Damien's voice was quiet, insistent and very close by.
His hand was on my chest, I could feel the pressure of it. Which seemed strange until I got my eyes open and realised with a jolt where I was. The room was dark and Damien was up on one elbow, looking down at me with sleepy concern. I stopped gasping and took a deep breath, rolling unsteadily into the arms he was holding out. He hugged me and my face pressed into the heat and smoothness of his neck.
"Dream." I mumbled, clutching to the deeply comforting feel and smell of his skin. Damien lay back, pulling me with him.
"What was it?"
I shut my eyes, trying not to shudder. "Don't remember."
"Nothing at all?"
Not much, thank God. Damien's cheek rubbed against my hair.
"This woman. Horrible eyes."
"Doing what?" Damien asked calmly. I shuddered, trying to lose the impression of dark, staring eyes.
"Looking…….it was horrible."
"Where did that come from?"
Sleepy, the image slipping away now he was holding me, I shut my eyes and tried to clear my head to something pleasant. Something totally removed from staring, evil women. Damien didn't say anything more, but his arms didn't loosen around me.
Actually, I knew exactly where I'd come up with the image of the woman with the evil eye.
Summer had come and Damien spent Wednesday evenings in a happy haze of grey drizzle and white sweaters at the cricket ground with the rest of the local team. Which left me with the evening free after dinner to read in peace and tranquillity. I'd used the time to catch up on several of my favourite story sites online, something I never usually got to do in the evenings when Damien was around to demand attention, and it was there I'd stumbled across a discussion on a ghost story. Naturally, I'd followed the link to a ghost story site and read the story in question. And then found myself getting sucked into the fifty five other personal accounts on the site of ghost encounters. Some of them were interesting, and others were spooky. And a few-
- definitely should neveer be read after dark when you were alone.
It was one particular story that had really disturbed me. A girl who's friend had committed suicide, and who nightly, for some years after her death, rose up through a certain point of the floor at the same time every night, and would sit on the side of the bed, looking at her friend with what the girl described as pure evil in her stare. The anger, the hatred, and the image of the girl was unpleasantly vivid. I read it through twice, unwillingly fascinated, and shut the site down with growing awareness that I'd let the room get dark around me in the growing twilight. It was nearly ten pm; Damien would be home shortly and he wouldn't be too happy to find me online.
Ok, he wouldn't mind in the least about me being online.
He would however - possibly- be a little disapproving if he caught me reading ghost stories and looking freaked out. He was more than slightly neurotic about that.
I snapped all the lights on, trying not to look at the shadows around me or to think about my growing sense of nervousness. It was silly. This house was safe, Damien and I had lived happily here for several years without ever encountering anything remotely harmful, I had been alone and safe in this house a hundred times. Nothing evil ever came up through our floor.
I was up in our room, trying to read and to let the noise of the tv fill the room and chase away the slight sounds of the house that were making my heart thump, when I heard the front door open and Damien's voice from the hall.
"How are the grass stains?" I shouted back.
"Awful." Damien called cheerfully. The washing machine door opened in the kitchen and then slammed, followed by the click as it switched on. Then the clink of china.
"Nicholas, I thought you were going to wash up."
"I'm sorry, I was reading."
"That, as it goes, is a pretty limp excuse."
I heard the water run for a moment, then Damien's feet on the stairs. I rolled over, book in hand. He was wearing just a shirt and underwear, having bundled his whites into the washing machine.
"What's got you so riveted that you forgot about a certain rule on chores before anything else? And is going to land you with ALL the washing up on your own tomorrow?"
He pulled a clean pair of trousers out of the cupboard, then sat on the bed, pushing my hair out of my eyes, expression changing.
"What? You're pale."
"Headache." I said a little plaintively. It wasn't entirely untrue- I wasn’t comfortable or happy, it just wasn't actual pain involved. Damien rested the back of his hand on my forehead, then tousled my hair gently.
"Do you need some aspirin?"
I shook my head. Damien turned the cover of my book up to read the title, then took it out of my hands.
"Don't strain your eyes if your head's aching. Get yourself into bed."
"I want to finish the chapter."
"I'll read you the rest when I've cleared the kitchen up. Do you want the lights out?"
I got ready for bed and slid under the covers, listening, comforted, to the sounds of him moving around downstairs. It was just a story. Damien might be over protective about me reading supposedly scary stuff, but it WAS just a story. It wasn't going to bother me.
Ha flipping ha.
Beth gave me a surprised look across the office as I slumped down behind my desk.
"What were YOU doing all night? Do I want to know?"
"I didn't sleep much." I admitted. "Nightmares."
Beth winced in ready sympathy. "What about?"
She was interested in the supernatural in all it's forms- her ears and wrists dripped with supposedly theraputic stones and several crystals sat on her desk in amongst her piles of work. I told her the ghost story.
At lunchtime, when I was packing up to leave- since Thursday was one of my Mitchell declared half days- she followed my directions to the site and read through the story. And winced.
"That's NOT nice."
"It's pretty vivid." I admitted. "Almost feels like it's so - personal- that it's a risk to know too much about this girl."
"Worried about summoning her up?" Beth said teasingly. I pulled a face at her and headed out of the door. Mr Mitchell still phoned me at 1.30pm on my half days, fully expecting me to be at home to pick the phone up, and he got decidedly crotchety if I wasn't there.
"Hey hey hey it's okay, I've got you."
Damien's arms closed around me, dragged us both upright and crushed, rocking. "It's allright love. It's fine, shhh."
It took several repetitions before I managed to organise myself enough to stop gasping. Damien snapped the light on and pulled the duvet up, wrapping it around me before he went back to rocking. I was shaking all over.
"It's ok." Damien said again, soothingly against my ear. "You're allright, I've got you. Are you awake? Nicky?"
I nodded, in between gulps. Damien nudged my head up and his kisses were warm, comforting.
"It's fine. It's okay. What was that about? That woman again?"
I pulled out of his arms and stumbled out of bed. Damien grabbed my wrist and pulled me back, leaning past me to switch the tv on.
"No. You stay put, I'll go down and make some tea if you don't want to go back to sleep for a while-"
"I can do it, there's no need for you to be up too." I said shakily.
"I'm funny like that." Damien confessed, pulling the duvet back over my shoulders. "Humour me."
He was half way downstairs before I got too scared to stay put and followed him down to the kitchen. Damien glanced around at me and held a hand out, giving me a rough hug.
"Why don't you find some biscuits? There's some digestives on the bottom shelf."
"I don't like digestives."
"We're not eating chocolate at this hour." Damien said firmly. I towed him with me to the cupboard, peering through the shelves. He reached over my shoulder and pulled out a packet. "There, pink with happy faces, right up your street."
