Broken Journey (short story)

Pocket watch

Warlock #1

Owen kicked his feet up onto the seat opposite him. He knew it was against the rules but his trainers were clean, so it didn’t really matter. The businesswoman at the table across the aisle made a guttural sound of disapproval.

He was on the high-speed rail link out of London, hurtling towards his new boarding school, his new life.

Near the end of the summer holiday, his parents had stopped arguing as much. At first, he thought it was a good sign. Clearly the fact that they shouted less meant that they were happier.

Owen was partly right. They were happier because they had finally found something to agree on. Their divorce would go through during his first term. That was a blessing for them and a curse for him. They had tried persuading Owen that it meant he would have twice as many visits on weekends, but he doubted that very much.

Something a few rows down the train distracted him from his thoughts before they grew any darker. A man in a brown corduroy suit had taken out an expensive-looking pocket watch, the kind people wore in old pictures, and was checking it’s bright face.

The man made an impatient noise and looked up at his travelling companions. One was in a black suit with white pinstripes and a matching waistcoat, sitting in the seat opposite. The other looked like a homeless person. His hair was long and matted, he had a scraggly grey beard and his clothes were all old and stained.

They could not have appeared more different. Owen thought they looked like a professor, a businessman and a tramp. But it was obvious that they were travelling together from the glances the executive and homeless man kept shooting at each other and the third man. The care they took not to seem associated with each other was a dead giveaway.

With a deft movement, the businessman reached out a long arm for the pocket watch, shaking his head as he did so. The academic carefully slid it onto the table and set his face in a pleasant, entreating expression.

“Come on now, it’s only a watch. There’s nothing dangerous about it.”

The homeless man shifted his gaze to the engraved surface of the watch’s lid and pursed his lips. Owen began to wonder whether they were undercover police officers. They might have just arrested the man in brown corduroy and be taking him to the local police station. He might even be an escaped prisoner.

Hands shaking with excitement, Owen stood and walked towards the toilets at the other end of the carriage. He hoped to get a better look at the three men on the way, although his bladder was full as well.

He had only walked a few paces before the professor raised his head and looked directly into Owen’s eyes. They were bright, piercing amber eyes which seemed to be reading Owen’s face, looking into his mind with fierce curiosity. Then there was a flash of something darker, a warning.

Owen stepped backwards instinctively and the businessman twisted around in his seat. His eyebrows arched and his mouth fell open when he saw Owen’s face, his gaze still locked with the professor’s.

“Time’s up.” The man in brown corduroy said.

He snapped the pocket watch closed. In an instant his two companions had leaped to their feet, the businessman still turning back from looking at Owen. Something moved outside the windows of the carriage, swirling jets of cloud tearing through the air towards them.

They hit the train with the force of a wrecking ball, tearing a strip of the roof away directly above the row of seats on which the three men had sat. The walls peeled away to either side of them and the glass in the windows shattered.

Owen thought he saw two more men standing on the roof of the train through the torn roof. Jets of smoke shot out of their hands like trails behind a bullet and cracked into the chests of the homeless man and pinstriped man. Both men crumpled back into their seats.

When he looked back up, the two men on the roof had disappeared along with the man in brown corduroy. A silver pocket watch spun on the table as the wind caught its side. Owen snatched it up before it fell out through the open wall.

The train slowly shuddered to a stop and the businesswoman stopped screaming. He had not even heard her begin.

PART 2

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Warlock #13

Warlock #13

Pocket watch

The note was dropped on Owen’s desk by the Spanish teacher at the end of his final lesson of the day, just as the bell rang out through the school. It was written on thick paper with sharp, neat edges. The words had been written in dark blue ink, likely with a fountain pen, and they seemed to dance across the page.

It took Owen a moment to decipher what it said. When he had finally read and re-read it, he realised with terror that he had been invited to go see his school housemaster. He doubted that it was an invitation he could refuse.

Owen had never met his housemaster, but the man had a fearsome reputation around school. Common room gossip held that he had a doctorate in ancient history and travelled to warzones in the Middle East or Latin America to carry out archaeological digs. Someone even said that he had been attacked by a Mexican cartel, killing four gunmen in self-defence at the site of an old Aztec temple.

