Archive for the ‘Urban Fantasy’ Category

Beauty And The Beast

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

All I could see of the beast at the bottom of the garden was a pair of red eyes shining out from the thicket of brambles where it was holed up. A trail of blood on the grass told me it was wounded and all the more dangerous for it.

The question was: what flavour of beastie was I entertaining in my own backyard? From the neon eyes clearly not one of the usual suspects. Or at least none of the things that usually roamed the mean streets of Bruntsfield. You’d be surprised what you can find lurking just over your threshold, waiting for a gold embossed invite RSVP.

A low, trickling growl grew into a full throated roar. I flinched despite myself and wondered what the hell I was going to do now. It wasn’t exactly a SSPCA or council call-out because if it was what I suspected, everyone would die. And die hard as Bruce Willis would no doubt have said if he’d known.

I remembered I had a steak in the fridge. It was to have been my Friday night treat: burned to a crisp and washed down with a bottle of Talisker. Now it was destined for the gullet of whatever skulked in the bushes. A beast whose tastes, I was willing to bet, were rather more rarefied than my own.

An icy north wind nipped the back of my neck and I noticed for the first time that no birds sang. It would be dark soon and whatever it was I was going to do, I needed to do it now. I turned to head back to the house when:

“Don’t go,” the beast rasped. “I want to kill you here, out in the open where I can see the light fade from your eyes. A last request you might say.”

And it chuckled, a gurgling, phlegmy affair that couldn’t quite disguise the rustling of old leaves as it tensed, gathering itself for that final leap.

At least it was attention for me.

The End Of The World As We Know It

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Whatever was waiting at the end of the alley, it was something long dead.
And yet, judging by the roars of rage and the maelstrom of rubbish battering the surrounding buildings, that something was not prepared to concede the fact. A little unsteadily, on account of all the whiskey I’d consumed at the World’s End pub, chosen because the name suited my mood, I made my way towards the epicentre.

The sharp crack of a window smashing, the unmistakable tinkle of glass and the thing paused for a heart-beat, as though surprised at its own strength and then the onslaught resumed with renewed frenzy. Walking through the flying shards of assorted crap, arm raised to ward off the worst of it, I was bloodied but still curious.

Which was a shame really because if ever there was a moment when a kindly fate I didn’t believe in should have intervened, turning me back to wend my weary, drunken way home instead of into the belly of the beast, it was then.

The air crackled with static as it rushed me like a rabid dog, maw vast, flayed flanks heaving. Bigger than a grizzly, it pinned me with ease to the ground with talons that sliced through the meat of my shoulders faster than a hot knife through butter.

“Roseeeee,” it growled as drool from its mis-matched jaws fell in ropes across my upturned face.

“You could always just ask for a date like normal people,” I wheezed, forcing myself to lie still in the forlorn hope of minimising further damage to my abused flesh.

The skinned features moved and shiny, black bone protruded through the small craters in its head. It was only as my consciousness began to spot and fade that I realised it was smiling.

Sleeping Dogs Lie

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Although the place had been wiped clean of ghosts, there was one that had not been persuaded to go. One that was so much a part of the fabric of the house and the people who lived here, that it had refused to make that final journey along the Highway of the Dead.

The question was why.

Looking at me warily from the corner of the room, the ghost fiddled with its over-sized granny glasses, the pattern of the wall paper behind it showing clearly through the insubstantial body. The forehead just above the left eye had been stoved in and something fluid glistened inside. This was how it remembered the injury it had received, a vague recollection of an outrage perpetrated on a body it no longer possessed.

I held out my hand and it came, bringing with it a wave of loneliness that crashed over us both leaving us adrift on a vast featureless sea under a leaden sky, moorings cut, compass broken. But the conduit between us had been opened and the ghost’s secret self was concealed no more.

Grudging details came at first, like reluctant suitors on a first date. In life it had been called Anne, but what had rooted it here in death was still buried deep down under the surface like a sleeping leviathan. My death sense began to whisper to it, threats and enticements in equal measure, prodding the monster to wake.

And wake it did.

Our Lady Of Sorrows

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

I strangled my two sisters in the womb so they would stay with me always. Now we traverse Princes Street on this sunny Sunday in March, brushing past the cattle clutching the hands of their young as though fearful someone may snatch them away. And maybe they have cause for such concerns given the Ice Cream Man, so called for his method of storing his young victims, has once again taken up his old ways down in darkest Leith.

But we, we unhappy three, we hunt for a different kind of victim; a live and willing flesh suit to do our bidding out here in this too, too noisy world with its trams and buses and the harrowed faces of those who no longer have the time even to notice the passage of their miserable lives as they slip down the drain into the eternal dark.

I see her, blonde and bumptious, talking to an invisible friend on a metallic device that has just slid from her fingers as I reach out and caress her hair…

Toilet Troubles

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

The hand around my throat had been pressing down hard on my carotid and now my vision was beginning to spot, clots of darkness that threatened to join up and take me into oblivion. I forced myself to go limp as though I had fainted letting my attacker take the full force of my dead weight. He shifted his balance to accommodate the fact and loosened his grip on my throat by a fraction. A sense of calm descended on me, the harbinger of my worst berserker rages. Without conscious thought my thumbs quickly flipped the switches on my finger-knives and plunged them into the eyes behind the mask.

