Sunday, 14 January 2018

Chapter 33: Time in a Bottle



As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!



Existence as a spirit without a working body was normally breathtakingly dull. As long as there existed a single spark of life in their body, a spirit couldn’t move much more than fifty feet away in any direction. In the refrigerated warehouse where stacks of bodies waited in their preservative baths, for the first time ever, the spooks were becoming panicked.

They had watched with growing alarm as one after another, Rag and Bone had unpacked and revived their bodies. For a few glorious moments, spirit and flesh had been reunited only to have control yanked away by some other force. No one knew who or what had hijacked their bodies, but many of the warehouse’s insubstantial residents had reported brief impressions of a charnel stink and a red glow before they had been ejected.

Like a dog left too long on a chain, spirits could become peculiar over the years. Many of them grew anxious with any change to their surroundings, which was a shame since their once-orderly warehouse was now in horrible disarray.

Once-neat rows of stacked barrels were overturned and a slurry of effluvia drained into metal grates along the floor. Meanwhile, their stolen bodies stood in crooked lines, slack expressions on their faces, waiting for who knew what.

“This is bullshit,” said Desmond Sanders, one-time used car salesman and now full-time discorporated spirit. He gave the shimmering silver cord that still bound him to his physical body a good yank to no effect whatsoever. He was met with sounds of anxious agreement from the rest of the restless spirits in the packed room.

 The spirits in the warehouse knew each other well. Over the interminable years, they had played every possible iteration of 20 Questions, Charades, and I Spy. They had talked, traded recipes they would never eat, fought, and loved, all within a hundred foot bubble of their marinating bodies.

 Among the many down-sides to the situation was that any spooks whose mortal remains were separated by much more than a hundred feet needed to shout in order to hear each other. The warehouse was a loud place at the best of times. At the moment it sounded like a riot was in progress.

Desmond watched as a pair of hijacked bodies sloshed another naked resident out of its barrel in a stream of tea-coloured preservative. It was bad enough being bodyless and spending decades languishing in an abandoned warehouse with the other spooks, but now having your body pulled from the barrel, naked and dripping for all to see, was beyond mortifying.

“Someone’s wife must have been a good cook,” was all Colleen McAffey, Chronic Liver Failure, Crypto Druid, and ex-cosmetic counter manager at The Bay, had to say when he himself had been decanted in a gush of smelly preservative. Her barrel had been stacked next to his for nearly a decade and they had been on cordial, if not friendly terms. Sadly, the current crisis had revealed that under pressure the woman had all the tact and sophistication of a horny Rottweiler.

Desmond, Des to his friends, could admit he hadn’t been in the best shape in life and the preservation process had done nothing to improve the situation. Removing most of the water from a body had the side effect of making any loose skin even looser. Honestly though, what kind of shape was he supposed to be in with a terminal case of cardiac amyloidosis?

When he’d casually mentioned upon seeing her in the flesh for the first time that it was a good thing she knew how to use makeup, it had just been an observation. Nothing mean about it.
That was his burden. He’d always been a straight-shooter, telling it like he saw it. He couldn’t be blamed when people couldn’t handle the unvarnished truth. In some cases, like this one, the truth just revealed other’s petty and spiteful nature.

Once they had a large enough workforce, Rag and Bone had left to go about their own business and let the hijacked bodies continue the work of reviving. He hadn’t expected to see the duo again until all the barrels had been emptied. It was a surprise then when they returned with a young woman with her hands tied up behind her back and a gag in her mouth.

The warehouse had been backfilled with its barrels, and he was far enough toward the back wall that, beyond Rag, Bone, and Dr. Knox himself, he hadn’t seen a new resident or live visitor in nearly thirty years. His own barrel was vintage 1983 and so were most of the others around him. Because of this, the new woman’s appearance came as something of a shock.

She had cobalt blue hair, wore dark eye makeup, and was that a ring in her nose?! Her jeans were torn, but he didn’t think it was from any kind of rough handling on behalf of Rag or Bone. It was almost like they were supposed to look like that. Judging from how well she fit into them, Des guessed she was in her active mid-twenties.

Even if she wasn’t able to speak with the gag in her mouth, her eyes spoke for her. She was furious, not that it would do her much good. It had become clear soon after their bodies were interred in their preservative soup that Knox’s sales pitch had been lies. As many as half of the barrels in the warehouse were filled with the bodies of people who hadn’t volunteered to be put there. The only ones who were ever revived were the ones whose family or friends care enough to collect them.

Out of sight meant out of mind. Des wasn’t sure if Knox and his ilk knew they were being observed by the un-departed spirits of the warehouse, or if they just didn’t care. Either way, he’d been witness to enough over the years to feel a spike of compassion for the young woman. It wasn't going to end well for her.

*

A quick request tonight: If you're enjoying the story, consider sharing it with your friends. At some point in the hopefully near future, I'll be publishing the edited and polished version of this tale. Growing an audience is going to be a big contributing factor in how well I'm able to do. Thanks for your time! -S

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Chapter 32, Part 2: All in the Reflexes




As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!


Stirling arrived, hot and sweating under his heavy jacket with only three minutes to spare. Magnon perched on the peak of an old schoolhouse on the other side of the intersection. There was no point in giving away the crow’s presence by having him on his shoulder when the music started. Magnon’s presence was the one small advantage that they still held over the set of murderous twats that were Madame Rag and Mister Bone.

Clark and Broadway was a busy intersection with squat three-story apartment blocks kitty-corner to each other, and an old schoolhouse and a Petro-Can gas station on the others. He wondered how many supernatural kidnappings happened at gas stations.

Stirling scanned his surroundings looking to see if he could find the distinctive form of Rag’s partner in crime. The man would be hard to miss. On a day like today, he’d be like a walking solar eclipse, blocking out half the sunlight as he went. Sadly, or perhaps not, there was no sign of either of the couple. Stirling loitered around the large ice chest that stood outside of the convenience store attached to the gas station to wait.

He didn’t have to wait long. A black town car with tinted windows, riding low on its rear suspension pulled into the parking lot of the gas station.

“Here we go,” Stirling sent to Magnon. “You know what to do.”

“Good luck.”

They didn’t have any time to chat further as Madame Rag emerged from the driver’s side door and glared at him.

“You look absurd bald. Get in the car.”

“You’ll have to do better than that, mon petite salmonella cupcake,” Stirling called to her, seeing no reason not to begin putting his plan into action immediately. “I’m going to need proof that Rebbecca’s still alive.”

