Authors: Gayle Ramage
Tags: #Fantasy, #urban fantasy, #supernatural
THE TROUBLE WITH PIXIES
Edinburgh Elementals #1
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Gayle Ramage
All Rights Reserved.
THE TROUBLE WITH PIXIES
Michael paused at the bottom of the staircase, one hand gripped on the mahogany banister as he looked upwards. Having carried several boxes up to his new bedroom, he was now ready to relax. But he’d heard something, like the low murmuring of nearby voices. He stood still and listened for the sound again, but all was silent. The house was old, built in the Georgian era, according to the estate agent. Maybe it had just been the natural groan of an ageing building. Putting it from his mind, he headed to the kitchen and poured himself a drink. The last of the boxes sat on the kitchen table, waiting to be unpacked, but Michael could deal with them in the morning. What he needed was to relax while he had the house to himself.
Michael had just sat down on the black leather sofa when there came a sharp rap at the front door. With a heavy sigh, he put his drink down on the coffee table and went to answer it. Pulling the door open, he was met with a black and white woolly hat; a large white bobble inches from his face. Its wearer was peering down into a multi-coloured rucksack.
‘Hi, Elsa. Sorry I’m a couple of months late,’ said the hat. ‘I should have rang to say I was coming back this evening. Thought I’d come and see how you were doing.’ When Michael didn’t answer, the hat moved upwards to reveal its wearer. A smattering of freckles lay across the bridge of the young woman’s nose, and a couple of strands of red hair appeared to have escaped the clutches of the hat, framing her pale face. From the glaring light in the hallway, Michael noticed her different-coloured eyes. One was violet, the other green. ‘You’re not Elsa,’ she said, a hint of suspicion in her voice. She peered over his shoulder as if expecting to find someone else in the hallway. ‘Where is she?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t know anyone called Elsa,’ Michael explained. ‘You don’t mean the lady who used to live here, do you? I never found out her first name.’
to live here?’
‘Yes. She passed away three months ago.’
The woman reached out and gripped his arm, those strange eyes wide with alarm. ‘O gods,’ she gasped. ‘How did she die? Please, it’s very important.’
‘I - I was told it was natural causes. Died in her sleep. Peacefully.’
‘Well, that’s something, I suppose.’ The woman sighed heavily, letting go of Michael.
‘I feel awful for having to tell you about your friend,’ said Michael. ‘Do you want to come in? I was just having a quiet drink. You’re more than welcome to join me.’
The woman studied him for a moment, and then nodded. ‘That would be lovely. Thank you.’ She slung the rucksack over her shoulder and bent down, picking up a similar bag lying by her feet. In fact, the woman appeared to have several bags beside her. Ever the gentleman, Michael helped her carry them into the house before showing her through to the living room. He popped to the kitchen to retrieve another wine glass only to return to find the woman standing by the unlit fireplace and sipping his drink.
‘Looks totally different,’ she said, glancing about the room.
‘It was pretty bare when we moved in,’ explained Michael. ‘Just an armchair and an old table lamp. I think Elsa’s family maybe took the rest of the furniture, or sold them.’
‘They would have sold Elsa herself if they’d got a good price for her.’
‘Ah,’ said Michael, pouring himself some more wine. ‘I see.’
‘She always used to say she was sure she’d brought the wrong babies home from the hospital.’
‘Sounds like quite a woman.’
‘Yes, she was,’ the woman said softly. She took another sip which seemed to perk her up. ‘Anyway, a strange woman shows up on your doorstep, drinks your wine, and doesn’t even have the manners to introduce herself?’ She smiled and moved towards him, extending her free hand. ‘I’m Hattie.’ Her handshake was warm but firm.
‘Nice to meet you. I’m Michael.’
Introductions made, Hattie took a comfortable step back and smiled again. ‘So, is it just yourself here or is your family about to jump out and say “boo”?’
‘I’ve got three kids. They’ve gone out exploring,’ Michael replied. ‘I was a bit wary of letting them go out on their own, especially being in a new city, but Tom - that’s my eldest - is mature enough to look after the other two. And I admit it’s nice to get a bit of peace and quiet after such a hectic day.’
‘Have you managed to explore the house, yet?’ Hattie asked. ‘These old buildings are surprisingly big.’
Michael shook his head. ‘I think I’ll leave that for tomorrow. I’m too tired to do much at the moment. In fact, I think I might have an early night once the kids get back.’
‘Is that a hint that you want me to go?’ Hattie asked.
‘Oh, goodness, no.’
Hattie put her empty glass down on the table, and smiled. ‘Don’t worry. I’m quite tired myself. It’ll be nice to sleep in my own bed again. Thanks for the drink.’
‘Any time,’ Michael replied, and led her back through to the hallway. ‘Yes, nothing beats your own bed. Did you stay in hotels while you were away?’
‘Hotels? I wish,’ Hattie replied. Offering no further explanation, she began picking up her bags again.
‘Let me help you with these,’ said Michael, lifting a paisley-patterned carpet bag that smelt of lavender and iron.
‘Thanks.’ Hattie managed to open the front door with a free hand. ‘I live just across the road, so it’s not far.’ She disappeared into the balmy night as Michael took hold of a small leather suitcase. Three bags remained but he’d nip back for them in a second.
