Episode 34 – The Girl…again

Terms

Freddos – Frog shaped chocolate treats (can be with a gooey caramel filling). They used to be 10p. They probably cost a kidney now.

Breagha (Bree-ya) – Scottish Gaelic name meaning beautiful.

Pal – friend

Telly – Television

Midge (Mih-dg-ee) – a tiny minion from hell that lives in Scotland and takes bites out of humans.

Script

Cities are never as big as you think they are. You’re never as far away from someone as you’d like to think. We all go around in our wee bubbles, thinking that they’re small, no larger than a handful, and then you hear something that makes you think the world’s a lot smaller than that. We’re all a lot closer.

It was the end of the month and most of my pals were living off instant ramen and Freddos, but still wanted to have some fun. We usually took turns hosting the others, usually whoever had the most money to spare, or the most booze lying about. On this occasion, and on many before, that was me. Breagha (Bree-ya) was the first to arrive, a dish of nachos in her hands she’d managed to cobble together from what she had in her cupboard, with a sly warning that one or more things had been out of date. I took the nachos, she took a large glass of wine, and we sat waiting for the others, having a catch-up before everyone else arrived.

I don’t know how we got onto the topic, perhaps it was after the shop had come up, but she began to tell me about her cousin. He was having a bit of a hard time recently, and in the last week it’d only got worse. It was a few days after they’d lost their job. It’d been out of the blue, an unexpected redundancy, not that I think there’s such a thing as an expected one. They’d loved their job, even though it wasn’t that well paid, but without a salary coming in they were getting worried over the debts they had. Credit cards and loans would continue to pile up if they couldn’t pay them.

As most people seem to do when they have money worries, they spend what little they do have on drink at a pub. Hoping to lose the burden of worry at the bottom of a pint glass or beer bottle. One night, well into the bender, the cousin was lamenting loudly to whoever would listen about their money worries, drunkenly rambling about how bad debt was, and how unfair their employers had been. During this rant they had said the golden words I usually hear in the shop. They’d do anything to have it fixed.

I had to remind myself I wasn’t in the shop sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table listening to a customer. Those words sent unease writhing in my gut until I could pull myself back. I was in my own house talking to a pal. There was no shop here, no customer, and no problem, supernatural or otherwise.

The cousin, a step away for being cut off by the bartenders, then noticed a girl approach. She took the stool beside theirs, put her own drink down on the table, and swivelled so she was holding their gaze. I don’t know what the cousin thought, if he was about to be scammed or hit on. The girl let the silence linger, letting it grow awkward, past the point of comfortable. The cousin waited, not wanting to touch their drink anymore and beginning to think they’d drank so much they were hallucinating.

The girl sipped her own drink, letting her eyes follow the glass as she put it back down on the table, condensation dripping down the sides and onto the sticky bar surface. Then she spoke. Was the cousin serious? Would he give anything to have his problems go away?

Feeling the tension dissipate, but still not quite knowing what was happening, the cousin snorted into their own glass, and said yes, of course they would. Perhaps they thought they were joking, perhaps deep down in that childish part of every person they were hoping that a stranger could snap their fingers and everything would be fixed.

The girl nodded, and then said she could give the cousin gold, enough to pay off all the debts. The cousin went to stare at the girl, about to laugh in appreciation of her joke, or her charm, or whatever she had going on. Beside her glass was a pile of five small gold bars, shining eagerly in the dim light. Never having seen a gold bar the cousin at first thought they were fake. The stamped writing on the surface, showing its weight, the company that’d made it, and an official looking list of numbers that were possibly an identifier all served to snake doubt into their mind.

The girl, after letting the cousin’ stare longer than intended, reassured that they were real, and would cover all their debt, with extra leftover. All she wanted in return was the watch on their wrist. Was that it? All that gold for one single watch? A Rolex, perhaps, an antique? It didn’t matter. Between glances at the gold and the watch, one disappeared. The cousin’s wrist felt naked, exposed, and when they glanced down the watch was gone, and so was the girl. The gold left beside her empty glass.

Breagha took a sip of her wine, interrupting the story. I almost felt like confiscating it until she was finished. I checked if the gold was fake, and that her cousin had just been robbed. The answer was why she’d had to take some wine. The gold had been genuine. Exactly as the lassie had said, it’d been enough to pay off the cousin’s debt and leave a nice wee nest egg leftover. I needed to go to this bar and beg poverty. Breagha still looked troubled, as though there was more to this tale.

The cousin, despite not having the burden of debt hanging over them, was saddened by the whole thing. The watch that had been given in exchange for the gold had been worth more than the all the gold bars in the country. To the cousin, at least. The watch that’d been taken had belonged to their grandfather, who’d been dead for a few years, but had given the watch to the cousin when they turned 18. The two had been close, closer than the rest of the grandchildren. The grandfather had practically raised them. The watch was one of the only things the grandfather had left behind, and the cousin had cherished it above all other possessions. Breagha told me the cousin could’ve sold the watch and put a dent in the debt if they’d wanted, it was quite valuable, a family heirloom. But they’d refused, no matter how bad money got. Now that the watch was gone, they were heartbroken. They’d intended to keep the gold and try to find the lassie to return it in exchange for the watch, but the family hadn’t felt the same and cashed the gold in.

I felt like I was in the shop. I felt the same level of confusion. The watch may have been worth some, but not as much as the gold the girl had left. Why the exchange? What did the watch really do? My mind drifted to Madam Anora, then away. It seemed too altruistic for her. Could it be the Madam? The same Madam who never left the shop, and who let customers come to her to fix their problems? Who was this person who exchanged gold for a sentimental watch?

Breagha said the cousin had found the girl again, waited in the same bar one night to beg her to reverse their deal. She’d refused, saying they were the one who’d promised to do or give anything. She’d smiled and shooed them away, crossing her legs over each other and arranging her green velvet dress, reaching her painted hand up to smooth a loose lock of ginger hair.

Ginger hair? No. It was a coincidence. Plenty of people had ginger hair. Plenty of people who’d been trapped in books had ginger hair. Plenty of people making deals in bars had ginger hair.

I asked Breagha what bar it was, trying to keep my tone casual, and she told me just before the buzzer went and the rest of our wee gathering had arrived. I found it difficult to concentrate for the rest of the night, wishing I could suggest we go to this bar. I knew I needed to go alone, and so my visit would have to wait.

The next night I made my way there half hoping it was wishful thinking, half hoping I’d see the creature I released from a book. If a creature she was. I’d never heard of anything apart from demons and Madams that made deals with people, one thing in exchange for another. Was there a third Madam? Or was this just something I’d never heard of? I didn’t know anything about the lassie in the book, I hadn’t found any clue as to who she was or why she was in there in the first place. I did know it was my responsibility to put her back inside, and hope I didn’t have more people’s injury and pain on my hands. What I’d done to Reid was heavy enough.

I wasn’t dressed to go out, but it was a weekday night when bars were the quietest, only filled with regulars and the occasional person wanting a change. I found the bar where Breagha said it was, nestled on the corner beside an old butcher and opposite a Thai restaurant that looked as empty as the bar did. I opened the door and let the music spill onto the street. It was warm inside, the music background noise. One person looked at me, sitting at one of the booths, evidently waiting for someone they’d arranged to meet. Most of the tables were occupied by people who looked like they never left the chairs they sat in, and one or two booths were taken by groups of people that were as natural there as the stains on the table. I made my way over to the bar but didn’t sit, I wasn’t here to drown my sorrows, or spend money I didn’t have. I got the bartenders attention and asked her about the incident. I told her my name was Breagha and that I was the lad’s cousin, and I was here to see if I could intervene with the lassie and get the watch back.

I don’t think I even needed to lie; the bartender was so eager to tell the story. She was more than eager to pull someone into her tornado of gossip. According to her the ginger-haired lassie had become a regular in the last few months. Every Thursday night, without fail, she’ll turn up at the bar and start drinking. Despite how many she had she never acts like she’s drunk. Every Thursday night, drink in hand, she’ll approach another patron and offer them a deal. Most of them say she’s a thief and has stolen from them, but usually left something of more worth in its place. Some of the regulars, and even staff, have complained to the manager about her, wanting her to be banned as she causes nothing but trouble. Yet, for some reason, they don’t. The bartender told me she thinks it’s because the manager made a deal with her too, so can’t throw the lassie out. I nodded in understanding, but she was the type of person who doesn’t really need any feedback to maintain a conversation.

When I visited it wasn’t Thursday, so I had a few days to wait and plan what I was going to do. Christ was it going to be embarrassing for me if this ginger-haired lassie wasn’t the same one I’d let out of the book. I’d just be a loner in a bar.

On Thursday I get there at the start of the night, just after they open, pick a table, and make it my home. Thankfully there was Wi-Fi, so at least I could so some coursework whilst I staked the place out. It’s not nearly as glamorous as it is on the telly. People I’d seen a few nights before came in and took the exact same tables and chairs, nervous looking people arrived, dolled up and smelling like they raided Lush, who were waiting for their Tinder or Bumble date. I sat there for hours, ordering non-alcoholic drinks and most of their snack menu. The bartender I’d spoken to the other day told the others who I was, so at least I wasn’t getting heated looks for them.

People around me got merrier, some got louder, but still the ginger-haired girl didn’t arrive. I thought maybe she’d moved on, perhaps my pal’s cousin had proven a step too far. I needn’t have worried, though. She eventually arrived, and just like with every opening of the door, every waft of cold night air that came in through the gap, I glanced briefly up, expecting it to be no one.

I saw the green velvet dress, the blood red lips, and the curled ginger hair, and I felt a jolt of nerves in my stomach. It was her, the lassie from the book.

I’d chosen a table far away from the door, in a corner. I could see whoever came in better than they could see me. Abandoning my coursework my gaze followed her as she sauntered casually over to the bar and sat down, peeling her coat off with envious grace. No sooner did she have a drink in her hand than she had a look around the bar, eyes raking over every regular face and every new one. I gritted my teeth in anticipation of her recognising me, but a drunken demand for another drink at the bar pulled her attention away before she got to me.

One of the patrons, a few stools away from her, was asking loudly for another drink, so addled with booze they thought they were speaking normally. They bore their misery about as well as they bore their drink; poorly. I couldn’t tell what was wrong by looking, but it was enough for the ginger-haired lassie to approach. She did slowly, like an adder sliding silently through the grass to snatch a mouse. I was too far away to hear what she said, if she said anything at all or just stared like last time, but I was ready.

Closing the lid of my laptop I darted across the bar and planted myself in between the lassie and her future victim. I told him she was a thief and that if he wasn’t careful, he’d wake up tomorrow morning finding all his life savings gone. I think he was too drunk to digest what I was saying, thankfully the bartenders helped get him outside and into a taxi. In the meantime, I took his seat and glowered at the lassie.

All she did was smirk into her glass, and I began to wonder if she’d always known I was in the bar, and that she’d approached the man to lure me out.

I told her she should come back to the shop. I made sure not to mention the book, but it lingered in the silence after I’d finished. She started tutting at me, reminding me that that wasn’t our deal. She didn’t have to do anything unless I knew her name.

Did I? Had I figured it out yet? She asked, sickly sweet but I felt the hidden barbs.

Waspishly I said I hadn’t, but that it wasn’t fair to upset people for no reason, taking items that were precious to them. It was brief, but there was a flash of anger behind her eyes as she carefully placed her glass down on the table. I heard the curt thunk as it touched the wood. Her smile was shallower, her humour faded.

She told me it wasn’t for no reason, and that it was just her nature. There was nothing really wrong with it. People got what they wanted in the end, they just had to pay the price, and she never forced them to do anything. I could’ve pointed out they never outright agreed to it either, but I kept silent.

Her smile turned feral; teeth exposed in a humourless way. She said if I didn’t like it, then I’d need to be cleverer. Irritation bit like a midge in summer, but what could I say against that accusation? How long had it been, and I was no further towards solving this problem than I had been the day she’d sprang from the book. Fuck her.

She knew she’d won, she knew I was powerless. After downing her drink and throwing me one last triumphant smirk she left the bar, and I knew she wouldn’t be returning. That bar, at least, wouldn’t be haunted by her, the patrons safe at last from her scheming deals. There was nothing I could do about the next place she decided to designate her hunting grounds.

Script – Scots

Cities are never as big as ye think they are. You’re never as far away frae someone as you’d like tae think. We all go aroond in our wee bubbles, thinkin’ that they’re small, no larger than a handful, and then ye hear somethin’ that makes ye think the world’s a lot smaller than that. We’re all a lot closer.

It was the end ae the month and most ae ma pals were livin’ aff ae instant ramen and Freddos, but still wanted tae have some fun. We usually took turns hosting the others, usually whoever had the most money to spare, or the most booze lyin’ aboot. On this occasion, and on many before, that was me. Breagha was the first tae arrive, a dish ae nachos in her hands she’d managed to cobble together frae whit she had in her cupboard, wi a sly warnin’ that one or more things had been oot ae date. I took the nachos, she took a large glass ae wine and we sat waitin’ fae the others, havin’ a catch-up before everyone else arrived.

I dinnae know how we got ontae the topic, perhaps it was after the shop had come up, but she began tae tell me aboot her cousin. He was havin’ a bit ae a hard time recently, and in the last week it’d only got worse. It was a few days after they’d lost their job. It’d been oot ae the blue, an unexpected redundancy, no that I think there’s such a ‘hing as an expected one. They’d loved their job, even though it wasnae that well paid, but withoot a salary comin’ in they were gettin’ worried over the debts they had. Credit cards and loans would continue tae pile up if they couldnae pay them.

As most people seem tae do when they have money worries, they spend whit little they do have on drink at a pub. Hopin’ tae lose the burden ae worry at the bottom ae a pint glass or beer bottle. One night, well intae the bender, the cousin was lamentin’ loudly tae whoever would listen aboot their money worries, drunkenly ramblin’ aboot how bad debt was, and how unfair their employers had been. Durin’ this rant they had said the golden words I usually hear in the shop. They’d do anythin’ tae have it fixed.

I had tae remind maself I wasnae in the shop, sittin’ on the floor in front ae the coffee table listenin’ tae a customer. Those words sent unease writhin’ in ma gut until I could pull maself back. I was in ma own hoose talkin’ tae a pal. There was no shop here, no customer, and no problem, supernatural or otherwise.

The cousin, a step away fae bein’ cut aff by the bartenders, then noticed a girl approach. She took the stool beside theirs, put her own drink doon on the table, and swivelled so she was holdin’ their gaze. I dinnae know whit the cousin thought, if he was aboot tae be scammed or hit on. The girl let the silence linger, lettin’ it grow awkward, past the point ae comfortable. The cousin waited, no wantin’ tae touch their drink anymore and beginnin’ tae ‘hink they’d drank so much they were hallucinatin’.

The girl sipped her own drink, lettin’ her eyes follow the glass as she put it back doon on the table, condensation drippin’ doon the sides and ontae the sticky bar surface. Then she spoke. Was the cousin serious? Would he give anythin’ tae have his problems go away?

Feelin’ the tension dissipate, but still no quite knowin’ whit was happenin’, the cousin snorted intae their own glass, and said yes, of course they would. Perhaps they thought they were jokin’, perhaps deep doon in that childish part ae every person they were hopin’ that a stranger could snap their fingers and everythin’ would be fixed.

The girl nodded, and then said she could give the cousin gold, enough tae pay aff all ae the debts. The cousin went tae stare at the girl, aboot tae laugh in appreciation ae her joke, or her charm, or whitever she had goin’ on. Beside her glass was a pile ae five small gold bars, shining eagerly in the dim light. Never havin’ seen a gold bar the cousin at first thought they were fake. The stamped writin’ on the surface, showin’ its weight, the company that’d made it, and an official lookin’ list ae numbers that were possibly an identifier all served tae snake doubt intae their mind.

The girl, after lettin’ the cousin’ stare longer than intended, reassured that they were real, and would cover all ae their debt, wi’ extra leftover. All she wanted in return was the watch on their wrist. Was that it? All ae that gold fae one single watch? A Rolex, perhaps, an antique? It didnae matter. Between glances at the gold and the watch, one disappeared. The cousin’s wrist felt naked, exposed, and when they glanced doon the watch was gone, and so was the girl. The gold left beside her empty glass.

Breagha took a sip ae her wine, interuptin’ the story. I almost felt like confiscatin’ it until she was finished. I checked if the gold was fake, and that her cousin had just been robbed. The answer was why she’d had tae take some wine. The gold had been genuine. Exactly as the lassie had said it’d been enough tae pay aff the cousin’s debt and leave a nice wee nest egg leftover. I needed tae go tae this bar and beg poverty. Breagha still looked troubled, as though there was more tae this tale.

The cousin, despite no havin’ the burden ae debt hangin’ over them, was saddened by the whole ‘hing. The watch that had been given in exchange fae the gold had been worth more than the all the gold bars in the country. Tae the cousin, at least. The watch that’d been taken had belonged tae their grandfather, who’d been deid fae a few years, but had given the watch tae the cousin when they turned 18. The two had been close, closer than the rest ae the grandchildren. The grandfather had practically raised them. The watch was one ae the only hings the grandfather had left behind, and the cousin had cherished it above all other possessions. Breagha told me the cousin couldae sold the watch and put a dent in the debt if they’d wanted, it was quite valuable, a family heirloom. But they’d refused, no matter how bad money got. Noo that the watch was gone they were heartbroken. They’d intended tae keep the gold and try tae find the lassie tae return it in exchange fae the watch, but the family hadnae felt the same and cashed the gold in.

I felt like I was in the shop. I felt the same level ae confusion. The watch may have been worth some, but no as much as the gold the girl had left. Why the exchange? Whit did the watch really do? Ma mind drifted tae Madam Anora, then away. It seemed too altruistic fae her. Could it be the Madam? The same Madam who never left the shop, and who let customers come tae her tae fix their problems? Who was this person who exchanged gold fae a sentimental watch?

Breagha said the cousin had found the girl again, waited in the same bar one night tae beg her tae reverse their deal. She’d refused, sayin’ they were the one who’d promised tae do or give anythin’. She’d smiled and shooed them away, crossin’ her legs over each other and arranging her green velvet dress, reaching her painted hand up tae smooth a loose lock ae ginger hair.

Ginger hair? No. It was a coincidence. Plenty ae people had ginger hair. Plenty ae people who’d been trapped in books had ginger hair. Plenty ae people makin’ deals in bars had ginger hair.

I asked Breagha whit bar it was, tryin’ tae keep ma tone casual, and she told me just before the buzzer went and the rest ae our wee gathering had arrived. I found it difficult tae concentrate fae the rest ae the night, wishin’ I could suggest we go tae this bar. I knew I needed tae go alone, and so ma visit would have tae wait.

The next night I made ma way there half hopin’ it was wishful thinkin’ half hopin’ I’d see the creature I released frae a book. If a creature she was. I’d never heard ae anythin’ apart frae demons and Madams that made deals wi’ people, one ‘hing in exchange fae another. Was there a third Madam? Or was this just somethin’ I’d never heard of? I didnae know anythin’ aboot the lassie in the book, I hadnae found any clue as tae who she was or why she was in there in the first place. I did know it was ma responsibility tae put her back inside, and hope I didnae have more people’s injury and pain on ma hands. Whit I’d done tae Reid was heavy enough.

I wasnae dressed tae go oot, but it was a weekday night, when bars were the quietest, only filled wi’ regulars and the occasional person wantin’ a change. I found the bar where Breagha said it was, nestled on the corner beside an old butchers and opposite a Thai restaurant that looked as empty as the bar did. I opened the door and let the music spill ontae the street. It was warm inside, the music background noise. One person looked at me, sittin’ at one ae the booths, evidently waitin’ fae someone they’d arranged tae meet. Most ae the tables were occupied by people who looked like they never left the chairs they sat in, and one or two booths were taken by groups ae people that were as natural there as the stains on the table. I made ma way over tae the bar but didnae sit, I wasnae here tae drown ma sorrows, or spend money I didnae have. I got the bartenders attention and asked her aboot the incident. I told her ma name was Breagha and that I was the lad’s cousin, and I was here tae see if I could intervene wi’ the lassie and get the watch back.

I dinnae think I even needed tae lie, the bartender was so eager tae tell the story. She was more than eager tae pull someone intae her tornado ae gossip. According tae her the ginger-haired lassie had become a regular in the last few months. Every Thursday night, withoot fail, she’ll turn up at the bar and start drinkin’. Despite how many she had she never acts like she’s drunk. Every Thursday night, drink in hand, she’ll approach another patron and offer them a deal. Most ae them say she’s a thief and has stolen frae them, but usually left somethin’ ae more worth in its place. Some ae the regulars, and even staff, have complained tae the manager aboot her, wantin’ her tae be banned as she causes nothin’ but trouble. Yet, fae some reason, they don’t. The bartender told me she thinks it’s because the manager made a deal wi’ her too, so cannae throw the lassie oot. I nodded in understandin’, but she was the type ae person who doesnae really need any feedback tae maintain a conversation.

When I visited it wasnae Thursday, so I had a few days tae wait and plan whit I was gonnae do. Christ was it gonnae be embarassin’ fae me if this ginger-haired lassie wasnae the same one I’d let oot ae the book. I’d just be a loner in a bar.

On Thursday I get there at the start ae the night, just after they open, pick a table and make it ma home. Thankfully there was Wifi, so at least I could so some coursework whilst I staked the place oot. It’s no nearly as glamorous as it is on the tele. People I’d seen a few nights before came in and took the exact same tables and chairs, nervous lookin’ people arrived, dolled up and smellin’ like they raided Lush, who were waitin’ fae their Tinder or Bumble date. I sat there fae hours, orderin’ non-alcoholic drinks and most ae their snack menu. The bartender I’d spoken tae the other day told the others who I was, so at least I wasnae gettin’ heated looks fae them.

People aroond me got merrier, some got louder, but still the ginger-haired girl didnae arrive. I thought maybe she’d moved on, perhaps ma pal’s cousin had proven a step too far. I needn’t have worried, though. She eventually arrived, and just like wi’ every openin’ ae the door, every waft ae cold night air that came in through the gap, I glanced briefly up, expectin’ it tae be no one.

I saw the green velvet dress, the blood red lips, and the curled ginger hair, and I felt a jolt ae nerves in ma stomach. It was her, the lassie frae the book.

I’d chosen a table far away frae the door, in a corner. I could see whoever came in better than they could see me. Abandonin’ ma coursework ma gaze followed her as she sauntered casually over tae the bar and sat doon, peelin’ her coat aff wi’ envious grace. No sooner did she have a drink in her hand than she had a look roond the bar, eyes rakin’ over every regular face and every new one. I gritted ma teeth in anticipation ae her recognisin’ me, but a drunken demand fae another drink at the bar pulled her attention away before she got tae me.

One ae the patrons, a few stools away frae her, was askin’ loudly fae another drink, so addled wi’ booze they thought they were speakin’ normally. They bore their misery aboot as well as they bore their drink; poorly. I couldnae tell whit was wrong by lookin’, but it was enough fae the ginger-haired lassie tae approach. She did slowly, like an adder slidin’ silently through the grass tae snatch a mouse. I was too far away tae hear whit she said, if she said anythin’ at all or just stared like last time, but I was ready.

Closin’ the lid ae ma laptop I darted across the bar and planted maself in between the lassie and her future victim. I told him she was a thief and that if he wasnae careful he’d wake up tomorrow mornin’ findin’ all ae his life savings gone. I think he was too drunk tae digest whit I was sayin’, thankfully the bartenders helped get him ootside and intae a taxi. In the meantime I took his seat and glowered at the lassie.

All she did was smirk intae her glass and I began tae wonder if she’d always known I was in the bar, and that she’d approached the man tae lure me oot.

I told her she should come back tae the shop. I made sure no tae mention the book, but it lingered in the silence after I’d finished. She started tuttin’ at me, remindin’ me that that wasnae our deal. She didnae have tae do anything unless I knew her name.

Did I? Had I figured it oot yet? She asked, sickly sweet but I felt the hidden barbs.

Waspishly I said I hadnae, but that it wasnae fair tae upset people fae no reason, takin’ items that were precious tae them. It was brief, but there was a flash ae anger behind her eyes as she carefully placed her glass doon on the table. I heard the curt thunk as it touched the wood. Her smile was shallower, her humour faded.

She told me it wasnae fae no reason, and that it was just her nature. There was nothin’ really wrong wi’ it. People got whit they wanted in the end, they just had tae pay the price, and she never forced them tae do anythin’. I could’ve pointed oot they never outright agreed tae it either, but I kept silent.

Her smile turned feral; teeth exposed in a humourless way. She said if I didnae like it, then I’d need tae be cleverer. Irritation bit like a midge in summer, but whit could I say against that accusation? How long had it been and I was no further towards solvin’ this problem than I had been the day she’d sprang frae the book. Fuck her.

She knew she’d won, she knew I was powerless. After downin’ her drink and throwin’ me one last triumphant smirk she left the bar, and I knew she wouldnae be returnin’. That bar, at least, wouldnae be haunted by her, the patrons safe at last frae her scheming deals. There was nothin’ I could do aboot the next place she decided tae designate her huntin’ grounds.

Episode 33 – The Oracle

Terms

*These are all real buildings and monuments that were at Delphi on the way to see the Oracle. Some of their archeological remains can still be seen today if you visit the site.

Peely-wally – unwell, someone with a sickly complexion.

Da – Dad

Bairn – child

Author’s note: As far as possible, all historical details about buildings, symbols, and attire are historically accurate.

Script

I must’ve mentioned these hundreds of times. They are always there in the shop, like Chronos and the Madam, but do a lot less talking. No one ever looks at them for more than a second, and that includes me. They stand against walls, tucked away in corners, hidden behind smaller items, but they’re always there, like huge flies on the wall. No one’s ever bought one, to my knowledge, and I’d never really given it much thought. Until one day, I got curious.

It was just Fionn and Chronos in the shop with me, Reid had a hospital appointment to remove the last of his stitches. In order to get out of taking part in the world’s most intense and competitive card game, I took a wander around the shop, hoping to find anything to entertain me. A book that mysteriously fell from the ceiling, a puzzle collection that timed you and gave you a score once you’d finished, or if I was really lucky another prison book that I could liberate someone for and regret for months.

Not that day. As I was meandering down the aisles, my eyes passed over a wardrobe I’ve seen so many times we should be on first name terms. It’s sandwiched between a vanity table and an old record player. It’s not grand by any means, and doesn’t stand much taller than myself. It’s quite slender and made of a light-coloured wood where the whorls and lines are visible in the grain. I can imagine it in the corner of a small boarder’s room in the early 20th century, used to house a few pressed shirts and their best suit. I wondered what was inside. If there was anything. I’d never checked in any of the wardrobes in the shop, but what if there were more things inside? Would people still find them?

Curious, I wound my way across a typewriter case and a few paintings propped upright against other things, until I stood in front of the doors. Two ring pulls were at waist height and as I curled my hands around them, I hesitated. This was the shop. What if a monster was inside? What if I got sucked in? I wasn’t stupid, even if Narnia did exist, it wouldn’t be a land full of talking lions and noble warriors. It’d be hell where the lion would rip your head off, and then someone’d scavenge your corpse.

Then again, this was the shop, where not every item was enchanted. This could be an empty wardrobe and I was fretting for no reason. Steeling myself, I flung open the doors, ready to face the horrors of the interior, only to find nothing. No clothes, no ravenous lion, not even an odd shoe. It was just a wardrobe after all.

I let my hands slacken from the ring pulls, inspecting the marks imprinted on my hand I was gripping onto it that tightly. Disappointed, I searched the inside of the wardrobe, hoping I’d missed something, a hidden doorknob, a false back or sides. After my inspection I bitterly concluded it was, indeed, just a wardrobe. Of all the things in the shop, it would be the one with the most potential that was mundane.

As I was about to close the doors and go in search of something more interesting, I saw a piece of paper wedged between the floor and the back wall of the wardrobe, as though someone had made a temporary fix. The wardrobe itself was deeper than it looked from the outside, so I knelt on its floor and reached back to the paper, managing to get it between my thumb and index finger.

As I pulled something pulled back, like there was someone else on the other end of that paper who’d had the same idea as me. I tried to shimmy the paper out, pulling from one side to the other, but nothing worked. It was time for brute strength, and with all my might I pulled on that paper, only to find myself being pitched forwards, straight into the back wall of the wardrobe.

I closed my eyes, expecting to smack my face into the wood, but when I opened them, I found myself stumbling forward on dry ground, catching my balance before I sprawled out. It’s sunny, heat lapping against my bare arms. The sky is bright blue, the occasional cotton white cloud swirling in the distance, chasing each other across the horizon. There are a lot of people about, some walk past me, others pause to take in the view to the distant mountains, or the many statues that line the pathway where we are. It’s a built-up area, but these buildings aren’t inhabited, they’re no houses or shop fronts. A single wide path cuts through them at sharp angles, leading people up to the top of the mountain that we’re on where the largest building looms.

Glancing around there are statues everywhere, on top of tall plinths, down on the ground, made of brass or stone, carved or moulded into shapes of animals and people. The statues wear the same clothing as the people around me, light linen tunics fastened by buttons or brooches, sandals on their feet, glistening jewellery on their fingers and around their necks. The stone statues are painted in vibrant colours, emeralds and sapphires, scarlets and yellows. It feels as though they could come to life at any moment, have a conversation with a passerby.

I walk up the incline, following the designated path, past buildings that remind me more of mausoleums but appear to be something else. Initially I thought this place was a graveyard, these luxurious stone buildings with shields hung on the walls and frescoes carved above the stone columns nothing but crypts to someone of note. As I began to walk past them, to peer inside, to try and read the foreign script, I thought they were more like temples, places of worship, but rather than praising a deity, they were praising a nation, or a previous triumph. The statues had the same feel to them, rather than honouring the dead, they were dedicated by the living in memory of some great historic moment.