I slipped a hand under his and dug out a couple of packets of raisins. Damien looked at me for a moment, then shook his head and put the biscuits back.
He did make me come back to bed with him, but after one or two tries, didn't persist in asking about the dream. I couldn't bear to think about it. Every time I did I started to shake again. He did eventually turn the tv off, but he left the landing light on, the softness of it's beam enough to chase away the shadows in our room, and we talked until I fell asleep. The kind of meaningless banter you can only have with your best friend at four am in the morning.
He left at seven thirty as usual, waking me up by the quiet click of a mug of tea put down on the bedside table. He was dressed, immaculate and his cologne was fresh, reaching me long before he stooped to kiss me.
"I'm off darling. Have the tea and your tablets."
I struggled up right and gulped the pills laid out ready for me, on the side of a plate of toast. This looked ominous. Damien waited, watching until I'd swallowed them.
"Ok? Stay in bed this morning, read or watch tv or something. You didn't get back to sleep until nearly five."
"Neither did you." I objected, suspicions confirmed. Damien shouldered into his jacket, lacking any sign of tiredness or relention.
"I can always get back to sleep and sleep properly. You can't. Stay put until lunchtime."
I muttered, burying myself in tea. Damien leaned down for another kiss.
"And lunchtime means noon, Greenwich Mean Time at the very earliest. Not any other time you manage to justify to yourself as being lunchtime."
I read for a while. Actually, once he was gone, I was still- uncomfortable. The house wasn't the safe place it had been a few days ago. It was too close to my image of those dark, burning eyes. I was still trying to concentrate on my book around ten am when the phone rang. I picked it up without rolling over.
"I AM still in bed!"
Beth, who is used to me, sounded only amused. I snorted, shutting my book.
"If you want me to work extra hours, today is not looking good."
"Another bad night?"
"Awful." I confessed. "Neither of us got much sleep."
"I had an idea last night that might help."
"Check your email. Read it through, see what you think."
"Ok- thanks." A little surprised, I rolled out of bed, stepped over Anastasia who was luxuriously sprawled in a patch on sunlight on the floor, and hung up the phone. The email was short and pink as most of Beth's mails tend to be.
"Nick, this is a good way to cleanse a house of any bad spiritual presence, and to put a stop on a spirit or person who's bothering you- the first sections are a couple of basic cleansing spells, the second is a binding spell I looked up that will restrain someone ill-willing you. That ought to get rid of the nightmares. And if you've got any crystals in the house, put them on the 'portals' of your house- windows and doors, but the computer monitor too if that's how you found this bad vibe- the monitor's a portal too. Have fun! J
I read through the spells a couple of times, with interest. Beth read all kinds of stuff like this, drank fruit teas and dripped with crystals. None of it looked complicated, or required anything I didn't already have- except perhaps crystals. I pulled jeans, socks and boots on, found a sweater heavy enough to combat a British June and headed for the garden centre.
It was actually one of my favourite places.
Damien and I hung around here on weekends, Damien to buy plants, me just sightseeing. From the display gardens- especially the rose and water gardens- to the candle shop and the chocolate shop Damien refused to let me enter unsupervised, I was happy to wander purely for the sensory stimulation whenever I had a couple of hours to spare.
I still couldn't shake a vague sense of guilt about doing this in the middle of a working day. Just wandering around - doing things I liked.
To begin with, when I first had my two days a week off, I filled them with housework- cooking- shopping- ironing. Work for the house, or theoretically for Damien who supported us for the two days I wasn't actually earning. Damien put up with that for about two weeks before he gently began to chase me out of the house and to demand to know how I spent the time. Mental health days he called them. Sometimes I curled up with Anastasia and read. Sometimes I went to the library or into the village like this and wandered around the shops, or took a book up to the park. Things Robin would have teased the living daylights out of me for, but which I loved.
The garden centre had crystals, hanging in the candle shops amongst the herb and spice scents. Lavender, apple and cinnamon had permeated the paper bag the crystals were wrapped in, and scented the car on the journey home. I printed out Beth's spells, filled a dish with salt water and read the instructions more carefully, especially the words.
Nothing too complicated.
"Nick?" Damien said from the hallway, shutting the front door behind him. I whirled, clutching at the crystal hanging around my neck. I'd forgotten we were getting close to the hour when he'd come home for lunch. Damien stopped where he was in the doorway to the lounge and gave me a very quizzical look.
"What on earth are you doing?"
I gestured vaguely with the crystal around my neck.
He kept looking.
"Beth said," I said, waving at the candles on the carpet that were attracting Damien's attention, and the crystals hung at the windows. "You have to wash them in salt water and then hang them in sunlight to cleanse them so they keep working- they're supposed to absorb - bad stuff-"
"And you have to do this stark naked?" Damien inquired, nodding at me. I clutched at my crystal defensively.
"It makes splashes."
Damien's eyebrow quirked in his best Mr Spock impression, then he pulled his tie loose and kissed me, apparently deciding it wasn't worth inquiring further.
"I've been in the mood for a bacon sandwich all morning, how about that and the rest of that cake your mother gave us?"
While he grilled bacon, I furtively flicked the last few corners with salt water and hung up the last crystal, glad I'd got all the chants said and the incantations read out, even if they were read from paper. I felt positive- like I'd done something active about it. The candles around the room were still lit and the music I'd picked and put on as a background was soothing. Clannad. One of Damien's favourite albums. I wasn't altogether surprised when he brought the sandwiches into the lounge and we picnicked on the floor amongst the candles, then spent the remainder of his lunch hour fooling around. Candlelight, even in the middle of the day, has a strong effect on Damien that I really ought to exploit more often. At a guess, Damien went back to work having already burned off all the calories he'd eaten.
Left in peace, I finished the binding spell.
And as I shut the freezer door, I admit, I felt a hell of a lot better.
He yelped when he got into bed that night, shifted over and dug under the covers, coming up with one of my crystals in his hand. I blushed and took it from him, putting it on the bedside table.
"Were you washing them in bed, or was there another reason for that one?" Damien inquired, snapping the light out. I snuggled down against him, feeling the last of the heat and soreness as I rolled from my back to my side. After dinner, Damien had made a few casual inquiries about what time I'd got up that morning and I'd been spanked for not paying more attention to the orders of the day. Thank goodness he hadn't asked too much about why I'd forgotten.
"On the bed?"
"If you're holding out for one of us getting pregnant, I think you're going to be out of luck." Damien kissed my neck, thought for a moment and then licked it. "Allright Nicholas, how much of you DOES taste of salt?"