He threw everything on his desk into his battered backpack and dashed out of the door. The note hadn’t specified a time for the meeting, but Owen had no desire to be late and end up skewered on the end of an antique sabre.

Panting for air and drenched in sweat, Owen reached the office on the top floor of the classics building. A muffled command sounded from inside.

“Come in.”

Owen pushed the door open and saw a tall, thin man sitting behind an ornate mahogany desk, his hands clasped together on its surface. It was the professor from the train, the one who had killed two men in front of Owen’s eyes.

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Warlock #12

Pocket watch

The day that Owen had been dreading for weeks was finally here. It was a month since Maggy and Mrs Oakwood pulled him out of the mental hospital. In that time his parents had called every weekend, but never visited.

Now it was “Family Weekend”, a boarding school tradition in which parents would come and take their children into town for a meal or a film. Most of Owen’s classmates’ parents did so every other weekend anyway, but not his.

He did not know how they would react to seeing him. Nobody had told him whether they knew about his pocket watch, about magic. These and a hundred other worries clung to Owen like a dense cloud as he stood in his school blazer, suit trousers, shirt and house tie on the school’s front steps.

Tyres grated up the gravel drive, fathers waved and mothers rushed to hug their embarrassed children. It was like a constantly moving conveyor belt carrying happy families off into town and returning towards the red chimneys of the school with sleepy, well-fed and happy passengers.

After three hours standing on the steps, watching each car come up the drive and feeling a sinking in his gut when he realised it was not his parents, Owen admitted to himself that they were not coming. Once he had crossed that mental bridge, he understood that they had never said they would come.

It was something he had kept telling himself until he believed it. They were coming, they were coming for Family Weekend. Except they were not, and he had put on clean shoes, suit trousers and a freshly ironed shirt for nothing.

The latest installments of Wilson’s War, Killer in the Shadows and Worldkiller.

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Warlock #11

Pocket watch

“Maev.” Owen whispered. “Is Silvia you mother?”

They were sitting in the back seat of Mr Oakwood’s car, travelling down the motorway towards school. Maev’s father was driving and Mrs Oakwood sat in the passenger seat. They had not spoken a word to each other apart from a terse greeting at the pub.

“Yeah, she is.” Maev replied.

“Are your parents divorced?”

“No, just separated. Mum works in London.”

Owen began to think about his own parents. They were currently in the process of getting a divorce. He thought that his own situation was better. At least his parents seemed to finally be getting along with each other, while Maev’s could not seem to make eye contact without glaring.

“So, what do you know about magic?” Owen asked.

Thinking about his parents was making his eyes sting, not crying but merely the distant threat of tears. He wanted to talk about something else to distract his mind. But as soon as he mentioned magic, a strange look came over Maev’s face. She looked skeptical, pursing her lips on one side of her face. It made her already mousy features look even more rodent-like.

“Dad told me a few things after the police left the shop. He said all kinds of things about powerful objects and people who can use them. He said magic is wonderful, a gift. I don’t know though, how can it be real?”

For a brief moment, Mrs Oakwood’s sharp face turned to throw them a severe look over the back of her seat. Owen dropped his voice to a barely audible hiss.

“Your mum said magic is dangerous… And what about my pocket watch? You saw what it did in the shop.”

“I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

An ominous, cold silence fell over the occupants of the car as the red brick chimneys of the school loomed above the treeline in the distance.

PART 12

Check out my new short story series Killer in the Shadows. Part 1 here and part 2 here.

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Warlock #10

Pocket watch

They had stopped for lunch at a quiet pub in a sleepy village somewhere out in the countryside, Owen was not sure exactly where. He was sandwiched on a hard wooden bench between Maggy’s plump arm and a grimy window. Opposite him was Silvia Oakwood, her mouth a thin line and her features sharp as a knife.

“How do you know each other?” Owen asked.