Madame Rag’s glare intensified, and the rear passenger window hummed downward to reveal a petite brunette with a pixie cut. It was Rebbecca, but she was not alone. In an act that was part-contortion, part meat-based origami, Mister Bone had somehow folded himself into the back seat and had his economy-sized ham of a fist wrapped completely around Rebbecca’s neck.

“Hey WeetaBeks, how’s it hanging?”

Rebbecca glared at him over a cloth gag, lifted a tattooed arm into view, and fingered him with a well-manicured digit. Yup, it was her alright.

“Get in the car,” Madame Rag told him.

Stirling weighed his options, trying as hard as he could to think of some way to avoid joining this carpool of the howling insane.

“This doesn’t have to get messy,” Stirling told her. “Let Rebbecca go, and I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.” Rag just glared some more.

“I’d even be willing to go so far as to add you onto my Costco membership,” he said, as though offering up gem-encrusted unicorn that ate worries and pooped gold. “It’s not the cheap membership mind you, I’m talking a full business membership.” He pulled out his wallet and flashed his black card to demonstrate that he wasn’t just fucking with her, he could indeed deliver the goods. “Mister Bone can’t be cheap to feed, even with the really big bags of kibble.”

He looked around theatrically to see if anyone was listening and continued speaking in a conspiratorial tone. “Also, I know for a fact they sell personal lubricant by the pallet load.” He eyed her small frame up and down significantly. “You could be saving more than just money, if you know what I mean,” he said pointing discreetly at his groin with both hands and loudly whispered, “your vagina,” at her.

Rebbecca’s face reddened as Mister Bone started to squeeze.

“Get. In. The. Car.”

“Hurt one hair on her head, and I’m throwing down, right here, right now, you psychotic bottle-blonde size queen.” Stirling met Madame Rag’s glare with his own. He didn’t get anything more than a twisted smile.

“Is it lunch yet?” Mister Bone growled.

“Very nearly,” Rag replied.

Mister Bone continued to squeeze, and Rebbecca’s breath began to rasp in her throat.

“Stirling!” Rebbecca gasped.

“Fine! I’ll get in, but just you remember, I gave you a chance to back out of this all peaceful-like. When I’m done with you two they’re going to need to send a search party to find the search party that got lost trying to find all your pieces.”

Stirling opened the front passenger door and flopped onto the leather seat, his arms crossed over his chest.

Rag got in the driver’s seat and pressed a button on her door. The doors all made a chunking noise as they locked and she gave him a nasty smile.

“Watch out, we’ve got a badass here,” he said, holding up his hands theatrically.

Rag’s face transitioned from malicious to sour and she began to rummage in her purse. Stirling took the opportunity to securely buckle himself in.

“Put this on,” said Madame Rag handing him a black nylon bag.”

“Does Bone make you wear this? You know, when he’s feeling romantic?”

Rag’s jaw tightened. “Put the bag on now.”

He put a hand to his scalp. “But my hair!”

“Now!” Rag roared.

Stirling looked back at Rebbecca, her neck was still in the grip of the King Kong stunt-double in the back seat. He sighed, and put the bag on. It smelled like the vomit from a dozen different ethnicities.
“Fuck! Seriously?! Don’t you people ever wash these things out?! It smells like Bone shat a skunk into this thing!”

The car began to move and they bottomed-out on the way out of the gas station.

“I understand now,” said Magnon as Rag pulled into traffic. “Lull them into a false sense of security by doing exactly what they want. What a brilliant stratagem. You mad genius, how will they ever get out of this one?” 

“Go eat a bag of cold dicks,” said Stirling to the crow—and everyone else who happened to be in earshot.

It was the last straw. Rag cold-cocked him in the temple, bouncing his head off the passenger-side window just as he hoped she would. Stirling’s sight faded to black. The suckers.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Chapter 32, Part One: All in the Reflexes




As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!




“Fuck!” Stirling shouted at his phone. “Fuck fuckiddy fuck fuck fuck!” he added, nearly dancing with rage. “Oh! I fucking hate those guys!”

The clock on the face of his phone blinked to a quarter after eleven. He’d need to move and move fast.

Magnon peered down at the glowing screen from his shoulder. “Bad news?”

Stirling relayed the conversation while beginning to pace. “I’ve got to try and help her.”

“They’re playing you, you have to know that. You can’t beat them when they’re dictating the terms. To even stand a chance against Rag and Bone you need to make them dance to your tune, not the other way around”

“How am I supposed to do that? Did I mention that they’re going to eat Rebbecca?” He made a face in revulsion at the thought. “I’ve got exactly no time to think up something clever.”

“That’s why they gave you such a tight schedule. They want you running scared, what they don’t want is you thinking how you can beat them.”

“Well, they’ve done their job. I’m not going to let one of the few people I call a friend end up as a Handy Snack for those two asshole satchels. This is a situation that calls for terminal levels of brute force.” He bounced on the balls of his feet like a boxer warming up.

“That statement is more stupid than usual,” said the crow. “What’s the special occasion?”

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. I’ve got a big hammer and it’s time to nail Rag and Bone.”

Magnon turned his head to cock an eye at him.

“In a killing, non-sexual kind of way. Get your mind out of the gutter, mister crow harem.”

“Let’s say for argument sake you arrive and Rebbecca is still alive. Do you really think they are likely to leave a witness behind who could identify them? They’ll kill Rebbecca no matter what happens. If you go, the only thing you’ll accomplish is to make yourself visible to them and include your head on the chopping block. We just got here!”

“Yeah, I’m well aware,” said Stirling, pulling on his jacket, “but it’s my fault she’s in this mess, and besides, I might win. Big hammer, right?”

“Big hammer or no, the day you beat Rag and Bone on their home turf is the day Satan will be hosting the Winter Olympics.”

“Everyone says the IOC is corrupt.”

“Madame Rag and Mister Bone have been in the business of killing for two hundred years for some good reasons. Their job is also their hobby and they’re good at it.”

“You are so negative. Hasn’t anyone ever told you about the power of positive thinking? Now that the gloves are off, I get to cut loose.”

“And let everyone know exactly where and what you are.”

“Were you even paying attention when I told you about how I cut loose at Strangefellows? The necromantic zombie cat is out of the bag.”

 “This is going to go badly. I need to mention it now, just in case you somehow survive and try to blame me, remember I tried to warn you.”