My would be murderer screamed, a high pitched feminine sound. He dropped his own knife and threw me bodily out of the toilet cubicle. I landed on the floor, hard, sliding along it only to bang my head on the metal bin. I lay momentarily stunned on my bed of assorted garbage until reality reasserted itself. I staggered to my feet, putting the finger-knives to bed in favour of the two curved blades that hung at my waist only to fall back down, tripping over my trousers and smashing my cheekbone for good measure. The screaming from the bathroom had descended the octaves and was now more of an agonised moaning.

Sounded good to me…

Reign of Fire

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

But there was no more time because the world was fire and fire was the world. Through the flames I could make out charred bodies tied to stakes and a man sitting astride a throne of molten bone, his long hair aflame and the skin peeling from his body like an overdone roast. A huge crack appeared in the cobblestoned street and a dark tide rose, taloned beasts fought their way to the surface and flew into the air shrieking their blood lust. I just had time to haul Rufus into the circle with Ruby and I before the horde were upon us. We never stood a chance.

Stockbridge Siren

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

I knew I was being followed as I walked down Lothian Road. The walk was supposed to focus my mind on strategy and absorb the energy from the presences in the November night air while I was about it. I got to the block where the old Woolworths had been and felt it again: that sense that eyes were boring into the back of my head. I looked back and got a quick flash of something small and scaled diving into a doorway.

Acting on impulse I jumped onto a number 11 bus intending to get off somewhere along Princes Street. The town was quite crowded for this time on a Wednesday night especially since it was arctic and had started to snow, little flurries soon becoming big, fat, fan dances.

The bus was packed and full of wet, steaming people, some of them in all senses of the word making me want a drink myself. Instead I contented myself with going over what I knew about the Baobhan Sith, or common or garden vampire’s that haunted Stockbridge.

They tended to live in clusters with a dominant vampire calling the shots. They were like insect colonies operating on what seemed to be a form of weird shit telepathy although no one had gotten close enough to know for sure and lived to tell the tale.

Holy water and stakes were a joke and one soul who’d tried them ended up impaled on the pointy end of his own stake driven by slow, incremental degrees through his rectum. It had taken him a long, long time to die so I’d heard. Like Luke she could withstand daylight and although she did not sleep in a coffin, she kept some for her own amusement, once memorably to bury one of her human hangers-on alive.

How she had ever managed to attract any human followers given her meat-eating proclivities was a question for the shrinks frankly.

But then fools and their lives were easily parted in my experience.

Old Gods And New Tricks

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

I took a fast black north to Granton, a part of the city clinging for dear life onto the south shore of the Firth of Forth like a spurned lover. The landscape was flat and bleak in a city famed for its curves and vitality. It had been heavily industrialised and then left to rot like so many places in Scotland. To be truthful, it had always depressed the hell out of me: grey and abandoned as though it had been stuck onto the rest of the city as an afterthought by an absent-minded god who had promptly forgotten about it. Trust Ravi to have picked this spot.

My destination, Granton Square, turned out to be more of a circle as I discovered after being turfed unceremoniously out of the taxi by the taciturn driver.

“Watch yourself here hen,” he said through a cigarette clamped between his teeth Clint Eastwood style, “they come out at night.” And with that he roared off down the road speeding on his way to suck the fun out of someone else’s night.

Hen, indeed. Where the hell had that little generic moniker come from?

I stomped round the faux square trying and failing to establish where 1A was. It must basement but I just couldn’t find which one. In the pitch black surprisingly few lights winked out and the street lights only managed an anaemic glow. There was no one about and surprisingly little traffic as though everyone had just decided that this really was not the place to be and had left it to its fate. Rather like Ravi’s previous home in the murky depths of the Gyle.

There was the distant noise of the occasional car, but the serenity of the square absorbed it like an over-indulgent mother. I remembered from somewhere that Granton had not been inhabited by people until comparatively recently and that may have explained the wraith like creatures that stalked the place. These wraiths resembled animals that couldn’t decide what species they belonged to: feline shaped heads, with tusks where teeth should be and legs ending in human hands not paws. One was following me now, a low growling deep down in its malformed throat. I sympathised with both the sentiment and the indecision.

A door slammed and then the sound of someone young and fit on stairs and indeed it was because Ravi burst into view from the building two doors down. He bounded over and picked me up as though I weighed nothing and, swinging me round, kissed me full on the lips. The familiar clean, herbal smell of him made me forget momentarily that I had been considering kneeing him in the nuts.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said, putting me down.

“Well to keep me here, you’re going to have to get me a massive drink and get it now.”

“All taken care of. I made some food in case you were hungry, or in between incidents.”

