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Spooky Time

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“And as always, if you think of a haunt we should investigate, feel free to send it our way! Remember to eat, drink and be scary!” Esme concluded the video as usual. The closing line was Sloan’s invention. They came up with the honest-to-god best one-liners Esme had ever heard. More than one shoot had devolved into incoherent laughter as a result of one of their quips.

Kit gave the cut signal and grinned across the set at the pair sitting behind the desk with a huge thumbs up. “Well I think that’ll be another hit with the fans!”

Sloan snorted. “You always say that, doofus.”

“And am I ever wrong?”

“YES!” Esme and Sloan exclaimed together, collapsing into a fit of giggles at Kit’s over-exaggerated offended expression.

It was just the three of them, always had been. Sloan and Esme had been neighbors growing up and were virtually inseparable. They caused all kinds of mischief together and when they discovered their deep love of supernatural mysteries and as soon as they were able, they started an internet show about paranormal instances and ghost stories[1]. They called it Spooky Time with Sloan and Esme. It was silly and they were too young to do much real investigating but their passion and unbridled enthusiasm drew in followers. The duo became a trio in middle school when Kit Clements moved to town. A new face in a town as small as theirs was an event in and of itself, but having that new kid fit in so well with a secluded, trouble-causing pair induced even more gossip. Kit wasn’t a paranormalist so to speak. If he was honest with himself, he really wanted an excuse to hang out with the elusive, absolutely gorgeous Sloan Weaver. And the more he hung out with them, the more he realized he wanted to give them the world. So he offered his services as cameraperson and editor and that’s when Spooky Time really took off and soon it officially became Spooky Time with Sloan, Esme, and Kit. The trio managed to control their impulse to quit academia in favor of internet fame long enough for each to complete an undergraduate degree. And armed with their new skills, Spooky Time became their full-time jobs and they were Loving ItTM!

“Alright, alright. Here.” Kit strode across the set and handed the pair a sheet of paper. “I know we just finished filming this episode and I should really get editing but I found the most amazing case.” It was safe to say that after 13 years of friendship with Sloan and Esme, Kit had developed an interest, even if he wasn't sold on the existence of ghosts.

They looked down at a photo of an old shopfront and the bulleted notes Kit had added below.

“Ok. I’ll bite Kitty, what are we looking at?” Sloan asked. They were the only one who was allowed to call Kit that and in return, they were very, very careful never to say it on camera.

“It’s an antique bookshop in Soho. And when I say antique, I am referring to both the books and the shop itself. Apparently it’s been there forever. No one in any of the forums could tell me when it was built and across the internet, the stories about that shop are as weird as they are inconsistent. It’s wild!” Kit did not stop for air. “Like some people report feeling distinctly unwelcome and like they should leave as fast as possible. Some people remembered urgent appointments only to leave and forget what they were supposed to be doing. Others said they only felt overwhelming joy, comfort and love. And that doesn’t even cover the weird stuff people have seen! Books moving themselves. Things being somewhere and having always been there but somehow you’re sure it wasn’t there a moment ago. There are reports of a huge black snake hanging around, but someone from animal control inspected the place and found nothing. I’ve found people who swear that there was a fire in the shop a month ago. Like burnt to a crisp absolutely destroyed kind of fire, but it’s there like nothing happened. The one thing every account has in common is that Mr. Fell, the owner, hasn’t changed ever. It seems he’s been around at least as long as the shop itself but no one finds it odd enough to call him out on it. He’s got a loyal fan base that’s ready to jump to his defense at the slightest sign of negativity directed his way.” Kit briefly wondered if he could convince their fans to be like Mr. Fell’s.

He flipped the page over to show them. Two photos, one greyscale and grainy, the other clearly taken on a modern camera. “That one there,” he told them, “was taken outside the shop in 1890 and this one was taken last month. It’s the same man!”

Esme and Sloan waited out the rant. Once Kit got going, it was best to let the monologue run its course. When he finished he was slightly out of breath from his enthusiasm.

Esme spoke first. “Uh, Kit how much research have you done on this?”

Kit blinked. That wasn’t what he was expecting. “Oh, um… a lot.”

“I can see why!” Esme said. “This is great. If we can get his permission, we’ll get to interview a real life cryptid. Are there any theories about what’s going on?”

“Tons but I don’t find many of them particularly compelling.”

“Has anyone tried asking him what’s up?” Sloan asked thoughtfully.

That gave Kit pause. Sloan always asked the most wonderful questions. “Not that I saw. I think people are too scared of what he might do. He looks friendly but I got the impression that Mr. Fell is not to be messed with.”

Sloan grinned the biggest, most shit-eating grin they possibly could and grabbed both their partners’ hands. “That sounds like a challenge,” They declared, deciding then and there that they would find out what was happening in Mr. Fell’s shop if it was the last thing they do.

*********************

Turned out that was easier said than done. Esme jumped on the research train to help get in touch with Mr. Fell. It was virtually impossible. The shop didn’t have a website. There could find an address thanks to Google Maps and the street view photo yielded a set of business hours so inconsistent that Esme was starting to genuinely believe that the current Mr. Fell was just an eccentric, rich old man in the latest line of Fells who like their privacy. She took to desperately asking around on the same chat forums Kit had used to dig up info in the first place, slowly losing hope that they could ever go to the buck wild shop. Finally, a bell chimed. There was a new private message that, when she read it, made Esme whoop and punch the air in delight:

 

“That shop is an absolute nightmare. Here’s the number I used when I called but he may have changed it. +44 xx xxxx xxxx. Good luck!”

 

Esme sat back in her chair grinning. They had their way in. Esme typed out a quick thank you.

Then she called her partners in crime.

*********************

Esme, Kit and Sloan huddled around the phone. After receiving the phone number, they carefully crafted what they wanted to say to Mr. Fell. If he was some sort of eldritch being, they didn’t want to offend him with insensitive questions, at least until they’d had a look around. Plus, Kit was so giddily excited that he could hardly sit still. He’d become a massive…fan? No, fan wasn’t the right word. Kit was a massive enthusiast for all things A. Z. Fell and Co. He was so intrigued by the tiny, old shop and the odd bookseller that came along with it he wasn’t sure he could say a coherent word to him if he actually answered the phone. So they agreed level-headed Esme would handle the pitch, keep things professional and no matter what the answer was, they would be polite.

“Ok guys. Ready?” Sloan asked, meeting Esme’s and Kit’s gaze, trying to psych themself up more than anything.

Two nods and two nervous sets of eyes met theirs. “Right then.”

They pressed the call button.

It rang. And rang. And rang. And right when Sloan thought no one would answer, there was a sharp click and a curt but very polite voice said. “I am afraid we are most definitely closed. Perhaps try again some other time.”

“Mr. Fell, wait! Please!” Kit blurted out suddenly.

There was a pause. Then, “Whatever for? I won’t sell if you’re thinking you can talk me into it.”

Esme glared at Kit and took a breath. “We aren’t customers, Mr. Fell. My name is Esme Reynold. Me and my friends have a web series about paranormal activity and we were hoping you’d let us do an episode on your shop.”

There was another long pause during which Esme thought she blew it. Then Mr. Fell chuckled and said. “Ms. Reynold, in all my years that is the first time anyone has asked me that. I’m not sure, howev…”

“Who’s on the phone, angel? You’re taking forever! Tell ‘em to fuck off!” Mr. Fell was cut off by a whiny voice, slightly muffled by distance.

“Excuse me a moment, my dear.” He said into the receiver then the trio heard, just barely quieter but clearly addressing the other person in the room. “Crowley! Do be patient and I shall do no such thing! That would be terribly impolite. To answer your question, I believe they called themselves paranormal investigators.”

The trio exchanged looks. Now who was this mysterious Crowley? None of their research turned up anything about a Crowley

“What?!”

“Yes, darling. They said they have something called a ‘web series’” She could hear the air quotes and hesitance at an unfamiliar term.

Ahh, Sloan thought. They’re partners. We’ve found a haunted shop owned by elder gays. This couldn’t get any better! They grinned across the phone at Kit and Esme. Kit smiled back. Esme was too focused on the call to pay attention to them.

“Ask them what it’s called.” Crowley’s voice was suddenly much closer.

“Quite. Yes Ms. Reynold, could you kindly tell me the name of your web series?”

“Of course. It’s called Spooky Time with Sloan, Esme, and Kit. Please don’t judge us too harshly. We named it when we were in middle school.” Esme answered with a chuckle, going for levity.

“No judgement here. I like spooky. Big spooky fan, me.” Esme recognized Crowley’s voice and she could tell he was smiling. “C’mon, angel. Let them come!”

