Juliet Maystone, saved from death, becomes displaced in this world, giving her an unexpected ability. After seeking the help of a famous medium, it turns out there's more to life than Juliet ever imagined before. But how ready is she to face up to this?
Set on Lansin Island, an island with a macabre story of its own, Nicolas and Juliet must work together, using their abilities to unravel the mystery surrounding an unsolved death and a secluded manor: rumoured to be haunted.
*** Visions, witches, ghosts & murder! ***
A Death Displaced - ExcerptChapter 1
It felt so real.
Was this actually happening? His senses alleged yes, his mind suspected no. Maybe it was a daydream or an out-of-body experience? Possibly, his imagination was unbounded, taking flight? He pondered the matter until his thoughts tumbled out of reach and fell so far that he no longer disputed its reality…
The definite coolness and damp in the air left no doubt that it was early morning. He walked towards his workplace, Creaky Crystals, in the lower grounds of Amiton town centre, his winklepickers tip-tapping on murky cobbles.
A red-headed girl spun circles near the fountain feature and fell into his path, causing him to side step. He apologised for the near collision and carried on his way. The girl scurried off to her mother who was setting up a stall for business.
He smiled. Halloween decorations filled the shop windows; an array of ghouls, pumpkins, witches and vampires. ‘Happy Halloween’ was found in orange, black, purple and white; and in one gruesome display, a blood-red dripping font.
There was a lady re-arranging her window layout in preparation for opening. She caught his eyes and gave a friendly nod. He inclined his head and waved to her.
The morning was as peaceful as a cat asleep; or like a tortoise bathing in the sun, it was quiet, settled.
On approach to Creaky Crystals, he spotted a seagull sat right in front of the store. No other birds flocked overhead; none were in sight, only this solitary seagull, squatted like it was waiting for the shop to open.
Of course, nothing was strange about seagulls in Amiton, but this one fixedly stared; directly at him. It was so still. The eeriness of it made his bones fidget. Stupid seagull.
The screeching of tyres came from above. He stopped his walk. His gaze shot to the upper grounds. The seagull reacted instantly; it smoothly jumped into flight as if it knew the harsh cries were coming.
There was no way to see the commotion from where he stood. The 50ft wall separating the upper and lower grounds had zigzag steps up the side and a low wall along the top to protect people from falling.
Echoes. The sounds of metal scraping, twisting, crunching. Police sirens wailed in the distance. He couldn’t see at this angle, but he imagined that a car had crashed into something at high speed, flipped and had begun to roll.
Then came a thud. Something finally came into view, a woman. The car must have hit her hard. She was vaulted over the wall a great distance and fell to the lower grounds. He saw her hit the ground. Did he hear her skull crack open or was it her neck breaking?
He snapped out of it.
Whoa, he opened his eyes and had to blink a few times. That was too real, too disturbing. It would teach him a lesson for trying to meditate at work.
He’d always been interested in meditation, out-of-body experiences and anything and everything spiritual. But that was probably because it had surrounded him his whole life. He didn’t even know what he was trying to accomplish by meditating this time.
Usually it was to try to meet some kind of deity, visualise his dream future, or ask his ‘higher self’ for guidance, but this time he just had a disturbingly realistic daydream.
I really am screwed up, imagining a woman fall to her death.
He didn’t actually think he was screwed up; he was just Nicolas Jack Crystan, or Nick for short, and what could he think of his life? He was twenty four, had no future plans, was always striving for enlightenment (whatever that was) and he worked in a crystal shop.
‘Excuse me…’ whined a lady with a scrunched-up face.
Nick’s work place, Creaky Crystals, was located in the corner of The Fallend in the lower grounds, snug against the wall. The Fallend was one large shopping street with a high wall and steps at the end leading to the upper grounds.
‘Hi, how can I help?’ Nick sat behind the counter. He tried to portray alert-and-ready-to-serve the best he could.
‘Oh, so you are working, not just taking a nap?’ she smiled sardonically, her sarcasm potent and ugly.
‘Sorry, it’s been a quiet day, what can I do for you?’ he couldn’t help but observe her choice of clothing. She looked like a witch in a kids’ school play, minus the green face paint and plus an absurd amount of jewellery. What concerned him was when he realised that she was serious in her selection of garments.
‘Do you sell any other wands?’ she asked with a widening of her eyes, ‘I don’t like the ones on display. They don’t feel right.’
‘They are all we have in stock, sorry.’
