Red Hair and Gold
Ducking into a passageway, Josh flattened against the wall.
“I would have hid myself against him.” He gathered essence of Tudor
brickwork and timber framework around him like a cloak.
A figure pushed a
clanking wheelbarrow across the end. He ignored the covered alley and the
person hiding within.
Josh sagged. Phew, that was close.
Creeping to the entry,
Josh peered through the encroaching dusk, checking up and down the cobbled
street. Monsters of his imagination lurked in every shadowy alcove. With no
lights, the overhanging levels of the ancient houses changed the street at
ground-level into an inky abyss.
When he had wandered
through the York tourist hot spots earlier today, this street had stunk—if you
had a nose trained to detect the stench of evil. The street, which locals
called ‘The Shambles,’ was an old butcher’s market; its cobbles soaked in blood
for over a thousand years made it a perfect place to summon monsters.
Seeing no one, Josh
slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and drew out his torch. It clattered
against his knuckledusters.
Taking a chance, Josh
flashed the light along the cobbles to check that the City Council hadn’t
planted a bollard anywhere about here.
The light caught on a newssheet; black
Copper Thieves Target Electricity Substation!
Josh glanced up—that
explained the unlit streetlights.
A scrape behind him.
He twisted, lifting his torch. The night-stick aimed for the back of his head
instead hit his ear and neck.
The pain drove him to
his knees as he warded off a second blow
It struck his arm.
He dropped the torch
and groped for his knuckledusters.
The third wallop from
the night-stick flattened him. His nose crushed against the cold cobbles.
He clung to
consciousness as hands, under his arms, dragged him along. His assailant huffed
as he hauled Josh’s dead weight over the top of the wheelbarrow.
Retaining enough wits,
Josh stayed still—no attempt had been made to restrain him with the coils of
wire he lay across. The barrow was too small to carry his length so his toes
scuffed the ground.
The barrow weaved and
swayed through Newgate Market; Josh could see the empty stalls looming out of
They stopped briefly
and foul smelling air wafted out of an opening door. The attacker picked up the
handles and pushed Josh into the men’s toilets on Silver Street.
A low voice chanted. “Jabez
Wilson. Jabez Wilson. Jabez Wilson.”
Josh was tipped off
the barrow—he managed to roll face up and squinted around. His attacker picked
up a battery lantern and studied him.
By that light, Josh
could see another man standing over a table set with an open book, a wine
bottle, and some chocolates in scarlet wrappers.
“Your spell worked!”
the attacker said. “It’s a red-headed man!”
The muttering stopped.
The chanter set his wand on the table. “You doubted me, Ryan?”
“No! Not at all!” Ryan
stepped back holding up his hands. “I’d never doubt you, Sid.”
Sid glowered at Ryan. “Address
me as Magus!”
“Yes. Sorry. Magus.”
Ryan scuttled to replace the lantern.
The foul air in the
toilets, mingled with the earlier scent of evil, acted like smelling salts on
Josh. Through lidded-eyes he studied the rest of the set up. Copper wire
trailed over the edge of the barrow. Sid Magus had smashed a toilet, which
accounted for the worse-than-usual stench in the men’s bogs. Beside the broken
ceramic sat a drugged-out chicken in a cardboard box—no, not a chicken. It was
a cockerel. Underneath the cockerel…
Josh scrambled to his
feet. “Do you have an archbishop’s license to experiment with basilisks? Though
I have to say, substituting sewer methane for the usual volcanic hydrogen
sulphide was inspired.”
His captors stared at
him. Almost choking on the stench, Josh strode over to the broken waste pipe. “Shoo!”
The cockerel blinked
at him. Josh clapped his hands and the bird staggered to its feet. Underneath
the bird was indeed a toad’s egg. Josh produced a plastic shopping bag and a
disposable glove from his pocket.
“What’re you thinking?”
he said. “You can’t create basilisks in a built up area without a grade three
alchemy laboratory and a containment structure of a Solomon’s seal or above. As
per Defra regulations.”
struck a pose. “What are you talking about? I alone have rediscovered the
Ancient Arts of Alchemy and Magic. I
have immersed myself in the—”
“Sorry to break in on
your Evil Monologue, but as a Church Inspector of Cræft users, I’ve heard it
all before.” Josh picked up the egg with a gloved hand and placed it in the
shopping bag. Dropping the glove in after, he tied the handles. “I know people
who run correspondence courses about this stuff.”
Ryan perked up. “Really?”
“Oh yeah, plenty of
hissed, snatching his wand up from the cluttered table. He raised it above his
head in a dueler’s pose. “Causa Mortis…”
“Braccae tuae aperiuntur.” Josh dug his hand into his other trouser
Sid frowned as he
mouthed Josh’s words.
Josh belted him one on
the chin with his knuckledusters. Sid slid down a cubicle divider, dropping his
Josh smirked. “I said,
‘Your flies are undone’.”
Ryan sidled towards
the door as the wand rolled towards Josh.
Scooping it up, Josh
turned to Ryan. “Look at this! He’s not even trying. What self-respecting
Master of the Dark Arts uses a cow thigh bone for his wand?” Josh
snapped the wand over his knee and dropped the pieces to the floor.
“No!” Sid screamed. He
raised his hand. “Ignis—”
“Not in here, y’prat!”
Josh swept up the docile cockerel and sprinted for the door. Ryan took a second
to grab Sid’s book from the table and followed.
A damp blast blew them
out of the toilet door. Smoke roiled out behind them.
“Of course, magic is
dangerous.” Josh jumped to his feet. “That’s why you need Inspectors.”
The lights left on for
security in the local shops showed a convention of confused, red-haired men
milling around, as a scorched Sid crawled out of the smoke-filled toilets.
Josh snatched Sid’s
book from Ryan’s hand. It fell open at:
On turning base metal Copper into Gold.
Mix the blood of a red-haired man with ashes of a basilisk …
Red Hair and Gold is a part of Vanessa Knipe’s Witch-Finder/St. Van Helsing series. If you enjoyed this short story, please check out more of Vanessa’s work, published by BooksForABuck.com, your source for affordable electronic fiction.
A Date with Darkness*
*Tales from the Theological College of St. Van Helsing