He laughed and the swirl of darkness that always accompanied him hugged him tighter as though protecting him from me. I was again reminded that this man had had a violent past: maybe that was why he was trying so hard to have a peaceful, nurturing present. I hoped to the god that I didn’t believe in that nothing like ever happened to me….

Dark Heart

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

I came to in a huge room with a high vaulted roof. A fire crackled merrily in the grate and I wondered briefly if I’d fallen into a fairy tale. Beauty and the Beast perhaps where the twist was that Beauty actually turned out be a bit of Beast herself. I was wrapped in a musty smelling blanket and the appetising smell of roast beast reminded me how hungry I was. The Guardian sat opposite me, bandaged but surprisingly chipper given the filleting he’d just had.

“For you,” he said indicating a little side table to my right. On it was indeed a roasted animal of some unidentifiable species part rodent with a large dash of goat judging by the horned head. Beside it was what could only be described as a goblet, albeit cracked and stained. But it was full to the brim with red wine and I did as I was bid.

“I usually prefer my food live and uncooked,” he said smiling.

“Where was I?” I said, ignoring him and stuffing huge mouthfuls of surprisingly tasty meat down the hatch. “And what the hell is this place?”

“Well to answer your second question first, this is the heart of the city. So many souls living and dying here have made it…beat shall we say. You were about to join the Highway of the Dead. Had you fallen all the way, I wouldn’t have been able to bring you back.”

“The Highway of the Dead runs through your gaffe. That’s not very cosy. Why?”

“Rose,” he said gently, “I keep telling you. This is the Edinburgh’s heart. When its citizens die, they converge here and make the journey together.”

“Journey? Where?”

He smiled. “Where do you think? To whatever’s next. I take care of all the people who live here, my people, from the cradle to the grave. Sort of like a supernatural welfare state.”

He laughed, but if it was a joke, I didn’t get it.

“So you’re telling me I didn’t fall all the way and if I had I would have died? Well what bastard pushed me?”

“Yes you would have died. Would that have been so bad? You are a very troubled soul Rose. Death might bring you peace.” My expression seemed to amuse him mightily and he continued: “One of my servants was angry at your presumption to open that which was not offered. I caught you before you hit the ground. I may be injured, but this is my home and I am master here.”

The handsome human features became neutral, composed. He was clearly healing at a rate of knots and I knew that was my cue to get the hell out of Dodge.

There was only one teensy tiny little problem however.

I didn’t know how.

The Office

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Inside it was dark and smelled of ozone. I took my glasses off and flicked the little torch on. I was in a huge open plan office with broken furniture throwing shadows on the windowless walls. I ran the torch around the ceiling and found it was a long way up and that the unit had a mezzanine floor. Scarlet and burnt orange mingled sickeningly telling their own tale of what had taken up residence in this godforsaken part of the city. Where the hell were twins?

“Ruby. Rufus,” I called. Whatever was here knew of my presence so it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d crept in or marched up and down with a brass band. I motioned to the vampires to follow me over the threshold but they would not obey. All three had returned to there natural form, stubby wings beating hard on bony bodies like heavy fists on flesh. They were on all fours, massive hind quarters and strong forelimbs giving me an inkling that they were built for more than speed. I was betting they could run like dogs although a hell of lot faster. One of them started a growling sound at the back of its throat and the other two took up the refrain. It rose in pitch as though warning of imminent attack and the hackles on the back of my neck rose.

“Come with me,” I said again.

They fell silent and glared at me with slitted red eyes. The sudden silence was shocking after the little siren song I’d just been treated to.

“Stick then,” I said moving back outside and to fasten the collars around each throat. I secured them to a metal grille next to the door and locked them with the key as though they were mere mutts and not the carnivorous monsters that they were. “But if you misbehave I’ll kill you myself.”

It was pathetic move more for the symbolism of sit stay than anything else and I was under no illusions that they could not escape with contemptuous ease but I was running on empty so it would have to do. They’d either go along with me for whatever twisted fucked up reasoning such creatures used, or they wouldn’t.

One of the monsters was trying to say something around all those teeth. I didn’t catch it at first but eventually I made it out each gasping word:

“You. Will. Die. They. Burn. Down. There. They. All. Burn.”

I snorted in disgust and went back inside to whatever waited and the unpleasant smell of sulphur. The spectral colours I saw without my glasses, the residue of unhappiness, violence and pain were familiar to me, but the concentration was not. It was as though someone had thrown luminous paint in those shades over the walls, the floor, the fabric of the building. Whatever haunted this place, it was not a simple thing and it would not go easily. I was also getting the distinct impression that it not just one presence, but legion.

The Dead-Lights raced ahead, lighting the way in more ways than one. They raced along the ceiling, along the walls, into corners and crevices, swept the building and the ground underneath. And that was when the first ball of fire streaked down from the mezzanine and exploded into the wall inches from me. It burned hot and bright but it was no ordinary fire.

I was beginning to understand why the vampires had not wanted to enter the place. Why three flesh eating freaks had the luxury of a choice denied to me was something I’d deal with later. If I survived….