He had no real interest in the answer, but felt he had to somehow lift the heavy silence which had fallen over them. The atmosphere inside the pub did not help. It was poorly lit, had black and white photographs of old people plastering every wall and the only sound was the barman’s cloth brushing over the counter top.

“We’re members of the same organisation.” Maggy replied.

He looked at the stern, hawklike woman sitting opposite him and wondered what interests she could possibly have in common with the kindly, overweight case-worker.

“I’m a civil servant, working at the Home Office.”

“Would you like to know what our organisation does, dear?”

Owen still was not sure that he understood how they had met. From what little he knew, he could imagine that social services and civil service might overlap somehow, but only to a limited extent.

“Yes please.”

But the explanation was delayed by the arrival of their lunch. With a clatter of cutlery, the barman set down three plates loaded with food in front of them. The sight of it reminded Owen that he had not eaten yet. His fork dived into a pile of mashed potato, shoveled it into his mouth then scooped up a forkful of peas.

“Our organisation seeks to preserve the balance in society by maintaining the present status quo.”

“Status what?” Owen mumbled through a mouth filled with peas and sausage.

“That’s not the right way to put it, Silvia. We try to keep magic away from the general population.” Maggy translated.

“Why?” Owen asked. “Isn’t magic a good thing?”

Silvia Underwood sucked in air through her teeth and pursed her lips together so tightly that her face began to redden. Maggy laid a comforting hand on his arm, her soft palm warm against his skin.

“You tell us, Owen. From what you’ve seen, is magic good?”

He remembered the two men murdered on the train when the professor was escaping, the man Owen had accidentally killed in the antiques shop and the ruined side of the hospital. The pocket watch suddenly weighed heavily in his trouser pocket.

“I guess it isn’t. So who were the men on the train? Did they try to destroy the hospital?”

“They’re very bad men.” Silvia Oakwood snapped. “Men who are trying to do the opposite of what we are doing. And yes, that was their handiwork.”

“Who are they though?”

“Don’t fret about those things.” Maggy said, her voice soothing.

“You’re quite safe.”

Silvia Oakwood’s words were comforting, but she delivered them in such a way that made Owen immediately concerned. Her eyes were wide and nervous, darting to look at something over his shoulder.

Instinctively, he reached for the pocket watch as he turned to see what had shocked her.

Two people stood in the doorway. One was Maev, her mousy face brightening as she saw Owen, and the other was her tall, gangling father. The reed-like man’s expression matched Silvia Underwood’s exactly. Their eyes bored into each other’s with a combination of fear and anger.

“Hi mum.” Maev called.

PART 11

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Warlock #9

Pocket watch

I don’t know why, but I keep finding myself returning to this story. For some reason Warlock is just great fun to write…

A myriad of colours, sounds and people flew past Owen. It was like standing in the middle of a merry-go-round as it was spun by unseen hands, a circus in full swing around him. But he could not get off the ride and join in the excitement. It was too far away, just out of reach.

He could feel the hard stone steps he was sitting on, his back resting against the front wall of the hospital. It was one of three walls left standing. He could feel a light drizzle pattering against the top of his head and cold water running down his nose.

People were screaming, shouting, crying. Nobody was hurt, but every patient, nurse and doctor he saw was covered in dust. With a jolt of surprise like an electric current hitting him, he realised that he had made that dust.

“Terrorist attack.” He heard a hysterical voice say.

“Gas leak.” 

“Is there a fire?”

“I’ll sue you for everything you’ve got!”

Firemen in navy blue overalls and bright yellow helmets were charging down the driveway, in through the hospital doors and back out again. Police officers in white shirts and black stab-proof vests stood looking sometimes officious, at other times threatening or concerned.

As far as Owen could tell, none of them seemed to really be doing anything. There was no fire to be fought and no culprits to arrest. But then Owen realised that there was a culprit. He had caused the wall to collapse and that was certainly a crime. Was it vandalism to destroy a building, he wondered.

Something round and silver dropped into his vision. It was the pocket watch, dangling from its chain. Attached to the other end of the chain was Maggy’s plump hand and attached to her was the face of Silvia Oakwood, peering over the kindly case-worker’s shoulder.

