Halcyon Rebirth

By Morgan Sales

Paranormal, General fiction, Sci-Fi


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21 mins

Chapter 1

The door creaked as Gabriel strolled into the pub, greeted by the familiar smell of beer and cigarette smoke. He hated the smell of cigarette smoke normally. However, he’d always felt that it added something to the atmosphere of a pub, it seemed to smell different when it mixed with the collective aroma of the multitude of drinks sold by the average waterhole. It had to be said that this pub, The Hunter’s Moon, had seen better days, the varnish on the bar was worn on the edges and the carpet was threadbare in places. That didn’t really matter, it had character, so the locals all said. Gabriel held the belief that character, along with attractive bar maids are key selling points, especially in a small village like Hoggersbrook. The Hunter’s Moon was a reasonably small establishment; the walls were adorned with paintings, alongside old photographs of village landmarks and historically important local people. There were five stools regimented along the bar, each with mahogany legs and a synthetic red leather seat.
An old man sat on the furthest stool, a half empty pint glass of bitter sat idly in front of him. He wore a tatty brown coat that came to his waist, with a pair of grey trousers that were slightly too short for him and a brown shirt. Despite his advanced years he had maintained a full head of straggly silver hair. The still bright sparkle in his eyes and the pronounced lines on his face reflected the events they had witnessed in his long years. When the man moved he moved with a lethargy that resulted from a lifetime of hard work. Gabriel pulled out the stool next to the old man.
“Good afternoon Mr Jones.” The gentleman croaked, as he turned his leathery face to acknowledge Gabriel. “How are we today?” he asked clasping his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder as Gabriel sat beside him.
“Can’t complain, Mr Conway. How are you?” Gabriel replied, awkwardly shifting the stool toward the bar with one hand, his other hand grasping the edge of the counter.
“Can’t complain myself lad, how’s the writing coming along? You famous yet?”
“Not that I know of, but it might be that I’m just not paying enough attention to the news. As for the novel, it’s coming along very slowly. I’ve sent a couple of articles off to a couple of magazines, hopefully they’ll get published, I’m not holding my breath though.”
“Sounds like you could use a drink. Miss Moordomus, get our Mr Jones a pint of the usual please.” Elizabeth Moordomus picked up a pint glass and started to pull a Guinness from the pump.
“Thanks boss.” Gabriel said smiling. Gabriel and Eric Conway had known each other for years, since Gabriel was a boy. Gabriel had grown up in the village, both his parents were killed in a car crash when he was too young to even remember. He had been raised by his mother’s sister, ‘Aunty Gladys’, she had never allowed him to call her mum, out of respect she always said. However Gabriel had always thought of her as his mum, she was a deeply kind woman, she could be stern but it was always tempered with fairness, as he got older he often regarded her as a female Atticus Finch. Unfortunately, Aunty Gladys suffered a stroke and passed away while Gabriel was at university. He inherited her cottage in the village which was poor consolation for the loss of the only parent he’d ever known. The village was a true community, when Gladys passed, many of her friends started to look upon Gabriel as one of their own family. Eric and Martha Conway were two of these people. Eric called everyone by their title, even his late wife, people generally felt compelled to reply to him in kind, or at least in some affectionate and respectful term. Elizabeth brought Gabriel a Guinness over and placed it on the beer mat in front of him, a little of the head running down the side.
“Cheers Liz,” Gabriel said lifting the glass and taking his first sip.
“You’re welcome, our kid,” She replied with a sly smile on her face. Gabriel and Elizabeth had been friends for a few years, she was in her mid-twenties, a year younger than him. Elizabeth was the type of women most men found attractive, thin, with strong features, fair skin, blonde shoulder length hair. Her eyes were deep blue but often showed a sadness of a soul that had seen too much for its years. She was generally outgoing with a lively sense of humour. The young woman had moved to Hoggersbrook with her mother when she was seventeen, and promptly left for university. She moved back after graduation, the village may not have had any night life, and it may only have had a few shops, one church and a couple of pubs, but it had incredibly nice scenery. Elizabeth was in the middle of her PhD, some history related subject that Gabriel forgot on a weekly basis. She generally came back to the village at weekends and non-term time, working the bar for a bit of added income. “What you doing here anyway?” She enquired. “Shouldn’t you be slaving over a hot keyboard right now?”