It was as I passed one of these buildings, with shields hanging up inside, that I recognised a symbol painted on the front. The Greek letter lambda was emblazoned in coal black against a scarlet background. I’m not a 300 fan, but wasn’t that the symbol Sparta used to use? The more I gazed around the more I noticed. The Athenian owl was carved into a building or two, the winged horse of Corinth. Finally, the statue that explained it all was a large one, at least 8m tall. It was a column made up of three twisting ropes of copper that wound around each other until the top where they splayed into three snakes’ heads. Laid on top of the heads was a brilliant golden tripod and cauldron that sparkled in the sunlight. That was the Serpent column, the one dedicated to the Delphic oracle*. This was ancient Greece.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve been yeeted back into the past. Was this the real past? Could I interact with people?

The universe decided to answer my question by getting someone to shout at me. It was a woman standing behind a wooden stall full of trinkets and medals and other offerings. Looking directly at me, she beckoned me over. Believe me, I turned around and everything just to check. It was definitely me she wanted to see. I gingerly walked over to her and as soon as I got within speaking distance she began to surmise that I must be there to see the Oracle. Pointing further up the incline, following the path past even more wonderful and lavish buildings and statues, to the grand temple that towered above everything else, she ushered me in that direction. I go to ask her something, open my mouth, but I can’t. I simply grunt a reply to this woman, and she then tells me if I want any more advice to come and see her.

I start to glance down at myself and realise I’m dressed the same way as everyone else. Layers of linen, buttoned together at the seams and belted at the waist. My skin is a golden sun-kissed olive, far away for the peely-wally reality. I’m evidently not myself here. I’m a lot fitter too, I can see the muscles pushing against the skin on my forearms.

No really knowing what else to do, I follow the path up to the temple of Apollo, the grand edifice in the centre of this labyrinth of offerings. My Da’ loves a good documentary, so I watched a lot of them growing up. It’s the only reason I recognised the Serpent column. Another name for the Oracle at Delphi was the Pythia, and along with the tripod the oracles used both as their symbols.

The main temple is dedicated to Apollo who, amongst other talents, was the God of foresight or prophecy. Three women at any one time could hold the title of Oracle, and they were usually chosen from the local population, as Delphi is the name of the local town. People would travel far and wide to see the Oracle, asking her advice, and some nations put a lot of stock in what she said. Most are vague, and shockingly only make sense after the fact, but fake or not, the Oracle had copious amounts of influence in ancient Greece. Whether or not to colonise, whether or not to start a war, the Oracle would be consulted.

I continued following the path until I came out at the wide expanse surrounding the temple itself, by far the largest and most imposing building in the entire complex. Many carved stone columns supported a tiled roof, with a fresco of the founding myth of the oracle carved in brass around the edge. Too far up to truly see.

This place was packed with people waiting to get into the temple, and on the outskirts were stall owners selling everything from coins to small live animals that you could sacrifice to Apollo. I always hated that bit. As I glance around the crowd, I hear someone else hollering at me and waving me over to one of these stalls and I hesitate, afraid that a poor chicken will be foisted onto me and I’ll be expected to kill it. Eventually I go over to this man, dressed in as much finery as there was space on his arms and neck. He tells me the Oracle has been waiting for me, and that because I have priority I can go straight in, past the queue. Again, I open my mouth to say something, to ask why, but I can’t.

It looked like I was about to see the Oracle for myself. In the documentary my Da’ and I watched, no one really knew for certain what the inside of the temple looked like, or even how the Oracle worked. Would I get to see it now? How was I supposed to ask her anything when I couldn’t open my mouth?

The grand doors to the temple are pulled open and as soon as they’re closed behind me silence descends. Rather than an open space, like a church or mosque, with high ceilings and natural light, there’s another door a few metres in front that leads to a smaller chamber. I’m escorted through this one into a musky, hot room, not unlike a sauna. The silence in the main temple echoed, the slightest shuffling of feet or sandals as loud as the crowds outside, but in this sacred place there were only the crackle of candles. I’m not alone. There are attendants scattered around this space, holding bowls, writing utensils, or standing on ceremony. I make my way past them and up to the top of the room where a woman sits on a tripod.

This woman, dressed in pristine white linen, jewels and beads hung on her necklace and wrist, brooch sparkling in the candlelight, must be the Oracle herself. One of them, at least. I approach, and the Oracle asks me what I want to know. I don’t say anything in reply, but everyone reacts like I did, nodding in understanding. I’m left to glean my answer from the words she says next.

Raising her hands to the low ceiling she praises the god Apollo and tells me I have a great destiny to fulfil should I choose to accept it, that I could be the next hero of legend. It all depended on the choice I made when I left the temple. My destiny, she said, was waiting.

It’s good to know that psychics haven’t changed much in two thousand years. That was the end of my slot, and the attendants ushered me out the way I’d come. The cacophony outside felt like emerging from a sound booth. There was a rush of noise and a flood of people. The sunlight caused me to squint for a few seconds as my eyes adjusted to the brightness from the peaceful gloom of the temple interior.

I don’t have long to gather my thoughts and figure out what to do next when across the courtyard, through the queue, is a commotion. Steel clangs ring out and taunts are exchanged as a group of three scruffy looking men circle a scrawny looking one. I start moving towards the noise, only to realise I suddenly have a sword and shield in my hands. I didn’t even realise I had these on me.

I make my way through the crowd as the blazing sun watches until I’m upon this group where it’s clear the three armed men are trying to steal from the smaller one. Now, I know sometimes I can be a bit confrontational, but I swear I’ve never been in a proper fight. Punched a lad, aye, but he had it coming, and I was a bairn, but a full-on, swords out, try not to die fight, not once. To my dismay, instead of throwing a few sarcastic insults at the three to make them piss off, they just attacked me instead, didn’t even give me a chance to open my mouth. Not that I probably could’ve.

By Apollo’s luscious locks of hair, these bastards were actually trying to kill me. The more amazing thing was that I knew how to use this sword and shield. I was giving as good as I got, and I managed to  incapacitate one, but as I was about to deal the finishing blow, one of the other two got straight past my guard and plunged their short swords right through my chest.

Do you ever do something, be it cut yourself with a knife whilst you’re cooking or burn yourself on some overdone toast? It doesn’t hurt immediately, it’s like your brain hasn’t caught up yet, but you know what you’ve done, and you know that in less than a second you’re going to be in immense pain. Being impaled through the chest was like that. Except the moment of pain never came. I felt myself begin to crumple, my legs buckling and giving way, but I was in no pain. I didn’t think I was dying.

Before I could greet the stones on the ground everything went black for a second, apart from me, and I was in limbo, unable to move. There was text in the blackness, floating there in English, handwritten in cursive red.

GAME OVER.

Before I knew what was happening the world reverted to colour and blistering sunshine. I was standing outside the temple, as though I’d just come from the Oracle. The temple doors were just about to close behind me. The world had reset, the vendors were in the middle of saying the same thing as they’d been before, the same goat I’d seen be sacrificed a few seconds ago was just about to be so again. Squinting through the crowd, I even saw the small group who’d done me in the first time, their swords drawn and their taunts becoming loud enough for me to hear across the courtyard.

Was I…in a game? Was this wardrobe some kind of VR? I knew a few people who’d love VR to feel this real. All this talk about a great destiny, these helpful strangers pointing me in the right direction, and my inability to speak all reminded me of the many games I’d seen my pals playthrough on a casual Friday night in.

All of this was a bit modern for an antique wardrobe, if that’s even what it was. They didn’t have RPGs back in the 19th century. As I hear the taunts of the men who killed me, I’m tempted to have another go, but as much as being stabbed didn’t hurt, I wouldn’t want it repeated. Even remembering how it looked makes me feel ill.

Instead, I return to where I woke up in this bronzed demi-god’s body at the entrance to Delphi and find the original woman I spoke to. She waves me over and asks me if I’m sure I’m done. I decide being impaled once is enough and tell her I am, the first time during this whole ordeal I’ve been able to speak for myself.

I feel the same sensation of being pulled forwards, losing my balance and about to land face first, except I overcorrect and lean backwards, eventually toppling out of the wardrobe and onto the narrow path, taking a few magazines with me. Reid appears to help me up, meaning he’s back from the hospital. How long was I in there for?

He glances at the wardrobe, nods his head, and tells me he found it a few weeks ago. He’s been meaning to go back in and try it again. I know Reid finds cool things in the shop when he’s not playing games with Fionn and Chronos he’s usually rifling through the antiques. When he finds one, he comes to me to gloat, like a bairn during show and tell at school.

I ask him why he didn’t tell me about the wardrobe. I tried not to let the sting show in my voice, but I’m not sure I was that successful. Reid, curt as always, said that even though I’m in the shop, I’m not really there, I’m somewhere distant. I barely speak unless it’s to a customer.

I laugh it off, make a joke, something stupid, all the while barely being able to look at him because all I can think of is Fate and the car accident, and how it was all my fault.

Script – Scots

I mustae mentioned these hundreds ae times. They’re always there in the shop, like Chronos and the Madam, but do a lot less talkin’. No one ever looks at them fae more than a second, and that includes me. They stand against walls, tucked away in corners, hidden behind smaller items, but they’re always there, like huge flies on the wall. No one’s ever bought one tae ma knowledge, and I’d never really given it much thought. Until one day, I got curious.

It was just Fionn and Chronos in the shop wi’ me, Reid had a hospital appointment tae remove the last ae his stitches. In order tae get oot ae takin’ part in the world’s most intense and competitive card game, I took a wander roond the shop, hopin’ tae find anythin’ tae entertain me. A book that mysteriously fell frae the ceiling, a puzzle collection that timed ye and gave ye a score once you’d finished, or if I was really lucky another prison book that I could liberate someone fae and regret fae months.

Not that day. As I was meandering doon the aisles, my eyes passed over a wardrobe I’ve seen so many times we should be on first name terms. It’s sandwiched between a vanity table and an old record player. It’s no grand by any means, and doesnae stand much taller than maself. It’s quite slender and made ae a light-coloured wood where the whorls and lines are visible in the grain. I can imagine it in the corner ae a small boarder’s room in the early 20th century, used tae house a few pressed shirts and their best suit. I wondered what was inside. If there was anythin’. I’d never checked in any ae the wardrobes in the shop, but whit if there were more things inside? Would people still find them?

Curious, I wound ma way across a typewriter case and a few paintings propped upright against other things, until I stood in front ae the doors. Two ring pulls were at waist height and as I curled ma hands aroond them I hesitated. This was the shop. Whit if a monster was inside? Whit if I got sucked in? I wasnae stupid, even if Narnia did exist, it wouldnae be a land full ae talkin’ lions and noble warriors. It’d be hell where the lion would rip your heid aff, and then someone’d scavenge your corpse.

Then again, this was the shop, where no’ every item was enchanted. This could be an empty wardrobe and I was frettin’ fae no reason. Steelin’ maself I flung open the doors, ready tae face the horrors ae the interior, only tae find nothin’. No clothes, no ravenous lion, no even an odd shoe. It was just a wardrobe after all.

I let ma hands slacken frae the ring pulls, inspectin’ the marks imprinted on ma hand I was grippin’ ontae it that tightly. Disappointed, I searched the inside ae the wardrobe, hopin’ I’d missed somethin’, a hidden doorknob, a false back or sides. After ma inspection I bitterly concluded it was, indeed, just a wardrobe. Of all the things in the shop, it would be the one wi’ the most potential that was mundane.

As I was aboot tae close the doors and go in search ae somethin’ more interestin’, I saw a piece ae paper wedged between the floor and the back wall ae the wardrobe, as though someone had made a temporary fix. The wardrobe itself was deeper than it looked frae the ootside, so I knelt on its floor and reached back tae the paper, managing tae get it between ma thumb and index finger.

As I pulled somethin’ pulled back, like there was someone else on the other end ae that paper who’d had the same idea as me. I tried tae shimmy the paper oot, pullin’ frae one side tae the other, but nothin’ worked. It was time fae brute strength, and wi all ma might I pulled on that paper, only tae find maself bein’ pitched forwards, straight intae the back wall ae the wardrobe.

I closed ma eyes, expectin’ tae smack ma face intae the wood, but when I opened them, I found maself stumbling forward on dry ground, catchin’ ma balance before I sprawled oot. It’s sunny, heat lapping against ma bare arms. The sky is bright blue, the occasional cotton white cloud swirling in the distance, chasing each other across the horizon. There are a lot ae people aboot, some walk past me, others pause tae take in the view tae the distant mountains, or the many statues that line the pathway where we are. It’s a built-up area, but these buildings arenae inhabited, they’re no hooses or shop fronts. A single wide path cuts through them at sharp angles, leading people up tae the top ae the mountain that we’re on where the largest building looms.

Glancing aroond there are statues everywhere, on top ae tall plinths, doon on the ground, made ae brass or stone, carved or moulded into shapes ae animals and people. The statues wear the same clothing as the people aroond me, light linen tunics fastened by buttons or brooches, sandals on their feet, glistening jewellery on their fingers and roond their necks. The stone statues are painted in vibrant colours, emeralds and sapphires, scarlets and yellows. It feels as though they could come tae life at any moment, have a conversation wi’ a passerby.

I walk up the incline, following the designated path, past buildings that remind me more ae mausoleums but appear tae be something else. Initially I thought this place was a graveyard, these luxurious stone buildings wi’ shields hung on the walls and frescoes carved above the stone columns nothin’ but crypts tae someone ae note. As I began tae walk past them, tae peer inside, tae try and read the foreign script, I thought they were more like temples, places ae worship, but rather than praising a deity, they were praising a nation, or a previous triumph. The statues had the same feel tae them, rather than honouring the dead, they were dedicated by the living in memory ae some great historic moment.

It was as I passed one ae these buildings, wi’ shields hanging up inside, that I recognised a symbol painted on the front. The Greek letter lambda was emblazoned in coal black against a scarlet background. I’m no a 300 fan, but wasnae that the symbol Sparta used tae use? The more I gazed roond the more I noticed. The Athenian owl was carved intae a building or two, the winged horse of Corinth. Finally, the statue that explained it all was a large one, at least 8m tall. It was a column made up of three twisting ropes ae copper that wound aroond each other until the top where they splayed intae three snakes’ heids. Laid on top ae the heids was a brilliant golden tripod and cauldron that sparkled in the sunlight. That was the Serpent column, the one dedicated tae the Delphic oracle. This was ancient Greece.

Noo, this isnae the first time I’ve been yeeted back intae the past. Was this the real past? Could I interact wi’ people?

The universe decided tae answer ma question by gettin’ someone tae shout at me. It was a woman standin’ behind a wooden stall full ae trinkets and medals and other offerings. Looking directly at me, she beckoned me over. Believe me, I turned roond and everythin just tae check. It was definitely me she wanted tae see. I gingerly walked over tae her and as soon as I got within speakin’ distance she began tae surmise that I must be there tae see the oracle. Pointin’ further up the incline, followin’ the path past even more wonderful and lavish buildings and statues, tae the grand temple that towered above everythin’ else, she ushered me in that direction. I go tae ask her somethin’, open ma mouth, but I cannae. I simply grunt a reply tae this woman and she then tells me if I want anymore advice tae come and see her.

I start tae glance doon at maself and realise I’m dressed the same way as everyone else. Layers ae linen, buttoned together at the seams and belted at the waist. My skin is a golden sun-kissed olive, far away fae the peely-wally reality. I’m evidently no maself here. I’m a lot fitter too, I can see the muscles pushin’ against the skin on ma forearms.

No really knowin whit else tae do, I follow the path up tae the temple ae Apollo, the grand edifice in the centre ae this labyrinth ae offerings. Ma Da’ loves a good documentary, so I watched a lot ae them growin’ up. It’s the only reason I recognised the Serpent column. Another name fae the oracle at Delphi was the Pythia, and along wi’ the tripod the oracles used both as their symbols.

The main temple is dedicated tae Apollo who, amongst other talents, was the God ae foresight or prophecy. Three women at any one time could hold the title ae Oracle, and they were usually chosen frae the local population, as Delphi is the name ae the local town. People would travel far and wide tae see the oracle, askin’ her advice, and some nations put a lot ae stock in whit she said. Most are vague, and shockingly only make sense after the fact, but fake or no, the oracle had copious amounts ae influence in ancient Greece. Whether or no tae colonise, whether or no tae start a war, the oracle would be consulted.

I continued followin’ the path until I came oot at the wide expanse surroundin’ the temple itself, by far the largest and most imposin’ building in the entire complex. Many carved stone columns supported a tiled roof, wi’ a fresco ae the founding myth ae the oracle carved in brass around the edge. Too far up tae truly see.

This place was packed wi’ people waitin’ tae get intae the temple, and on the outskirts were stall owners selling everything frae coins tae small live animals that ye could sacrifice tae Apollo. I always hated that bit. As I glance roond the crowd I hear someone else hollering at me and waving me over tae one ae these stalls and I hesitate, afraid that a poor chicken will be foisted ontae me and I’ll be expected tae kill it. Eventually I go over tae this man, dressed in as much finery as there was space on his arms and neck. He tells me the oracle has been waitin’ fae me, and that because I have priority I can go straight in, past the queue. Again, I open my mouth tae say somethin, tae ask why, but I cannae.

It looked like I was aboot tae see the oracle fae maself. In the documentary ma Da and I watched, no one really knew fae certain whit the inside ae the temple looked like, or even how the oracle worked. Would I get tae see it noo? How was I supposed tae ask her anythin when I couldnae open ma mouth?

The grand doors tae the temple are pulled open and as soon as they’re closed behind me silence descends. Rather than an open space, like a church or mosque, wi high ceilings and natural light, there’s another door a few metres in front that leads tae a smaller chamber. I’m escorted through this one intae a musky, hot room, no unlike a sauna. The silence in the main temple echoed, the slightest shuffling ae feet or sandals as loud as the crowds ootside, but in this sacred place there were only the crackle ae candles. I’m no alone. There are attendants scattered roond this space, holding bowls, writing utensils, or standing on ceremony. I make ma way past them and up tae the top ae the room where a woman sits on a tripod.

This woman, dressed in pristine white linen, jewels and beads hung on her necklace and wrist, brooch sparkling in the candlelight, must be the oracle herself. One ae them, at least. I approach, and the oracle asks me what I want tae know. I dinnae say anything in reply, but everyone reacts like I did, nodding in understandin’. I’m left tae glean my answer frae the words she says next.

Raising her hands tae the low ceiling she praises the god Apollo and tells me I have a great destiny tae fulfil should I choose tae accept it, that I could be the next hero ae legend. It all depended on the choice I made when I left the temple. My destiny, she said, was waiting.

It’s good tae know that psychics havenae changed much in two thousand years. That was the end ae ma slot, and the attendants ushered me oot the way I’d come. The cacophony ootside felt like emerging frae a sound booth. There was a rush ae noise and a flood ae people. The sunlight caused me tae squint fae a few seconds as ma eyes adjusted tae the brightness frae the peaceful gloom ae the temple interior.

I dinnae have long tae gather ma thoughts and figure oot what tae do next when across the courtyard, through the queue, is a commotion. Steel clangs ring oot and taunts are exchanged as a group ae three scruffy lookin’ men circle a scrawny lookin’ one. I start movin’ towards the noise, only tae realise I suddenly have a sword and shield in ma hands. I didnae even realise I had these on me.

I make ma way through the crowd as the blazing sun watches until I’m upon this group where it’s clear the three armed men are tryin’ tae steal frae the smaller one. Noo, I know sometimes I can be a bit confrontational, but I swear I’ve never been in a proper fight. Punched a lad, aye, but he had it comin, and I was a bairn, but a full-on, swords oot, try no tae die fight, not once. Tae ma dismay, instead ae throwin’ a few sarcastic insults at the three tae make them piss aff, they just attacked me instead, didnae even gee me a chance tae open ma mouth. No that I probably couldae.

By Apollo’s luscious locks ae hair, these bastards were actually tryin’ tae kill me. The more amazing ‘hing was that I knew how tae use this sword and shield. I was givin’ as good as I got, and I managed tae  incapacitate one, but as I was aboot tae deal the finishin’ blow, one ae the other two got straight past ma guard and plunged their short swords right through ma chest.

Do you ever do somethin, be it cut yourself wi’ a knife whilst you’re cookin’ or burn yourself on some overdone toast? It doesnae hurt immediately, it’s like your brain hasnae caught up yet, but you know whit you’ve done, and you know that in less than a second you’re gonnae be in immense pain. Bein’ impaled through the chest was like that. Except the moment ae pain never came. I felt maself begin tae crumple, ma legs bucklin’ and givin’ way, but I was in no pain. I didnae ‘hink I was dyin’.

Before I could greet the stones on the ground everythin’ went black fae a second, apart frae me, and I was in limbo, unable tae move. There was text in the blackness, floatin’ there in English, handwritten in cursive red.

GAME OVER.

Before I knew whit was happenin’ the world reverted tae colour and blistering sunshine. I was standin’ ootside the temple, as though I’d just come frae the oracle. The temple doors were just aboot tae close behind me. The world had reset, the vendors were in the middle ae sayin’ the same thing as they’d been before, the same goat I’d seen be sacrificed a few seconds ago was just aboot tae be so again. Squinting through the crowd, I even saw the small group who’d done me in the first time, their swords drawn and their taunts becoming loud enough fae me tae hear across the courtyard.

Was I…in a game? Was this wardrobe some kindae VR? I knew a few people who’d love VR tae feel this real. All ae this talk aboot a great destiny, these helpful strangers pointin’ me in the right direction, and my inability tae speak all reminded me ae the many games I’d seen ma pals playthrough on a casual Friday night in.

All ae this was a bit modern fae an antique wardrobe, if that’s even whit it was. They didnae have RPGs back in the 19th century. As I hear the taunts ae the men who killed me I’m tempted tae have another go, but as much as bein’ stabbed didnae hurt, I wouldnae want it repeated. Even rememberin’ how it looked makes me feel ill.

Instead, I return tae where I woke up in this bronzed demi-god’s body at the entrance tae Delphi and find the original woman I spoke to. She waves me over and asks me if I’m sure I’m done. I decide bein’ impaled once is enough and tell her I am, the first time durin’ this whole ordeal I’ve been able tae speak fae maself.

I feel the same sensation ae bein’ pulled forwards, losin’ ma balance and aboot tae land face first, except I overcorrect and lean backwards, eventually toppling oot ae the wardrobe and ontae the narrow path, takin’ a few magazines wi’ me. Reid appears tae help me up, meanin’ he’s back frae the hospital. How long was I in there fae?

He glances at the wardrobe, nods his heid, and tells me he found it a few weeks ago. He’s been meaning tae go back in and try it again. I know Reid finds cool ‘hings in the shop, when he’s no playin’ games wi’ Fionn and Chronos he’s usually riflin’ through the antiques. When he finds one he comes tae me tae gloat, like a bairn durin’ show and tell at school.

I ask him why he didnae tell me aboot the wardrobe. I tried no tae let the sting show in ma voice, but I’m no sure I was that successful. Reid, curt as always, said that even though I’m in the shop, I’m no really there, I’m somewhere distant. I barely speak unless it’s tae a customer.

I laugh it aff, make a joke, somethin’ stupid, all the while barely bein’ able tae look at him because all I can think of is Fate and the car accident, and how it was all my fault.

Episode 32 – The Statue

Terms

The Illiad – An epic Greek poem from antiquite that tells the myth of the Trojan War written by the equally mysterious Homer. Note: I’ve changed this from the audio. It used to refer to Homer’s The Odyssey but I thought that was too specific.

Herakles – The Greek version of Hercules. This is Hercules’s actual name, for some reason in the West we refer to him by his Latin name. But the Greek Hero of 12 Labours fame is called Herakles. Named in honour of the Goddess Hera so she wouldn’t hate him as an illegitimate son of her husband, Zeus. Spoiler alert: That didn’t work out.

Odysseus – Probably one of the most popular heroes to the Ancient Greeks (maybe not as well known now compared to Herakles/Hercules and Achilles). He features in both The Illiad, where he is the projenetor of the Trojan horse idea, and The Odyssey, where he’s the main character and he’s trying to return home to his island kingdom after said Trojan war.

Telly – Television

Chippy – slang for a Fish and Chip shop.

Script

Episode 32 – The statue

Reid’s back. I don’t know. I thought I’d feel relieved, and I do. I’m glad he’s alright, but honestly, I can’t bear to look at him. I see his usual frown, but it’s dotted with scars from the stitches he had; I see his hands as he moves his piece on the chess board and the bandages that slip out from beneath his hoodie. I notice how tired he gets after a few hours, or the way he favours the side of his body that didn’t smash into someone’s windscreen.

I may not have been driving that car, but I feel like I was. I may as well have been the one drunkenly behind the wheel. Every time I look at him, every time I see the stitches, the scars, and the bandages, I can’t breathe.

I prefer it when I hear his voice whilst I’m somewhere deep in the shop looking through a mysterious manuscript or tracing the lines of a painting I swear should be in a museum. I greet him when he comes in, try and plaster a smile on my face and hope he doesn’t notice I’m not as happy to see him as I should be, and then I retreat to the antiques. I’ll get over this though…right?

Another special customer came in this week. I hadn’t been expecting one so soon after the last, and a part of me was worried I’d have some company in my quiet wee nook. The place had just returned to a level of comfortable chaos, unlike what that bloke searching for the rose had left it in.

The lassie that came in wasn’t as confident as the bloke had been. She did the hesitant dance a lot of special customers do, worried they’ve made a mistake, wondering if they can’t just put up with whatever the problem is, questioning their sanity. I don’t think the sight of Reid, Fionn, and Chronos at the counter pretending they weren’t doing anything weird, like playing chess with a cat, helped.

When I emerged from the aisle she saw me, and followed me over to the counter, finally resolved to embrace the crazy. After rummaging around in her bag, she pulled out the pristine white card and I dutifully led her up the stairs where I was told to make tea. We were in for a good one then.

As I was pouring the tea there was more bag searching and eventually, as the last drip left the spout, she pulled out a wee statue of a man. I don’t really know how to describe it. Bronze in colour, it kind of reminded me of a Greek statue, except on a smaller scale. This was no hero of Homer’s The Illiad, no Herakles or Odysseus, but a normal, 21st century lad, even down to the skinny jeans hanging far too low on his hips.

I didn’t really know what to think. Thankfully I wasn’t on tenterhooks for long as the lassie began to explain. Turns out the statue used to be a real bloke. One day she’d come home to find the house empty and only the wee figurine where the real man should’ve been.

You’d think by now I wouldn’t want to laugh at these customers, but I’m always caught by surprise. At least it wasn’t a princess and the frog situation, at least she claimed this statue used to be a real bloke. I was tempted to ask her if she’d tried to kiss it before thinking better of it.

The Madam asked if she could inspect the statue and picked up the copper man by his head. It was only when her eyes were more focused on the lassie that I began to think she was just doing it for show, and that she already knew what was going on.

Placing the statue back gently on the coffee table, the Madam explained that there was nothing she could do. The only person who could reverse the curse was the person who’d cast it in the first place. To me that didn’t sound like something the Madam would say. She can fix anything, or at least any problem that I’ve seen. I go to the cabinet of wonders, pull something mysterious out, and the customers are sent on their way, never to darken the front room again with their weird problems. This was a first. I wondered, and still do, if she was lying, but I don’t think I’ll ever know.

There was, of course, a catch. For me, at least. Madam Norna explained that she could find whoever was responsible and see if they’d consider releasing the man from his current diminutive state. And by she, she meant me. Not that it was obvious at the time. Happily, the customer nodded her agreement, but my boss was careful to say that there were no guarantees, the person might insist on the curse being maintained, and there was nothing anyone could do if that were the case.

Pessimism wasn’t a word this lassie knew well, and the Madam’s sinister warning went in one ear and out the other. She left the copper man on the coffee table and went on her way. For a few minutes I was allowed to ponder how the Madam would find this person who could turn people into statues. You’d think I’d learn.

Before I could ask how the Madam would find them, she handed me the statue and began writing on a piece of paper. I don’t know why but holding this copper man felt weird. Could he feel everything? What if I dropped him? If the copper got dented, what did that mean for him?

It looked like I was about to find out. My boss handed me a list of addresses fanned out across the town. She said they were the places where people who were capable of this kind of thing lived, and that I’d have to find out which one it was. There were three addresses, and it was about to become a long afternoon.

I didn’t dare to put the statue in my pocket; so, keeping it in my hand I went downstairs armed with addresses and thankful it wasn’t pissing it down outside. As I got my jacket Reid asked where I was going. I showed the three of them the copper man, stopped Chronos from swiping it onto the floor, and told them what was going on. Fionn and Reid offered to join me and immediately I refused. I didn’t mean to be waspish; I didn’t mean for my refusal to sound as sharp as it did.

I didn’t always need babysitters, or people to fret about. What if this person turned them into statues? I wouldn’t be able to do anything, again. There was a strange silence as I left the shop on my way to these addresses, and I was glad to leave. They’d understand, I was only doing it for their own good. They were safe in the shop.

I took the bus to the first address, although it wasn’t that far I probably should’ve walked. It was in the part of the town where the arts students usually hung out. I don’t know many, but whenever our paths crossed, they’d always suggest going for lunch at one of the hipster cafes, or drinks at the newest kombucha wine bar. Don’t ask, I’ve no clue. It’s a nice looking part of town, with red brick buildings and cobbled alleyways. I think it’s one of the oldest parts. There’s graffiti on some walls, and art on others. More second-hand shops than anywhere else, and all the bars have pretentious names.

The address I’d crumpled in my pocket stated the flat number and I gingerly pressed the buzzer on the door. Expecting to have to make up some lie about delivering food, I was surprised when the door lock clicked. Taking a few good glances around me I pulled the door open and began the hike up the stone stairs to the second floor. The door was large, painted midnight blue, and had a single brass knocker above the peep hole. Before I could knock the door flung open to reveal a lanky strawberry blonde lad whose shirt was a few sizes too big, and jeans a few sizes too small. He looked about to say something in greeting, but as his eyes grazed across mine his features fell and he simply uttered a disappointed “oh”.

Friendliness turned into hostility as he demanded to know what I wanted. I would’ve pulled out the statue there and then, but these doors weren’t as soundproof as they looked, I knew from experience. So, I just told the truth, that I was from the shop, assuming that if the Madam had his address then that knowledge had to flow the other way too. His features softened and he shooed me in like I was a stray cat looking to be fed.

