A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Fifteen minutes to closing.
I could shut up early, but I know the old man wouldn’t be pleased. “It’s enough time for a cut,” he’d say. “Enough time to trim the sides of a baldy old geezer like me.”
“Yeah, and baldy old guys only pay three pounds,” I’d argue, and he’d point out that all those three pounds add up, and if they didn’t, we’d be out of a job.
So I hold on, twiddle the radio dial away from moody 90s rock to something less depressing, look out into the Edinburgh night…
There’s a scrabbling scraping sound, something previously masked by Thom Yorke’s wailing. I ignore it at first. Asif’s Barbers is on the ground floor of a tenement. It’s an old, old building. It’s not unusual to hear clunks and groans. We’ve got neighbours above, to the sides, below –
Like claws on wood.
Way back, before Dad got married, he’d sleep over in the tiny bedsit at the back of the shop.
He would hear all sorts after hours, strange sounds and cries coming up from the basement store, from Scott & Forceworthy’s Musical Bazaar.
Dad thought the place was haunted. He couldn’t wait to move out. He used to say he only took up with Mum because she had her own flat (and this is the point in the narrative when she usually hits him with a spoon, or whatever comes to hand, and they laugh, and he stops telling the story…)
The scraping sound comes again.
It’s like the biggest, baddest rat ever, trying to burrow its way in. I wonder if I need to do something – if it’s tearing up the bins, shedding rubbish over the street, and we’re going to get into trouble with the council again.
I move to the window, lean over the main chair and peer down into the yard.
Fierce green eyes – a flash of teeth – pointed muzzle.
My heart leaps. I can’t explain it, it’s a sudden rush of fear. Like I’d looked into the soul of something wild…
I fall back, grab the baseball bat Dad keeps in the shop ever since those lads came in and tried to rob us. I’m out the door, down the stairs and round the corner in no time but – –
It’s just a man.
That’s all I can see.
A big broad dude in his early twenties with long, lanky blond hair poking out from under a beanie hat.
“Did you see it?” I gasp. “Big animal, like a huge dog –”
“Wolf,” the dude says. “He’s gone now.” He speaks calmly, as if Giant Ferocious Dogs are a thing you see in the city all the bloody time…
“Gone? Where?” There’s nowhere it could go. There’s no way up from the basement except these slimy stone stairs.
He shrugs. “Didn’t find what he wanted.”
My eyes adjust to the dark. There are no lights on here – the music shop has been shut for ages. I notice the guy’s hands are on the door handle, like he’s been giving it a shake.
Fear turns to suspicion. “They’re closed,” I say, pointedly.
“Yes.” He nods, deadpan. “That’ll be why I couldn’t get in.” He rubs a mitted hand against the grimy windowpane. “It seems empty.”
“Pretty much,” I say, and he gives me a look, all kind of lost and sad.
I lower the baseball bat, which I realise I’m still holding above my head. “They had a big clear out, about two months back…” I remember the vans lining the walk, jamming up the traffic. “It was junk mainly, but the old lady who used to run it, she’d hoarded away all these records… jazz and blues stuff. Turns out some of them were the only copies left anywhere in the world. Worth a ton. Mad old dragon didn’t know what she was sitting on.”
The blond guy gives a half smile. “She’d have known. Isobel Ives always knew.”
“Friend of yours?”
He shakes his head. “What about her grandson?”
“Cameron? I used to see him about. His big sister too –”
“Little sister.” The dude corrects me.
“Whatever, man. She looked like she was older.”
“Yes. That was the way of it.”
“Way of what?”
“The daemon’s curse. The nature of her possession.”
I frown at him, waiting to see if he’s going to go full-out crazy on me, or grin and let on he’s making some kind of strange joke. But he does neither – just waits patiently, big green eyes boring into me, like he’s not even aware he’s said something odd.
“Any-way,” I say. “They moved on. The sister was going travelling, and Cameron… I heard he was off to Uni.”
I glance at the guy. He’s handsome, if you like pale and scruffy Viking types, I guess. “Looks like you had a wasted trip.”
He nods, but doesn’t move, like he’s at loss what to do next.