“I’m meeting Jim for a drink, he reckons that he’s got a contact at Future Publishing who might be able to throw some work my way.”
“And this needs to be done with alcohol because?” Elizabeth asked, slowing drawing out her last word as she raised an eyebrow.
“Because we’re a couple of piss-heads, and it’s any excuse.” Gabriel said with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Oh yes, I was forgetting that.” She replied with a laugh in her voice, then turned and disappeared into the back of the pub. Eric looked at Gabriel.
“Are you two courting yet?” he asked, also smiling.
“Are you kidding? I need her to complain to when other women drive me nuts.” Eric was still smiling.
“Mrs Conway always told me that women were put on this earth to drive men nuts.”
“Mrs Conway knew what she was talking about.” Gabriel replied with an earnest look on his face as he raised his glass.
“That she did lad.” Eric raised his own glass in reply and downed the rest of his drink. Anyway it’s time for me to make a move, tell Jim I said hello.”
“See yah later Mr Conway, thanks again for the drink.”
“Any time lad, any time.” Gabriel continued to drink his Guinness as he watched Eric walk out of the pub. Elizabeth emerged from the back.
“He teasing you again kid?” She asked.
“Only slightly, we both know these old folks need some fun in their lives. Anyway haven’t you got some bloke on the go in Sheffield?”
“The hot undergraduate with the nice bum who’s working part time in the records office?” Elizabeth replied, grinning as her eyes rolled upwards.
“I didn’t ask for details.” Gabriel said frowning.
“No, just feeling a sudden lack of testosterone in this conversation. Speaking of which Jim’s late” Gabriel’s attention shifted to the window, looking for any sign of him. Jim and Gabriel had been friends since they were kids, they’d gone to school together, they’d grown up together, the first time they’d got drunk, it had been together. Aunt Agatha liked to comment that Jim was the Butch to Gabriel’s Sundance. There was no sign of him yet though, he’d never been a good timekeeper. Gabriel surveyed the pub as he finished his drink, there wasn’t much custom in there that day, mostly just empty seats. Of course, it was only quarter to twelve in the morning. “Liz, give us another Guinness and whatever puff lager Jim’s drinking these days.”
“That’s your second.” Elizabeth commented with a disapproving look on her face. “It’s not even twelve o’clock yet.”
“With observational skills like that I can see why you’re PhD material. Get yourself a drink as well.”
“Well it’s nearly twelve; I could have one couldn’t I.” The disapproving look melted into a smile and a wink.
“I thought that might change your tune.” They both smiled. Elizabeth handed over the drinks, took the money and thanked him. Gabriel promptly picked up the filled glasses and took them outside into the sun, he walked over and sat on one of the old pub benches, the kind you see outside most pubs, a table in the middle with a plank on each side forming two seats. The bench matched the rest of the pub in that it had seen better days, the wood was a pale brown, almost grey in parts, it was rough to the touch, with sharp splinters at the edges. As he sat the entire bench complained with a predictable creaking sound.
Gabriel looked up and down the street, then at the front of the pub, some fresh hanging baskets had been placed out but the plants were starting to wilt a little, it hadn’t rained in the past week. The pub had a swinging sign, with an image of a moon with a blunderbuss in front of it, atop the sign sat a crow, quietly preening its feathers and giving Gabriel the occasional glance. Gabriel looked up and down the road again. Hoggersbrook was a small village in the Peak District, very picturesque, but as Elizabeth was fond of saying, ‘It’s just far enough off the beaten track to keep most of the god damn tourists out of our hair.’
“Sorry I’m late mate, got a bit caught up in things.” The voice came from behind Gabriel. This was a stock greeting for Jim, most people say “Hello, how are you?” Jim would normally say: “Sorry I’m late.”
“That I know of, you’ve been on time twice in twenty years, and one of those occasions was your wedding. I’d probably get distraught if you were on time, thinking it was one of the signs of the apocalypse, I’d spend the rest of the day looking over my shoulder for four horsemen.” Jim sat down on the bench across from Gabriel, the bench creaked again mimicking the sound it had made earlier. “Here, I got you a pint in, if the horsemen do turn up at least we’ll both have a drink inside us.”
“Thanks mate, is Liz working?” Jim had a big smile on his face.
“You’re married.” Gabriel replied dryly.
“I can still look.” Jim responded giving a cheeky wink that made Gabriel snigger.

