Hide and Bleed

It’s so traditional to wait on disaster befalling you, so why not ring in the changes and seek it out yourself? At least that’s what I told myself when I took out my scrying glass and signed my own death warrant.

The gleaming reflections of my scrying glass soon revealed my murderer-to-be perched on the top of Salisbury Crags. His tall, powerful frame and wings, the pinions of which rested on the ground on either side of him as he balanced on the Crags edge, were limned in red as the winter sun set over Edinburgh. It could have been classic fallen angel stuff as he contemplated his new kingdom with all the grace and terrible beauty of a Gustav Doré illustration. Except this kingdom was no more than a holding pen and the beast so delicately poised above it would gladly annihilate everyone and everything in it.

He turned quickly as though aware of being spyed upon and the last rays of the dying sun made a halo around his head the colour of old blood. The hair was long, a burnished blue black, stray strands of which were being blown across his face as though he was a wild animal staring out from behind bars. His skin was dark and the high cheekbones and tip-tilted eyes gave his face an easy glamour not often found in this forgotten, frozen corner of the world.

He wore old, battered leathers and a pair of boots that had metallic sigils of unknown origin worked into them. The nose was straight, the mouth full above the cleft chin. It was a terrible beauty, the last face you looked upon as you died screaming, giving him the gift of your intestines and gladly.

For the old ones like Luke, there was no need to fear the last faltering rays of a dying star because nothing interfered with their games of hide and bleed. The red ruin that day in and night out swelled and blocked city gutters up and down the length and breadth of the country was more than testament to that.

But he was on my trail and I was going to have to face up to that and try to find a way to kill him before he killed me. The slightly tricky part was how could you kill the unkillable before it killed you…

That Old Black Magic

Out of nowhere came a revolting, appalling, absolutely bloody brilliant idea. “Do you know a witch called Lucille Harper-Hodge?” He shrugged huffily not prepared to let me know one way or the other.

“If you do, you’ll know she’s a powerful witch. She killed her husband in a place called Midnight Falls,” I went on noting his reaction to the name and guessing that whether he knew her or not, he did know about the place.

“Well anyway, I can’t go to the police with what I know because it would be laughed out of court, so Mrs Harper-Hodge has literally gotten away with murder. But here’s the thing. I have something of hers. The doll she made of her husband so she could kill him, to be exact. I wondered if having it might be something you’d be interested in.”

He gaped at me, not quite believing his ears. What I was proposing was worse than murder. Lucille had worked a very powerful spell with the doll and because of its nature, she had left a trace of herself trapped within it. This was the thing about black magic, death and destruction could wrought by the witch or warlock, but there was a price. A price that in my opinion only a raving lunatic would have been prepared to pay. When you used a doll to kill someone you had to invest it not just with a sense of the person you wanted dead, but also yourself, because it was your will that set off the spark; the start of a chain reaction ending with the killing blow. That meant that when the deed was done, your essence remained behind, like a bad smell in her case.

And when you carelessly left an artefact like that lie around, it was only a matter of time and bad karma that an unscrupulous bitch like me would then sell it to a warlock who was known to trap and imprison the souls of the living and who could distil them from much poorer sources than the one I had in my pocket…

The Company Of Wulvers

We walked into an enormous room with high vaulted ceilings bathed in enough candlelight to make it look like it had been sprayed with old gold. The mellow wash flattered the hectic crowd as it drank, talked and clinked glasses; some of its members were even dancing to the inevitable ceilidh band who I could just see crammed onto a little podium. The band, a collection of shaggy haired young men, were howling, stamping and playing their fiddles as though their lives depended upon it. Maybe they did. There was enough dark energy here to power the coming of the Antichrist – if you believed in such things.

And then, as though someone had flicked on a switch, it all changed. A raw, roiling energy beat in waves over my head, as though I had just been pitched to the bottom of the ocean, where I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. No one else in the gathering seemed to feel it although the chatter, dancing and drinking became fevered, compulsive even, as though this was the last night on earth and there was nothing left to lose. I began to make out vague shapes flickering above their heads: formless at first, gradually assuming a bestial cast as though something was trying to escape the human clay but couldn’t quite break free.