“Super. Instead of being a glass half empty kind of crow, how about some ideas to make it more likely that I’ll live.”

“Don’t go.”

“Something other than that.”

“The crow has a point,” said Candlewax who now stood in the centre of a scattering of ashes. His face had filled out noticeably and his cheekbones were less prominent. “Rag and Bone will eat your friend up and have you for afters.”

Stirling rolled his eyes. “Why do I sense the words, ‘take me with you,’ are about to enter this conversation?”

“Because they make good sense,” said Candlewax. “Even Rag and Bone are smart enough to fear a Great Fire.”

“And as soon as I’ve released you what’s to stop you from running away and burning the whole city down? Again. Thanks, no thanks.”

Stirling began to walk quickly toward the stairs down and called back over his shoulder to Candlewax, “I’ll probably be back in a bit! Don’t go far!”

“You’re a right fuck, Stirling!” Candlewax called back.

“Never heard that before,” he called back.

“Don’t let them touch you,” Magnon continued, ignoring the byplay. “The moment they lay hands on you, you’re done. Keep them at a distance.”

“How far?”

“Five or six miles.”

“Not completely helpful,” but noted. “Also, consider learning the metric system. You live in Canada, you’re not some godless savage.”

“How about weaknesses?”

“Like what?”

“Silver bullets, garlic, kryptonite, gluten intolerance, logic paradoxes! I don’t know, that’s why I asked you,” he said, passing the demon moose and coming up on the door out.

“How would that last one work?”

“Well, I could tell him that everything I said was a lie, then I would tell them that I was lying.”

“And then what?” Magnon seemed genuinely interested.

“If it went according to plan, smoke would begin coming out of their ears and they’d die.”

“Why would they do that?”

“It worked on the original Star Trek.”

Stirling opened the door and stepped back out into the basement of L’Abattoir. Brian was sitting on the stairs looking slightly shell-shocked as Stirling stepped through.

“Brian, good to see you, no need to get up, I’ll see myself out.”

“Wait! Where did you go?”

“There’s a place downtown where the freaks all come around,” Stirling sang, mounting the stairs and putting in a bit of hip action as he did.

“What!?”

“I’ll come back and give you the whole five dollar tour, but right now I’m on a tight schedule."

“Five dollar tour?”

“It used to be a nickel, but inflation’s a bitch.”

“What!?”

Stirling pushed up the trap door and stepped out into the restaurant. He paced quickly to the front door and was out before people could even begin to comment on Magnon.

His transfer was still valid, so Stirling jogged to the Granville platform and got back on the Skytrain.
“Let’s look at my pros and cons,” he said to the bird once they were underway again.

“Fine. You possess a near-supernatural ability to irritate people to violence when you are awake. You cause people to flee in mortal terror when you sleep.”

“Which one of those is a pro and which one is a con? I can’t tell.”

“Yes,” agreed the crow.

Stirling thought about that as the train shimmied along the electrified track and something resembling a plan began to form. It wasn’t a good plan, as a matter of fact, it was a very bad plan, but it was a plan. He filled the crow in on his idea as they went.

“That isn’t a plan, it’s interpretive suicide.”

“But it’s better than nothing. Will you do it?”

“Fine.”

“Really?”

“You’re going to do something stupid anyway, at least this way I know what it is.”

By the time he’d made it to the Vancouver Community College platform it was a quarter to twelve. He’d still need to travel a city block to get to Broadway and Clarke. During the ride, neither he or Magnon had come up with any plan better than Stirling’s Wile E. Coyote plan, so it won by default.
He trotted down the stairs to street level and began loping toward Clark. Though Stirling walked regularly, that was about the extent of the exercise his legs ever got. With all the trotting around he’d done in the last day, his calves were beginning to feel rubbery as he wove past pedestrians. To top it off, Doc Martens, while comfortable and an excellent choice for applying bruises to those who deserved them, were proving sub-optimal for much beyond a brisk walk—especially when damp. He could already feel the incipient blisters forming on his instep.

 He’d toyed with the idea of taking up running around the time he began to walk for exercise but gave up the idea after discovering some horrible truths about the activity. Beyond the expected shin splints and sore muscles, raw, bleeding nipples, were pretty much the unofficial uniform for the serious runner.

Then there were the shorts ton consider. A piece of wardrobe so brief, that by pulling out the pockets and landing too hard, any man worthy of the name would suddenly be in danger of doing an elephant impersonation. Walking was bad enough, bringing bleeding nipples and public exhibitionism into the mix seemed a poor trade for shaving a few minutes off a trip. 

Now that time was of the essence though, he was beginning to rethink his decision. Just because short shorts were the fashion didn’t mean they were absolutely required. He could be the sane one pounding the pavement in normal non-exhibitionist clothing, his sense of mystery intact while other runners around him thrashed along, their parts flopping like a freshly landed trout.

Having a good stock of Body Glide laid by would help to alleviate the nipple problem. With so much depending on speed at the moment, a few sessions a week pounding the pavement seemed a small price to pay. He’d have to make it out of this mess alive of course, a prospect that seemed less and less likely the closer he got to the meeting point.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Chapter 31, Part 2: A Tale of Candlewax


As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!



He drank again. “Instead of giving into despair though, I decided that revenge would be my goal. I banked my fires to embers and waited. Cordova can live for a goodly time, especially playing bum boy for the alchemists, but so can I. I’ve been here, burning low since the thirties, waiting for someone to spring me, and by Jove, at long last here you are.”

“And that, my friends is the sad story of Candlewax; betrayed by his closest friend, and imprisoned for these long years.”

There was a silence where Candlewax took another drink, and Stirling digested all he’d heard.

“I’ve got a question,” said Stirling at last.

“By all means, lad, do go on.”

“Why is it that all these supernatural badasses have names that sound like they’ve been randomly picked from stuff you’d find in a goth’s garbage can. I mean there’s Rag, Bone, and now Candlewax. No offence,” he said turning to Candlewax who looked bemused, “but what’s the deal?”

In his mind, he heard Magnon groan. “I don’t know why I bother trying to keep you alive when you seem so determined to get yourself killed.”

“Not the question I was expecting, but to answer it, those of us what aren’t born in the normal way still have to start out somewhere. My name’s Candlewax, because that’s how I began. Madame Rag and Mister Bone are of a similar persuasion, as is Mormal, the turncoat.”

“If we can though, I’d like to turn the topic of conversation to the subject of my release. It’s been a concern long on my mind.”