“Once again, I must ask you to excuse me.” Mr. Fell said into the receiver. This time when he went away, the conversation was too indistinct to follow but at one point, Sloan was sure they heard an exasperated “Absolutely not!”, pleading, about 5 minutes of near silence, and a grudging “Fine!”

Some muffled clicking. “Well Ms. Reynold it’s your lucky day. My partner likes your show so we would be happy to have you. We will be in touch about the details.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Fell!” Kit exclaimed. “And thank your partner too!”

“Mmm, yes. I’ll have him get in touch with you. I’m afraid I am not much for modern technology.”

Esme glared at Kit and cut back in. “That sounds just wonderful. Mr. Fell, we really appreciate this. We just found the stories about your shop so fascinating.”

“Well that’s nice then.” Mr. Fell sounded utterly unconvinced. “I’m afraid you caught me at a rather busy moment so I must be going. We will be in touch.” And he hung up.

Sloan let out a breath they didn’t know they were holding and Esme rounded on Kit. “Not what we agreed!”

Kit was utterly unashamed. “I know but I couldn’t help it! That was him! And that Crowley fellow is going to be an absolute riot! I can tell already.”

Esme glared and shook her head. Sloan grinned and nodded.

Sloan’s toothy grin widened. “This is gonna be a wild episode!”

*********************

“Howdy kids and welcome to Spooky Time. I’m your ghost with the most, Sloan Weaver.”

“I’m Esme Reynold.”

“And as always, behind the camera we have Kit Clements.”

Kit gave a thumbs up in front of the lens.

“Today, we’re investigating an antique bookshop in Soho by the name of A. Z. Fell and Co. …”

It was Sloan’s idea to film the intro in the studio and email it to Mr. Crowley before they flew to London. Mostly, they just wanted an excuse to talk through Kit’s research. It seemed to them it was a good idea to get their theories as organized as possible before setting foot in the shop. They and Esme laid out everything that Kit had found when he pitched the episode to them, outlining theories by laughing at wild conspiracies and presenting their own carefully thought out ideas. Then they could only hope Mr. Crowley and Mr. Fell would like it [2].

Sloan closed with a jaunty “Well kids, next time you see us, we’ll be in London to talk with the owner and investigate the shop.”

Kit cut there. “Mr. Crowley emailed plane tickets to us yesterday. We fly out tomorrow. I’m gonna go edit this as fast as I can and send it off while you two go pack. This is it!”

The next day, the cast and crew of Spooky Time with Sloan, Esme and Kit were on a plane, first class, to London.

*********************

Along with the plane tickets, Mr. Crowley had sent them reservations for the bougiest hotel the trio had ever set foot in. They were shown to a massive suite, a large living room with all modern amenities, three bedrooms, and an absurd ensuite attached to the master with a tub the size of a small swimming pool.

“Wow,” said Sloan. “Those two are loaded. Are we sure we don’t think Mr. Crowley is some sort of immortal cryptid, not Mr. Fell?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sloan.” Kit scoffed. “They’re together so they probably share funds or they're just two rich bastards who found each other.”

Esme let out a low whistle, taking in their surroundings. “And who’s to say they aren’t both cryptids?”

The trio, thankfully, had a day to themselves before they were to meet Mr. Fell at his bookshop. Jet-lag was a bitch so each retreated to take a nap before dinner, though one room remained un-utilized as Sloan and Kit decided they’d very much like to have a nap n’ cuddle before dinner.

*********************

The next morning, Sloan made a suggestion over breakfast. They were too nervous to sit around waiting even if the hotel was beautiful. “C’mon. We should go explore. See if we can get candids from people in the area. We’ve got the day and I can’t just hang here until it’s time to go to the shop.”

“Ugh. You two go,” Esme groaned. “I’m exhausted!”

Kit and Sloan grinned at each other. After all, they hadn’t had enough time with just the two of them recently. Sure, a good cuddle last night was lovely but quality time while conscious was also desirable. Linking hands, they bid Esme goodbye and wandered onto the bustling street.

They asked around in the neighboring shops to see if the employees had any gossip. Those who had managed to see inside A. Z. Fell and Co. reported feeling welcome and that Mr. Fell was just very protective of his books and didn’t have a cruel bone in his body. It appeared that Mr. Fell and Mr. Crowley frequented the local cafes and eateries and were favorite customers at most. They tipped generously and the staff gossiped about how the ambiguity of their relationship had disappeared in recent months. Sloan and Kit learned that non-paranormal conspiracies circled the bookshop. Some thought Mr. Crowley had ties to the mob. People in grey suits sometimes show up out of the blue and when they do, Mr. Fell and Mr. Crowley are noticeably more tense. When developers roll through to try and purchase Mr. Fell’s building, he always refuses to sell and the developers aren’t seen in the area again. Kit kept careful notes and Sloan made sure to ask each person they talked to if they could quote them in the video. Spooky Time was always careful of people’s privacy. Most gave a shrug and a “Sure, if you’d like” which was more than enough for their purposes, but some allowed them to film their testimonials provided they wouldn’t be used to slander dear Mr. Fell.

At the end of the day, Sloan began to feel like this one episode could be a whole series. “There’s so much about those two. How can we narrow it down?”

“It just gives us a lot to work with.” Kit gave them a peck on the cheek as they walked back toward their hotel, thinking along the same lines as his partner. “We may have to make it a two episode special.”

*********************

The next morning, three eager paranormalists made their way to A. Z. Fell and Co. The building looked exactly like it had in the pictures, an old, well worn, shopfront with warped glass windows and dusty shelves, just barely visible, melting into the shadows. Kit was bouncing on the balls of his feet. He’d been antsy all morning and if he hadn’t been weighed down by camera equipment, Esme might've sworn he’d float away.

“Y’all ready?” She asked her companions. When they nodded, she took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

A little bell tinkled and a warm voice called out. “Be with you in a moment!”

Kit grinned. This was real. They were here for real! He wandered a little further into the shop, breathing in the air that smelled of dust and old parchment. He didn’t know how anyone could feel frightened in this shop.

“Ahh yes. Hello there. You must be the internet people.” The most comfortable looking being came into view around the corner of a shelf. He was not too tall, with a cloud of fluffy, white-blonde hair and the bluest blue eyes. He wore a tan coat, a velvet waistcoat that looked like it had seen centuries of use and a tartan bow tie without a hint of irony. He looked so soft but it felt so right.

“And you must be Mr. Fell, it’s so wonderful to meet you in person!” Esme said, reaching out to shake the shopkeeper’s. It was warm and dry and oh, just as soft as she anticipated. “I’m Esme Reynold and this is Sloan Weaver and Kit Clements.”

Mr. Fell shook their hands in turn with a tentative smile. “You’ll forgive me if I am not very enthusiastic. It’s my partner who really wanted you to come, you see. I’ve never bought into ghost stories and the like. Although your show did seem simply charming. He made me watch his favorites ‘for research’.”

Kit blushed and Esme stuttered out a thanks.

“That’s perfectly understandable,” Sloan said. “I’ll tell you a secret though. We don’t really care if we prove there’s something paranormal happening. We just like the mystery of it.”

Mr. Fell chuckled and with a mischievous glint in his eye, he replied. “Of course you do, young Sloan. Always asking questions. No wonder Crowley likes you.”

In that moment, Sloan felt more pride than they ever had before. “Will your partner be joining us?”

“Oh yes he’s just napping [3] in the back. I’ll go wake him shortly. Now, how do you three normally go about things? I’m afraid Crowley was rather vague about it when I asked him and I got the distinct impression that he didn’t pay attention when you told him.”

“Not to worry,” Kit took over, his professionalism returning as he fell into the usual spiel. “We’d like to shoot a little intro outside the shop, just so our viewers can see the building. It really is quite beautiful—" Mr. Fell beamed at that. "—We can do that first, if you like, so we don’t disturb your partner’s nap. Then, if you’re amenable, we’d like to interview you about the shop and your experiences here. Basically have you tell us a bit about the place and if you’ve noticed anything odd. The last thing we do is the actual investigation. We’ll poke around[4] after it gets dark and check out any of the more active spots we’ve heard of in our research or that you can tell us about.”

Mr. Fell considered this for a moment. “Hmm, very well. I do believe we can manage that. Oh but holy water isn’t part of your equipment, is it?”

“Not currently,” Esme replied. “Do you think it should be?”

“No, no, no. Absolutely not. I’m told that ghost hunters and the like carry it around but it’s the books, you see. Many are quite old, fragile and are priceless and I cannot have them damaged by careless holy water use[5].”

