked as though they, too, thought something stalked the museum halls at night.

Did everyone in this town think that there were spooks around every corner? The museum did have a room dedicated to occult bits and pieces, and that was where we would be spending the night. I had cleared the section that was used for temporary exhibitions to make space for the group. We went in there and Maxwell toured us around, giving highly-coloured accounts of all the exhibits, the poppets, witch bottles, mummified cats and so on. The magical regalia of Augustus Elkin came in for special scrutiny.

‘Augustus Elkin belonged to a prominent local family, as you probably know, with many legends attached to his ancestors. He was involved in the occult movements of the 1890s and 1900s, starting off in the Rosicrucians, which he left after differences with other members, to found his own order, The Brotherhood of the Sacred Fire. In spite of its title, the Brotherhood had a largely female membership. His spiritual partner, Margot Dinsdale, took issue with some of his more misogynistic pronouncements and is supposed to have entered into a magical duel with Augustus. She won, and took the entire female membership with her into her own order, the Daughters of Hecate, which still exists today and which permits no male member.’

At this moment a bell rang. It sounded like a bell. I looked around to see if I could spot Maxwell’s accomplice. Everyone else was looking around, too.

Maxwell laughed nervously.

‘Maybe that’s Margot,’ he said. ‘Or Augustus, registering a protest.’

Everyone laughed. Nervously.

To me, he whispered, ‘What was that?’

‘No idea,’ I said. ‘I thought it was part of your act.’


He looked genuinely surprised. Oh damn, I thought, he really believes all this stuff.

Maxwell finished his tour of the gallery, and we all settled down with foam mats and sleeping bags, and I turned out the lights. I fully intended to sleep if I could, but the others were readying themselves for the imminent arrival of spirits. They would probably imagine themselves something. I just hoped they would be quiet about it.

I must have gone to sleep quite quickly. I dreamt that I opened my eyes and saw a dark figure stalking the room. It walked upright like a man, but had horns and the hindlegs of a goat. It stopped and saw me, then pointed directly at me. ‘Daisy,’ it said.

I woke up in a sweat. The dream thing knew my real name, which I always hated. That made it certain that this was nothing more than a dream. I have called myself Sally for years, which is possibly an equally stupid name, but I chose it when I was six, and I have stuck with it.

‘Did you hear that?’ said Maxwell.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Someone said my name.’

I was relieved until another person said, ‘someone said mine too.’

‘And mine.’

‘I heard that too.’

Everyone in the group was sure that their name had been spoken.

‘Um, did you see anything?’ I asked.

None of them had and they all said they were awake at the time. Well, they were probably just about to nod off, weren’t they? Hypnogogic hallucinations and a touch of group suggestion after having been wound up by Maxwell’s stories.

Then that bell rang again. People started to squeal.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’m putting the lights on.’

I headed for the switches, but I bumped into something, someone. Someone hairy and with very rank breath. He grabbed my arm. I swore at him, pushed away and made for the switches.

‘Daisy,’ he said, ‘you’re mine.’

I clicked on the lights and turned to see who it was. The light was dazzling for a moment, but there was no-one there. Of course not. Some bit of business from whoever Maxwell had doing the ghost train act.

There was nothing in the gallery but a bunch of tired, slightly manic would-be ghost hunters.

We left the lights on ‘till morning.

I would say that it was a success. Everyone was good and scared. Only Maxwell was unhappy. He looked pale and frightened, but not in a good way. He hung back until everyone else had left.

‘Don’t go back in there, Daisy,’ he said to me.

‘What did you call me?’

‘I heard him claim you.’

‘My name is Sally,’ I said. ‘I work here, so I am definitely going back in.’


‘Daisy doesn’t exist. No-one can claim her.’

It was an unpleasant trick, but that sort of thing won’t work on me. I am never doing a Ghost Hunter night again, no matter how much they want me to.