Kate Measom - Winner

Competition: WM0062 Explore the paranormal

Kate Measom, from Hugglescote in Leicestershire, writes mainly in the urban fantasy genre. She has had two stories published in anthologies, one of which received an honourable mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4. She has been shortlisted three times in Writing Magazine competitions. Kate completed a Writers’ News Fiction Writing Home Study course, and is currently working on her second novel.
Kate Measom

Night Shift

It had just started to rain when the werewolf climbed into my taxi. Not that he was in wolf form just then. Elijah Quinn was far too vain to wander the streets looking anything other than catalogue perfect.
He shook the rain from his hair and grinned. ‘Hey Frankie.’
‘Uh, ma’am?’ the driver said, eyeing Quinn through the rear-view mirror. ‘Do you know this man?’
Man? I almost laughed. I supposed anatomically he was male. Mentally and emotionally though? ‘What are you doing here, Quinn?’
It was a rhetorical question. The fact that we were half a mile from the biggest society ball of the season said a lot about what he was doing there. That, and the invite he was clutching in one golden-skinned hand.
He leaned towards me and inhaled, blue eyes shuttering as he drank in my scent. ‘You’re wearing the perfume I bought you.’
I scooted down the seat and repeated the question.
He gave me a look that said I should have known what he was doing there, as though climbing into someone else’s taxi in the middle of rush hour traffic was somehow normal. Maybe in Quinn’s world it was.
The traffic lights changed and the taxi glided forwards.
‘You’re going to the ball, right?’ Quinn said, manoeuvring his considerable frame into a more comfortable position.
I looked down at myself and said: ‘No, I always dress like this when I’m popping out for milk.’
The look Quinn gave me as he took in my outfit said he had a whole different kind of ‘popping out’ on his mind.
I tugged at my dress and tried to hide my flaming cheeks behind my hair.
Damned store assistant. When she’d heard where I was going she all but effervesced with excitement, spiriting me off like a life-sized Barbie doll to play dress up. I was more of a sweater and jeans girl so I’d been glad of her help at the time. Now I had to wonder how I’d let her talk me into it. The best part of my first month’s expense allowance and all I had to show for it was a scrap of green silk that had a neckline with designs on being a hemline and vice versa.
‘Heard you got a job with Oculum,’ Quinn said. His tone made it more of a question than a statement.
‘Says who?’ I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
Quinn laughed. ‘Don’t lie to me, Frankie.’
‘It’s Francesca,’ I shot back. ‘And I really don’t think you’re in a position to be lecturing me on lies, do you?’
It had been six months, and in the space of thirty seconds I’d spectacularly displayed just how much I wasn’t over him.
I didn’t have time for this. Too much was riding on tonight going smoothly. It was my first job with Oculum, the underground movement that policed the supernatural world, and I was desperate to make a good impression.
They’d recruited me after the Quinn thing went sour. According to my handler, Carmichael, they’d wanted to approach me before, but my ties with Quinn had made things difficult, not least because he happened to be the British Alpha’s son, and the British Pack were about as corrupt a bunch as you’d ever hope never to come across. The fact that Quinn and his father were estranged made no difference. The blood that ran through Quinn’s veins made him a very dangerous man to be acquainted with. Part of the attraction, according to my mum, along with the Hollywood looks and the pro wrestler body and the...
Stop it, Frankie. He might look pretty now, but he still licks his own backside when the moon is in the right position. You just remember that and you’ll get along fine.
Mum never did like Quinn. In fact, it had been their mutual dislike of one another that had finally put an end to the relationship.
He’d been everything I’d needed him to be in the days following the attack: tolerant, supportive, even offering to pay for mum’s care home fees when it became apparent that she needed more specialised care than I could offer.
It was only later that I realised every penny had been tarred with guilt. Because he’d been there that night when the Pack had attacked her. A warning, apparently, intended to scare her daughter away from their misguided heir in the hope that a broken heart would push him back to them.
But Reginald Quinn had done far more to my mum that night than just scare her.
Quinn had his excuses for not stepping in, for not doing more to help the mother of the woman he’d professed to love. I’d listened to those excuses with tears streaming down my face, and then I’d packed my bags and walked out on him.
Oculum picked me up the next day, patching me up with placations of how having a shapeshifter on board would be a huge benefit to the movement. I’d been more interested in the salary than the ego boost. Enough to pay for mum’s care home fees and a little left over to live on. That was my life now, mum and Oculum.
Quinn and his Pack could go to hell.
I told him as much when I climbed out of the taxi. Then I told him never to speak to me again, and went to work.
I found my targets chatting over cocktails by the bar. Tammy Duval was human, Mark Corsi not so. My assignment was simple: assume Duval’s identity, then find out what business the daughter of a local councillor had with a fourth-tier warlock and gun for hire.
My opportunity came quickly. Gesturing for Corsi to order refills, Duval set down her glass, picked up her bag and headed for the designated smoking area.
When she came back I was waiting. ‘Excuse me,’ I called, peering from the disabled toilet. ‘Could you give me a hand here? Somebody’s collapsed.’
Seconds later she was slumped at my feet, out cold. I tossed the needle I’d come armed with in the waste bin, locked the door, then set about becoming her.
First, I lay Tammy out on the floor so I could assess her size and shape, then I adjusted my body to suit, visualising the changes before willing them to take. Next I undressed her, slipped out of my dress and stepped into hers. Some minor adjustments and it was on to hair and make-up, using the same combination of imagination and mental will to make the changes stick.
Finally, the voice. Carmichael had provided me with a recording to study so I already had it nailed. I looked in the mirror and recited the alphabet. Perfect.
Before I left I took a look inside Tammy’s handbag. There was a phone and a purse, cigarettes, and a small silver cylinder that I guessed was a perfume atomiser. There was also a scrap of paper with a sort code and account number written on it. When I checked Tammy’s phone, the last number dialled was to her bank.
Okay, so that more or less confirmed she’d just paid Corsi for something. Now I just had to find out what.
‘White Russian.’
I slid onto a stool and set Tammy’s bag down on the counter. ‘Thanks.’
‘You made the transfer?’
I nodded.
Corsi smiled. Over his shoulder I caught sight of Quinn and hastily changed position. Shifts got harder to maintain the longer I held them, and the sight of Quinn in intimate conversation with a slim brunette was a distraction I really didn’t need.
‘So, what happens now?’ I said.
Corsi took out a phone. ‘I call my bank to check that the funds have arrived.’
I waited as he did that. His smile confirmed what I’d told him was true. He hung up the call and said, ‘I trust I can count on you to make good on the other fifty percent?’
I nodded. ‘When the job’s done, yes.’ It was a risk, assuming that Corsi had resorted to type, but it turned out I was right.
‘No time like the present,’ Corsi said. He leaned closer. ‘You said the nitrate was in the bag?’
My guts turned cold as I realised then who the target was. I managed to nod. Corsi leaned back, accidentally-on-purpose knocking Tammy’s bag off the bar, spilling the contents on the floor. He stooped to tidy the mess, pocketed the atomiser, returned the bag to the bar then strolled away to commit a murder.
Frantically I searched for Quinn, but the room was filling up and I couldn’t spot him in the crowd. I snatched Tammy’s phone from her bag and dialled a number I knew off by heart, praying he’d answer.
It rang and rang.
Then: ‘Hello?’
‘Quinn? It’s Frankie. Listen, you’re in danger.’
‘There’s a man with a vial of silver nitrate. Someone paid him to kill you. He’s tall, dark-skinned, black hair...’
Quinn laughed. ‘Frankie, have you been drinking?’
‘No, Quinn, just listen to me... Quinn?’ The sound of a scuffle on the end of the line, then a clatter as the phone fell to the floor.
There was nothing I could do but listen to the sound of two men fighting, one of whom I’d armed to kill the other.
You’d be better off without him, Frankie. This might be a good thing.
Yeah, right. I could deny it all I wanted, but the truth was that I loved him, always had and always would.
The thought of life without him...
‘Frankie?’ Quinn’s voice on the line, panting. ‘You still there?’
‘Quinn? Are you okay?’
‘Of course. Not sure about the other dude though. Think I sparked him.’
I smiled.
‘Do you, uh, think we could talk?’
I only hesitated for a second. ‘Yes, Quinn. I think we can now.’ 