‘You’re not going to check out the back for me?’ she asked, retracting her head and creating a double chin.
‘I know what stock we have and there are no more wands.’
‘Can you go and check anyway, just in case you’ve missed some?’
‘No… Sorry, I’d be wasting your time.’
‘I’m not in a hurry.’ God, this woman was relentless.
‘Trust me, there’s no more stock out the back.’ he said with finality.
He caught his reflection in the shop window and ruffled his deep brown hair, then let it settle looking stylishly dishevelled. He realised that he was staring at the spot where he imagined the woman hit the ground. It was directly out the front of Creaky Crystals.
‘Just so you know. The other tourist shops around here have a wider range of items. Why is your store so limited?’ she seemed to ask with genuine interest. Please get a life.
‘I’m sorry to hear that but my manager is happy with our range of products. If you’re not happy then feel free to buy from those other shops you mentioned.’ he replied, more antagonising than intended.
She huffed and declared, ‘I will shop elsewhere!’ then stormed out of the store.
Oops, slight guilt. He hadn’t meant to upset the lady, but she was rude from the start of the conversation and he was getting sick and tired of all these witch wannabes waddling around Amiton.
This was something he couldn’t avoid due to the history of Lansin Island and the fact that he worked in a tourist shop aimed at those interested in its dark past.
Amiton was the largest town on Lansin Island and it was where all the tourists jumped off the ferry and decided to shop. He liked the customers who were interested in witchcraft and the history but he couldn’t stand the witch wannabes who researched Wicca on the internet, read an article on some naff website then declared themselves High Priestess of this, that and the other. Some would shove their views down his throat and threaten to hex him when his customer service skills sucked (which was most of the time).
‘Nicolas?’ her voice was delicate yet held great authority.
‘Yes, Mora?’ he spun to address her.
She was a short, plump lady in her late forties with a calm demeanour. She had brief, cropped, chocolate hair and green eyes. Her complexion was so yellowy-white that if she laid with her eyes closed you’d think she was dead, or at least severely ill.
‘That lady didn’t seem too impressed with you?’
‘Yeah, I suggested she shops elsewhere.’
‘You sent a customer away?’
‘She was rude to me.’
‘Okay, Nicolas, but I’d prefer it if your pride didn’t affect our profits in the future.’ It was almost impossible to take offence to anything Mora said. Nick knew she was a careful thinker and spoke only her mind. He liked that about her.
‘I forgot to mention… she didn’t like your wands and she said our store is limited compared to the others in Amiton.’
Mora’s jaw dropped.
After a moment of composing herself, she came out with, ‘Stuff her then. The grumpy sod can shop elsewhere!’ they laughed together, but Nick couldn’t help think, Oh, so it’s fine for your pride to affect profits!
‘Nicolas,’ Mora dawdled off and stood by the table with divination and tarot cards stacked on top. ‘I think more items have been stolen.’ She shook her head and compressed her lips.
‘I don’t remember selling any of these today, though I could swear there were a lot more here this morning.’
He shrugged his shoulders and wished he knew what to say. Mora toddled back over to him rather solemnly then said, ‘Never mind. Will you keep an eye out for me? Look out for suspicious customers.’
‘Of course.’ he gave an enthusiastic nod.
‘You can get going if you want; it’s not so busy at this time of day. I’ll lock up and there’s not much cleaning to do,’ she scanned the store and returned her eyes to him, ‘and don’t worry, I’ll pay you for the whole shift.’ she sweetly smiled and took his place behind the glass counter.
In comparison to Mora, Nick felt like a giant. She was maybe five feet tall. He noticed the height difference more when she sat down. It didn't bother him much when the other staff members were about, but when it was only him and Mora, he felt almost obliged to slouch his posture and appear shorter.
‘Thank you, Mora. I’ll see you on Friday.’
He scuttled out the back, grabbed his jacket, and hurried out of the store. He waved to Mora on his exit.
Two full time colleagues, Janet and Alan, worked nine to five and had already left. As a part-timer, Nick was meant to work twelve to six today and help Mora close up. He checked the time on his mobile: Twenty past five. Not bad. He smiled.
His black Vauxhall Corsa just about started up. He huffed when he looked at the petrol gauge pointing below the ‘E’ as usual, conjecturing that he could squeeze a few more drives to work and back out of it before visiting a petrol station.
On the drive home, all he thought about was that disturbing daydream. The sound of her hitting the ground was embedded in his mind and seemed to be on replay.