I made him figure it out the hard way. Periodically it's good for him to realise he doesn't know everything.
That tone invariably made me jump. Damien's voice was deep but stern.
"Nicky look at me."
It’s the sort of tone he uses to say ridiculous things like "Stop wheezing and breathe properly." More ridiculous still, it often works.
I looked at him. He looked very serious, and it was very dark. Somewhat disoriented, I peered around us and realised, we were in the armchair in the corner of our bedroom. I could still feel the pressure of his hand under my chin, and the arm around my waist was oddly tight.
"Allright?" Damien said quietly. "Nicky?"
Confused, shaking and trying to integrate him and the chair into the girl with blazing eyes was more than I could currently handle. I struggled to my feet and grabbed for the light, hearing my own breathing. Not good.
Damien followed me, reaching over my shoulder to push my hair out of my eyes. A heavy, reassuring touch, but not one that made it any less night or any less dark outside. Oh God, what had I done? The clock stood at nearly midnight. THAT in itself was not good. Midnight was known as the witching hour for Godsakes, it was BOUND to be where anything- disturbed- PROVOKED - was most likely to manifest itself.
"Nicky." Damien said again, quietly. I looked at him, trying to breathe quietly. I was wheezing like a diesel truck.
"What on earth were you dreaming about?"
I shrugged, trying not to look at him. "I don't know, I don't remember."
"Tell me what you DO remember." Damien said immoveably. I looked at him, not sure whether I was more scared of thinking about it in detail or whether I was more worried about what he'd say when he found out. Hazel eyes were fixed RIGHT on me, he was waiting.
For once, my lungs actually co operated with me.
I had a fairly major asthma attack on the spot.
That kept us both fully occupied for two hours. We ended up downstairs, watching videos in the early hours of the morning while the last effects wore off. By the time I could bear lying down or Damien having an arm around me without feeling my already tight chest become even more restricted, it was dawn and we curled up on the sofa, watching Sharpe videos and admiring Sean Bean's legs until Damien fell asleep. I stayed awake, trying to concentrate on the tv until daylight, keeping my eyes away from the shadows and corners by a supreme effort of will.
Damien woke me at lunchtime. I was breathing fairly rustily, but that was normal after a big attack. We both ate breakfast in our pyjamas and on Damien's advice, once we dressed, I took a book outside and sat on the patio in the sun while he mowed. After which, we braved the local supermarket and shopped. After which I was sent upstairs for a nap.
THAT part I could have done without.
The binding spell was at the back of the freezer- I glimpsed it as I put the groceries away, a discreet little plastic package which hopefully Damien wouldn't spot under the frozen peas. But going upstairs, alone, was not good.
What had I done?
Bad enough to read about that girl, to know about her, to think about her- was that enough to attract the attention of an unrested spirit? But now I'd actively awoken any spirits in the house, touched on the forces that aroused them, tried to control them- and stupidly, I'd tried to put control over this girl's presence, where ever it was. All I'd done was raised up God knows what in our home where I used to feel safe. How stupid can you get?
HOW many times had I heard Damien say to me, "Don't meddle with things you know nothing about."?
I SO did not want to be upstairs alone. I made it to the top of the stairs and hesitated there for a while.
I could NOT explain this to Damien. Quite apart from how stupid it sounded, how pathetic, it was going to give him way too much ammunition for his theory that I couldn't handle anything scary. And he - probably- was not going to like the spell thing. I sort of thought he wasn't going to like that much.
Which left one option. I had to get over this. I was a grown man, I could handle it. I could keep this under control.
"I thought you were on your way to bed?" Damien inquired from the foot of the stairs. I looked down at him, not prepared for this conversation.
"I don't think I'm tired."
"Well I do." Damien said bluntly, heading upstairs. I spared him a faint, distracted grin.
"So you take a nap."
"Hey." Damien swatted me, not very gently. "Bed. Now."
"I want to lie on the sofa."
Damien gave me the slow, surprised, I Thought I Just Spoke To You? Look. I stood my ground on the landing, folding my arms.
"The spare room then. It's cooler in there."
"Nick, I put the heating back on last night because it was so cold-"
"And you're definitely in need of more sleep." Damien took my arm and steered me ahead of him, parking me on the edge of our bed to take my shoes off. I glowered at him, co operating.
"I don't need to undress."
"You just told me you were hot."
"Not THAT hot."
"You'll be more comfortable." Damien peeled me out of my jeans and held the duvet back. "Come on."
If I had another nightmare it was going to be all his fault.
When he'd gone, I slid out of bed and pulled my jeans back on. I was NOT about to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.
He chased me out of the kitchen before he was half way through cooking dinner, after I'd changed the long spaghetti for penne, and the chicken for mince and the tomato paste for pesto. Fed up and smarting from the swat he'd sent me out with, I automatically went into the lounge- and then hesitated. This was the room I'd done the most - uh - ritual stuff in. Including the binding.
Things Beth had told me about house spirits came to mind. The old tales of the boggarts. God alone knows what I'd woken up and what was in the house now, well aware of me. I wished to God I'd never touched those damned spells. I skulked back towards the kitchen. Damien turned around and gave me a warning Look I could read from twenty paces away. I went to sit on the foot of the stairs. Maybe the best thing I could do here was try to distract myself. Not think about it.
"Nick?" Damien's voice called from the kitchen. Thankfully I got up.
"Is the tv off? The lights are flickering."
The man ought to take up prophesy. Before I reached the kitchen door, all the lights in the house went out. My heart just about stopped. Damien muttered and turned the oven off.
"My hands are covered in mince, can you check the fuse box?"
In the cellar.
I stopped and swallowed.
"It's probably a powercut-"
"It might just be the trip switch." Damien was tipping mince and chopped onion into a frying pan and lighting the gas hob. I hovered, NOT wanting to go near the cellar.
"Before Christmas?" Damien hinted.
It wasn't dark outside- more twilight- but it would be pitch black in the cellar. Even the few steps down to where the fuse box was.
"What?" Damien asked, turning the gas off. I swallowed and hastily smiled, heading for the cellar.
I headed for the door, already feeling my heart thumping. I knew what I was going to see. The girl, her black eyes blazing with hatred and indignation.
How dare I mess with her- how dare I try to restrain her?
"Nick?" Damien said more curiously. Trembling, I put a hand on the door.
"Just a moment."
I could do this. If I didn't, I was going to end up explaining to him that I'd ….. done all kinds of things I really didn't want to tell him about.
I was five steps down when the door slammed shut behind me.
I admit, at that point, I pretty much lost it.
