A dismal little street, not much more than an alley between two bustling shopping streets, Gallows Close lay in the heart of the inner city, hemmed in on one side by the high stone wall of a churchyard, on the other by the imposing 1970s concrete carbuncle that was the city’s leisure centre.
Few of the buildings in Gallows Close were still occupied, the local council having made repeated advances to the owners, offers of lucrative terms for relocating to more modern premises however, one of two of the more intractable souls just would not go. Goddess Rising, the esoteric bookshop at No. 13 was one of them.
The shop was decrepit, the casual passer-by may well have wondered if it was still in business at all – once glossy black paint flaked from the façade, at least those parts of it not covered with a profusion of faded and torn fly posters. The name board was all but illegible and a thick film of grime across the plate glass almost obscured a few antique volumes mouldering away in the window. It also appeared the shop never opened, either that or its opening hours were known only to a select clientele.
Sitting alone in his rooms above the shop, illuminated only by the flickering light of a coal fire, the Rev Beresford was one of that select few.
A threadbare little man in his late seventies, Rev Beresford had his ancient leather wing-backed chair drawn up so close to the roaring coal fire that a distinct smell of singeing leather hung in the air. A frayed tartan travelling rug was spread out across his knees, but Rev Beresford was still cold. He was always cold. He was sure the house spirit was behind it.
Reaching for the cut glass tumbler of single malt whisky on the side table next to him, Rev Beresford felt the slim leather journal begin to slip from among the folds of the rug on his lap and just managed to grab it, spilling his whisky in the process, before it slithered onto the floor.
“Bother!” he muttered quietly, sucking the spilled whisky greedily from arthritic fingers while regarding the journal with a mixture of awe and loathing. If it wasn’t for this book, he thought, tears welling up in his eyes.
* * *
If it had not been for his Great Uncle’s journal, life for Rev Austin Beresford may well have taken a completely different direction altogether. The journal had been a family secret for years until that fateful day when his elder sister discovered it in their parent’s attic and began to read the entries. Slowly, insidiously, the journal worked its magic and Millie became more and more obsessed with the notion that fairies were real until, at the age of fifteen, Rev Beresford’s parents felt they had no choice but to put Millie away; for her own good.
Austin was twelve when his sister left. He was a newly ordained curate aged 24 when she committed suicide in the sanatorium. His parents already dead, victims of an unexplained accident while he was at university, Austin became the custodian of both their and his sister’s estates. Among the papers and family heirlooms he found the journal, now annotated with Millie’s observations, and began to read. He also found his Great Uncle’s collection, neatly packed into the museum cabinets that now filled one wall of his Gallows Close study; the mere thought of the contents still made him shiver.
Rev Beresford’s career was blighted from the day he opened the journal. After decades of being asked to move every few months, finally ending up at a church in a particularly disadvantaged inner city parish, he was secretly relieved when his bishop invited him to retire early. The bishop for his part was relieved to see Rev Beresford go, some of his stranger notions had made the bishop a laughing stock among his peers.
Despite trying on a number of occasions to rid himself of the journal, it always returned to Rev Beresford. He had tried burning it but the flames would not catch, he had thrown it in the river but some kind soul had retrieved and returned it. He even once gave it to a colleague to take overseas, but it was “lost” at the airport and returned to Rev Beresford by the airline weeks later. In the end he gave up trying.
The only bright spot in his life came shortly before his retirement, the death of Rev Beresford’s Aunt. It was she who left him the building housing Goddess Rising in her will, and a small annuity, just about enough to keep him in perpetuity as long as he didn’t do anything extravagant, like eat more than once a day.
Only after his retirement did the real problems start. On the day Rev Beresford moved into Gallows Close, he was sorting through his sister’s meagre belongings and came upon her vanity mirror. Presumably the cracks must have happened during the long years of storage, he presumed, setting the mirror down next to the open journal.
It was only when he caught a glimpse of the journal’s pages reflected in the cracked mirror out of the corner of his eye that he noticed for the first time the ethereal spidery annotations in pale blue ink. It took a few years of practice to be able to read them as, whenever Rev Beresford looked at the journal straight on, either with or without the mirror, the annotations remained hidden, only out of the corner of his eye did he stand any chance of seeing them; he had almost finished transcribing them.
* * *
Outside, in the gathering gloom of the early evening, amid the grime and pigeon crap covering the windowsill, a fairy crouched, her ear pressed firmly up against the pane. She was sure he was in there, that it was in there; she’d heard him moving about.