Esme smiled. “Of course, Mr. Fell. We wouldn’t dream of harming your collection. So why don’t we get the ball rolling with our work outside. Do you think a half hour or so would be enough time for your partner? We can take longer if you’d like.”

“Nonsense! He asked you here so he can bloody well wake up for you. Half an hour is more than generous.”

With smiles on faces, the trio went back outside to make some introductory remarks about the history of the building as they understood it and record a “Well kids, let’s go meet the owner!” From Sloan.

That took less than ten minutes so Kit, Sloan and Esme spent the final twenty discussing the upcoming interview, how exciting it was to actually be here, and did anyone have new thoughts now that they’d been inside?

“It’s crazy,” Esme observed. “That no one can tell us exactly how long the shop’s been here. Has that been bugging either of you?”

“Absolutely buck wild!” Kit agreed enthusiastically “And did you feel strange when you walked in? I didn't think I’d feel anything but it just so…”

“Warm,” Sloan supplied, somewhat dreamily. “And cozy. Right kids, thirty minutes are up. It’s time to go meet Mr. Crowley.”

*********************

“So Mr. Fell, how long have you owned the bookshop?” Esme asked. The four of them were seated in a semicircle on Mr. Fell’s worn but comfortable furniture in the backroom of the shop while Kit manned the camera. He’d outfitted Mr. Fell and Crowley with mics while Sloan and Esme set up their own. Now the interview was in full swing and it was turning out to be one of the strangest ones they’d ever had.

“Oh, I’ve been here so long I can hardly remember.” Mr. Fell replied, looking at Crowley. “Do you, dearest?”

Crowley (‘It’s just Crowley’ he had insisted) was not at all what the trio expected Mr. Fell’s partner to be like. He was the exact opposite of Mr. Fell in every imaginable way, complete with a snake tattoo curled in front of his right ear. Where Mr. Fell was soft and round, Crowley was all sharp angles and hard edges. He was tall, thin as a rake and had the brightest red hair. When he strode out of the back room, he didn’t walk so much as slither upright. He was a show of lanky limbs, gesturing dramatically as he griped loudly about being woken up (despite having been awake for a good twenty-five minutes by that point). He wore the tightest black skinny jeans, black blazer over a grey t-shirt with the deepest V Kit had ever seen and darkly tinted sunglasses that he made no indication of removing even though the bookshop was not all that bright. And what was that weird string around his neck?

Crowley answered with faked offense. “It’s your shop! Why should I remember when you opened?”

Sloan knew in that moment that Crowley definitely remembered the exact date and time of the bookshop’s beginnings. They also knew that they would never get a proper answer from either the shopkeeper or his partner on that front, so they decided to move onto the more interesting line of questioning. “You two both spend a lot of time here then. Have you experienced any of the phenomena that have been reported?”

“I have seen, heard, and felt nothing of the sort,” Mr. Fell said with a gentle smile. “But as I've said, I have never been one to buy into ghost stories.”

Crowley snorted and waggled his eyebrows at the blonde. “Yea, he’s much more into demons.”

“Crowley!” Mr. Fell exclaimed, batting at the ginger’s arm.

“Really?” Sloan pressed, intrigued. “How come you believe in demons, not ghosts?”

Mr. Fell huffed. “In my long life[6] I have seen many many things but none of them pointed to the existence of ghosts. I simply believe that when a soul leaves this Earth, they go somewhere else. There’s no point in lingering if you can’t do anything.”

Sloan noticed he didn’t mention demons so they asked again. “But demons? Surely they go hand in hand with ghosts?”

“Crowley was just making a joke. I think demons are just people with mischievous intentions.” Mr. Fell said this with a pointed look at Crowley who appeared to be trying quite hard to keep from laughing.

Esme cut in, trying desperately to keep the interview on track. It seemed to her that if left to their own devices, the pair would spend hours telling inside jokes and spinning off on lengthy tangents. “Have you had any experiences with paranormal activity here, Crowley?”

“Oh yes! Regularly.” The man in black drawled with no indication that he was going to continue.

Esme leaned in, eager for more. “Could you tell us a little about them? What was your most recent encounter like?”

“Well,” Crowley said, pensively. “This morning before I took my nap, I saw the snake in the reflection of the windows but when I turned around, he was gone.”

“The snake?” Sloan pressed. “How often do you see the snake?”

“Oh, I’d say he makes an appearance every couple of weeks or so.”

Kit let out a low whistle from behind the camera. “That often, huh?”

“Yes, he’s quite persistent.” Said the clearly annoyed Mr. Fell with a sharp glare at his partner. Esme decided that she never wanted to be on the receiving end of one of Mr. Fell’s glares. “I can’t quite seem to get rid of him.”

Crowley smirked back at him, unperturbed. “Like you’d even want to.”

This was turning into one of the strangest interviews the trio had ever done. Sloan was delighted and Esme was growing increasingly more frustrated. She loved asking questions and solving mysteries but the round-a-bout, vague nonsense Mr. Fell and Crowley were spouting was starting to get to her. Couldn’t they give a straight answer[7]? Time to steer the conversation back on track.

“That’ll be one thing we look out for tonight then,” She said with a smile. “Do you have any comments on the negative feelings some people get when they enter your shop? That was one of the more widely reported phenomena and is highly indicative of an active spirit.”

“Maybe if people did not try to buy my books, they wouldn’t feel so unhappy when I refuse a sale. I don’t think that’s so strange.” Mr. Fell spoke as though this was the most obvious thing in the world.

“With all due respect, Mr. Fell, you run a bookshop. Isn’t it expected that people would want to buy a book?” Esme said.

“Not one of my books!” The declaration was final leaving no room for argument. Crowley stifled a laugh. Again.

The rest of the interview proceeded much in this fashion. Sloan and Esme asked questions and each one was met with vague answers that only raised more questions. Crowley, for his part, was enthusiastic and often found the questions amusing and commented on how clever the three of them were but still managed to avoid giving direct answers. Mr. Fell grew increasingly on edge and fidgeted with his signet ring while giving his clipped responses.

Kit watched all this from behind the camera. The whole interview was longer than usual, a testament to the oddity that was A. Z. Fell and Co. He felt a little bad for the middle-aged shopkeeper. The man was clearly uncomfortable but unwilling to say anything. He kept glancing over at Crowley, who was having a blast, sighing, then wringing his hands until he was addressed again. Sometimes, Crowley would gaze back at Mr. Fell with unbridled adoration and he would smile a true and radiant smile in return, but it quickly fell back into guarded nerves.

Kit spoke up. “I think we’ll cut there. We’ve got more than enough.”

Mr. Fell’s relief was instantaneous and he surged to his feet. “Oh thank goodness! That was the first time I’ve been filmed. I don’t think it agrees with me.” He announced with a light chuckle and bashful smile.

Crowley actually laughed at this, fluidly unfolding himself from where he sprawled across the sofa and stood to drape a lanky arm over Mr. Fell’s shoulders. “You did great, angel.”

“You really did.” Sloan said, agreeing with Crowley’s encouragement. “And your collection is incredible! No wonder you hate parting with any of them.”

“Oh yes well, it has taken me a long time to find many of these works and I would hate to see them damaged or lost. Humanity’s stories are too important.” Now Mr. Fell just sounded embarrassed.

He said ‘humanity’ in such a way that Esme couldn’t help but think that maybe Mr. Fell could actually be the cryptid that people speculated he was but she was curious about his books. “Could you tell us about your favorites? Not for the show of course!” She added quickly. She found she liked Mr. Fell and Crowley immensely and also really did not want to get kicked out before nightfall.

Crowley groaned. Kit rolled his eyes while he worked to pack up the tripod and their hosts’ mics. Sloan looked mildly interested.

Mr. Fell brightened considerably. “Of course! Would you all like tea or cocoa? I can whip some up in a jiffy and we can talk literature.”

Sloan became much more interested at the prospect of refreshments and hurriedly asked if they could help.

Soon, they were all sitting around, laughing, telling anecdotes and drinking quite possibly the best cocoa Sloan, Kit, or Esme had ever tasted. Crowley practiced his best lounging from atop Mr. Fell, who didn’t seem to mind in the slightest and was absently running his fingers through his partner’s hair while he recounted some history or another that he claimed he’d only read about but talked about as though he had been there. Crowley, for all his nonchalance and cynicism, was as knowledgeable as Mr. Fell, often cutting in with corrections and offering his own crass but well-formed opinions on whatever work they were discussing, especially if it was Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde. For some reason, Esme observed, Crowley really seemed to truly despise Wilde.

The trio did eventually end up going back to their hotel for a mid-afternoon nap. A sudden six hour time difference will do that to you.