Honestly, it was tidier than I’d assumed. Given this part of town, every time I’ve been in someone’s flat around there it’s been an absolute bomb site. This one was organised chaos. There were paintings on the wall, some a bit stranger than I’d have liked to see. There was no telly, and the sofa looked a wee bit worse for wear, but the large sash windows and high ceilings gave the place an airiness that I envied in my wee sardine tin of a flat.

I pulled out the statue and showed it to him, saying the Madam had sent me in his direction. Carefully the lad took it from my hands and inspected it, the grooves of the torso, the expression on the face, the shape of the legs. He practically tossed it back at me and huffed moodily. He was insulted the Madam thought him capable of such shoddy work. Besides, he only turned people he wanted to paint into statues, and whoever my statue was wasn’t worth the canvas.

I didn’t have time to ask any more questions as the knocker on the door went and the guest who he’d been expecting was waiting on the other side. Just like an unwanted cat, now I’d had my tuna I was kicked back onto the streets. I didn’t really know whether to be disgruntled. It was a bit concerning that he turned people into statues just to paint them, and I wondered if the same fate awaited the guest I’d slid past on the way out.

Each to their own. I went to the next address, which wasn’t that far away. Another flat in another building on takeaway road. You know the ones, it’s a straight road, a mile or so, and every shop front is either an Indian or Chinese takeaway, with the occasional chippy smattered in for good measure. I shouldn’t be so casual; Gillespie’s does the best chips in town. I’d definitely pop in after I’d been rejected by this next statue creating stranger.

The flat this time was on the top floor, with a grand view of the tenements across the street, and not much further. At least you didn’t have upstairs neighbours, except for the pigeons. I used the previous tactic of telling the woman who answered the buzzer that I was from the shop and she let me through.

After refusing tea, she had me sit down beside her cat on the sofa, and I half expected the ginger tabby to start talking to me. Normal cats are so dull now. Once more I removed the statue from my bag and put it on the table between us, beside the pile of magazines. I expected her, like the previous lad, to pick it up and inspect it. Instead, she took one glance at it and leaned back, a satisfied smirk tugging at her lips.

The lassie confirmed that it was her handiwork, and then voiced her surprise that the customer had been clever enough to find the shop and the Madam in the first place. Then, looking me dead in the eyes, asked what I wanted her to do about it. Realising there was something I was missing I instead asked her who the man was to her, and why she’d turned him to copper.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people are so eager to talk about their misdeeds. We weren’t even in the shop. Uncrossing her legs and leaning forwards, she prodded the statue carelessly, causing it to rock on its black stand. It was simple, she told me, he was her brother, and he’d lost a bet, so she’d turned him into a statue. He’d agreed to the terms of the bet, so he knew what he was getting himself into.

Stroking her ego, I congratulated her on such a triumph, whilst trying to hide the horror from my features. I don’t have siblings, but I wasn’t aware things could get so vicious. I then began the sob story that his wife, the customer, was the one who wanted him turned back because she was missing him. I don’t think I expected this woman to give in immediately, but the last thing I’d expected her to do was laugh. One of those deep, throaty chuckles that makes you think you know a lot less than you think you do.

The woman confessed that her brother didn’t have a wife, but his husband had helped her turn him into a statue. Ok, so I knew a lot less than I thought I did. Who the fuck was the customer?

I was a bit slow in getting there, but the customer was the one the copper man had been cheating on his husband with. And that was about as far as I wanted to know. The husband and sister had got their heads together and turned this man into a statue as revenge and had purposely left it somewhere for his mistress to find. Fair enough, but what was I supposed to tell the customer? His sister didn’t care, a bet was a bet.

I picked up the statue and left the flat, heading back towards the shop, not really knowing which way was up. There was nothing I could do. The Madam said only the person who turned him into copper could turn him back, and she refused. Maybe in time she’ll change her mind, but right now, I doubted it.

I told the Madam what’d happened, convinced she already knew, and when the customer came back a day or two later, my boss let me be the one to tell her. I didn’t make tea, and I laid out the facts, trying as hard as I could to emulate Madam Norna’s calm, silky voice. I don’t think it worked. The lassie left in tears; statue clutched tightly in her hands like rosary beads.

I don’t know what to make of this one. I’ll never be jealous of my pals with brothers and sisters though. What a nightmare that must’ve been growing up. Your brother steals your Barbies so you turn him into a Christmas tree decoration. I don’t think some people realise how lucky they have it when the worst thing that happens in a sibling fight is one of you gets a wedgie. Should I have felt sympathy for the customer? I’m starting to realise that’s not a requirement of this job, or of being the Madam. But I do wonder if the Madam told the truth, that she couldn’t reverse what had happened, or she thought the lesson was better learnt the hard way.

Script – Scots

Reid’s back. I dinnae know, I thought I’d feel relieved, and I do. I’m glad he’s alright, but honestly, I canne bear tae look at him. I see his usual frown, but it’s dotted wi’ scars frae the stitches he had; I see his hands as he moves his piece on the chess board and the bandages that slip oot frae beneath his hoodie. I notice how tired he gets after a few hours, or the way he favours the side ae his body that didnae smash intae someone’s windscreen.

I may no’ have been driving that car, but I feel like I was. I may as well have been the one drunkenly behind the wheel. Every time I look at him, every time I see the stitches, the scars, and the bandages, I cannae breathe.

I prefer it when I hear his voice whilst I’m somewhere deep in the shop lookin’ through a mysterious manuscript or tracing the lines ae a painting I swear should be in a museum. I greet him when he comes in, try and plaster a smile on my face and hope he doesnae notice I’m no’ as happy tae see him as I should be, and then I retreat to the antiques. I’ll get over this though…right?

Another special customer came in this week. I hadnae been expecting one so soon after the last, and a part ae me was worried I’d have some company in ma quiet wee nook. The place had just returned tae a level ae comfortable chaos, unlike what that bloke searchin’ fae the rose had left it in.

The lassie that came in wasnae as confident as the bloke had been. She did the hesitant dance a lot ae special customers do, worried they’ve made a mistake, wonderin’ if they cannae just put up wi’ whitever the problem is, questionin’ their sanity. I dinnae ‘hink the sight ae Reid, Fionn, and Chronos at the counter pretendin’ they werenae doin’ anything weird, like playin’ chess wi a cat, helped.

When I emerged frae the aisle she saw me, and followed me over tae the counter, finally resolved tae embrace the crazy. After rummaging roond in her bag she pulled oot the pristine white card and I dutifully led her up the stairs where I was told tae make tea. We were in fae a good one then.

As I was pourin’ the tea there was more bag searching and eventually, as the last drip ae tea left the spout, she pulled oot a wee statue ae a man. I dinnae really know how tae describe it. Bronze in colour, it kindae reminded me ae a Greek statue, except on a smaller scale. This was no hero ae Homer’s The Illiad, no Herakles or Odysseus, but a normal, 21st century lad, even doon tae the skinny jeans hangin’ far too low on his hips.

I didnae really know whit tae think. Thankfully I wasnae on tenterhooks fae long as the lassie began tae explain. Turns oot the statue used tae be a real bloke. One day she’d come home tae find the hoose empty and only the wee figurine where the real man shouldae been.

You’d think by noo I wouldnae want tae laugh at these customers, but I’m always caught by surprise. At least it wasnae a princess and the frog situation, at least she claimed this statue used tae be a real bloke. I was tempted tae ask her if she’d tried tae kiss it before thinkin’ better ae it.

The Madam asked if she could inspect the statue, and picked up the copper man by his heid. It was only when her eyes were more focused on the lassie that I began tae think she was just doin’ it fae show, and that she already knew whit was goin on.

Placing the statue back gently on the coffee table, the Madam explained that there was nothin’ she could do. The only person who could reverse the curse was the person who’d cast it in the first place. Tae me that didnae sound like somethin’ the Madam would say. She can fix anything, or at least any problem that I’ve seen. I go tae the cabinet ae wonders, pull somethin’ mysterious oot, and the customers are sent on their way, never tae darken the front room again wi’ their weird problems. This was a first. I wondered, and still do, if she was lyin’, but I dinnae think I’ll ever know.

There was, of course, a catch. Fae me, at least. Madam Norna explained that she could find whoever was responsible and see if they’d consider releasing the man frae his current diminutive state. And by she, she meant me. No that it was obvious at the time. Happily, the customer nodded her agreement, but ma boss was careful tae say that there were no guarantees, the person might insist on the curse bein’ maintained, and there was nothin’ anyone could do if that were the case.

Pessimism wasnae a word this lassie knew well, and the Madam’s sinister warnin’ went in one ear and oot the other. She left the copper man on the coffee table and went on her way. Fae a few minutes I was allowed tae ponder how the Madam would find this person who could turn people intae statues. You’d think I’d learn.

Before I could ask how the Madam would find them, she handed me the statue and began writing on a piece ae paper. I dinnae know why but holdin’ this copper man felt weird. Could he feel everythin? What if a dropped him? If the copper got dented, whit did that mean fae him?

It looked like I was aboot tae find oot. Ma boss handed me a list ae addresses fanned oot across the town. She said they were the places where people who were capable ae this kind ae thing lived, and that I’d have tae find oot which one it was. There were three addresses, and it was aboot tae become a long afternoon.

I didnae dare tae put the statue in ma pocket so keeping it in ma hand I went doonstairs armed wi’ addresses and thankful it wasnae pissin’ it doon ootside. As I got my jacket Reid asked where I was goin’. I showed the three ae them the copper man, stopped Chronos frae swipin’ it ontae the floor, and told them whit was goin’ on. Fionn and Reid offered tae join me and immediately I refused. I didnae mean tae be waspish, I didnae mean fae me refusal tae sound as sharp as it did.

I didnae always need babysitters, or people tae fret aboot. Whit if this person turned them intae statues? I wouldnae be able tae do anything, again. There was a strange silence as I left the shop on ma way tae these addresses, and I was glad tae leave. They’d understand, I was only doin’ it fae their own good. They were safe in the shop.

I took the bus tae the first address, although it wasnae that far I probably shouldae walked. It was in the part ae the town where the arts students usually hung oot. I dinnae know many, but whenever our paths crossed they’d always suggest goin’ fae lunch at one ae the hipster cafes, or drinks at the newest kombucha wine bar. Dinnae ask, I’ve no clue. It’s a nice lookin’ part ae town, wi red brick buildings and cobbled alleyways. I think it’s one ae the oldest parts. There’s graffiti on some walls, and art on others. More second-hand shops than anywhere else, and all the bars have pretentious names.

The address I’d crumpled in ma pocket stated the flat number and I gingerly pressed the buzzer on the door. Expectin’ tae have tae make up some lie aboot deliverin’ food, I was surprised when the door lock clicked. Takin’ a few good glances roond me I pulled the door open and began the hike up the stone stairs tae the second floor. The door was large, painted midnight blue, and had a single brass knocker above the peep hole. Before I could knock the door flung open tae reveal a lanky strawberry blonde lad who’s shirt was a few sizes too big, jeans a few sizes too small. He looked aboot tae say somethin’ in greetin’, but as his eyes grazed across mine his features fell and he simply uttered a disappointed “oh”.

Friendliness turned intae hostility as he demanded tae know whit I wanted. I wouldae pulled oot the statue there and then, but these doors werenae as soundproof as they looked, I knew frae experience. So I just told the truth, that I was frae the shop, assumin’ that if the Madam had his address, then that knowledge had tae flow the other way too. His features softened and he shooed me in like I was a stray cat lookin’ tae be fed.

Honestly, it was tidier than I’d assumed. Given this part ae town, every time I’ve been in someone’s flat roond there it’s been an absolute bomb site. This one was organised chaos. There were paintings on the wall, some a bit stranger than I’d have liked tae see. There was no tele, and the sofa looked a wee bit worse fae wear, but the large sash windaes and high ceilings gave the place an airiness that I envied in ma wee sardine tin ae a flat.

I pulled oot the statue and showed it tae him, sayin’ the Madam had sent me in his direction. Carefully the lad took it frae ma hands and inspected it, the grooves ae the torso, the expression on the face, the shape ae the legs. He practically tossed it back at me and huffed moodily. He was insulted the Madam thought him capable ae such shoddy work. Besides, he only turned people he wanted tae paint intae statues, and whoever my statue was wasnae worth the canvas.

I didnae have time tae ask anymore questions as the knocker on the door went and the guest who he’d been expectin’ was waitin’ on the other side. Just like an unwanted cat, noo I’d had ma tuna I was kicked back ontae the streets. I didnae really know whether tae be disgruntled. It was a bit concernin’ that he turned people intae statues just tae paint them, and I wondered if the same fate awaited the guest I’d slid past on the way oot.

Each tae their own. I went tae the next address, which wasnae that far away. Another flat in another building on takeaway road. Ye know the ones, it’s a straight road, a mile or so, and every shop front is either an Indian or Chinese takeaway, wi the occasional chippy smattered in fae good measure. I shouldnae be so casual, Gillespie’s does the best chips in town. I’d definitely pop in after I’d been rejected by this next statue creating stranger.

The flat this time was on the top floor, wi’ a grand view ae the tenements across the street, and no much further. At least ye didnae have upstairs neighbours, except fae the pigeons. I used the previous tactic ae tellin’ the woman who answered the buzzer that I was frae the shop and she let me through.

After refusin’ tea she had me sit doon beside her cat on the sofa, and I half expected the ginger tabby tae start talkin’ tae me. Normal cats are so dull noo. Once more I removed the statue frae ma bag and put it on the table between us, beside the pile ae’ magazines. I expected her, like the previous lad, tae pick it up and inspect it. Instead, she took one glance at it and leaned back, a satisfied smirk tugging at her lips.

The lassie confirmed that it was her handiwork, and then voiced her surprise that the customer had been clever enough tae find the shop and the Madam in the first place. Then, lookin’ me dead in the eyes, asked whit I wanted her tae do aboot it. Realisin’ there was somethin’ I was missin’ I instead asked her who the man was tae her, and why she’d turned him tae copper.

I dinnae think I’ll ever understand why people are so eager tae talk aboot their misdeeds. We werenae even in the shop. Uncrossin’ her legs and leanin’ forwards, she prodded the statue carelessly, causin’ it tae rock on its black stand. It was simple, she told me, he was her brother, and he’d lost a bet, so she’d turned him intae a statue. He’d agreed tae the terms ae the bet, so he knew whit he was gettin’ himself intae.

Strokin’ her ego, I congratulated her on such a triumph, whilst tryin’ tae hide the horror frae ma features. I dinnae have siblings, but I wasnae aware things could get so vicious. I then began the sob story that his wife, the customer, was the one who wanted him turned back because she was missin’ him. I dinnae think I expected this woman tae give in immediately, but the last thing I’d expected her tae do was laugh. One ae those deep, throaty chuckles that makes ye think you know a lot less than you think you dae.

The woman confessed that her brother didnae have a wife, but his husband had helped her turn him intae a statue. Ok, so I knew a lot less than I thought I did. Who the fuck was the customer?

I was a bit slow in getting’ there, but the customer was the one the copper man had been cheatin’ on his husband wi’. And that was aboot as far as I wanted tae know. The husband and sister had got their heids together and turned this man intae a statue as revenge, and had purposely left it somewhere fae his mistress tae find. Fair enough, but whit was I supposed tae tell the customer? His sister didnae care, a bet was a bet.

I picked up the statue and left the flat, headin’ back towards the shop, no really knowin’ which way was up. There was nothin’ I could do. The Madam said only the person who turned him intae copper could turn him back, and she refused. Maybe in time she’ll change her mind, but right noo, I doubted it.

I told the Madam what’d happened, convinced she already knew, and when the customer came back a day or two later, ma boss let me be the one tae tell her. I didnae make tea, and I laid oot the facts, tryin’ as hard as I could tae emulate Madam Norna’s calm, silky voice. I dinnae ‘hink it worked. The lassie left in tears, statue clutched tightly in her hands like rosary beads.

I dinnae know whit tae make ae this one. I’ll never be jealous ae ma pals wi brothers and sisters though. What a nightmare that mustae been growin’ up. Your brother steals your barbies so you turn him intae a Christmas tree decoration. I dinnae think some people realise how lucky they have it when the worst ‘hing that happens in a sibling fight is one ae ye gets a wedgie. Should I have felt sympathy fae the customer? I’m startin’ tae realise that’s no a requirement ae this job, or ae bein’ the Madam. But I do wonder if the Madam told the truth, that she couldnae reverse whit had happened, or she thought the lesson was better learnt the hard way.

Episode 31 – The Eternal Rose

Scots terms

Pal – friend

A nosy – a look, a glance, a clandestine search

Aye – yes

Da – Dad

Loch Katrin (Ka-trin) – a Loch east of Loch Lomond in the Trossachs.

Telly – TV/television

Script

I haven’t really felt like telling these stories in a while. It’s not fair, is it? Life carries on, passes you by no matter how much you want to stay still. Customers still come in, lectures and tutorials need to be attended, exams need to be revised for, and I don’t want any of it. I’m not enjoying things the way I used to before. Drinking, clubbing, going out with pals, it’s all joyless. Coming to the shop has become a chore, and I dread it a lot more than I used to. I don’t really know how to explain it. I want to be fine, go back to how I used to be. But I just…can’t. I can’t get past what happened, what I did, to that customer, to Reid.

I know he’s been gone before, but never for this long. He was only released from the hospital a few weeks ago. He seems to be doing ok, the doctors are pleased with his recovery. He liked the hospital about as much as I did. I’m glad I don’t have to go there anymore, though.

The shop hasn’t been quiet. Just because I’m missing a familiar doesn’t mean the customers have let up. I’ve just not felt like recording them. It might be good to talk though, even if it’s to a computer.

It’s been mostly Chronos and I in the shop. Fionn has started coming in more than he used to, and I can tell it’s to keep me company. I’ve not told anyone about what happened with the owl at the bus stop, about what I’d done. I don’t like thinking about it, let alone sharing it with others. It was only Chronos and I this day when a customer came in.

We both could tell pretty quickly it was a special customer, even before the minimalistic white business card was pulled from his wallet. Which was stuffed with cash, by the way. I’m surprised it stayed closed. He wore too much aftershave and spent more on his watch and shoes than I earn in a month, probably a year. It’s been a while since there was a special customer. I almost forgot what to do.

As usual the Madam was waiting for us at the top of the stairs. After she’d motioned for the customer to go and sit in the front room, she told me we wouldn’t be needing tea. That’s never a good sign.

The customer told my boss that he’d been given her card by a friend of a friend who’d seemed to think she would have what he was looking for. This was a first. I’d been wrong about this bloke being a special customer. It didn’t seem like he had a problem the Madam could solve. Was he a Collector like Flora? This isn’t how I thought Collectors worked. They gave items to the shop. In the year and a bit I’d been working I’d never seen Flora come in and take something.

The customer explained he was looking for a rose. One single rose. I’m pretty sure there was a wee florist down the road from the shop, but I was wise enough not to say this at the time. He was a bit vague about this rose, but it must’ve been special if he thought it was in the shop. The only flowers I’d ever seen were embroidered in frames or handkerchiefs. I’d never seen a real one. It’s not like you can get an antique rose. They’re dead after a few weeks.

I, as usual, was the only one who didn’t have a clue what was being spoken about. Madam Norna confirmed that there were a few roses in the shop, and that he was welcome to look around for as long as he liked in order to find the one he wanted. If he managed to find it, he could have it.

I almost snorted. It was impossible to find anything in the shop unless you specifically hid it, and even then there was still a chance it’d be gone when you next checked. The items in the shop rotated of their own accord. How many times has a customer bought something I’ve never seen, even though I have a nosy around the shop regularly? I suppose that was the crux of it. Just because I’d never seen a rose in the time I’d been working there doesn’t mean there wasn’t one.

But this was different, wasn’t it? This customer was looking for this rose. He knew exactly what he wanted, unlike the other customers who came in and found something that caught their eye. Does it work the same in both cases? Could you go looking for your Fate? And if you did, did it necessarily mean you’d get what you expected?

This customer was delighted at my boss’s answer and went straight down into the shop to start rummaging around. The sleeves of his shirt were around his elbows and he was clambering on and over the larger antiques in the shop. I stayed at the counter with Chronos, wondering if it was too morbid to make a bet on which wardrobe would fall over and squash him.

There was never any order to the items in the shop. It was packed rows of chaos. Wardrobes beside mirrors, magazines piled like mountains on the floor, vinyl propped against vanity tables, salt and pepper shakers perched on a typewriter. As I said before, I could barely find anything and I was there practically every day.

As I was getting ready to go home, he assumed it was closing time and begrudgingly stopped his search. I guessed he’d only made it about a third of the way through the visible clutter. Chronos and I’d had to put up with his laboured breathing all the way through our card game.

I thought that was the end of it, but I realise in hindsight that was a stupid thought. When I arrived at the shop the next day he was there again, digging further through the mess. Chronos told me when I joined him at the counter that the customer had been there since first thing that morning. I sighed loudly before I could stop myself. Were we going to have to put up with him for another day?

The answer was aye. He huffed and puffed his way through the chaos until, a few hours after he’d stopped to have lunch, he pulled out a wooden box, audibly triumphant. Chronos and I stole glances. Or rather I had to steal glances, Chronos could just outright stare as no one told animals it was rude. We’d tried to hide our card game the previous day, but it was soon obvious that the customer wouldn’t even notice that some cards were lined up in front of a cat.

His triumphant huff soon gave way to a dejected sigh, a quiet growl of frustration. Whatever the box was, it wasn’t what he was looking for. He kept the first box in sight but continued to tear the rest of the shop apart looking for this rose.

By the time the second day was over he’d found two wooden boxes and still wasn’t satisfied. Chronos and I had to put up with him for another day. On the third day he only found one box, and that seemed to satisfy him. His cheer of triumph was all we heard. I think Chronos was almost disappointed it wasn’t followed by a swear word.

After a few moments, which was all the time I needed to hide the cards, the customer swaggered out of the depths of the shop, three small boxes balanced precariously in his hands. They reminded me a wee bit of jewellery boxes but had deeper sides. All three were almost identical, made from the same tan coloured wood. How did he know the difference?

The customer told me to thank the Madam, he was sure he’d found what he was looking for. I nodded politely and watched him leave, a spring in his step. After the last echoes of the bell had faded, I asked Chronos about this rose that was worth 3 days of being knee deep in the nightmares of the shop.

Before he told me the answer, Chronos commented he was surprised it’d taken me so long to ask, usually I was the first one to start quizzing him or the Madam. I hadn’t noticed. Even though the customer had been in the shop looking for this rose for three days, I just hadn’t been that interested. This is a shop where everything inside has a purpose, everything inside has the power to change someone’s fate, for better or worse. What did I care about the torture this rose could inflict? It’s not like I could do anything, it’s not like I really wanted to anymore.

I shrugged at Chronos, feeling it was probably best not to say anything at all about his observation. He began to tell me the rose’s story.

Many centuries ago, there’d been a man who lived in a cold and bitter climate. Winters were harsh and there was no summer, just extended springs and autumns. Very few things grew except hardy plants and trees. There were no flowers where this man lived with his wife and infant daughter. All this bairn had known were snow covered planes, distant craggy mountains, and frost covered grass and soil. Her father, the man, wished to give his daughter a gift, something that they could always cherish. Thankfully, this man was magically inclined.

On his annual visit to the local town, a journey of many days away, he bought a fresh rose bud and placed it inside of a specially crafted glass box, which he sealed so only he could open. He brought it back to his home and gave it to his daughter, explaining that once every year the rose would bloom, no matter the weather outside. The whole family gathered around the glass box every year to watch the petals unfurl, the delicate folds curling at the edges of a perfect red rose.

Every year for three years the family waited and watched as the rose bloomed for a day or two before shedding its petals and returning to an impossible bud. Before the fourth year arrived, the man’s daughter died.

Consumed by grief the man could barely look at the rose. He thought about throwing it on the fire, convinced it was useless, nothing but a reminder of happy times he would never experience again. It was his wife who convinced him to keep it since it had brought so much joy, perhaps it one day would again. The man, too captured by grief, only half agreed. He knew he would never be able to look at the rose with joy again, so he altered it to never bloom, to always remain a bud, fixed in time.

That was how the rose bud stayed for the remaining decades of the man’s life, until he found himself on his own deathbed. As he took his last breath, the rose took it’s first. The bud bloomed into the beautiful rose it had been back in the days of his daughter’s life. It was the last thing the man saw before he passed on, and every one hundred years, on the anniversary of his death, the rose bloomed again.

Over the centuries there had been many fakes made and exchanged, all in the quest to find the real one. The fakes were mostly harmless, real roses in a real glass box that died and never bloomed again, but some were vicious, sometimes killing and maiming the poor sods who had the misfortune to possess them. There were always more than a handful of Collectors or enthusiasts who looked for the rose. Some claimed they had the real one, others were convinced the real one had been destroyed long ago; not that it stopped them looking.

Chronos, after some contemplative silence, concluded that the hundred-year anniversary was coming up soon, which would explain the customer’s doggedness to find it. There was always a rush around that time, he confessed. I asked if the rose was different to any other one you can find in a florist. No, it was the same, but he admitted he didn’t think it mattered. The rose itself wasn’t the draw, it was the story behind it, the novelty of seeing something so rare and precious.

I wished that customer good luck and thought little of the story afterwards. Until I found a box of my own, and then another, both identical to the three the customer had left with. How many of these frigging things were in the shop? I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a never-ending supply.

One felt different to the other. They looked identical, but one was…warm. I know that sounds strange, and I don’t mean warm to the touch. As I felt its weight in my hand I began to remember this holiday my Da and I had taken to Loch Katrine. It was during the summer holidays but the weather was shite as usual. Every day we’d woken up to mist and rain. Our coats were permanently wet and socks always soggy. It ruined a few days out. Yet, in the evenings we’d sit on the sofas, draped in blankets even though it was summer, eating our favourite ice cream and watching some crap on the telly, laughing and shouting at the presenters. It’s still one of my favourite holidays, one I thought I’d forgotten until I touched that wooden box.

I put the other box back where I found it and kept the warm one. I didn’t take it back to the flat, that would’ve been a bitch to explain. For the next few days, I’d check the rose bud in the glass box to see if it’d bloomed in my absence. A few days later I was surprised to find that it had.

I put it on the glass counter and Chronos and I watched intently as each petal began to unfurl, the edges crinkle and quiver. It’s just a rose, like the ones you can buy in any florist, the ones that flood the shops leading up to Valentine’s day, but it’s so much more special than that. One single short-stemmed rose enclosed in a glass box, destined to keep blooming until the end of time, even when its creator is gone, even when the memories are gone, and its past is nothing but a fairy tale. I can kind of see why people desperately look for it.

It shouldn’t be mesmerising, but each day when I came in the shop I watched as it reached its full bloom, and as one by one the petals began to fall off. They didn’t congregate at the bottom, they didn’t become mulch, they just disappeared. One moment there’d be a few loose petals at the bottom, and then the next they’d be gone.

There was one day, when about half of its petals had gone, when I thought, for the shortest of moments, that I wouldn’t be here when it bloomed next. I’d be long dead and buried, and some other customer who hasn’t even been born yet would rummage through the antiques trying to find it.

Then I realised with sourness that wasn’t true. I would still be here. I’d be…well, we know what I’d be by then. And that’s never been a more bitter pill to swallow.

Script – Scots

I havenae really felt like telling these stories in a while. It’s not fair is it? Life carries on, passes you by no matter how much you want tae stay still. Customers still come in, lectures and tutorials need tae be attended, exams need to be revised for, and I dinnae want any of it. I’m no enjoying things the way I used tae, before. Drinkin’, clubbin’, goin’ oot wi pals, it’s all joyless. Comin’ tae the shop has become a chore, and I dread it a lot more than I used tae. I dinnae really know how tae explain it. I want tae be fine, go back tae how I used tae be. But I just….cannae. I cannae get past whit happened, whit I did, tae that customer, tae Reid.

I know he’s been gone before, but never fae this long. He was only released frae the hospital a few weeks ago. He seems tae be doin’ ok, the doctors are pleased wi’ his recovery. He liked the hospital aboot as much as I did. I’m glad I dinnae have tae go there anymore, though.

The shop hasnae been quiet. Just because I’m missin’ a familiar doesnae mean the customers have let up. I’ve just no felt like recordin’ them. It might be good tae talk though, even if it’s tae a computer.

It’s been mostly Chronos and I in the shop. Fionn has started coming in more than he used tae, and I can tell it’s tae keep me company. I’ve no told anyone aboot whit happened, wi the owl at the bus stop, aboot whit I’d done. I dinnae like thinkin’ aboot it, let alone sharin’ it wi’ others. It was only Chronos and I this day when a customer came in.

We both could tell pretty quickly it was a special customer, even before the minimalistic white business card was pulled frae his wallet. Which was stuffed wi’ cash, by the way. I’m surprised it stayed closed. He wore too much aftershave and spent more on his watch and shoes than I earn in a month, probably a year. It’s been a while since there was a special customer. I almost forgot whit tae do.

As usual the Madam was waitin’ fae us at the top ae the stairs. After she’d motioned fae the customer tae go and sit in the front room she told me we wouldnae be needin’ tea. That’s never a good sign.

The customer told ma boss that he’d been given her card by a friend ae a friend who’d seemed tae ‘hink she would have whit he was lookin’ fae. This was a first. I’d been wrong aboot this bloke bein’ a special customer. It didnae seem like he had a problem the Madam could solve. Was he a collector like Flora? This isnae how I thought collectors worked. They gave items tae the shop. In the year and a bit I’d been workin’ I’d never seen Flora come in and take somethin’.

The customer explained he was lookin fae a rose. One single rose. I’m pretty sure there was a wee florist doon the road frae the shop, but I was wise enough no tae say this at the time. He was a bit vague aboot this rose, but it mustae been special if he thought it was in the shop. The only flowers I’d ever seen were embroidered in frames or handkerchiefs. I’d never seen a real one. It’s no like ye can get an antique rose. They’re deid after a few weeks.

I, as usual, was the only one who didnae have a clue whit was bein’ spoken aboot. Madam Norna confirmed that there were a few roses in the shop, and that he was welcome tae look aroond fae as long as he liked in order tae find the one he wanted. If he managed tae find it, he could have it.

