The Demon Unbound

“Lukastor, Lord of the fallen, mightiest of the line of Asriel, with the element of earth, I thee bind.” Viridian handed Alice a stone from the perimeter of the circle and she laid held it out to the mirror as though in supplication before carefully laying it down at its foot.

“With the element of air, I thee bind.” This time he gave a feather to Alice who solemnly repeated the ritual.

“With the element of fire, I thee bind.” A lit candle dripping yellow fatty wax was placed before the mirror.

“With the element of water, I thee bind.” Viridian reached into the velvet bag and brought out a dead fish which joined the others at the mirrors foot.

A paranoid crazy thought invaded my brain taking no prisoners: this ritual sounded suspiciously like a mockery of marriage vows, but I didn’t have time for any more before my suspicions were heightened:

“With this corrupted flesh I thee worship,” and so saying he drew the body of a small black kitten out of the bag. It had been skinned and I realised it must still have been alive and that was what I’d heard screaming earlier. I felt sick to my stomach. Sickest of all of myself for participating in this insanity.

But the luxury of introspection was one I couldn’t afford, as the base of the mirror previously engulfed in black flames, quickly became a small inferno that gave out no heat and swallowed the meagre light from the candles greedily, lasciviously, like a long lost lover.

Alice stood in front of the looking glass, arms raised, black flames enveloping her body of which she seemed oblivious:

“Lukastor, by the power of earth, air, fire water and all fleshly things, I command you to come to me.”

Nothing happened. A minute passed, then another. It was obscene, banal and vaguely comical and I was participating in it. Then someone in the room started a hushed conversation and I felt the slow, sick bloom of the realisation that it wasn’t going to work; that it had never had the ghost of a chance of ever working and that it was all a hellish, twisted practical joke of which I was the dunder-headed butt.

And then, almost imperceptibly, the ceiling began to vibrate, graduating to a palsied shaking and then a grand mal seizure of epic proportions. People started screaming and running for the door as enormous cracks appeared in the walls and plaster fell, knocking some of them out and coating everything in a fine, white dust. A disciple ran past me, face a mask of white, hood flapping as though he had come to a fancy dress party as a ghost only to find that’s what everyone else had done. The gash at his temple, a vivid, terrifying blast of colour in the lunar, post-apocalyptic landscape that had once been an ordinary room.

A terrifying, roaring wind whipped around the room sweeping the unwary off their feet as though it was trying to scour the room clean of anything living. A woman to my left screamed and started babbling to whatever it was she worshipped, but the wind whipped her words away and I couldn’t hear who the Lukeky recipient was. It didn’t matter in any case because seconds later the back of her skull was crushed by an old, brass light fixture and she lay like a broken doll at me feet. I felt removed, other-worldly, standing stock still as the killing rain fell, feet apart, face tilted upwards: whatever happened I’d die on my feet. A piece of what once had been the ceiling crashed to the floor just inches from where I was standing breaking the boards on the floor with a deafening almighty crash. Splinters of glass were flying around and I felt my face run with something warm, although I couldn’t feel anything. The mirror was the only thing that was miraculously untouched and the black flames belched forth emitting foul, noxious fumes.

The whole room was shaking now and because the ceiling and walls had been gouged down to brick and beam, they too began to rain down on those who remained, which included Viridian and Alice. In my dream-like state I suddenly became aware of the crush at the door, as people panicked and tried to force their way through, heedless of anyone else and driven by the sheer animal instinct to survive. Some had fallen and were being crushed as their erstwhile comrades stampeded over them oblivious to their cries. Those at the back impatiently pushed those at the front producing a groaning, bleeding heap of the dead and injured. The shocked, writhing mass of humanity melded together as though it was a giant organism comprised of hundreds of component parts that didn’t much like each other, the ultimate Frankenstein’s monster, trapped in the ninth circle of hell.

“No.” Viridian screamed, “You cannot break the circle. Don’t you understand? It’ll loose the spirit. Do not break the circle.”

But no one was listening and in truth his words could hardly be heard above the disintegrating building and howling supernatural wind.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the black flames of the burning mirror were extinguished, the wind dropped and the room stopped its awful dance. And he was in the mirror. I drew in a convulsive breath, I couldn’t help myself. He floated as though in mid air, long black hair trailing behind him like a silken waterfall. Obsidian eyes glittering with scarlet flame flickering in their depths and a molten destructive force that would have beggared a million Hiroshimas. His battered leathers were open to the waist revealing the smooth brown skin beneath. Unfurled wings cast possessive shadows over his face that moved with a life of their own. The power of his mere presence in the mirror was like being doused in petrol and then set alight. The only question was how quickly death would provide blessed release. I couldn’t move, speak, think. I was completely caught in the monster’s thrall; and just when I didn’t think things could get any worse, they did.