The two friends sat in the sun, drank and caught up on what they’d missed in the past few days. They sank a few more beers, then conversation turned to Jim’s contact.
“So what’s this job then?”
“Eddie reckons that his editor is after a few articles about the occult in rural England.” Gabriel winced a little.
“The occult?” He asked turning his head a little and speaking mostly out of one side of his mouth. Much the same as a plumber would when he informed someone that they need a new boiler.
“Yeh, witchcraft and all that.” Jim clarified needlessly.
“In rural England?” The writer was still wincing slightly.
“Yeh.” Jim repeated, before taking a good sip of lager. Gabriel leant in close to Jim and whispered:
“Jim, it’s old wives' tales, it’s sensationalised pap, we both know that there’s no real occultism, in rural England, or anywhere else for that matter. The most you get is some teenagers playing at devil worship or some mental yanks over in America who never grew up.”
“I know that.” Jim said slowly pointing at himself, “You know that.” pointing at Gabriel, “But your average pleb on the street. . .” this time waving his fingertips from left to right . . .has no real clue.”
“You have a point. Thanks for bringing this to me, but it’s not really my style, I don’t believe in it as you know. And I’d rather not start fabricating stuff until I get really desperate for money.”
“You mean when you can’t afford to drink anymore?”
“Precisely.” Gabriel replied raising his glass.

Gabriel took a steady walk home, strolling down the quiet streets enjoying the sun and chewing over what Jim had said. He reached his home, a small stone cottage with sash windows and unreliable central heating. It was a modest cottage containing a medium sized kitchen and lounge on the ground floor, with two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. On the way in he picked up his post off the floor, a few bills and two rejections for the articles that he’d submitted.
“No surprise there.” Gabriel exclaimed while exhaling heavily and tossing his keys on the kitchen counter. The kitchen was a square room, with worktops down three sides, and a double sink. It contained the usual paraphernalia that you would expect to find in a kitchen along with far too much clutter. Gabriel switched on the kettle, walked into the living room and slumped down in front of his computer, tapping the power button with his foot as he did so. The machine wearily started up, wheezing and chugging along like an asthmatic steam engine. Gabriel forced himself out of the chair and returned a few minutes later, cup of tea in hand. He checked his email, nothing came through beyond the normal spam. “Still no surprise.” He took a sip of his tea, the milk was a little close to being off. Gabriel paused, considering whether it tasted bad enough to leave. He shrugged his shoulders and continued to drink it. Loading the word processor he decided to do a little work on his novel, basically the novel was Gabriel’s way of postponing doing actual work that might pay the odd bill. As Liz put it more than once: ‘You’d procrastinate ‘til your dying breath if you could get away with it Jones.’

The words were flowing well that day, Gabriel was deep in thought, words flowed from his fingertips, into the keyboard and onto the screen. The real world became muted as he constructed his own narrative on screen. After about three hours Gabriel was snapped back to reality by the noise of the back door opening.
“Hiya sugar, it’s only me.” the friendly voice resonated from the kitchen. Gabriel was a little peeved to be interrupted, however, he couldn’t help but grin.
“Hello Anj, want a cup of tea?” He shouted back.
“Is your milk in date?” Gabriel regarded the now cold cup in front of him and frowned before walking into the kitchen to greet his guest.
“Probably not.” Anji’s red curly hair bounced a little as she walked over to the bottle of milk that had been left out. She raised it to her nose and cautiously gave it a sniff before screwing her nose up for a second. She turned to look at Gabriel, her pale blue eyes levelled a cold stare at him.
“There’s a surprise” she scolded, then broke into a giggle and headed for the door. “I’ll nip to the shops, I need some fag papers anyway, see you soon babes.” Anji was an unusual person. She rolled her own cigarettes, normally containing a fair amount of marijuana, she was a rampant environmentalist, at least when it suited her. She talked to her car, laptop, mp3 player, and most likely a few other things that Gabriel wasn’t even aware of. On top of this she had a habit of dressing like a hippy, her red curls added to the effect. She liked to play Jazz on the guitar in her spare time, and had recently trained as a car mechanic. Gabriel liked her a lot, they’d only met eighteen months previous, but became close friends very quickly. He often joked that she had the ability of relaxing him just by talking to him, although he was never sure about the calming effects of the second hand dope smoke. Gabriel filled the kettle and switched it on for the second time, then returned to his novel for a while.