I almost snorted. It was impossible tae find anythin’ in the shop, unless ye specifically hid it, and even then there was still a chance it’d be gone when ye next checked. The items in the shop rotated ae their own accord. How many times has a customer bought somethin’ I’ve never seen, even though I have a nosy roond the shop regularly? I suppose that was the crux ae it. Just because I’d never seen a rose in the time I’d been workin’ there doesnae mean there wasnae one.

But this was different, wasn’t it? This customer was lookin’ fae this rose. He knew exactly whit he wanted, unlike the other customers who came in and found somethin’ that caught their eye. Does it work the same in both cases? Could ye go lookin’ fae your Fate? And if ye did, did it necessarily mean ye’d get what ye expected?

This customer was delighted at ma boss’s answer, and went straight doon intae the shop tae start rummagin’ roond. The sleeves ae his shirt were roond his elbows and he was clambering on and over the larger antiques in the shop. I stayed at the counter wi’ Chronos, wonderin’ if it was too morbid tae make a bet on which wardrobe would fall over and squash him.

There was never any order tae the items in the shop. It was packed rows ae chaos. Wardrobes beside mirrors, magazines piled like mountains on the floor, vinyls propped against vanity tables, salt and pepper shakers perched on a typewriter. As I said before, I could barely find anythin’, and I was there practically every day.

As I was gettin’ ready tae go home, he assumed it was closing time and begrudgingly stopped his search. I guessed he’d only made it aboot a third ae the way through the visible clutter. Chronos and I’d had tae put up wi’ his laboured breathin’ all the way through our card game.

I thought that was the end ae it, but I realise in hindsight that was a stupid thought. When I arrived at the shop the next day he was there again, diggin’ further through the mess. Chronos told me when I joined him at the counter that the customer had been there since first thing that morning. I sighed loudly before I could stop maself. Were we gonnae have tae put up wi’ him fae another day?

The answer was aye. He huffed and puffed his way through the chaos until, a few hours after he’d stopped tae have lunch, he pulled oot a wooden box audibly triumphant. Chronos and I stole glances. Or rather I had tae steal glances, Chronos could just outright stare as no one told animals it was rude. We’d tried tae hide our card game the previous day, but it was soon obvious that the customer wouldnae even notice that some cards were lined up in front ae a cat.

His triumphant huff soon gave way tae a dejected sigh, a quiet growl ae frustration. Whitever the box was, it wasnae whit he was lookin’ fae. He kept the first box in sight, but continued tae tear the rest ae the shop apart lookin’ fae this rose.

By the time the second day was over he’d found two wooden boxes, and still wasnae satisfied. Chronos and I had tae put up wi’ him fae another day. On the third day he only found one box, and that seemed tae satisfy him. His cheer ae triumph was all we heard. I think Chronos was almost disappointed it wasnae followed by a swear word.

After a few moments, which was all the time I needed tae hide the cards, the customer swaggered oot ae the depths ae the shop, three small boxes balanced precariously in his hands. They reminded me a wee bit ae jewellery boxes but had deeper sides. All three were almost identical, made frae the same tan coloured wood. How did he know the difference?

The customer told me tae thank the Madam, he was sure he’d found whit he was lookin’ fae. I nodded politely and watched him leave, a spring in his step. After the last echoes ae the bell had faded I asked Chronos aboot this rose that was worth 3 days ae bein’ knee deep in the nightmares ae the shop.

Before he told me the answer, Chronos commented he was surprised it’d taken me so long tae ask, usually I was the first one tae start quizzing him or the Madam. I hadnae noticed. Even though the customer had been in the shop lookin’ fae this rose fae three days, I just hadnae been that interested. This is a shop where everythin’ inside has a purpose, everythin’ inside has the power tae change someone’s fate, fae better or worse. Whit did I care aboot the torture this rose could inflict? It’s no like I could do anythin’, it’s no like I really wanted tae anymore.

I shrugged at Chronos, feelin’ it was probably best no tae say anythin’ at all aboot his observation. He began tae tell me the rose’s story.

Many centuries ago, there’d been a man who lived in a cold and bitter climate. Winters were harsh, and there was no summer, just extended springs and autumns. Very few things grew except hardy plants and trees. There were no flowers where this man lived with his wife and infant daughter. All this bairn had known were snow covered planes, distant craggy mountains, and frost covered grass and soil. Her father, the man, wished to give his daughter a gift, something that they could always cherish. Thankfully, this man was magically inclined.

On his annual visit tae the local town, a journey of many days away, he bought a fresh rose bud and placed it inside ae a specially crafted glass box, which he sealed so only he could open. He brought it back tae his home and gave it tae his daughter, explaining that once every year the rose would bloom, no matter the weather ootside. The whole family gathered aroond the glass box every year to watch the petals unfurl, the delicate folds curling at the edges ae a perfect red rose.

Every year fae three years the family waited and watched as the rose bloomed fae a day or two before shedding its petals and returning tae an impossible bud. Before the fourth year arrived, the man’s daughter died.

Consumed by grief the man could barely look at the rose. He thought about throwing it on the fire, convinced it was useless, nothing but a reminder ae happy times he would never experience again. It was his wife who convinced him tae keep it since it had brought so much joy, perhaps it one day would again. The man, too captured by grief, only half agreed. He knew he would never be able tae look at the rose with joy again, so he altered it tae never bloom, tae always remain a bud, fixed in time.

That was how the rose bud stayed for the remaining decades ae the man’s life, until he found himself on his own deathbed. As he took his last breath, the rose took it’s first. The bud bloomed intae the beautiful rose it had been back in the days ae his daughter’s life. It was the last thing the man saw before he passed on, and every one hundred years, on the anniversary of his death, the rose bloomed again.

Over the centuries there had been many fakes made and exchanged, all in the quest tae find the real one. The fakes were mostly harmless, real roses in a real glass box that died and never bloomed again, but some were vicious, sometimes killing and maiming the poor sods who had the misfortune tae possess them. There were always more than a handful of collectors or enthusiasts who looked fae the rose. Some claimed they had the real one, others were convinced the real one had been destroyed long ago, not that it stopped them looking.

Chronos, after some contemplative silence, concluded that the hundred year anniversary was coming up soon, which would explain the customer’s doggedness tae find it. There was always a rush around that time, he confessed. I asked if the rose was different tae any other one ye can find in a florist. No, it was the same, but he admitted he didnae think it mattered. The rose itself wasnae the draw, it was the story behind it, the novelty of seeing something so rare and precious.

I wished that customer good luck, and thought little ae the story afterwards. Until I found a box ae ma own, and then another, both identical tae the three the customer had left wi’. How many ae these friggin’ ‘hings were in the shop? I wouldnae be surprised if we had a never ending supply.

One felt different tae the other. They looked identical, but one was…warm. I know that sounds strange, and I dinnae mean warm tae the touch. As I felt its weight in ma hand I began tae remember this holiday ma Da and I had taken tae Loch Katrine. It was durin’ the summer holidays, but the weather was shite as usual. Every day we’d woken up tae mist and rain. Our coats were permanently wet, and socks always soggy. It ruined a few days oot. Yet, in the evenings we’d sit on the sofas, draped in blankets even though it was summer, eatin’ our favourite ice cream and watchin’ some crap on the telly, laughin’ and shoutin’ at the presenters. It’s still one ae ma favourite holidays, one I thought I’d forgotten until I touched that wooden box.

I put the other box back where I found it and kept the warm one. I didnae take it back tae the flat, that would’ve been a bitch tae explain. Fae the next few days I’d check the rose bud in the glass box tae see if it’d bloomed in ma absence. A few days later I was surprised tae find that it had.

I put it on the glass counter and Chronos and I watched intently as each petal began to unfurl, the edges crinkle and quiver. It’s just a rose, like the ones ye can buy in any florist, the ones that flood the shops leadin’ up tae Valentine’s day, but it’s so much more special than that. One single short-stemmed rose enclosed in a glass box, destined to keep blooming until the end of time, even when its creator is gone, even when the memories are gone, and its past is nothing but a fairy tale. I can kindae see why people desperately look fae it.

It shouldnae be mesmerising, but each day when I came in the shop I watched as it reached its full bloom, and as one by one the petals began tae fall aff. They didnae congregate at the bottom, they didnae become mulch, they just disappeared. One moment there’d be a few loose petals at the bottom, and then the next they’d be gone.

There was one day, when aboot half ae its petals had gone, when I thought, fae the shortest ae moments, that I wouldnae be here when it bloomed next. I’d be long dead and buried, and some other customer who hasnae even been born yet would rummage through the antiques tryin’ tae find it.

Then I realised wi sourness that wasnae true. I would still be here. I’d be…well, we know whit I’d be by then. And that’s never been a more bitter pill tae swallow.

Episode 30 – The Reckoning

Scots terms

Roasters – idiots.

Scottish Wars of Independence – Events that happened during the late 13th and early 14th centuries after King Alexander III died without a male heir, and his presumed heir (his granddaughter who was still a child) died before she reached Scotland from Norway. This ignited a sucession crisis where Scotland ended up being subjugated by England for a time (under the even more famous King Edward I of England). This is the period when the very famous Scottish “heroes” William Wallace and Robert the Bruce lived. The wars ended with Robert becoming King Robert I of Scotland. It was part of the history curriculum in Scottish schools, and no doubt still is, for obvious reasons.

Ma – Mum

Script

Episode 30 – The Reckoning

I…I don’t know how to record this, how to tell this story. Everything’s such a mess. And I just keep thinking what if I’d done something differently, what if I’d just listened? I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t feel like shite.

SFX: *Takes deep breath*

It’s a normal day in the shop, like the day before, the week before, the months before. It’s a full house; the two roasters and Chronos are playing a game of cards I’ve never heard of, but there’s money riding on whatever it is, or prestige, or pride, or all three. They’ve been engrossed in this game since I arrived a few hours before. They barely acknowledged me when I got in and have said barely a word to me or anyone else.

I entertain myself, not difficult in the shop, and after a few more hours the bell above the door resounds around the cavern. I crawl from where I’ve been hiding, flipping through someone’s collection of society gossip columns from the 18th century, which are surprisingly savage, to see who it is. As I’m making my way to the counter, I see the customer. A lassie with blonde hair and dark roots, designer glasses, and chiselled cheekbones. We pass each other in the narrow aisles, exchanging that awkward half smile British people have been genetically modified to do.

I wait at the counter, wondering what she’s looking at or looking for. What items are doing the same thing to her. Which ones Fate will put in her path to trip her up and possibly ruin her life. Some jewellery, a war medal, a vintage blouse, someone’s beautiful painting of Edinburgh as the sun sinks down.

It’s a book. I grit my teeth, a habit ever since that ginger haired bitch decided to jump from one and escape. I can’t look at a book in the shop without thinking of it. I hope this one doesn’t have a similar surprise inside.

This one doesn’t have a title or an author or anything on the cover. It’s one of those old ones, early twentieth century, before they invented cover art. It’s light green and embossed with vines, flowers, and geometric patterns. For all I knew it could’ve been about anything from botany to the Scottish wars of independence. There wasn’t even any writing on the spine. I had to look on the inside of the front cover to find a pencilled in price, but that was the only writing in sight.

I put it in a paper bag and handed it to her, watching her leave not really knowing what to think. It couldn’t be a good sign that it didn’t have any writing on the cover or spine, but there were a few books in the shop where the print on the outside had faded with time.

Before the thought that it could be a normal book crossed my mind, I heard Chronos’s voice in my head. He’d looked up from the intense card game, after the woman who’d just left, the last echoes of the bell still audible. It was evidently not his turn to make a move. Chronos informed me that the book the lassie had just bought tells you how your life will turn out. It’s like a biography, except the end of your life is written about before you have a chance to get there yourself. Because everything in the past is so accurate, the readers assume that the end must be too, and few people ever liked what they read. Many got depressed, many go into denial, many change their ways, and some convince themselves there’s no escape and end their lives. Some make positive changes, but the book was never meant as a gift. These things never are, apparently.

I wait a few minutes, long enough for it to be Chronos’s turn in the game, long enough for them to forget I exist, before I slip out the shop and try to find the lassie. As I’m looking for my trusty guide, the brown rabbit, I happen to see her a few shops down. Thankfully, she hasn’t gone far.

I have a few excuses lined up; I recycle a lot of them. I’ve had to buy a few things back from customers, but hopefully I’ll get it returned to me through karma. I was thinking of buying lottery tickets. For this lassie I decided to tell her I made a mistake and that the book had actually been reserved by a collector. She seemed really nice and understanding. I gave her some money and clutched the paper bag in my hand, the book that re-wrote itself depending on who owned it crinkling the paper.

I’d made a habit of this, of catching up to customers, or using items in the shop to find them, or following my trusty cotton-tailed pal. I’d lie and deceive and con my way into getting the item back. I’ve destroyed one or two, the rest are hidden away in the shop’s nooks and crannies, left to gather dust and be forgotten by the world. I thought nothing of this at the time, or any of the times before. It was just another customer I’d saved.

I’d go back to the shop, hide the item, and wait for the next customer, the next time I could interfere in things I’d been told not to. But let’s see what happens to these customers, to these people who I “save”.

This lassie never reads the green book, she never gets to learn where her life is heading, she never gets to reflect or think. She never gets to be horrified or reminded. She goes on with her day with nothing changed, her path going in the same direction as it was when she woke up that morning. And that path will take her, two days later, to her girlfriend’s living room. There’s a box of tissues on the coffee table, cluttered with magazines, keys, and a few odd pieces of jewellery.

Two women are on the sofa, arm’s length away. One is the customer, the other is her girlfriend. The customer looks troubled, guilty, but resolved. The other woman has tears streaking down her face taking her mascara and eyeliner with it. They’ve broken up. It’s for the best, it’s just not working anymore, they’d be happier with other people. There’s no one else, it’s just not working, it’s time to move on, call it quits.

A few hours and tissues later, the customer leaves for the last time, thinking that she’s been mature and that it’s gone as well as she could’ve hoped. She’s sad, but she’s convinced it’s the right thing to do.

Her ex, on the other hand doesn’t agree at all, and she doesn’t understand. The relationship was going great, they were having fun, they were even talking about moving in together. They were making hypothetical plans that could one day be their future. For the girlfriend, the customer had been the future, and now it was gone.

She does what many people do after a breakup. She finds solace at the bottom of a bottle, and then another, until it numbs the shock, until she thinks she’s better off single anyway, until she gets angry that she wasted so much time. About how next time she’ll find the one.

A few days into this bender, after she’s made a suitable dent in her bank account buying booze to maintain the numbness, she gets a phone call from her Ma. Her cousin’s had a heart attack. Despite the doctor’s best attempts to save him, he didn’t make it. The family’s devastated and she needs to come over, now.

The shock sobers her up, she needs to be with her family, she wants to see them. Her previous pain is momentarily forgotten. She digs around the mess of takeaway containers and empty bottles of beer and spirits until she finds the fluffy keyring she keeps attached to her car keys. She’s fine. She decides she isn’t too drunk to drive. She gets in her car and hits someone. She didn’t even see him, not until it was too late. She doesn’t want to get out the car, it might’ve just been her imagination.

Except there’s a crack on her windscreen. A circle that fans out into veins, the glass has bent under the weight of a body. That body is lying in the road in front of her, limbs at impossible angles. There’s a pedestrian who’s seen the entire incident, their phone’s out and they’re calling the police.

Someone’s been run over, they say, someone needs an ambulance.

That someone is Reid.

I go into the shop the next day and Fionn is waiting for me wearing an expression that immediately sends my stomach to the floor. It’s no sixth sense, it’s a gut feeling, something instinctual. Or perhaps it’s me picking up something from the dragon headed ring on my finger. He tells me what’s happened, that Reid’s been in an accident and he’s at the hospital.

I don’t really remember what he says next; if he says anything. I immediately get on the bus, and although I know the journey is only 20 minutes, it may as well have been twenty hours. I eventually arrive and I have no idea where he is, I’ve never been in the hospital before. I go to a desk and say his name, say I’m his sister – or was it his cousin? – I would’ve said I was his Ma if it meant I was told where he was.

I get a floor and room number. I pass doctors, patients, nurses, people who look like death is perched on their shoulder, and I start to feel this awful dread building in my stomach. I fucking hate hospitals.

I eventually find his room, a private one. But I don’t go in, not when I see all of his family crowding around the bed, a doctor talking to them. I hear through the gaps in the door that he’ll pull through, that he’d stabilised but still needed observation. The doctor commented that it was a miracle he wasn’t more badly hurt as the driver had been going almost double the speed limit when they’d hit him.

I didn’t know at the time who the driver had been, but I was relieved to hear Reid was going to be ok. It was easier to be angry than upset at the time. This was the reason why there were speed limits, I bet it was some fucking roaster without a licence trying to prove he had big fuckin bollocks by racing down the road. He’d better hope I didn’t use some of the things in the shop to end him.

By the time I got back to the bus stop I’d calmed down. I’d decided not to go in to see Reid, it hadn’t seemed right with his family there. I’d visit him later. As the last of my adrenaline ebbed away, the anger gave way to sadness. Seeing Reid like that, bruised and beaten up, so small in a bed that engulfed him, made me realise he was a lot more fragile than I’d assumed. I don’t know why I’d thought that; it’s not like foxes are particularly strong, but he wasn’t human, so shouldn’t that make him more powerful? Perhaps that was the reason he’d pulled through when someone like me would probably have died. I couldn’t bear to think of how close he’d come to those pearly gates, and just as my eyes were stinging I noticed something appear at my side.

The bus stops in the city have these bars that go along the back wall of the shelter, they’re instead of putting in proper seats. You’re supposed to lean on it, and I think out of habit more than comfort people do. I’m no exception. But beside me, perched on this piece of plastic like it was a tree in the woods, was an owl.

I squeezed the tears out my eyes and looked again, expecting it to have transformed into one of those scrawny pigeons that are everywhere. But it was still an owl. A mixture of brown, white, and black, it perched calmly at my side, not moving, staring straight ahead with it’s large, glassy round eyes.

I cast my gaze around, looking for someone else at the bus stop, even a passerby to see this, to confirm that I was not just going mad. It was the voice in my head, not my own, that pulled me from my disbelief. It was the same way Chronos spoke to me, I could hear him like I could hear my own inner voice, but this one was different. This voice was deeper, slicker, had a heaviness to it that I’d never heard from anyone before. Not the comforting kind, and even the deep Scottish burr couldn’t expel my growing dread.

It told me not to bother looking for someone else, that I was the only one who could see it. My first thought, and now I don’t know why, was that it was Madam Anora come to give me an answer to my proposal from all those months ago. But why would she send a messenger? Was this her familiar? Was this like an anti-Chronos? I suppose an owl would be somewhat fitting.

No, the owl had nothing to do with the Madams, not directly. I hadn’t asked a question out loud, and the realisation that this owl could hear my thoughts slowly began to trickle in. Before I could ask what the fuck this bird was, it’d already answered me.

Fate.

I laughed. I know, not my wisest reaction, but it couldn’t be serious. I’d never thought Fate was a person let alone an animal. Hearing these thoughts, Fate corrected that it wasn’t an animal, that was just how I saw it. Everyone saw something different, not that it had shown itself to many people before. I wasn’t happy about it making an exception for me.

Where I saw an owl, someone else might see an old man or woman, a person in a black suit, a horse, an eagle. Fate had no form of its own, so people gave it one.

I asked why it was here. I actually asked to what do I owe the pleasure before I could filter that out.

Fate knew what I’d been up to. Interfering, stealing back things meant for people and hiding them in the shop. Altering their fates. They’d ignored it the first few times, thinking I was just testing ma luck, but when I’d kept doing it they decided it was time to teach me a lesson.

You see, this was all connected, what had happened to Reid, and all of it was my fault. Fate took me back to last month, to the day a lad came into the shop and bought a cap. The flat cap, the one that gave you waking night terrors. The one I’d taken Reid to go and get back. It turned out that lad had an undiagnosed heart condition. If he’d worn the cap, like he was supposed to, he would’ve gone to the doctor, hoping to get medication for anxiety or depression, and the doctor would’ve taken his blood pressure and noticed something was wrong. The lad would’ve been sent for some tests and the heart condition would’ve been found and treated.

But none of that happened because I’d taken the cap back less than an hour after he’d bought it. He’d never gone to the doctor; he’d never had the tests done. Instead, he’d had a heart attack and was dead.

He was the cousin of the lassie who’d hit Reid with her car. And the only reason she’d been drunk enough not to notice? Because I’d prevented her girlfriend from reading the book that would’ve changed her mind about ending the relationship. If I hadn’t interfered, there’d have been no need to go on a bender to ignore her heartbreak, and she wouldn’t have got behind the wheel and nearly killed Reid.

In this supposedly random string of events that had ended with me nearly permanently losing one of my closest pals, I was the common denominator. If I hadn’t interfered with these customers, none of this would’ve happened.

What else had I done? I’d interfered with so many customers, buying back the items, lying and deceiving just so I could get them back. Had something like this happened every time?

Fate said that sometimes when I interfere I’ll be helping, and other times I’ll be making it ten times worse. I’ll never know which is which. Was I willing to take that risk?

No. No, of course not. I didn’t want that on my hands, it was bad enough I knew what I’d done just because I’d prevented a customer from wearing a stupid cap. It haunts me that I don’t know what else I’ve inadvertently done by taking back items that have been bought. How many things have happened that shouldn’t have? How many times have I made things worse? I didn’t understand before, how Fate worked. I was thinking in the short-term, preventing people from suffering today. But by doing that I was causing them suffering tomorrow, or next week, or next year. My own thoughtlessness had almost killed my familiar, and possibly strangers who I was convinced I was helping.

The Madam had been right, and I’d been too arrogant to realise, too stupid to understand. You shouldn’t interfere with Fate. I understand now, and I’ll stop.

I promise, I’ll stop.

Script – Scots

I…I dinnae know how tae record this, how tae tell this story. Everything’s such a mess. And I just keep thinking what if I’d done something differently, what if I’d just listened. I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t feel like shite.

*Takes deep breath*

It’s a normal day in the shop, like the day before, the week before, the months before. It’s a full house; the two roasters and Chronos are playing a game ae cards I’ve never heard of, but there’s money riding on whitever it is, or prestige, or pride, or all three. They’ve been engrossed in this game since I arrived a few hours before. They barely acknowledged me when I got in and have said barely a word tae me or anyone else.

I entertain maself, no difficult in the shop, and after a few more hours the bell above the door resounds roond the cavern. I crawl frae where I’ve been hiding, flippin’ through someone’s collection ae society gossip columns frae the 18th century, which are surprisingly savage, tae see who it is. As I’m makin’ ma way tae the counter I see the customer. A lassie wi’ blonde hair and dark roots, designer glasses and chiselled cheekbones. We pass each other in the narrow aisles, exchanging that awkward half smile British people have been genetically modified tae do.

I wait at the counter, wonderin’ whit she’s looking at or lookin for. Whit items are doin the same thing tae her. Which ones Fate will put in her path tae trip her up and possibly ruin her life. Some jewellery, a war medal, a vintage blouse, someone’s beautiful paintin’ ae Edinburgh as the sun sinks doon.

It’s a book. I grit ma teeth, a habit ever since that ginger haired bitch decided tae jump frae one and escape. I cannae look at a book in the shop withoot thinkin’ ae it. I hope this one doesnae have a similar surprise inside.

This one doesnae have a title or an author or anythin’ on the cover. It’s one ae those old ones, early twentieth century, before they invented cover art. It’s light green, and embossed wi’ vines, flowers, and geometric patterns. Fae all I knew it couldae been aboot anythin’ frae botany tae the Scottish wars ae independence. There wasnae even any writin’ on the spine. I had tae look on the inside ae the front cover tae find a pencilled in price, but that was the only writing in sight.

I put it in a paper bag and handed it tae her, watching her leave no really knowin’ what tae think. It couldnae be a good sign that it didnae have any writin’ on the cover or spine, but there were a few books in the shop where the print on the outside had faded wi’ time.

Before the thought that it could be a normal book crossed ma mind, I heard Chronos’ voice in ma heid. He’d looked up frae the intense card game, after the woman who’d just left, the last echoes ae the bell still audible. It was evidently no’ his turn tae make a move. Chronos informed me that the book the lassie had just bought tells you how your life will turn oot. It’s like a biography, except the end ae your life is written aboot before ye have a chance tae get there yourself. Because everything in the past is so accurate, the readers assume that the end must be too, and few people ever liked whit they read. Many got depressed, many go intae denial, many change their ways, and some convince themselves there’s no escape and end their lives. Some make positive changes, but the book was never meant as a gift. These things never are, apparently.

I wait a few minutes, long enough fae it tae be Chronos’ turn in the game, long enough fae them tae forget I exist, before I slip oot the shop and try tae find the lassie. As I’m lookin fae ma trusty guide, the brown rabbit, I happen tae see her a few shops doon. Thankfully, she hasnae gone far.

I have a few excuses lined up, I recycle a lot ae them. I’ve had tae buy a few things back frae customers, but hopefully I’ll get it returned tae me through karma. I was thinkin’ ae buyin’ lottery tickets. Fae this lassie I decided tae tell her I made a mistake, and that the book had actually been reserved by a collector. She seemed really nice, understandin’. I gave her some money and clutched the paper bag in ma hand, the book that re-wrote itself dependin’ on who owned it crinkling the paper.

I’d made a habit ae this, ae catchin’ up tae customers, or usin’ items in the shop tae find them, or followin’ ma trusty cotton-tailed pal. I’d lie and deceive and con ma way intae gettin’ the item back. I’ve destroyed one or two, the rest are hidden away in the shop’s nooks and crannies, left tae gather dust and be forgotten by the world. I thought nothin’ ae this at the time, or any ae the times before. It was just another customer I’d saved.

I’d go back tae the shop, hide the item, and wait fae the next customer, the next time I could interfere in things I’d been told no tae. But let’s see whit happens tae these customers, tae these people who I “save”.

This lassie never reads the green book, she never gets tae learn where her life is headin’, she never gets tae reflect or think. She never gets tae be horrified or reminded. She goes on wi’ her day wi’ nothin’ changed, her path goin’ in the same direction as it was when she woke up that morning. And that path will take her, two days later, tae her girlfriend’s living room. There’s a box ae tissues on the coffee table, cluttered wi’ magazines, keys, and a few odd pieces ae jewellery.

Two women are on the sofa, arm’s length away. One is the customer, the other is her girlfriend. The customer looks troubled, guilty, but resolved. The other woman has tears streakin’ doon her face takin’ her mascara and eyeliner wi’ it. They’ve broken up. It’s fae the best, it’s just no workin’ anymore, they’d be happier wi’ other people. There’s no one else, it’s just no workin, it’s time tae move on, call it quits.

A few hours and tissues later, the customer leaves fae the last time, thinkin’ that she’s been mature and that it’s gone as well as she couldae hoped. She’s sad, but she’s convinced it’s the right thing tae do.

Her ex, on the other hand doesnae agree at all, and she doesnae understand. The relationship was goin’ great, they were havin’ fun, they were even talkin’ aboot movin’ in together. They were makin’ hypothetical plans that could one day be their future. Fae the girlfriend, the customer had been the future, and noo it was gone.

She does whit many people do after a breakup. She finds solace at the bottom ae a bottle, and then another, until it numbs the shock, until she thinks she’s better aff single anyway, until she gets angry that she wasted so much time. Aboot how next time she’ll find the one.

A few days intae this bender, after she’s made a suitable dent in her bank account buyin’ booze tae maintain the numbness, she gets a phone call frae her Ma. Her cousin’s had a heart attack. Despite the doctor’s best attempts tae save him, he didnae make it. The family’s devastated and she needs tae come over, noo.

The shock sobers her up, she needs tae be wi’ her family, she wants tae see them. Her previous pain is momentarily forgotten. She digs aroond the mess ae takeaway containers and empty bottles ae beer and spirits until she finds the fluffy keyring she keeps attached tae her car keys. She’s fine. She decides she isnae too drunk tae drive. She gets in her car and hits someone. She didnae even see him, no until it was too late. She doesnae want tae get oot the car, it mightae just been her imagination.

Except there’s a crack on her windscreen. A circle that fans oot intae veins, the glass has bent under the weight ae a body. That body is lyin’ in the road in front ae her, limbs at impossible angles. There’s a pedestrian who’s seen the entire incident, their phone’s oot and they’re callin’ the police.

Someone’s been run over, they say, someone needs an ambulance.

That someone is Reid.

I go intae the shop the next day and Fionn is waitin’ fae me wearin’ an expression that immediately sends ma stomach tae the floor. It’s no sixth sense, it’s a gut feelin’, somethin’ instinctual. Or perhaps it’s me pickin’ up somethin’ frae the dragon heided ring on ma finger. He tells me whit’s happened, that Reid’s been in an accident and he’s at the hospital.

I dinnae really remember whit he says next, if he says anythin’. I immediately get on the bus, and although I know the journey is only 20 minutes, it may as well have been twenty hours. I eventually arrive and I have no idea where he is, I’ve never been in the hospital before. I go tae a desk and say his name, say I’m his sister, or was it his cousin, I wouldae said I was his Ma if it meant I was told where he was.

I get a floor and room number. I pass doctors, patients, nurses, people who look like death is perched on their shoulder, and I start tae feel this awful dread buildin’ in ma stomach. I fuckin’ hate hospitals.

I eventually find his room, a private one. But I dinnae go in, no when I see all ae his family crowdin’ roond the bed, a doctor talkin’ tae them. I hear through the gaps in the door that he’ll pull through, that he’d stabilised but still needed observation. The doctor commented that it was a miracle he wasnae more badly hurt as the driver had been goin’ almost double the speed limit when they’d hit him.

I didnae know at the time who the driver had been, but I was relieved tae hear Reid was gonnae be ok. It was easier tae be angry than upset at the time. This was the reason why there were speed limits, I bet it was some fuckin’ roaster withoot a licence tryin’ tae prove he had big fuckin bollocks by racin’ doon the road. He’d better hope I didnae use some ae the things in the shop tae end him.