“Tsk Tsk Viridian. What have you been up to?” The voice was low and musical and the sound encompassed the room trailing filaments of light as though marking its own progress. It was like being encased in velvet and lovingly suffocated with it. The amused contempt was unmistakable.

“My Lord,” Viridian began, his own voice shaking, reedy with fear, “It was her,” and like a naughty school-boy caught out in his wrong-doing, pointed accusingly at me, blurting: “She wanted to bind you. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“She?” The enveloping voice was now flirtatious, playful, wrapping me up in gossamer skein that held me tight and promised all manner of dark delights that would bind me closer still. Then without warning the monster in the mirror casually stepped out into the little room and the souls caught in it screamed with one bone shattering voice. The sound brought me out of my trance-like state and nearly burst my eardrums. I fought not to vomit, losing my new found focus now was not such a good idea.

Thick wet gobbets of something poured out of the mirror’s depths, pumping out into the room as though like blood from breached artery. It was then that I realised this was the living essence of the mirror and it was now dying. The cracked walls oozed the same dark, clogging substance as though in sympathy with the mirror’s death throes. But I was wrong, it wasn’t the mirror that was dying, it was the souls that had been imprisoned in it: they had become part of the trapping mechanism and when Luke tore it apart by walking through it, he tore them apart in the process. The carnage was indescribable: as though the death and pain from a million abattoirs was concentrated in this small, dirty room.

But all of that was insignificant detail as his presence lit up the room, brown skin a warm copper glow, a beacon of light and warmth that sucked everyone and everything toward it to be consumed ecstatically in its flames. His hair, reaching almost to his waist, had the blue tint of true black and the fathomless ebony eyes traced an arc of light around the room, finally coming to rest on me. The face was of a vaguely oriental cast, high cheekbones tapering to a strongly moulded chin which had the faintest indentation. Slanting black eyes glittered under black brows promising an infinity of unimaginably painful ways to die and the full mouth was set in an uncompromising line. The start of a glossy black tattoo peeked over the collar of his leathers on the left side of his throat and extended to the top of his left hand where his sleeve ended. It wouldn’t be for decoration on a creature like this, it would be some sort of protective ward.

He was huge: I estimated around six feet five with broad shoulders tapering to a slim waist. The battered leathers hugged him like a second skin, the top of his belt tracing the line of his hips above which was a couple of inches of bare skin. A wicked looking knife hung from one side of his belt, a short axe from the other, their hilts engraved with ancient symbols, blades glinting with evil intent. Whatever else this creature was, it was a seasoned warrior. I tried not to imagine what battles it had fought over the millennia, what manner of men and monsters it had faced and felled.

“My Lord-” Viridian stuttered but what he said was lost as Luke raised a languid hand without turning his gaze from mine and the magician was lifted up by forces unseen and smashed head first into a cracked wall from which the plaster had long since fled. The force with which his body had been hurled into the wall was incredible, almost like a flesh and blood cartoon except there was nothing comical about the sickening crack of his skull or the red ruin at the back of his head where I actually see through to softer tissue which must have been his brain, or what was left of it. His body slumped and fell abruptly to the floor in a scarlet spray as though it had momentarily been supported by an unseen hand, and was now lying prone in a rapidly spreading pool of his own blood when it was whipped away; bereft of any signs of life like a puppet that had had its strings cut by a sadistic puppeteer. Alice rushed forward, throwing herself to the floor cradling him in her arms sobbing softly to herself as she rocked to and fro with her bloody burden. But then I discovered I had some pressing problems of my own.

“You,” he said in a lover’s whisper that felt like metal piercing my flesh. The pain was good and brought some hard-won focus. I had caused this mayhem to barter with this devil, barter I would if I could just manage to stay alive long enough.

A Spirited Encounter

The dead hung around Tamsin St Bird in spectral filaments like trailing old lace on the wedding dress that Miss Havisham would have killed for. The shade of a young girl, more solid than most of the others, turned a featureless face toward me, blank apart from two cross shaped scars stitched into her translucent flesh where her eyes should have been.