I grabbed for the door, hurling my weight at it with all my strength. It didn't move an inch. If Damien could even hear me, there was no way I could hear him: I was screaming at the full force of my lungs. I thought my heart was going to break out of my chest. In NO WAY did I dare to look behind me, I was too terrified to do anything but batter against the door and scream at Damien to open it, open it NOW.
It felt like this went on for about five hours. Or at least five minutes. It was actually, I'm told, about fifteen seconds before Damien's voice penetrated my ears, raised to a roar that shook the door between us.
"NICK be QUIET!"
I had no idea he could shout that loud. Involuntarily, I froze and stopped screaming. The pitch of his voice dropped but the tone was no less sharp.
"Let go of the door and stand back, right now. RIGHT back."
He couldn't really have asked anything harder of me. On the other hand, habit or maybe trust kicked in and I found myself promptly doing as I was told. Then the door swung open and I realised, with not a little embarrassment, that the door actually opened inwards. He couldn't have forced it without knocking me down the stone steps. Damien grabbed me and I flew up the steps and hurled myself at him. I confess I spent the next few minutes crying hysterically and clutching him so tight that I found my fingermarks still on him the following morning. Finally, when he couldn't talk me into moving anywhere, he picked me up and carried me out of the open back door into the garden, and sat us down on the bench, talking quietly and firmly into my ear.
"Listen to me. You're allright. I've got you, you're quite safe. It's fine. Nick listen to me."
With a serious effort, I held the noise down far enough to make sense of what he was saying. Damien pulled my chin up, making me look at him. Or look in his direction; my eyes were swimming and I was past seeing anything.
"Take a deep breath and calm down. Come on. If you carry on like this you'll be sick or you'll hyperventilate. Nicky breathe."
I pulled myself together very slowly. Damien held me off, making me breathe properly until I stopped screeching and settled for shaking and sniffling. Then he pushed my hair off my forehead and gave me his handkerchief, watching me scrub at my face. He is of the exalted race of men who ALWAYS have clean handkerchiefs in their pockets. The comfort of that is immeasurable when you're crying.
"Are you okay? I was scared stiff you were going to fall down those steps."
"Did you shut that door?" I burst out, struggling out of his arms. Damien hung on, making me look at him.
"NO!…. Nicky, how could you think I'd ever be that cruel?"
"So what was it!" I exploded, eyes filling again. Damien pulled me back down against him, holding me tight.
"The kitchen door was open, it was just a draught that slammed it- that's all."
So simple. And yet I seriously wasn't sure I believed him. Damien's voice was soft in my ear.
"Are you going to tell me what's got you this upset?"
"YOU try getting shut in a dark cellar!"
"You didn't want to go anywhere near it when I asked you. You've been jittery all day and you've had three nights in a row of awful nightmares. What have you been watching?"
"Nothing." I said unwillingly. Damien waited. When I didn't offer anything further, he put me down on the bench beside him.
"So what have you been reading?"
I picked at his trousers. Damien covered my hand.
"There was this ghost story-" I said unwillingly.
He dragged me to the cellar doorway and hit the trip switch which brought the power back on, then towed me straight upstairs to the computer. I tried explaining that I couldn't remember where I'd found the link and I'd probably never find the site again. It did me no good: he just called up our internet recent history files and went straight to it. Unfortunately that showed clearly just how many of the stories I'd read. I sat on the end of the bed and bit my nails while he skimmed through it.
When he finished, he shut the site down, then looked through the open doorway at me, holding out a hand. I went to him slowly, hovering at arms length. Damien leaned over and pulled me against him, wrapping an arm around my waist.
"I can see why that upset you, it's not a nice story. When did you read that?"
"When you were at cricket on Wednesday." I admitted, somewhat shamefacedly.
Damien shook his head at me, looking very far from sympathetic. "We keep going over and over this Nick. This kind of stuff REALLY upsets you. It always does. You're way too imaginative to handle it, and yet you just can't leave it alone."
"I never know until I read it whether or not it's going to bother me." I mumbled. Damien tapped the hand resting on my hip gently to make me look at him.
"A ghost story site? I'd think it was pretty certain you'd find something spooky there, wouldn't you? And how many on this site did you read?" he skimmed the mouse over the page. "Ten- fourteen- eighteen- twenty two in all? You don't read twenty two stories by accident."
"I was interested…."
"THREE nights of nightmares, it took me some time to wake you last night and then you had an asthma attack you were in such a state! We've both lost three nights of sleep and you're so wound up that a powercut sends you totally hysterical! All because you were interested in a four hundred word snippet on the internet? Do you really think that's worth it?"
I looked at the floor, red faced. Damien shut down the computer one handed, still holding on to me. Once the computer was quiet he pulled me around to face him.
"We've gone over this time and time again Nick; this time I'm telling you and I mean it. The next time you spook yourself or have nightmares because of something you've read or watched when I wasn't with you, I'm going to spank you. You need to learn to stop and think about the consequences before you take in information you can't handle."
Damien Looked at me. I flushed even darker, knowing perfectly well I had no grounds to argue, and shut up.
"So what about this girl has upset you so much?" Damien asked more gently. I shrugged. He pulled me onto his lap, leaning back in his chair. "What are the dreams about?"
"Just about her coming up through the floor- and that I've bothered her-" I said slowly.
"By reading the story?"
"You think she haunts everyone who hits on that site?"
I shrugged, not looking at him. Damien turned my chin up.
"That story is very likely fiction. And like all paranormal stuff, 90% of it is in someone's mind and imagination. You've taken someone's account and your mind has given it a face and independent thought and action. It isn't any more likely to touch you than Harry Potter, or Buffy the Dragon Slayer."
"Her too." Damien said, unperturbed. "There is NOTHING in the history or the makeup of this house that in any way could contribute to or support spirits, vampires, ghosts, hobbits or anything else. Is there?"
Ok, he was Looking at me again.
I gave him an assertive, positive shake of the head. No. There was nothing he could see in the history or make up of this house.
He went on looking.
I shook my head again more unsteadily, feeling heat start to rise in my face.
No Damien. Nothing. It's ok. Chill.
STOP LOOKING AT ME.
His eyes still hadn't wavered.
Somewhere along the line of that look, my brain started to sizzle, my mouth opened and my voice began working quite independently of me.
"No; but what about the house spirits? They're in every house and theoretically they're supposed to be sleeping unless you're aware and know how to interact with them, but if you did it wrong and woke them up and didn't know what to do after that-"
"What are house spirits?" Damien interrupted, looking skeptical.
Oh heck, now we were getting to it. I took a deep breath, trying to make this sound matter of fact. "Beth told me about them, they're the presence inside every building- the root to the ground, whatever presences are in that patch of ground….."