By the time I got back tae the bus stop I’d calmed doon. I’d decided no tae go in tae see Reid, it hadnae seemed right wi’ his family there. I’d visit him later. As the last ae ma adrenaline ebbed away, the anger gave way tae sadness. Seein’ Reid like that, bruised and beaten up, so small in a bed that engulfed him, made me realise he was a lot more fragile than I’d assumed. I dinnae know why I’d thought that, it’s no like foxes are particularly strong, but he wasnae human, so shouldnae that make him more powerful? Perhaps that was the reason he’d pulled through when someone like me would probably have died. I couldnae bear tae think ae how close he’d come tae those pearly gates, and just as ma eyes were stingin I noticed somethin’ appear at ma side.

The bus stops in the city have these bars that go along the back wall ae the shelter, they’re instead ae puttin’ in proper seats. You’re supposed tae lean on it, and I think oot ae habit more than comfort people do. I’m no exception. But beside me, perched on this piece ae plastic like it was a tree in the woods, was an owl.

I squeezed the tears oot ma eyes and looked again, expectin’ it tae have transformed intae one ae those scrawny pigeons that are everywhere. But it was still an owl. A mixture ae brown, white, and black, it perched calmly at ma side, no movin, starin’ straight ahead wi’ it’s large, glassy roond eyes.

I cast ma gaze aroond, lookin’ fae someone else at the bus stop, even a passerby tae see this, tae confirm that I was no just goin’ mad. It was the voice in ma heid, no ma own, that pulled me frae ma disbelief. It was the same way Chronos spoke tae me, I could hear him like I could hear ma own inner voice, but this one was different. This voice was deeper, slicker, had a heaviness tae it that I’d never heard frae anyone before. No the comforting kind, and even the deep Scottish burr couldnae expel ma growin’ dread.

It told me no tae bother lookin fae someone else, that I was the only one who could see it. Ma first thought, and noo I dinnae know why, was that it was Madam Anora come tae gee me an answer tae ma proposal all ae those months ago. But why would she send a messenger? Was this her familiar? Was this like an anti-Chronos? I suppose an owl would be somewhat fittin’.

No, the owl had nothin’ tae do wi’ the Madams, no directly. I hadnae asked a question out loud, and the realisation that this owl could hear ma thoughts slowly began tae trickle in. Before I could ask whit the fuck this bird was, it’d already answered me.

Fate.

I laughed. I know, no ma wisest reaction, but it couldnae be serious. I’d never thought Fate was a person let alone an animal. Hearin’ these thoughts Fate corrected that it wasnae an animal, that was just how I saw it. Everyone saw somethin’ different, no that it had shown itself tae many people before. I wasnae happy aboot it makin’ an exception fae me.

Where I saw an owl, someone else might see an old man or woman, a person in a black suit, a horse, an eagle. Fate had no form ae its own, so people gave it one.

I asked why it was here. I actually asked tae whit dae I owe the pleasure before I could filter that oot.

Fate knew whit I’d been up tae. Interferin’, stealin’ back things meant fae people and hidin’ them in the shop. Altering their fates. They’d ignored it the first few times, thinkin’ I was just testin’ ma luck, but when I’d kept doin’ it they decided it was time tae teach me a lesson.

Ye see, this was all connected, whit had happened tae Reid, and all ae it was ma fault. Fate took me back tae last month, tae the day a lad came intae the shop and bought a cap. The flat cap, the one that gave you wakin’ night terrors. The one I’d taken Reid tae go and get back. It turned oot that lad had an undiagnosed heart condition. If he’d worn the cap, like he was supposed tae, he wouldae gone tae the doctor, hopin’ tae get medication fae anxiety or depression, and the doctor wouldae taken his blood pressure and noticed somethin’ was wrong. The lad wouldae been sent fae some tests and the heart condition wouldae been found and treated.

But none ae that happened because I’d taken the cap back less than an hour after he’d bought it. He’d never gone tae the doctor, he’d never had the tests done. Instead, he’d had a heart attack and was deid.

He was the cousin of the lassie who’d hit Reid wi’ her car. And the only reason she’d been drunk enough no tae notice? Because I’d prevented her girlfriend frae readin’ the book that wouldae changed her mind aboot endin’ the relationship. If I hadnae interfered, there’d have been no need tae go on a bender tae ignore her heartbreak, and she wouldnae have got behind the wheel and nearly killed Reid.

In this supposedly random string ae events that had ended wi’ me nearly permanently losin’ one ae ma closest pals, I was the common denominator. If I hadnae interfered wi’ these customers, none ae this wouldae happened.

What else had I done? I’d interfered wi’ so many customers, buyin’ back the items, lyin’ and deceiving just so I could get them back. Had somethin’ like this happened every time?

Fate said that sometimes when I interfere I’ll be helpin, and other times I’ll be makin’ it ten times worse. I’ll never know which is which. Was I willin’ tae take that risk?

No. No, of course not. I didnae want that on ma hands, it was bad enough I knew whit I’d done just because I’d prevented a customer frae wearin’ a stupid’ cap. It haunts me that I dinnae know whit else I’ve inadvertently done by takin’ back items that have been bought. How many things have happened that shouldnae have? How many times have I made things worse? I didnae understand before, how fate worked. I was thinkin’ in the short-term, preventin’ people frae sufferin today. But by doin that I was causin them sufferin’ tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Ma own thoughtlessness had almost killed ma familiar, and possibly strangers who I was convinced I was helpin’.

The Madam had been right, and I’d been too arrogant tae realise, too stupid tae understand. Ye shouldnae interfere wi’ Fate. I understand noo, and I’ll stop. I promise, I’ll stop.

Episode 29 – The Monster Jars

Scots terms

Fresher – term for first year university students

Script

Do you ever think about jars? The kind that’s on the supermarket shelf, the kind you hope no to break on your way home, or the one that falls out of the cupboard and smashes on the floor. The kind you stick your spoon or knife in to get every last drop out of. The ones you accidentally throw in the bin, then have to fish out to recycle. The ones your neighbour drops too loudly into their own recycling bin at 6am on a Sunday morning.

No? Of course not, It’s just a jar. Except, what if it isn’t? What if it’s something else, something more? After this, you’ll never look at those jars in your cupboard the same way again.

Before I was due into the shop that day, I’d made a wee detour to find a customer who’d bought a pretty China tea set that actually made anyone who drank tea from it hate the owner, including the owner themselves. Some vendetta from a Victorian high society woman who was pissed at not being invited somewhere, or so Chronos told me after I’d sold it. Let’s just say by the time I arrived back at the shop; the set was in pieces in my bag.

As soon as I opened the door, I heard a voice that I didn’t recognise, interspersed with Fionn’s jovial accent. The bell above the door’s echo faded into the antiques as I watched their exchange curiously. Fionn wasn’t one for talking to the customers much, and when he did there was so much pity carved into his features it made them feel inexplicably uncomfortable and they cut the conversation short. He wore no such look with the lassie standing opposite him.

I could only see the back of her head from where I was standing, but the bag that was slung over her shoulder looked heavy, the straps digging into the denim jacket she was wearing causing it to crease. I didn’t really want to approach, assuming they were pals or acquaintances, perhaps something more, knowing Fionn, but I was saved the decision by Reid appearing from further in the cavern.

I didn’t need to ask aloud who the lassie was. Reid looked over, as if expecting to find a nametag suddenly visible on the back of her jacket, before turning back to me and shrugging, quietly uttering that he didn’t know but that she’d been talking to Fionn for a while. He’d overheard Fionn joking that she was a regular. I instantly thought he’d heard wrong. I’d been working at the shop for a year and had never seen this lassie.

As Reid continued to try and puzzle out who our guest was, I removed my bag from my shoulders and froze when I heard the clink of the broken tea set pieces scraping against each other. Reid winced and glanced nervously at my bag, before drawing his gaze to look at me. His usual frown was replaced with something resembling concern.

He asked me if whatever it was had been stolen from a customer. I quickly checked for any sign of Chronos, or if Fionn had overheard, before whispering that it was. The concern laden grooves on his face deepened as he once again looked at my bag as if it were a wasp nest. I could tell by the purse of his lips that he was uncomfortable with what I was doing. But he took my bag from my hand anyway, telling me he’d find a place to hide whatever it was so no one would find it.

He had good timing since as soon as the weight of my bag left my hand Fionn, and the lassie, spotted me at the door. I watched Reid disappear into the shop as my other familiar claimed they’d both been waiting for me.

I walked over to the pair and tried no to stare at the lassie. Whenever anyone comes into the shop and appears to have some measure of familiarity with either of my familiars I tend to scrutinise them, prepared to find the same blurred lines around them as I do everyone else who comes from that side of the world. There was nothing like that. She looked…normal.

She introduced herself as Eilidh, a semi-regular visitor to the shop, specifically Madam Norna’s front room. As she said it, she patted her bag, the heavy looking one, and I smiled politely, having no idea what she meant. Since she was here to see my boss, I took her upstairs where the Madam was waiting.

The two exchanged a friendly greeting as I went and made tea. By the time I came back there was a medium sized jar standing on the coffee table between the two sofas. A white and green label was taped around its centre, and the lid was a metallic amber colour that reminded me of copper when it’s new. The label indicated that the jar used to contain basil pesto, but the whirling and noxious looking blue smoke inside wasn’t something I’d want with my pasta.

Carefully, I placed the tea pot and cups around the jar, ogling as the smoke swirled and bent inside its glass confines. I expected the jar to be moving, swaying, or trying to tip itself over, but it was perfectly stationary.

Eilidh asked me if I’d ever seen one before and I couldn’t understand what she meant; a pesto jar, or whatever was inside of it? My boss answered for me and told her that I’d never been in the shop’s storage before and so had never had an opportunity to see the others.

At the mention of “others” my heart began to sink. Why was I getting the feeling it wasn’t a sprite or faerie in that jar?

Madam Norna said that Eilidh used to be called a Sentinel. These people, a bit like the Madams, are born with the ability to see monsters and deal with them, either by trapping or killing. There used to be more, but since modernisation they had dwindled because there was no longer a great need for them. What was unusual was that the ability didn’t run in families. Along a similar vein to the Madams, Sentinels appeared to be born at random. Eilidh’s parents had never seen a monster in their lives.

I thought my luck was bad but imagine being born with the ability to have to hunt monsters. I wasn’t sure what they even meant by monsters. Although, the Fideal (Fee-chal) possessing that wee lad from last year came to mind. I’d hate to have to deal with that kind of thing on a regular basis. Which doesn’t bode well for my tenure as Madam.

As if realising it was being talked about, the blue smoke began to swirl around the glass jar violently, like a hurricane in a bottle, yet the jar remained intact, no cracks or fractures.

This pesto jar isn’t big, by the way, it’s not family sized. It’s 190g in weight and is made by what sounded like an Italian company but was probably made in somewhere in Sweden. It’s something you’d throw in the trolley whilst shopping because you’re fed up with Bolognese or carbonara. You’d probably return it if it had blue smoke in it, though.

Eilidh began to tell the jar’s story. She hadn’t been sure it was big enough to hold the monster inside, although apparently it wasn’t the smallest in her collection. She’d first heard about this one on the news. There was this story, a few years ago when I first started uni, about this person who’d managed to drown themselves in their flat. Only, they’d been nowhere near the sink or bathtub. They’d drunk so much water that they’d technically drowned themselves.

I was a Fresher at the time and my new pals and I had discussed it for the day it was in the news, and then it had faded into the past like many sensational news stories do. Unbeknownst to me, the story hadn’t ended there.

Two further people in the city had drowned themselves in the same month. This had caught Eilidh’s attention because she felt like she recognised the story, like it’d happened before somewhere else. She began to investigate.

The first victim, the one who’d featured in the news, was a young lad who’d just turned 18, and as is usual with that age, had unleashed himself onto the night life. The weekend was for clubbing and pubs, drink and bed hopping, whilst the weekday was for being hungover at his apprenticeship. Bravely, Eilidh had approached his colleagues to ask if anything strange, barring his death, had happened in the weeks leading up to his passing.

They all said no, he’d been perfectly normal. He’d began to drink more water than usual, constantly running for the bathroom, only to be filling up his water bottle once again. He’d be drinking multiple bottles a day, far more than the recommended 2 litres. One of his teachers had thought at the time it was a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes and had told the lad as much. He said he felt fine and shrugged it off.

The day before he was found by his parents on the floor of his bedroom, soaked with water, he’d missed work. From what Eilidh could find out about the autopsy the lad had just kept drinking and drinking until his body gave out. Authorities were convinced he’d been taking drugs, but there was no evidence of that, and his family swore up and down he’d never taken any.

The next victim was a woman, late twenties, and a manager of one of the nightclubs in town. She was living with her partner in a flat, had two cats which she had an Instagram account for where she posted daily, and a desire one day to have a few bairns. Average in every sense of the word. Until she was found on the stairwell of her building having drowned. She, like the first lad, was soaked through, as though someone had dragged her from the canal and dumped her on the stairs. Her cause of death was also declared as an accidental drowning.

The third, and final, victim was a university student studying for their masters. A bright young woman, by all accounts, who’d received a scholarship to complete her studies by a company that had offered her future employment. She lived in a student flat with other people doing the same or similar courses. She had a girlfriend who stayed over more often than not and one unfortunate day who’d found her lying in bed, drenched in water, having drowned.

Eilidh had tried connecting all three. Were they related somehow? Did they share a common enemy? Had something come into their possession that shouldn’t have? I began to sweat, thinking of numerous items in the shop that were probably capable of these things, and worse. The last time I looked there wasn’t a monster lurking in the aisles of the shop. Unless you count Reid, or Chronos.

Eventually she found the connection. A club. The second victim had been the manager, and the two others had been regular visitors. But what was so special about this club? What was going on that three people connected with it had died in such a strange way? Eilidh decided to visit and ask amongst the staff but none of them had any weird stories.

Curious, she decided to go clubbing. Ignoring that she was at least five or six years older than everyone else there, she noticed that at a certain time on a Friday and Saturday night the smoke machine would come out, and the room would be engulfed by a light layer of ash grey fog. At least, it was supposed to be grey. On the night Eilidh was there, she noticed a slash of bright blue.

It didn’t move like the rest of the smog, it didn’t disperse and hover, the strobe lights didn’t stream though it, illuminating every molecule. This swirled around of its own accord, congregating in one place then warping to another. There was a dampness to the air, Eilidh recalled, as though the sun had come out after heavy rain to evaporate it away. From her position at the bar, she watched as the blue smoke drifted down to one of the patrons on the dancefloor, settling on them like oil.

Not long after, they made their way to the bar and asked for water.

Eilidh followed them home, through the dark streets, watching as the water bottle in their hands was emptied, and as they stopped at the curb and began to sip on a puddle. Seeing her chance, whilst they were distracted, Eilidh dipped into her bag and pulled out the pesto jar and managed to extract the blue smoke from the person and into the confines of the glass.

The reason she’d used the pesto jar, despite being doubtful of its efficacy, was because it was the only one that’d fit in the bag she’d used. That’d been the monster’s home for the last few years, and in the time since she hadn’t been able to get rid of it. That was why it was on the coffee table in the Madam’s front room.

Madam Norna thanked her and promised she’d put it with the others in storage. Eilidh left not long after, and I stared at the jar she’d left behind.

How? How was that smoke a monster? How was that wee jar keeping it trapped? It was glass, what if it’d smashed in the last few years?

A part of me wanted to touch it, but I thought better of it. I gave the Madam a glance, wondering why she hadn’t began her explanation. This prompted her to reach out and take the jar in her hands, surveying it as if there were gold nuggets inside. Monsters weren’t strictly a part of the shop’s responsibilities. They had nothing to do with Fate, so the Madam’s couldn’t interfere. No one really knew why there were people like Eilidh, who’d created them, or if they were naturally occurring, just as the monsters were.

Monsters had all kinds of names. Some were born, others created. Some had lived millennia, others only a few years before they were caught. Most were dangerous, and that was why people like Eilidh went around trapping them in jars.

It was no ordinary jar though. It used to be, and still looked like it, but it was a prison. Eilidh had sealed the lid with a kind of blood rite so only she could open it. The glass was reinforced with a similar kind of enchantment, not unlike some items in the shop. According to Madam Norna, Eilidh was the only one she’d ever met who used jars. What had begun as a necessity had turned into a tradition.

There were currently two of these jars in storage that Eilidh had given the shop. This one would make three. She had made a deal with my boss that if she couldn’t find a way to kill them within’ a certain time she’d give them to the Madam for safe keeping until she could, or someone else did.

Madam Norna stood up and went over to the cabinet of wonders and placed the jar inside. I’ll be a lot more reluctant to go in there in future.

I haven’t been able to look at jars the same way since. I’m curious about Eilidh and people like her. They’re like the Madams, but not. They have to live in the real world rather than shut way in a shop people rarely find. Do they have jobs or is there some kind of ministry that pays their expenses and a wage? Hunting monsters sounds good in theory, but I wonder what it’s actually like. I’m having trouble getting the image out of my head of a living room somewhere that has a line of jars on the mantelpiece, all with monsters inside.

Script – Scots

Do you ever think aboot jars? The kind that’s on the supermarket shelf, the kind you hope no tae break on your way home, or the one that falls oot ae the cupboard and smashes on the floor. The kind ye stick your spoon or knife in tae get every last drop oot of. The ones ye accidentally throw in the bin, then have tae fish oot tae recycle. The ones your neighbour drops too loudly intae their own recycling bin at 7am on a Sunday morning.

No? Of course not, It’s just a jar. Except what if it isnae? What if it’s something else, something more? After this, you’ll never look at those jars in your cupboard the same way again.

Before I was due intae the shop that day I’d made a wee detour tae find a customer who’d bought a pretty China tea set that actually made anyone who drank tea frae it hate the owner, including the owner themselves. Some vendetta frae a Victorian high society woman who was pissed at no bein’ invited somewhere, or so Chronos told me after I’d sold it. Let’s just say by the time I arrived back at the shop, the set was in pieces in ma bag.

As soon as I opened the door I heard a voice that I didnae recognise, interspersed wi’ Fionn’s jovial accent. The bell above the door’s echo faded intae the antiques as I watched their exchange curiously. Fionn wasnae one fae talkin’ tae the customers much, and when he did there was so much pity carved intae his features it made them feel inexplicably uncomfortable and they cut the conversation short. He wore no such look wi’ the lassie standin’ opposite him.

I could only see the back ae her heid frae where I was standin, but the bag that was slung over her shoulder looked heavy, the straps diggin’ intae the denim jacket she was wearin causin’ it tae crease. I didnae really want tae approach, assumin’ they were pals, or acquaintances, perhaps somethin’ more, knowin Fionn, but I was saved the decision by Reid appearin’ frae further in the cavern.

I didnae need tae ask aloud who the lassie was. Reid looked over, as if expectin tae find a nametag suddenly visible on the back ae her jacket, before turning back tae me and shrugging, quietly uttering that he didnae know, but that she’d been talkin’ tae Fionn fae a while. He’d overheard Fionn jokin’ that she was a regular. I instantly thought he’d heard wrong. I’d been workin at the shop fae a year and had never seen this lassie.

As Reid continued tae try and puzzle oot who our guest was, I removed ma bag frae ma shoulders and froze when I heard the clink ae the broken tea set pieces scrapin’ against each other. Reid winced and glanced nervously at ma bag, before drawin’ his gaze tae look at me. His usual frown was replaced wi’ somethin’ resemblin’ concern.

He asked me if whatever it was had been stolen frae a customer. I quickly checked fae any sign ae Chronos, or if Fionn had overheard, before whisperin that it was. The concern laden grooves on his face deepened as he once again looked at ma bag as if it were a wasps nest. I could tell by the purse ae his lips that he was uncomfortable wi’ whit I was doin’. But he took ma bag frae ma hand anyway, tellin’ me he’d find a place tae hide whitever it was so no one would find it.

He had good timing, since as soon as the weight ae ma bag left ma hand Fionn and the lassie spotted me at the door. I watched Reid disappear intae the shop as ma other familiar claimed they’d both been waitin’ fae me.

I walked over tae the pair and tried no tae stare at the lassie. Whenever anyone comes intae the shop and appears tae have some measure ae familiarity wi’ either ae ma familiars, I tend tae scrutinise them, prepared tae find the same blurred lines aroond them as I do everyone else who comes frae that side ae the world. There was nothin’ like that. She looked…normal.

She introduced herself as Eilidh, a semi-regular visitor tae the shop, specifically Madam Norna’s front room. As she said it, she patted her bag, the heavy lookin’ one, and I smiled politely, havin’ no idea whit she meant. Since she was here tae see ma boss, I took her upstairs where the Madam was waitin.

The two exchanged a friendly greeting as I went and made tea. By the time I came back there was a medium sized jar standing on the coffee table between the two sofas. A white and green label was taped aroond its centre, and the lid was a metallic amber colour that reminded me ae copper when it’s new. The label indicated that the jar used tae contain basil pesto, but the whirling and noxious looking blue smoke inside wasnae somethin’ I’d want wi’ ma pasta.

Carefully I placed the tea pot and cups aroond the jar, ogling as the smoke swirled and bent inside its glass confines. I expected the jar tae be moving, swaying or trying tae tip itself over, but it was perfectly stationary.

Eilidh asked me if I’d ever seen one before and I couldnae understand whit she meant, a pesto jar, or whitever was inside ae it. Ma boss answered fae me and told her that I’d never been in the shop’s storage before and so had never had an opportunity tae see the others.

At the mention ae “others” ma heart began tae sink. Why was I gettin’ the feelin’ it wasnae a sprite or faerie in that jar?

Madam Norna said that Eilidh used tae be called a sentinel. These people, a bit like the Madams, are born with the ability to see monsters and deal wi’ them, either by trapping or killing. There used tae be more, but since modernisation they had dwindled because there was no longer a great need fae them. What was unusual was that the ability didnae run in families. Along a similar vein tae the Madams, sentinels appeared to be born at random. Eilidh’s parents had never seen a monster in their lives.

I thought my luck was bad, but imagine being born wi’ the ability tae have tae hunt monsters. I wasnae sure what they even meant by monsters. Although, the Fideal (Feechal) possessin’ that wee lad frae last year came tae my mind. I’d hate tae have tae deal wi’ that kind ae thing on a regular basis. Which doesnae bode well fae ma tenure as Madam.

As if realisin’ it was bein’ talked aboot, the blue smoke began tae swirl aroond the glass jar violently, almost like a hurricane in a bottle, yet the jar remained intact, no cracks or fractures.

This pesto jar isnae big, by the way, it’s no family sized. It’s 190g in weight, and is made by what sounded like an Italian company, but was probably made in somewhere in Sweden. It’s somethin’ you’d throw in the trolley whilst shoppin’ because you’re fed up ae Bolognese or carbonara. You’d probably return it if it had blue smoke in it, though.

Eilidh began tae tell the jar’s story. She hadnae been sure it was big enough tae hold the monster inside, although apparently it wasnae the smallest in her collection. She’d first heard aboot this one on the news. There was this story, a few years ago when I first started uni, aboot this person who’d managed tae drown themselves in their flat. Only, they’d been nowhere near the sink or bathtub. They’d drunk so much water that they’d technically drowned themselves.

I was a fresher at the time, and ma new pals and I had discussed it fae the day it was in the news, and then it had faded intae the past like many sensational news stories do. Unbeknownst tae me, the story hadnae ended there.

Two further people in the city had drowned themselves in the same month. This had caught Eilidh’s attention because she felt like she recognised the story, like it’d happened before somewhere else. She began tae investigate.

The first victim, the one who’d featured in the news, was a young lad who’d just turned 18, and as is usual wi’ that age, had unleashed himself ontae the night life. The weekend was fae clubbing and pubs, drink, and bed hopping, whilst the weekday was fae bein’ hungover at his apprenticeship. Bravely, Eilidh had approached his colleagues tae ask if anythin’ strange, barring his death, had happened in the weeks leadin’ up tae his passin’.

They all said no, he’d been perfectly normal. He’d began tae drink more water than usual, constantly runnin’ fae the bathroom, only tae be fillin’ up his water bottle once again. He’d be drinkin’ multiple bottles a day, far more than the recommended 2 litres. One ae his teachers had thought at the time it was a symptom of undiagnosed diabetes and had told the lad as much. He said he felt fine and shrugged it aff.

The day before he was found by his parents on the floor ae his bedroom, soaked wi’ water, he’d missed work. Frae whit Eilidh could find oot aboot the autopsy the lad had just kept drinkin’ and drinkin’ until his body gave oot. Authorities were convinced he’d been takin’ drugs, but there was no evidence ae that, and his family swore up and doon he’d never taken any.

The next victim was a woman, late twenties, and a manager ae one ae the nightclubs in town. She was livin’ wi her partner in a flat, had two cats which she had an Instagram account fae where she posted daily, and a desire one day tae have a few bairns. Average, in every sense ae the word. Until she was found on the stairwell ae her building havin’ drowned. She, like the first lad, was soaked through, as though someone had dragged her frae the canal and dumped her on the stairs. Her cause of death was also declared as an accidental drowning.

The third, and final victim, was a university student studying fae their masters. A bright young woman by all accounts, who’d received a scholarship tae complete her studies by a company that had offered her future employment. She lived in a student flat wi’ other people doin’ the same or similar courses. She had a girlfriend who stayed over more often than not, and one unfortunate day who’d found her lyin’ in bed, drenched in water, having drowned.

Eilidh had tried connecting all three. Were they related somehow? Did they share a common enemy? Had somethin’ come intae their possession that shouldnae have? I began tae sweat, thinkin’ of numerous items in the shop that were probably capable ae these things, and worse. The last time I looked, there wasnae a monster lurkin’ in the aisles ae the shop. Unless ye count Reid, or Chronos.

Eventually she found the connection. A club. The second victim had been the manager, and the two others had been regular visitors. But whit was so special aboot this club? Whit was goin’ on that three people connected wi’ it had died in such a strange way? Eilidh decided tae visit and ask amongst the staff, but none ae them had any weird stories.

Curious, she decided tae go clubbing. Ignoring that she was at least five or six years older than everyone else there, she noticed that at a certain time on a Friday and Saturday night the smoke machine would come oot, and the room would be engulfed by a light layer of ash grey fog. At least, it was supposed to be grey. On the night Eilidh was there, she noticed a slash of bright blue.

It didnae move like the rest ae the smog, it didnae disperse and hover, the strobe lights didnae stream though it illuminating every molecule. This swirled roond of its own accord, congregating in one place then warping tae another. There was a dampness tae the air, Eilidh recalled, as though the sun had come oot after heavy rain tae evaporate it away. Frae her position at the bar, she watched as the blue smoke drifted doon tae one ae the patrons on the dancefloor, settlin’ on them like oil.

Not long after, they made their way tae the bar, and asked fae water.

Eilidh followed them home, through the dark streets, watchin’ as the water bottle in their hands was emptied, and as they stopped on the curb and began tae sip on a puddle. Seein’ her chance, whilst they were distracted, Eilidh dipped intae her bag and pulled oot the Pesto jar, and managed tae extract the blue smoke frae the person and intae the confines ae the glass.

The reason she’d used the pesto jar, despite being doubtful ae its efficacy, was because it was the only one that’d fit in the bag she’d used. That’d been the monster’s home fae the last few years, and in the time since she hadnae been able tae get rid ae it. That was why it was on the coffee table in the Madam’s front room.

Madam Norna thanked her, and promised she’d put it wi’ the others in storage. Eilidh left not long after, and I stared at the jar she’d left behind.

How? How was that smoke a monster? How was that wee jar keepin’ it trapped? It was glass, what if it’d smashed in the last few years?

A part ae me wanted tae touch it, but I thought better ae it. I gee the Madam a glance, wonderin’ why she hadnae began her explanation. This prompted her tae reach oot and take the jar in her hands, surveying it as if there were gold nuggets inside. Monsters werenae strictly a part ae the shop’s responsibilities. They had nothin’ tae do wi’ fate, so the Madam’s couldnae interfere. No one really knew why there were people like Eilidh, who’d created them, or if they were naturally occurring, just as the monsters were.

Monsters had all kinds ae names. Some were born, others created. Some had lived millennia, others only a few years before they were caught. Most were dangerous, and that was why people like Eilidh went aroond trappin’ them in jars.

It was no ordinary jar though. It used tae be, and still looked like it, but it was a prison. Eilidh had sealed the lid wi’ a kind ae blood rite so only she could open it. The glass was reinforced wi a similar kind ae enchantment, not unlike some items in the shop. Accordin’ tae Madam Norna, Eilidh was the only one she’d ever met who used jars. What had begun as a necessity, had turned intae a tradition.

There were currently two ae these jars in storage that Eilidh had given the shop. This one would make three. She had made a deal wi’ ma boss that if she couldnae find a way tae kill them within’ a certain time she’d gee them tae the Madam fae safe keepin’ until she could, or someone else did.

Madam Norna stood up and went over tae the cabinet ae wonders and placed the jar inside. I’ll be a lot more reluctant to go in there in future.

I havenae been able tae look at jars the same way since. I’m curious about Eilidh, and people like her. They’re like the Madams, but not. They have tae live in the real world rather than shut way in a shop people rarely find. Do they have jobs, or is there some kind ae ministry that pays their expenses and a wage? Hunting monsters sounds good in theory, but I wonder what it’s actually like. I’m havin’ trouble gettin’ the image oot ae ma heid ae a living room somewhere that has a line ae jars on the mantelpiece, all wi monsters inside.

Episode 28 – The Cap

Scots terms

Randomer – I’m perhaps showing my age a bit here. It was a common Glaswegian phrase used to refer to a stranger. I suppose the literal translation would be “random person”.

Fiver – slang word for £5.

Auld wives’ tale – a tall tale, a superstitious story. More common in England as Old Wives’ tale.

Tattie bogle – scarecrow

Script

Episode 28 – The Cap

I triumphed over Fate today, again. I don’t understand what all the fuss was about before, all the dour warnings for my boss. The earth hasn’t stopped turning. The sun hasn’t stopped rising every morning and setting every evening. Nothing bad has happened even though I’ve “interfered with Fate”. I wouldn’t really call it interfering, more cutting it short.

All of us were in the shop this day. It was Fionn’s turn to entertain Chronos, and the two were in an intense miniature chess match that Reid and I’d become bored with very quickly. We were in the middle of a race to find this pen that Reid claimed wrote predictions about the future. We’d made a bet because I didn’t believe him, so he was determined to prove me wrong, and I made it a race because he crumbles under pressure and I was bored.