The back door opened again. “Come on you lazy bastard, here’s some milk, make us both a cup of tea while I roll a joint, then we’re going outside so I can smoke it.”
It was still bright sunshine outside, the cottage garden was a tranquil place. It had tall trees across the north edge where they wouldn’t block the sun, and shrubs on the other sides, at the bottom of the garden flowed a small stream giving the relaxing sound of running water. The grass was getting a little long and some of the borders were ready for weeding. Anji was wandering around and looking through the intertwined branches of the trees. Gabriel placed both cups of tea on a grey cast-iron garden table, then sat on one of the four matching chairs. Anji joined him, sitting to his left and stretching her legs out resting them on his knee. She took a drag of her cigarette and looked at him. “So then, you got any work lined up?” Gabriel gave her a ‘You must be joking’ expression.
“Have I ‘eck. Jim said that he could throw some work my way, but it’s writing about the occult, occultism in rural England to be precise.” He took a sip of tea, it tasted better than his last cup.
“What’s wrong with that?” Anji asked mirroring his own actions.
“The fact that there is no occultism in rural England for a start.”
“Bollocks, you don’t know that.” She mumbled as forcefully as she could with a joint in her mouth.
“Come on, be serious.” Gabriel replied with a ‘you must be joking’ look on his face again. Anji took the cigarette out of her mouth and took another sip.
“At the very least you could write it from a historical point of view.” She made a good point but Gabriel wasn’t about to admit that. “What you mean is: You have no interest in the subject so can’t be arsed to research and write about it.” She had just made another good point, pretty much hitting the nail squarely on the head. She was talking in her forceful tone again, this time it was not restrained by a cigarette. This was the tone that Gabriel always considered to be her ‘nagging tone’.
“Okay, I’ll think about it” Gabriel conceded, mainly just to shut her up.
“I think it could be a really interesting topic. If you do the article let me know, I’ll help with the research.” They sat in the garden and had a few more cups of tea, which soon turned into beers. Time wore on, the pair continued to drink, the topic of the article didn’t come up for the rest of the evening.

The following morning Gabriel was abruptly woken by the coarse sound of a crow cawing outside his window. He reluctantly rolled over and forced his eyes open, the blurry image of his room gradually coming into focus. He dragged himself into the bathroom to brush his teeth and have a wash, knocking on the door of the spare room on his way past. Gabriel covered his face in soap and rinsed it off with cold water in an attempt to shock himself into full consciousness.
Ten minutes later Gabriel was in the kitchen fighting his hangover, Anji emerged from the spare room and gently walked down stairs. She passed him in the kitchen, silently taking the cup of tea that he handed her and headed straight for the fresh air of the garden. Gabriel joined her, squinting as his eyes protested against the bright light. They both sat in a comfortable silence for a moment enjoying the morning sun, Anji was the first to break the quiet. “Thanks for the tea babe, it was just what I needed.”
“No problem Anj. Sleep well?” Gabriel replied sinking further back into his chair.
“Like a log. But we did put quite a lot of booze away. What you doing today?” Gabriel knew what she was getting at.
“Think I’ll have a look around for a new article, I might even take that occult one yet.” Gabriel was actually thinking that he’d write the article when Hell froze over, but was too hung over to argue the point.
“If you’re not busy this evening I’m playing at gig night over at Chandlers in Chesterfield.” Anji said, her thumb toying with the top of the mug handle.
“Sounds good, I’ll see who else I can round up. What time do you start work this morning?” Gabriel asked gesturing to Anji’s watch
“Ten. I better get moving soon.”

After Anji had left, Gabriel turned on his computer and made the usual cup of tea while he waited for it to boot. He did his ritual pointless email check, talking to himself as he did it. “Spam, Spam, Spam, Bacon, Beans, Spam and. . . hold on you’re not spam.” He had received an email from an Edward Tomlinson. The mouse clicked twice and the message appeared on screen:

Dear Mr Jones,
I understand from our mutual associate Mr Lowe that you are reluctant to be commissioned to write a series of articles regarding the occult in rural England. I consider this to be a great shame as I have read your work and was looking forward to seeing what you would have produced on this subject. I have been authorised by my editor to offer you £200 ‘up front’ and we agree to cover all travelling and research expenses, above and beyond the commission for the articles. If you reconsider please contact me at this address.