*********************

Esme, Kit and Sloan returned to the bookshop at dusk and shared a look.

“This is it!” Kit breathed. “Y’all, I’m so excited!”

Sloan snickered but pecked his cheek anyway. “We can tell. You’re not usually this worked up about an investigation.”

“Gross. You two are gross.” Esme said but she didn’t really mean it. “Let’s go. This bag is actually heavy, you know.”

“Yet you make it look easy.” Sloan extended an arm, an offer to carry their ghost-hunting equipment. Esme handed off the heavy duffle and Sloan groaned under the added weight. “Allons-y.”

Walking into the shop that evening felt distinctly different than it had earlier. The dim light and soft shadows of early afternoon darkened and sharpened into menacing shapes. The bell still sounded above the door but it just kind of echoed strangely throughout the shop.

“Welcome back!” It wasn’t Mr. Fell who greeted them either. Crowley appeared out of the shadows as if he’d been born there[8]. “My angel is a little tied up at the moment so I’m here instead.” Out of his impossibly small pockets, Crowley pulled a sheet of paper and shook it out. “His list of reminders. Mostly for me, he said. I’m starting to think he trusts you with the shop more than me. It’s honestly a little insulting that he’d think I need this. There are like three items. He’s lucky I'm not easily offended. He’s lucky I’m not a lot of things but I digress.” He paused and looked intently at the paper he’d just claimed not to need, “His instructions are as follows: Don’t fuck up the books. Don’t fuck up the building. Don’t come upstairs. You have free reign of this floor, including the backroom if you so choose. You are not allowed upstairs or in the flat. We’ll be up there but if you need anything, you text or call me. And finally, and probably most importantly, don’t fuck up the books. If you fuck up any of the books, Zira will probably discorporate me so Don’t. Touch. The. Books. Any questions?”

Kit stared at him open-mouthed. Crowley proved himself to be sharp-tongued, clever, and not particularly verbose so Kit was not expecting him to go off on a semi-coherent rant about Mr. Fell. Also, discorporate? Zira? Must be what the ‘Z’ stands for.

Sloan was beaming so hard their face hurt. They knew what was happening upstairs.

Esme, shocked, tried to stammer something along the lines of ‘No, sir. We promise we’ll be careful’ but it came out as more of a strangled “Uhhh-huh.”

Crowley somehow stuffed the paper back into his absurd jeans and clapped his hands together. “Right. Well then, I’ll leave you to it. Caio.” And as suddenly as Crowley emerged, he melted back into the shadows leaving the trio of confused paranormal investigators alone in the dark shop.

“So, that happened.” Sloan said and carefully set their bag of equipment down and pulled out three headlamps, a Go-Pro and strap to fix it to their chest, and passed the EMF detector to Esme. Kit got busy setting up the camera for nighttime filming.

“It’s nice to think that we can have what they do,” He mused.

Sloan snorted and teased. “Yes. I do think you’d be dashing in a bow tie. Or did you fancy yourself in those jeans that are so tight it would take a miracle to get them on[9]?”

"You know I meant their delightful dedication to each other, not their bizarre dress sense," said Kit. "Or whatever kinky shit they're getting up to upstairs."

“People! Can we focus here?” Esme really wanted to figure out the mysterious shop. “Let’s finish setting up and get to it!”

Kit and Sloan complied and soon enough, they were fully equipped and heading slowly into the depths, peering around bookshelves.

“We are rolling,” Kit announced in a hushed voice. The moment Crowley left, the shadows started pressing in on the group and Kit felt jittery. The cozy and comfortable, dimly lit shop from early was all but gone and in its place was murky darkness and startling shapes rising from the gloom.

“Alright kids!” Sloan adopted their ‘let’s hunt some ghosts’ persona. Not to be confused with their ‘sat behind a desk cracking jokes’ persona. “It’s dark now so we’re back at A. Z. Fell and Co. Esme’s manning the EMF detector for the time being but we’re in the city so we probably won’t get anything useful from it tonight.”

“You all know the drill. We’re looking for cold spots, hot spots, weird feelings and the like,” Esme added. “We most likely have some sort of spirit but our hosts did mention demons and snakes so we’re keeping an open mind and an eye out for anything unusual.”

Esme led the way into the bookshop, followed by Sloan then Kit in the back, camera resting on his shoulder for a little extra stability. It was labyrinthine, shelves not in any sort of rows and instead forming a haphazard maze. Unsteady stacks of books made makeshift walls and narrow walkways, guiding the investigators deeper into the heart of the shop.

“I’m starting to wish we had some string to lead us back to the door. How does Mr. Fell find anything?” Esme wondered aloud.

“Does anyone else feel way less welcome here than we did this afternoon?” Kit asked quietly. “I’m not just saying this. Are you two really not a little spooked by the feeling in here?”

“Honestly, I’m too cute to spook,” Sloan said, flashing a grin to the camera before sobering up. “But you’re not wrong. The air in here feels…thick.”

Deeper and deeper they went. The bookshelves around them seemed to bend inward, pressing down on them. Shouldn’t they have reached the other side by now? They had seen like ninety percent of the shop earlier and surely it didn’t take this long to get to the back room for tea. Suddenly, Esme stopped walking, fiddled with a dial on the EMF detector, slapped her hand against it then shook it vigorously. “This can’t be right. Did either of you check the batteries in this thing?”

Kit leaned over, trying to get a look at the display. “Yea, they’re brand new. I replaced everything yesterday to be sure.”

“Why? What’s wrong with it?” Sloan asked, mostly for dramatic effect.

“It’s not registering any EMF in the area but there should be at least something. I mean, we’re in the city! The needle should be going haywire but it’s not moving at all.”

“Huh, well that’s definitely unexpected.” Sloan peered over her shoulder at the still needle, that should at least be twitching. Even in remote cabins or underground tunnels they’d investigated before, there was always a faint signal.

What Esme, Sloan, and Kit didn’t know is that Crowley had informed the shop that it was to act haunted but because he didn’t really know what that meant, A. Z. Fell and Co. didn’t either. So while the demon was upstairs ravished his angel, the shop was doing its best to scare the living daylights out of the three humans. So when the lack of any EMF and the new interior design didn’t freak them out, the shop decided it was time to step things up a notch.

“We should keep going. I think the back room would be a good place to set up the spirit box and maybe break out the ouija board if we’re feeling adventurous,” Esme decided. “Also, I really don’t want to keep standing here.”

Kit had to agree with her. His hands felt clammy. He had to keep wiping them on his shirt to keep the camera from slipping from his grasp. And even though the air was cold, so cold that Kit was surprised he didn’t see puffs of mist from their breath, he felt flushed and sweaty. It was an old building so every step was made worse by the ancient, creaking floorboards. Even more disconcerting than the noise was how much it seemed to echo around the shop. If the mics picked it up well, Kit thought, we won’t need to actually find ghosts.

They had been wandering around the shop, floors groaning with every step, trying to find anything more concrete than a bizarre floor plan and weird feelings for what felt like forever when they heard it.

Thump

“What was that?” Kit whispered into the dark.

Thump

It was coming from behind them. The trio whipped around to try and find the source of the noise.

Thump

“I’m sure that wasn’t there before.” Sloan said when they looked around. There was a book sitting in the middle of the floor. A dusty old tome which wouldn’t be remarkable given their locale except it seemed to be picking itself up and then letting itself drop back to the ground.

Thump

They watched it happen.

Thump

“Mr. Fell’s gonna kill us if the ghost damages his books!” Esme said in a terrified whisper, though she was more terrified at the prospect of Mr. Fell’s wrath then whatever shit this was.

Thump

Then the book went still. Esme and Sloan approached it hesitantly while Kit stayed back to film.

“Is there still no EMF readout?” Sloan asked, nudging the old book gently with their toe.

Esme glanced down at the device to confirm. “None whatsoever.” She bent down to pick up the volume and set back on a table, but only just barely managed to get safely out of the way as it shot out from beneath her hands and soared through the air, directly past Kit’s head before settling itself on a shelf.

“Let’s hope the book's not hurt,” Kit said. “I’m more scared of Crowley and Mr. Fell’s Wrath than whatever that was[10].”

“I’m thinking we scrap the back room idea and pull out the spirit box here. See if we can speak to whatever that was.” Sloan suggested, eyes wide.

Esme was focused on where the book had shelved itself. “Pass me the Go-Pro, Sloan. I want to find out what book it chose. Maybe there is some significance to it.”

