Archive for October, 2011

Porcupine Tears

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I woke up just as dawn broke and tried to get up from the mess of glass, blood and worse on the cream carpet. I was going to need all the shake and vac I could get my hands on. I must have lost more blood than I thought because I was dizzy and woozy and managed to pass out again. When I woke for the second time it was to a grey depressing light with snow falling at the window.

I managed to get myself on all fours and from there crawled to the couch where I reached up and put my hands on the arm rest to try to lever myself up. The shards of glass in my back were firmly embedded in the muscle and hurt like hell. At least I could move my limbs, if a shard had penetrated my spine in just the right place it could have paralysed me. But I was getting no where fast trying to stand up and my inability to do so was making me start to panic.

A noise behind me said I wasn’t alone and not in a good way.

Diabolus Ex Machina

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Midnight Falls had been a haven for all those who sought refuge from the human world; an increasingly precious commodity. Morgana had established a nest in the hills and Tobias’s predecessors had built the town. Occasional skirmishes meant that there were casualties on both sides, but nothing dramatic enough to risk all out war about. Midnight Fall’s real attraction was the spell of forgetting strong enough to compel most of the humans who came here to leave none the wiser. Those impervious few who stayed were tolerated as long as they didn’t poke their noses, or anything else for that matter, where they were most decidedly not wanted. That may have accounted for the ostensibly human Harper-Hodges. But more importantly for the creatures of Midnight Falls, a compromise of sorts had been attained. Not perfect and certainly not amicable, but it worked.

Everything in the garden was, if not rosy, rare steak bloody. That changed when Morgana was challenged for her throne by a younger, stronger contender called Lilith. Morgana, fuelled by the carelessness of passing millennia had, like many of the old ones, become distracted from the more Machiavellian machinations of the slaughter house that was the nest. But she wasn’t down and out yet.

She conjured and made a pact with the demon Baphomet. Many were sacrificed: human; vampire; all to satisfy her demon lover and he was as good as his word. Better. In celebration, Morgana unleashed unparalleled carnage the chief attraction of which was Lilith’s torture which consisted of a piece by piece live dismemberment lasting months. When Morgana got bored with Lilith’s screams, she gave her to the tender mercies of Baphomet who gained more power than he had in centuries. That’s demons for you: whatever the bargain, they always came out on top while you whined on like an impotent idiot about how that’s not what you meant at around the same time they scooped your intestines out and used them as draft excluders.

The demon’s presence poisoned Midnight Falls drip by drop and the were folk withered under its influence. Nothing too alarming at first: their beast forms became subtly distorted. Then the deformities became more gross, less easily dismissed. The more powerful were better equipped to preserve the shape they once had, but in truth they all suffered. And it wasn’t just their beast form that was altering, their sense of identity was too. Meanwhile Morgana had decided to make the subjugation of the weres a sign of her new power not to mention a permanent source of live food for her growing brood.

Tobias, when he became leader had a brilliant, awful idea. The were-folk would take their own power source and gain the necessary strength to seal Morgana and her kind up for good in her mountain fortress. That power source was a captive spirit, to be kept in a state somewhere between life and oblivion enabling the were folk to feed from its life force for all time to come. The entity had to be powerful enough to perform this role but at the same time quiescent enough to control. And, in their desperation, that’s what the fools did. I didn’t bother asking what rituals were involved because I had an idea and it wasn’t a jolly old tea party. But it was Tobias who did the incantations and made the sacrifices, because as leader that was his cross to bear.

But he hadn’t done it very well because the force of nature that was the black dog was wakening. Tobias had hoped it would have been a slower process and then I turned up, hastening the inevitable. In any case, their prisoner didn’t yield the power for which they had hoped. Their beast selves were still increasingly degenerating and now so were the human. One half couldn’t live without the other. Now they were quadruply screwed: no leader; no power source; Morgana on the warpath; and a vengeful demonic spirit on their tails.

Talk about Diabolic intervention. Unfortunately for all of us, it had gone beyond mere words.

