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Holy Roller

The Dark Arts Don't Have to be Gloomy

By S. A. CrawfordPublished 2 months ago 15 min read
Created with DALL-E

It's not easy to be a Minister in the modern age, though no one believes me. You see, the world wants drama and excitement; they want ex-prisoners, reformed and born again, or glamorous TV evangelists who promise the world in return for a phone donation. Nobody wants to sit with the local Minister and drink weak tea while they arrange for a knitting group at the l care home, or help them to cook and clean for old men who can't get about anymore. Certainly no-one wants to cut their toe nails or help them change their sheets, but someone has to do it.

That's why Jem is such a... well, gem.

He hoovers and scrubs and bakes without complaint, and when the parishioners go home for the night, he swaps his comfortable corduroys for a stab vest and we go monster hunting. I know what you're thinking - you're asking yourself; how the bloody hell does monster hunting not count as dramatic? The answer is simple; when you can't tell anyone, there's no drama.

No, the Church of Scotland doesn't do drama. It does tea, scones, and heavy helpings of clotted cream with fresh jam, certainly. Or it does steak pie and bingo for the elderly.... and when no one's looking it does the odd zombie wrangle, werewolf capture, or fairy deal, but it does not do drama. Which is why the drone was a surprise; blasted things are more common than birds, now, and they can carry anything from a small piece of jewellery to a full keg of beer (believe it or not). In this case, it came carrying a whopping great mystery. A perfectly lovely box, a miniature chest, really, made of Acacia wood with iron banding and inlaid silver. Old, finely made, and probably worth more than the rest of the furnishings in the room altogether, it smelled faintly of spices and held a single note, written in Latin in a curling script I could only consider pretentious if being very charitable. It looked rather like someone was trying to mimic medieval lettering.

Poorly. It read,

"There is a rogue vampire in your parish."

Well, the vampire part was no surprise, not really, Bothwell had been living in the area for hundreds of years. Nice man, slightly immoral tastes, but the local crime rates had dropped since he signed the Child and Animal Protection Accord (1979) with my predecessor.

"So it's not him?" Gem asked and furrowed his thick unruly brows,

"Well, no, it can't be. Unless he's run out of..." I searched for a more appropriate word than 'nonce', "bad people."

"So, there's another? Not one of his?" Gem looked worried, as he should,

"If we believe this," I waved the note, "but it's not our business, anyway. We take it to him and he handles it. Those are the terms of the agreement."

"I hate the Estate," he grumbled,

"Yes, well, I'm not a fan of jam-covered children who lick the bibles when their parents aren't looking, but we do what we must in service to the Lord," I said, and while it was highly unchristian of me the disgust on his face was worth the guilt.

You could be forgiven for expecting a vampire lord, once chief, then laird, then Earl of the land we live on to live in a grand house in the centre of sprawling grounds. The truth is that the Estate is a private housing area aimed at low-income families, and while Bothwell owns it via a shell company, he lives in a small, one-bedroom flat in its heart. Playing the poor man seems safe; everyone expects an elder vampire to wear Armani and silk. No one ever suspects the slightly disheveled middle-aged man in a Lacoste tracksuit. Especially not when he smokes roll-ups.

Hubert Bothwell, or Shug as his neighbours call him, was never one to play the cards expected of him. So when he opened the door and waved us in before the tenement door shut, I couldn't feign surprise,

"Come in, come in," he grunted and wandered into the spartan living room to sink into a worn leather armchair, "what do you want, April?"

"I'm surprised you don't know already," I said and plopped into an overstuffed couch that looked like a pile of dust, but smelled surprisingly fresh, "it's about this." I handed over the note and looked around as he read it,

"Latin?" He grunted, "someone's trying too hard."

"Yes, that's what I thought, it came in a lovely Acacia wood box, too," I said and pulled a thermos of tea from the sagging tote bag that was starting to feel like a part of my anatomy,

"The wood of Christ's cross," he said, "nice touch." And with that he handed the note back, "well, it's not one of mine."