“Tea Ms Garnett? Or perhaps something stronger,” smiled my hostess, making it sound like a dare.

“Whiskey, if you’ve got it Tamsin,” I said calling her on it but distracted by the ghost-trail marking out this woman’s every move.

The practiced smile slipped a little whether at the request or the use of her first name was anyone’s guess.

“Yes, of course. You don’t mind if I don’t join you? Nine in the morning isn’t my most alcoholic time.”

“In that case, I’d better have yours, so make mine a double,” I said, conscious I was going to need all the help I could get with this one.

“So,” I said settling into the uncomfortable cream leather couch and taking in the chrome and glass designer living room, incongruous in such an old house, “What can I do you for?”

She crossed the high ceilinged room and poured me a drink from the crystal decanter on the drinks cabinet. An oblong of golden light fell across the stripped wooden floor and the sound of the amber liquid sloshing into the shot glass was more relaxing that a day in the country. I knocked it back and held my glass out for more which she did with a bad grace.

“Really, Ms Garnett-”

“Call me Rose.”

“Very well. Rose. You make it sound like you’re offering a plumbing service.”

“Dealing with other people’s shit is what I do Lucille, so it’s not a bad analogy. Anyway, please go on. I’ve got some blocked toilets that need a good old plunging so we need to get down to business, no pun intended.”

The young girl shook her head, distressed, and an old man’s face appeared at Lucille’s elbow with exactly the same cross stitched eyes. He held an elongated spectral finger to non-existent lips.

She eyed me with a delicate distaste spoiled by her ghostly train whimpering in protest when she abruptly sat down on an overstuffed silk striped couch and crossed long, slim legs with a swish of expensive material. Everything about her was tasteful and reined in: long, beige, hair coiled demurely at the nape of her neck in what she probably called a chignon; designer dress, a rich chocolate brown with demure lace collar emphasising a long neck and a well preserved figure for someone in their mid-forties. If it hadn’t been for the eyes, a snapping, stinging, leaf green and the deformed crowd of revenants trailing her like a living shroud, I might even have fallen for it.

She impatiently tapped an expensive looking gold watch, more like a bracelet than anything crass enough to have a use and said:

“Look I know my husband hired your, uh, services, but you must appreciate he’s not been himself lately. I’d like to cancel whatever contract you had with him and pay you a fee for your trouble.”

“Pay me to go away,” I said.

“If you like, yes.”

“Ah, but I don’t like Tamsin. I don’t like at all. My arrangement is with your husband, not you. If he wants to cancel, then he’s the one that’s going to have to do it.”

The ghosts moaned, maws wide with fear, features comically elongating as their substance reconfigured itself to mirror their distress. The fact that she had a little ghost train going on, while unusual wasn’t completely off the scale: you wouldn’t believe the baggage people carried around with them and I don’t mean emotional. What it did mean though was that she was someone who was capable of exerting a serious amount of control over the people and things that were around her. I hadn’t seen such submissive ghosts attached to anyone before and if I was being honest, it was creeping me out a little. How that affected Mr Harper-Hodge was anyone’s guess. Maybe a damned good spanking administered by her followed by some ritual head-shaving down the village square was his idea of marital bliss.

“Okay you won’t take it the easy the way, so let’s get down to brass tacks.”

Clearly a woman who was used to getting her own way, which made her next play all the more jarring.

“My husband is unwell,” she sniffed brushing away a tear, “my child may be dying,” her voice broke, but she hurriedly composed herself and carried on, “the last thing my family need is a so called psychic feeding them false hope. If you had an ethical bone in your body you’d leave us alone and go sell your snake oil somewhere else. I’m offering you money to go away and when my husband calls you, to decline the job.”

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes but sorrow wasn’t what I was getting from the muddy purple and sickly yellow of her aura. I walked across to the crystal decanter where the whisky was held prisoner and liberated a hefty belt to her audible displeasure. I grinned.

“You asked me to come here Tamsin and I did, assuming you wanted to show me around the house and meet your daughter. Now it turns out you want to give me the bum’s rush and have me lie to your husband. What’s the sketch?”

“Taking people’s money for nothing is usually what you people do best, isn’t it?” she was trying for patronising but I was getting the real picture from the agitation of the ghosts swirling around her like the detritus from a geyser.

I drained my glass in one and slammed it down on the hideously ornate side table.