Leaving her cohorts to settle in with the spirit box, Esme crossed to the shelf and gently eased the heavy tome into her hands. It was old, that much Esme could tell just by looking at the cover but she didn’t see anything else to identify it. Intricate symbols that Esme didn’t recognize adorned the cover and she could only hope for something she could understand to be inside. She held it gently in one hand and pointed the Go-Pro at it with the other. “Right,” Esme told the camera. “Here we have the book that was moving around of its own accord. Let’s find out what it is, shall we?”

Sitting down cross-legged with her back to the bookshelf, Esme rested the tome on her lap and carefully opened it to the title page where she read out loud, “The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King

Now by this point in her career as a paranormal investigator, Esme had done her fair share of reading on Aleister Crowley, and she’d heard of this book. Goetia is the practice of demon evocation and this book in particular dealt with summoning and containment of biblical demons by King Solomon but also just how one can go about summoning demons for shits and giggles. This book was important in supernatural circles but this particular copy she knew had to be even more important. She knew this because the dedication beneath the title read: “For Aziraphael, your assistance was invaluable. Signed Aleister Crowley”

It was an original manuscript. It had to be with a dedication like that. Esme gently turned page after page, in awe of the carefully penned sigils and instructions on their use. A book like this was absurdly valuable and highly sought after and Esme couldn’t believe she was holding it. She read a few passages, flipping through the book and recording pages with the Go-Pro, probably spending more time on the text than was strictly necessary before gently closing the cover and carrying it back over to her companions.

*********************

While Esme wandered off toward where the book disappeared to, Kit and Sloan took a seat on the dusty floor between towering bookshelves to set up the spirit box.

“What do you think could do that?” Kit asked Sloan.

“I’d say ghost for sure, but there’s no EMF so that may not fly in most paranormal circles. Demonic activity could be the cause. Their energy may be distinct enough that…”

Sloan may have gone on but Kit wouldn’t know because menacing hissing sounded in his right ear, tearing his attention from his partner’s theories.

You aren’t frightened of me? You will be…sssssso ssssorry you sssssstepped…insssssside thissss shop…

Kit whipped his head toward the noise, wide, panicked eyes searching through the shadows for the source. “Did you hear that?” He asked in a hoarsely not even registering if he’d interrupted Sloan or not.

“Hear what?” Sloan said squinting at Kit through the dim light cast by the camera’s monitor.

“That whispering. Right in my….”

They can’t hear…me. Jusssssst you…Kit Clementssss…

The hissing sounded again, breathing right up against his neck, circling around his head so Kit couldn’t pinpoint a source and he couldn’t keep the terror out of his voice. “There it is again.”

“No, I didn’t hear it. Does that thing have an infrared setting?”

Kit nodded and poked a button with shaky hands before Sloan commandeered the camera, pointing it’s lens at him.

“Great. You tell me if it speaks again.” Sloan instructed looking at the monitor. Kit’s bright red shape was hunched on the floor looking back at them, looking for any signs of temperature fluctuations around the edges of his form.

“You think I’d keep something like that to myself?! It said my name!”

…I can ssssee…into your ssssoul…Kit Clementssss…I can ssssee…your fate…

Kit squeezed his eyes shut and in a strangled voice informed Sloan it was back. They alternated between watching Kit and the camera, trying to discern any clue to what was speaking to him.

…I can sssseee your…sinssss…Kit Clementsss…you are going to ssssuffer…to burn…

Kit’s breaths were coming fast, growing closer to hysterics. “Anything?” Sloan shook their head. “Just you. Is it still talking?”

…You should not have…come here Kit…Clementsss I will never…let you leave…

Kit nodded.

“Well don’t listen to it. It’s not talking to me.” Sloan glanced over at Esme, a shadow sat at the foot of a bookshop. “And it’s definitely not talking to Esme so whatever it’s saying, it’s not true.”

…I will sssee you there…Kit Clementsss…I will ssssee you in hell…and watch you BURN!

Cold clammy hands grasped at Kit’s shoulders and a cold breath hissed against the back of his neck. He yelped in a very dignified fashion[11]and wheeled around, ready to fight whatever being was behind him but found only empty air. There was nothing there. When he turned back to Sloan, they were staring intently down at the camera display.

“What did you see?” Kit asked, desperation in his voice. He most definitely didn’t want to come across as the guy who makes things up for the views.

“Hands.” Sloan informed him. “Did something grab you?”

Kit nodded, shaking. “It was so cold. I felt it’s breath on my neck.”

“Y’all, look at this!” Esme came back over, waving the old tome as she joined them, completing their triangle.

“Not now, Esme. Kit’s got himself a personal demon or ghost or something. It grabbed at him.” Sloan informed her.

“What?” Esme exclaimed. “Why didn’t you call me?”

Sloan injected as much sarcasm as humanly possible into her voice. “Well excuse me you were too preoccupied with your moldy, old book to notice your friend being haunted.”

“What did it say to you?” Esme asked, and Sloan’s curiosity took over. Kit was shaken and they wanted to know what the entity said that had their partner so upset.

“You guys, I’m sorry. I don’t think I can stay here,” Kit said, rising and backing toward the door. “It told me I was going to suffer and burn. I can’t stay in here.”

Without another word, Kit fled. Sloan heard the bell above the shop jangle cheerfully as the door opened and closed.

“So that was a thing,” Said Esme, staring after him. “Shall we continue?”

Sloan nodded hesitantly then positioned the camera on their shoulder. “I guess. So what’s this about a book?”

Esme presented The Goetia to the camera and gushed about its contents for as long as she safely could before Sloan would throw a fit. Sloan had done their own research and concluded that it couldn't be a coincidence that the entity the book Esme was holding was a staple for demonologists in a shop allegedly infested by a demon. It may not be a demon but it knew the rumors and played them up. Or it could just be a demon. Still not a coincidence though, they decided. We need more evidence.

Sloan, unseen by the camera, gestured to the book in Esme’s hands and asked. “So you think the thing that spoke to Kit was a demon?”

Esme nodded eagerly. “Seems likely. This can’t be accidental.”

Sloan was no fool. They knew Kit was a skeptic. He believed the exact amount necessary to enjoy the possibility while maintaining the wall of plausible deniability but something had rattled him enough to walk out of a shoot. That made Sloan nervous.

“So what next? If we’re dealing with a demon.”

Carefully setting the book aside, Esme shrugged and said. “I guess we try to talk to it. Spirit box?”

“Spirit box.” Sloan agreed and hesitantly flipped the switch on.

The crackle of static and disjointed radio chatter filled the air, abnormally loud in the stuffy quiet of the shop.

“Hello? If there is an entity in this shop, can you make yourself known?” Esme asked.

The white noise continued.

“Can you put the book back on the shelf?” Sloan tried goading the entity into action. “Or speak to one of us again? Ooh or tell me what you’ll do to me in hell since my existence is apparently a sin in some circles?”

The book stayed still and the spirit box remained staticky.

And then a voice came through, but not in the usual fashion of a spirit box. No, this voice came through in a clear and complete sentence. Mostly.

“—might even find some of that evidence they're looking for.”

Static resumed and the paranormalists exchanged confused looks, unsure of what to say in response. After a moment, the voice crackled back to life.

“C’mon angel. It gives you a chance to show off your collection without anyone trying to buy bits of it. It’d be ideal for you. Indulge in a little Pride.”

Well, that was unexpected. Esme started a little, looking to her remaining companion for confirmation as she said “Doesn’t Crowley call Mr. Fell ‘angel’?”

Sloan nodded.

“I didn’t do anything with my demonic wiles! I just asked it for a favor. It’s not my fault that the two hundred years you’ve spent here has given the building a sentience of its own.”

A short pause.

“Hullo. Demon. It’s in the job description.”

It was clear, whoever was on the other end of the connection was having a conversation with someone else[12]. A full conversation, not fragments or lonely words but full on, goddamn sentences.

“Even you’re not that good, angel.”

Short pause.

“Always.”

Short pause. The paranormalists were intrigued even though they were only hearing one side.

“And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a little bit of demon in you, you cocky bastard.”

All of a sudden, it sounded like someone was being strangled before the voice came back, much pitchier than before.

“Ngk Aziraphale, you can’t say things like that!”

Short pause.

“You’ll discorporate me!” It sounded affronted now.

Short pause

“Well, I’m sure I can think of something.”

Long pause during which Esme was certain she could hear noises associated with a good make-out session so she crawled forward and clicked the spirit box off before sitting back on her heels and running a hand down her face. “Call me crazy but I think we either somehow managed to accidentally eavesdrop on our hosts or we somehow managed to accidentally eavesdrop on our hosts and one of them happens to be an actual demon.”