“Very odd indeed.” thought Gabriel. “I normally have to beg them for work, not the other way around. Three words Jones: gift, horse, mouth.” Gabriel wheeled his computer chair across the room to the beaten-up chest of draws where his mobile phone was sat charging. His fingers fumbled with the wire and finally managed to detach it. He found James Lowe in phone memory and hit the dial button. The phone began to ring “Come on Jim, pick up the damn phone.” No answer. Gabriel slipped the mobile into his pocket, picked up his keys and left the house.
Walking helped Gabriel think, it always had. Two hundred pounds was a lot of money to Gabriel, he really didn’t want to do one article about the occult, let alone a series of them. That said, two hundred pounds extra, was a difficult offer to refuse, especially when it was coming upfront. However something about it didn’t feel right, he’d never been offered money up front before, and he wasn’t successful enough for it to be common practice. Hell, Edward Tomlinson hadn’t even sought him out in the first place, if it was just a favour for Jim, two hundred pounds more would make it an expensive favour.
Gabriel found himself heading in the direction of the Hunter’s Moon, cutting across the church yard as he did so. The church was old, as most country churches are, built in the fourteenth century but had been kept in good repair. The grass in the graveyard was kept trimmed and the shrubs and trees were neatly pruned. On the west side of the graveyard grew a large Yew tree, its branches stretching wide but not too low. Gabriel would often sit in its shade in the summer making notes for whatever he happened to be writing at the time. Today however he was just passing through; he strolled down the gravel path, listening to the sound of the crow that had rested on a gravestone a few feet away. Gabriel couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same bird that had so rudely awoken him that morning, an unnecessary reminder of how hung over he was. The Crow seemed to be watching Gabriel as he passed. The light reflected off the sheen of the bird’s oily black feathers as its head slowly turned following him. At that moment Gabriel realized that he could hear no birdlife of any sort, the crow was silent now and so was every other bird in hearing distance. The writer glanced around the church yard, then back at the crow, it was the only bird he could see.
“You scared ‘em all off or something?” He asked half under his breath. The crow didn’t reply, but continued to stare. Gabriel matched the stare a split second before a shiver ran down his spine. He suddenly felt very alone in the graveyard, an irrational feeling of uneasiness was growing in the pit of his stomach. Gabriel quickened his pace away from the crow and the churchyard.

The pub was a comforting site, Gabriel went inside quickly the cool dim interior was a welcome respite for his eyes.
“A bit early even for you isn’t it kida?” Elizabeth chirped watching Gabriel as he let the door swing shut behind him.
“Yeh, give us a coke will yah.”
“Poor Gabe’s hung over.” She commented in a singsong voice. Gabriel raised an eyebrow.
“Anji came over last night, that normally means too much beer.”
“How is the crazy ginger one?” Elizabeth asked cheerfully.
“She’s not bad, she’s got a gig at Chandlers tonight. I’m recruiting people. Want to come?”
“I’m not working tonight so sounds good, I’ll drive if you like.”
“Cool, I’ll see if Jim wants to come as well. I need to talk to him at any rate.”
“About the job?” Elizabeth asked putting a cold glass of coke on the bar, the ice cubes chinking together as she did so. “That’s one-ninety by the way.”
“Yeh, I wasn’t gonna do it but they’ve just upped the money by a couple of hundred” Gabriel handed over his money and slid onto a bar stool.
“That’s good. Why do you need to talk to Jim?”
“Because it doesn’t feel right.” He took a sip of his drink. “There’s no reason for them to offer me the extra money, and I’m wondering what the catch is.” Gabriel put his elbow on the bar and propped his head up with his hand.
“You’re a pessimist.” Elizabeth said in a dry tone.
“You mispronounced the word realist.” Gabriel forced a half smile and took a hefty swig of coke. “I’m gonna finish this then look into doing some research for the articles. It’s probably gonna involve a lot of travelling, I can claim expenses for that, just like Jim Rockford.”
"Who?" Liz asked with a look somewhere between humour and pity.