“Tsk Tsk Tamsin. I expected better that that-” That was a lie, the truth was I hadn’t expected this little visit to be so much fun.

“Don’t you dare-”

“What were you going to pay me? Just out of interest you understand.”

I wasn’t remotely offended and in fact had she been offering enough money I’d have taken it. Only a fool works when she doesn’t have to. But I never got to do business with my new best friend because that’s when the old ball and chain decided to stick his oar in and spoil the fun by bursting into the living room and chucking his car keys down with a crash on the smoked glass coffee table eliciting a visible wince from Tamsin.

“Darling,” he roared which I was about to learn was his normal volume. God alone knew what happened when he was angry.

Jason St Bird was big and blond with a large belly making an escape bid over the top of his chinos and from there through the buttons on his too tight mauve shirt. He didn’t look like he’d come from the office. Did any of these toffs work? Dissipated, watery blue eyes peered out from between the folds of a bloated drinker’s face.

“This is the young filly I was telling you about darling. She’s going to help us with Emma.” Filly? Whatever planet this man lived on it wasn’t in this solar system.

Turning to me he said, “Hang on a mo’. I didn’t arrange to meet you, did I? I thought I was to call you-”

“Your wife’s been trying to get rid-”

“-of any preconceptions she might have of the job,” Lucille cut in smoothly giving me a warning glance and a flash of her baby greens. “I didn’t want her to be under any illusions about what she’s up against.

“Quite right darling, Christ knows none of the quacks have been able to help.”

Jason didn’t have any hangers on like his wife, but his aura was distinctly murky. There was a dash of fear, a sprinkling of confusion and a merest soupcon of something darker that I couldn’t work out. What were these people up to and why the hell was I still even here. But then Henry saw my drink and seized it giving me such a vast refill it sloshed over the top. I saluted Lucille and took my medicine like a good girl to the noisy encouragement of her husband who had an even larger pick-me-up that was all gin and no tonic.

“No point in beating about anybody’s bush is there,” he boomed. “Come on and meet Daisy. She should be awake by now.”

“Jason, I really don’t think this is a good idea. Are you really seriously trying to tell me you think there’s a ghost in the house? That some psychic,” she paused infusing the word with a well-bred distaste and turned to me in mock apology, “sorry Ms Barnet nothing personal, is going to succeed where all the experts have failed?

“It’s Garnett.”

“Excuse me?” I could see the irritation in those sparkling tip-tilted cat’s eyes.

“The name is Garnett. And since I’m already here it couldn’t hurt to take a look now could it?” I smiled sweetly at her enjoying her anger like a fine wine chaser after all that glorious whisky.

“Lead on McDuff,” I said to Henry, “but before you do, get me another whisky will you old chap?”

Love Bites

Lucille and Henry Harper-Hodge’s marriage was, contrary to appearances, in free-fall. She had persuaded him to buy the blood red house in Midnight Falls because by that time she had already planned to kill him.

As a witch she was well aware that Midnight Falls was a haven not just for those practising the dark arts but more importantly for those way past the practising stage. The spell of forgetting would turn most mere humans away and discourage the authorities from asking awkward questions. Black magic involved a small and very select breed of creep willing to go quite that far and Lucille was a girl who would go all the way.

It also explained why the Harper-Hodges lived here. Humans occasionally did and of those that did, most were completely insensitive to the aura of the place. These folk wouldn’t have known they were in a village of weres if one gnawed their leg off and started hitting them over the head with the bloody stump. The others were like Lucille: not only in love with the gothic horror of the place but actively seeking to harness it.

Touching the doll I saw her face; lips moving silently as she pierced the surrogate Henry’s heart with her sewing pin. The after shock of her rage was a flash fire that roared around my skull taking all before it. She had spent a long time out there in the garden under a full moon; casting the spell with infinite care, setting up her unloved one’s death with more malice aforethought than if she’d just taken a gun and shot him in the head. She knew that Midnight Falls of all places gave its inhabitants a free get out of jail card. She had wanted to get away with murder and now she had.

And what I saw through my little glass darkly was not just the why of it, but the how.

It had been the oldest and most obvious reason in the book: good old Henry was fooling around with another woman. You could never really predict how someone would react when you screwed them over (or in this case, someone else) no matter how well you thought you knew them. Spurned wives ran the gamut between cutting out the crotches of their husband’s trousers and cutting off the offending body part itself. You couldn’t even know for sure how you were going to react yourself, until it actually happened. You may think you are a mild mannered sort of girl but then find when push comes to shove that for sheer blood lust, you made Sweeny Todd look like a lily-livered vegetarian powder-puff.