“Could the spirit box have been tampered with? The EMF has been acting up so maybe the box is somehow picking up chatter through the Alexa they probably have upstairs.” Sloan speculated, wishing Kit were here to be the voice of reason rather than them. This stuff was buck wild.

“Don’t think so. It’s constant, random scanning designed to avoid that sort of interference,” Esme reminded them and their audience.

“And, I for one want to know why we could hear Crowley, but not Mr. Fell.”

“Assuming it was Crowley we were hearing,” Sloan protested, for posterity's sake. “We met him. He’s a flesh and blood person. A little odd but certainly not evil.”

“Maybe there are good demons,” Esme offered.

So busy theorizing on the nature of the voice they’d overheard, neither Esme nor Sloan noticed how cold the room had gotten until they could see the puffs of their breath hovering in the air.

“Um, Esme,” Sloan said, feeling just slightly panicked. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Esme whispered hoarsely. The cold air started moving, rustling the pages of the books, lifting Esme’s hair from her shoulders. With chilled fingers, she clutched The Goetia to her chest, determined to protect the precious volume from evil spirits.

“Is there anything from the EMF detector?” Sloan asked.

Esme glanced down at the readout screen. The moving air became a stiff breeze. “Nothing. You think he knows we overheard him?”

Sloan swallowed. “Maybe but we don’t know it was Mr. Crowley. Not for certain.”

The stiff breeze became a howling wind.

“We probably should go.” Esme observed.

Before Sloan could protest, a rasping voice carried on the wind swirled around them.

Esssme…Ssssloan…Leave thisss placcce.

It was no louder than a hissing whisper, but could still be heard over the screaming wind.

“I concur. Let's go.”

That was all Esme needed to start making her way to the door, Sloan right on her tail.

Leave or faccce your doom!

“Geez! We’re going already,” Sloan couldn’t help sassing even as they left. “You know you’re really theatrical for a spirit or demon or whatever you are.”

The shop’s only response was to send a strong gust that shoved Sloan and Esme out onto the front step before slamming and locking the door and settling back into stillness with a satisfied sigh.

Kit looked up at them from where he sat next to their equipment bag, shocked by their sudden appearance. “Hi, um, what just happened here?”

Esme looked over her shoulder at the dark shopfront while Sloan bundled the camera away. “We’ll explain back in the room. I don’t think we should linger.”

No one argued with that and it wouldn’t be until later that they noticed The Goetia still in Esme’s grasp.

***********************

Aziraphale shifted in Crowley’s arms when he heard the shop door slam. “Oh dear. I do hope everything is alright down there.”

“They’re fine, angel, go back to sleep. The shop will lock up when they go.”

Aziraphale sighed and began the long and arduous process of untangling Crowley’s limbs from around his own. “I’m sure you're right, darling, but I will feel ever-so much better if you allow me to go see for myself.”

“Fine!” Crowley grumbled. “But I’m not letting go.”

There was a small shift in reality and Aziraphale found himself wrapped in the inescapable coils of Crowley’s snake form. He chuckled a little and stroked the top of Crowley’s head fondly and pressed a kiss to the hinge of his snake-y jaw. “As you wish, my dearest.”

Aziraphale made his way down the rickety set of stairs that led to the back room of the shop and gasped when he pushed the door open.

“Oh Crowley! What have you done to my shop?” He cried in dismay.

“Nothing!” Came the whiny reply. “It did it to itsssself! I jusssst told it to act haunted.”

Aziraphale sighed and snapped his fingers to return his shop to normal. “In the future, dear, I would appreciate you consulting me about things like this. I am terribly not fond of the haunted aesthetic.”

“Jussst asss you ssssay, angel.” Hissed Crowley. He didn’t feel too bad about the current development. “Drove the humansss out, though, didn’t it?”

“Oh my, indeed it has,” Aziraphale fretted as he went to check the locks on the front door. “The poor dears must have had an awful fright. Perhaps I should call and apologize.”

“And sssay what? ‘Sssorry you got the ssscare you were looking for. It’sss not actually ghostsss, just a partially sssentient building with permission to pretend it’sss haunted.’? No, I don’t think ssso. Jussst leave it, angel, and take me back to bed.”

“No, I suppose you’re correct. Very well, my wily serpent, temptation accomplished.”

Neither noticed the book that was missing from one of the shelves.

********************************

“Does this mean,” Kit asked, “that Mr. Fell’s not the cryptid? It’s Crowley and he’s a demon and he’s gonna laugh while he watches my soul burn in hell? Fuck! I don’t think I can go back there.”

They were sitting around the table in their hotel suite discussing the events of the night. Everyone was shaken, even more so after Esme noticed the book in her hands.

“You don’t have to, Kitty, but someone has to return The Goetia and I’m not gonna let Esme go alone,” said Sloan. “But I for one am not convinced it’s a demon in that shop. The cold and whispering voices on the wind indicate ghosts to me. I think it's a malevolent spirit. Someone had to have died in there at one point or another. That place is older than dirt[13].”

“I think Mr. Fell is one too.” Esme reached over to where The Goetia lay and carefully opened it to the dedication.

“Aziraphael. That’s the name we heard on the spirit box and it’s not a stretch to get from there to A. Z. Fell and we heard Crowley call him Zira before. A. Zira. Fell. And then there's the matter of The Goetia. It was published in the early 1900s which would make Mr. Fell over a century old and he only looks like he’s in his 50s, tops.”

“Oh he definitely tops.” Sloan joked as they eyed the tome in Esme’s hands, a somewhat savage glint in their eyes. “We could try to summon one of them and find out.”

Kit yelled “What?!” louder than he intended and Esme declared “Absolutely not!” with a finality that Kit could only hope to emulate someday.

“What? It would be kinda awesome to summon a demon that we know won't murder us on sight.” They replied with an exaggerated eye roll.

Esme groaned. “I don't know, Sloan. They might kill us anyway when they find out we accidentally stole one of Mr. Fell’s books.”

Kit glared at her. “What’s this ‘we’ business? You stole one of Mr. Fell’s books. I was outside already! No way in hell am I going down for that!”

“Fine! But I’m still not using the book that I borrowed to summon a demon that may or may not be Mr. Fell’s husband. It’s rude!”

“But it would be so awesome!” Sloan protested.

“No! It’s stupid is what it is.” Esme argued without missing a beat. “You know how dangerous summoning a demon is. If it doesn’t work, you could die and if it does, who the fuck knows what the demon will do. I won’t let you.”

Sloan groaned. “You’re no fun. We have the instruction manual right there and we know the name of the demon we want to call! What more do we need?”

“What if we just called Crowley?” Kit said softly. “On the phone, I mean. In the morning.”

Sloan’s head whipped toward their partner. “What was that?”

Kit cleared his throat and continued on. “He gave us his phone number so why don’t you just call him? Someone will have too anyway since we have a book to return. Say sorry, you didn't mean to and you’re bringing it back right away because you don’t want to be on a demon’s bad side.”

Sloan and Esme blinked at him so he pressed on. “I mean, it’s nicer than just summoning someone out of the blue in the middle of the night and this way at least if he is a demon or whatever, we’re meeting on his terms instead of dragging him here against his will.”

“Kit, you marvel!” Esme exclaimed. “You really want to call up a demon? Even though you won't go to the shop?”

“I mean I would like to make sure Crowley doesn’t actually want to watch me suffer, but like, not in person. I’d much rather it be a random ghost than someone I met. He seemed so normal earlier. Although so did the shop.”

“Dear Kit, your definition of normal might need some help,” Sloan told him. “However, I would very much like to know if Crowley is a demon and since you won’t let me summon him with magic. We’ll call in the morning to return the book.”

******************

After several hours of much needed rest, morning dawned slightly damp and dreary as it is want to do in England. The three paranormalists once again sat around the table, nursing their chosen breakfast refreshments: Coffee for Sloan, eggs for Esme and cereal for Kit. No one would admit it, but they were all stalling the call. Sloan still harbored a desire to magically call upon the bookshop’s supernatural residents but for Esme and Kit, last night’s potential for excitement had faded into a mild dread at having to inform Crowley or, God forbid, Mr. Fell they’d taken one of the later’s books, no matter how unintentionally.

When the dishes had been cleared and Sloan had poured their second cup of coffee, Esme sighed and pulled out her phone. “I suppose we shouldn’t put this off any longer.”

Kit was a little pale and shifted his chair rather closer to Sloan's than was strictly necessary.

With a deep breath, Esme hit ‘call’.

The phone rang for quite awhile before Crowley’s gruff voice sounded from the speaker. “What?”

“Hello, Crowley, sir? It’s Esme from Spooky Time.” She paused, unsure of how to continue.

