Careful What You Wish For
Strange things are afoot in Highbury and Islington… A husband in hospital with serious injuries. Another missing, seemingly vanished without a trace. An antique vase, allegedly cursed.
When Deirdre Roberts recounts the unsettling events she has experienced, Sam Hain and Alice Carroll find themselves embarking on a new curious case. However, as things begin to take a turn for the inexplicable, and more bizarre situations start to mysteriously manifest, it appears that something more than a curse is at work. Their investigation soon becomes a desperate bid to put a stop to the magickal force behind it all, before it can cause any more chaos and misfortune.
In the fourth book of Volume II in the Sam Hain – Occult Detective series, our intrepid investigators have to be careful what they wish for, because it might just come true…
If there was one thing Deirdre Roberts could never have imagined, it was the drastic and inexplicable turn her life was about to take. Nor could she possibly have believed that the fickle threads of fate were to hinge upon a seemingly inconsequential visit to a nondescript little antique shop in Islington.
It had all started two weeks ago, on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday afternoon.
Deirdre awoke early that morning. She ironed her Sunday-best, put curlers in her hair, and set about preparing breakfast, all the while doing her utmost not to accidentally wake her husband. Cedric was not much of a morning person, and he was prone to be stuck in an irritable mood for the rest of the day should he be woken before his alarm clock. Deirdre, by comparison, would often be up with the sunrise; especially to get ready for church on Sundays. After almost forty years of marriage, and several arguments about what precisely was the proper time to start a day, she and Cedric were very unlikely to change their habits, but they had settled into their own routine and rhythm.
The day had proceeded at a fairly predictable pace. Once Cedric had woken up, they both sat down to enjoy a breakfast of lightly boiled eggs and heavily buttered toast, before Deirdre left for church. Following the Sunday service, she and some of the other women from the congregation had decided to go for afternoon tea together. She and her friends shared stories of their children and grandchildren, gossiped about the goings-on of almost every soap opera on TV that past week, and talked about Ingrid’s new tablecloths, while eating little cucumber sandwiches and miniature sponge cakes.
Knowing that their husbands were contently down the pub or at home – probably watching the football or enjoying an early afternoon doze, in either case – they had taken to wandering around the shops of Islington. They idly ventured along the high street, casually window-shopping as they passed the parade of shops, occasionally stopping to browse for new clothes or books. It was in one shop – a relatively hidden little store just off of the high street, somewhere along a quaint-looking passage – that Deirdre found herself perusing antiques.
She had always had a passion for antiquing. She would often frequent markets, antique stores and second-hand shops, searching for hidden treasures. There was nothing she enjoyed more than the thrill of finding a stunning piece of furniture, a beautiful work of art or simply an interesting trinket to display. It had been a while since she had last been antiquing, though; the last time was a while ago in Hampstead, when she’d been knocked over and into a display of china cups by two men in well-tailored suits chasing another man through the market. She had needed a hip operation after that incident. But now she was relishing delving into a world of the aesthetically antique again, and discovering what charming curiosities it had to offer.
The shop looked as if it belonged to an eccentric Victorian hoarder. Every inch of the space was taken up with a clutter of antiquities. The walls were decorated with various pictures and portraits, grainy photographs and artfully illustrated maps. Countless pieces of old wooden furniture, from intricately carved cabinets and dressing-tables to ornate shelves and ostentatious armchairs, formed angular aisles through the small store. Each surface was adorned with all manner of ornaments and mirrors, sets of crockery and cutlery, and myriad unusual objects from bygone eras. Even the floor was covered in the shop’s wares, lined with rows of aged Persian rugs.
For Deirdre, this was an absolute haven.
There was one thing in particular amongst this immense treasure trove which had caught her eye. It was a curiously shaped metal vase. At a distance it appeared to be almost golden, even though its surface was marred with aged marks and the tarnish of time. It sat atop a chest of drawers, standing out amidst a collection of jewellery boxes and candleholders. Its base was wide and bulbous, curving up and inward into a tall and narrow stem, before opening up into a large-lipped rim. A cap sealed the top of the vase. Even though the thing was evidently old, the metal having lost some of its sheen and its patterns partially obscured by signs of wear, it still seemed to gleam beneath the orange lights.