"I imagined as such," I said and gulped the lukewarm tea, "but you know, it never hurts to check. Anyway, this is your business and I shan't interfere. Lovely to see you."


"Do remember the church bake sale is this weekend," I added as we stood, Jem shuffling from foot to foot, "don't fidget, Jem, dear. We're holding it at the rugby club so there's no reason to avoid it. Lovely woman coming this year, she makes cosies for easter eggs out of dog wool."

"Dog wool. Saints preserve us," he said and started to roll a skinny, lopsided cigarette, "right, I'll see you there. Make sure the Assembly puts some money into the food banks, eh, people round here are ready to eat their pets."

"I'll open up the community cafe early," I said, "tell them they can pop in with their kids for a hot meal starting Saturday. Pay what you can and all that." He nodded and waved me away like a bothersome fly... which I imagine I could be. Jem hurried through the door without his usual song and dance about holding it open, and only as we passed through the main tenement door did he let out his breath,

"They're surprisingly clean," he said,

"Vampires? Yes," I said; it had shocked me too, "I suppose when you can smell every drop of blood in a mile radius, you can smell everything else too. Must be quite inconvenient if the dog next door shits the carpet." Vulgar? Certainly, but it must have made the point; Jem gave a small chuckle.

Aside from the excitement of ushering a ghoul back into her grave, the next week had nothing to define it. The community cafe took off with roaring success, the Acacia wood box filled with sweets for the children in the Sunday School, and Bothwell, true to his word, wandered the perimeter of the bake sale before leaving a sizable donation, anonymously of course, in the church box. Funny how the people you least expect to help are the ones who really care; the lavender ladies, for all their kind plump faces, tutted and clucked and haggled over the price of second-hand books being sold to feed the needy. Almost enough to make one second guess their profession.

Then a body appeared, or rather was left, in the park, ripped apart as if savaged by a great beast... and a second drone arrived. This time it came with a small silver phial of holy water, a liberty if you as me, given my profession, and a glove of garlic,

"Oh dear, how guache," I muttered and popped a chocolate ginger into my mouth before leaning to hammer on the wall, "Jem, son, there's another note. Poor Latin again, I'm afraid." The hoover fell silent,

"What does it say?" He asked, voice muffled by the wall,

"Uhhh... 'there will be more victims'- oh dear," I sighed, "you'd think they'd just knock on the door, wouldn't you. I bet its one of those new age types, sacrificing make-up and cheap wine to the Old Gods and all that." I placed the note down as he lumbered into the room and offered him a sweet. "If they wanted to meet them, they could start by being more interesting."

"Really?" Jem asked with a quizzical look,

"Oh yes, I've met the Dagda - nice chap. Bit merry for my liking. He lives north of Fort William," I said and reached for the miniature kettle on the desk. "Tea?"

"Thank you," he said and accepted the mug with a small smile, "so... have you met... Him?"

"God?" I asked and he nodded, "goodness no. It's... we'll, he's busy. They're all connected, you know, it's all true. All of it, funny how no one really wants to hear that." The old chair creaked as I leaned back. "Some of them like to live, others prefer to stay in their lane. A lot like people, eh? Well, I'm afraid we have to do something about this."

"But, Bothwell-"

"No, not that," I tapped the note, "this. We need to find out what they know and pass the information along. All that. Be a dear and find out what company the drone came from... get Sandra to trace it, yes?"

"Uh, yes, of course," he said and shuffled out, leaving me with the silence, the box, and the two notes. It was a good Samaritan, of course, or someone who thought of themselves as such. Perhaps an older person with strong religious beliefs, or a youngster a little too interested in the occult, based on the poor use of Latin. But what did they want? If they knew where it was, the rogue, why not simply say? A juicy little mystery, for sure.