Damien interrupted my paranormal journalism without compunction or any attempt at believing me. "This house is only eighty years old, I can't imagine that much occupied the ground first except brambles and cornfields."
"Battles were fought around here, there was the abbey and the castle near by, people lived in the village before the conquest- who KNOWS who died on this patch of ground and how!" I protested.
"And all these people are wandering around our house?" Damien inquired. "I've never yet met any centurions in the bathroom or monks in the kitchen-"
"You're being silly!" I pulled away from him, hurt. "You don't have to believe me but you can't make fun of me!"
"I'm not making fun of you, I'm stating a fact." Damien said calmly, not releasing my hand. "Are YOU aware of any presences in this house?"
Apart from the one that shut me in the cellar? I shook my head, not looking at him.
"That doesn't mean they're not there!"
"And what are they likely to do?"
"I don't know!"
For no good reason, tears suddenly overflowed in a rush. Damien lifted me back down to his lap and held me tight, saying nothing for several long minutes while I got myself under control.
"Why," Damien said quietly in my ear when I calmed down enough to hear him. "Would there be any unpleasant presences in this house and why would they want to do anything to us? Hm?"
We were going to get to this eventually.
Still tearful I grabbed his hand, struggled out of his arms and towed him with me. Downstairs, into the kitchen and to the freezer. He stood, looking totally bewildered while I gave him a bag of frozen peas to hold and dug in the ice at the back. The spell emerged- a small, well wrapped jar filled with ice. Damien accepted it, looking still more confused.
Faced with it, I couldn't tell him. Just grabbed at his arm as he unscrewed the lid.
"DON'T undo it!"
I was too far in to chicken out now. "It's a spell- a binding spell-"
"A…" seeing his expression, the tears started again. "I thought it would help but it didn't…."
Despite all my protests and agonised pleas, he microwaved it. I had no clue what microwaving was likely to do to spells: I knew you weren't supposed to leave the bound person bound once they stopped bothering you. Planted in a chair at the kitchen table and sternly told not to move, I sat and watched in trepidation as he waited, one hand on the counter, watching the jar revolve. When the microwave timer plinged, he took the jar out, tipped the water down the sink and took out the little string bundle, unknotting and unrolling it patiently until he got down to the little, sodden paper pellet inside. He unfortunately managed to unfold that, and it was still intact enough for him to see the shape of the paper doll, and to make out some of the words written on it. He turned it over in his hand, looking appallingly grim, then looked straight at me.
"WHAT is this?"
"It was a binding spell-" I explained miserably.
"And what the HELL is that?"
He sounded very far from receptive. I laced trembling fingers together, trying to keep my eyes on him and not the floor.
"Its supposed to keep a named- evil spirit- from troubling you- you write it down- on the doll- and wrap it- and-"
"Was this what involved being naked and covered in salt water with candles everywhere the other day?" Damien demanded. I winced.
"Yes- but that was a cleansing spell-"
"SINCE WHEN HAVE YOU BEEN CASTING SPELLS FOR GOD'S SAKE?!"
I jumped, eyes stinging. Damien thumped the doll and string down onto the table and leaned on it.
"WHAT exactly did you do?"
"The cleansing spell-" I said very unsteadily, "was just salt water and the candles on the compass points and the main walls- and a blessing said in each room and the salt water sprinkled- and the crystals washed and placed- and then I did the binding spell later on- the cleansing spell was supposed to get rid of any evil presences and the binding spell was supposed to stop the girl in the story bothering me-"
"HAD she been bothering you?" Damien demanded.
I swallowed. "I'd had the nightmares?"
"Was that her or was that your imagination?"
I shrugged, my throat drying by the second. "I don't know. I was scared she'd come here-"
"I'm not at all surprised you were scared, meddling with this kind of rubbish!" Damien glared at me across the table. "Where did you find all this? The internet?"
"I told her about the nightmares and she gave me the spells to see if they helped….."
"So you just cheerfully launched into pagan witchcraft without a second thought? Nicholas, if someone suggests you do something as different as trying out Wiccan practice in our home, I want to know about it! And if you find- as you clearly found- that you don't want to tell me about it, I'd take that as a general indication that it's a BAD IDEA!" Damien shoved himself up off the table and pointed at the door. "Get every SINGLE thing involved in this voodoo and bring it down here. Now. EVERYTHING. Including every damn candle in the house. MOVE."
I fled. It took me several minutes to sweep the house, assembling crystals and candles with trembling hands- and the printed out email Beth had sent. It took more courage to re enter the kitchen where Damien was standing like the Rock of Gibraltar, arms folded, about twelve feet high and NOT happy.
"Is that all of it?" he demanded when I put it on the table. "Get a rubbish bag out from under the sink, put that lot in it and get it in the bin."
I hurriedly wrapped and disposed of it, dropping it into the bin outside. Damien held the door for me, pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and pointed to it.
Maybe what would make him happy was a Labrador, not some screw up of a boyfriend.
I sat, watching his face nervously. He leaned on the table again, hands clasping either corner, eyes very steady, looming above me.
"You do NOT, EVER, touch ANYTHING remotely related to the occult. Not ouija boards, tarot cards, spells, crystals, dolls, puppets, charms, psychics, I don't even want to catch you looking at the horroscope in the papers, or you will be in DEAD trouble. 99% of it is pure crap and the other 1% of it needs handling by people who seriously know what they are doing and keep it well away from everyone else! It's a culture BUILT on paranoia and fear. It feeds off it. ESPECIALLY imaginative and easily frightened people like you, and don't even THINK of arguing with me about that right now!"
I wasn't arguing. Damien's voice wasn't loud exactly but it was sharp and technically this wasn't far off yelling. Tears were regathering and my hands were starting to shake.
"You do not need ANY help to scare yourself and you most CERTAINLY do not need to find yourself additional things to worry about. And I am at the END of my patience with you being fascinated by things that scare the living daylights out of you! If one story can disturb you so badly that you're willing to throw yourself into all kinds of occult rubbish to protect yourself, then firstly I'm not paying nearly enough attention to what you do in your free time, and secondly I obviously should be keeping a FAR tighter hand on what you have access to! THAT is something I intend to rectify immediately."
And this was it. I know Damien's voice when he's pronouncing sentence.
"TV is banned unless I'm watching with you young man, the only thing you may watch alone are videos. At least I KNOW what's in that collection. I'll go through our books this evening and I'll get rid of any I have doubts about. Any books or videos you want to take out of the library or buy, you ask permission first. I will be putting the parent locks on the internet, and any sites you want to view that you can't access with the locks on, you'll need to ask me to set up for you and you'll use them under supervision. And the first time I find you reading anything occult or at ALL disturbing online, YOU will be offlined. Permanently. IS THAT CLEAR? We are NOT going to go through this again."