Black Dog Rising

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Out of nowhere a black whirlwind came hurtling from the corner of my vision, vast slavering jaws agape briefly and then buried in the neck of my erstwhile tormentor with a meaty crunching sound as though bone had been pulverised. Jean screamed, a thin, ragged all too human sound which mercifully meant she released me before she was propelled by the beast’s momentum off of me and over the other side of the room. Something must have been broken in the beast’s attack, because Jean just lay there claws slashing ineffectually through the air monstrous head feebly moving from side to side, quite unable to ward off the snarling, frenzied black beast as it sought her throat and life blood. It had to have taken a massive amount of power to have done that and at first I groggily wondered if it was Jack come to save the damsel in distress.

With the benefit of surprise and the sheer size of the beast, it was able simultaneously to avoid Jean’s still lethal teeth and bite down savagely into the flesh of her throat, growling for a moment before shaking its head and ripping it out completely. A geyser of blood and gobbets of flesh and oesophagus rained over the room, the remnants of which could be clearly seen in the ruin of her throat. With a blood-curdling, rapid growl through the meat in its mouth, the beast shook its strangely familiar head as though reliving the moment it had been torn out and Jean’s life blood was sprayed around the walls for a second time. The enormous teeth bared in a snarl still gripping the flesh which had so recently belonged to Jean. The massive head tipped back and it ate the still quivering jellied mass, blood running down its jaws onto the carpet along with some pieces of muscle and tendon that had fallen out.

And as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over. I wasn’t naïve enough to think Jean would die, but it might give her something to think about for a while at least. The room swam with black spots which threatened to engulf the room and I felt myself losing consciousness, but before I did the black beast turned its huge head toward me and the huge red eyes seared themselves into my retina. Then I knew no more as a yawning black chasm began to draw me towards it. I remember wondering if this is what death was like.

Then, nothing.

Through A Veil Darkly

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

I hurried down the hall past a mother cradling her two dead babies, with a third older child propped against her shoulder, smiling up at her and playing with the point of a knife. A couple of indeterminate age and sex were having what looked like hugely painful and non consensual sex on both their parts- no pun intended. I reached into the cupboard for my coat and found the ghost of a young girl of about three cutting herself absentmindedly on her bare forearms and thighs as the blood dripped in a steady line onto the floor. They were becoming more realistic the longer I spent in the house and I wasted no more time. I ran upstairs pushing my way past a sea of rapidly multiplying faces trying to tune them out with only partial success.

I ran into my room, picking up my scrying glass, wallet, mobile and on second thoughts the ouija board that I kept for emergencies and scurried back downstairs back through the press of spectral presences. Blindly groping for the catch on the front door, I felt a pressure on my arm and turned round to see the woman with the dead babies. Her eyelids and lips had been sewn shut and she seemed to be trying to tell me something through the bindings. The fact that I could now feel them was very bad and it would be a matter of seconds before sound exploded in the house like a detonated bomb. They were gaining power and it had to be something to do with the dead crossing over where the membrane to our world had worn thin. I saw the doll Lucille had made of Henry on the hall table and on impulse snatched the repulsive thing because it wouldn’t do to leave something as powerful as that unattended for dead hands to make mischief with. You just never knew. I briefly wondered how Ruby was handling the Edinburgh situation before I swung the door open and threw myself across the threshold, shaking off a withered old hand in the process that was hanging onto my leg.

I backed away from the house clutching coat and gear and looked back at the house. I could see a multitude of the dead crowded at every window including the one in the front door. They weren’t doing anything now, as though all that activity had been a show for my benefit. I wondered when they’d gather the power to leave the house. I’d never seen such an escalation of power in what was a matter of minutes. Ruby’s words came back to me with a fresh urgency and I turned my back on the House of Blood and hurried into my car. I had to hurriedly scrape off the frozen accumulation of snow and put the heaters on full blast to deal with the ice that had collected on the inside of the windscreen. When I drove off, after what seemed like an age, I could feel innumerable sets of dead eyes, watching me, calculating what the next move would be.

I was wondering myself.