“Maybe you should give him a call?”
He stares at me, like I’ve suggested he should go on a quest for the grail or something. “No phone.”
“Bad luck. I’m always losing mine too…” I turn to head up the stairs, but he’s still not moving – just lurking by the door, like a big blond cloud of doom. “Are you gonna stand there all night? Because there’s really nobody in. Trust me. I know this street, this building. They’re gone.”
“Then that is bad.” He scritches at his chin.
I glance at my watch. An impulse grabs me. “Since you’re here… I could give you a trim?” I gesture to the Barber’s. “We do a good student discount.”
“Not a student.”
“No?” I look at his clothes, at the faded checked shirt, dark jeans and battered boots. “What are you then?”
I snort, even though the big guy still doesn’t act like he’s joking. “Yeah. King of the Hipsters, maybe.”
“What are ‘hipsters’?”
“Where are you from, exactly? How can’t you have heard of hipsters?”
He shrugs. “Being a king takes time. I’ve let things slip by me.” He looks down and goes all sad and lost again.
“Well… even without a discount, we’re pretty cheap,” I say. “If you wanted.”
“No money either.”
“Because that’s so typical of kings,” I say.
“It is, where I come from,” he replies. Again, he’s straight-faced, with no hint of crazy. “But I could barter you something… A story, perhaps?”
“A story? It’d have to be a pretty good to compete with Game of Thrones.” I’m thinking of the box set that’s waiting for me at home. Blu-ray, beer, pizza and oven chips… A perfect night in.
“I do not know of these thrones or their game,” he says. “My story is about a boy whose grandmother makes an impossible promise, to bring his father back from the dead. About a long lost sister, who lived smothered in the eight arms of a daemon. About a brave but stupid wolf cub who stole, and never wanted to go home…”
“Sounds like it’s got everything.”
“It would take a while to tell.”
I hesitate, chew the corner of my lip. “Tell you what… No word to the old man, but I’ll do you a freebie. On the house. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Maybe a clipper up the sides, then you can pull it back on top? That’d be on point for you.”
He thinks for a moment, then smiles. “Perhaps, if I’m going to be around the human world again, it would be a good thing to be ‘on point’”.
In the barber’s, the air has gone chilled. The heat’s all leached out through the open door and into the night beyond. I put the baseball bat back in the corner, and guide the big guy to the chair. I pull off his beanie hat and run my hand through his hair, examining it. It’s wild and tangled. Doesn’t look like it’s been cut professionally in years. I wonder where he’s from, really. Where does he stay? Maybe he’s homeless…
I clear my throat. “It’s mad,” I say, for want of conversation, “that was a pretty big dog out there… Don’t know where it could’ve come from. Seemed savage. You’re lucky you didn’t get bit.”
“I wouldn’t have got bitten.” His voice is full of certainty.
“He wasn’t yours, was he?”
“I don’t know,” the big guy says. “Not any more.” He lapses into another of his sad, lost silences, so instead I reach for my scissors, and turn the radio up. I get started on my work, moving methodically round his scalp, then after a while he closes his eyes and starts to tell his story…
This short story – a Parallel postscript, if you like – is set three years after the events of Werewolf Parallel and revisits a key character and location from that book and its predecessor, Daemon Parallel. If you’d like to see the real place that inspired this location, you need to go to Edinburgh, go a little way down Leith Walk, just about opposite Elm Row. There’s an old secondhand bookshop in the basement, but don’t be fooled. If you visit it in Edinburgh Parallel, it’s quite different…
As a scriptwriter, his work includes several episodes of the acclaimed audio drama series The Confessions of Dorian Gray, Dark Shadows: Panic and an adventure for Iris Wildthyme: Reloaded (all for Big Finish Productions). Recent short stories have appeared in the anthologies Fifteen, Out There, Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes and the British Fantasy Society Journal.
Roy’s next projects to be released will be The Enigma of Dorian Gray – the opening episode of ‘Confessions’ Season Four (November 2015) – and ‘Crackle’, a short story for The Myriad Carnival (Lethe Press/Glitterwolf Publications – Feb 2016)