No dreams had ever matched up to how vivid that was. Even the few lucid dreams he’d had were covered in a sense of, ‘Is this really real?’ But when he was in this daydream… he was really there… until he wasn’t; until he snapped back to reality. Or was that reality and this the dream?
Uh, head ache. He needed a hot chocolate, a warm blanket and a decent film to watch. No gory films though.
Driving up Maw Street, he compared his house to the others. The fact that he couldn’t see his house didn’t help much. The evening had begun to darken already and the bungalow he lived in was hidden, shrouded by trees in the front garden.
The other houses on the street were very presentable: groomed and freshly landscaped front-gardens, features, and neatly gravelled driveways. Many of the houses were no longer bungalows but had been extended upwards and outwards.
No doubts as to who the money-makers were on the street.
Most Maw Street residents were proud of their homes. It wasn’t exactly a wealthy street to live on but it certainly wasn’t slummy either. He was pained to know that his house was the lowest valued on the street.
You just have to do something about those awful trees, Aimee Price from number 42 once passed by to tell Nick. The American lady lived alone and was a practicing Wiccan. She had frowned at the prevalent weeds in the driveway and stated that his house put Maw Street to shame.
Miss Price didn’t hesitate to add that she couldn’t stand the thought of her relatives from Los Angeles visiting and being subjected to passing his house on the way to hers.
Nick defended that the enormous sycamore maple trees in the front garden were practically impossible to do anything with and most of the evergreen conifers were too tall to maintain. He couldn’t be asked to trim the shrubbery or to de-weed the drive, and it was the Council’s job to cut the grass out on the front, but most importantly, it wasn’t any of her business.
In his head he also thought, For a Wiccan, you don’t seem to like trees much!
His retaliation must have been unexpected to her. She stalked off after mumbling something along the lines of, ‘I’m not the only one on this street who thinks you need to sort it out.’
Nick signalled and pulled into his drive. An overhanging branch rattled and scratched against the roof of his car.
Okay, maybe I should cut that branch at least.
The drive was carpeted with fallen leaves. At this time of day they were simply shadowy mounds, but in the daylight, the red and orange maple leaves were luscious and vibrant.
When he stepped out of the car, he grumbled at the fact that there was nowhere in the drive he could leave the car without it gathering leaves and sap. He loved and hated the sycamore trees, but right now, all he could think of was how much he detested their sticky sap
He locked the car then headed inside his home, number 16 Maw Street. The neighbours may not have liked the trees but Nick sure liked the privacy they offered.
He was glad to be home. It was safe here.
After having a ready-made microwave meal, he flopped onto his bed. He had no energy these days. Before he knew it, he woke up three hours later. Urgh! Now he’d struggle sleeping tonight. To help him fall asleep, he read a get-rich-quick book until his eyes were strained.
Wednesday morning, nothing could tempt him to leave his house, apart from that it was probably warmer outside than it was inside. As he’d expected, it was tough getting to sleep. The cold didn’t help but he couldn’t afford to put the heating on too often.
He found a comfortable position in his room and decided to meditate. He quickly cleared his mind and got into some rhythmic breathing. Lately he’d been feeling agitated by the smallest things and kept boxing them off to the corner of his mind, but now they seemed determined to claim recognition.
When he noticed how not peaceful he felt, the irritation bugged him and the more he tried to find peace, the worse his state became.
Whatever position he sat in, it created uncomfortable tight areas from his clothes, or he became itchy, had to scratch.
Ignore it, it will go, clear your mind.
A noise interrupted him. The wild beeping of a car horn. Idiots. Drive down my street sensibly, I’m trying to meditate!
He found it again, a clear mind. But then he was annoyed at himself for thinking, ‘My mind is clear.’ Surely his mind wasn’t clear of thought if he was thinking it was clear of thought?
Why don’t I feel peaceful?
The frustration steeped and he lost it. He picked up a smiling Buddha ornament and smashed it against the wall. He tore down posters of tranquil landscapes. He pushed over his open storage cabinet. DVDs clattered on the floor. Self-help books clunked alongside them. About to thump the wall, he stopped, not brave enough. He stomped a heavy foot instead.
Fed up, completely and utterly fed up. He could have seen this coming, he knew all these spiritual, religious and self-help ideas weren’t working for him, but he’d kept on deceiving himself.
Maybe the Law of Attraction can help me, what about CBT, what about Affirmations, how about Witchcraft, EFT, Buddhism, Wicca, Yoga, Laughter-Yoga, Meditation, Visualisation, Divination, and every self-help book under the sun?!