In The Belly Of The Beast

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

I had gone to bed around midnight and went out like a light for once. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and grappled for the bedside clock beside me. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. Wasn’t that a Crystal Gayle song? Well, in any case it did look like it was going to be another sleepless night when I heard the unmistakeable sound of an intruder downstairs. I quickly pulled on the clothes I had shed and left on the floor by the bed and crept out of the bedroom. Facing danger is bad enough, facing it naked is just not on.

I walked slowly downstairs and into the living room, putting on the light as I went.

She was sitting in the same chair that Jack had earlier on, French windows ajar and curtains billowing in the arctic chill. Where he had been a study in relaxation, she was poised with her head down and her hands on her knees which were crossed at the ankle. She was wearing a black tightly belted coat and her long red hair completely covered her face and trailed luxuriantly across her thighs. A growl, low and feral trickled from her throat raising the hackles on the back of my neck and igniting the fight of flight impulse. Not being suicidal I didn’t even try. Feeling a freezing draught, I noticed that the French windows were open, although I could have sworn I had locked them when I went to bed.

“Jean-” I began but she had already leapt for my throat and we both went crashing down into the hideous glass coffee table which splintered on impact and the shards of which I could feel embedded in my back. I was more concerned with what was on top of me at that moment however. The arc her body had made as she flew from her chair to land on me had taken the blink of an eye and I hadn’t stood a chance, not even if I’d had a weapon. I knew though that a weapon wouldn’t have helped apart from to make me feel better. My hands were pinned by hers above my shoulders and I could feel the press of her knees on my chest. The growling had progressed to a full throated roaring that was so loud it made my teeth ache and bladder weak. This was it. The end had suddenly become imminently nigh.

Bunny Spoiler

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Having died already in my dream, the day could only get better. It had already dawned with an implacable leaden sky and a bitter chill. It probably wouldn’t brighten up much today and I was sorely tempted to have a duvet day. That’s one of the things about this job, you can’t pull a sickie and you can’t have time off, a life, or anything else to which you mistakenly think you’re entitled. Only five more sleeps until Santa and I suddenly wondered what my family were going to be doing. Given that I hadn’t met any of them (that I knew of) and didn’t know if any of them were even alive, that was really going to stretch my creative abilities.

I chewed dispiritedly on a fried egg sandwich loaded with ketchup and tried to force my brain to come up with the goods.

After clearing up I put on just about all the clothes I’d brought with my coat stretched to capacity on top. I went out through the French windows into the overgrown garden beyond and didn’t bother locking them. Whatever lurked here was not going to be put off by locks and bolts.

I called for the dog and the parallel between the beast that Lucille Harper-Hodge had told me about and the dog I’d taken to the vet wasn’t lost on me. She had said that although she hadn’t actually set eyes on it, she had seen a trail of blood leading from the door across the grass. Well, it looked like there was another wounded dog out there, prowling around in the garden and the woods beyond. Maybe they would breed and the Harper-Hodges could start their very own best-in-show Devil Dogs.

I walked over the grass and down the gravel path that curved into the wood at the foot of the garden. There was a little stream that I had to jump and thought, like the Rowan tree, what a good protection it usually was. It was true that some of the nastier beasts didn’t like crossing running water. Pity the problems were so much bigger in little old Midnight. The wind had that damp chill presaging snow and I pulled my collar tighter. Fallen leaves in colour swatches of gold, ochre and burgundy littered the grass and reminded me of Jean’s hair. Where had she been the previous night? I couldn’t imagine her missing such fun and frolics for all the world.

Crunching across the leaves I entered the dense, silent wood where no bird sang and no animal rustled. Just as well my coat wasn’t red and I didn’t have a little hamper with a polka dot cover over the top.

“Douglas,” I called, “Here doggy, doggy. Come on now, wouldn’t you like something to eat?”

I cursed myself, because that’s what I should have done: brought some food and the hound would have been mine. But nothing stirred in the wood, not the flick of squirrel’s tail or the flap of a bird’s wing. As I walked through the trees I could see some of them were diseased and some had partially collapsed onto other healthier trees making them buckle under the combined weight. It was like everything else in this place: the closer you looked the uglier it got. And anyway what was I thinking of? Why the hell was I trying to attract the attention of a creature that I wasn’t even sure was actually a dog? But even as the question formed, I knew the answer: he didn’t have anyone else, didn’t even have a name and I, god help me, felt sorry for him. Anyway it was a moot point now because it looked like I really was Dug less after all.

