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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2. CHAPTER TWO

 

Turns out the pub was much quieter than I first assumed. For a Friday night, it was pretty packed, but take away all of The Shadows I saw, then in reality it was actually pretty empty. For a moment I wonder how many dead people I served, and how many of the living saw me serving a person that in their eyes, didn’t exist. I bury my head in my hands.

 

For the time being I’m out by the bins. I don’t think Ant knows where I am, but he’ll come looking for me. He’s a good friend like that, and when I told him last year that I had the ability to see the people who nobody else could see, he didn’t freak, like the few people who I’d told in the past do. Instead he shrugged and said something horrendously clichéd and sentimental that made me want to hug him and throw up at the same time. I guess his intention worked, though. It did make me feel a whole lot better, even though what he said sounded like it was taken straight out of a Barbie movie.

 

So I guess that’s me; Zoë Fox. I work and live at a dead end pub, come from a home full to bursting with idiots, and most importantly, I can see, touch, and hear the deceased. Not that I want to.

 

Mr. Whitby’s words of warning float back to me. “You can easily be replaced Miss Fox, I suggest you get your act together because you’re nothing special and I can find bar staff anywhere.”

 

For a moment I think about what defines normal and replaceable.

 

And I don’t fit.


 

The next day, a new worker gets hired by Mr. Whitby to wait tables. He’s called Jack Skipper, and looks about fifty. Maybe even sixty. For some reason, he limps everywhere he goes, and shuffles with the stance of 90 year old man. His pale blonde hair settles at his shoulder, and his milky blue eyes hold yours with certainty. This is a man who is sure of himself, but part of him repulses me.

 

Then the pub door creaks open and a middle aged, black couple walk hesitantly up to the counter. I smile at them while cleaning out some glasses. Jack eyes us weirdly from a few tables away and I wish he would stop. His stare is like the equivalent to having cockroaches crawl around my bare skin.

 

“Hi, welcome to the Barleycorn. Can I get you something?”

The man speaks up. For some reason, and I don’t know what that reason may be, he looks so inexplicably sad. Like he’s gone through such an overwhelming sadness in his life that it has opened up a hole inside him that can’t be healed. Either that or I’m over-analysing people, which does happen.

“No, thanks. But we were wondering if you could advertise this in your window,” The man says, putting an A3 poster on the work surface and sliding it towards me. “Our son, Nathan has gone missing, and-”

He’s cut off as the woman tightly holding his arm, starts crying huge, heartfelt sobs. I don’t know  what to say, so instead heat rushes to my face. The man, who I’m assuming is the husband, hugs the woman tightly.

“I’m sorry,” He says, his voice, miserable. “We’re just going through a hard time at the moment. Nathan-” He chokes and wipes his hands across his eyes. “Has been missing for quite a while now. You may have heard about it in the news.”

I shake my head. “No, I’m afraid I haven’t,” I look down at the ‘MISSING’ poster, and stumble across a picture of a boy smiling happily at the camera. Next to the photo is a phone number, and an email address. I look up. “I am so, so sorry. Of course I’ll put it up.”

The man smiles, and gazes down at his son, fondly.“We would be very grateful.”The police think he ran away, but-”

The wife cuts him off, and in the effort to hold back tears, resorts to trembling shoulders, instead. “He-he-he didn’t run away, Al! I know Nathan better than I know myself, and he was happy! He was just fine!” She sniffs, exhales, and pulls a tissue out of her jean pocket, swiping it furiously across her nose. The husband looks down for a second, gathering himself. I know how he feels, he feels obliged to stay strong for his wife.

“He was twelve-” he attempts to tell me.

“He is, twelve, Al! He is!”

He sighs and tries to smile. “If you could be on the lookout for him, I would be really grateful,”

Silence.

“You’ll find him, I’m sure!” I lie, trying to fill the absence of sound. “Do you want a couple of free drinks? On the house?”

Obviously Jack overhears me. “Naughty Zoë! You’re not meant to serve free drinks, or you’ll be in trouble with Mr. Whitby!”

My skin crawls.

“Look at all the bothers I give, Jack. Just look at them.” I say, sarcastically.

Jack stares at me and I ignore him.

“So what can I get you?”

The wife smiles, for the first time. “I don’t know, surprise me,” She says. “I don’t really mind.”

 

A couple of minutes later, I set two brandies down, and before turning back to work, ask out of interest, “Where did you say you lived again?”

“We didn’t,” The husband says, grimacing faintly.

The woman fiddles with her wrinkled tissue and looks up at me. “We live two miles away from the village, in an old millhouse. It’s huge, and it’s beautiful. But... I don’t know. It’s a bit strange.” She wipes her nose on her tissue. “For some reason the people who’ve previously bought the house don’t really hang around there for long. That house has had more owners than the people who’ve been to this pub.”

I frown. “And why would that be?”

The husband lowers his voice to a near whisper. “It’s a bad house, love. Things happen there that can’t be explained,” He glances down to his drink. “I don’t think we’ll be going back there, not if Nathan doesn’t come back.”

The woman speaks up and stares up at me with a fierce determination in her eyes. “You realise we’re telling you this to help find Nathan, because if we don’t find him, then somebody else will. I will see him again.”

“Of course,” I say, looking down. “It’s only a matter of time.”


 

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