Yes, two-timing a common or garden woman was risky enough, but doing it to a practising black witch was just off the scale.

Poor old Henry. Maybe he hadn’t known his wife was a witch. If he’d been a witch himself that might have given him some protection, even so that was a big maybe. The glass showed me the sad sequence of events and my psychic connection provided the Technicolor and surround sound. The only thing missing had been the pop corn.

The unhappy couple had had another row and he was sitting downstairs in the living room while she was sulking in the kitchen. The telephone rang and he cut across the caller’s shrill tones:

“Yes, I’ve told her. But she already knew about us. I’ve no idea how. Look Tamsin, I’ve done what you wanted me to do and now I’m handling it my way.”

A short silence ensued while he listened to the piercing voice on the other end and then a quickly muttered:

“Yes, yes, me too. I’ve got to go.”

Clearly not very happy with any of the women in his life, he made himself a drink unaware it was to be his last and wondered mindlessly to the window to look out through the French windows to the garden beyond. It was early afternoon, but a hint of the day’s demise was foretold by the darkening grey clouds massing on the horizon. He was tall, blond and a little overweight, trousers fighting a losing battle with the onslaught of his gut. A blond fringe flopped over a florid complexion that was only in part due to the drink he’d already consumed.

He stared, unseeing, out into the garden, until a small movement caught his eye. Attention caught he focussed this time, but nothing untoward materialised. He made to turn away from the window and that was when he heard it: faint, but steadily growing louder the unmistakable sound of an accordion playing a jig. There was something about the music that commanded his attention because he opened the French Windows so he could hear it better. A smile hovered round his lips giving a glimpse of the handsome young man he’d been and that maybe Lucille had even loved; until the rot set in. And then he sealed his own fate: he stepped outside.

The garden was easily a couple of acres at the back and he wandered down its length towards the wood, glass still in hand. He didn’t seem to notice the bitter, freezing wind, or the fact he was in his shirtsleeves. Inane grin in place, he went to his death.

“Please come out. I promise I won’t bite,” he laughed loudly as though it was funny.

The music stopped the instant he spoke:

“Please. Let me see you.”

I wondered what magical compulsion was in the spell and soon got my answer. Three scantily clad young women with rippling long, blond hair and black eyes appeared. They all had an eerie sameness about them as though they had been manufactured from the same mould that tried and failed to simulate humanity, producing instead a vaguely distressing mutation. The bodies were convincing enough: lush and slender in all the right places emphasised by the flimsy white shifts they wore. But the vacuity of the bland formless features held nothing human, nothing that could be reasoned or bargained with and I was reminded of shop mannequins come to disturbing life. Henry didn’t mind in the least, or maybe he hadn’t gotten as far as their faces.

One of the girls giggled, a high pitched, fluting sound and Henry reacted as though he’d been given a sexual charge.

“Please, play your music again. I won’t interfere – much!” he said grinning like a loon. Another giggle and then one of the girls produced an accordion out of nowhere and resumed playing while the other two danced with each other; an incongruously sensual series of movements that sat ill with the old fashioned music that nevertheless had Henry rivetted. But the faint ridiculousness of the scene: the jarring discord between dancers and music; the uncanny Stepford appearance of the women themselves; and the sense that whoever had engineered the scene had got it subtly but distinctly wrong, made it all the more disturbing. There was a nighmarish inevitability about this death dance because that’s what it was. This particular three-headed spider had felt its helpless victim tug on the web and was now moving in for the kill.

One of the women dancing glanced toward Henry and motioned gracefully for him to join them, which he did without a second’s hesitation. No, I had whispered stroking the glass as though that would have made a difference to how it had to end.

Henry threw himself into the dance with delirious abandon and was in the middle of a clumsy, lumbering jig, when the blond with the accordion abruptly stopped. She glided over to him and took hold of the front of his shirt in both hands and pulled sending a spray of buttons in motion and demolishing the last of Henry’s restraint. He began to tear off his clothes making a moaning sound deep in his throat. The women watched him impassive and silent; the mask of humanity discarded with the main event about to unfold. Finally he stood before them stark naked having strewn his clothes carelessly around without so much as a shiver of his ruddy flesh or a doubt in his mind. There was a moment where nothing moved and only the brittle susurration of the wind through the remaining leaves of the trees could be heard.

