On the Mantle (short fiction)

Wren and Hess


Archibald Ghastly hadn’t been a lich long. Most of his pale flesh clung to his bones. Little bits of skin flaked off, floating in the air. He smelled bad, but all new liches did. It took about a year for the smell of rot to fade, replaced by a musty scent of slight decay that never quite went away, even when they were nothing but dry, white bones.

Wren and Hess kept their distance as they took the report.

“Could you describe your phylactery, sir?” asked Hess.

Ghastly held out his hands. “It’s an egg-shaped jar about this big. Last time I saw it, it was on my mantle.” He gestured to the empty spot above his fireplace. “Right there.”

“Is anything else missing?”

“No, nothing.”

“Nothing?” asked Wren.

“No,” he said.

“And you say there are no signs of forced entry?”

“Well, no.”

“So a master thief broke into your home and took your phylactery and that’s it?” she said.

“What are you saying?”

“We’re just covering everything,” said Hess. “For the report. You understand.”

“It’s my most valued possession,” said Ghastly. “Of course, it’s the first thing any thief would go for.”

“Is it?” said Wren.

“I don’t believe I like your tone, Constable.”

“No offense, sir, but your soul, while of great value to you, might not be worth much on the street.”

“Blackmail then,” he said. “Or some radical anti-undead fringe that wants to use it to destroy me.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” said Wren, “but if they wanted to destroy you, all they’d have to do was smash it on the ground. So why not do it immediately?”

“I don’t know,” said Ghastly. “I’m not a criminal mastermind. I don’t think like them.”

“So now we’re talking about a mastermind,” said Wren, despite herself.

“I know what you’re suggesting.” Ghastly’s eyes had already fallen out, but he still had enough eyebrows left to glower. “I’m not an idiot. I think I’d know where my most precious possession was.”

“You did keep it on the mantle,” she said. “Anyone could’ve moved it. Perhaps your wife has it?”

“Oh, I get it. You’re one of those living sympathizers they warned me about.”

Wren gritted her teeth and forced an insincere smile. “I’m just suggesting that after having your soul removed, you might want to consider putting it somewhere more secure.”

“Is that an accusation? I’m the victim here.” Ghastly sighed and exhaled a cloud of gray dust and whatever powdered organs still within his withered torso. “I shouldn’t have to hide it.”

“Take it easy, sir,” said Hess. “This is our job. We will get your phylactery back for you.”

“You’d better,” said Ghastly. “Why do I pay taxes if this is the kind of treatment I get?”

Hess took the report, and Wren went out for some air. Undeath had been a legally recognized state of being for the better part of two decades in the city. The transition hadn’t been easy. A lot of innocent vampires had been staked. A lot of perfectly dead corpses had been burned and mutilated by frightened mobs. Wren, despite herself, could sympathize. But she was a good constable. She resented Ghastly’s accusations, but if she’d misplaced her soul, she might not be in the best mood either.

Hess joined her on the street a while later. “On the mantle, can you believe that?”

A carriage pulled up to the house and a round woman stepped out, carrying an egg-shaped jar.

“Excuse me, miss,” asked Hess, “but where did you get that?”

“It’s my husband’s,” she said. “I just had it cleaned. As a surprise. Is there a problem, constables?”

“No problem, Mrs. Ghastly,” said Hess as they stepped aside to let her pass.

Hess tore the report in half and stuck it in his pocket. “On the damned mantle.”

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  1. Posted April 23, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Fun! Imagining what MORE lurks in your world is exciting!

  2. Jens Scheffler
    Posted April 23, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I love your short stories, Wren and Hess in particular. Are you planning to release them at some point, for example as an ebook? You don’t have any ads, thank goodness, but it would be great if there was a way to actually pay for what I enjoy reading anyway. (speaking of: your merchandise link seems to be broken)

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