House-sitting

“I’m so sorry about this. Are you sure you’ll be OK?” Her friend’s face was an unmade-bed of worry and concern.Shani n Me

“Get in the car, Ailsa and push off. I told you. With that first edit to do, I need peace, quiet and complete concentration. If I can’t get that here in your house…” the question was left hanging in mid-air as she was clutched to an ample bosom for the umpteenth time. “Go! Byeeeeeee.”

She waved until the small yellow van was out of sight and smiled to herself. This really was the Fates smiling on both of them. Her colleague and pal getting away to a gathering she thought she’d have to miss as her partner was away at a naval reunion. Shani had the house to herself with only the dog and cat to look after. Solitude was what she needed and she had free run of the other writer’s computers.

Ideal, she thought as she slipped back into the large kitchen to comfort the dog who was already “missing mum”. Coffee, she added, feeling glad that it was warm enough to avoid wrestling with the formidable-looking wood-stove.

“Above the kettle, left hand side.”

CameronShani spun around to be confronted by…Ailsa? How had she got back without her hearing the van? No, the voice was slightly deeper and with a cultured, more pronounced Scottish accent.

“Sorry, made you jump. I’m Cameron. If you need anything, just holler. I’m always around.” The young man who looked exactly like Ailsa smiled pleasantly and went to move away.

“No! Please!” Shani knew the joke; all of Ailsa’s social media friends did. That was the name of her twin brother who had been still-born. Ailsa used it as a pen-name but now Shani was talking to him. “I thought…She said..”

“Oh yes, Sis does that. She doesn’t like to admit that we really are here. Frightened people will think she’s more bonkers than she is. You do know she’s bonkers, right?” He leaned forward, a carbon copy of his sister’s concerned stance.

Shani found herself giggling as she nodded.

“Bipolar. You shouldn’t say bonkers.” She corrected him.

“She does. And she is, gets it from mother. She was a real box of frogs.”

Shani shrugged. If she found herself talking to her friend’s dead brother, why not let him call his sister whatever he wanted? With shaking hands she brewed a pot of coffee and set it on the electric hotplate. This is crazy. It’s like being in one of my own novels…except in my work the dead people look like they did when they died, not thirty years older!

“I’ll have some of that!” The command came from a tall goth woman with black eye make-up and nail-varnish who thrust a pint mug under Shani’s nose. As the writer filled her cup the goth dragged on a cigarette which gave off purple sparkly smoke.

“I know you. You’re Tink the Happy-Endings Fairy”

“In one!” A hand covered in large rings was held up to high-five her. To Shani’s surprise they made real physical contact. The hand was warm and slapped hers noisily. “Don’t mind me. I exist. I’m not passed over, passed up or passed out.”

Shani sat down at the kitchen table, pulling out one of the solid wooden chairs. Propping her chin on her hand she slowly took in the situation. OK. OK. I’ve been over-working recently and my brain has got my writing all mixed up in real-time. I need to chill and untangle my mind.

“Would you care to talk about it? Hello, Piston. No sitting on the bread, please.” The new voice was definitely cut-glass and before she even looked up, Shani knew who it would be. Her eyes fixed on the place-mat, she whispered,

“Iamo. So I suppose Riga is here too?”

The male leading character of Ailsa’s series wouldn’t be present without his lover, the Black Shaman assassin.

“Yes, but you have time to get to know us all. I think you would benefit from a lie down, do you not agree?”

There it was, that speech-quirk she’d noticed in the books, where the aristocratic priest never used contractions like “don’t”.

“Yes. I think I can afford to take some time off and try to straighten my head out.” She said out loud as she rose from the chair, quietly hoping the room would be empty. It wasn’t. Riga, also in black with loads of eye make-up but shorter and broader in the face, was leaning over her partner’s shoulder fixing Shani with a troubled eye.

Two very good-looking British soldiers, one dark, one blond, were leaning in the doorway chatting to Cameron. They all waved her up the stairs, scooting Lily up to follow.

“She likes her afternoon nap too.” Cameron explained.nap Lily

***

The house was quiet when Shani took Lily out for her morning walk the next day. No characters or dead family members accompanied her but just as she breathed a sigh of relief, wondering if she had imagined it all after a long day’s travelling, she noticed an otter peering at her from the riverside. As she walked on she spotted a feral cat, a badger and a crow, taking an interest in her progress.

Well of course I’ll see things like that. This is the heart of the country. Nothing to do with Ailsa’s tales on her blog.

JackIn the cottage, there seemed to be a family meeting in progress around the kitchen table. A Native American had joined the company she had met before. The younger of the two Dagdasoldiers stood up to give her his chair while Tink pointed to the kettle which started to boil immediately. With a courteous bow, Riga explained their discussion.

“We heard from Scribe that you have a hard job to do.”

“Yes, Edits on the first draft of my next novel in the series.” Shani replied having realised that “Scribe” referred to Ailsa.

“We also need some help so we thought we might propose a solution.”The medicine-man observed in a deep musical voice.

“Jack and Rory want to get me on their own for a long heart-to-heart.”Cameron grinned, indicating the soldiers, characters from his own series of detective romance. “Now that Sis isn’t monopolising all the writing equipment we want to get on with some work.”

Shani nodded, wondering where this was going.

“And you remember what my job title is?” Tink teased, blowing sparkly smoke out in a long purple stream. “I reckon you could do with my help.”

“You’re the happy-endings fairy, but are you any good at writing fiction?” Shani realised it sounded grumpy and ungrateful.

“No but I am.” An elegant woman in a smart jacket and skirt suit swept into the room on the arm of an older man with wild white hair and glasses. “Helen Mendoza, internationally famous novelist, TV rights sold world-wide.” Her self-mocking grin robbed the words of any egotism. “I’ll be happy to give Tink a hand with your manuscript.”

“Because we, Scribe Shani, need you to help us.” Shani stuffed a fist in her mouth to stop herself giggling at the solemn way in which Iamo addressed her. “Our Scribe has been ill for a long time. Her head is not completely well so it would be a service of the most enormous value to us if you could listen to the plots of Books Three and Four, just to help her.”

“So…I act as your secretary while Tink and Helen do my edit?”

“Independent eyes.” Helen observed. “And you still have your professional editor to do the final one for you. You can also take a break, relax a bit.”

Shani wandered over to the kettle and thought for a moment. It would be fabulous material for another of her psychic investigation series, working with non-people.

“Done!” She announced, high-fiving Tink.

***

The days flew by in a mixture of listening to characters telling their stories, long walks in the country, sometimes with Riga who explained her shamanic beliefs and relaxing evenings of chat. Cameron’s boys, Jack and Rory, had a fund of funny anecdotes of their lives in the military. Shani had two phone calls on the same evening. The first was from her editor, reacting to her manuscript in glowing and enthusiastic terms. The second was Ailsa who seemed worried that Shani might be lonely.

“Oh no. I’m fine. Not lonely at all. You take your time. I’m great here.”

***

LEARN MORE

Shani Struthers 

Cameron Lawton 

Ailsa Abraham – books are all over this web page!


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