They fell upon him with claws the size of daggers and fangs the colour of old bone, great gouts of saliva soaking their shifts. They gouged and bit off hunks of his flesh, laughing at his screams and impotent thrashing. After one of the three twisted his leg out of its socket with a wet, tearing sound, he wasn’t able to do so much of that anyway. Just at that point Lucille appeared. She stood as close as she dared and called his name. He managed to turn his head, obviously hoping against hope this might mean rescue. That hope died stillborn when he caught the look on her face which was the last thing he ever saw because that’s when they took his eyes.

I looked away at the sound of sharp claws grinding bone. What I couldn’t shut out was the hysterical screaming and wet ripping sounds as though someone was tearing cloth. The three tore him apart while he lived, literally limb from limb, with a cool, dispassionate competence, careful to protract his suffering. And when he had been reduced to nothing but a slab of mutilated meat with nothing to indicate that it had once been a sentient being with hopes and dreams, whose only crime was to have had a white wedding to a black witch, they let him die.

One by one the creatures drifted off into the trees, white shifts stained black in the dusk and Lucille was left at the scene of the crime where she lingered, savouring the moment.

“You always said women would be the death of you Henry,” she said, smiling. Then she spat on the pitiful remnants, turned on her heel and left him to the infinitely tenderer mercies of the creatures that inhabited the wood at the end of the garden.

I Scry Part One: Black Witch White Wedding

Just at that point the floodlighting all round the garden came on making the interior more surreal somehow. I wondered what distorted forms Lucille imagined she was going to see picked out in the spotlight, on a dark winter’s night. I suddenly felt irrationally embarrassed as though we had been caught doing something we shouldn’t. I got up and started putting lights on in the house and the feeling of intimacy was squashed by the ridiculous décor.

“We didn’t kill Henry, or do anything else to him; you do realise that?” he said softly, running his hand slowly along the arm of the leather chair.

“Yes, of course I do. Don’t worry you’re off the hook because I happen to know who killed him.”


“His wife of course. She’s a witch – didn’t you know?”

“No. How do you know that?”

“Oh it’s the little things, you know: creepy doll with a bloody great pin through it; graveyard of flayed rabbits – that sort of thing.” I started to laugh, then pulled myself together when I saw his uncomprehending expression:

“It was meant to be Henry.” I explained, “The doll that is. She made a doll that was supposed to represent him and then she gave him a dose of the old black magic hoodoo. Hey presto, one dead husband.”

“What? I don’t believe that for a moment. How do you know it was her and not someone else who did the spell?”

“I got a strong sense of her from the doll. Her hatred for her husband at any rate. Plus I saw it all in my scrying glass.”

“A case of ‘I scry with my dark-adapted little eye’,” he said arching an eyebrow sceptically.

“Oh right. You can turn into man’s best friend at the full moon, but you don’t believe I can look into the past?”

“You might want to remember I can do it at will. And that first and foremost I’m a predator.”

“Do you actually know what you are Jack”

“Better than you know yourself, that’s for sure. Anyway, what else did you spy?” The slight emphasis on the last word conveyed his distaste even though his expression was unreadable.

I laughed again. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I really want to know. Henry was an alright bloke. Not very bright, but he seemed to love her from what I could see. But then you never know what goes on behind closed doors, do you?”

“I didn’t know you were a Kenny Rodgers fan.” The blank looked squashed that one nicely.

“Oh, well never mind. One horrible story deserves another I suppose,” I said and took him at his word.

You Need Hands

It lay there, a human hand cut off at the wrist, decaying gently on my table.  It was, not surprisingly corpse-white and the finger nails had long since fallen off.  I found if I looked at it from a different angle, I could see some bone protruding through the finger tips.  There was a candle wick protruding from the middle finger, unlit.  From my limited knowledge these things were meant to be preserved with herbs and then fired in an oven, but this one looked as though whoever made it hadn’t bothered with any of that.  Slime slid from the dead digits giving it a bilious tinge of hen-shit green.  Rumour had it that it had to be the hand of a murderer cut off just at the point of death when the moon had waned to its lowest point.  Even I knew better than to touch the thing, but that didn’t leave me with a hell of a lot of options.