A bitter wind made foreplay with the portion of my face that was exposed, promising much and expecting little in return. I ignored it and pressed on much as I had in my dream. I felt uneasy and out of my depth. That my dream had been genuine, I had no doubt. What I wasn’t sure of was why I was having it now. Yes it was a premonition of death, but warnings from the great beyond don’t necessarily occur just before the big event. The fact was that, like everyone else, I was going to die. In my line of business, the likelihood of it being violent and untimely was quite high. The only question left was when. Besides the obvious point of the dream, it seemed to me to be more a message within a message. As though someone was trying very hard to tell me something. If they had known whom they were dealing with, they would have been a lot less subtle.

Dreaming about the Washerwoman was completely over the top. Sort of like being told in a dream you were going to die by a skeleton with a scythe. It was overdone to say the least. The Washerwoman was, like the skeleton, an archetypal figure representing death. The difference between her and the skeleton was that she existed in Gaelic lore: she was specific to this place and someone born and brought up here oh let’s say three hundred years ago just might have known who she was well enough to dream about her. While I knew a little about the folklore, or at any rate, enough to have heard of the Washerwoman, she certainly wasn’t uppermost in my mind. So if the dream was a straightforward portent of death that I’d picked up with my spidey senses, I’d bet a bottle of my favourite malt that my sub-conscious would have come up with some other way of depicting my impending demise.

I did occasionally get dream premonitions and this didn’t feel like one of them. And that was the crux: it didn’t feel right. Usually with warning dreams, or any dream about future events, the feel of the dream was crucial. From that you could generally figure out whether it was going to turn out in the end or not. Not with this one. Well, obviously I died, so how could that have a happy ending? But my instinct was that someone or something that didn’t know much about twenty-first century symbology and was far more familiar with ancient Gaelic folklore had sent me that dream. But who would that be and what would be the point to sending me such a message?

And what about the part containing Luke? That was the bit where I fell down a mountain of skulls and crashed to my death. Now that was definitely more like one of mine. But that was more about fear and being pursued by something that to me was the epitome of evil. I was feeling better about this whole thing by the second.

That was the problem with being psychic. You got the messages, but you didn’t get the decoder to crack them with.

My boot caught in tree root and I fell over in into a pile of bracken, winding myself. I looked up at the trees, anorexic branches raised as though in supplication to the blackening cloud gods rolling in from the east. And having looked up I saw it. It was made of the half decayed corpse of a rabbit, rotting flesh hanging off in red strips, with a glimpse of the pus coloured fat visible below the skin. The rabbit had what looked like withered leaves and stalks stuffed into the mouth. It was hanging from the first branch of a deciduous fir and swung gently in the wind. Something caught my eye and looking to the left I saw another one, identical to the first and then another. A rabbit serial killer’s treetop dump site. The small pathetic corpses swung and dripped in the wind them a surreal vestige of life.

It looked like black magic to me. And in fact walking around the trees from which this voodoo fruit hung I could see they were arranged in a circle and the trees themselves had small, almost insignificant marks cut into their bark. Something had been summoned here and scary as that was, the questions were by whom and why.

There was something lying in the bracken just by the drenched bark of a silver birch and the smell of mulch and leaf mould cloyed in my nostrils as I picked it up. I carefully turned it over in my hand and saw it was a crudely constructed doll made of sticks and human hair. Blond hair, just like the absent Henry’s from what I could see from the photographs in the Harper-Hodge living room. The doll, three sticks (one almost snapped in half and used to represent the legs) bound together with string, had no face and the head was hanging on by a thin piece of bark. The hair had been wrapped around the top of the stick representing the head at an incongruously jaunty angle and there was also a small rusted pin piercing the stick torso. Wrapping it carefully in a large hanky I put it into my pocket and walked thoughtfully back to the house which awaited me with open doors. I got my best scrying glass out and went to work.