Gabriel finished his drink and left the pub re-tracing his steps to the churchyard, the atmosphere had changed, the birds were singing and the sun was beating down. Gabriel felt a little stupid that he’d let himself get a shiver over a god damn bird, especially as he has absolutely zero belief in anything that should give him a shiver in a churchyard. This time he paid the Yew tree a visit, he pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and sat on the thin wooden bench beneath its branches. He started to scribble some ideas down, a difficult task due to his very limited knowledge of the subject. “Damn this is what I need Anji for.” He wrote the word ‘History’ and underlined it twice, then put the end of the pen in his mouth. “Okay, that’s probably a good jumping off point. So how do I start it?” There was a crunch of gravel underfoot from Gabriel’s left, he turned to see who it was.
“Good morning Reverend.”
“Good morning young Gabriel, how are you this glorious day.” Gabriel wasn’t really a religious man. He always thought of himself as agnostic when it came right down to it. He did however have a tremendous amount of respect for people with true faith. The Reverend Lincoln had arrived in Hoggersbrook as a student minister and was still there fifty-seven years later. He was of Afro Caribbean decent and still spoke with a strong accent. The black of his robes and dark brown skin, contrasted strikingly with the white of his eyes adding to his already strong presence. He was a good orator as all good ministers need to be and also held a seat on the local council. On top of this he knew a lot about history, especially local history. Gabriel was trying to weigh up the ethical constraints of asking a man of the cloth about occultism and devil worship.
“I’m not doing bad thank you Reverend. I could use some advice but feel a little awkward asking you.”
“I’ve been a minister a long time Gabriel, I would be surprised if you could ask me anything more indelicate than I’ve been asked in the past.” He gave a wide smile “Even if you are a heathen.” The Reverend said with a wide grin as he strolled over and sat beside Gabriel on the bench. “So please ask your question.”
“Basically I’m writing some articles on the history of occultism in England. As a history enthusiast how would you start researching?” The reverend considered his answer for a moment.
“Outside the obvious answer of a library? I often find that a good place to look for the more unusual things is the lecture circuit. Why don’t you try the local colleges and see what they have coming up?”
“A good idea Reverend, thank you.”
“You’re welcome my boy, good luck with it” The Reverend was about to stand when he read Gabriel's expression. “What is it my boy?”
“You said I was a heathen.” He said looking quizzical.
“I was being light hearted, secularist would have been more polite.” Reverend Lincoln bowed his head apologetically.
“You know I didn’t take offence Reverend, I just wondered how you knew.” The Reverend shuffled on the seat slightly.
“When you deal with faith and belief every day for fifty years, you develop a sixth sense for it. You can see belief in a man’s eyes. Figuring out what he’s believing in is another matter, but you can see if he believes in something. I look at your eyes and I do not see belief anymore. I don’t think you’ll ever believe in God again, but I look forward to the day when you start to believe in something. Even if you’re only believing in yourself.” He gave Gabriel a compassionate smile. “My love of God and my love of history have taught me many things, one of them is always keep an open mind. Remember what Shakespeare said. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Remember that when you’re doing your research.”
“Hamlet, act one scene five.” Quoting literature at each other had been a bit of a game that the two men had adopted years ago. Long before Gabriel could have been considered to be a man.
“But these days faith is feeling more like the undiscovered country from whose borne no traveller returns.”
“Puzzles the will.” Reverend Lincoln smiled again. “Remember what I said, keep an open mind, and never underestimate the faith of others. Faith is a powerful motivator. For example, we’re sat under a Yew tree, this tree was originally considered to be sacred by the pagans, the church adopted the tree, amongst other things to ease the populous’ transition from paganism to Christianity. Your own faith is buried in there somewhere; it will surface when you need it. Good luck with the articles. He placed a reassuring hand on Gabriel’s knee, stood up and walked in the direction of the church. If you want to talk you know where I am.”
“Thank you old friend.” Gabriel replied taking the pen out of his mouth.

Professor Tony Harrison walked out of his front door, a folder under his left arm and his car keys grasped in his right hand. He was in his mid-sixties and currently lecturing in the history department of Sheffield Hallam University. He wasn’t a physically imposing man, he was only about five foot five, and had lost most of the use of his left hand to what he always said was childhood. However when he spoke he commanded attention, his diction was precise and his oratory enthusing. Tony unlocked his car, opened the door, put his keys in the ignition then took the folder from under his left arm and casually placed it on the passenger seat. As he started the engine the compact disc player automatically started up to the London Symphony Orchestra playing Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie. Tony shifted the automatic gear stick into drive and pulled out of his driveway.