Judges Comments

Much paranormal fiction is about characters who are able to project powers beyond the understanding of medicine or other branches of science. Other paranormal fiction is often about life forms that are not known to human science, and werewolves are a popular example. One comes along right at the start of Kate Measom’s winning story.
It gives Kate an excellent opening line: It had just started to rain when the werewolf climbed into my taxi.
The very mention of the werewolf gains attention. No one is going to read that line without wanting to know why the werewolf is there and what it is up to. That opening line creates a setting that is spot-perfect. We are in the back of a taxi; its occupants have been smart enough to get a taxi in the rain, and we soon learn that they are on their way to a jet-set event – certainly jet-set enough to have the sales girl in the up-market fashion store positively drooling.
But this is paranormal land, and so the event is hosted by a movement that polices the supernatural world. We are drawn into a world peopled by beautiful people, but dangerous people with their own secret and menacing loyalties and a glib propensity to kill. The structure of this sophisticated, lethal, society is riddled with its supernatural presence of werewolves and warlocks.
The relationship between Quinn and Francesca is used as a storyline to guide us through this fictional, paranormal world and to demonstrate the style and tone of this strange demi-monde where extraordinary people (creatures?) live by a disordered code. And it works brilliantly.
Ghosts are also outside the norm of scientific knowledge, and they can therefore be the subject of paranormal fiction. A number of ghost stories were among the entries shortlisted in this competition. But ghost stories are such a well-developed genre in their own right that, when the brief widens to include the whole range of paranormal subject matter, it is nice to see a winning story about werewolves.

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