I muttered something vaguely approximating yes sir. Damien straightened up and held out a hand, still looking furious.
"Right, come on. We're going to check the cellar for centurions and schizophrenic dead women. And take that look of misery off your face. If we find any, believe me I will see to it that they end up a lot more scared of me than you are of them."
It was a bizarre variation on the cleansing spell.
Two days ago I had walked softly from room to room, sprinkling the salt water as the spell dictated, murmuring the litany that ended each time, "Let nothing of evil enter here". Damien stalked from room to room, dragging me with him which I suppose accounted for the sprinkling of salt water, muttering an outraged diatribe on boyfriends who watched far too much television, and interspersing it with threats of GBH to any spirit presence, friendly or otherwise, who dared to enter our house. I could imagine psychic hordes fleeing the village, arms outstretched and mouths agape in terror- monks, soldiers, boggarts, house spirits together, rushing before his wrath like rats in front of a combine harvester.
By the time he had searched the house to his satisfaction- not to mine; I by this time would have been happy to just curl up and die in a corner- I was fully prepared to swear in blood that the house was unhaunted, there were no such things as ghosts and I'd happily sleep in the cellar if he'd just stop being so cross with me. Since every attempt to explain this to him had been met with a swat and an order to keep moving, I didn't hold out much hope. He dragged me relentlessly into every nook and cranny the house possessed. I hated every second of it, feeling like a child demanding the wardrobe be searched for monsters, (and allright, I'd made him do that in the middle of the night, more than once) but I could feel his presence filling every room. He invaded every dark corner ruthlessly, from the cellar to under the beds.
The search ended at the familiar corner on the landing where Damien planted me and went back to the computer, still muttering. I had no clue what he was doing. I rubbed my eyes and tried to calm down, wondering yet again why it was that some kinds of anxiety made my lungs clamp up like oysters, and yet other kinds had no effect on them whatever, despite the fact that it would prove useful. Right now I couldn't summon up a wheeze. Damien understood why. But then Damien had a handle on most of the mysteries of the universe. And he was seriously not happy with me.
I heard the printer running through fresh waves of misery. Whatever he was printing, it was a good few pages long. Finally I heard the sigh of the computer shutting down, and my stomach clenched for very different reasons as he stood up.
I turned around, risking a look at him. He still looked seriously cross. And the wadge of papers in his hand was not promising. He did however put it down on top of the bookcase and nodded me at the bathroom.
"Get yourself ready for bed."
Oh God. I moved, fast, near tears again. Any ghosts lurking in the bathroom went unnoticed: I had nothing whatever on my mind except how fed up Damien looked and sounded, and how cross he was about all this. I was about to get a five star lecture and I dreaded every word of it, almost more than I dreaded what he'd do when he'd finished talking.
When I emerged cautiously, fifteen minutes later, I heard the click of the phone settling back into its cradle. Damien was sitting on the end of the bed, elbows on his knees, still looking highly unimpressed. That was the end of my tether. It had been a horrible few days, I was short on sleep and there was no way whatever to get around the fact that I'd really annoyed him this time. He was angry with me, I'd made a serious mess of things and there was going to be no quick route to making this better.
Under the circumstances I did what any rational person would have done. I grabbed the nearest book off the bookcase and hurled it straight at his head.
Damien ducked in time, and the book flew harmlessly past and crashed into the wall. I hit him with the second one as he advanced on me and the third he pulled out of my hands, tossing it over onto the bed before he turned me around and folded his arms over me, too tight for me to move. It was probably just as well, since somewhere between the second and third book I'd begun to tell him exactly what I thought of life and the universe in general, albeit somewhat incoherently, and while I was aware of him saying something, I had no clue what it was.
He's got twice the upper body build and strength I have, never mind the additional height. I wrenched and struggled for several minutes, doing nothing but wearing myself out. Damien moved me, much against my will, to the bed where he put his back to the bedhead, pulled me down beside him and held me without effort, both arms wrapped around me, both my legs trapped under one of his.
There is nothing more infuriating than being held and comforted by someone you are unsuccessfully trying to hit. Only once or twice in my life- and only by him- have I been provoked into being so angry I can't see or think, and it becomes an animal rage of screams and struggling, with every ounce of energy and strength and no thought for what comes next, all control lost, no rational plan. And beyond that, when all out rage butts up against that kind of immoveability, comes a point of total surrender. Like any mountain, it builds to a peak- you feel the tip over the edge- and then the out of control rush down the other side. Somewhere, the snarling turned into tears, all my energy abandoned me in a flood and I clung to him, limp and shattered and unaware of everything except him. His arms around me and his soothing voice in my ear.
The typical weepy queen scene. Scarlett O Hara, hammering against Rhett Butler's chest in a droopy sort of way before collapsing into his arms in tears and being carried off to be ravished. It's an awful, humiliating cliché and totally untrue. In reality, you're just left tired, sweaty and miserable, and ravishment is out of the question.
Besides, I knew exactly what Damien planned on doing to me tonight, and it wasn't going to be romantic.
When I managed to hold it down to muted snivelling, Damien leaned past me to the bed side table and handed me some tissues. I sat up and mopped at my face, trying to retain some minor measure of my dignity, horribly aware of the books on the floor.
"I think," Damien said calmly, "You'd better pick those up and put them away. Hadn't you?"
If I'd had a white flag, I'd have been waving it. I stumbled up and put the books carefully back in the bookcase. Damien sat quietly on the edge of the bed, watching me until I was finished. Then held out a hand and waited. I took about a hundred years to cross the floor and let him get hold of me.
"Have I ever thrown anything at you?" he asked. I stared at my feet, wishing there was some magic way to get out of this whole horrible minefield, and knowing from bitter experience that there wasn't. We were going to have to pick our way through it, it was going to be long, painful and exhausting, and Damien wouldn't let me off a single step of it.
"IS that an acceptable way to tell me you're angry with me?"
I shook my head fervently. We'd been over this just once or twice before. HE wouldn't do it Of course he wouldn't. I entertained no suspicions at all that provoked enough he'd pick up anything and shy it at me. But he was Damien.
And I was Nick.
HE wouldn't scare himself silly with binding spells. HE would have laughed at the whole concept from the beginning and made me see the funny side of it too. He could render the most terrible things powerless over me, he'd done it time and time again. And what I SHOULD have done was told him I'd read the ghost story and talked to him about it the first night I'd read it. Why I hadn't done that I didn't know.
