I started writing this as an exercise to see if I could write something that would be good for my short story competition (for details see here) Obviously I would not be able to enter my own competition, but I figured I could still put my own effort into the anthology.
As I sailed past the 2,500 word maximum for the competition, I realised how very difficult it is to write short stories to a specific length. To anyone entering this competition, I take my hat off to you.
Meanwhile, please let me know what you think of my 6,000 word effort.
As ever, this is unedited, other than my own lacklustre efforts, so please forgive all the errors and inconsistencies.
The warm flickering amber glow of a real log fire dominated the ambience in The Plough this evening, as it had done on countless evenings since the place had first been built over three hundred years ago. The scent of wax cotton jackets mingled with the woodsmoke and flowing Exmoor Gold, while the ebb and flow of conversation and laughter filled the ears. Bill, Harry, and John sat around the dark wooden circular table, with its heavy cast iron base, their ruddy beer glasses glinting and pulsing in the firelight like they were magical. And, somehow, it was magic, just sitting there, first pint already downed, letting the muscles relax after a hard day spreading slurry. In some ways little had changed in all those centuries. True, they now had a John Deere the size of a small cottage with the power of a couple of hundred shire horses, and even Harry, the eldest of the three, had a slim shiny black smartphone in his pocket, even if he did only use it to let the wife know he was on his way home for tea.
The door opened letting a cold draft whip round the bar until it shut again with a clatter and the wind, losing momentum, settled down to sleep somewhere in the middle of the floor. The newcomers were youngsters, three of them, late teens or early twenties, woolly hats and fleece jackets, wearing trainers, not wellies. They were chatting animatedly on arrival, continuing a conversation that had started outside.
“I dunno, Lunnen, or Brizzle, I guess. Nothin’ ever ’appens here, thass for sure!”
“You wouldn’t last five minutes in London, Dave, they’d eat you for breakfast.”
There was laughter as the lads got to the bar and ordered. The lass serving them, Sal by name, smiled warmly at Dave, who failed to notice. They sat at an empty table near the fire and acknowledged the three older men.
“Alright dad?” Dave said to Bill.
“Alright son? You’m still on about movin’ then?”
“Well … ” he hesitated.
“You thought about work? Not much call for a farm hand wi’ a BTEC in animal care round Chelsea way, so I’ear.”
There was a ripple of laughter among the older group.
“Dave’s right though,” said one of the youngsters, coming to his friend’s defence, “Nothing ever happens round ’ere.”
“Oh, I dunno, bay,” piped up John, “I ’eared tell of a ewe az juss give birth to a two headed lamb.”
“Oh aye, wherezat to then?” Harry asked.
“High Tree Farm, so uz tole.”
“So what’re we doin’ sittin’ roun’ suppin’ ale. Drink up lez get o’er there an’ see un.”
Dave remained unconvinced and unimpressed. “There ain’t no way no two-’eaded lamb’s been born roun’ yere. T’would’ve bin all over the internet by now.”
“More’s the point,” cut in another of the youths, “Oi juss bin up at High Tree earlier an’ nobody said a word.”
“They’z keepin’ it under they hats innum?” said John, tapping his rosy nose, a cheeky twinkle playing around his grey eyes.”
“Garn, geddaway! You’m pulling uz plonkers, y’old devil!”
There were laughs all around as it became clear that John had indeed been pulling everyone’s plonkers, but it gave them all an excuse to sup some more Exmoor or Carling as their tastes dictated.
The door opened again, the sleeping breeze awoke and went for a mad race around the pub while it had the chance. The newcomer was alone and the whole pub went quiet as they entered. It wasn’t the fact that they were black that was remarkable. True, most folk round these parts were white, or at least rubicund, but there were definitely some non-whites in the village. There was a black graphic designer and his family, who had bought the old post office building, an Indian doctor who worked at North Devon District Hospital. Heck even Sal behind the bar was of mixed heritage. No; what made this person look unusual was that he, or possibly she, it wasn’t obvious, wore a floor length black leather cloak topped off with a tricorn hat sporting a jaunty blue feather.