“I think you dropped this, dear.”

He reached out and took it from her. Feeling the cold, wet metal against his skin brought Owen back to reality. It was evidence of his crime, he thought, he should throw it away again.

“Come on.” Silvia Oakwood’s sharp, clipping voice said. “Let’s get you out of this chaos.”

He followed them to Maggy’s car, a little red relic of the 1980s with only two doors. As he squeezed into the back seat, he tried to push the memory of Silvia Oakwood’s attempt at a comforting look from his mind. It had been halfway between a cat’s snarl and the look an adder might give to a mouse.

“I’m sorry.” Owen mumbled once they were driving out of the main gate.

Maggy twisted around in her seat to look at him with her soft brown eyes.

“Don’t be sorry, dear. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Swearing is wrong.” Silvia Oakwood hissed.

“He thinks he caused that explosion, Silvia.”

Maggy turned her eyes back towards the road, to Owen’s relief. But her gentle face was replaced by the hard features of her companion.

“You shouldn’t swear.” She snapped. “But no, you didn’t make that happen. That was somebody else, someone dangerous. Now we have to get you as far away from here as possible.”

PART 10

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Warlock #8 (short story)

Pocket watch

-In the last installment, Owen had been committed to a mental hospital where he met his case-worker Maggy whom he suspects knows about magic-

Owen followed the white-walled, green-floored corridor towards the meeting room. He had been told at breakfast that his case-worker would be coming in to discuss his future, whatever that meant. At least, he thought, someone would be coming to see him. In the week since he had been admitted his parents had only visited once, each on separate days.

They had both asked if it was because of their divorce, if he was trying to get more attention from them. After a while, they had gotten angry, telling him that he should not try to make their separation about him.

Owen had found that amusing, in a painful way. It was like when someone accidentally kicked a football into your stomach, you felt sick and winded, but there was a funny side to it. As far as he was concerned, it was they who were trying to make his delusions or experiences, whichever it was, about them.

“Good afternoon, dear. How are you today?”

And there was Maggy. She had happiness and sad concern written all over her face beneath the short curls of dyed-bronze hair. But today there was someone else with her. She was a tall woman, thin as a reed with a severe expression and a pair of angular spectacles pushed back into the bridge of her nose. The pair could not have looked more different.

“I’m alright.”

Owen stood in the doorway to the hospital meeting room, eyeing Maggy’s companion warily. He thought she might be a new doctor, come to ask him inane questions about his feelings or whether he thought dragons were real.

“Oh, where are my manners?” Maggy said. “This is Silvia Oakwood. Silvia, this is the young man I was telling you about.”

Mumbling something incoherent which could have been a greeting, Owen walked up to the table and took a seat in front of the two women. Silvia Oakwood gave a valiant attempt at a smile, wrinkling the corners of her eyes and raising her top lip. It was a gruesome sight.

“I hear you have a very interesting pocket watch, Owen. Could I see it?” She asked.

It seemed to Owen that the trinket was all anyone was interested in. Maev would never have talked to him if he did not have it, the stranger in the antiques shop had tried to steal it and now his case-worker seemed to have some sort of obsession with it. Owen decided it was time for someone to take notice of him.

He stood up sharply, letting his chair clatter to the floor behind him. Maggy’s eyes widened and her lips parted slightly in surprise, but Silvia Oakwood only made a face like he had made a bad smell.

Owen yanked the watch out of his pocket and hurled it out through the open window. Then he raised his left hand and stuck out his middle finger to them.

“F*** you!”

A loud crack ripped through the air around them and, as though it were made of sand, the outer wall of the hospital crumbled away before their eyes.

PART 9

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Madness (short story)

Warlock #7

Pocket watch

-We left Owen just after he had somehow killed a man with his pocket watch-

Owen sat on the edge of his bed in the bare room. It was not bare for lack of anything to fill it. There was a large cupboard, bed, bathroom and desk. Together they left little space to walk in. It was not a large room.

It was the decoration that made it seem empty. The walls and ceiling were painted stark white, the furniture a pale, unvarnished wood and the floor a pastel green linoleum. Owen supposed it was a standard design they used for every hospital.