The band played louder, the dancers whirled faster as though I was standing in the midst of an immensely powerful battery that everyone in the room was simultaneously feeding and draining, feeding and draining. Each time the power peaked it was at a higher level and the party got wilder and uglier in the no time at all I’d been here. A couple of scuffles broke out in the corner of the room, in one a one big burly guy threw a smaller one into a table which promptly collapsed covering him with food and drink which he was made to eat. The strange thing was that the smaller mand didn’t seem too upset about it.

There was still no let up in the power surges and the pain in my head became a vice. Time to leave. Then something else caught my eye and that dark sense of mine began to vibrate in time with the power: a young blond girl, blouse in tatters, head flung back in a weird, grunting ecstasy, with a grizzled head of indeterminate sex nursing at her breasts and rivulets of blood running down her bony ribs. The twisted energy in the room rose in a shimmering multicoloured arc above the heads of the crowd and the force of it was a singing, living thing so intense it had its own gravitational pull.

I’d only felt this much squeezing power once before and I knew it for what it was: shape-shifter. The room had become the pulsing chamber of a gigantic, infarcted, heart, each beat a countdown to detonation that would beggar Hiroshima. And here I was at the epicentre without so much as a table to cower under. Well if cowering was out, there was only one thing for it…

Devilution For Beginners

“You don’t understand Rose.”

“If it wasn’t Kylie Minogue then that’s surely a good thing isn’t it?”

“Something had hijacked Colin’s spirit, using it as an additional power source, like a battery if you want to see it that way. All to cause mayhem in this world. The couple had been playing around with the ouija board and that was enough to let this thing through. I’m told they couldn’t see anything, just thought it was a poltergeist. And then of course it got really nasty”

“So what? I still don’t see that this anything other than a cautionary tale for those idiots that want to play around with the spirit world.”

I was just about to suggest another drink but she hadn’t finished.

“But don’t you see Rose? The worst is that not only did Colin’s spirit not pass on, but along with the parasite that had absorbed it, both were beginning to evolve. What I saw in the mirror shouldn’t have been possible. But there it was. And then I got called to another case where the spirit hadn’t passed but had begun to evolve into something predatory. On its own this time but it was still driven by rage and the desire to destroy. And then another and then another.”

“So instead of evolution of man we have devilution of spirit? I still don’t see the problem. All it means is that some ouija-board nut-jobs get their come-uppance. So what-”

“So something is happening that is shaping spirit into its own image and giving it unimaginable power in the process. Something is co-ordinating this and warping pure spirit to its own ends. That means they’re remaining here and evolving into beings that are much darker. You’ve just seen it yourself. That doppelganger was much more powerful than it had any right to be.”

“Let me get this straight-” I said, just as a tall, muscular man with long black hair and dressed in nothing but jeans, denim waistcoat and biker boots strode over to the table and plonked himself down, grinning expectantly at us.

A Price Beyond Ruby’s

“I can explain, if you’ll let me, but it’s a long story I’m afraid,” said Ruby

I shrugged my shoulders, calculating where my next drink was coming from and more importantly, when.

“I was contacted by the police about a case where a two year old boy had gone missing. The parents said he had been abducted the police thought the parents had murdered him. Because there was no body, they couldn’t prove anything and were desperate to solve the case because the media had been getting on theirs. An order came from the top that they had to do something to crack it to stop the bad publicity – you’ve probably read about it yourself. Colin Anderson was the boys name. No? Anyway, as a last resort, they contacted me to see if I could find the body. You know how it is.”

I did indeed. Psychics like Ruby and I were grudgingly contacted by the pigs when they were desperate and had nowhere else to go. Bearing in mind these were often the toughest cases, even if you got results, they would be explained away as coincidence and you were shunted to the side in their frenzy to ditch you as though you had an infectious disease.

“So anyway, they gave me a teddy of Colin’s to get a sense of him and see if I could track him. I always hope I can’t because that means the child’s still alive. Holding the teddy I got the usual stuff, you know what toddlers are like, images of puppies, footballs, that sort of thing. A happy, normal, little boy like any other.”

I had no idea what either toddlers or normality were like and no inclination to change that any time soon.