Shutting the door firmly, I went to the bathroom to wash my own hands, aware but uncaring that it was more of a symbolic gesture than any actual need for hygiene.  Muttering under my breath I went to my bag and took out one of the ouja boards I hadn’t even had time to unpack.  It was the heavy duty board that had the power to summon the lowest spirits which were all that could help me now, although the price tag didn’t bear thinking about.  I’d just been handed a death sentence and if this had been a film, this was the part where I announced dramatically that it was now prison rules.

The Bruntsfield Beast

I roamed this land when it was covered in forest and sacrifices were brought to me in tribute.  The humans thought me a God who in a fit of anger had brought plague upon them.  They sought to placate me by delivering the sick and dying into the wilderness of the Burgh Muir as they called it then.  Men, women and children were laid down to die on the forest floor, protected in their extremis by the green shade of the oaks.  But there was no protection from me and I played no favourites.

Then they killed the trees and forgot.  Somehow I endured through the millennia, spurred on to survive as the only one of my kind, bereft of the silent solace of the wild places and the beasts that had made it their home.

And now there is only wasteland.  The human parasites gave it a new skin of concrete and stone, obliterating the natural order of things.  The sacred forest is dead and they danced on the grave knowing little of their blasphemy and caring less.  Bruntsfield they call it now, the final desecration of the place where once they buried their own dead.

But I have been filled with a new and growing purpose of late: to rid the old Burgh Muir of its tormentors.  Only then will the forest speak to me as it once did and I will not be alone…

Tonight it begins.

Killing Me Softly

The parasite first got my attention when it tried to suck my soul on Edinburgh’s High Street.  I watched with a certain clinical detachment as the grey, ragged substance of it began to swell outwards, misshapen teeth sunk into the exposed flesh in my hand.  Not physically you understand because at this stage in the little bastards evolution it didn’t have a body.  What it did have however, was a will hell bent on finding a way.  It was a doppelganger: a vicious predator that survived by duplicating what it fed on, human or non, it didn’t matter.

I watched it chow on down, lip curling as it began the transformation.  What had been a plume of dirty smoke began to balloon out in a parody of humanity, the skull taking shape, gaping maw still barnacled onto my hand.  I shook the offending appendage from side to side and the beast swung with it, at this stage at least weightless, like a jellyfish in tune with the ebb and flow of the ocean.  What it was really doing was getting in tune with me: the way I walked, to quote an old Cramps song, would soon be the way we walked.

Although it was a primitive spirit, without much in the way of intelligence its ability to replicate whatever it latched onto was an architectural achievement of Gaudi-esque proportions.  Although I suppose strictly speaking it was a master forger good enough to fool the victims family and friends, at least for a little while.  The thing was that the original always died while the copy piloted by the doppelganger, painted the town blood red.

I watched my own skull gaining flesh as the mouth worked ever more feverishly on my arm, siphoning my essence and growing stronger by the second.  Within seconds it had grown to five feet eleven and sported a short crop of hair dyed an alarming shade of scarlet.  I gazed critically at it, vowing I’d kill Mariella for talking me into letting her loose on my hair while we were both too drunk to remember anything about it.  My second self was on its knees, jaw working, gaining mass, solidity and an exact copy of my leopard print fake fur in a matter of seconds.

I began to feel a little faint, although that might have had something to do with the vat of whisky I’d had last night.  It was two in the afternoon in the heart of a frozen November and people shouldered past me with grim purpose and if they noticed anything it would just be a tall young woman standing stock still in the middle of the street.  But through the milling throng, I realised that I was wrong, someone had noticed the freak show and was staring at me with an expression of concern on her plump face.  I knew she could see my new best friend because her eyes were flicking between us and she was evidently deciding what to do.  She took a purposeful step in my direction which for some reason aroused me from my torpor.  The last thing I needed was some idiot who fancied herself as a bit of a psychic trying to help me out.  That particular little parlour game always ended in tears and sometimes in other less disposable body fluids.

I was beside the creepy Museum of Childhood and quickly ducked into on of the innumerable closes that infest the High Street, although I’d no idea which one I’d picked which could be very bad news.  I waited a few seconds scanning the street from the safety of the close and the plump woman had disappeared.  I looked down at the thing that was killing me softly and the increased heft of it wasn’t exactly a good sign.

“What am I going to do with you?” I asked it softly, running my hand along its brow complete with dark eyebrows and strange, silver-grey eyes upturned and fixed on mine while it sucked on me like a monstrous baby.  The disturbing thing was that I could touch it.  It had gone from nothing to something in under ten minutes.  I had noticed that the spirit world had become much more active lately; reports of the demonic had shot through the roof, but relatively unusual spirits like this doppelganger never had this much juice.