A knock sounded at the door. Owen did not know why they bothered knocking, there was no lock on the bedroom or bathroom door. Perhaps it was just a way of being polite, as if politeness were a big concern when you were living in a mental hospital.

“Hello dear, are you Owen?”

It was exactly the sort of person you expect to see in those sorts of situations, the friendly nurse, the kindly school counselor, the lady who sold you an iced bun at the supermarket. She had a wide, beaming face with soft brown eyes which seemed pleased to see you but sad at the same time.

To say she was plump would be an understatement. Her belly wobbled slightly with every sway of her hips. Though Owen would not have admitted it to a living soul, she was the kind of person he would have liked to be given a hug by.

“Hi, I’m Owen.”

“I’m Maggy, your case-worker from Social Services. How are you doing?”

“Not great.”

It was the best way to summarise his situation. He had been questioned by the police for over an hour. They had threatened him numerous times and treated him like a confused baby, refusing to believe that the attempted robber was killed by magic.

Then he had been driven to a hospital where a doctor had asked him hundreds of pointless questions. Did he really believe those things had happened, was he able to tell the difference between things in his head and events around him, how would he describe his home life.

Finally, there was this place. It was a plain, unsigned building out in the countryside. From his window he could see hedges, fields and clumps of trees. This was the sort of quiet, isolated place where they sent people who were not really right.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused by witnessing the deaths on the train. Owen wondered why they could not just say what they meant. He was a crazy person, mental, insane.

“Do you think you’re crazy, Owen?” The lady asked.

“Probably.”

“Why’s that, dear?”

“I believe in magic and things.”

He fumbled inside the pocket of his trousers and pulled out the silver pocket watch. It had not made a sound since the antiques shop. Owen wondered if he should show it to the woman, try to explain what had happened.

When he looked up, her soft brown eyes were fixed on the pocket watch. Her mouth was set and her brows raised in a look of apprehensive fascination. She knew something, Owen realised. He was not crazy.

PART 8

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Death by Pocket Watch (short story)

Pocket watch
Pixabay

Warlock #6

“Dad, you’re embarrassing me.” Maev hissed at her father, whose body still trembled in fright. “This is my friend, he’s not trying to rob us.”

The thin man seemed to relax, his shoulders sinking and hands dropping to his sides, but not entirely. His narrow eyes still focused warily on Owen’s face through the round spectacles balancing on the tip of his nose.

“But you don’t have friends.” He said. “Only that loner you told me-“

This is Owen.” Maev interrupted.

“Oh right, of course. How nice to meet you.”

Reassured that Owen was not about to assault him with his pocket watch, however that had become an issue, Maev’s father held out a slender hand. The ‘loner’ took it in his and they shook.

 Their awkward greeting was interrupted by a tinkling sound ringing out from the cramped hallway. For a second, it looked like the man would raise his arms above his head again. But his hands only twitched upwards then settled on his hips.

“Maev, you and your friend can wait in the back.” He said.

She led Owen behind a threadbare curtain into a storeroom behind the shop. There was nothing in particular which marked it out as being used for storage. Every surface was cluttered with dusty ornaments and small curiosities, but the same was true of the hallway and shop they had passed through.

Owen lifted a wide stretch of canvas to inspect the landscape painted on it and discovered a small oven. Maev was carefully avoiding eye-contact, a red hue blossoming on her narrow cheeks.

“Is this your kitchen?” Owen whispered.

Before she could answer, they heard voices from beyond the partition. One was a stranger’s, thick-tongued and drawling. The other was Maev’s father who spoke in frantic, hurried tones.

“Come now, Tom, if anyone knows where an artefact like this can be found it’s you. Have you seen it or not?” The stranger asked.

“No, I haven’t seen anything like it in my life. That’s a promise. Take my word for it.”

“What’s that, Tom? A lie? You sold us the thing in the first place.”

They heard Maev’s father’s feet shuffling against the musty carpet. Something brittle dropped from its shelf and shattered as he edged towards the back room. Owen heard a second, heavier pair of footsteps but the stranger’s voice had not moved. There was a third person in the shop.