Stirling shrugged. “You ran a protection racket and got screwed by a bunch of alchemists, is that about right?”

“No, lad, it was nothing as sordid as all that. I provided a service to the community, the money was no different than taxes paid to a city for sewers, streetlights, and whatnot.”

“I get that, and it sounded like it was a job that needed to be done, but let me ask you a question. What happened when someone didn’t pay on time?”

“That depended, didn’t it? Most of the time we’d come to an arrangement.”

“And if you couldn’t, what happened then?”

The embers burning under Candlewax’s skin began to burn a bit more brightly. “Well, if you let one off the hook, then they’ll all expect it won’t they? Go soft once and soon everyone’s got a sob story. But look here, all that makes no nevermind now. I’ve got no crew, Cordova’s betrayed me, and someone else is top dog now. All I want is my freedom. You can’t fault that.

“And what will you do with it once you have it? It sounds to me like you’ve got some scores to settle. I’m already on the run, I don’t need to give people a reason to be more pissed with me than they already are.”

Stirling pointed to an imaginary point in the distance. “Oh look, there goes Stirling, isn’t he that fuckwit who released Candlewax and got half the city burned down. He’s thick as a brick and twice as dense.”

“So what’s it to be then? You’ll leave me here to starve and burn out?”

“Nah, that’s not my style. Truth is I’ll probably be able to let you out of here eventually, but right now I’ve got my own alchemist problems. Letting you go now would be like lighting my crotch on fire while I’m juggling hand grenades. Juggling grenades is distracting enough without a burning cock.
“Don’t tempt me, lad. I can have your cock sizzling like a sausage on the griddle in but a wink. I’d reconsider your decision right quick,” he spat, sparks showering out of his mouth.

“No, you won’t. My happy bits are safe from your fiery kung-fu.”

“Oh, I won’t? And why, pray tell, won’t I?”

“Because I’m your only ticket out of here. How long will it be before there’s another necromancer who even knows about this place? Another eighty years? More? I’m the first since the Dust Wars that has done more than speak to a few ghosts before getting himself dead. You’ve waited eighty years for your revenge, a bit more time spent here is nothing compared to keeping yourself in my good graces and getting out in the next while.”

“You’re a right bastard.”

“You have no idea.”

“Fine then, but if I’m to be your prisoner, I want food and drink. And some books too. I need to catch myself up on what’s been going on in the wide world.”

“There are no prisoners, there are just people I haven’t released yet, but sure, I’ll get you food, drink, and some books.”

“If I’m not your prisoner then take off this chain. Fire’s no good on it, but you deadies have the cold of the grave at your beck and call. You could shatter it in but two shakes.” He held out his foot.
Candlewax had clearly put some thought into this. Stirling supposed he had ample time to think about ways he might get free. “I’m not going to let you loose. You’d just walk right out the door.”

“No lad, that door can only be opened by a Necromancer like yourself.”

“He’s lying.” Magnon put in.

“You fucking stay out of this!” Candlewax literally flared up, pointing a finger at the crow.

Stirling petted the crow’s head. “It’s alright, Precious,” He said. “If the bad man talks like that he’ll get the hose again.”

“What?” said Candlewax.

“What?” said Magnon.

Stirling sighed. “You know what I’m looking forward to? I’m looking forward to you two soaking up some pop culture references past Prohibition. Then we’ll dig a pit and play Buffalo Bill properly with you two at the bottom.”

“I know Buffalo Bill,” said Candlewax, a bit defensively.

“You know a Buffalo Bill.”

“So what do you like to eat? Beef, Chicken, a Readylight firelog?”

“That painting right there,” said Candlewax, immediately pointing to the far wall where an oil painting of a Victorian woman in a blue dress was hung in a gilt frame.

“The painting,” said Stirling flatly. “You know I was kind of joking about the firelog thing.”
“Bring it to me!” said Candlewax, shaking and almost beside himself. “It’s like the drink,” he said, gesturing with his bottle. “They hung it there to torment me, knowing I’d never reach it on my own.”

“Rightly-ho.”

Stirling went over and as he approached it, he began to sense a presence. He knew without seeing the ghost that this painting had a ghost attached. Interesting. The ghost was quiescent at the moment, but it was definitely there.

“Are you sure you want this one? It’s, uh, occupied.”

“Yes. The spiteful wisp tormented me for all the long years I was here. They put her there because they knew it. Now I’ll have it.”

“Who was she?”

“No one,” Candlewax said it a bit too quickly.

“Come on. Who is she?”

Candlewax glared at him.

“Come on. You can tell me. It’ll be our secret.”

He got closer to the picture around to look at it critically. “She’s a bit toad-faced for my tastes, but the artist had some talent.” He looked closer. “I wonder if that’s goiter or if she just has a really thick neck.”

“She’s my wife!”

Stirling shrugged and lifted the painting from the wall. He was less concerned now that Magnon had explained that ghosts were the toenail clippings of the dearly departed.

The frame was heavier than he thought, and he lugged it over to where Candlewax waited for couples counselling. He set it down within reach the burning man and stepped back.

“Call it up for me,” Candlewax’s teeth were bared, and Stirling decided it was best not to argue.
Stirling loosened the mental barriers in his mind and gave the ghost the arcane equivalent of a hip nudge. A ghost matching the appearance of the woman in the painting began to slowly form in front of Candlewax.

She had an unpleasant smile on her slightly amphibian-looking face. “Hello Candlewax,” the ghost greeted him in a low, throaty voice. “Still chained up I see. You poor dear. I really don’t know how much longer you can last. You must be just starving.” She drifted to his side to speak into his ear.
“Still, it’s a kinder fate than what your poor friends suffered at the hands of the alchemists.” She spun a pirouette on her heel. “I watched it all you know. They called for you at the end, each and every one, but you weren’t there. No, you were passed out drunk on the floor, just there, as they died in agony,” she said pointing to a nearby spot. “If only you could have saved them.”

“Ah Anne, it’s so good to see you again. I’m in need of your professional advice as a second-rate piece of interior decorating. I’ve been thinking about doing a spot of rearranging, and there’s a picture that needs a bit of touching up.” He pulled up her picture from where he’d rested it face down on the side of his chair.

“It’s an amateur work, and I’ve been told the subject matter is more than a little toady, but still, it holds a special place in my heart.”

“How did you…” The ghost turned and appeared to see Stirling for the first time. “Oh, so they’ve started to return, have they? The pig-buggering abominations.”