A little over an hour later the professor arrived at his office in the Owen building of Sheffield Hallam University’s city campus. It wasn’t an overly large office, it had a full bookcase down one side and an old-fashioned coat stand in the corner. Natural light came from a small window at the far end near three filing cabinets. Tony’s desk was covered in paper, his colleagues often joked that they couldn’t work out how anyone could find anything in such a mess, let alone a man with only one properly functioning hand. However Tony managed to pull it off, he could normally find any paperwork in a matter of seconds, even if it was buried in the paper monolith that was Professor Harrison's desk. He was a quirky man, who would sometimes come out with some of the most random rubbish anyone near him had ever heard. Behind this however was a remarkably sharp mind.
Tony took a seat in his studded leather chair which was certainly not university issue. He pulled his keyboard towards himself and logged onto the computer on his desk. A quick email check revealed a few messages requesting advice from his students, one regarding budgeting from his head of faculty. And one regarding the current status of his lecture circuit covering the history of occultism in Britain.

Jim Lowe left his office, squinting as his eyes were assaulted by the late afternoon sun. He removed his mobile phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and started to walk to his car. It had been such a hectic day he hadn’t had chance to look at it. A couple of text messages and a missed call. Jim checked the missed call first. ‘Gabriel Jones’ “Okay Gabe, have you changed your mind?” He wondered. Jim had been working at an advertising agency in Rotherham for several years, he was a likable fellow with a quick wit. Most people found him easy to get on with, which had made him a good choice for an advertising company. He was a large built man, about six foot two in height with short dark-brown hair. Jim hit the dial button to return Gabriel’s call.
“Hello mate, I’ve got a missed call off you.”
“Yeh, I got an email of your friend Edward, he’s offering me an extra two hundred upfront. This bloke is for real right?”
“Yeh, he’s a good man, his editor will take his advice most of the time as well, he might have swung it himself. You taking the job?” The phone was starting to feel sweaty against his ear in the sun.
“At that money I’d be an idiot not to.”
“Sounds good, drinks are on you next time then.
“Speaking of which, Anji’s playing at Chandlers tonight, Liz and me are going along to watch, you coming?”
“Alcohol and Jazz. Sounds good. We decided who’s driving yet?”
“Liz says she’ll drive, see ya about half seven.”
“Thanks mate, see you then.” Jim grinned and snapped his phone shut.

Gabriel hung up the phone. Headed to his computer and fired up a search engine. To his amazement he could find next to nothing useful about occultism in rural England. “The biggest repository of information in the history of mankind and I can’t find a single useful thing? Typical.” Gabriel spent a few more hours on his book before he had to get ready to meet Elizabeth.

The three friends arrived in Chandlers Cocktail bar quite early. It was what both Jim and Gabriel would describe as a ‘Poncy wine bar.’ Or ‘A place trying far too hard to be posh.” But they could both appreciate live music, and all three were having a good time. The bar was large and open plan, it had a hardwood floors and what most reasonable people would say was far too many blue neon lights around the place. Anji came up on stage and the three cheered loudly. Jim made an aborted attempt at a wolf whistle that sounded more like the dying breath of a very small shrew. Once Anji had finished performing her songs she joined them at their table. Her friends congratulated her on the show and had a few drinks, the last live act had just finished and the normal speaker delivered variety had replaced it.
“So Gabe, how’s the research going?” Anji asked, raising her voice to be heard over the music.
“It’s not so far. I can’t find much on the internet, at least not in amongst the maelstrom of pap that’s out there and I’ve not had chance to visit a library yet. The Reverend suggested that I check the lecture circuit.” Elizabeth’s ears pricked up.
“I think one of my lecturers, Professor Harrison, might do something useful. I’ll check for you tomorrow if you like.”
“That’d be great thanks. Is he any good?” Gabriel asked leaning forward and cocking his ear towards her.
“Very, he keeps things interesting, he can be a little odd though. I’ll email him for you tomorrow.”
“Cheers, I’ll get the next round. I’ve got two-hundred quid coming my way so I can afford it.” At this point Jim spoke up.
“Christ, I nearly forgot.” He looked around the room shiftily then retrieved a fat looking envelope from his inside pocket. He slid it under the table to Gabriel. “It’s the two-hundred in cash from Ed.” Jim had to say loudly to be heard over the music.
“Cheers mate, but next time can you try to look less like you’re passing me drugs.”
The quartet had a few more drinks before heading home.