As she passed the vase, Deirdre paused to take a closer look. It was cast from iron and almost completely adorned with gilt detailing, the signs of wear being from the metal rusting between the golden patterns. She examined it, delicately tracing her fingers across the design. It was intricate and ornamented, although much of it she couldn’t quite make out. The dense collection of patterns twisted and weaved around the bulbous base, with peculiar symbols etched along the sides of the long neck. A nine-pointed star, and several more strange symbols, adorned the cap.
Inquisitively, she gave the lid of the vase a cursory twist and a pull, but it refused to budge. Presumably age had long since sealed it shut, the metal stiff and uncompromising. In some ways, Deirdre knew how it felt. But maybe with a little bit of polish, a bit of a clean up, she thought, this would look quite nice on the mantelpiece. She turned the vase over in her hands. If I can get the cap off, too, it would look lovely holding some magnolia blossoms. Before she had even finished her thought, Deirdre was already at the counter of the antique shop, handing her debit card to the woman behind the till.
That evening, as the sun was setting and Cedric was pulling up weeds in the back garden, Deirdre sat on the patio, hunched over in a garden chair, armed with a cloth and a bottle of polish. She had been scrubbing at the vase, vigorously polishing and gradually cleaning away the marks of age and traces of rust. More and more, the golden patterns were becoming clearer and more distinct, and began to shine and gleam in the evening sun. Aside from a few patches where the metal had been irreparably worn down, it was almost looking as good as new. All that remained was the rigid cap which so stubbornly sealed the vase shut.
‘- so Brian had his money on Millwall, of all people,’ Cedric carried on relaying the events of his day. He had been talking about the football for what had felt like an eternity to Deirdre. She occasionally nodded her head or made a “mhm” or “ah” sound to feign interest, but beyond this the conversation had been decidedly one-sided. ‘Of course, by the second half he was a laughing stock,’ he continued, undeterred that he was the only one talking. He had yet to ask her about the vase, if he’d even noticed it at all.
‘Ced,’ Deirdre eventually spoke with a weary sigh. She held the neck of the vase in a firm grip, and was trying to twist the cap free. ‘I love you dearly, but I do wish you would shut up. I could use a hand here with-’ There was a creaking groan followed by a pop as the cap was pulled loose, and there seemed to be a sudden rush of air. It almost sounded as if the wind was whistling over the lip of the vase. She beamed triumphantly at her husband. ‘Ah, all it needed was a little elbow grease,’ she declared. ‘This’ll look lovely on the mantelpiece, don’t you think? Maybe a few flowers?’
Cedric didn’t answer. He simply looked at her, then at the vase, and nodded with an approving smile, and turned his attention back to the weeds poking their heads up amongst the hydrangeas.
The atmosphere at the dinner table that night was a tense and frosty one. Deirdre had prepared a light evening meal for she and Cedric, but when she had dished up their dinner and placed a plate in front of her husband, he did not say a word. No “thank you,” not even a sound to acknowledge her. She decided to let it slide, for the moment; they hadn’t got through four decades without giving each other a bit of patience. Even if she did find his attitude to be grating at times.
‘How’s the fish, Ced?’ she asked, after an unwelcome and unnaturally awkward stretch of silence. Cedric still did not speak. He delicately cut at the fish fillet, taking a mouthful, and began to quietly chew. The sound of the cutlery clanking and scraping across the crockery was almost deafening against the silence. Dropping her knife and fork onto her plate with a clatter, Deirdre leaned imploringly across the table towards her husband. ‘What’s wrong, dear? You haven’t breathed a word all evening.’
Cedric remained silent. He paused, slowly lowering his cutlery to the plate, and stared at her. His eyes met his wife’s gaze, looking at him with a concerned and curious expression. For a moment, it seemed as if he was about to say something, but instead he picked up his cutlery and resumed silently eating.
Slapping her hands against the tabletop, causing their plates and cutlery to bounce, Deirdre pressed herself up from her seat. ‘Oh for heaven’s sake,’ she exclaimed, exasperated, ‘I’ve had enough of this childish behaviour, I really have. Whatever it is that’s bothering you, we’re not going to get anywhere with this pointless silent treatment.’
Her husband stared up at her, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. His mouth opened, but no words came out.
‘Nothing to say for yourself?’ she asked – no, she demanded – but still Cedric did not utter a word. ‘Honestly,’ Deirdre huffed, and stormed out of the room. As she began to ascend the stairs, her voice came drifting back down into the dining room. ‘You can wash up. I’m going to bed. And you better buck up your ideas by tomorrow, Cedric.’