We never got to finish the race as when the bell echoed around the cavern, we had to stop our game and pretend like we were functional adults until the customer left. It was a lad that had come in, and from the way he ignored us and picked an aisle I knew he wasn’t a special customer.

I get this pit in my stomach these days when a customer like that comes in, a normal one, someone that buys something seemingly innocuous but could easily dismantle their lives in less than a week. It takes a lot of willpower not to follow them around the shop like a security guard after some teenagers, keeping an eye out for any item that may snag their attention. All I can do is wait at the counter until they’re finished, until after they’ve made a decision that could very well affect the rest of their lives.

This lad decided he was going to buy a flat cap. I hadn’t even realised we had one. You know the type, your Grandpa used to wear one. They look similar to the caps that paper boys used to wear at the beginning of the 20th century, but flatter as the name implies. A bit posh in my opinion, but each to their own. I admit, I relaxed a bit when I saw it was a piece of clothing. I don’t know why. Perhaps I just didn’t have the imagination to think it could do something sinister.

My hope was short lived when I caught a glimpse of Fionn’s face out the corner of my eye. His skin had gone a few shades paler, and he was looking at the cap in a similar way he’d looked at that brooch a few months back.

Apprehension.

Like a spark in a petrol station, this brief glance at my familiar caused my own anxiety to begin spiralling. What the hell did this hat do? Make you go bald, injure you in some way, attract bad people to you, cause you to be scammed and lose all your money? I couldn’t wait until the customer left so I could ask.

I pinned my dragon companion with a demanding stare, hoping not for the first time in my life that I could burn holes through him until he told me. Feeling, more than noticing, my eyes on him, he swallowed and began to explain.

He wouldn’t wish the cap on his worst enemy, he says. He’d known the original owner over a century ago, and things hadn’t ended well for him. The cap caused the wearer to hallucinate, although Fionn described it more like sleep paralysis, except the person was awake. They’d see things, nightmares, horrifying sights, and they wouldn’t be able to move until it was over. It could happen anywhere and at any time, whenever the cap felt like it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what had happened to the original wearer, but to my disappointment Fionn was thorough.

An asylum. This might be the first time I’ve thought that death would’ve been kinder. Not because of the asylum, contrary to popular belief they weren’t actually as bad by the 20th century as people believe, with a few exceptions, but because of the losing your mind bit. Being so bad as to be confined to an asylum for the rest of your life. All because of a cap.

I really wonder who makes things like this. Where do these items come from? Why? What purpose is this serving? Surely the person who made it is already dead by now. So, you got your revenge, why do these things live on after the creator has gone? Presuming they are gone at all, perhaps the Madams and familiars aren’t the only ones with an unusual lifespan. Yet another thing I don’t want to think about.

I really did have the best of intentions with the cap and the customer. I wasn’t feeling great after what Fionn had told me it did, but the Madam’s warnings were still ringing in my ears. Don’t interfere with Fate. Don’t interfere. I know I had before, but that had only been a few times, and I’d made an exception. Maybe I’d just got lucky.

I tried to tell myself this for the rest of the day. I lost the race and the bet with Reid because I was so distracted. It turns out he was telling the truth, sort of. This pen did make predictions, it’s just that most were wrong, and the rest only really made sense in retrospect. More riddles than anything substantial.

The customer issue got even harder to ignore when the wee rabbit reappeared. You remember, the small brown one with white cotton tail that likes to try and get trampled at night clubs. This time it wasn’t moving much, but waiting by the door like a dog left outside of a shop whilst the owner gets their morning paper. I knew it wouldn’t go away until I acknowledged it, and I knew it wanted me to follow it.

It didn’t take me long after its appearance to build up my courage to act. True, I may have got lucky with Marion, but what if I got lucky this time too? I mean there was always the possibility the Madam was exaggerating about Fate. Surely, it’s not so petty as to give a shite about some randomer buying a cap?

I took Reid aside, ignoring his gloating face as he twiddled my fiver between his fingers, and told him what I wanted to do. It didn’t fill me with confidence when the smugness drained from his face, replaced by the crease of his heavy brow that told me he was unsure. I whisper my reasoning, not that I think I really had to. Fionn and Chronos were still so deep in their chess match I’m not sure they heard anything but the scrape of the wood as the pieces were moved across the board.

Reid only looks partially convinced, but he can tell I’ve made up my mind. I’m going after the customer with or without him, and he decided he’s going to have to keep me out of trouble.

Before he changes his mind, I drag him over to the counter to interrupt the match, although I predictably fail. I tell Fionn and Chronos that Reid and I are going to get a coffee and ask if they want anything. Fionn flails his hand lethargically as he shakes his head and tells us he hopes there isn’t a queue at the post office.

Realising he must not really have heard me I steer Reid out of the shop, the brown rabbit the first one to hop out of the open door. Once we’re free, Reid asks how we’re going to find this customer. I smile and point to the rabbit a few feet ahead of us. He glances in that direction. His frown deepens, bemused, before transforming into a concerned scowl as he turns back to me. I can tell he doesn’t really know what to say, whether to confront it or pretend like I’m not crazy. It confirmed to me that I’m the only one who can see the rabbit.

After telling him it didn’t matter, I began to follow the rabbit as it hopped down the street, past the shops and in between the pedestrians. Gingerly, Reid walked at my side, still contemplating whether to interfere. The customer can’t have got that far from the shop, and after five minutes of walking, trying not to lose sight of my guide whilst avoiding bumping into people, I see him in the distance.

He’s put the tweed cap on, and he’s waiting at a bus stop with a few other people. They’re all looking at their phones, scrolling through their feeds or swiping on stranger’s pictures. But the customer is staring off into space, a glassy eyed look engulfing his features. The closer we get the more jarring it becomes. The world is moving, the cars honk at each other, the cyclists whizz by in their designated lane, others are manoeuvring round the people waiting for the bus, but this customer looks as though someone’s pressed pause. If someone took a picture, he’d be the only one in focus.

The closer Reid and I get the less glassy his features look. Rather than vacancy its terror, as though there’s a horrific crime happening wherever his eyes are looking. There’s a bank across the road, in the direction of his petrified stare, but everything’s normal. No robberies, no assaults, no murder, or car accident. I remember what Fionn said, about the waking night terrors, and wish he hadn’t decided to put the cap on.

The rabbit disappears once we’ve reached the customer. Reid stays back cautiously whilst I approach, touching the lad lightly on the shoulder. He blinks, the focus returns to his eyes, and he’s looking around as if expecting whatever he was seeing to still be there. His body slackens, and after a few moments I see the tremors of terror shaking his hands and arms.

His eyes are watery, brows drawn together in bewilderment, either at me being there, or at whatever nightmare he was seeing.

“That’s going to get worse”, I explained.

I’ve never told a customer what the item they bought did. The few times I’ve ever been entangled with a customer and the item they bought I’ve always lied because I didn’t think they’d believe me. I lied to the woman in the station last year with the bracelet and I stole back the truth telling brooch that Marion purchased. This case was different. He’d had a taster of things to come if he kept wearing that cap.

Granted, I could’ve still lied, made up something about it being reserved for someone else, but I felt like I didn’t really need to do that this time. I offered to take it away and refund his money. Thankfully it hadn’t been that expensive or I probably would’ve lied.

He tore the cap from his head and practically threw it at me, like it’d burned him when he touched it. Eager for me to have it, he began to take a few steps back now that it was in my possession, as if proximity to it was the main cause of the issue. Mumbling his thanks, or an apology I wasn’t sure which, he began to walk quickly down the street away for us, turning around in terror every so often as if to check we weren’t following.

Triumphant, and a wee bit guilty, Reid and I walked back to the shop. During the short walk Reid finally mustered up the courage to say something to me, only it wasn’t about the rabbit. As gently as he was able with his gruff voice, he expressed his unease at me interfering with customers. Reid was raised to fear two things: the Madams, and Fate. If anyone interfered with Fate, then it would take its revenge.

Aye, and I bet if you didn’t eat your greens then the Madam would come and get you. What shite. I told him as much and pointed out that I’d interfered before and nothing bad had happened. It was an auld wives’ tale, something to keep children in line, like a tattie bogle. I’m also supposed to be the next Madam. Fate may not like normal people interfering with fate, but surely I get a pass? Apparently I do, because the sky is still up and the ground still beneath us.

A peculiar expression moved over his face, a tug of doubt and a flash of dread. He wasn’t convinced by my arguments, but what do you expect? He doesn’t know any better. He’s been told to fear the Madams and everything to do with them, including the shop and the remedies given out there. For him, the Madams are a last resort. Of course he’s going to think messing with things is bad.

When we returned to the shop the chess match was still ongoing, and neither Reid nor I received an acknowledgment that we’d returned. I was quite glad because it gave me an opportunity to squirrel into the shop and find a hiding spot for the cap of doom. Whether or not the things I hide in the shop actually stay hidden will be found out in time.

After stuffing it in a set of drawers so far back from the main pathway I was convinced no one would bother to clamber over the rest of the clutter to get to it, my job was done, and I allowed myself to feel smug, triumphant.

I’ve won. Again. I stopped terrible things happening to someone. It’s been a few days since I confiscated and hid the cap, and guess what?  Nothing’s happened. The customer hasn’t returned to the shop, the world hasn’t started crumbling, rain still falls down and not up. I don’t understand what all the fuss was about, all of this “Fate is bad”, “you can’t interfere with Fate”, “Fate corrects itself” shite. I expected better from the Madam than just following orders blindly. I’ve managed to do what she never has, at least to my knowledge. I’ve saved people, whilst all she does is put these awful items out in the shop for the hapless to buy. I can start correcting her mistakes now, and when I’m Madam I can put a stop to them altogether.

Script – Scots

I triumphed over fate today, again. I dinnae understand what all the fuss was aboot before, all ae the dour warnings fae ma boss. The earth hasnae stopped turnin’, and the sun hasnse stopped rising every morning and setting every evening. Nothin bad has happened, even though I’ve “interfered wi’ fate”. I wouldnae really call it interferin, more cuttin’ it short.

All ae us were in the shop this day. It was Fionn’s turn tae entertain Chronos, and the two were in an intense miniature chess match that Reid and I’d become bored wi’ very quickly. We were in the middle ae a race tae find this pen that Reid claimed wrote predictions aboot the future. We’d made a bet because I didnae believe him so he was determined tae prove me wrong, and I made it a race because he crumbles under pressure and I was bored.

We never got tae finish the race as when the bell echoed roond the cavern we had tae stop our game and pretend like we were functional adults until the customer left. It was a lad that had come in, and frae the way he ignored us and picked an aisle I knew he wasnae a special customer.

I get this pit in ma stomach these days when a customer like that comes in, a normal one, someone that buys something seemingly innocuous but could easily dismantle their lives in less than a week. It takes a lot ae willpower no tae follow them roond the shop like a security guard after some teenagers, keepin’ an eye oot fae any item that may snag their attention. All I can do is wait at the counter until they’re finished, until after they’ve made a decision that could very well affect the rest ae their lives.

This lad decided he was gonnae buy a flat cap. I hadnae even realised we had one. Ye know the type, your grandpa used tae wear one. They look similar tae the caps that paper boys used tae wear at the beginnin’ ae the 20th century, but flatter, as the name implies. A bit posh in ma opinion, but each tae their own. I admit, I relaxed a bit when I saw it was a piece ae clothing. I dinnae know why. Perhaps I just didnae have the imagination tae think it could do something sinister.

Ma hope was short lived when I caught a glimpse ae Fionn’s face oot the corner ae ma eye. His skin had gone a few shades paler, and he was lookin’ at the cap in a similar way he’d looked at that brooch a few months back.

Apprehension.

Like a spark in a petrol station, this brief glance at ma familiar caused ma own anxiety tae begin spirallin’. What the hell did this hat do? Make ye go bald, injure ye in some way, attract bad people tae ye, cause ye tae be scammed and lose all ae your money? I couldnae wait until the customer left so I could ask.

I pinned ma dragon companion wi’ a demandin’ stare, hopin’ no fae the first time in ma life that I could burn holes through him until he told me. Feelin’, more than noticing ma eyes on him, he swallowed and began tae explain.

He wouldnae wish the cap on his worst enemy, he says. He’d known the original owner, over a century ago, and things hadnae ended well fae him. The cap caused the wearer tae hallucinate, although Fionn described it more like sleep paralysis, except the person was awake. They’d see things, nightmares, horrifying sights, and they wouldnae be able tae move until it was over. It could happen anywhere and at any time, whenever the cap felt like it. I wasnae sure if I wanted tae know whit had happened tae the original wearer, and tae ma disappointment Fionn was thorough.

An asylum. This might be the first time I’ve thought that death wouldae been kinder. No because ae the asylum, contrary tae popular belief they werenae actually as bad by the 20th century as people believe, wi’ a few exceptions, but because ae the losin’ your mind bit. Bein’ so bad as tae be confined tae an asylum fae the rest ae your life. All because ae a cap.

I really wonder who makes things like this. Where do these items come from? Why? Whit purpose is this servin? Surely the person who made it is already deid by now. So ye got your revenge, why do these things live on after the creator has gone? Presumin’ they are gone at all, perhaps the Madams and familiars arenae the only ones with an unusual lifespan. Yet another ‘hing I dinnae want tae hink aboot.

I really did have the best ae intentions wi’ the cap and the customer. I wasnae feelin’ great after whit Fionn had told me it did, but the Madam’s warnings were still ringin’ in ma ears. Dinnae interfere wi’ fate. Dinnae interfere. I know I had before, but that had only been a few times, and I’d made an exception. Maybe I’d just got lucky.

I tried tae tell maself this fae the rest ae the day. I lost the race and the bet wi’ Reid because I was so distracted. It turns oot he was tellin’ the truth, sort of. This pen did make predictions, it’s just that most were wrong, and the rest only really made sense in retrospect. More riddles than anything substantial.

The customer issue got even harder tae ignore when the wee rabbit reappeared. Ye remember, the small brown one wi’ white cotton tail that likes tae try and get trampled at night clubs. This time it wasnae movin’ much, but waitin’ by the door like a dog left ootside ae a shop whilst the owner gets their mornin’ paper. I knew it wouldnae go away until I acknowledged it, and I knew it wanted me tae follow it.

It didnae take me long after its appearance tae build up ma courage tae act. True, I may have got lucky wi’ Rowan, but whit if I got lucky this time too? I mean there was always the possibility the Madam was exaggeratin’ aboot fate, surely it’s no so petty as tae gee’ a shite aboot some randomer buyin a cap?

I took Reid aside, ignorin’ his gloatin’ face as he twiddled ma fiver between his fingers, and told him whit I wanted tae do. It didnae fill me wi’ confidence when the smugness drained frae his face, replaced by the crease ae his heavy brow that told me he was unsure. I whisper ma reasoning, no’ that I think I really had tae. Fionn and Chronos were still so deep in their chess match I’m no sure they heard anythin’ but the scrape ae the wood as the pieces were moved across the board.

Reid only looks partially convinced, but he can tell I’ve made up ma mind. I’m goin’ after the customer with or withoot him, and he decided he’s gonnae have tae keep me oot ae trouble.

Before he changes his mind, I drag him over tae the counter tae interrupt the match, although I predictably fail. I tell Fionn and Chronos that Reid and I are goin’ tae get a coffee, and ask if they want anythin’. Fionn flails his hand lethargically as he shakes his heid and tells us he hopes there isnae a queue at the post office.

Realisin’ he must no really have heard me I steer Reid oot ae the shop, the brown rabbit the first one tae hop oot ae the open door. Once we’re free, Reid asks how we’re going tae find this customer. I smile and point tae the rabbit a few feet ahead ae us. He glances in that direction. His frown deepens, bemused, before transforming intae a concerned scowl as he turns back tae me. I can tell he doesnae really know whit tae say, whether tae confront it or pretend like I’m no crazy. It confirmed tae me that I’m the only one who can see the rabbit.

After tellin’ him it didnae matter, I began tae follow the rabbit as it hopped doon the street, past the shops and in between the pedestrians. Gingerly Reid walked at ma side, still contemplatin’ whether tae interfere. The customer cannae have got that far frae the shop, and after five minutes ae walkin’, trying no tae lose sight ae ma guide whilst avoidin bumpin intae people, I see him in the distance.

He’s put the tweed cap on, and he’s waitin’ at a bus stop wi a few other people. They’re all lookin’ at their phones, scrollin’ through their feeds or swipin’ on stranger’s pictures. But the customer is starin’ aff intae space, a glassy eyed look engulfin’ his features. The closer we get the more jarrin’ it becomes. The world is movin’, the cars honk at each other, the cyclists whizz by in their designated lane, others are manoeuvring round the people waitin’ fae the bus, but this customer looks as though someone’s pressed pause. If someone took a picture, he’d be the only one in focus.

The closer Reid and I get the less glassy his features look. Rather than vacancy its terror, as though there’s a horrific crime happening wherever his eyes are looking. There’s a bank across the road, in the direction ae his petrified stare, but everythin’s normal. No robberies, no assaults, no murder or car accident. I remember what Fionn said, aboot the waking night terrors, and wish he hadnae decided tae put the cap on.

The rabbit disappears once we’ve reached the customer. Reid stays back cautiously whilst I approach, touching the lad lightly on the shoulder. He blinks, the focus returns tae his eyes, and he’s lookin’ roond as if expectin’ whitever he was seein’ tae still be there. His body slackens, and after a few moments I see the tremors ae terror shakin’ his hands and arms.

His eyes are watery, brows drawn together in bewilderment, either at me bein’ there, or at whitever nightmare he was seein’.

“That’s gonnae get worse”, I explained.

I’ve never told a customer whit the item they bought did. The few times I’ve ever been entangled wi’ a customer and the item they bought I’ve always lied because I didnae ‘hink they’d believe me. I lied tae the woman in the station last year wi’ the bracelet and I stole back the truth tellin’ brooch that Rowan purchased. This case was different. He’d had a taster ae things tae come if he kept wearin’ that cap.

Granted, I couldae still lied, made up somethin’ aboot it bein’ reserved fae someone else, but I felt like I didnae really need tae do that this time. I offered tae take it away and refund his money. Thankfully it hadnae been that expensive or I probably wouldae lied.

He tore the cap frae his heid and practically threw it at me, like it’d burned him when he touched it. Eager fae me tae have it, he began tae take a few steps back noo that it was in ma possession, as if proximity tae it was the main cause ae the issue. Mumblin’ his thanks, or an apology I wasnae sure which, he began tae walk quickly doon the street away fae us, turnin’ roond in terror every so often as if tae check we werenae followin’.

Triumphant, and a wee bit guilty, Reid and I walked back tae the shop. Durin’ the short walk Reid finally mustered up the courage tae say somethin’ tae me, only it wasnae aboot the rabbit. As gently as he was able wi’ his gruff voice, he expressed his unease at me interferin’ wi’ customers. Reid was raised tae fear two things; the Madams, and Fate. If anyone interfered wi’ Fate, then it would take its revenge.

Aye, and I bet if ye didnae eat your greens then the Madam would come and get ye. What shite. I told him as much, and pointed oot that I’d interfered before and nothin’ bad had happened. It was an auld wives tale, somethin’ tae keep children in line, like a tattie bogle. I’m also supposed tae be the next Madam. Fate may no like normal people interferin’ wi fate, but surely I get a pass? Apparently I do because the sky is still up, and the ground still beneath us.

A peculiar expression moved over his face, a tug ae doubt and a flash ae dread. He wasne convinced by ma arguments, but whit do ye expect? He doesnae know any better. He’s been told tae fear the Madams and everythin’ tae do wi’ them, includin’ the shop and the remedies given oot there. Fae him, the Madams are a last resort. Of course he’s gonnae ‘hink messin’ wi things is bad.

When we returned tae the shop the chess match was still ongoing, and neither Reid nor I received an acknowledgment that we’d returned. I was quite glad because it gave me an opportunity tae squirrel intae the shop and find a hidin’ spot fae the cap ae doom. Whether or no’ the things I hide in the shop actually stay hidden will be found oot in time.

After stuffin’ it in a set ae drawers so far back frae the main pathway I was convinced no one would bother tae clamber over the rest ae the clutter tae get tae it, ma job was done, and I allowed maself tae feel smug, triumphant.

I’ve won. Again. I stopped terrible things happenin’ tae someone. It’s been a few days since I confiscated and hid the cap, and guess whit?  Nothin’s happened. The customer hasnae returned tae the shop, the world hasnae started crumbling, rain still falls doon and no up. I dinnae understand whit all the fuss was aboot, all ae this “Fate is bad”, “ye cannae interfere wi’ Fate”, “fate corrects itself” shite. I expected better frae the Madam than just followin’ orders blindly. I’ve managed tae do whit she never has, at least tae ma knowledge. I’ve saved people, whilst all she does is put these awful items oot in the shop fae the hapless tae buy. I can start correctin’ her mistakes noo, and when I’m Madam I can put a stop tae them altogether.

Episode 27 – Chronos

Scots terms

Sabre – (Not a Scottish term) It’s a kind of sword.

Crinoline – (Not a Scottish term) Is the foundation garment worn by women in the 1850s/1860s to get the very famous large skirts. Cage like constructions usually made of spring steel. Iconic in Gone With the Wind.

Lassie – girl, occasionally women.

Bonnie – nice, pretty.

Mirrors can trap a soul – I’m not sure if this is solely Scottish, but this was/is a belief held by some in Scotland. After someone dies all the mirrors in the house are covered up to prevent their soul from being trapped. It was common in the past for the body of the deceased to be kept in the home prior to the funeral. I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s still practiced in my family.

Script

What is Chronos? How many times have I asked that? Usually not in such polite terms.

I think it’s obvious by now that the things in the shop scare me a wee bit. It’s best not to touch them, but having said that it’s not like any have actually caused me as much harm as they mean to cause the customers they’re intended for. Better safe than sorry in my opinion. But what happens when avoidance doesn’t work?

There are a few things I’ve never seen in the shop, things you might expect to see. I’ve never seen a weapon, be it sword or gun or sabre, not even in a frame on the wall or beside the jewellery in the glass cabinet. I’ve also never seen much military memorabilia, no medals on colourful ribbons, or uniforms stripped of their honours. There aren’t many stuffed animals either. You know the expensive ones you can get, made a century ago, perhaps longer, who’s eyes are crooked and stuck on with toxic glue. Along the same lines, I’ve never seen a China doll. The ones with the porcelain faces and rosy cheeks, the ones that wee girls used to dress up in the latest fashions, with corsets, crinolines, and flounced skirts. I’ve never seen anything of the kind anywhere in the shop. Not that I’ve been looking. It’s strange how you don’t realise something’s been missing until it appears from nowhere.

The one that materialised on one of the half-filled bookshelves in the shop didn’t look to be that old. I wouldn’t think it was out of place in a shop today. It had dazzling red hair falling in ringlets around its shoulders, paired with smooth pale skin, and shiny, almost watery, green eyes. Whoever made it wanted to be certain everyone knew it was meant to be a Scottish lassie, going so far as to make it a wee tartan dress. The bow holding the ginger ringlets in place was even made of tartan.

It was a bonnie thing, and I don’t say that often. Masterfully made and lovingly maintained, there wasn’t a missing piece or scratch that I could see. As I mentioned, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on the shelf of a shop today. I know people have a thing about China dolls, given all the horror films and books about them, but they’ve never bothered me. I’ve always wondered how, though, they’ve gained such a creepy reputation. Is it solely how they’re portrayed in horror or is it some leftover cultural belief, like how mirrors can trap a soul?

This doll wasn’t Chucky, it wasn’t cobbled together grotesquely, and it didn’t have a sinister expression and knife in its hands. It was a China doll. And I thought nothing else of it.

Until it moved.

The next time I was in the shop it was gone from the bookshelf. That’s not unusual, not in the shop. A customer, or even one of my familiars, may have done it. Reid’s always going around finding things, moving them, stashing them way like a squirrel. I’d begun to think that a customer had bought it until I saw it propped on top of a pile of magazines on a card table. I’ll admit, because I hadn’t really been expecting it, I did jump a wee bit. Catching its eyes as if I were the one acting strangely. I laughed it off, because it’s a China doll, it’s allowed to be moved.

Except it kept moving. At first it was once a day, then multiple times during the same day, until I’d be cleaning a mirror and I’d see it shuffling in the reflection, only for it to be stationary, propped on something staring at me with its glassy gaze when I turned around. I’d be at the counter, cleaning the glass or arranging a display of antique postcards, and I’d hear scratching, the pitter patter of feet on a wooden floor, like a rat scurrying along.

I ignored it the first few times, then assuming it was a rodent, would go to investigate. When I’d reach the source of the sound there’d be nothing there. Except her. The ginger doll.

I knew she was moving around the shop. I knew she was no off-the-shelf China doll that would sit prettily in a collection. And I was starting to believe she was out to get me. I shook it off or at least tried to. Despite appearances, my life’s not a complete horror show.

I really tried to ignore the noises, the unsettling feeling I got when she wasn’t in the place I’d seen her before. I didn’t want to mention anything to Fionn or Reid because of how ridiculous it was. They wouldn’t believe me. I hardly believed me.

There was usually someone in the shop with me whenever she moved. It could be a prank by Reid, still trying to get me back for dismissing him. Even Fionn had a comedic streak. Inevitably there came a day when it was just me in the shop. I don’t like it as much as I used to, there’s something about the silence that feels heavy, almost suffocating, like the weight of all the objects and the fates they’ll change float in the air like dust. It was especially stifling this day, and up until the end I had hope that the doll wouldn’t move, that it would just be a prank by my familiars.

I swear I’ll learn someday, to never have that kind of hope when it comes to the shop.

I found her quite quickly when I started my shift. She was sitting on a vanity table, her back propped against the mirror. I walked quickly past, keeping my eyes to the floor, as if not making eye contact would keep me safe. On my way back she was still there, and my heart began to lighten. She hadn’t moved.

I walked past, almost got to the end of the pathway, almost to the counter, when I heard the clatter of something dropping to the floor. I stopped, frozen. Stiffly, I forced myself to turn around, to look, and the doll wasn’t sitting on the table anymore. She was standing in the middle of the aisle, staring me down with those glassy eyes.

She wasn’t that far away, no more than two metres, and given her size I could definitely outrun her. So that’s what I did. I whirled around and began to sprint for the door, only to feel something dig into my ankles, like needles or nails, making me lose my balance and sprawl hands first onto the floor.

I tried to scramble up, but the needles were seeping up my legs, like I was being flayed one inch at a time. In my panic I began to use my arms to slide across the floor, but a force hit my back so hard my arms couldn’t keep me up.

In my panicked struggle, I found myself on my back, a weight on my chest, watery eyes staring into mine as my throat began to tighten, my airway shrink until I couldn’t breathe. At first, I thought it was a panic attack, but it felt more like there was a pressure on my throat, like someone was pressing down on my windpipe stopping me breathing.

Lights began to dance around me, everything hurt so much I felt like I should be flailing in a pool of my own blood. Then there was a flash of black, a breath of air as something whooshed past me. Suddenly the pressure was gone, the pain was gone, my lungs filled with air and my throat opened.

I scrambled to sit up, clawing at the skin of my throat as if that would let the air in faster, frantically inspecting my feet and legs for injury or blood. There were scratch marks, as though I’d walked through brambles or got stuck in barbed wire, but no other injury.

My gaze began to focus better and I stared at the back end of what I could only call a wild animal, if it was an animal at all. Its fur was thick and glistened like a raven’s wing, a pure midnight black that shimmered when the light hit it. It had four legs and four large paws, claws visible between its fur. Five, long, agile tails swished in the air, flicking in one direction and then the other, never getting’ crossed or twisted.

There was a distant crunching sound before pieces began to fall to the floor, sounding like someone had dropped a plate and it had smashed into a thousand pieces. Looking closer I saw clumps of ginger hair amongst the shards of porcelain, finally joined by the shreds of a tartan dress.

The creature turned to face me. The only animal I can liken it to is a black panther, a giant predatory cat you would only like to be near if it was on the other side of protective glass. The black fur and feline face were the only similarities between this creature and a panther. For a start, the one before me had three eyes, two regular ash grey, and a third which sparkled with shards of gold, like stardust, on its forehead. It had a thinner face than most predatory cats, a longer nose, more dog like than cat. Its five tails fanned out behind it like a peacock’s.

You think I’d be scared. I probably should’ve been. Instead, I reached my hand out slowly, warily, ready to snap it back at the slightest movement. My fingers reached the fur on its face, brushed past the thick whiskers and up towards its pointed ears.

“Chronos?” I questioned uneasily.

The creature leaned into my hand, briefly closing all three of its eyes. I heard his voice in my head, asking if I was hurt. I said I wasn’t, marvelling at how a wee black cat could become…whatever I was stroking.

Chronos beckoned me over to my regular hiding spot and told me to sit down. I watched as all five tails wrapped around the three-eyed creature before me, and began to shrink it, until all that was left was the wee shite I knew.

I was told to close my eyes. I felt something curl up in my lap, and my hands found Chronos’s soft black fur, out of instinct or habit, I wasn’t sure which. I continued to hear his voice in may head, like a lullaby, soft and gentle as it coaxed me into a place between sleep and consciousness. A place where I wasn’t quite dreaming, yet I wasn’t fully awake.

I saw an animal, a creature with black fur and too many tails. It roamed the wilds of a foreign country, through blazing deserts and freezing mountain ranges. I watched it hunt and sleep and try to survive. I observed as humans preyed on it, wondered at it, and tried to capture it. The creature fought them off, time after time, until the humans adapted, they strategized, they grew in numbers and cunning, until the creature was trapped in a cage, bound with enchantments and ancient runes.

The creature, with its three eyes and five tails, was Chronos. I couldn’t tell how long Chronos was in the cage, trapped by the greed of humans. But, one day a woman came upon the cage, upon his captors. She ignored them and went to sit by the bars of the prison. In a soft, gentle voice, like a spring breeze blowing the chill of winter away, she offered Chronos a deal. If Chronos agreed to be her guardian, to remain in her shop for a hundred years, then the cage, and the hunters, would no longer be a source of harm.