“Are you propositioning me?” Stirling asked coyly, “because I have to admit it’s been a while since I hit the swine.”

The ghost sneered at him.

“You had to deal with that for eighty years?” he asked Candlewax, nodding toward the ghost.
The burning man nodded. “Every day I was here.”

“Bon fucking appetite then,” he said.

Candlewax stood and held the picture to his breast. The gold paint on the frame began to blister with the heat. “I’ve been waiting to touch you for years Anne, now my fondest dream is at last coming true.”

“Go on and destroy my picture, at least I won’t have to be here with you anymore.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, lass. Now for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part again we’ll be together forever.”

The picture began to smolder and smoke, but instead of drifting away, the smoke was drawn into Candlewax’s mouth and he took in a deep breath. At the same time, fine filaments of ethereal smoke began to be drawn off of the ghost and joined the smoke as it was drawn into Candlewax.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m already beginning to feel better,” he told the ghost.

Stirling felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

“Wow, there’s cell coverage in here?” He asked the crow. “Nice.”

He popped the phone out of his pocket. He didn’t need to see the number, The phone was playing the saccharine sound 90s bubblegum pop in the form of Aqua’s Barbie Girl. It was Rebbecca.

“I’ll let you two get on with your… thing,” he said waving a hand behind him and moving away from the unfolding drama.

He slid his finger on the touch screen to accept and asked, “Are you an angel?”

“I beg your pardon?” came the accented female voice from the other end. The voice sounded a bit fuzzy, but it was clear enough that he knew that this wasn’t Rebbecca. He had his suspicions as to who it was.

“I always felt bad for that kid,” he continued blithely, “it wasn’t his fault Lucas couldn’t write dialogue for shit.”

“I have no idea what you are on about,” said the voice Stirling now had pegged as Madame Rag. He took a second to think about that. Madame Rag was calling from Rebbecca’s phone. There was no possible way this could be a good thing.

“Ha! Why am I not surprised? I’ve been dealing with more and more of you old bastards and you know what? You wouldn’t know Godzilla from Gamera if he stomped you flat. You people need to get your heads out of the nineteenth century and ed-u-cate yourselves!”

“I have no time for your idiocy, and neither does your friend, Rebbecca.”

Stirling heard a commotion on the other end of the phone, then Rebbecca’s voice. “Stirling, you asshole! I told you that we shouldn’t have overcharged these people! You need to fix this! Mary Poppins is a goddamn psycho!” she said rapidly into the phone.

There was more scuffling, with the added sound of Rebbecca’s cursing, and her voice was replaced with that of Madam Rag. “We’ll be eating lunch at noon. Whether it’s your friend who will be on the menu is entirely up to you. Be at the corner of Broadway and Clark at eleven thirty—or don’t. Honestly, your friend smells delicious, and I won’t be terribly upset if you decide not to come.” Rag disconnected with a crunching noise that Stirling was fairly certain was Rebbecca’s iPhone being crushed, at least he hoped it was.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Chapter 31, Part One: A tale of Candlewax.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas! As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter. See you all next year!



So, a Great Fire?” said Stirling, raising his eyebrows at Magnon. Magnon cocked an eye at Candlewax uneasily but went ahead.

“I’m not sure if you know this, but a sacrifice has always been a source of magic. Human and animal sacrifices are frowned upon lately, but that’s a recent development. The thing is, it isn’t just human or animal sacrifice that can be a source of magic. Anything that a person has put energy and effort in retains a bit of that energy. It can be used.”

“Back when buildings were mostly all made of wood and there weren’t such things as fire hydrants, a fire in a city could get out of hand fast. If a fire managed to kill someone who had magical talent, and if it took in enough human effort, it often became…” The crow paused to consider the right word, “aware.”

“They are the fires that somehow grew too fast to stop, or jumped streets to be a get a few steps ahead of the fire brigades. All the energy locked up in buildings, and all the people consumed get funnelled into a single being. It doesn’t happen often now, but there is a group of powerful beings that were born from some of the fires. Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, Chernobyl, Old London and New London, Dresden, Rome, San Fransisco, and ah, Vancouver.”

“So this guy…”

“Yes.”

“Not to be a dick,” said Stirling, noticing Candlewax’s flames had banked down again, “but why are you here.”

“I’m here because of that greasy little shit, Cordova, betrayed me.”

Stirling looked to Magnon for clarification.

“They were partners back in my time,” said Magnon

“What, like civil partners” He made the universal symbol for humping with his circled thumb and index finger.

“Eh? What’s this now?” asked Candlewax.

“Business partners!” Magnon quickly clarified.

“I’m going to need more background before I’m ready to think about springing Howling Mad Murdoch here,” he said nodding at Candlewax.

Candlewax squinted at him. “As you will, young master.” He took a seat in the nearest chair, his feet out in front of him, the bottle of rum held loosely on his knee.

“So this story goes back a ways. By the by, what year is it? With no light or dark in here, I must admit I’ve lost track of my days.”

“Two Thousand Eighteen.”

“Go on, don’t fuck with me now, lad.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Well blow me. Has it been that long?”

Candlewax sat back in his chair and puffed out his breath.

“Two Thousand and Eighteen, you say?”

Stirling nodded.

Candlewax looked at the bottle. “This thing’s a fucking antique!” he exclaimed. “Just like me now, I suppose. To your good health.” He raised the bottle to his lips and drained it in a long pull. Blue flame began spurting out of the fissures all across his chest and shoulders. He tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder to have it shatter on the wall behind him.

Stirling handed him another, which he accepted with a nod and an, “I thank ye.”

“So why am I here, with this very pretty prison chained around my leg?” he asked, his mouth limned with blue alcohol fire. “Well to answer that I need to go back to the days when I was younger. Back in those days, the arcane demimonde was not what you’d call, well-organized, and Vancouver itself was a ruddy mess.”

“Aside from being freshly burned to the ground, the arcane were working out in the open, bold as brass. There were Char Witches working openly as stokers on riverboats and the Fey acting like bloody native guides for the lads coming up for the Gold Rush. Something needed to be done about it. Much more of that malarkey and all the old secrets would’ve been out, and then we’d all have been right fucked.”

“Since nobody else was willing, I stepped up, and for the longest time, it was I doing the rounds about town. I made sure that the wheels stayed greased between us and the mundane, and if someone needed a fire lit under them, I was the one who oversaw the task. In return, I collected a small fee, nothing onerous you understand, just a pittance, a stipend for a job well done from the grateful community.”