Blood Baths and Dirty Laundry

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

That night I had a dream, although sadly it wasn’t of the Martin Luther King variety. I had decided to investigate the wood at the rear of the garden and was trying to plot the course of least resistance through the trees. The sound of my breath was loud in my ears and I could see it curling and dispersing in plumes on the night air. The trees grew steadily more impenetrable and the only light was provided by a sickly moon gilding the twisted tops of the trees. A branch grazed my face, bringing hot, wet blood which I tried to wipe away but couldn’t. It fell in a steady drip down onto my coat and I felt progressively weaker as though it was symbolic of something altogether more corrosive at work.

Then the dream shifted and I was being chased; my only hope was to reach the top of the hill. With implacable dream logic, although I didn’t know what awaited me at the summit I knew with a panicked surge of adrenalin that it was the only chance I had. The cold sucked on my bones and the ground became boggy and possessive of my shoes which I quickly lost. I didn’t have time to reclaim them, this place was redolent with the taint of something that had been waiting here for a long time.

Waiting for me.

I could feel its obscene excitement as it gained on me and ran faster, the trees inflicting hundreds of cuts on my face and body as more of my clothes got ripped away. The terrain abruptly cleared of trees and I toiled upwards eventually reaching a rocky outcrop where I knew I had to rest before I made the final push for the top.

But as I heaved myself wearily up the last few steps, I saw that what I had thought was rock was in fact the figure of an old woman. An queasy greenish glow surrounded her and she was slapping something repeatedly. My dream pursuer forgotten, I knew I had to find out what she was doing. An overwhelming feeling of dread paralysed my legs but something was driving me onwards whatever the cost and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

The old woman was tiny. Her deformed, arthritic fingers plunged rhythmically in and out of what appeared to be a pool of water. It looked rank and foul wafts of steam rose from it to escape into the clean air. She was washing something repeatedly in the fetid water and her head was held down so I couldn’t see her face.

“What are you doing?” my dream self asked despite every instinct I had screaming at me not to attract this creature’s attention. I wanted to run as fast as I could back the way I’d come, but it was as though I was trapped in a set script and that demanded to be played out and my traitorous limbs remained rooted to the spot.

The crone, for that was what she was, finally looked up and I tried to look away but was held in thrall to the power that pulsated around her. Her eyelids had been sewn together over empty sockets and it looked as though someone had hacked her lips from her face. She was filthy and the surface of her skin was crawling with hordes of tiny mites that made it seem as though her features ebbed and flowed as they went about their business.

“Come here child,” she said, without any movement of the raw skin where her lips should have been.

Compelled, I obeyed and walked closer to her. I stared down at what she was washing and saw that it was the red top I’d been wearing that evening, along with coat and hat. She held them between her fingers and trailed them in and out of the stinking pool with an almost voluptuous caressing motion. Then I saw a severed hand float to the surface of the pool and suddenly wasn’t green anymore; it was red and my clothes were covered in blood and other things and still the old woman swirled them around in the blood bath as though wrapping chocolate around some delicious confection.

“You know me child, don’t you?” she whispered in my mind.

And I did. She was the Bean Nighe, the Washerwoman: a premonition of violent death to whoever saw her. The unsuspecting victim always stumbled across her in a wild, lonely place while she washed their bloody clothes.

The scene shifted to me flying up the same hill. My dream self swooped up ravines and up and up and up into the heavens as though on invisible wings. It was an exhilarating ride until all too soon I was at the summit and walking towards the huge cairn that had been built there. Where I had flown, now I could barely walk and each step took all the strength I had. After an age I reached the cairn and saw that it wasn’t any such thing. It was a collection of skulls, some huge and vaguely canine and others human. Sitting on top of the skulls with wings folded was Luke, teeth bared, hair streaming out behind him in the wind. I heard a distressing gurgling sound and I realised he was laughing.

I turned and started to run back down the hill but he swooped after me talons reaching for my eyes. And then I fell; faster and faster down what was now a Mount Everest of skulls, my body bashing on jagged fragments of bone, losing little bits of me as I went. I screamed and cursed until I hit the ground with a bone-crunching thud at the bottom of the mountain where I died reviling the sorry, misbegotten fates that had led me there.