Undaunted by the obvious chill in the atmosphere, they walked to the bar, each step accompanied by a clink-clink sound that was uncomfortably loud in the unnatural silence. They ordered a bloody Mary in a velvet voice that could have been a high tenor or a deep contralto. Sal told the stranger how much it was, and they drew back the cloak to reveal a powder-blue leather coin pouch tied to a gold waistband. From this, deft fingers in cream gloved hands withdrew a coin.
Over by the fireplace, Harry muttered to the younger lads, “Nothin’ ever ’appens ’ere bays.”
Sal looked at the glint of gold with a suspicious eye. She turned to call Tom, the landlord, but he was already on her shoulder. By no means an expert numismatist, Tom looked at the coin held in Sal’s hand. It glinted gold but that didn’t mean squat these days. A Quality Street toffee penny was shinier, and he had half a tin of them left over from Christmas. He picked it up and bit it. The stranger looked at him as though he were a complete idiot. Tom eyed the stranger and there followed an internal ‘full and frank’ discussion between ‘Tom who wanted to throw the stranger out immediately’, and ‘Tom who often bought a scratch-card with his change, on the off-chance that this could be the big one’.
The latter Tom won, “I can’t change this,” he said.
“Keep it,” the stranger replied, adding, “I need rooms in this town. Is this an inn or just a tavern?”
Tom’s mind tried to fit the village of Shepherdfordsworth, (pronounced Shepeth) inside the word town and found, despite its length, that it rattled around too much. As to the question of his pub’s status, he did a passable impression of a drowning fish as he tried to work out the correct answer.
“You’d be payin’ wi’ them little coins there would ee?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Gimme five minutes.”
Tom went back into the private area and picked up the telephone.
“Hello? … Nicki, do you still collect coins an’ that? … That’s more or less what I mean, yeah … Yeah? Proper job! I don’t s’pose you’re about and can get over to the Plough roight now can ee? … Yeah roight now, quick as possible. … Oi got summat I want you to ’ave a look at see?”
He replaced the receiver. Nicki was a bit of an amateur archaeologist who had been a full-time librarian, now retired. Since she could walk to the pub in five minutes but would more likely cycle, Tom waited by the side door to keep an eye out for her. Once inside with decent light she examined the coin briefly.
“Did you bite this?”
“Well, thass how you test if eez gold, innum?”
“Pillock! There’s tooth marks on it now. Still worth a bloody fortune, where d’you find it?”
“I nev…” he stopped as he thought about the ma …. woma … person in the leather cloak with a whole bag of coins, each potentially worth a fortune, that they were planning on spending on a room, and perhaps more drinks. The thought took a split second. He continued, “… ver did go through them old boxes in the back cellar, ’till today, and that coin wuz in one of ’em. Thanks Nicki, you’ve been a tremendous help.”
“Dunno what were so urgent you had to drag me over here at a moment’s notice, though.” She huffed as she remounted her bike and cycled the couple of minutes back home.
Back in the bar, Tom did his best hotelier routine, “Would sir be after the deluxe suite or an economy room?”
Sal mouthed, ‘what deluxe suite’, at him from a position out of the stranger’s line of sight. Then she had a further thought of ‘what bloody economy room?’.
He waved her away.
“I’ll take the deluxe, and it’s madam if you don’t mind! Aspen Delcroix.” She proffered a hand.
“Charmed, Oi’m sure.” Tom replied, tentatively squeezing a couple of fingers. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to kiss the hand, but thankfully she withdrew it before he came to any conclusions.
There were three bedrooms in the Plough, his own ensuite, which he had rashly offered as the ‘deluxe’, Sal’s room, because the job had to be live-in when you didn’t finish kicking folks out until long gone three in the morning some nights, and a spare room which contained a lot of boxes and other unwanted junk.