“It went along like that for years until the winter of 1918 when a likely lad, Mormal de Cordova was his name, shows up on my doorstep. He was a bit green around the gills, but I loved him like the sickly son I never knew. My very own influenzic Tiny Tim. I raised him, taught him what I could, and for a while we were living in clover, he and I. It was good times until the Alchemists started to settle.”

He paused to uncork the second bottle and raised it to his lips. “That lot didn’t feel the services I provided were worthy of the cost, and they refused to contribute to the community pot when the collection plate got passed around. Now, I’m not the kind of man to it take well when the ones what can afford it most are the ones who give the least, and I made my displeasure with the situation known to them. We came to an accord, which is to say, they began to toss in the occasional shekel, the same as everyone else. What I didn’t know was that even then, the lying dogs were seducing my Cordova, whispering bitter poison in his ear, dazzling him with shiny baubles and buying his soul a drop at a time with their wretched potion.”

“When the Dust War was done and all your kind were dead or hiding,” he said sloshing the bottle in Stirling’s direction, “Cordova comes to me and says he’s got the last set of guest keys to the Skeleton Club, and why don’t we use it to have one last toast to the glorious dead.”

“Now, I always had a soft spot for you deadies, and it struck me hard to see your kind laid so low, so I agreed. One last piss-up at the Skeleton Club to send your lot off in style.

A dreamy look crossed his face. “It was a grand affair, all my crew were here.” he said, gesturing to the room, “It was a party the likes of which stories are told about for years after. We were all well into our cups when the crew starts disappearing one by one. I didn’t think much of it until it was too late for them. I was getting ready to make my own excuses when Cordova pulls out a bottle of rare Scotch Whisky he brought for the occasion and wants to share with me. I had an affection for the lad, and for whisky, so I decided to stay for just one more drink.”

“Now, I love me a drink or two, but it takes a strong spirit to put me on my back on account of how I burn it off faster than I can drink it.” He illustrated by taking another pull of the bottle and blowing a long plume of blue flame past his lips like a blowtorch.

“I can only guess that it was his Alchemist friends who made the brew, because it took me faster than any drink ever has, and before I knew it I was on my arse.”

“It can’t have been long but when I came to, I was in the lamentable state you see before you here,” he rattled his chain idly, “and in front of me are all the fucking Alchemists all lined up neat in a row.”
“It was Knox and Crocker of the White, Philip, and Elizabeth of the Gold, and Elanor of the Red, all with smiles on their mugs, wide as you please. Standing with them, the traitor Cordova, coughing into his new silk monogrammed snottinger like he was born to it.”

“They tell me the chain on my leg is their own foul work, planned in advance, and that heat will only make the metal stronger. It’s a pretty cage they’ve made for me and they know it. Since we used the last guest key to get in, and since by that point Necromancers were as rare as a sincere fart in church, they figure I’m good and fucked. To tell the truth, they weren’t wrong. Still though, I’ve got my crew, and a finer bunch you’ve never seen, or will again. If there’s a way to spring me, they’ll find it sharpish.”

“Now, as they joined my little club, I gave each new member of the crew a golden ring, a badge that that says here’s a stout lad or lass, worthy of trust and respect. That's when the Alchemists start pulling out the rings and tossing them to the ground in front of me. Seventeen in all, and the smell of blood still thick upon ‘em.”

“I’ll admit that at that moment I felt lower than a snake’s belly in a waggon rut. Chained with little hope of escape, my crew murdered, and in my enemy’s power. Still, they were ascared of doing me in right then, me being a Great Fire, and them not wanting to insult the others. So they took the craven’s route, they left me to burn out.”

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Chapter 30, Part two: A measure of Brandy.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!


“I can’t believe you’re letting them see this,” the crow complained.

“Spooky? What do you mean spooky?” asked one of the waitresses, an Asian woman with a black apron tied around her waist and a neat ponytail.

Stirling walked to the door and gripped its tarnished brass knob, it had the mellow feel of real tarnished metal and felt solid in his hand. “Spooky like this,” he said, turning the knob. At the click of the latch, the door pulled open as though yanked from the other side. Air rushed into the room on the other side, taking with it a number of unsecured cloth napkins from a nearby rack. It was like whatever was behind the door was taking in a breath after being trapped underwater.

As the door swung in, it continued all the way around and slammed against the unseen wall on the other side with a tremendous crash. Behind him, Stirling heard the sound of several feet thundering back up the stairs to the restaurant.

“Eighty years?” Stirling asked.

“Eighty years.”

The open doorway revealed a patch of dark polished hardwood floor, lit only by the overhead light in the basement. Beyond crouched only blackness.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream,” he said.

When he didn’t get a reply he looked over at the crow. “That’s Shirley Jackson, you know.”

Stirling approached the entrance, his heart still beating fast. He was pulling out his smartphone to use the flashlight app when an old-style sconce on the wall lit with a warm yellow light that flooded the room beyond the doorway.

The light revealed an entrance with what appeared to be a coat check and a wide carpeted staircase that curved up and to the right. The head of what could only be described as a carnivorous moose was mounted on the wood panelled wall opposite and snarled down at him. Well, that wasn’t going to be any help in lowering his heart rate at all.

Under the mounted head was an engraved plaque with the words, “Alces Alces Infernalis.” Even more creepy than the snarling head, was the fact that someone had taken the time to taxidermy the front legs and had them mounted underneath its head. The result was that it made it look as though the creature was in the process of leaping through the wall. Here was a random act of fuckery nearly a century old that Stirling would have been proud of producing himself.

Magnon sprung off his shoulder and flapped up to the first landing and out of sight. Stirling followed, his boots sinking into a thick Persian area rug as he stepped across the threshold and into the room. He looked back to see the stunned look of the remaining staff staring at him from the basement.
“Be right back, I should check this out.” He swung the door closed on the restaurant staff and followed Magnon up the stairs and into a large open space.

On entering the room, Stirling felt like an archaeologist opening the door of King Tut’s tomb—if the tomb had all the decor and opulence of a turn of the nineteenth-century club decorated by Alistair Crowley.

It was a long room with tables and comfortable chairs set far apart for privacy. Lining the sides of the room was a series of alcoves with an assortment of tables, chairs, and couches. Each was separated by carved wooden screens of slowly shifting whorls and shapes that looked like a one night stand between a fractal and a Celtic knot.