"Why did you have to dig yourself in deeper and deeper and deeper, hmm?" Damien said gently. "The story upset you enough in itself. Why go on trying to fix it on your own?"
I shrugged. Damien's tone was the deep and kind one that goes right through me when I don't want to talk to him, and his grip on my hand was warm, strong and reassuring. I felt his thumb run over my knuckles, rubbing. Comforting.
"Were you scared to tell me? Afraid I'd be angry?"
Well…… I didn't think he'd be happy. But to be honest I hadn't expected him to be THIS angry, this had come as a very nasty surprise.
I shook my head.
"Did you think I wouldn't understand? Or that I wouldn't get how much it was bothering you?"
I shook my head.
"Nick talk to me."
"I don't know." I said, still staring at the floor. "It was silly- I should have been able to fix it."
"Sweetheart, do you think I'd think any the less of you just because you've got the sensitivity and the imagination to connect with what you read and be upset by it?"
No. He'd probably have teased me about it, but that would have been mildly irritating, that was all. He always did understand.
Damien waited, hazel eyes gentle and patient. I loved his mouth. I loved the shape of his mouth, especially when his face was upturned to mine. I put a finger over his lips, tracing the shape of them. Damien captured my hand and held it. I winced, trying to find the words.
"I'm in my thirties for Pete's sake, it was just a story- it's pathetic!"
"You are who you are." Damien said simply. "You're musical. I'm not. I'm technically minded. You're not. You've got brown eyes. You're unusually sensitive. It comes as part of the DNA package darling, there isn't much you can do about it other than be who you're meant to be. And accept there are some things that you CAN'T handle. Except right now I'm taking that choice away and I'll censor everything myself until you convince me you're getting the hang of it. I've had enough of you doing this to yourself."
I flushed. Damien's voice crispened, regaining it's sternness.
"And messing about with ANYTHING to do with the occult is TOTALLY unacceptable. Totally. Fear is a very powerful emotion, it can be very powerful and very manipulative.
You're inciting your mind and your imagination to play tricks on you until your own paranoia starts to haunt you- you start to interpret every little sound, every movement in the house as being meaningful until you're so scared you're hypersensitive. You will see what scares you, because it's your own natural fears of the universe that make you think those words and rituals have meaning anyway. You will MAKE yourself see it."
I nodded, very red faced. Damien pulled me down on the bed beside him.
"It starts out as curiosity and then it becomes guilt. Guilt because you know you've done something that MAY have meaning, and you don't know- you don't know if you were just throwing salt water about or if you were doing something significant and you've made something happen that you don't understand and that you can't see. And guilt in your case because you knew damn well you were doing something you shouldn't have been doing to cover up something ELSE you shouldn't have been doing. The whole thing is a recipe for BAD mental health and again, if you don't have the self control to overcome the curiosity, believe me, I'll do it for you. You are NOT meddling with it, not now and not ever."
"But I did," I wailed at him, "And now God alone knows what IS happening that we can't see-"
"Nicholas." That tone was the one from earlier, sharp enough to make me jump and promptly choke off that line of thought. "Anything that comes NEAR this house is going to wish it had never died. And the only thing scaring you right now is YOU."
"I know." I said in a very small voice. Damien's hand squeezed the nape of my neck and shook me gently.
"You know why at the moment if I hand you a green towel, you put it back and take a blue one? Or why if I take biscuits out of the cupboard you have to have yoghurt? Or why if I want you to nap upstairs, you want to lie on the sofa?"
I looked at him, bewildered. Damien sighed, but his voice was no less stern.
"Nick, you control your behaviour. It doesn't control you, whatever you'd like to think. You are not a helpless victim of it. You are making yourself scared. You're going to have to change that behaviour and I'm going to insist on it."
He'd lost me about six sentences ago. Unfortunately he then went to an all to familiar vocabulary. For a start, he leaned across to the bedside drawer and withdrew the paddle. And shook his head at me.
"Don't look at me like that my lad. I'm within a bare INCH of getting the cane out, and you thoroughly deserve it. This comes VERY close to dangerous behaviour and it certainly includes lying. That is not acceptable, it is never acceptable and I will NOT tolerate it. And I am very cross with you about those spells, I really am. If I ever- EVER find out you've touched ANY occult artefact, ritual, book, story or spell, you WILL get the caning of your life, I promise you. Is that clear?"
I was already on the brink of tears and had been since he said, straight out that he was angry with me.
Miserably I got to my feet and went where he drew me, between his knees where he unbuttoned and lowered my jeans and shorts. He turned me over his lap and pushed my shirt out of the way, resting a hand on my back.
"We'll talk later about the ethics and morals of hurling books. I know you were upset but that does not excuse it."
No, somehow I hadn't thought it would. I shut my eyes, without the stuffing left in me to brace against the first, hard slap across my upturned bottom. Within four or five, I was smarting enough that the tears were stinging yet again. There was going to be a simple solution to this horrible year: I was either going to dehydrate or drown. And the worst thing was, I was well aware I deserved this. Damien wasn't taking his time either; he kept to a rapid, hard rhythm, moving from hip to thigh on alternate sides with a thoroughness that meant I was yelping and pleading almost immediately. I stayed where I was, clutching the duvet beneath my face but not able to control the instinctive twitches, jerks and swerving my backside was trying to do all by itself to evade Damien's very accurate hand. His arm across my back was making sure I didn't succeed. And I felt more abjectly aware of the dangers and the magnitude of messing around with those spells than I'd ever been aware before. And sorrier that I'd even tried it, and kept it from him, and read the damn story in the first place. I HAD known I wouldn't handle it, he was right: I just hadn't had the self control to make myself stop. Unbearable as the endless and inexorable spanks were that were still rapidly being applied to my already burning bottom, I knew I'd earned this one. By now, I should have learned to say no to myself, without making multiple excuses and exemptions or just downright not listening. I KNEW what seemed like a good idea at the time could often turn out to be an absolute disaster if I let myself be blind to the possible consequences, or tell myself they were unlikely. Unimportant. Excessively cautious. Right now, given the choice between making myself believe the word 'no' and getting a spanking like this, I had no idea why I'd had a problem making a decision.
Damien paused in his all too sound swatting and the tears got the better of me as I felt him lean over for the paddle. His voice above me was quiet and still stern, but the hand rubbing my back said something very different.
"You will NOT mess with new innovations without consulting me, and you will NEVER mess with anything related to the occult again. Nor will I ever tolerate you lying to me, by word or by action. What did you tell me about those crystals?"