After a rapid sotto voce argument with Sal, it was agreed that he, Tom, would have to sleep in the junk room, although she agreed to help clear the boxes out of the way. Between frantic removals backstage, and serving in the bar, the pair managed to arrange things so that Ms Delcroix could be made comfortable in Tom’s room.
In the warm amber glow of the bar, Aspen Delcroix assessed the locals. Some still eyed her suspiciously, others had returned attention to their own conversations and drinks. Her eyes lighted on Dave and his friends. She walked over to their table.
“I’m looking for a man.”
Dave managed not to spit out his drink.
There was a raucous shout from Harry at the next table, “Best come over ’ere maid, them’s nobbut bays.”
She glanced at the older group. “I need one who doesn’t creak when he stands up.”
The younger group all reacted with comments like “Shade!”, “Oooooh!”, and “Burn!”.
The lads took an immediate liking to the woman which was not dulled by her striking if rather masculine looks.
“I might be available for some manly duties,” Dave admitted, attempting nonchalance.
“Yes, you’ll do. Come with me,” Ms Delcroix strode from the pub.
Dave, hesitating at first, quickly decided he had better catch up or lose his job, whatever it was. Outside, he saw Ms Delcroix standing beside an oversized wooden trunk and a heavy leather travelling bag. There was no sign of a cab or other vehicle, but Dave assumed it had just left.
“You take the trunk upstairs to my room, I can manage the bag.”
She picked up the bag and headed inside. Dave attempted to lift the trunk and collapsed on top of it. He steeled himself for another attempt and, forewarned, he lifted it with some difficulty and followed his employer. He hadn’t even asked if he was getting paid. There were ironic cheers for Dave manful efforts as he lumbered the chest awkwardly past the bar and into the back areas of the pub. He didn’t dare rest it or let on how much he was struggling while his mates, and his dad’s mates could see, but once out of sight he stopped for a breather at the foot of the stairs. After lugging the trunk into the room at dumping it at the foot of the bed, he did his best to get his breath back without looking like the effort had almost killed him.
“You’re strong, I like that. I may need you again for something rather more challenging.” She handed him a copper coin. Dave didn’t look at it.
“More challenging like, a bigger case? Or more challenging like …” Dave didn’t have any ideas that he thought would be appropriate.
Aspen Delcroix looked at Dave and seemed to make a quick character judgement. She stepped past him and a waft of orange blossom enveloping him briefly. She glanced outside and then closed the door. Dave swallowed hard and tried to suppress his most optimistic thoughts.
“What do you know about demons?”
Dave thought ‘Well, that was … unexpected.’.
After a pause he said, “Kinda fiery things that live in Hell?”
“Not always fiery. You could call it Hell if you want. It’s a bit more complex than that, but sure, yes, demons. What do you know about them?”
Dave began, “That they don’t …” and then his brain caught up with his mouth and asked for a brief discussion in private.
It said, ‘If you’re about to say they don’t exist, could we consider the possibility that this … let’s call her handsome … woman, who smells nice, and who is alone with you in her bedroom, might think they do, and the possibility exists that if you say the wrong thing, she might ask you to leave? And, by the way, I am not the only one here who is thinking along these lines.’
Dave adjusted his thoughts and started again. “Well, Demons are … evil, and very, very … bad.”
As speeches go, Dave realised he was not up there with Martin Luther King, or Ricky Gervaise at an awards ceremony. He decided to shut up until he had something intelligent to say.
Aspen Delcroix, despite his poor start, began to explain. “Demons are evil entities that exist for no discernible purpose. They are manifestation of utter chaos and evil. They destroy life and order wherever they find it. For the most part, they are kept in a plane of existence called the Abyss, but sometimes, the boundaries between the material world and the Abyss become thin and there is a rift between worlds. My job is to travel to the place and time of the rift, destroy any demons that pass through, and to close the rift afterwards.”
