The Child of Time is a small collection of ghost and paranormal stories and is being released on Friday 17 December. There are fourteen brand new stories and three bonus stories, from earlier anthologies. If you like to read stories that explore other dimensions, pick up a copy.
It’s free if you subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited or you can buy the ebook for £1.99/$2.99 or it’s £5/$6.64 for the paperback.
The following story is one of the bonus story in The Child of Time. It was first published in the anthology, The Mermaid.
I could smell food cooking close by. My stomach responded to the aroma. After days of just water and stale biscuits, I longed for something tasty. Automatically, I walked faster. As I turned the corner, I saw an old man sitting by a fire roasting some meat; probably rabbit. He was big and bald and although his back was slightly bent, he didn’t look to be past his strength. Nervously, I walked towards him, wondering if he’d be friendly. I certainly didn’t want any trouble. He heard my footsteps and turned towards me.
‘Don’t suppose you’ve enough to share?’ I called, stopping where I was. I didn’t want to look as if I’d grab his food and run.
He looked me up and down and then smiled. ‘There’s plenty of food, if you’re on your own. Come and join me.’
I dumped my bag by the fire and sat on my black cloak. Brushing my long dark hair away from my face I let the flames warm me. It was the most wonderful feeling. Soon, the meal was ready. I cannot describe how delicious the food was. I wiped the juices away from my chin, with my hand and picked up the mug of strong black tea. It was not to my taste but I didn’t want to offend my host.
‘So, why is a pretty young thing like you wandering around here, on your own, at this time of night,’ he asked.
‘I’m Topaz. I live in Bycross Mill, in the valley beyond and I’m travelling to see my grandmother. She lives in Wootten Stanley. Somehow, I seem to have taken a wrong turn and I don’t recognise the landscape. I don’t suppose you have a map.’
He took out a small map, made from a lined backed material and placed it on the ground before me. He pointed first to Bycross Mill and then to Wootten Stanley. Then, he showed me where we were. Past Wootten Stanley
‘You’re miles out of your way. It would be dangerous to travel tonight. You’d better stay here, by the fire, until the morning.’
‘So, why are you here?’ I asked.
He looked at me closely. ‘You’re looking tired,’ he said. ‘Lay down by the fire and I’ll tell you who I am.’
He looked a kind man and he’d just fed me and offered me a place to rest for the night, so I spread out my cloak and lay down. He didn’t move. The fire lent its rosy glow and I felt safe.
‘My name is Volt Hunter. I’m hunter by name and by profession. I hunt witches and deliver them to the authorities.’
Fear spread through me and chilled my bones. I sat up slowly and schooled my voice to be calm.
‘So, you believe in witches, do you? I don’t. Are you telling me you’ve actually met a real witch?’
‘Who knows?’ he smiled. ‘I get paid for delivering them to the authorities and that’s the end of my job. Do you know there’s a witch on the run from Wootten Stanley at the moment? Let me show you her poster.’
He leaned over and passed me the poster. There in front of me was a drawing of my likeness. I handed it back to him.
‘Poor woman. She’ll die a most excruciating death. I’m glad you know I’m not a witch.’
‘Now, how do I know that, Topaz?’
‘Well, it’s obvious. I approached you for food. A witch wouldn’t need to do that. A witch, if such beings exist, would be able to catch their own food; light their own fire. That’s what they do, isn’t it?’
He smiled. ‘I think you’re missing the point, dear girl. I just have to deliver someone who looks like the poster and I get paid. You’ll do, whether or not you’re a witch.’
‘So, what happens now? Do you tie me up and haul me back to the village in the middle of the night?’
‘No, Topaz. You lie down again and you’ll sleep. Your tea was drugged. You can be comfortable tonight. Tomorrow when we’re both rested, I’ll take you to the village. It can be as easy or as hard as you like.’
‘Don’t you care what they’ll do to me? And what about my grandmother? How can you condemn me to a death by drowning or by fire? Doesn’t it prey on your conscience? Do you have no concept of good and evil?’
‘Lie down NOW, Topaz. I have to eat just like the next man. I’ve never killed any woman, witch or otherwise. If you really want to know what I think, I’ll tell you.’
I lay back down on my cloak.
‘Yes, I really want to know.’
‘Obviously, there’s no such thing as witches. These poor creatures have just annoyed someone powerful, but that’s their problem, not mine. I don’t commit the murder. It’s not my responsibility. In your case, I think it’s a terrible waste to kill someone so beautiful and young, but that’s mankind for you. Now go to sleep.’
He got out a rug and lay down on the other side of the fire. Soon his snores could be heard rattling into the night. I sat up slowly and then stood up, quietly lifting my cloak from the ground. I wrapped it round myself. How lucky I had poured the tea into the ground behind me. It had smelt foul. I looked over at Volt Hunter and silently swore he would never cause another woman to die a terrifying death.
In the morning, a tiny mouse woke up on the rug by the dying fire. I was walking in the fresh sunshine, listening to the birds. I laughed at the thought of how many predators there are for mice. He would be hunted every day of his life, be it a short one or a long one.