"I WAS washing them-" I said helplessly, "That was part of it-"
"Do you know what it means when courts ask for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. Suppression of the truth, suggestion of the false. That is STILL lying, Nick. If you find that you don't want me to know the whole, unvarnished truth of the matter, then something about it is wrong."
There are few more demoralising positions to be lectured in.
"I'm sorry." I said with heartfelt sincerity, "I'm really sorry."
"I know you are, but that doesn't change much. You know exactly what I think about lying, and you know better than to go messing around with things you don't understand. I am really NOT happy about it Nick."
Arg. There really isn't anything much worse he can say. The paddle came into action then and further conversation became impossible. I was too occupied with the need to kick and squirm and cry as hard as possible.
He still made me come downstairs for dinner, heartless beast that he is. By which time it was past nine and I wanted to do anything except swallow pasta. I still less wanted to sit at the table, but he wasn't listening and I was in no mood to start an argument with him. He did however put a dish in front of me containing less than half the amount he'd usually make me eat, and he sent me up to bed the minute the dish was empty. Very thankful to escape, I curled up in bed and went right back to sniffling, listening to the sounds of the dishes clinking in the sink, the click of the front door being locked and the reassuring sound of Damien's footfall on the stairs.
"Didn't you want the lights on?" he said quietly, pulling his sweater over his head. I shook my head, turning over to watch him undress. He stripped quickly, slid under the covers and I buried myself in his arms, clinging within the tight hug he gave me. No. All I'd wanted was him up here and in clutching distance. His hand found its way proprietarily under my pyjama top and began to rub its way slowly and heavily over my spine, tracing out bone by bone.
"It's allright baby. It's fine, it's going to be okay."
"We've done all that, it's over." Damien kissed what he could reach of my face. "We've sorted that out."
"DON'T say anything to Beth." I begged. "Promise?"
"No." Damien said simply. "There's a few things I want to say to that young lady."
Since the young lady in question was in her early forties, that one took a moment's thought. Although on reflection, Beth definitely had brat leanings.
"I'm tired." I said pathetically into his neck a few minutes later. Damien nuzzled my hair back from my temple and kissed me again.
"You're going to get a lot of early nights this week, you'll catch up."
Arg. Well it wasn't really worth debating, I knew I wouldn't win.
"What was that pile of stuff you printed off the net?" I asked, snuggling closer.
"Some articles for you." Damien said simply. "I want you to spend next week researching and writing an essay-"
"Nooooo that's not fair!" I said plaintively. Damien sounded somewhere between amused and stern.
"Nicholas, explain to me how that isn't fair?"
I slid deeper under the covers and into his arms, hurriedly withdrawing all opposition. Damien kissed the top of my head severely.
"I want you to understand exactly what about magic is dangerous."
"I'm not even INTERESTED in it, I just did it because I was scared and Beth said it would help!" I pleaded. Damien shook his head.
"You still need to understand how it works and why it isn't to be played with. That won't do you any harm at all. You should have enough articles to be going on with, but I'm sure Allen will take you over to the library if you need more."
I shut up, reminded. That had been Damien's final and least palatable judgement. I had been warned over the last few months- several times- that if I didn't behave more responsibly in my free time, that he would ask Allen to babysit. He'd made the phone call while I was in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. I was sentenced to spend Monday afternoon, Thursday afternoon and Friday at Allen's house, under supervision, and no promises made that it would remain for a week only. I was not looking forward to it, or to Robin's comments when he found out. Especially if I was stuck working on this project and he had clear clues as to why I was in trouble.
Damien nudged my head up and kissed me, deeply and thoroughly, edging off yet another flash flood of tears.
"Come on, don't think about it any more tonight. Go to sleep baby, it's going to be allright."
"DID he talk to Beth?" Allen said on Monday afternoon. I gave him a slightly shamefaced nod.
"She wouldn't tell me what he said, and she wasn't at all upset but she said he made an impression."
"I bet he did." Allen said wryly. "I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Damien. Eat that, Nick, don't push it about."
"I'm never that hungry after work."
"Damien told me clearly, when he can't make it home for lunch he leaves you a meal laid out along with death threats." Allen leaned on the table, stirring his coffee, and gave me a smile that took the sting out of his words. "How is the essay coming?"
"I've only done a little reading." I pushed scrambled eggs around the plate a little more. The articles, pen and paper were in my briefcase in the hall. "I'm supposed to do some this afternoon. AS a learning experience."
"Is it working so far? Are you sleeping better?"
"No more nightmares." I said lightly. "That part I like."
"Are you still scared at home?"
I stifled a laugh, laying my fork down. "Only of Damien."
Allen raised an eyebrow at me. I gave him a faint grin.
"When we met I was about fifteen years overdue for a tetanus shot- I'd sort of missed appointments and answered questions tactically whenever I had a doctor's appointment. Then I cut myself and Damien asked and found out I'd rather have lockjaw than an injection."
"I can see him swallowing that like a lamb." Allen commented.
"He asked me why I'd never had the shot and I told him I was scared. And he told me I just had to make a decision then about what I was more scared of- needles or him."
Allen grinned. "And you had the shot?"
"That afternoon." I confirmed. "It was pretty much the same this weekend. He was so upset about the spell thing I didn't have time to think about anything else."
The man understood me so well it was scary. We HAD talked- briefly- about me chucking books at his head, but only very mildly. I suspected Damien felt he took some of the blame for that: he usually worked hard at not scaring me when I was in trouble.
"I don't think you need to worry about any evil spirits in your house." Allen said, getting up to take his dishes to the sink.
"Damien keeps muttering threats about what he'll do to them." I stirred the eggs again, poking them gently. "I don't think he'll get them to play cricket."
"I'd have thought you lived with someone who WOULD be able to teach them if need be. I doubt Beth knew what she was getting into."
I looked at him, confused. Allen caught the look and his eyebrows rose.
"You do…..? Nick. You know Damien plays cricket with the local club-"
"AND his old school club-"
"And played rugby with the local club."
"And his old school club. Occasionally." I added.
Allen nodded, giving me a patient look. "Exactly. AND the school he comes from? Never heard of the White Lodge?"
I looked blankly at him. He shook his head. "I'd just be staggered if Damien couldn't deal with any unwelcome presence he came across. Or knew a man who could."
"The Lodge was the name of his house at school?" I offered. "I think? I've heard him talk about it and he has the house tie as well as his school tie when he goes to reunions."
"Right." Allen gave me a smile and brought another cup of coffee across to the table. "Eat that Nick. Now. Or I'll spank you."
"No you wouldn't." I said with complete confidence. Allen laughed.
"Allright, no I wouldn't. But eat it anyway. I don't want the wrath of Damien on my head."