Dave stuck with his decision to keep quiet unless he had something sensible to say. His silence was rewarded with more information.
“I need someone from the local time and region to help me. You know the area, I know demons, got it?”
“Got it, yeah. So these demons?”
“I think you only have a small incursion here. Nothing worse than Vzzghrt.”
It sounded like she was choking. “Do you want a glass of water?”
“I’m fine, it’s a small demon, it flies. Think of a big blowfly but with a sting.”
“We’ve got a zapper at home, mum uses it in the kitchen.”
“No need. We’ve got what we need in here.” She opened the trunk revealing a variety of strange apparatus. The colours were a mixture of brass, silver, black, and glowing electric blue. “You have to keep this to yourself. The fewer locals that know, the better.”
Dave nodded. No bugger would believe him anyway.
Aspen Delcroix glanced at a small device on her belt. It went ‘ping’ rather in the manner of an old-fashioned striking clock announcing one o’clock. “Come on then.” She lifted two larger devices from the trunk and handed one to Dave. It was some sort of handle, like a large sword hilt with no blade. It hummed gently in his hand.
“What, right now?” Dave asked.
“The rift is not far from here. The image I have is of an old-looking barn with a tiled roof. In front is a tall, straight tree with no branches, and a very small building, bright red, with lots of glass windows all round.”
Dave tried to interpret the description. He couldn’t think of any small red buildings.
“How small is this red building?”
Aspen Delcroix indicated a width by holding her hands about three feet apart, and jumped, pointing with her hand to indicate a height of about eight feet. “Actually a little taller than that, like the height of this ceiling.”
Dave wracked his brains. He tried a different tack. “This tree, really straight, no branches?” He recalled there was an old pine growing out on the Barum road that had been trimmed over many years and was pretty straight.
“Yes, it is a strange tree. There are some small branches.”
Dave thought, ‘yes, little straggly bits that grow each year.’
“They are a different colour. Black, and regular shaped. Evenly spaced on either side of the tree.”
Dave slumped. This didn’t sound like any tree he’d ever seen.
“You sure you’re in the right place?”
“Certain. The red building, it has something inside it, you can see through the glass. A yellow box on one wall. Oh, and there’s a word written on the side of the building, I don’t know the word.”
Light dawned for Dave, “Defibrillator?”
“Come on, I know where we’re going?” He headed for the door.
“Not that way!” She headed for the window. She opened it, looked down, climbed out and dropped onto the ground fifteen feet below, landing like a wobbly gymnast.
Dave looked down without enthusiasm. But he didn’t want to look weak. He climbed out and then, grabbing hold of the window frame, lowered himself until he was dangling from the ledge. It was still a fair drop, and he would scrape on the wall the whole way down. He prepared himself and pushed away from the wall a bit as he dropped. The barest hint of disdain crossed Aspen Delcroix’s face as she helped him get up from the ground.
Dave led off down a narrow lane lined with hedgerows. “It’s not far. Less than a mile.”
Bright headlights approached and the two moved out of the way, Aspen making sure the devices they were carrying were not visible to the driver as they passed.
They reached the old telephone box which, rather pointlessly considering its location, had now been fitted with a defibrillator. Next to it was a telegraph pole. Behind that was the old barn. The small device on Aspen Delcroix’s belt was pinging now like a clock striking midnight. Dave could see that something was definitely not right. From the barn came a worrying crimson glow, the light spilling out through cracks in roof tiles and in the old cob walls. He could hear a fizzing, crackling sound, and there was a burning metallic smell in the air, like the morning after fireworks night.
“Come on.” Aspen moved towards the large double doors where spears of reddish light were stabbing through gaps in the frames. “Get behind me and take out any that get past.”
She hauled open the big door and swung the device at the first of the creatures that flew towards her. When she had said, ‘like a big blowfly’, Dave had not imagined this. It was larger than a tennis ball and resembled a glowing ember with wings and a viscous looking barbed proboscis. He hesitated, transfixed. Aspen slashed left and right, whips of electric blue and white light emerged from the handle of the weapon, taking down several demons in a few swipes. When hit, the glowing buzzing demons burst with radiant white light and vapourised. One got past Aspen and headed for Dave.