I knew who this woman was, or rather what she was. One of the many Madam Norna’s that has come before. Yet this one was interfering with something. Why? Had it not been Chronos’s fate to be imprisoned? Had she made an exception?

Chronos agreed and was liberated from one cage only to be put in a more spacious one. This incarnation of the shop was the oldest I’d seen, early medieval at the latest, maybe earlier. Chronos transformed from mythical creature to domestic cat, shedding his black fur for the stripes and patches of ginger. The then Madam Norna explained that being a cat would invite less questions, and invoke less fear from the customers.

A century would go by, Chronos would change from ginger, to grey, to white, to tri-coloured. Eventually the ruse that Chronos was different cats ended, with black becoming the chosen shade. Their deal was done, yet Chronos never left, he didn’t want to.

The creature in the cage became the immortal guardian of the shop, a domesticated cat that hid a wild creature within. Chronos thought that it’d always be just the two of them, no one ever explained that Madams come and go. When the apprentice arrived, and the Madam explained, Chronos was upset. The apprentice wasn’t made to feel welcome.

Just like with the first Madam, Chronos became fond of the one after, and the one after, and the one after, until centuries past. Like the shop, its guardian became a constant. And also like the shop, Chronos wasn’t a vessel of Fate, its guiding hand. Chronos was stationary in a world that was moving. The shop and its guardian were constants, beings that rarely changed, who observed life go by and kept watch over the items and belongings that had more purposes to serve.

Chronos admitted that despite the centuries in the shop, it was always a source of pain when an apprentice turned up. It meant saying goodbye to a close friend, to family. But eventually Chronos would grow as fond of the apprentice as the Madam, until they became the Madam, and the cycle began all over.

I asked him why he hadn’t left, why he hadn’t reclaimed his freedom. There was silence for a while as he contemplated. Even if he’d grown fond of the first Madam, the one who’d saved him, why hadn’t he left after she was replaced?

Safety.

In the century he had changed furs more time than people change occupations, the shop had become his home, and the Madam his family. Out in the wilderness he was hunted, not just by humans. He had to fight to survive, to live, from one day to the next, with no purpose. The Madam had given him a home, given him a purpose, given him a place where he could belong, and where he was valued. Chronos didn’t see the shop as a cage, didn’t see his guardianship as a service, he saw it as a way to live. He guarded the shop and the Madams in exchange for a safe place, a place where he’d always be welcome, valued, and treated with respect.

There were probably a few hundred insightful and thoughtful things I could’ve asked him next, but I chose why a black cat? He could’ve been a Bengal with their dark stripes and spots or even the much-prized Siamese. This one was easy for him to answer. He’d been sick of everyone touching him whenever they came into the shop, the customers ogling, prodding, naming prices they were willing to pay, even trying to steal him a few times. No one went near a black cat, he told me, they brought bad luck. He did mention, however, that there had been a few times in the past where he’d voluntarily changed his colour. Mainly during the many witch trials. On other occasions he did it because he was bored and fancied a change.

I’d opened my eyes, and Chronos was still in my lap, his eyes closed, his chest moving up and down rhythmically. I knew he was still awake, he was just comfortable, and so was I. Sitting in my – our corner of the shop, tucked away from the customers and from the world, I suppose he wasn’t the only one that felt safe. Despite the things in the shop that may mean me harm, I knew then, as this tiny monstrous creature was curled in my lap, that I really did have nothing to fear. Not physically anyway.

*pause*

I should probably stop calling him a wee shite, shouldn’t I?

Script – Scots

What is Chronos? How many times have I asked that? Usually no in such polite terms.

I think it’s obvious by noo that the things in the shop scare me a wee bit. It’s best no tae touch them, but havin’ said that it’s no like any have actually caused me as much harm as they mean tae cause the customers they’re intended fae. Better safe than sorry, in ma opinion. But whit happens when avoidance doesnae work?

There are a few ‘hings I’ve never seen in the shop, things ye might expect tae see. I’ve never seen a weapon, be it sword or gun or saber, no even in a frame on the wall, or beside the jewellery in the glass cabinet. I’ve also never seen much military memorabilia, no medals on colourful ribbons, or uniforms stripped ae their honours. There arenae many stuffed animals either. Ye know the expensive ones ye can get, made a century ago, perhaps longer, who’s eyes are crooked and stuck on wi’ toxic glue. Along the same lines, I’ve never seen a china doll.

The ones wi the porcelain faces and rosy cheeks, the ones that wee girls used tae dress up in the latest fashions, wi corsets, crinolines, and flounced skirts. I’ve never seen anythin’ ae the kind anywhere in the shop. No that I’ve been lookin’. It’s strange how ye dinnae realise somethin’s been missin’ until it appears frae nowhere.

The one that materialised on one ae the half-filled bookshelves in the shop didnae look tae be that old. I wouldnae think it was oot ae place in a shop today. It had dazzling red hair falling in ringlets aroond its shoulders, paired wi smooth pale skin, and shiny, almost watery, green eyes. Whoever made it wanted tae be certain everyone knew it was meant tae be a Scottish lassie, goin’ so far as tae make it a wee tartan dress. The bow holdin’ the ginger ringlets in place was even made ae tartan.

It was a bonnie ‘hing, and I dinnae say that often. Masterfully made and lovingly maintained, there wasnae a missin piece or scratch that I could see. As I mentioned, it wouldnae have looked oot ae place on the shelf ae a shop today. I know people have a ‘hing aboot china dolls, given all ae the horror films and books aboot them, but they’ve never bothered me. I’ve always wondered how, though, they’ve gained such a creepy reputation. Is it solely how they’re portrayed in horror, or is it some leftover cultural belief, like how mirrors can trap a soul?

This doll wasnae Chucky, it wasnae cobbled together grotesquely, and it didnae have a sinister expression and knife in its hands. It was a china doll. And I thought nothin’ else of it.

Until it moved.

The next time I was in the shop it was gone frae the bookshelf. That’s no unusual, no in the shop. A customer, or even one ae ma familiars, may have done it. Reid’s always goin’ roond findin’ things, movin’ them, stashin’ them way like a squirrel. I’d begun tae think that a customer had bought it until I saw it propped on top ae a pile ae magazines on a card table. I’ll admit, because I hadnae really been expectin’ it, I did jump a wee bit. Catchin’ its eyes as if I were the one actin’ strangely. I laughed it off, because it’s a china doll, it’s allowed tae be moved.

Except it kept movin. At first it was once a day, then multiple times durin the same day, until I’d be cleanin’ a mirror and I’d see it shufflin’ in the reflection, only fae it tae be stationary, propped on somethin’ starin’ at me wi’ its glassy gaze when I turned roond. I’d be at the counter, cleanin’ the glass, or arranging a display ae antique postcards, and I’d hear scratchin’, the pitter patter ae feet on a wooden floor, like a rat scurryin’ along.

I ignored it the first few times, then assumin’ it was a rodent, would go tae investigate. When I’d reach the source ae the sound there’d be nothin’ there. Except her. The ginger doll.

I knew she was movin’ roond the shop, I knew she was no off the shelf china doll that would sit prettily in a collection. And I was startin’ tae believe she was oot tae get me. I shook it aff, or at least tried tae. Despite appearances, ma life’s no a complete horror show.

I really tried tae ignore the noises, the unsettlin’ feelin’ I got when she wasnae in the place I’d seen her before. I didnae want tae mention anything tae Fionn or Reid because of how ridiculous it was. They wouldnae believe me. I hardly believed me.

There was usually someone in the shop wi’ me whenever she moved. It could be a prank by Reid, still tryin’ tae get me back fae dismissin’ him. Even Fionn had a comedic streak. Inevitably there came a day when it was just me in the shop. I dinnae like it as much as I used tae, there’s something aboot the silence that feels heavy, almost suffocatin’, like the weight ae all the objects and the fates they’ll change float in the air like dust. It was especially stiflin’ this day, and up until the end I had hope that the doll wouldnae move, that it would just be a prank by ma familiars.

I swear I’ll learn someday, tae never have that kindae hope when it comes tae the shop.

I found her quite quickly when I started ma shift. She was sittin’ on a vanity table, her back propped against the mirror. I walked quickly past, keepin’ ma eyes tae the floor, as if no makin’ eye contact would keep me safe. On ma way back she was still there, and ma heart began tae lighten. She hadnae moved.

I walked past, almost got tae the end ae the pathway, almost tae the counter, when I heard the clatter ae somethin’ droppin’ tae the floor. I stopped, frozen. Stiffly, I forced maself tae turn aroond, tae look, and the doll wasnae sittin’ on the table anymore. She was standin’ in the middle ae the aisle, starin me doon wi’ those glassy eyes.

She wasnae that far away, no more than two metres, and given her size I could definitely outrun her. So that’s what I did. I whirled roond and began tae sprint fae the door, only tae feel somethin’ dig intae ma ankles, like needles or nails, makin’ me lose ma balance and sprawl hands first ontae the floor.

I tried tae scramble up, but the needles were seepin’ up ma legs, like I was bein flayed one inch at a time. In ma panic I began tae use ma arms tae slide across the floor, but a force hit ma back so hard ma arms couldnae keep me up.

In ma panicked struggle, I found maself on ma back, a weight on ma chest, watery eyes starin’ intae mine as ma throat began tae tighten, ma airway shrink until I couldnae breathe. At first I thought it was a panic attack, but it felt more like there was a pressure on ma throat, like someone was pressin’ doon on ma windpipe stoppin’ me breathin’.

Lights began tae dance aroond me, everythin’ hurt so much I felt like I should be flailin’ in a pool ae ma own blood. Then there was a flash ae black, a breath ae air as somethin’ whooshed past me. Suddenly the pressure was gone, the pain was gone, ma lungs filled wi air and ma throat opened.

I scrambled tae sit up, clawin’ at the skin ae ma throat as if that would let the air in faster, frantically inspectin’ ma feet and legs fae injury or blood. There were scratch marks, as though I’d walked through brambles or got stuck in barbed wire, but no other injury.

Ma gaze began tae focus better and I stared at the back end ae whit I could only call a wild animal, if it was an animal at all. Its fur was thick and glistened like a raven’s wing, a pure midnight black that shimmered when the light hit it. It had four legs and four large paws, claws visible between its fur. Five, long, agile tails swished in the air, flickin’ in one direction and then the other, never getting’ crossed or twisted.

There was a distant crunchin’ sound before pieces began tae fall tae the floor, soundin’ like someone had dropped a plate and it had smashed intae a thousand pieces. Lookin’ closer I saw clumps ae ginger hair amongst the shards ae porcelain, finally joined by the shreds ae a tartan dress.

The creature turned tae face me. The only animal I can liken it tae is a black panther, a giant predatory cat ye would only like tae be near if it was on the other side ae protective glass. The black fur and feline face were the only similarities between this creature and a panther. Fae a start, the one before me had three eyes, two regular ash grey, and a third which sparkled wi’ shards ae gold, like stardust, on its forehead. It had a thinner face than most predatory cats, a longer nose, more dog like than cat. Its five tails fanned oot behind it like a peacock’s.

Ye think I’d be scared. I probably shouldae been. Instead I reached ma hand oot slowly, warily, ready tae snap it back at the slightest movement. Ma fingers reached the fur on its face, brushed past the thick whiskers and up towards its pointed ears.

Chronos? I questioned uneasily.

The creature leaned intae ma hand, briefly closin’ all three ae its eyes. I heard his voice in ma heid, askin’ if I was hurt. I said I wasnae, marvellin’ at how a wee black cat could become…whitever I was strokin’.

Chronos beckoned me over tae ma regular hidin’ spot and told me tae sit doon. I watched as all five tails wrapped aroond the three-eyed creature before me, and began tae shrink it, until all that was left was the wee shite I knew.

I was told tae close ma eyes. I felt somethin’ curl up in ma lap, and ma hands found Chronos’s soft black fur, oot ae instinct or habit, I wasnae sure which. I continued tae hear his voice in ma heid, like a lullaby, soft and gentle as it coaxed me intae a place between sleep and consciousness. A place where I wasnae quite dreamin’, yet I wasnae fully awake.

I saw an animal, a creature wi’ black fur and too many tails. It roamed the wilds ae a foreign country, through blazing deserts, and freezin’ mountain ranges. I watched it hunt and sleep and try tae survive. I observed as humans preyed on it, wondered at it, and tried tae capture it. The creature fought them off, time after time, until the humans adapted, they strategized, they grew in numbers and cunning, until the creature was trapped in a cage, bound wi’ enchantments and ancient runes.

The creature, wi its three eyes and five tails, was Chronos. I couldnae tell how long Chronos was in the cage, trapped by the greed ae humans. But, one day a woman came upon the cage, upon his captors. She ignored them and went tae sit by the bars ae the prison. In a soft, gentle voice, like a spring breeze blowing the chill ae winter away, she offered Chronos a deal. If Chronos agreed tae be her guardian, tae remain in her shop fae a hundred years, then the cage, and the hunters, would no longer be a source ae harm.

I knew who this woman was, or rather whit she was. One ae the many Madam Norna’s that has come before. Yet this one was interferin’ wi somethin’. Why? Had it no’ been Chronos’s fate tae be imprisoned? Had she made an exception?

Chronos agreed and was liberated frae one cage, only tae be put in a more spacious one. This incarnation ae the shop was the oldest I’d seen, early medieval at the latest, maybe earlier. Chronos transformed frae mythical creature tae domestic cat, sheddin’ his black fur fae the stripes and patches ae ginger. The then Madam Norna explained that bein a cat would invite less questions, and invoke less fear frae the customers.

A century would go by, Chronos would change frae ginger, tae grey, tae white, tae tri-coloured. Eventually the ruse that Chronos was different cats ended, wi’ black becoming the chosen shade. Their deal was done, yet Chronos never left, didnae want tae.

The creature in the cage became the immortal guardian ae the shop, a domesticated cat that hid a wild creature within. Chronos thought that it’d always be just the two ae them, no one ever explained that Madams come and go. When the apprentice arrived, and the Madam explained, Chronos was upset. The apprentice wasnae made tae feel welcome.

Just like wi’ the first Madam, Chronos became fond ae the one after, and the one after, and the one after, until centuries past. Like the shop, its guardian became a constant. And also like the shop, Chronos wasnae a vessel ae fate, its guiding hand. Chronos was stationary in a world that was moving. The shop and its guardian were constants, beings that rarely changed, who observed life go by and kept watch over the items and belongings that had more purposes tae serve.

Chronos admitted that despite the centuries in the shop, it was always a source ae pain when an apprentice turned up. It meant saying goodbye tae a close friend, tae family. But eventually Chronos would grow as fond ae the apprentice as the Madam, until they became the Madam and the cycle began all over.

I asked him why he hadnae left, why he hadnae reclaimed his freedom. There was silence fae a while as he contemplated. Even if he’d grown fond ae the first Madam, the one who’d saved him, why hadnae he left after she was replaced?

Safety.

In the century he had changed furs more time than people change occupations, the shop had become his home, and the Madam his family. Oot in the wilderness he was hunted, no just by humans. He had tae fight tae survive, tae live, frae one day tae the next, wi no purpose. The Madam had given him a home, given him a purpose, given him a place where he could belong, and where he was valued. Chronos didnae see the shop as a cage, didnae see his guardianship as a service, he saw it as a way tae live. He guarded the shop and the Madams in exchange fae a safe place, a place where he’d always be welcome, valued, and treated wi’ respect.

There were probably a few hundred insightful and thoughtful things I couldae asked him next, but I chose why a black cat? He couldae been a Bengal wi’ their dark stripes and spots, or even the much-prized Siamese. This one was easy fae him tae answer. He’d been sick of everyone touchin’ him whenever they came intae the shop, the customers ogling, prodding, naming prices they were willing tae pay, even trying tae steal him a few times. No one went near a black cat, he told me, they brought bad luck. He did mention, however, that there had been a few times in the past where he’d voluntarily changed his colour. Mainly durin’ the many witch trials. On other occasions he did it because he was bored and fancied a change.

I’d opened ma eyes, and Chronos was still in ma lap, his eyes closed, his chest movin’ up and doon rhythmically. I knew he was still awake, he was just comfortable, and so was I. Sittin’ in ma – our corner ae the shop, tucked away frae the customers and frae the world, I suppose he wasnae the only one that felt safe. Despite the ‘hings in the shop that may mean me harm, I knew then, as this tiny monstrous creature was curled in ma lap, that I really did have nothin’ tae fear. Not physically anyway. *pause* I should probably stop calling him a wee shite, shouldn’t I?

Episode 26 – The Perfect Partner

Scots terms

Bairn – child

Nutter – someone’s who’s acting in an irrational/unhinged manner. I can imagine the PC police won’t like this term much.

Telly – Television

Pal – friend

Court – to court someone, a very archaic word now but my grandparents still use it. It’s essentially dating, sometimes the time before dating. I’m presuming it does come from the very old way where you “courted” someone.

A miniature – These are a real-life phenomena, and there’s quite a lot still surviving. In the days before photography, lovers/ betrothed and even married couples could have very small pocket-sized portraits of themselves or each other done so their loved one could carry it with them at all times. They’re not enclosed, like a locket is. The eye trend is real too. There was a period of time when it was fashionable for these portraits to just be the eye (a single eye, not both). It’s not as creepy as it sounds, but I still wouldn’t like one.

Script

Soulmates. It’s a loaded word, isn’t it? It’s become like fairies or aliens. Do you believe in them? There’s no proof either way, but I think the fact the concept exists at all shows a lot about humanity. A soulmate is a romantic notion, a comfort in a life full of frogs that eventually there’ll be a prince. We like to think that out there in the world with billions of people that there’s one person who’ll fit us like a tailored suit. A perfect person that will slot into your life like a beloved pet or bairn until you don’t remember what life was like before and refuse to believe there’ll be a life after.

But not everyone finds their soulmate, and after this story you won’t want to. They do exist after all, but soulmates isn’t the right word. It’s more like a fated person, and you can have multiple over one single lifetime.

But let’s not get ahead of myself. I hadn’t given a thought to soulmates, not before this. It was a word that could mean something to some, yet nothing to others. I didn’t really know if I believed it. It’s too easy. Too convenient, and when I started working in the shop and realising that life’s much more of a bitch than I thought, too dangerous.

This day it was just Reid and I in the shop, Fionn had been sent on an errand by the Madam the day before and wasn’t back yet. Chronos and she were up the stairs. Reid forced me to play cards with him, to hone his skills so he could win more frequently against the wee shite. I wasn’t much of a challenge though, but at least it gave him a confidence boost.

The bell went and our eyes slid over, but mine snagged on the woman in the door, something tugging at the back of my mind, a recognition. I knew this woman’s name. Reid returned to the cards, drawing his eyebrows together in contemplation of what card to throw down next, but I was staring. An increasingly bad habit. I surveyed her as she walked forwards, a smile on her face that indicated we had met before. I had a few seconds to conjure her name and hope she didn’t conjure mine first.

Her long grey hair was tied up in a bun, secured by a wooden hair stick carved into some kind of Celtic symbol. Somewhere in her 50s, she was smartly dressed in a tweed coat, leather gloves, and handbag that perched on her arm. I scrutinised her widow’s peak, her pink lipstick, and the age spots that dotted her jawline, grasping at any memory that appeared.

It was her voice as she said my name that eventually shook something loose. Fiona? Finnola? Flora? Aye, that was right, Flora the Collector. She was one of the nutters who collected items like those in the shop and kept them. The last time I’d seen her she’d looked dishevelled and pale after a tiny wee vase had trapped her in a nightmare.

I immediately felt the dread build at the pit of my stomach as I forced my face into a welcoming smile. I greeted her by name, just to make make sure I’d remembered it right. She introduced herself to Reid and told us that she had something that the Madam would probably want.

I recalled what she had told me about Collectors, about the way she went about it. They only kept certain items, benign ones for the most part. The ones that did serious damage were deposited in the shop’s storage, until they made their way out because they felt like it.

Just as I was about to invite her upstairs, the Madam appeared from the doorway and told us all to follow her, including Reid. He shot her a look as though she’d caught him doing something unspeakable. I successfully stifled a laugh, which became harder when he threw me a pleading look. Even I wondered at the invitation, but just for the joy of seeing him stiffly sitting in the front room with the rest of us I never said anything.

He helped me with the tea, and not wanting to choose a sofa, he sat on the floor beside me and the coffee table. To be fair to him there wasn’t much choice. Chronos had the position beside the Madam, as usual, and no one, not even the customers, wanted to sit in the other sofa.

Whilst I poured the tea for everyone Flora began to rummage around in her designer handbag and pulled out a small velvet jewellery box that contained something metallic inside, rattling around as she released it from her bag. Opening it carefully, as if afraid she’d damage the delicate hinges on the back, she placed it on the table facing us.

It was a gold locket. Rather than the more popular oval, like most of the ones down in the shop, this one was square, with the edges cut off so it was more like an uneven octagon. There was no fancy decoration on the front or the edges, but in the centre, in the middle of a star like pattern, was one single red stone that could’ve been a real ruby or could’ve been glass. I’m no expert. The delicate chain showed signs of wear and age, the gold a shade or two duller than the locket itself. There was no damage to either, no dents or nicks in the gold, or scratches at the opening where someone’s tried to get in.

Reid and I stared over the table, inspecting this thing, and if both of us have learned anything from our time in the shop it’s that pretty jewellery usually makes for the nastiest items. I expected the Madam to step in, to tell us all what it was, and what it did to its victims.

But it was Flora who began to speak, as though she were trying to sell us this locket.

She took us back to the 50s where cars were slow, skirts were big, and the telly was still in black and white. Where an entire generation of young men were lost barely a decade before. A woman in her early twenties stumbles across a locket made of gold in the window of a pawn shop, a single ruby resting in the middle. She’s on her way home from the shops where she’s bought some fabric to make a new dress, special for her best pal’s wedding. It’s already the third of the year. Her younger cousin has just given birth to a bairn. Even her younger sister has started taking an interest in the latest bridal fashions, dropping hints to her boyfriend and parents.

The people in this young woman’s life are moving on, are growing, and conforming to what society expects of them. And she wants to do it too, but she’s being left behind. She sees couples walking down the street holding hands, pushing prams, stealing kisses, and she wants that for herself.

Thinking it’ll make her feel better, she goes into the pawn shop and buys the locket. When she gets home, she eagerly retreats to her room and opens it, wondering what pictures she can sacrifice to put inside. Except, there’s already one there, behind the tiny pane of glass, stuck against the velvet backing.

It’s a man smiling at the camera, his hair smoothed back from his square jawline and sharp eyes. The young woman studies his face, and the more she looks, the deeper in love she gets, until a few weeks later she decides to find the man in the locket. Assuming it has something to do with the previous owner, she returns to the pawn shop, but they can’t help her. It’s been in the shop for too long, and the paperwork has been lost.

The young woman, in her growing desperation to meet the man in the locket, begins to post adverts in the newspaper, in the local shops, begging for anyone who recognises the locket or the man inside for his description, to come forward.

But no one ever does.

Months, and years, and decades go by. The young woman eventually gets married and has bairns, joining the ranks of many a woman before and after. She’s happy with her life, content with her husband and kids and suburban bliss. But somewhere she’s buried deep, she still remembers the man in the locket. Every so often, when her mind wanders, she digs out the locket from the place she keeps it, away from her husband’s gaze, and stares at it, as if doing so will bring him to life.

Then, one day when her bairns have left home, and when her husband has had his midlife crises and decided to marry someone else, she meets the man in the locket. She sees him across a room at someone else’s birthday. She swears it’s him, has studied his picture so many times that she wouldn’t be mistaken. Her legs carry her forwards. They’re introduced. They laugh and make small talk, but she knows, in her bones, that he’s it. He’s the one she’s been searching her entire life for, the one that was made just for her.

They court, then they date. Dinners, restaurants, films, walks on the beach, plans for a holiday, jokes about meeting each other’s parents even though all are dead. She begins to think that she’s never known real happiness until this, until him. She begins to think she’s won at her life, hit the jackpot, and taken away the millions.

And then it’s gone, like a shooting star.

Their relationship a cherry blossom tree, here for spring and gone by summer. It was a drunk driver they said; there was a chance he would make it they said; the funeral’s next week they said.

She finds the locket a few months later, forgotten in the honeymoon period of any relationship. She can barely stand to look at it, and the hinges scrape open as she peers inside.

It’s empty.

At some point in the last decade, the locket entered into a Collector’s possession, and through them onto Flora, who took some interest in the item. She began to trace it as far back as she could, through physical descriptions and pictures and estate sales and auctions.

She finds that it wasn’t always a locket, not in the traditional sense. It can be traced as far back as the 18th century, Flora informs us, beginning life as a miniature, a small pocket-sized portrait that family members or betrothed couples used to carry around of one another. The painting inside the gold frame changed depending on who was in possession of it. Shifting with the fashions of the time, it morphed from a miniature into an eye. A somewhat macabre fashion in the 18th century to carry around a small painting of the eye of your loved one.

By the time early photographs were coming into circulation in the 19th century, the locket decided to modernise, and became the locket we saw on the table that day. Simple, gold, and unassuming. Flora said that every owner she could confirm, and there had been at least a dozen, all had similar stories.

The locket would come into their possession somehow, and when they looked in it or on it, expecting a blank canvas, they would find a portrait or an eye or a photograph of someone else. Assuming it was Fate, even the dreaded soulmate, they’d try and find the person in the locket. Some died without managing it, but the ones who did, who thought they overcame all barriers, always lost in the end. Whenever they found their locket person, that person would always die soon afterwards.

Flora had concluded from her research that the person in the locket only died when the owner met them, as if their meeting insulted the powers-that-be so much they took action. Whatever you called the person in the locket, a soulmate, a victim, a stranger, it always turned out the same. I could’ve argued that they weren’t really your soulmate if as soon as you met them they kicked the bucket. But I kept silent.

Flora had decided, after some deliberating, that it might be best kept in the shop rather than her collection, more to keep her own curiosity as to who the person inside would be for her at bay. Madam Norna nodded and thanked Flora for deciding to give it up. Then she turned to me and tasked me with putting it in the cabinet downstairs.

It was my turn to look desperate. She knew what that thing did, what it could do, and yet was allowing it to be released back into the wild. But like an obedient apprentice, I nodded and swiped the box from the table. She didn’t say I had to leave it open in the cabinet.

Flora remained in the front room with my boss whilst Reid and I retreated back down to the shop, and I could feel him hover at my shoulder like a bad smell. I never opened the box and tucked it away in a dark corner of the cabinet, where I’d hidden the truth invoking brooch Marion had bought. A place where I hoped no one would see.

Reid continued to stare at me, as though I’d done something surprising or as though he was expecting me to say something profound.

“You’re no’ curious?” he checked.

“No’ really,” I answered.

What would’ve been the point? I didn’t have the luxury of ignorance like its previous owners. I knew what would happen if I ever met the person I saw in the locket. And why would I want to spend the rest of my life terrified of meeting them? And if I did, by accident or on purpose, I didn’t want to watch them die.

Reid frowned, evidently disagreeing, and pointed out that even though they died in the end, you still got to experience that kind of love, that kind of perfect relationship some people dream about. Who didn’t want to have that, even for a short time?

I wouldn’t have pegged him as a romantic, but people are full of surprises. I didn’t give him an answer at the time because I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I offered him the locket, which he recoiled at, claiming that I had a point about the dying bit.

I’ve thought since about what he said, about soulmates and Fate. Whoever made the locket, however long ago, must’ve been a bitter sod. It was cruel what it did. Drawing people together, showing them a burst of happiness, before stealing it away. Perhaps it wasn’t the locket at all. Perhaps Fate was bored.

I’ve never been in love; I don’t know what it feels like. Honestly, I find it hard to understand. People slog through bad romance after bad romance, always going back for more in the hopes that they find “the one”, their soulmate. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result? Is that why some of the victims tried to find the person in their locket? Hoping they could avoid the heartbreak and disappointment and just jump straight to the good stuff? Is that why Fate intervened; because it hadn’t been earned?

There must be something about the slog of bad dates and relationships, or why else would people do it? Don’t you need the bad so you can tell when it’s good? Or are people just wired to hope that the next thing will be better than the last?

That’s as far as I want to think about soulmates, or fated relationships, or any of that. I’m just not that deep. All I hope is that the locket gathers dust for a long time to come.

Script – Scots

Soulmates. It’s a loaded word, isn’t it? It’s become like fairies or aliens. Do you believe in them? There’s no proof either way, but I think the fact the concept exists at all shows a lot about humanity. A soulmate is a romantic notion, a comfort in a life full ae frogs that eventually there’ll be a prince. We like tae think that oot there in the world wi’ billions ae people, that there’s one person who’ll fit us like a tailored suit. A perfect person that will slot into your life like a beloved pet or bairn until you dinnae remember what life was like before and refuse tae believe there’ll be a life after.

But no’ everyone finds their soulmate, and after this story you willnae want tae. They do exist after all, but soulmates isnae the right word. It’s more like a fated person, and ye can have multiple over one single lifetime.

But let’s no get ahead of maself. I hadnae given a thought tae soulmates, no before this. It was a word that could mean something to some, yet nothing tae others. I didnae really know if I believed it. It’s too easy. Too convenient, and when I started workin’ in the shop and realisin’ that life’s much more ae a bitch than I thought, too dangerous.

This day it was just Reid and I in the shop, Fionn had been sent on an errand by the Madam the day before and wasnae back yet. Chronos and she were up the stairs. Reid forced me tae play cards wi him, tae hone his skills so he could win more frequently against the wee shite. I was no much ae a challenge though, but at least it gee him a confidence boost.

The bell went and our eyes slid over, but mine snagged on the woman in the door, somethin’ tuggin’ at the back ae ma mind, a recognition. I knew this woman’s name. Reid returned tae the cards, drawin’ his eyebrows together in contemplation ae whit card tae throw doon next, but I was starin’. An increasingly bad habit. I surveyed her as she walked forwards, a smile on her face that indicated we had met before. I had a few seconds tae conjure her name and hope she didnae conjure mine first.

Her long grey hair was tied up in a bun, secured by a wooden hair stick carved intae some kind ae celtic symbol. Somewhere in her 50s, she was smartly dressed in a tweed coat, leather gloves, and handbag that perched on her arm. I scrutinised her widow’s peak, her pink lipstick and the age spots that dotted her jawline, graspin’ at any memory that appeared.