The air was stale, and there was an abandoned coldness about Hattie’s home that made Michael shiver almost as soon as he’d followed her into the house opposite. He left the bags in the hallway as Hattie tried the light switch.
‘The meter must be out of juice,’ she explained as they remained in darkness. There was an unconcerned tone to her words. ‘I’ll sort it out tomorrow.’
‘Will you be alright without any power?’
Hattie retrieved the pile of mail that had accumulated during her absence. ‘Oh, I’m used to it,’ she said with a shrug. ‘Besides, I have an embarrassing amount of candles. I’ll be fine. Thank you for help. Really appreciate it.’
Michael told her there were still a few bags at his place, and went to get them. Once he returned to her house with them, he set the bags down with a groan. ‘My god, what have you got in these?’ He felt a twinge in his back as he straightened up.
‘Oh just the usual,’ Hattie replied breezily. ‘Thank you again, Michael.’
‘No problem. If you need anything, you know where I am.’ He smiled at her and turned to leave.
‘Oh, have you been told about the attic?’ Hattie called out, behind him.
He looked back at her. ‘Attic? What about the attic?’
‘Michael, has anyone been in the attic?’ she asked in a controlled voice.
‘Just my son Ben.’ Michael barely had time to acknowledge the alarmed look on Hattie’s face before she’d ran past him, leaving her door wide open. Ever the cautious person, Michael closed it before quickly following her.
By the time he entered his house again, Hattie was nowhere to be seen, but the heavy sound of footsteps thundering up the stairs alerted him to where she was. He went after her, and found Hattie by the door to the attic. She had both hands on the door knob, making sure the room stayed closed.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked, utterly bewildered.
‘Some idiot opened this door, that’s what’s going on,’ Hattie hissed, glaring at him.
‘My son is not an idiot. He didn’t find anything strange in there, or else he would have said. In fact, he wants it to be his bedroom eventually.’
Hattie looked at him in disbelief. ‘And you don’t mind your son sharing a room with -’ She suddenly lunged forward, grabbing his arm.
‘Sharing a room with what? What are you doing, woman?’ Michael tried to keep his cool, despite the increasingly bizarre turn of events.
Hattie ignored his questions. She took his hands and placed them on the door handle, warning him to keep the door closed no matter what. Then she hurried down the stairs again.
‘Where are you going now?’ Michael yelled.
‘Back in a second,’ she called back.
‘Hattie!’ No answer. Still with his hands wrapped around the handle, Michael stared at the door, noticing parts of the red paint had peeled away. He made a mental note to add it to his To-Do list, and wondered just what was so terrible about the attic. After investigating the room, Ben had only remarked that he thought it was cool and wanted it to be his bedroom. Nothing that would have caused Michael concern.
Eventually, Hattie reappeared at the top of the stairs. Michael was ready to demand she tell him what the hell was going on, but a look at the thing in her hands shut him up. At first he thought it was a gun, but as Hattie drew nearer he realised it wasn’t like any gun he’d ever seen. There were several buttons on both sides of barrel, for a start.
‘Okay,’ she said, heavily. ‘You can let go, now.’
‘Not until you tell me what the hell is going on, and what that thing is,’ said Michael firmly. ‘I mean it. This is ridiculous.’
‘You won’t believe me.’
‘I’ll be the judge of that.’
The stand-off continued. Hattie glared at Michael, and Michael glared right back. Finally, Hattie’s shoulders sagged.
‘Elsa had a spot of trouble with… with some
she explained. ‘She called me and I managed to contain them in the attic and locked the door. I told her not to open it until I got back. But, of course, she went and died.’
‘Why didn’t she call the police? Why get you?’
‘The police?’ Hattie laughed. ‘If only it was that simple. No, this needed a …
Michael frowned. Specialist? What did she mean? He wondered if she worked for MI5 and even asked if she was a spy.
At first she couldn’t reply for laughing. Eventually, she composed herself and shook her head. ‘I’m no spy.’
Feeling a little embarrassed, and more than a little annoyed, Michael barked: ‘Just bloody tell me, then!’
‘They’re pixies!’ she answered, her voice raised.
Silence followed as Michael tried to comprehend what she’d said. Then he laughed. ‘Pixies? What?’
She shot him a scathing look. ‘Yes, pixies. And if you’d ever had run-ins with them before, you would not be mocking me.’
‘I’m sorry but… pixies?’
‘Yes, yes. Pixies. That’s what I said,’ Hattie answered irritably.
‘So you’ve locked pixies in my attic,’ said Michael, looking for confirmation of the absurd. Despite his disbelief, he still held that door handle.
Hattie pulled off her hat, hung it over the banister and ran a hand through her mane of curly red hair. ‘Please stand aside,’ she said again, in a softer tone this time. She pressed one of the buttons on the weapon. The thing made a sound as though it was charging up.
Michael weighed up his options. He could frogmarch this strange woman downstairs, out the house and out of his life. But something made him move away from the door and do as she asked. He was curious, more than anything, to find out what she would do when faced with a normal, empty room.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to open this door. Whatever you do, do not come in after me. You can stay by the door, just in case I need your help. Alright?’
She nodded once and stepped forward. A hand reached out for the door handle, the other grasped the weapon tightly. ‘One.. Two…,’ she whispered, ‘THREE!’ On the third count, she threw open the door and stalked inside.