Around the top perimeter of the walls, paintings depicted a ring of people, living and dead, men, women, and children, dancing together and holding hands.

Everywhere were esoteric items that were clearly magical. A trio of finches fluttered up from the floor to land on a light sconce. Where their breasts would be on a regular finch though, there were tiny golden cages, each imprisoning a wisp of bright scarlet flame. Next to him, an engraved brass basin of water silently reflected the earth, from what Stirling took to be the surface of the moon.
The room tickled Stirling’s memory, and it took him a second to realize that The Skeleton Club reminded him a lot of Strangefellows. In a sudden burst of insight, he realized that it was the reverse that was true. The Skeleton Club didn’t remind him of Strangefellows, Strangefellows reminded him of the Skeleton Club. In that instant, he’d have bet his good right testicle that it was Strangefellows that had borrowed from this place in an attempt to echo the atmosphere and not the other way around.

“So, I’ll be safe here?” Stirling asked Magnon, who had been eyeing the finches critically from the back of a high-backed chair.

“Safe? No, but here it will be impossible for anyone to locate you magically. It doesn’t mean they won’t figure it out eventually though. You’ll need to find a way to make them stop trying to hunt you.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”

“I couldn’t help but overhear part of your conversation,” a roughened male voice said distantly from one of the far shadowed niches, “and I think we might just be able to give one and other a helping hand.”

Magnon let out a caw and flapped to perch on an overhead chandelier.

A man, six feet tall and change, rose from his seat at the far edge of the room which had been facing away from them. He groaned and put a hand to the small of his back and rotated his neck with an audible crackle. When he finally turned to look at Stirling, there were traceries of orange ember flaring across fissures in his exposed and partly blackened skin. His beard was in a state of constant low burn, orange filaments of hair glowing briefly to be consumed, but never flaring up. As Stirling watched, the glowing orange crawled through the capillaries his eyes and across his forehead.
His clothing looked like it had come from the rough side of the early nineteen hundreds. He wore a brown bowler hat and vest with a pair of baggy pants held up with suspenders and scuffed leather boots. A cloud of grey smoke that drifted lazily away from him, disappearing as it left his immediate presence.

He began slowly walking toward Stirling, working the kinks out of his arms and legs as he came. There was a clinking sound on every right step and Stirling saw a blackened manacle with a heavy silver chain attached to his ankle. The chain disappeared into the shadowed corner where he’d been sitting.

“Finally, a genuine member in good standing of the Skeleton Club,” he said with a grin, doffing his bowler with a puff of smoke. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you at last.” His way of speaking reminded Stirling a bit of the pirates from those Johnny Depp movies; here was a man that liked to dwell on the Rs as he spoke them.

The chain around his ankle pulled him up before he was ten feet away, and he looked down to give it a sour look.

“If you could do me a favour and pass over one of them bottles, I’d be in your debt.”

Stirling noticed for the first time that the tables in this part of the room had been set up in a ring. On each of the tables was a bottle containing a different kind of alcohol, and all of them were about ten feet out of reach of the chained man. Now that he was aware of it, he could see the wear line in the floor that marked the length of the chain. Kudos to whoever had chained him here for that inventively petty act of assholery.

Stirling took the closest bottle and handed it over. It was an unopened bottle of rum with a label he didn’t recognize. In a little under five seconds the man had the lead foil seal off and the bottle uncorked. He took a long pull with his eyes closed and sighed out a long streamer of blue flame in contentment. 

 “Candlewax is my name.” He said at last, shifting the bottle and holding out his hand for Stirling to shake.

Stirling grinned back and went to shake his hand, and he would have, if not for Magnon dropping down suddenly from the ceiling and flapping and cawing in his face. He flapped his own hands above his head to ward off the crow and took a wing to the mouth.

“Gah! What?!” he asked, spitting out a feather.

“Don’t! He’s dangerous.”

“Well duh, look at him, he’s on fire and he’s all chained up. The only thing he’s missing from the outfit is a pitchfork and horns. If he had a handlebar moustache, he’d be fucking twirling it. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be polite.” Stirling tossed his jacket over the back of a nearby chair. “Sorry, don’t mean to be rude, trouble with the staff.”

“Not to worry. Good help and all that.”

“Stirling!” the crow protested. “He’s one of the Great Fires!”

This brought Stirling up short. “You say that like it should mean something to me.”

“Stirling, is it?! A fine how do you do then, young Master Stirling.” said Candlewax. He turned to Magnon, and very clearly, Stirling heard Candlewax’s voice inside his head.

“Ah, but you’re right of course, my fine, feathery, chum. I am dangerous, and indeed I am one of the Great Fires, well spotted there.” The embers under Candlewax’s skin began to glow more brightly like a blast furnace was beginning to spool up in his rectum. Waves of heat began to shed from his body. Even from where he stood a good two meters away, Stirling still needed to take a step back from the heat. “But all that amounts to less than a fart in a tempest whilst I’m stuck in this fucking place!!” he thundered, rattling his chain.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Chapter 30, Part One: A measure of Brandy.

As usual, warnings apply: This is the rough draft of a story with adult themes and situations. If you are offended by bad language and grammatical errors, gentle reader, read no further! For those of you who have decided to stay, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy this week's chapter!




The familiar form of Magnon alighted on the bare branches of a nearby tree and cawed loudly at him.
“You have to be fucking with me!” he told the crow, drawing looks from several passers-by.

“Get away from that alley. Honestly, the one place I tell you to stay away from is the one place I find you.”

“No shit! what was that?”

“I don’t know her real name, but everyone calls her Lucy Cobbles. Blood Alley is hers. You should avoid her.”

“That’s a fucking understatement. Where were you?”

“I was scouting.”

Sensing that he’d get nowhere with it, Stirling chose to drop that line of questioning for the moment and motioned to the restaurant. “And, this is the place where we’ll be safe?”

“Welcome to the Skeleton Club.”

“The Skeleton Club,” he said flatly. “It says L’Abattoir, it’s a restaurant.”

“And Strangefellows says A&M Transmission on the outside. Don’t believe everything you read.”

“Isn’t it all a bit on the nose? L’Abattoir? Blood Alley? It won’t take a genius to figure out that there’s a bit of a deathy vibe going on here.” He said, beginning to walk toward the front door of the restaurant.

“Sure, the Guild knows where The Skeleton Club used to be."

“So why are we here then?”