It was her voice as she said ma name that eventually shook somethin’ loose. Fiona? Finnola? Flora? Aye, that was right, Flora the collector. She was one ae the nutters who collected items like those in the shop and kept them. The last time I’d seen her she’d looked dishevelled and pale after a tiny wee vase had trapped her in a nightmare.

I immediately felt the dread build at the pit ae ma stomach as I forced ma face intae a welcomin’ smile. I greeted her by name, just take make sure I’d remembered it right. She introduced herself tae Reid and told us that she had somethin’ that the Madam would probably want.

I recalled whit she had told me aboot collectors, aboot the way she went aboot it. They only kept certain items, benign ones fae the most part. The ones that did serious damage were deposited in the shop’s storage, until they made their way oot ae it because they felt like it.

Just as I was aboot tae invite her upstairs, the Madam appeared frae the doorway and told us all tae follow her, includin’ Reid. He shot her a look as though she’d caught him doin’ something unspeakable. I successfully stifled a laugh, which became harder when he threw me a pleadin’ look. Even I wondered at the invitation, but just fae the joy ae seein’ him stiffly sittin’ in the front room wi the rest ae us I never said anythin’.

He helped me wi the tea, and no wantin’ tae choose a sofa, he sat on the floor beside me and the coffee table. Tae be fair tae him there wasnae much choice. Chronos had the position beside the Madam, as usual, and no one, no even the customers, wanted tae sit in the other sofa.

Whilst I poured the tea fae everyone Flora began tae rummage roond in her designer handbag and pulled oot a small velvet jewellery box that contained something metallic inside, rattlin’ roond as she released it frae her bag. Opening it carefully, as if afraid she’d damage the delicate hinges on the back, she placed it on the table facin’ us.

It was a gold locket. Rather than the more popular oval, like most ae the ones doon in the shop, this one was square, wi’ the edges cut aff so it was more like an uneven octagon. There was no fancy decoration on the front or the edges, but in the centre, in the middle ae a star like pattern, was one single red stone that couldae been a real ruby, or couldae been glass. I’m no expert. The delicate chain showed signs ae wear and age, the gold a shade or two duller than the locket itself. There was no damage tae either, no dents or nicks in the gold, or scratches at the openin’ where someone’s tried tae get in.

Reid and I stared over the table, inspectin’ this ‘hing, and if both ae us have learned anything frae our time in the shop it’s that pretty jewellery usually makes fae the nastiest items. I expected the Madam tae step in, tae tell us all whit it was, and whit it did tae its victims.

But it was Flora who began tae speak, as though she were tryin’ tae sell us this locket.

She took us back tae the 50s where cars were slow, skirts were big, and the telly was still in black and white. Where an entire generation ae young men were lost barely a decade before. A woman in her early twenties stumbles across a locket made ae gold in the windae ae a pawn shop, a single ruby resting in the middle. She’s on her way home frae the shops where she’s bought some fabric tae make a new dress, special fae her best pal’s wedding. It’s already the third ae the year. Her younger cousin has just given birth tae a bairn. Even her younger sister has started takin’ an interest in the latest bridal fashions, droppin’ hints tae her boyfriend and parents.

The people in this young woman’s life are moving on, are growing, and conforming tae what society expects ae them. And she wants tae do it too, but she’s being left behind. She sees couples walkin’ doon the street holdin’ hands, pushin’ prams, stealin’ kisses, and she wants that fae herself.

Thinkin’ it’ll make her feel better, she goes intae the pawn shop and buys the locket. When she gets home she eagerly retreats tae her room and opens it up, wondering whit pictures she can sacrifice tae put inside. Except, there’s already one there, behind the tiny pane ae glass, stuck against the velvet backing.

It’s a man smilin’ at the camera, his hair smoothed back frae his square jawline and sharp eyes. The young woman studies his face, and the more she looks, the deeper in love she gets, until a few weeks later she decides tae find the man in the locket. Assuming it has somethin’ tae do wi’ the previous owner, she returns tae the pawn shop, but they canne help her. It’s been in the shop fae too long, and the paperwork has been lost.

The young woman, in her growing desperation tae meet the man in the locket, begins tae post adverts in the newspaper, in the local shops, begging fae anyone who recognises the locket or the man inside fae his description, tae come forward.

But no one ever does.

Months, and years, and decades go by. The young woman eventually gets married and has bairns, joining the ranks ae many a woman before and after. She’s happy wi’ her life, content wi her husband and kids and suburban bliss. But somewhere she’s buried deep, she still remembers the man in the locket. Every so often, when her mind wanders, she digs oot the locket frae the place she keeps it, away frae her husband’s gaze, and stares at it, as if doin’ so will bring him tae life.

Then, one day when her bairns have left home, and when her husband has had his midlife crises and decided tae marry someone else, she meets the man in the locket. She sees him across a room at someone else’s birthday. She swears it’s him, has studied his picture so many times that she wouldnae be mistaken. Her legs carry her forwards. They’re introduced. They laugh and make small talk, but she knows, in her bones, that he’s it. He’s the one she’s been searching her entire life for, the one that was made just fae her.

They court, then they date. Dinners, restaurants, films, walks on the beach, plans for a holiday, jokes about meeting each other’s parents even though all are deid. She begins tae think that she’s never known real happiness until this, until him. She begins tae think she’s won at her life, hit the jackpot and taken away the millions.

And then it’s gone, like a shooting star.

Their relationship a cherry blossom tree, here fae spring and gone by summer. It was a drunk driver they said, there was a chance he would make it they said, the funeral’s next week they said.

She finds the locket a few months later, forgotten in the honeymoon period ae any relationship. She can barely stand to look at it, and the hinges scrape open as she peers inside.

It’s empty.

At some point in the last decade it entered into a collector’s possession, and through them ontae Flora, who took some interest in the item. She began tae trace it as far back as she could, through physical descriptions and pictures and estate sales and auctions.

She finds that it wasnae always a locket, not in the traditional sense. It can be traced as far back as the 18th century, Flora informs us, beginning life as a miniature, a small pocket-sized portrait that family members or betrothed couples used tae carry aroond ae one another. The painting inside the gold frame changed depending on who was in possession of it. Shifting wi’ the fashions ae the time, it morphed from a miniature into an eye. A somewhat macabre fashion in the 18th century tae carry aroond a small painting of the eye of your loved one.

By the time early photographs were coming into circulation in the 19th century, the locket decided tae modernise, and became the locket we saw on the table that day. Simple, gold, and unassuming. Flora said that every owner she could confirm, and there had been at least a dozen, all had similar stories.

The locket would come into their possession somehow, and when they looked in it or on it, expecting a blank canvas, they would find a portrait or an eye or a photograph ae someone else. Assuming it was fate, even the dreaded soulmate, they’d try and find the person in the locket. Some died withoot managing it, but the ones who did, who thought they overcame all barriers, always lost in the end. Whenever they found their locket person, that person would always die soon afterwards.

Flora had concluded frae her research that the person in the locket only died when the owner met them, as if their meeting insulted the powers that be so much they took action. Whatever you called the person in the locket, a soulmate, a victim, a stranger, it always turned oot the same. I couldae argued that they werenae really your soulmate if as soon as ye met them they kicked the bucket. But I kept silent.

Flora had decided, after some deliberating, that it might be best kept in the shop rather than her collection, more tae keep her own curiosity as to who the person inside would be for her at bay. Madam Norna nodded and thanked Flora for deciding tae give it up. Then she turned to me and tasked me wi’ puttin’ it in the cabinet doonstairs.

It was ma turn tae look desperate. She knew whit that ‘hing did, what it could do, and yet was allowin’ it tae be released back intae the wild. But like an obedient apprentice, I nodded and swiped the box frae the table. She didnae say I had tae leave it open in the cabinet.

Flora remained in the front room wi ma boss whilst Reid and I retreated back doon tae the shop, and I could feel him hover at ma shoulder like a bad smell. I never opened the box, and tucked it away in a dark corner ae the cabinet, where I’d hidden the truth invoking brooch Rowan had bought. A place where I hoped no one would see.

Reid continued tae stare at me, as though I’d done somethin’ surprising, or as though he was expectin me tae say somethin’ profound.

You’re no curious? he checked.

No’ really, I answered.

What wouldae been the point? I didnae have the luxury ae ignorance like its previous owners. I knew whit would happen if I ever met the person I saw in the locket. And why would I want tae spend the rest ae ma life terrified ae meetin’ them? And if I did, by accident or on purpose, I didnae want tae watch them die.

Reid frowned, evidently disagreein’, and pointed oot that even though they died in the end, ye still got tae experience that kind ae love, that kind ae perfect relationship some people dream aboot. Who didnae want tae have that, even fae a short time?

I wouldnae ha’ pegged him as a romantic, but people are full ae surprises. I didnae gee him an answer at the time because I didane know whit tae say. Instead I offered him the locket, which he recoiled at, claimin’ that I had a point aboot the dyin’ bit.

I’ve thought since aboot whit he said, aboot soulmates and fate. Whoever made the locket, however long ago, mustae been a bitter sod. It was cruel, whit it did. Drawin’ people together, showin’ them a burst ae happiness, before stealin’ it away. Perhaps it wasnae the locket at all. Perhaps Fate was bored.

I’ve never been in love, I dinnae know whit it feels like. Honestly, I find it hard tae understand. People slog through bad romance after bad romance, always goin’ back fae more in the hopes that they find “the one”, their soulmate. Isnae that the definition ae insanity? Doin’ the same ‘hing over and over again, expectin a different result? Is that why some ae the victims tried tae find the person in their locket? Hopin’ they could avoid the heartbreak and disappointment and just jump straight tae the good stuff? Is that why Fate intervened; because it hadnae been earned?

There has tae be somethin’ aboot the slog ae bad dates and relationships, or why else would people do it? Dinnae ye need the bad so ye can tell when it’s good? Or are people just wired tae hope that the next ‘hing will be better than the last?

That’s as far as I want tae ‘hink aboot soulmates, or fated relationships, or any ae that. I’m just no that deep. All I hope is that the locket gathers dust fae a long time tae come.

Episode 25 – The Lassie

Scots terms

Yeeted – Not a Scottish term, but just in case you don’t know. Means thrown.

Glen – a mainly Scottish word for a valley through hills and mountains. There’s quite a few places with this in the name in Scotland.

Bairn – child

Script

I finally managed to find that book. The one I was flipping through before Chronos and I got yeeted to the Bronze age to visit the original Madam Anora. It’d disappeared by the time I got back, even though I’d put it in my reading spot before falling through time. Outlander made it look a lot more fun, by the way.

I’ve been casually looking for it ever since, but as I said before, books are never where they’re supposed to be in the shop. This time it was on top of a hatbox which was on top of one of the larger wardrobes. No hat in the box either, just odd gloves and socks that took great pleasure in snowing down on me when I lost my grip on the edge.

After picking up someone else’s laundry, I squirreled away with the book again. I was half-expecting to open the first page and find something completely different to before. For the temple to have transformed into another foreign landscape. I think I was almost disappointed that it hadn’t. The girl wasn’t in the temple though, the one from the cover with the red hair and tendency to move about.

The temple remained the same, with colourful frescoes of heroes of legend, epic battles, and beautiful romances. If I looked hard enough at the shrines to the various deities of this land, I could’ve sworn there were more offerings at the foot of the carved bust’s than there had been the last time I’d looked. Over the page was the city encircled by a river. The lanterns still lit and twinkling against the backdrop of a night sky, reflecting from the tiled rooves of red and purple. The girl wasn’t on top of the waterfall or on the bridge or in the cobbled streets. Had I imagined her?

I flipped back to the cover. She was still on that, at least. Maybe I’d just imagined her on the paper itself, in the 3-D world that climbed from the book. I flipped a few pages on until I found the place where I’d been before. Only this time there was a story box in the corner. I turned back to the previous page to confirm I’d not just missed them before. I hadn’t.

The page where the text began was of a forest, each paper tree cut and coloured to show the scarlet red and warm amber of the leaves as they shimmered in an imaginary autumnal breeze. This wasn’t a forest like you think, all green and brown and mud. This was colourful and vibrant, fantastical, and impossible to see on this earth. The trunks of the trees were silver or pure white, like perfectly clean silver birch. Some were tall and thin, swaying into each other, branches around branches, close enough for the squirrel-like creatures to walk between them rather than jump. Leaves weren’t the green of spring and summer, or even the yellow of autumn, but bright crimson, the colour of sunrise or sunset. Occasionally, amongst the sea of red, there’s a burst of ochre or orange, vibrant and shocking, like an ink smudge on paper. The ground isn’t covered in moss, or mulch, or mud, but the discarded leaves that flutter down, dislodged by the wind to fall and create a blanket of red.

Amongst the trees, the fluttering leaves, and strange forest creatures, was the red-haired lassie from the cover. One moment she peeked from behind one of the larger silver trunks, the next her legs were dangling from a branch, her hand about to catch one of the falling leaves. My eyes danced over to the story, neatly printed in a fancy box at the 2D edges of the three-dimensional forest.

I’m trapped in this forest, the text reads, help me.

I look at the lassie, now sitting cross-legged on the forest floor amongst the red and yellow leaves, holding one in her hand by its delicate stem. She’s small amongst the trees, but for a fleeting moment I think her eyes look up at me, into me, through me. There’s no other text on this page, no story, no reason.

I continue, turning over the page. I’m near the end of this book now, not many scenes to go. This one is of a snowy glen, a frozen river winding through sloping white hills. In the distance there’s mountains, steep and craggy, their white tops piercing through clouds that try to blanket their peaks. Everything is covered in white, the fir trees in the valley, the hills at either side of the frozen river. If I ran my fingers across the paper cutouts I felt as though they’d come back wet from where the snow had melted on my fingertips. I didn’t know how someone could get a 2D image to look so real.

On one of the hills, one of the shallower slopes, was a shock of red, sketched into the shape of a person. The lassie was the only thing that wasn’t white or grey. She had a red coat on, crimson, clashing with the orange of her hair. I could see the tops of her green wellies poking out from the snow, which held her up to her ankles. Her path is carved through the snow, winding up from the river. She’s not looking at me this time, but straight up the hill, towards a peak that I can’t see. There’s a text box on this page.

I didn’t deserve this fate, it continues, help me.

When I look back to where the lassie should be, she’s gone. No red against a white background, no footsteps through the snow. I would’ve thought I’d imagined her if I hadn’t seen her red jacket hanging from a branch of a nearby tree.

I turn the page. The last page. It sprawls out in front of me, and rather than the moat, the drawbridge, the ramparts, and turrets, I’m looking for this red-haired lassie. I look along the walls of this fortress, cast in grey stone, flags of every colour streaming like ribbons in the wind. You can fold down the wall to see inside the grand courtyard, the horses in the stables, the carriages, carts in the midst of being unloaded, yet the place is empty. There’s not a soul in sight, just like every other page.

I scour the courtyard, in every glass window of the castle behind, at the top of every turret and rampart. I eventually find her on the stairs up to the main door of the keep. The door behind her is painted in royal blue, a foreign and unknown coat of arms carefully drawn. She looks small in comparison to the rest, a drop in the ocean. She’s been the only constant, the only thread joining all these wonderful scenes. She’s never mentioned. There’s been no story, no background, no setup. All these strange places, and nothing about them, nothing about who she is, how she skips from page to page, scene to scene, except for vague text boxes.

There’s one on this page as well, just like the ones before.

Sign your name and you can help me, it reads.

I look for the place it means, the blank line that usually beckons for a signature. I didn’t find one. I then turned over to the last page, the one where the credits would be or an advert for another book. The inside of the back cover. There’s none of what you’d expect on this page. There’s no advert, no about the author section with their best modelling face at the top, or personal information no reader really gives a shite about.

On the final page of this book there’s a text box, bigger than the previous, that says:

This book belongs to…

And the blank line where a name should go, where a bairn would scribble in crayon a word that looks like their name should. I didn’t have a crayon.

Now, I know what you must be thinking. No sane person signs their name not knowing what’s going to happen. For all I knew, this lassie could be a demon and by signing my name I was agreeing to be tortured for the rest of eternity. Or if I put my name in this book I might swap places with her, trapped in this 2D world of wonder.

It’s strange, though, how none of those thoughts really crossed my mind at the time. I just wanted to see what happened. I didn’t need to find a pen. Absently I was tracing my hand across the line when an “M” appeared in red ink. I inspected my finger and saw no pinprick, no wound that would indicate it was my blood. I kept going, tracing the rest of the letters, curling the “y” to join the “a” at the end.

And then I waited.

I don’t know how long it took, but it wasn’t instant like I’d been imagining. The book began to get cold, freezing almost, like you’ve held ice cream in your hands for too long. My hands began to get sore, almost like an ice burn, and eventually I had to throw it on the ground a few feet away, inspecting my hands for damage.

The pages began to flip open and closed, flitting between red and orange forests, to snowy landscapes, to spectacular waterfalls. Back and forth, jumping around until I felt like the pieces of paper that made up this wonderful world would collapse in on themselves.

Eventually it closed, snapped shut with an angry click, as though locking away the contents. I saw a pair of wellies behind the book, standing in the aisle of the shop, flanked by the typewriter box and carved coffee table. I dragged my eyes up, past the green wellies, the black tights, and the velvet green dress, to the shocking mop of orange hair sprouting from her head.

She was smiling at me and began to stretch like Chronos did after he’d had a nap. I was frozen. I mean what else are you supposed to do when the person you’ve been following page after page suddenly jumps out of their own book?

After she was finished, she pinned me with a stare. She said I was smaller than she’d imagined. Her forest green gaze began to roam around the shop, just like any other customer, except she wasn’t any other customer. She looked human. She smelled like pine. As to anything else, that was anyone’s guess.

Mystery lassie thanked me for releasing her from her prison. The book, she informed me, was made by a tricky person many decades ago who’d sought to punish her by trapping her inside, where she could do no more harm. She claimed said harm wasn’t her fault.

I asked for her name. She refused to give it to me.

That’s what got her in trouble in the first place, she claimed. If I knew her name, I could trap her in the book once again, because I was the owner of it now. I’d signed my name. Thanks to me, she had her freedom once again. I began to think that wasn’t a good thing.

Why does anyone go to so much trouble to put someone in prison? Because they’re dangerous. And I’d just let that dangerous someone out.

Shite.

I could tell by the way her mouth twisted into a grin, showing all her teeth in a predatory way, that she sensed I knew my mistake. Happily, she reminded me that without her name, I couldn’t do anything. And to prevent me from cheating I wasn’t allowed to ask anyone about the book. I got the sense she knew about the shop, where she was, and who was in charge. Madam Norna knows about everything, she would know about the book.

And I couldn’t ask.

I didn’t realise this at the time, but that ginger bitch had cast some kind of spell on me. I physically can’t tell anyone about the book. Whenever I go to mention it, even in passing, I say something else entirely. No one in the shop knows. I’m surprised I’ve got through this diary entry.

She didn’t stick around for long after she cursed me to never mention the book or her. And there was nothing I could do to stop her. After she was gone, I scrambled over to the book that lay discarded on the floor. The cover was still intact, the waterfall overlooking the multicoloured rooved city. Except there was something missing. The lassie on the front cover, the one with the ginger hair, was gone.

The book wouldn’t open, no matter how hard I tried to pry the pages apart. Perhaps the prison only opened when someone was inside.

I’ve tried to show anyone the book, but whenever I’m about to hold it up, the cover changes. Illustrated Shakespeare, a Workwoman’s Guide to Clothing, a dictionary of dead languages.

So, I’m not feeling great about this one. That lassie has me nervous, but don’t think I’ve given up. Somehow, I’ll find her name, and I’ll put her straight back in that book. I just hope she doesn’t do too much damage whilst I’m trying to figure this out.

Script – Scots

I finally managed tae find that book. Ye know the one I was flippin’ through before Chronos and I got yeeted tae the bronze age tae visit the original Madam Anora. It’d disappeared by the time I got back, even though I’d put it in my reading spot before fallin’ through time. Outlander made it look a lot more fun, by the way.

I’ve been casually lookin’ fae it ever since, but as I said before, books are never where they’re supposed tae be in the shop. This time it was on top ae a hatbox which was on top ae one of the larger wardrobes. No hat in the box either, just odd gloves and socks that took great pleasure in snowin’ doon on me when I lost ma grip on the edge.

After pickin’ up someone else’s laundry, I squirreled away wi’ the book again. I was half-expectin’ tae open the first page and find somethin’ completely different tae before. Fae the temple tae have transformed intae another foreign landscape. I think I was almost disappointed that it hadnae. The girl wasnae in the temple though, the one frae the cover wi’ the red hair and tendency tae move aboot.

The temple remained the same, wi colourful frescoes ae heroes ae legend, epic battles, and beautiful romances. If I looked hard enough at the shrines tae the various deities ae this land, I couldae sworn there were more offerins at the foot ae the carved bust’s than there had been the last time I’d looked. Over the page was the city encircled by a river. The lanterns still lit and twinkling against the backdrop ae a night sky, reflectin’ frae the tiled rooves ae red and purple. The girl wasnae on top ae the waterfall, or on the bridge, or in the cobbled streets. Had I imagined her?

I flipped back tae the cover. She was still on that, at least. Maybe I’d just imagined her on the paper itself, in the 3-D world that climbed frae the book. I flipped a few pages on until I found the place where I’d been before. Only this time there was a story box in the corner. I turned back tae the previous page tae confirm I’d no just missed them before. I hadnae.

The page where the text began was ae a forest, each paper tree cut and coloured tae show the scarlet red and warm amber ae the leaves as they shimmered in an imaginary autumnal breeze. This wasnae a forest like ye think, all green and brown and mud. This was colourful and vibrant, fantastical and impossible tae see on this earth. The trunks ae the trees were silver or pure white, like perfectly clean silver birch. Some were tall and thin, swayin’ intae each other, branches aroond branches, close enough fae the squirrel like creatures tae walk between them rather than jump. Leaves werenae the green ae spring and summer, or even the yellow ae autumn, but bright crimson, the colour ae sunrise or sunset. Occasionally, amongst the sea ae red, there’s a burst ae yellow or orange, vibrant and shocking, like an ink smudge on paper. The ground isnae covered in moss, or mulch, or mud, but the discarded leaves that flutter doon, dislodged by the wind tae fall and create a blanket ae red.

Amongst the trees, the fluttering leaves, and strange forest creatures, was the red-haired lassie frae the cover. One moment she peeked frae behind one ae the larger silver trunks, the next her legs were dangling frae a branch, her hand aboot tae catch one ae the fallin’ leaves. Ma eyes danced over tae the story, neatly printed in a fancy box at the 2D edges ae the three-dimensional forest.

I’m trapped in this forest, the text reads, help me.

I look at the lassie, noo sitting cross legged on the forest floor amongst the red and yellow leaves, holding one in her hand by its delicate stem. She’s small amongst the trees, but fae a fleeting moment I think her eyes look up at me, intae me, through me. There’s no other text on this page, no story, no reason.

I continue, turnin’ over the page. I’m near the end ae this book noo, no many scenes tae go. This one is ae a snowy glen, a frozen river winding through sloping white hills. In the distance there’s mountains, steep and craggy, their white tops piercing through clouds that try tae blanket their peaks. Everythin’ is covered in white, the fir trees in the valley, the hills at either side ae the frozen river. If I ran ma fingers across the paper cutouts I felt as though they’d come back wet frae where the snow had melted on ma fingertips. I didnae know how someone could get a 2D image tae look so real.

On one ae the hills, one ae the shallower slopes, was a shock ae red, sketched intae the shape ae a person. The lassie was the only ‘hing that wasnae white or grey. She had a red coat on, crimson, clashin’ wi the orange ae her hair. I could see the tops ae her green wellies pokin’ oot frae the snow, which held her up tae her ankles. Her path is carved through the snow, windin’ up frae the river. She’s no lookin’ at me this time, but straight up the hill, towards a peak that I cannae see. There’s a text box on this page.

I didn’t deserve this fate, it continues, help me.

When I look back tae where the lassie should be, she’s gone. No red against a white background, no footsteps through the snow. I wouldae thought I’d imagined her if I hadnae seen her red jacket hangin’ frae a branch ae a nearby tree.

I turn the page. The last page. It sprawls oot in front ae me, and rather than the moat, the drawbridge, the ramparts, and turrets, I’m lookin’ fae this red-haired lassie. I look along the walls ae this fortress, cast in grey stone, flags ae every colour streamin’ like ribbons in the wind. Ye can fold doon’ the wall tae see inside the grand courtyard, the horses in the stables, the carriages and carts in the midst ae bein unloaded, yet the place is empty. There’s no a soul in sight, just like every other page.

I scour the courtyard, in every glass windae ae the castle behind, at the top ae every turret and rampart. I eventually find her on the stairs up tae the main door ae the keep. The door behind her is painted in royal blue, a foreign and unknown coat ae arms carefully drawn. She looks small in comparison tae the rest, a drop in the ocean. She’s been the only constant, the only thread joinin’ all ae these wonderful scenes. She’s never mentioned. There’s been no story, no background, no setup. All ae these strange places, and nothin’ aboot them, nothin’ aboot who she is, how she skips frae page tae page, scene tae scene, except fae vague text boxes.

There’s one on this page as well, just like the ones before.

Sign your name, and you can help me, it reads.

I look fae the place it means, the blank line that usually beckons fae a signature. I didnae find one. I then turned over tae the last page, the one where the credits would be, or an advert fae another book. The inside ae the back cover. There’s none ae what you’d expect on this page. There’s no advert, no aboot the author section wi’ their best modelling face at the top, or personal information no reader really gees’ a shite aboot.

On the final page ae this book there’s a text box, bigger than the previous, that says:

This book belongs to…

And the blank line where a name should go, where a bairn would scribble in crayon a word that looks like their name should. I didnae have a crayon.

Noo, I know whit ye must be ‘hinkin. No sane person signs their name no knowin’ whit’s gonnae happen. Fae all I knew, this lassie could be a demon, and by signin’ ma name I was agreein’ tae be tortured fae the rest ae eternity. Or if I put ma name in this book I might swap places wi her, trapped in this 2D world ae wonder.

It’s strange, though, how none ae those thoughts really crossed ma mind at the time. I just wanted tae see whit happened. I didnae need tae find a pen. Absently I was tracin’ ma hand across the line when an “M” appeared in red ink. I inspected ma finger and saw no pinprick, no wound that would indicate it was ma blood. I kept goin’, tracin the rest ae the letters, curlin’ the “y” tae join the “a” at the end.

And then I waited.

I dinnae know how long it took, but it wasnae instant like I’d been imagining. The book began tae get cold, freezin’ almost, like you’ve held ice cream in your hands fae too long. Ma hands began tae get sore, almost like an ice burn, and eventually I had tae throw it on the ground a few feet away, inspectin’ ma hands fae damage.

The pages began tae flip open and closed, flittin’ between red and orange forests, tae snowy landscapes, tae spectacular waterfalls. Back and forth, jumpin’ roond until I felt like the pieces ae paper that made up this wonderful world would collapse in on themselves.

Eventually it closed, snapped shut wi’ an angry click, as though lockin’ away the contents. I saw a pair ae wellies behind the book, standin’ in the aisle ae the shop, flanked by the typewriter box and carved coffee table. I dragged ma eyes up, past the green wellies, the black tights, and the velvet green dress, tae the shocking mop ae orange hair sproutin’ frae her heid.

She was smilin’ at me, and began tae stretch like Chronos did after he’d had a nap. I was frozen. I mean whit else are ye supposed tae do when the person you’ve been followin’ page after page suddenly jumps oot their own book?

After she was finished, she pinned me wi a stare. She said I was smaller than she’d imagined. Her forest green gaze began tae roam roond the shop, just like any other customer, except she wasnae any other customer. She looked human. She smelled like pine. As tae anythin’ else, that was anyone’s guess.

Mystery lassie thanked me fae releasin’ her frae her prison. The book, she informed me, was made by a tricky person many decades ago who’d sought tae punish her by trappin’ her inside, where she could do no more harm. She claimed said harm wasnae her fault.

I asked fae her name. She refused tae gee it tae me.

That’s what got her in trouble in the first place, she claimed. If I knew her name, I could trap her in the book once again, because I was the owner ae it noo. I’d signed ma name. Thanks tae me, she had her freedom once again. I began tae ‘hink that wasnae a good ‘hing.

Why does anyone go tae so much trouble tae put someone in prison? Because they’re dangerous. And I’d just let that dangerous someone oot.

Shite.

I could tell by the way her mouth twisted intae a grin, showin’ all ae her teeth in a predatory way, that she sensed I knew ma mistake. Happily, she reminded me that withoot her name, I couldnae do anythin’. And tae prevent me frae cheatin’ I wasnae allowed tae ask anyone aboot the book. I got the sense she knew aboot the shop, where she was, and who was in charge. Madam Norna knows aboot everythin’, she would know aboot the book.

And I couldnae ask.

I didnae realise this at the time, but that ginger bitch had cast some kind ae spell on me. I physically cannae tell anyone aboot the book. Whenever I go tae mention it, even in passin, I say somethin’ else entirely. No one in the shop knows. I’m surprised I’ve got through this diary entry.

She didnae stick roond fae long after she cursed me tae never mention the book, or her. And there was nothin’ I could do tae stop her. After she was gone I scrambled over tae the book that lay discarded on the floor. The cover was still intact, the waterfall overlooking the multicoloured rooved city. Except there was somethin’ missin. The lassie on the front cover, the one wi’ the ginger hair, was gone.

The book wouldnae open, no matter how hard I tried tae pry the pages apart. Perhaps the prison only opened when someone was inside.

I’ve tried tae show anyone the book, but whenever I’m aboot tae hold it up, the cover changes. Illustrated Shakespeare, a workwoman’s guide tae clothin’, a dictionary ae deid languages.

So I’m no feelin’ great aboot this one. That lassie has me nervous, but dinnae ‘hink I’ve geein’ up. Somehow, I’ll find her name, and I’ll put her straight back in that book. I just hope she doesnae do too much damage whilst I’m tryin’ tae figure this oot.

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