“Don’t let it get away! And don’t let it sting you either!” she yelled.
Animated by her shout, Dave launched his weapon at the creature. Nothing happened.
“Squeeze the handle as you swing!” Aspen added, flicking several more demons to oblivion. “There are too many of them! I’m going to close the doors until we can think of another plan.”
Slashing all about her, she tried to get the door closed. But in doing so let several more get past her. Dave wasn’t going to screw this up again. He was not going to let a bunch of demons, with a name that sounded like a cat bringing up a furball, run amok in his village. Besides, Ms Delcroix smelled of orange blossom and she was the best-looking woman that Dave had ever noticed paying him any attention. He was not the most observant when it came to subtle social signals.
Gripping his unfamiliar weapon like his life depended on it, which it almost certainly did, he began to lay about him as he had seen his boss do. While Ms Delcroix forced the doors shut, Dave slashed and dashed taking down half a dozen of these fiendish Vzzghrt things. Only one remained, the first escapee, it danced tantalisingly out of his reach, zipping and buzzing this way and that, moving away from him over the hedgerow. He had to stop it, he leapt and swung, clambering up the thorny hazel wall, stabbed by thick brambles. He tried to ignore the pain, focussed on keeping this evil thing from reaching his friends and family. He managed to reach the top of the hedge, despite his hands bleeding, and the rips in his jeans, and lashed at the buzzing ball of hatred taunting him. He missed and fell down along the hedge-top, the weapon flung from his grip. The Vzzghrt saw its chance and swooped down, buzzing with fiendish delight.
In his remaining seconds Dave found enough time to think, ‘Well that’s the end of my demon hunting career,’ the barbed proboscis grew rapidly larger as it bore down on him, the body behind it glowing evilly. Then just as he steeled himself for the anticipated agonising pain there was a flash of blue light, and the demon was blasted away. He could smell a metallic tang, mingled with what he had to assume was the smell of his own eyebrows burning, he could live with that. He looked at Aspen Delcroix who was far too far away to have used the same weapon he was wielding. Sure enough, there was something in her hand that was still sparking electric blue.
“Thanks.” He said, unable to load the word with as much sincere gratitude as he currently felt.
“No problem.” She pulled a similar weapon from her belt and handed it to him. “Plane-shift blaster, use sparingly, it doesn’t hold much charge. Oh, and don’t miss!”
“What does it do?”
“It sends anyone or anything you hit back to the Abyss.”
Dave eyed the weapon with a deep, and fully justified, mistrust.
“Right, are you ready?” she said, looking at the broiling doors.
“Ready? I thought we were going to come up with another plan?”
“I just did. We’re going in there and closing the doors. If we win, we walk out of there alive; if we lose …”
Dave looked aghast, “If we lose?”
“Oh, if we lose you won’t be dead, you’ll be one of them!” With a look of grim determination, she turned to open the doors.
“Wait! If we lose, we turn into demons?”
“A succinct summary yes.”
She turned her attention to the door handle again and paused as Dave said, “So …”
“So we had better not lose, right?” She opened the door and stepped in, her electric blue whip flashing about her, followed by Dave aping her movements. He closed the door behind him.
The full-beam headlights and unnecessary fog-lamps of a passing car swept across the phone box, the defibrillator glowed yellow in the beams. The driver did not notice the flashes of blue and red emanating from the derelict barn behind. After a matter of scarcely two minutes that felt to the human occupants of the barn like hours the doors burst open and Aspen Delcroix emerged on all fours gasping for breath. She was followed by Dave, only slightly less traumatised by the experience.
As he got back his breath he gave a brief snort of relieved laughter, “That was fun,” he lied.
Aspen collapsed and rolled onto her back.