A juicy little mystery that led to a rather fancy high rise, all the way to the penthouse... but not to its owner. Rather to the Au Pair; a pretty, soft-faced girl with a thick Baltic accent and plenty of crystal jewellery. Oh yes, I thought, exactly who I expected,

"Did you send this to me?" I presented the box with the first question and her face creased,

"No, why would I?" She asked, and left us stumped,

"Well, a drone brought it with a little note. And the records say it came from here, was it not you?" I asked, and as I did the door opened and a well-t0-do family walked in. A lanky teenaged boy wearing thick eyeliner stared as if he had been slapped, "ah, I see. Thank you."

"Hello," the woman, presumably the mother though her botox was impeccable enough to make that a tentative guess, "can we help you?"

"Yes, I'm here about the performing arts program." Lying off the cuff may not be a virtue, but it is useful; the boy hurried forward,

"Thank you," he said desperately, "come on, I'll show you my portfolio." And with that, he ushered us into his cave of a room. If his parents objected, we didn't have time to hear; Jem apologized quickly as he closed the door. "How did you find me?" He hissed as I looked around at the room; a bookshelf full of herbology and crystal cures and arcana. None of it accurate, of course, apart from one very interesting little tome,

"You didn't cover your tracks very well," Jem said and lowered himself onto a chair covered with clothes, "I'll never complain about the Estate again."

"What?" The boy frowned,

"Oh, nothing," I waved my hands to draw his eye, "so, we got your pretty little box and the garlic. Now. I've had a word with some people, and we don't seem to be able to find this rogue vampire, so why don't you tell us what you know so we can pass it up the chain?"

"The chain?" The boy asked with a look of total confusion. "You're not... you believe me?"

"Yes, yes," I said, "now. Rogue vampire?"

The boy plopped down onto the edge of his bed and drew in a deep breath, rubbing thin hands over his pale face before he reached under his bed to produce an impressive file filled with post-its and handed it over,

"I... it's... that's chocolate," he said sheepishly as we flicked through the contents. Despite its confection-laced state, the file was comprehensive. He even had a picture, and that was a hair-raising moment. Jem hissed through his teeth,

"Well, the good news first," I said, "that's not a vampire and it's no longer your problem. Thank you, dear."

"Josh," he said, "my name is Josh. Wait... what's the bad news?"

"Well, I'm afraid that's a rather old creature called a Baobhansith - Ba, van, Shee, you understand?"

"A banshee?" He leaned forward,

"No, dear, keep up, a Baobhansith, now, Banshee are Irish, this is Scottish and it is related to vampires, but loosely. Think apes and humans," I waved my hands, "nasty creatures. Like to disembowel men."

"And... that's bad news for me?"

"Yes, you see," I showed him the picture, "it's looking at the camera. At you. So you need to be a dear and stay inside until I send you a little letter saying it's all safe, yes?" I chirped; the chirpy tone grates, but it also rushes. It stops most people from asking too much, unless they're robust, and poor Josh didn't seem to be. He simply gaped as we left, "I'll speak to you soon!"

Jem had to rush to keep up, which was undoubtedly a shock for him. He lengthened his legs and took quick, loping strides,

"April, what's - wait, what do we do?" He gasped,

"We call Bothwell and have him come with us to the Hollow outside Aberfoyle," I replied as we piled into the rickety Kia, "and we get him to tell Queen Meb to catch her errant child before she works her way through every ill-mannered man in the area."

"So, most of them?" He joked, but his face paled when I turned to look at him,

"Precisely, dear, precisely."