“Are you going somewhere, Tom? Where’s the pocket watch? You’ve seen it haven’t you?”

“Never, I haven’t seen it.” The frail antiques dealer stammered. “Not since I sold it. Do you know I’d forgotten about that?”

“No you hadn’t.”

The stranger bit off each word and spat it out, making the abrupt sentence into a towering accusation.

Owen had heard enough. He could guess which pocket watch they were talking about. It was the one that the escaped prisoner had left on the train, the one he now held in his hand.

He pulled aside the curtain and stepped into the cluttered shop. Immediately, a pair of rough hands seized the lapels of his coat and shook him until his teeth rattled. Owen saw brown eyes glaring at him from beneath thick black brows.

Then the pocket watch clicked open, it made a whirring sound as the hands spun around and Owen felt an icy shiver run up his arm. He reached out his hand to push the burly man away and a plume of smoke shot out of his palm.

The stranger recoiled and fell to the floor clutching his chest, an antique mahogany coffee table splintering beneath his bulk. The stranger’s face, ice-blue eyes beneath a shock of steely grey hair, shot him a venomous look.

He turned and swept out through the dark hallway, leaving Owen, Maev and her father alone in the dust-filled room with the dead man lying between them.

PART 7

You can find the first Warlock short story here.

Read another fantasy short story series, Worldkillerhere.

Turning Street (short story)

Pocket watch

Warlock #5

It was the first weekend of the school year and Owen had never been more grateful to be out and about in the autumn sunlight. Though the sun was clear and bright in the sky, there was a crisp chill in the air.

He and Maev were both bundled in thick scarves and mittens against the biting breeze which blew down the main thoroughfare of the town. Out on the edge of town, the red chimneys of the boarding school loomed up over the tops of the trees, reminding them that they were only free for a few hours.

“That boy’s a pig. Someone should put pepper in his tea.” Maev said.

Owen had not been listening to what his friend was saying, too distracted by the Tudor facades of quaint little shops along the main street. He looked at her with raised eyebrows and waited to see if she would prompt him.

“You’re not listening to me. I was talking about Hidra, the girl who squealed on us in history class?”

“Oh, right. Yeah she’s quite annoying.”

Maev puffed out her cheeks and thrust her gloved hands deep inside the pockets of her coat. She was trying to make it seem like she was just feeling the cold, but Owen could tell she was irritated with him.

“Here, this is it.”

Without waiting for him, she stepped into a narrow opening between a sports clothing shop and a bustling cafe. It was the beginning of a winding alleyway barely wide enough for one person to walk down. A sign on the wall read Turning Street.

Owen followed her in, more than a little hesitant after he looked up and saw that the walls of the buildings on either side overhung the alleyway, their roofs almost touching. They had gone almost thirty meters down the cobbled street when Owen heard a noise like a falling footstep behind them.

He turned to see if someone wanted to pass, though there was no room for them to do so, but the alley was empty except for them. The sound of Maev rapping her knuckles against a thick wooden door made Owen jump.

“This is my dad’s shop.” She said.

It should not have surprised Owen that she had family in town. Only boys were allowed to attend the school as boarders, female students had to go home in the evenings. But he had not expected Maev to live in such a strange place.

Her father was a tall, thin man with round spectacles almost falling off the end of his nose. As they went inside the cramped, dusty antiques shop, Owen found that he could not take a step without having to turn and catch something he had dislodged from its shelf.

There were old maps and moth-eaten hats, tarnished telescopes and rusted stethoscopes, faded globes and ragged clothes. On top of a chipped oak desk lay twenty or so walking sticks, each one cracked in a different place.

“Welcome to my humble emporium.” Maev’s father said. “Are you buying or selling?”

Owen took out his polished silver pocket watch and held it out on top of his open palm. The scrawny antique’s dealer took one look at it and his mouth dropped open. He seized Maev by the collar of her coat and dragged her behind the desk.

“Take anything you want, it’s all yours!” He cried. “Just stop pointing that thing at us!”

PART 6

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