Yeah, sure, they all seemed to work for a while but they never kept him happy for long. He brought together the fingertips and thumb tip of his right hand and used them to repeatedly tap the centre of his left palm. As he continued this he mentally repeated, I’m calm, I’m focused, I’m calm, I’m focused.
It took a while but he eventually composed himself. He looked to his room. Ornaments he’d had for years were broken beyond repair. Visceral regret made a sudden, disheartening appearance in his body. He hated rash outbursts of anger like this, it was like consequences were illusions, and all that mattered was his rage getting its cup full of destruction. And in this case, its room full of destruction.
His morose mood occupied the evening. At least there was something to look forward to the next day. Kind of.
‘Hello, Nicolas.’ Thursday at the local surgery, his therapist greeted him, ‘Come on in, have a seat.’
‘Thank you.’ he sat in his usual place, a bog-standard chair turned at a slight angle to his therapist’s seat. She closed the door and sat down. He envied how she never rushed about or huffed and puffed.
‘How have you been this week?’
‘Err, okay mostly.’ It was true, he’d felt good for a few days after he saw his therapist last week.
‘Okay,’ she nodded gently. It was apparent that she was waiting for him to expand on his answer. If anyone else had done that he would have been annoyed.
‘Well, I got a bit angry last night. I feel like I’m trying so hard to succeed at something but I don’t know what I even want to succeed at. I’ve tried out so many self-help books and so many new things that surely I deserve to be happy about something. I see other people who don’t even seem to try, yet they have everything they want and they are happier than me.’
He understood himself here in the safe-bubble the therapist had created. He felt no judgment.
‘You’re feeling lost?’
‘Yeah… I am.’ He quietly cried. She waited patiently and placed a box of tissues on the nearby desk.
The room was too clinical; a spare room in the surgery, full of doctors’ tools and posters. Cold and unwelcoming, but Nick was referred for therapy free on the NHS so he couldn’t exactly complain.
When he was originally referred, he told his doctor, ‘I’ve been crying frequently, at least once a week for a long time now.’ He was glad it never led to officially being diagnosed as depressed, but he was more pleased that he was taken seriously and sent on for therapy.
He stopped crying. He’d become accustomed to shedding tears in front of his therapist, though overall he was upset less frequently nowadays. It was a steady climb.
‘I feel a bit better now. I don’t really know what else to say about it. I’m going to see how this week goes really.’ He grabbed a tissue and dabbed his eyes.
Having cleared some emotional baggage, his mind went on a tangent… If his therapist was his age, he would probably have found her attractive and the session so wouldn’t work.
She was nearing fifty, looked fit as a fiddle, good teeth, excellent figure, and Nick doubted that her blonde hair had even thought of greying. She had a genuine aura about her; each facial expression was puppeted by real emotions, not by a need for approval. Her name was Caroline. Nicolas and Caroline Crystan… hmm…
‘How are things with your father?’ she asked without preamble. He shook away the odd thoughts.
‘Same as always really. He’s not changed much for the past eight years and it’s still awkward around him.’
‘Do you think he knows how awkward you feel?’
‘I doubt it, it’s like he’s on pause or something. It’s been so long now that I can’t imagine opening up to him.’
‘What if you did talk to him about it?’
‘I just don’t know. I don’t want to lay out my feelings if he’s never going to come out of his own little bubble. It would be even more awkward if I did.’
She nodded and asked, ‘But is it a risk worth taking?’
He thought about it. He remembered when his dad was different to how he was now: he was chatty, he smiled more, laughed more. But that was all before Nick’s mother disappeared eight years ago.
He was sixteen when it happened, and his brothers were only ten. She simply wasn’t home when they got back from school. They waited and waited for her to return but it appeared that she’d withdrawn a few thousand pounds the same day that she vanished. Her car was missing too.
As far as anyone could tell, she’d gone off and started a new life. Lansin Island was in the Celtic Sea, fifteen miles off the coast of Bude in Cornwall, so it would have been easy to get a ferry from Amiton across to Bude, the same as the tourists did. She could have caught a ferry to Cornwall, and then who knows where she went from there?
Nick sure as hell didn’t know.
He didn’t want to think about it anymore. All he knew was that she left with the worst possible timing. It was hard enough being a teenager as it was, but with his dad’s birthday only a couple of weeks after she vanished, it was too cruel.