“Two reasons. They don’t know it’s still here, and even if they did realize it’s still around, there’s no expectation that you could know about it. They have no idea I’m still around.”

“Alright, if it’s like Strangefellows, how do I get in?”

“Go inside and ask the bartender for a measure of strong brandy, then tell them you’ll pay on the way back.”

“Will I?”

“Will you what?”

“Pay on the way back.”

“That’s up to you. The brandy isn’t important.”

“Says you.”

“It’s a pass-phrase, it’s also what the condemned asked for before their trip up the scaffold steps to see the hangman. Incidentally, back in my day, the gallows was just a few hundred feet from here.”

“That’s a bit macabre.”

“You talk to ghosts, macabre is hand in hand with the job,” the crow reminded him.

“And smart-assed crows, apparently. Hold on a second though,” He stopped on the sidewalk outside the eatery. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m the first necromancer in a while, yes?”

“Yes, eighty years, give or take.”

“Then why, in the name of Angelina Jolie’s pouting, yet supple lips, would the barkeep know about the password. It’s been the better part of a century since it was used.”

“They might not,” the crow conceded, “but there’s a chance they might. When this place was first built, it was written into the building’s deed that all future employees were to know about the password, sign a contract explaining what to do should it be used, and swear to keep it secret. It was to be passed on from owner to owner as a condition of the sale. Can we go in now?”

“Let’s do it. The absolute worst thing that could happen is that I get a glass of brandy.”

Magnon hopped onto his shoulder and Stirling opened the glass door.

“Or they could kick you out for looking like a transient who French kissed a vacuum.”

“They’re mostly back to normal now,” Stirling said, touching his only slightly swollen lips.

Warm air smelling like the best kind of coffee, sausages, and pancakes wafted over his face, and Stirling was reminded it had been a long while since he’d eaten anything more substantial than a hot dog. The warmth was at odds with the arcane coldness he could feel getting stronger as he made his way deeper into the building.

He crossed the black and white tiled floor to stand at the bar made of a blond wood. Behind the bar, there was a truly exceptional assortment of bottles, and Stirling decided, Skeleton Club, or no, that he would have to come back and check it out what it had to offer in his free time.

The bartender did a double take when he saw Stirling, whether it was from his slept-in clothes, his swollen, yet kissable lips, or from the crow that rode on his shoulder, Stirling couldn’t decide.
The barkeep approached briskly, wiping his hands on a white hand towel, he was a man in his mid-thirties with a trimmed beard and wearing a red plaid shirt. “Out, no birds allowed,” said the bartender, waving a finger at Magnon.

Magnon lifted a wing as though seeing it for the first time, and rocked back on his talons in a pantomime of being surprised.

The man blinked at the bird. Magnon blinked back.

Ignoring the interplay between barkeep and crow, Stirling took a seat at one of the stools and looked directly at him. He hoped this worked, he really wanted that glass of brandy.

“I need a measure of strong brandy,” he told the man, “I’ll pay on the way back.”

That stopped the bartender dead. His eyebrows went up, and Stirling knew he was in luck at last.
“Say that again?”

Stirling did.

“Right,” said the bartender pausing for a few long beats, looking stunned now. “Um, yeah. Follow me.”

“I’d also like a brandy.”

“What?”

“A brandy, it has been one shit show of a few days.”

“So just to clarify, you want a brandy.”

“And the other thing as well,” Stirling confirmed.

The bartender looked uncertain.

“Look, let’s start this again.” He held out his hand. “I’m Stirling.”

“Brian,” the bartender approached and they shook.

“Brian, I’d like a measure of strong brandy, I’ll pay on my way back. If you know what I mean.” He gave him an exaggerated wink. “I’d also like a glass brandy because in the last two days I’ve been robbed, had part of my house burned down, been framed for murder, and nearly kidnapped.”
“Uh, which one first?”

“Robbed, I guess.”

“No, the brandy first, or…” Brian trailed off here.

“The real brandy, then we can deal with the other thing,” said Stirling.

Brian went to the wall of bottles and scanned what was there, Magnon and health code violations now apparently forgotten. “Do you have a favourite?” he asked, looking at the wall of bottles in front of him and dry washing his hands.

Stirling could tell that Brian was just itching to begin geeking out about how long this one had been in the cask, and where the fruit from that came from. He was going to have to crush his feelings.
“Right now, it’s whatever you’ve got that’s strongest, Brian.”


*




There was still a pleasant heat swirling in Stirling’s belly as he followed Brian around tables filled with people enjoying a late brunch, and to the rear of the kitchen to where a trap door with a black iron ring set into the wooden floor waited.

While he’d been drinking his brandy at the bar with Magnon, Brian had quietly left and spread word to the rest of the staff. Apparently, the password and the instructions on the deed had fallen into the realm of staff legend. When Brian announced his intention to go and speak with the staff of the Irish Heather, a pub across the road, which had until a few years ago occupied the space L’Abittoir did now, Stirling put his foot down. He let it be known that it was a secret that could get them into some serious trouble. While he spoke, he let a whiff of arcane BO seep out, hoping a bit of fear dampen Brian’s enthusiasm.

Whatever he was going to find, he didn’t think he’d be able to keep it secret from the staff here, but with the Alchemy Guild, and who knew how many others looking for him, the fewer people who knew, the better.

Stirling was lead down a set of worn wooden stairs to a basement supported with massive wooden beams the size and thickness of which he’d only seen on old wooden sailing ships. Following them were as many of the staff as could get away from the business of looking after the customers, watched and followed.

Brian clicked on a dusty overhead lamp to reveal a space filled with steel racks stacked with boxes of spare cutlery, mixing bowls, and all the other things a busy restaurant might need in a pinch. None of that was what caught Stirling’s attention though, because in the very centre of the room, in a space miraculously free of storage boxes or spare industrial-sized mixers, was an upright wooden door.
It stood on its own, a black-stained oak door with grinning skeletons carved in relief on its upper panels. Stirling knew as soon as he saw it, that it was one of those things that he could see and that the others could not. It exuded the kind of arcane vibe that he’d felt around ghosts, his hunting decoys, and up until recently, the gun safe in his workshop.

Brian looked at him expectantly. “It’s treasure, right? There’s treasure buried in here.”

“No treasure guys, but I’ll give you fair warning, if you need to pee, go to the bathroom now, this is going to get spooky.” Nobody moved.

“It’s your drycleaning bill.” He walked the last few feet to stand in front of the door.