“Yes, I know who you are,” He said curtly. Kit could picture the single raised eyebrow above those dark mirrored lenses. “What do you want?

“It’s just, um…Is Mr. Fell there?”

Crowley didn’t answer right away. There was some mumbling and rustling then Crowley responded. “This better not be about any of the books.” Then a second voice spoke.

“Now, dear, I’m sure there’s no need for that,” said Mr. Fell.

Esme looked across at her compatriots. “Well, actually, you see, last night something happened and one of your books was sort of flying around and I, um, I mean it’s safe but in sudden panic I accidentally…” she trailed off guiltily.

Sloan sighed and took over. “What Esme is trying to say is that we didn't notice at the time but we managed to take one of your books last night and we were calling to return it.”

There was the sound of a snap on the other end of the line and then silence. For a long time. Kit didn’t know what to think but he was gearing up to get smote by the bookshop entity.

“I’m sorry, my dears,” Mr. Fell’s voice was tight and controlled. “I am afraid your news sent Crowley into quite a tizzy[14] so I have sent him off to cool down. While I am not pleased, I appreciate your honesty and will be by shortly to collect my property.” And with that, he hung up leaving the touch of warning attached to his parting words lingering in the air.

Everyone let out the collective breath they’d been holding and looked around at each other.

"Well, that could have gone worse," said Sloan.

Kit went white as a sheet. "Does that mean they're coming here?" He was not thrilled by that prospect.

"You can hide in the bedroom if you're that worried," Sloan informed him.

"I suppose, but I don't think I'm that big of a weenie."

"You don't even believe in ghosts and you still ran out of the shop." Esme pointed out.

Kit glared at them. "You did too, you know."

Sloan shrugged. "We were driven out. There's a difference."

"Not really," He grumbled.

The good natured bickering continued until less than an hour later, when there was a firm knock at the door. It swung open, revealing Crowley looming in the doorframe with a sharp, savage smile on his lips, the lenses of his glasses were bottomless pits into never-ending, writhing darkness. He held a keycard casually between two fingers. He stalked forward, wordlessly, his slender form seeming to fill the space and press the three humans down into their chairs despite his distance. Esme found she couldn’t move when she tried.

“Now, my darling, that’s enough of that.” Four sets of eyes turned to Mr. Fell gently shutting the door behind himself while wearing what Crowley would call his ‘bastard smile’. “I would like to check on the condition of my book."

Suddenly, the heaviness lifted and Esme simply gestured to where The Goetia sat on the kitchen table.

Mr. Fell hurried over and donned a pair of round reading glasses[15] and pulled white cotton gloves out of his pocket. Quietly, Mr. Fell inspected The Goetia for any signs of damage. He took his time about it, inspecting the cover and spine thoroughly before turning to the interior. Esme wasn’t sure how much time had passed before he closed the book and removed his specs and gloves. It was time for her judgement.

“Well, my dear, you are in luck. The Goetia appears to have no damage from its adventures although I find myself very curious about the circumstances leading to its temporary removal.”

Esme looked sheepishly down at her hands. “It was an accident.”

“I gathered that, dear child, but what happened?”

Kit cleared his throat, a little surprised that he was still in the room and drawing attention to himself. “D’ya wanna watch the footage? It’s uncut but it might make things more believable?”

“‘S that a question, kid?” Crowley said, twisting around to face Kit.

“Crowley!” Mr. Fell admonished before Kit could answer. “Don’t frighten the poor child. That is a perfectly lovely suggestion. There will be less lost in translation.”

“It’ll just take me a sec,” Kit mumbled, hopping up to grab his laptop and the sim card. He set up as quickly as he could under the gaze of Crowley’s ire and pressed play. He didn’t bother watching the footage. He knew what happened so he watched Mr. Fell and Crowley. Slowly, Mr. Fell’s expression morphed from mild curiosity to firm irritation while Crowley’s shifted from downright scary to subtly amused, a wry smile spread across his thin lips.

When everyone had assembled outside the shop, Kit stopped the video and looked to Mr. Fell. “You see, Esme really didn’t mean too. Emotions were high and she just didn’t notice she was still holding it.”

Mr. Fell smiled gently and stood, wrapping The Goetia in a clean cotton cloth that he certainly hadn’t had before and tucking under his arm. “There’s no harm done. This particular work is precious to me and I am pleased you chose to return it as I know how valued Aleister’s work is among the supernatural community. This would have been much more unpleasant otherwise.”

With that, Mr. Fell turned toward the door, followed closely by Crowley, with the clear intent to leave, but Sloan still had questions.

“Wait! Mr. Fell,” They began, as intelligent blue eyes turned to them, piercing their very soul.

“Yes, dear child?”

“Aren’t you worried? About your shop I mean, cause you just watched something in there cause havoc but you don’t seem scared.”

He smiled gently at them. “While I appreciate your concern for my well-being, I can assure you that I am quite safe in that shop.”

“But you just saw what happened! Aren’t you afraid that a ghost or demon is haunting you?” Sloan pressed.

Mr. Fell let out a long suffering sigh and then spoke, after sharing a very pointed look with his husband. “My dear, ghosts do not exist and if a demon were to plague my shop, I dare say he would find he’d met his match. Now if you will excuse us, we really must be getting back and you three must get along if you wish to catch your flight back to America.”

Sloan glanced at their watch. “We have a few hours still. Please, Mr. Fell, Crowley, you have to listen. Whatever’s in there is malevolent and dangerous. You saw the footage yourself! How are you not terrified?”

“Quite simply, dear,” Mr. Fell said with a kind smile, “because there is nothing to be frightened of. Come along, Crowley.”

“As you say, angel,” Crowley said, offering Mr. Fell his arm.

“You are still in trouble, my wily serpent,” Mr. Fell said with a twinkle in his eye as he tucked his hand through the crook of Crowley’s elbow. “Don’t think you can charm your way out of this.”

“What? I already apologized! And you got your book back! What more do you want?”

“I told you not to touch my books and the first thing you do is send one rocketing through the shop! I do believe that warrants more than a single measly apology.”

“Fine! Let me make it up to you then! Breakfast? Lunch? Or maybe brunch is most appropriate. Anything you like, anything at all…”

The door swung closed behind them, cutting off Crowley’s rambling attempts at earning forgiveness.

Kit blinked after them. “Well, that was a thing.”

“‘I told you not to touch my books and the first thing you do is send one rocketing through the shop’,” Esme quoted, still working on believing what she’d just heard. “Crowley is a demon and Mr. Fell knows Crowley is a demon.”

“It would seem that way.” Sloan agreed. “That beautiful bastard.”

Kit sighed. “I don’t think we can put that in the episode.”

*********************

On the flight back to the states, Esme and Sloan put together an outline of an outro while Kit cobbled up a rough cut of the episode before everyone crashed hard. It had been an exhausting trip even before taking into account the jet lag. It was everything she and Sloan wanted to find when they’d started Spooky Time, even if they felt they couldn’t share it with the world. Some things just weren’t meant to be made public.

Once back in home, Sloan couldn't help but research specific demons. It took them awhile but after exhaustive efforts, they’d found what they were looking for.

“You guys,” They announced breathlessly. “You’ll never believe what I learned.”

Kit looked up from where he was editing the A.Z. Fell and Co. episode. “The limits on what I will or won’t believe have been altered as of late.”

“Seconded,” Esme said. “Don’t keep us in suspense.”

Sloan grinned. “So you know how Crowley’s a demon and Mr. Fell isn’t but is also immortal? It was bugging me because what they have isn’t forced. Obviously, Crowley didn’t grant Mr. Fell eternal life in exchange for his soul. They’re too in love for that sort of infernal binding. It’s been bugging me a lot but as it turns out I just needed to look in the right place for answers. I found tons of imagery surrounding the patron angel of queer folks, sketches and tapestries from all eras in history that depict the angel Azirphale. That name sounds familiar right?”

Kit and Esme nodded.

“Good. And do you want to know what I found thrown in with these images? A reference in the bible to the angel who guarded the eastern gate of Eden. And do you know who else was in Eden at the Beginning? A snake. The Snake, to be precise. The one that got Eve to eat the apple and gave her the knowledge of right and wrong, Good and Evil.”

“Are you saying what I think you are?” Esme asked.

Sloan grinned even wider, pleased that they were being taken seriously. “That Mr. Fell guarded Eden and that Crowley is the serpent. Yes, I am. It all makes sense! Their endearments. Their little inside jokes. The way they carry themselves. Crowley told us he saw a snake reflected in the windows but I bet he sees one every time he looks in a mirror because he is a snake. The Snake! Congratulate me, I’ve figured it out!” They spread their arms wide to accept praise and adoration.