“Are you alright?” Dave began but knew before he had finished that she was not. There was an amoeboid patch of darkness spreading across the deep blue of her shirt.
“I’ve been hit. Listen; get back to the trunk. There’s a brass cylinder about this long and this wide,” she indicated the size with her hands. Fetch it. I should have brought it with me, I’m such a fool!” She flinched with the pain.
“Shouldn’t I call an ambulance?” Dave asked.
“What in all the hells would an ambulance do for a demon sting?” Aspen groaned. “Hurry!” she hissed through gritted teeth.
Dave stood up and ran along the lane back to the pub, his thoughts racing. It would take him maybe five or six minutes to run the mile back to the pub, and more like ten to make the return journey. He didn’t know how long it would take to find and retrieve the cylinder, but Aspen would be writhing in agony for a quarter of an hour at best. As he approached the pub he began to think about how he would get in and out without raising suspicion. He looked at himself. He had looked worse, but only after a particularly bad day on one of the muckier jobs on the farm. And he was still carrying a brass and silver electric blue whip and a plane-shift blaster. He investigated the window where they had climbed out earlier. There was a massive red Massey Fergusson parked right beneath it. Dave offered up a silent prayer of thanks to the owner for ignoring the request not to park here and he clambered up the great beast and onto the roof which brought him level with the window. Within a few moments he was climbing back down and leaping from the footplate and off down the lane again, the cylinder clutched tightly in his fist.
Breathless and nursing a painful stitch, he reached Aspen’s side. She had managed to bandage the wound while he’d been gone. She had stopped the flow of blood but was still clinging to life by a thread. She held out her hand for the cylinder. Dave handed it to her and then took it back when he saw she was unable to unscrew the lid.
“Take out one of the rods,” she grunted. “Careful, don’t press the ends. It’s a poison antidote.”
Dave removed one of a number of thin golden rods from the cylinder and handed it to Aspen. She grasped it. With closed eyes, she felt along its length and then placed one end against the skin on her forearm pushing against the other end with her thumb. The rod shortened visibly, and a tiny pearl of blood appeared on her skin at the point of contact. She smiled and fell back with a satisfied sigh. Dave took off his jacket, rolled it up, and placed it under her head.
“Give me a minute, then can you help me get back to the inn?” she said.
Dave indicated that he would. Once again, his words and gestures inadequate to convey how fervently he wanted to help.
It took half an hour to walk the mile back to the pub. As they approached, Dave hoped that the red Fergie was still there, and if it was, that Aspen would be strong enough to climb up it. It was there and Aspen drew on inner strength that Dave could only dream of to get back through the window. She threw off her leather cloak and collapsed on the bed, an exhausted dishevelled wreck. Dave wasn’t much better, but now he started to laugh uncontrollably sinking down with is back to the wall. Despite the pain, this started Aspen laughing as well. They had been, figuratively although not literally, through hell and somehow you either had to laugh or cry, so they laughed until they cried.
There was a knock on the door followed by Sal coming in to check everything was ok.
“Are you alright, you’ve been absolutely ages with that trunk,” she was saying. Her eyes took in the partly undressed woman on the bed, Dave in an almost foetal position on the floor, both of them looking dishevelled in the extreme.
“What happened? Did the trunk fight back?” She looked now at the trunk which Dave had left open. The strange tools and weapons glinted back at her.
“It’s not what it looks like.” Dave said. Internally, an incredulous voice said ‘It’s not what it looks like? What is this, some dreadful farce?’ he went on, “I mean, there’s nothing weird going on here …” he looked around the room and tried to think of anything, anything at all, that could possibly be any more weird than this. Perhaps if they were dressed as clowns? Or if the trunk was filled with shark infested custard?
Sal turned to leave. “I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t think I want to know. What two consenting adults get up to in private is their own business.” She looked pretty hurt though.
Aspen laughed loudly and said, “Wait young lady. Whatever you think this is, it is definitely nothing between this young man and me.”