We tore into the Estate without ceremony and left the car parked at an angle. This time, it seemed, Bothwells lookouts didn't have time to reach him because he was surprised. Holding the dirty file like a diseased carcass, he backed away to let us push into the flat and locked the door behind us,

"Not a vampire," I said and dug deeper into the tote for a small, silver hipflask, chugging the whisky with watering eyes, "well, sort of, but not really." Bothwell regarded us coolly, then looked down at the mud we had tracked in, "oh for Goodness sakes', it'll wash. Read it! Now!" He rolled his grey eyes and plopped into his chair, flicked through the file without interest, and then raised the photo,

"Ah," he said as if he'd found something unpleasant under his bed, "right. Wait here." With that he disappeared into his bedroom, and when he returned he was wearing simple black trousers and an impeccably tailored shirt, "come on, priest," he said, "let me do the talking."

"Minister, Shug, Church of Scotland has Ministers." I replied, but the words were swallowed by silence as we filed out of the house to a nearby lock-up. The car was sleek and perfectly kept; when he turned the key the only change was the plethora of lights that blinked on the dashboard. It whispered through the dark streets toward the edge of the city and whizzed out into the darkness beyond. Thank God for the darkness of Scottish winters.

The Hollow outside Aberfoyle is surrounded by mysteries and myths. If only the hoards of tourists claiming to be related to the late Reverend Robert knew how true they were, they would run screaming. Even Bothwell doesn't like to come here; the sìth are the oldest inhabitants of this land. They pre-date the Picts and their kin, perhaps the first settlements of man. And Queen Meb was the oldest of all; neither the benevolent fairy godmother nor the wicked witch, she is ephemeral. What she really cares about is manners.

That's why we were allowed into her root-wreathed court in the first place. Warm and spacious, it fitted into a space no bigger than that of a small boat under the mound; even space is different where the sìth are concerned.

Bothwell presented his gift, a beautiful gold mirror, inlaid with pearl, and said nothing. Simply presented the picture to her along with the file. Stately and gracious, she took the file first, and then the gift, and tilted her elegant head before she peeled back her strawberry red lips to reveal perfectly white, pointed teeth,

"I see," she said, "and you wish me to bring her home?"

"I am merely informing your highness of a lost subject," Bothwell replied, walking the line between a statement and a request with acrobatic grace, "so that you may decide whether she represents a... possible source of information to prying humans." It was a clever answer, and Meb seemed to appreciate it. She leaned back and looked at her face in the mirror,

"Hmm," she sighed, "I can see how it might become an issue. I should thank you for your thoughtfulness?" It sounded innocous, but it was a question. Jem started to speak, but a swift elbow to his ribs silenced him.

"We ask for nothing," Bothwell spread his hands, and I could almost detect a hint of fear in his voice, "we only wished to show respect and courtesy by providing information in the unlikely case that your highness was not aware." Masterful. I made a note myself to send him a new chair for Christmas. For countless moments, Meb stared and then, wonderfully, she laughed,

"Clever boy," she said and waved her hand, "be gone. I tire of you." Bothwell turned on his heel and strode out, only when we were in the car did Jem speak,

"Does that mean she'll fix it?" He asked, and Bothwell nodded,

"Pray to your God," he said, "because I won't be asking her for a favour."


About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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  • Chris Heller2 months ago

    It's a wonderful, fantastical story with just enough mundane elements to keep it light-hearted and funny! I love it, and I learned a bit more about Scottish folklore as well. I have a few critiques: 1. There are at least six or more spelling and grammar mistakes throughout. 2. Sentence flow is awkward at points, forcing me to re-read sections in order to figure out who is talking or what is actually occurring. 3. The narrative arc feels a bit weak. I mostly kept reading for the funny, mundane elements of the story, but there were no big hooks for me as a reader. And the most dramatic part of the story - the finding of a body in the park after the bake sale - was completely glossed over, like it wasn't a big deal. And the other serious scene, where the trio meet with Queen Meb, also felt weak in terms of tension. Like, it should feel like the trio are doing this as an absolute last resort, considering how dangerous the Fae are. In my mind, the best version of this story strikes a balance between the funny and the tense moments. I would love to read more about these characters and this world. I sincerely hope you do more with this in the future!

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