“I’ll admit, it makes a certain amount of sense.” Esme said, thoughtfully.

Kit made a slight noise of agreement. “I’d like to see some of the art you mentioned.”

“Right away, mon cher.”

"Sloan, that's French. You know what that does to me!" Kit grinned, pressing a kiss to their palm.

"Flirt," Sloan said with a grin of their own.

Esme rolled her eyes. "Y'all are ridiculous. I don't know why I put up with you. Show us this art, Sloan!"

After looking through printouts of ancient depictions of the strange bookshop’s stranger residents, both Esme and Kit were inclined to agree with Sloan’s conclusion.

*********************

“Boy howdy I’ve never been happier that I’m not Kit,” Sloan exclaimed into the camera. “Hearing that voice in post is bad enough.”

They and Esme sat at their desk back in their little studio with Kit filming.“Indeed,” Esme replied with a grin. “Kit did get the short end of the stick this time. He got yelled at by a demonic spirit of some sort and I got to read a cool old text. Though that hurricane at the end wasn’t entirely pleasant.” A deliberate pause, for dramatic effect. “Dear audience, I am not entirely sure we can tell you what we met in A. Z. Fell and Co., but I think we can say we met something.”

“Since we can’t say for sure what we encountered, we’ll just have to let you crazy kids make your own conclusions. We are simply the humble messengers. I don’t believe it’s particularly malevolent, despite its words, but there’s only so many times you can poke a sleeping snake before it bites you in the ass.”

Esme rolled her eyes. “Well said as always, Sloan.”

“Thank you. It’s a hard job to be an amazing wordsmith but someone’s gotta make the sacrifice.” They were going off script but Sloan wasn’t going to let that stop them. One always should take advantage of opportunities to boost one’s self-esteem. Especially when it has the advantage of being a reasonable segue. “Speaking of words, I do believe we did learn one thing that is most definitely true about A.Z. Fell and Co.”

“Oh?” said Esme, having lost sight of the rails with Sloan driving the narrative train.

“If any of you take it upon yourselves to visit Mr. Fell's shop, do not attempt to purchase any of his books. He hoards stories like a dragon hoards treasure and dragons don’t usually like it when people try to take their stuff.”

Esme cackled. “Yes I certainly did get that vibe from him. Maybe he actually is a dragon. Dragon of Soho hoarding books and protecting knowledge.”

Sloan nodded in agreement. “There you have it. Confirmed dragon in Soho which brings us to the end of the episode. If you think of a haunt we should investigate, feel free to send it our way! And remember to eat, drink and be scary, kids!”

Kit cut with a grin. “That’s a wrap folks!”

*********************

They posted the episode the next day with an apology for the late upload, offering travel delays and jet lag as their excuse and hoping the content of said episode would make up for it. Kit had cut out much of the initial time spent wandering through the stacks, allowing the narrative to start when they discovered the EMF detector was malfunctioning. The Goetia, some of Esme’s initial filming of the pages, Kit’s encounter, and the cold wind that chased the other two from the shop were all included in the final cut. Oddly enough, the camera's mic had managed to capture the voice that spoke to Kit which more than made up for having to cut significant portions of the spirit box to protect the identity of the bookshop’s demon.

The response was mixed. Though largely positive, there were many skeptics who claimed the whole thing was a hoax and were very vocal in describing exactly how everything was staged. Esme wasn’t too surprised by this as she wouldn’t believe it either had she not been present. More shocking to her was the number enthusiastic believers and outlandish theories they put forward about the bookshop cryptids of Soho, although no one was actually convinced that the mysterious bookshop owner was a dragon despite Mr. Fell’s proven hoarding tendencies[16].

Sloan scrolled through the comments, hunting for inspiration for a future episode. They had their own ideas but fans always responded well when they took their suggestions to heart. They jotted down suggestions people made and typed out a few careful replies to some of the better questions that were asked. They were just about to shut down for the day when one comment caught their eye.

TheSerpent: Keep asking questions. Angel says hi.

Sloan grinned and raced to find their companions. The trio had the phone number of an angel and a demon and said demon liked their show. Things couldn’t be much better.

*********************

“That’s all from us today. If you think of a haunt we should investigate, feel free to send it our way! And remember to eat, drink and be scary, kids!”

In a bookshop in Soho, a demon and an angel finished watching the most recent episode of Spooky Time with Sloan, Esme and Kit. The demon was grinning wickedly through the whole thing, laughing at their interview with the investigative trio while the angel himself just watched quietly, a soft smile on his lips.

“What d’ya think?” Crowley asked, closing the laptop lid.

Aziraphale smiled up at him with a wicked gleam in his eye and placed a kiss on his cheek. “I think that they did a lovely job and were, thankfully, discrete. They are very intelligent young people to have figured out who we are[17] and I do believe they will go far. I might even allow you to convince me to watch more of their work.” Crowley leaned in to kiss his angel’s lips but was stopped by said angel’s finger pushing him back. “I also think that if my bookshop becomes popular amongst ghost hunters, you will be banned indefinitely.”

“You don’t really mean that?” Crowley asked, nervously.

“I most certainly do, my darling,” Aziraphale chided. “Your actions have consequences.”

Crowley tossed the laptop aside suddenly and clambered onto Aziraphale’s lap, straddling his thighs and glaring down at him. Aziraphale yelped at the sudden presence of the demon above him, but looped his hands around him anyway.

“Then I’ll just have to make the most of the time I’ve got.” Crowley growled. “Cause by the end of the week, your shop is simply going to be crawling with paranormal investigators.”

Crowley’s prediction was wrong, if only because A. Z. Fell and Co. did not open again until two weeks later.

END

*

*

*

Curious about the other side of the spirit box? Here’s what was said:

“I do hope they’re doing well downstairs.”

“They’re fine, angel. They may even find some of that evidence they were looking for.”

“Crowley, I’ll not have my shop turned into a paranormal hotspot!”

“C’mon angel. It gives you a chance to show off your collection without anyone trying to buy bits of it. It’d be ideal for you. Indulge in a little Pride.”

“You shan’t tempt me to sin, foul fiend, and I do rather enjoy spending time in my shop without cameras and whatever you ended up doing with your demonic wiles.”

“I didn’t do anything with my demonic wiles! I just asked it for a favor. It’s not my fault that two hundred years you’ve spent here has given the building a sentience of it’s own.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“Hullo. Demon. It’s in the job description.”

“I thought I might have reformed you.”

“Even you’re not that good, angel.”

“Would you like to know what I think?”

“Always.”

“I think I am that good and that you’re much more angelic than you’d care to admit.”

“And if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a little bit of demon in you, you cocky bastard.”

“Well I don’t know about now, but I certainly did earlier.”

*sputtering* “Ngk, angel, you can’t say things like that!”

“And why is that, my love?”

“You’ll discorporate me!”

“Hmm, we can’t have that, now can we? You best do something to shut me up.”

“I’m sure I can think of something.”

*

*

*

[1] With parental approval and comment moderation until they were older, of course.

[2] They needn’t have worried. Crowley got a kick out of the entire thing and Aziraphale humored Crowley nine times out of ten.

[3] Aziraphale left out the part where Crowley was currently in the form of an enormous snake and may or may not actually be asleep.

[4] Kit’s definition of professionalism was a little loose. Most professionals didn’t “poke around.”

[5] He was actually much more worried about holy water damaging his Crowley.

[6] This confused Esme. Granted, Mr. Fell and Crowley were not young per-say, but they certainly didn’t seem old enough for a ‘long life’.

[7] No they couldn’t. There was nothing straight about either of them.

[8] He hadn’t been but he was an expert lurker. He taught the seminar.

[9] Little did they know, more often than not Crowley did miracle his pants onto his body. He imagined himself too dignified for the Skinny Jean Hop.

[10] Kit’s mistake was making that observation out loud. The shop heard.

[11] He would argue this vehemently when editing the footage.

[12] If it was Crowley they were hearing, it stood to reason that the other participant was Mr. Fell.

[13] They were mistaken. Only the shop’s occupants were older than dirt.

[14] Tizzy? Sloan mouthed at Kit, who shrugged.

[15] ‘Brainy specs’ Kit would have whispered to Sloan if he’d been braver. As it stood, the same was true of Sloan.

[16] Crowley would argue that he is the dragon, being a literal reptile and also much more discerning about his treasures whereas Aziraphale was more of a magpie, chasing after anything vaguely book-shaped.

[17] The humans’ subtle acknowledgement of Crowley’s identity did not go unnoticed.