‘Maybe it’s worth the risk… I’ll have to think some more.’ Once the therapy session was over, he headed home lighter and more able to think clearly.
He spent that evening wrapped under a warm blanket, watching the film Big Fish that his brother, Tom, had lent him. Tom let him borrow it knowing that he was fond of Tim Burton’s work but hadn’t got around to this one yet.
Nick had two brothers, Tom and Tommy. They were twins and both eighteen years of age. Their names could be confusing to other people, but Nick had always been able to tell them apart. Their parents weren’t expecting twins. They’d decided that if the baby was a girl then her name would be Sarah, and if a boy, it would be Thomas. So with the surprise of two baby boys, they settled on Tom and Tommy Crystan.
Like a lot of twins, their relationship with each other was strong. They seemed to have the same hobbies, interests, taste in clothes and even the same taste in women. Tommy had always been the centre of attention; he picked the trends and Tom followed.
Nick didn’t expect Tom to like this kind of film. He’d thought of his brothers as ‘mainstreamers’ who jumped on every bandwagon. He loved them both, but until now he’d assumed they were not just physically twins, but also mind-twins with personalities that reached as far as the local pub.
The blanket wasn’t so warm after all. It was old, tatty and had lost its body, but Nick enjoyed the film and was moved by the emotional ending.
It crossed his mind that if someone described to him a twenty four year old guy snuggled up to himself and watching a film alone, he would think they were a right loser. And on that thought, he called it a night.
The next morning he looked in the mirror before leaving for work. He checked his hair, he was one of those lucky guys with hair that looked naturally rough and styled, so apart from washing it; it needed no extra attention.
People had told him he was good looking before, but he always brushed it off. It wasn’t something he liked to think about. He wasn’t self-conscious but he didn’t like accepting compliments. Most clothes suited him, weight wasn’t an issue and acne had never come knocking.
Feeling mostly satisfied with his reflection, he left for work.
For late October, the weather was pleasant; it wasn’t cold, just cool, damp and fresh. Cold and drizzly rain was the default on Lansin Island, but today was looking up.
He parked his car outside of town and started walking towards Creaky Crystals. Weather permitting, he wore a thin jacket over an olive green T-shirt, and below he had on dark jeans. Black winklepickers were his usual choice of footwear.
In the lower grounds a red-headed girl spun circles in the nearby fountain and fell into his path. He stopped still, his stomach tightened, he came over queasy. His sudden stop caused the girl to bump into him.
He had to rationalise for a second. The girl ran over to her mother who was setting up a stall. He’d probably seen that girl here with her mother loads of times; it was only a coincidence.
He scanned the stores around him, searching for one in particular. As he found it, he caught the eyes of a lady re-arranging her shop display. She gave him a friendly nod. He awkwardly nodded back. He turned dizzy but he forced himself to focus.
Another detail came to mind and he looked to the front of Creaky Crystals.
The seagull was there; it stared at him.
His instincts took control, he knew he had to act quickly; he ran for the steps that lead to the upper grounds and ascended them, regretting his choice of footwear. His legs ached as he reached the top. He heard the car screeching and saw it try to swerve a little business stall, but it failed.
The impact flipped the car. It rolled high speed, heading for the woman. The noises were deafening but he couldn’t stop to cover his ears. He grabbed the woman and spun her away from the vehicle with such force that they almost toppled over the ledge to the lower grounds.
The car slammed into the low wall, only inches away from them and came to a stop. Fortunately the car didn’t go over the side. There was a man inside the upturned car, he looked unconscious and blood dripped from his head. The cry of police sirens drew closer.
Nick realised how hard his grip on the woman was, and with that realisation came another. She wasn’t dead. I saved her.
‘Sorry,’ he said, then let go of her. He looked at her oval face, trying to catch her eyes. They were cerulean blue, but she didn’t look back at him. Her hair was blonde and rested on her shoulders, slightly dishevelled from the incident. She was almost as tall as him, with a slim figure… a great figure.
‘No, it’s fine,’ she let out a heavy breath, seemingly startled, ‘I’ve got to go.’ She turned without another word and headed away from the scene. What if the police wanted a statement from her?
He didn’t know what to do. The woman hurried out of sight. Nick pulled himself together and called for an ambulance. Moments later a police car pulled up. Nick moved away from the wall and the crumpled vehicle.
Even with all the commotion, only three things were on his mind. One: The woman he saved was gorgeous. Two: He’d had a real premonition and saved some one’s life. And three: She didn’t even say thank you to him for saving her!
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