And yet here we were.

My speciality was communicating with spirits, but that was a euphemism for so much more.  I saw what they saw, felt what they felt in glorious Technicolor and surround sound.  Most of them were just re-runs, sad little shades who’d become stuck doing a particular, usually random thing with not much mind remaining.  But some of them had deliberately chosen not to pass on, usually the deranged, the ones who’d felt cheated by an uncaring universe and were out for blood as long as it was someone else’s.  But this ‘communication’ meant that some of the spirit’s essence stayed with me permanently and in my own way I wasn’t so dissimilar to the parasite I was trying to dislodge.

With every encounter, I was stronger, changed, carrying with me another alien piece in the vast jig-saw puzzle that was my life.  And if I didn’t stop this transference process in time I would consume the spirit totally, just as the parasite was trying to consume me.  That meant that I could kill pure spirit, whether it was the soul of a dead person, or my newest little friend that had become so attached to me.  But I could only kill if I was stronger than the spirit I was siphoning and so far I had been lucky: if you could call the Frankenstein patchwork that I’d become lucky.  Because make no mistake: you are what you eat and the bad shit I’d consumed lately was going to do more than harden my arteries.

“While I’m loving this whole weird twin thing,” I crooned to the thing stroking its/my hair, “the thing is, this town definitely ain’t big enough for the both of us and it’s not me who’s going to leave.”  The doppelganger began to purr, a wet, rasping sound and I staggered against the wall of the close.  A chill wind fresh from whipping up mischief in the North Sea nipped at my face reviving me slightly and  I realised I was close to passing out.  My lack of adrenalin was literally going to be the death of me one day soon.

But the seduction of the hunt was as ever too strong and I knew I’d risk everything for it.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I liked best: the hunt; or the kill.  That was the other prong of this wonderful talent I enjoyed so much: I could kill spirit so that it did not exist anywhere on any plane at any time.  It was the reason the psychic community shunned me because they felt, rather wetly I thought, that all forms of existence were sacred.  I shunned them because a) I had to keep my end up on the shunning front and b) I thought they were lily livered liberals and would personally liked to have inserted their own little doppelganger passenger in an intimate part of their anatomy for a few months to see if that changed their minds.  Whatever they liked to believe, there were beings in this world that deserved the kiss of death that only I could give them.  But I didn’t do it for the victims; no, I did it because I liked it.  Without wanting to sound like a high school cheerleader with a profound punning disability, the thrill of the chase was to die for.  As long as the thrill was mine and someone or something else did the dying.

Now I was about to find out what little doppelgangers were made of and if I survived I’d wear its skin next to mine.

Until the next hunt that is.

Staying Alive

It had begun in a vast, flat landscape, a monochrome of dark and light under a leaden sky.  This is where it was made: where the hunger had sparked into life by a beaten track because someone had bled and died.   The next life was taken by force, and then the next and then the next until the entity began to have shape and form, like a pearl formed from grit.

Locals, human and animal alike, began to avoid the spot and so it languished for a time; the life it had stolen beginning to leach back from whence it came.  But the entity was not beaten so easily.  If the prey would not  come to it, it would go to the prey.

And so the hunt began.

In time it reached the city and stalked the streets taking the old, the sick, the unwary.  But even this was not enough and its wants became more capricious and cruel.  It failed to notice the spirits that followed it: a silent army of sad revenants that grew with each passing day.

This was a night much like any other and it cruised the High Street for a likely victim.  A young man with wild, curly hair wearing only a long leather coat with no top underneath emerged from Mary King’s Close.  He looked furtively about him a couple of times and then stared directly at the entity.  Most people did not have the eyes to see, not until it was too late.

The young man smiled and beckoned, pointing behind him into the murk of Mary King’s Close.  Emboldened by the rush of the hunt, it did as it was bid.   A door slammed shut and someone laughed, a thin, gurgling sound.

Still unconcerned the entity sought out the life force of the young man finding nothing but the taste of grave, a faint odour of corruption.  There was nothing of life here.

“We’ve come for you,” said a watery voice as though talking through only partially formed vocal chords.  “We’ve come for the lives you stole.”

“Yes,” another voice wheezed and the entity recognised the owner was trying to laugh,

“You could say we want our lives back.”