Sal put her hand on her hips and stared at Aspen her face radiating suspicion.
Aspen sat up, wincing as she did so. “This young man has been helping me to deal with an incursion of … uninvited guests.”
Sal’s mistrustful expression remained unmoved.
“There’s no romance whatsoever between us, I assure you.”
Dave made an involuntary sound that betrayed a teeny bit of disappointment.
“Really, David?” Aspen laughed briefly. “I am well over three hundred years old.”
It was Sal’s turn to snort derisively. “What’s your secret, Oil of Olay?”
Dave who had seen the Vzzghrt and wielded the weapons in the chest was more open to new ideas, but even he baulked at this. “Three hundred? You don’t look a day over thirty,” he said, thinking she could easily be forty.
“Well, looks can be deceiving,” Aspen said. “Look, the game is definitely up for me with Sal, here. She knows something’s not right and if we don’t tell her the truth then whatever we do tell her will be worse. Besides, if you’re going to be my eyes and ears on the ground here to guard against future incursions then your girlfriend had better be clued into what’s going on.”
“Wait, She’s not my girlfriend,” Dave protested.
“She isn’t? Well then all I can say is, you’re nowhere near as smart as I thought you were. She certainly has eyes for you!”
Sal wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or to laugh. Dave looked at her and she smiled back. It was painfully awkward but at the same time, it was obvious that Aspen’s instinct was spot on. It could wait, however.
Dave turned to Aspen, “What do you mean eyes and ears on the ground?”
“I can’t stay here. The incursion has been sealed off, for now. But if the fabric between planes is thin then there will be more. I need you to keep an eye out. I said I wanted to keep this between as few people as possible, but two pairs of eyes and ears are better than one, and if you two are going to be an item there’s no way you, David, can keep this secret from Sal. So, what do you say? Are you willing to help?”
Sal looked at Dave and indicated with a nod that she would go along with his decision. She hadn’t seen what they might be up against, but it sounded like they would be on the right side.
“Well, yeah, I guess,” Dave said. “Where are you going then?”
“I told you, I have to go all over the world and all points in time to deal with incursions.”
“What, like the whole world and all time? How do you cope?”
“Well, it’s not just me, there’s a whole team of us. And it’s mostly only human history. If demons come through before that well, I don’t know. We don’t go there. Too many variables.”
“Do I get one of those plane-shift blasters?”
“No you do not, David! But you do get these.”
“What are these then?”
“This one is a demon detector.” She handed him a brass and silver device a little smaller than a mobile phone. Dave had seen one in action earlier. “It does exactly what the name suggests. If any rift begins to form within about a ten-mile radius it will ping. This other one is a communications device.” It was about the size of a ballpoint pen. If you see anything suspicious, you press this button, and someone will come to your aid when they’re free. If you see a definite incursion, you press it again and the response will be immediate. Don’t abuse it.”
“I won’t. Umm,” Dave had one more question. “Is this a paid position?”
“Well, I can give you something to cover expenses, but you’ll be more effective if you maintain a fairly normal life; a regular job and lifestyle.” She handed over half a dozen gold coins. “They’re dukats. I think these are worth around five hundred pounds each in your time. Don’t go splashing this about!” she added on seeing Dave’s face break into a grin. “You’ll need a nest egg to cover your tracks if people get suspicious. Only sell one at a time.”
“Don’t worry,” Sal said. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“I believe you will.”
After that, Sal and Dave left Aspen to get some well-earned sleep. In the morning, she was gone, leaving Dave and Sal as the sole guardians against a demonic incursion in the village of Shepherdfordsworth and, they presumed, surrounding parishes.
Dave had some explaining to do when his family saw the state of his eyebrows, but all that was forgotten when he told them that he definitely wasn’t moving to a big city because he had found plenty worth staying in Sheppeth for. Later, when he asked if Sal could come for dinner, they all assumed he was referring to her, and to be fair to them, they were only half wrong.