Festival of Fiends (Edinburgh Elementals #4)

By Gayle Ramage

Fantasy, Romance, Magical realism

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502
4 mins

CHAPTER ONE

The man stood with his back to Hattie, facing the empty house. At least, she thought it was a man. The hood and the rest of the dark blue waterproof jacket and bottle green trousers gave nothing away. A cold caller would have cut their losses by now. But the figure had been standing there for a good few minutes now. Hattie hesitated by the gate, despite the onslaught of rain. Unannounced visitors always unnerved her. Human ones, especially.

She cast a glance across the street at her neighbour Michael's town house. Through the kitchen window she saw him standing at his kitchen sink, doing the washing up and speaking to someone out of view. It isn't you, she thought.

As her attention returned to her visitor, her hand had slipped inside her bag, bringing out a hairbrush. She must have expected trouble. Either that or her subconscious was telling her she needed to brush her hair immediately. This was ridiculous. She was being ridiculous. Why didn't she call out? Find out what he wanted?

It hit her. Jesus, what an idiot. She knew who it was. Bloody hell, if she hadn't spoken to him on the phone an hour earlier. It must be her lodger, here for the festival. He said he'd arrive later tonight. Her watch read 5:05pm. Maybe he’d caught an earlier train.

She put away the brush, laughing at her paranoia. 'Mr Tate?' she called out, taking a step forward. 'Early, aren't you?'
The figure faced her. It was a man, but not the one she was expecting.
'Hello, sweetheart,' he said. 'Surprise.'
'Ed?' Hattie found her voice as she raced into the man's open arms. 'Dad!'


She brought two striped hand towels from the bathroom cupboard and handed one to her father as he warmed up by the fireplace. His coat hung on a hook by the door, that day’s newspaper catching the droplets on the floor below. He gave his silver hair a quick but thorough once-over with the towel, making stand up in tufts.

'Thanks.' He put the towel down next to him. Hattie sat next to him on the floor and did the same with her own red locks.

'I've stuck the kettle on,' she told him. 'How do you take your coffee? I can't remember.'

'I'm on the tea, now. Caffeine’s bad for me, according to Angelique. She wasn't too pleased when I told her there was more caffeine in tea than coffee.'

'You're still with Angelique?' Hattie asked. 'Did she not come with you?'

'We're not together anymore. She worked away a lot. I’m busy with own stuff. We grew apart, that's all.'

'Sorry to hear that. I liked her.'

'So did I. Still -’ his lips curved into a warm smile - ‘I'll forever be in her debt for bringing us together again.'

Hattie squeezed his hand. 'Better late than never, eh?'

'Exactly.'

'I'd better get the tea made’ Ed called out 'milk and two sugars, thanks' as she entered the kitchen. Leaving the door ajar Hattie wiped away the threatening tears as she busied herself with the drinks.

Since the age of seven, she’d thought Ed had left because of her claims about seeing "magic people". That's why she went along with her mother's demands about visiting a psychiatrist. To find out that her father had believed her, and that her mother had cut him out of their lives was a kicker. She still wasn't used to having a father again.

She swept back into the living room minutes later with a suggestion. 'Let’s eat, then find something to do. The Fringe's just started. There'll be loads to see.'

'I'm up for that. But please can we take a taxi? I've had enough rain to last me a lifetime.'

Hattie handed him the red cup. 'The rain's obligatory in Scotland, remember?'

'Ah, but the sun appears now and again. I'm sure of it. Unless I dreamt it.'

'I'll change first. It gives me a chance to get dolled-up.' She frowned. 'Were you planning on staying here? You're more than welcome.'

'If that's alright with you?'

'Yeah, fine. I'm renting out one of the spare rooms over the Festival. You can have the other one.'

'Yet you're still frowning,' Ed noted.

'Are you travelling light?'

'What do you mean?'

'Where's your luggage?'

Ed aped his daughter's frown and then scrambled to his feet, almost spilling his tea. 'I've left the bloody things out in the rain!'

***

Michael sat browsing the day's copy of the Edinburgh Evening News and half-listening to the 6 o'clock news on the TV screen in the corner. The kids were watching a Pixar movie in the living room and the kitchen was Michael’s haven for the next hour. Since his eldest son Tom’s arrival with his girlfriend Zoe, Ben and Ingrid had not left their side. The young couple were in charge of Tom’s younger siblings right now. Zoe, confessing to being a Pixar fan, was happy to mind them.

Her shyness disappeared as the day progressed. A little too much black eyeliner and mascara, thought Michael, but the girl was perfectly decent. According to Zoe, they'd been dating for a month. Tom having met her parents (both lawyers from the Stockbridge area) the previous week.

On the television screen, a reporter stood in the midst of the Royal Mile as a procession of tourists and natives passed by, every set of eyes glancing at the camera. During August, the ancient thoroughfare became a hub for the Fringe Festival. Performers plied their trade or gave out leaflets begging people to attend their show. It was a real eye-opener for Michael the first time he’d ventured along that street.

The reporter mentioned the festival being the biggest on record, with more performers than ever. Michael fancied seeing a couple of shows. He didn’t want to go alone, though, and as sad as it was, he had formed no real friendships yet.
The only person he could almost call a friend was the crazy woman across the road. No, that was unfair. Hattie wasn't crazy. Eccentric, perhaps. If he hadn't seen those pixies himself, he would have thought she should be sectioned.

He remembered back to his first evening in Edinburgh, finding himself paint balling a gang of pixies in his attic. In truth, Hattie had wielded the paintball gun. Michael had just stood there, transfixed as shots of blue paint revealed the small creatures. It turned out Michael’s new neighbour could see magical creatures. They were rife in Britain, never mind his attic, but invisible to most people. Since then, Hattie had never visited his house again, but they had chatted if they saw one another in the street. The kids had never found out about the pixies in the attic. It’s not like they’d believe their father anyway.

Michael turned to the review page in the paper. Today's feature was the Forth Floor Restaurant - an upmarket eatery on the top floor of Harvey Nichols in the town centre. Michael’s work had booked the restaurant for networking dinner later in the month. His invitation had been informal; arriving as an email with a voting button included. The email, sent from Marketing, mentioned bringing a Plus One. Michael didn’t have a Plus One, not since the death of his wife four and a half years ago from cancer. He wasn't looking forward to the dinner. Corporate events were dull, but since it was his department that was doing the networking, he’d clicked on the Attend button.

Folding the newspaper, he dumped it in the recycle bin before getting a glass of water. The lights were on in Hattie's house, now. Maybe he should invite her across for a coffee sometime. Across the road, the front door opened, spilling light into the garden. Two people emerged. Hattie’s striking red hair sat high in a ponytail. The other person’s hood concealed much of their face. The pair linked arms as they headed down the path towards the taxi that had just pulled up. Michael stood there, staring out the window as the rain trickled down the glass. Did everyone have a Plus One except him?



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