On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The man looked tired, but not at all concerned. It was the lack of worry that bothered Glancey the most.
She was supposed to be interrogating him, but he hadn’t even given her his name yet, and indeed hadn’t said much at all beyond asking for a cigarette. Glancey was surprised that anyone still smoked the things, given how many vapes she saw on the streets these days instead.
The second thing that bothered her was the silver bracelet on the man’s wrist. It was a little bit dainty for a man of his size, but it wasn’t jewellery. She recognised the inlaid red enamel symbol, as many people would. The question was: what was engraved on the reverse side, concealed against his wrist, to justify carrying a medical alert on his person at all times?
“It would be wise to talk to me,” she said, and there was no threat in the statement. It was simply the truth.
Glancey had the power to hold him for up to forty-eight hours at this point, and even though she didn’t actually believe he was to blame for anything that had happened on the long, strange night that had only recently ended, she certainly knew that he was involved in some capacity. It was her job to determine exactly what role he’d played.
The man didn’t respond, other than to briefly make eye contact. There was a certain weary sympathy in his gaze, and she could see that he wasn’t trying to be difficult with her. It was intriguing, and in her line of work, that was often a synonym for annoying. Sometimes, though, it was just old-fashioned interesting.
“We’ve taken some statements from the residents of the town,” she said. “Makes for some unusual reading. And you were mentioned a few times.”
The man looked up at her again, this time holding her gaze, and Glancey had the distinct sense that he was assessing her in some way. After a moment, he gave a tired smirk, and then returned his focus to the tabletop.
“Something amusing?” she asked, and he inclined his head.
“You give yourself away, Inspector,” he said, and Glancey was actually slightly startled to hear him speak. She composed herself again immediately, and as far as she could tell, he hadn’t noticed.
“How’s that?” she asked, watching his face carefully. He continued to give nothing away.
“I doubt their statements were entirely unusual to you, even though they certainly would be to most people,” he said. “This stuff is at least part of your nine-to-five, I think.”
Glancey raised an eyebrow. It was a bold assertion, and on the face of it, a ridiculous claim. It also happened to be one hundred percent true. She could see that it wasn’t a guess either.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” she said, and he looked at her once more.
“No argument there,” he replied.
Cheeky bastard, Glancey thought, but she kept her expression neutral. He was talking now, and that was progress.
She still very much needed an explanation of why four people were in hospital, including the town’s minister, with the church burned to the ground on a soaking wet night, and everyone who was present asserting their profound gratitude to this strange man who seemed to have been summoned to the place by persons unknown just a day earlier. She had some inkling, but she needed to know what this man knew. Glancey folded her arms and waited, and after a few minutes the man once again began to speak.
“I suppose your police training teaches you to look for explanations in a particular way,” he said, and Glancey nodded slowly without replying. “Evidence and statements and beyond-reasonable-doubt. Well there’s nothing reasonable about this stuff. I think you probably know that.”
“You’re implying that you have a different way of looking at things,” she said. He didn’t really seem to hear her, and he continued only a moment later.
“You mentioned the word unusual. It’s inherently relative, isn’t it? What’s usual for one is unusual for another. So you find that, over time, you have to expand your definition. Then, when you encounter something really, truly unusual — like what happened last night, say — you need a different approach to find an explanation. Different from whatever they teach police inspectors, at least.”
“Educate me,” Glancey said, allowing just a little bit of her impatience to slip into her tone, and again the man smirked. He leaned back in his chair, his back audibly cracking, and he licked his lips. It was yet another thing that Glancey recognised. Maybe she really would send somebody to get him his cigarettes in a little while.
“Here’s what experience has taught me, Inspector,” the man continued, settling into his subject now. “To explain unusual events, there are exactly five possibilities. Number one, and the most common, is human error. People make mistakes. Happens all the time, and it’s a safe bet. Number two is coincidence, when we read too much into something that just happened by chance. Also happens all the time.”
“Silly us,” Glancey replied, but she didn’t disagree. Her work had cemented her lifelong conviction that most people were decent and reasonable, at least when they weren’t upset, and also that most people were pretty stupid.
“Number three is of course deception,” the man said, interrupting her train of thought. “People are deliberately misled all the time. It’s the purpose of tabloid news, marketing, and the more narcissistic variants of social media. You’re not seeing what you think you’re seeing.”
Glancey nodded; again, he was right enough. But none of those three possibilities explained the happenings of the night before. She noticed that the man glanced down at his own bracelet now, and she had to bite her tongue to stop herself asking about it. He would continue in a moment, she told herself, and sure enough he did.
“That leaves the big two, which might just be one, depending on your perspective,” he said quietly. “Number four is the god of the modern age: science. Weird things happen, but they’re not a mistake or a coincidence or a lie; they’re actually happening, and they only seem weird because you don’t know how they work — but science can tell you.”
“Not everything can be explained by science, though,” Glancey offered, and the man nodded more readily than she’d expected him to.
“Which brings us to the point of our conversation, and number five.”
The man folded his arms, mirroring her own body language, and Glancey knew exactly what he had apparently decided to let her say instead.
“The supernatural,” she replied, and the man nodded. “But you said yourself that science and the supernatural might be the same thing. What’s already explained, and what’s yet to be. The only difference is acquired knowledge.”
“In some cases,” he said. “Most. Almost all, really. But not absolutely.”
There was silence for what felt like five minutes, but was probably less than one, until Glancey realised it would have to be she who got things moving again.
“What happened out there last night?” she asked, not for the first time but in a different way than before. She was ready to listen, and at last it appeared that he was ready to talk.
The man unfolded his arms and placed his hands on the desk, palms upward, and he stared at them as if he was searching for something he’d lost, then he turned them over to lie flat against the table. It took Glancey a few seconds to realise that he’d inadvertently supplied her with the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity.
Her eyes flicked downwards, seeing that the bracelet had rotated during his movements, and that the obverse was now visible. The engraving was large and clear, and apparently also inlaid with enamel, though black this time. It was a small answer, but also many larger questions.
Do Not Resuscitate, it read.
Oblivious to her scrutiny, or perhaps just indifferent, the man took a deep and ragged breath.
“Tell me, Inspector,” he asked, “do you believe in angels?”
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