The Shadows

Zoë Fox would like to be normal. She would like to have a normal life, with normal friends, with a normal job. She just wants to fit in. For her, however, that isn't possible. Because Zoë Fox has a special ability that has been passed down through generations to finally get to her; the ability to see the dead. The dead, the ghosts, the shadows who stalk her refuse to leave her alone no matter how much she tries to ignore them, so when she hears of a deserted watermill with disappearances happening within its walls almost every week, she tries to turn her back to it. And then her only friend vanishes into thin air, and Zoë is forced to make a terrible decision that may cost her her life.

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1. CHAPTER ONE

 

The bell gets hit for about the fiftieth time in the space of one minute.

“Yes, yes! I’m freakin’ coming!” I shout as I shoot beer into a dusty glass.

The middle-aged bloke sitting on the other side of the counter leers at me.

“Don’t mind me, love. I’m just anxious for a drink after work. That’s all.” He grins stupidly at me, his rotten teeth on full  show. I thump the drink in front of him so hard that amber liquid splashes over the sides.

“Here’s your drink, sir,” I spit. “feel free to leave a tip once you’re finished.”

He grins some more at me, stroking his stubbly chin in the process. I can feel his eyes following me as I move around to serve different customers.

“Uh, excuse me? Can we have some service? We’ve been standing here for quite a while now,” I turn around, to be faced by a couple looking at me.

I plaster a smile on my face. “Yes, of course. I’m sorry. What can I get you?”

“Your finest champagne, please! You see, we’ve just come back from our honeymoon and we wanted to celebrate the beginning of our new life together in our favourite pub!”

I bite my lip, trying not to cry out in frustration. Countless people have walked into this pub, rubbing it in about how fabulous their lives are. This couple only adds to the count.

“Um. Okay. Well done. I mean, thank you, I mean-” I shake my head. Get with it, Zoë  “What I’m trying to say, is do you want Moët or Lanson?”

“Moët sounds good to us.” They beam, squeezing each others hands on the counter.

I turn around and walk towards the fridge. Before I can open the door, however, I find it blocked by Mr. Whitby; The pub landlord and owner. My boss. I straighten up and look him in the eye.

“What did I do now?” I ask.

“You know what.” He frowns. “Why didn’t you wish them your best?”

I close my eyes. Just one more hour, Zoë. One more hour, and then the shift is over.

“Sorry, it just slipped my mind.”

Whitby guffaws, and rocks back on his heels, his beer belly wobbling treacherously. For a second I wonder if it would prove good shelter under rainy conditions.

“Slipped your mind? It’s a Friday night! You’re meant to be happy and energetic and full of life for the customers!” He looks me over. “Not tired, weepy and... tetchy.”

One more hour, Zoë, think of that.

“Sir-”

“-Zoë, I appreciate that this evening has been rather busy for you, but happy staff create a happy atmosphere. And a happy atmosphere means more customers. Capiche?”

I look away.

“Look, sir, I’m really quite tired tonight. If you could give me just a five minute break-”

“-No. Out of the question. Remember the agreement we made when I hired you, Fox.”

I remember.

 

Whitby pats his belly triumphantly, and looks at me with a glint in his eye. A special sort of glint saved only for when he thinks he’s won an argument.

“You can easily be replaced, Miss Fox.” He says. “I suggest you get your act together because you’re nothing special and I can find bar staff anywhere.”

Did he say that to me? Did he really just say that to me? Before I can stop myself I laugh.

“Can you hear yourself? Do you realise how rude you’re being?”

He opens his mouth to say something but I cut him off.

“To be honest, I don’t want to hear it. But I would like to get back to work now.”

I bend down to open the fridge and take out a bottle of champagne and reach for some fluted champagne glasses. I then walk away and hand the couple their drinks.

 

For a few more minutes, Mr. Whitby watches me by the fridge, until he gets distracted by other duties, and forgets about me.

 

As I wash up a bit later, I feel a light tap on my shoulder. Must be Anthony, or Ant, as I like to call him.

“Ant,” I say, grinning. “You’re working late, tonight.”

He joins me by my side and starts drying some wine glasses. “I know, some casual dropped out tonight to go to a wedding or something so I’m having to fill him in.” He sniggers. “Mr. Whitby is a scary guy when you say you’ve got a life outside working in The Barleycorn. The casual almost peed his pants when he refused to work his shift tonight.”

I give a small smile. I like Ant; not only is he the most intelligent guy working here, but he’s also the whole reason as to how I got a job in this place, as well as a small room to live in. Without him, I would be unemployed and homeless, seeing as my parents were obviously not going to help me.

 

My parents. I haven’t thought about them in quite a while now. I remember that every night they would argue about something really not worth arguing about. There was never a moment of peace and quiet in our house, just constant shouting. I guess it was no wonder I failed nearly all of my exams and moved out at seventeen. My parents pretended to be sad when I was leaving, but they weren’t really. A week later they divorced and I haven’t heard from them since then. Now I’m nineteen.

 

I still had Ant, though. Unlike me, he grew up in a safe, and stable home, and had been occupying a job as a barman at the Barleycorn pub for quite a while So being the awesome guy that he is, he persuaded Mr. Whitby to get me both  a room and a full time job here, and so here I am.


“Hey,” Ant nudges me, “Zoë, you’ve gone quiet, you okay?”

I give a genuine smile.“Yeah, this washing-up is just tedious. It get’s me annoyed that Mr. Whitby is too stingy to buy a dishwasher,”

“I know what you mean,” He says, drying the last of the glasses.

“I’ve gotta go and stand at the bar now,” I say, draining the water from the sink and rolling my eyes. “Wanna join me?” I look around the kitchen. “Everything looks fine in here so it wouldn’t hurt to help me.”

 

He follows me outside and I turn to the first customer in front of me.

“Hello, can I help you?” I say, scrubbing down the work surface. I look up to the man in front of me. He stares at me, aghast. I frown.

“Uh, Zoë?”

“Ant.”

“Zoë, who are you talking to?” He gives me a funny look. “The bar’s empty. We’re the only people standing here.”

 

No.

 

No, it can’t be happening again. I refuse to admit it. I laugh, nervously.

“What are you talking about?” I say. Then I look closer at the man standing in front of me.

 

And my breath catches in my throat. That is when I realise that just like all of them, he’s surrounded by a slight glow, and has those undefined, slightly blurry features.

“It’s happening again, isn’t it, Zoë?” Ant says, solemnly. “You’re seeing the dead, aren’t you?”

I stand there, I just stand there. Staring at the man before me. Silence engulfs the room.

 

Then a throw the dishcloth down on the counter and run.


 

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