Elizabeth’s car came to steady halt outside Gabriel’s house, he clambered out and steadied himself by placing a hand on the car’s roof. “Cheers Liz, see yah soon you lot.” He said heavily pushing the door shut and giving the car a quick pat with the flat of his hand.

Gabriel walked to his back door and paused before putting the key in the lock, he inhaled deeply and removed his hand from his pocket clenching his fist at his side as if to grasp at the air. “Umm, it’s a nice night, don’t think I want to go to bed yet.” He coaxed the key into the Yale lock, gave it a brisk turn then entered quickly and shut the door behind him. Gabriel opened the cupboard under his stairs, he was met by the familiar musty smell of a room that needed a good airing. After some fumbling around in the darkness he found his laptop computer. It was marginally better than its desktop counterpart that sat in the lounge. However Gabriel didn’t like laptop keyboards, so only used it when he wanted to write outside. He briefly walked into the living room to check that his desktop was still turned on. As long as the desktop was on Gabriel could get to his novel from the laptop, he didn’t understand how, Jim had helped him set it up. It used something that had an ‘I’ and too many ‘E’s along with a nonsensical number in the name.
Gabriel picked up his laptop, an oil lamp off the shelf and Anji’s lighter that she’d left in the kitchen. Hands full he headed into the garden. The laptop clunked as Gabriel placed it on the table, he lit the lamp, placed it next to the computer. Next returned to the kitchen for a beer while he waited for the machine to boot. Half an hour passed while Gabriel stared at the monitor thinking of other things. He looked disappointingly at the screen, the brightness of the virtual page glaring definitely at the darkness around it, the cursor alternating between black and white, winking at him. The unemployed writer gave a heavy sigh, “The flashing cursor that says: Write something you arse.”
The night air was still and quiet, the sweet scent of jasmine lingered from the climber by the window. There wasn’t any cloud cover and Gabriel took a sip of beer before looking up at the pricks of light that pierced the night sky. He was enjoying the quiet but still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with this article. Two-hundred pounds was the going rate for an article, two-hundred on top and upfront, was odd, even for several articles. Gabriel exhaled, still looking up.
“Is this the calm before the storm? Or am I just being an idiot as usual? Or both?”
He exhaled again, this time with a half-laugh and put the thought out of his mind. Gabriel opened an internet search engine, abandoning his novel for a while.
“What was your name? Tony Harrison?”
He did a search for ‘Antony Harrison’, too many results, he tried again this time trying ‘Antony Harrison Hallam’.
“That’s better.”
He browsed the first couple of sites, Professor Harrison was indeed an authority on Occultism, Wicca, Demonology, and quite a few other things. Gabriel continued to read. If he was going to be taking advice from this bloke then he wanted to make damn sure that the man knew what he was talking about, professor or no professor. Some of the most moronic people Gabriel had ever met had been academics. As it turned out Tony Harrison was well educated and well-travelled, he had been across most of Europe, also much of Africa and both North and South America. All the time researching some form of occultism.
“Okay Prof, looks like you know your stuff.”
Gabriel turned off the laptop and blew out the lamp, he took another sip of beer, stretched his legs out, and took a deep breath enjoying the warm night air, in the distance he heard a heavy rumble.
“Thunder. Maybe it was the calm before the storm after all.” He took another sip of beer, the rumble came again, this time louder.
“Well Jonesy, looks like the nice weather has dried up, time for bed soon.”
Gabriel picked up his laptop and took it inside before returning to his seat. He sat down, this time resting his feet on the chair that Anji had occupied that morning. He took a gulp from his glass and closed his eyes. Gabriel listened to the approaching thunder and tried to arrange the next chapter of his novel in his head. He periodically took heavy swigs of the drink in front of him. Then it came, the feeling of a raindrop hitting his nose, time for bed.



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