“They also gave me a picture of him which I didn’t need but took anyway. I suddenly received a signal that was so strong I just about blacked out from the force of it. That’s how it is with me. Once I tune into the spirit of the person that owned the object, if that spirit is no longer encumbered by its physical body, the sense of them is very strong. Like they are an unadulterated version of the thing they used to be when they were alive. Once the spirit has cast off its flesh overcoat there is a period of time just after, when for a short while anyway, it’s very powerful. Like a match that flares into life and then goes out.

“Except usually the going out part is where the spirit moves on. But the period of power is when the spirit can manifest itself to those with any sensitivity and there’s lots of reports of folk talking to their nearest and dearest just after they’ve died. Sorry, of course you know all that. I just wanted to explain how my ability works because as you also know, its different for everyone.

I was beginning to drift off here. If she didn’t get to the point soon, all the whisky in the world wouldn’t keep me awake and focussed.

“Well Colin was dead alright but that was just the beginning of the bad news. Once I get the signal, it’s like I tune into the station, just like a radio. Because the spirit still has a strong connection with its physical body, that means I can always pinpoint where it is. The physical location I mean. That can be tricky to actually find though, because it’s often in the countryside, or in a lake or canal and one tree or body of water looks pretty much like every other, I can tell you.

“But not in this case. The signal I got took me to a house. A little boy’s bedroom to be exact with Thomas the Tank Engine posters and a bed shaped like a racing car. Then I was propelled into the living room and then kitchen as though someone was carrying me. When I was in the kitchen, I saw two people, a man and a woman, eating at the table. This couple weren’t Colin’s parent’s and I had no idea why I been brought here: after all it didn’t seem likely Colin’s corpse was here.

Suddenly I was seeing inside the fridge and something was pulling out the contents and throwing them around the room. The couple started screaming and tried to run out of the room, but whatever was carrying me slammed the door shut and continued smashing the place up. A feeling of what I can only describe as the purest pleasure, so acute it was almost sexual came over me.

“I don’t need to tell you the feeling wasn’t coming from me. The thing was though that it seemed to be fuelled by the fear and hysteria of the couple. The more upset they became, the better whatever it was I was inside liked it. The more violent things got, the higher the buzz. There was one point when a plate was smashed on top of the woman’s head and the pieces gashed her face, blood everywhere. The man at this point was scrabbling at the window, trying to get it open. My host shot across the room to stop him and something caught its attention on the wall. A mirror to be exact. My host looked at itself in the mirror, with great satisfaction I can tell you, and I got a fleeting impression of a dwarf floating in mid air with red eyes and a mouthful of black, razor-sharp teeth looked back. But when I looked again it wasn’t a dwarf. It was-

“Kylie Minogue?” I said.

Love Bites

There was something about the three blonde, black-eyed women that was not quite right. At least that was Colin’s opinion as he finished one pint and considered starting another. His thoughts turned as they always did to his bitch ex Jackie who was giving him grief, not letting him see the wee man until he paid up what she said he owed. Fat chance of that when he’d just lost his job in the off-licence where he’d worked for ten years. Who’d have thought offies in Scotland could ever go out of business? You had to get through the cold and smothering dark of the Scottish winter somehow and it was a time honoured national tradition that a vast quantity of booze was just the way to do it.

He decided on a another pint and whisky chaser and lumbered unsteadily to the bar to get them in. The Bingo Wings was a run down shabby sort of place, but you could sit in the gloom and nurse drink and grievances in equal measure with no interference from anyone who knew what was good for them. And from the hot glances thrown his way from the blond bints, he was positive he could show them a thing or two on that front. Talent-spotting wasn’t a usual pastime in the Bingo Wings: there were other more likely venues for that sort of nonsense. No, this was where silent, angry men sat and drank themselves into a well earned oblivion before picking a fight outside to round the evening off.

Christ they were fit though: lush, full figured and from the long legs, not much shy of his six feet frame. He thought maybe they’d been to a fancy dress party because they were all dressed in white see-through dress things that rode right up when they sat down on the bar stools, so you could pretty much see everything. Little tarts.

The nearest one turned her head to look at him, a sinuous, twisting motion accompanied by a fall of white-blond hair that was so long she could have sat on it. Well, if the little slag played her cards right, she’d be sitting on something else before the end of the night.

“Are you sisters then?” he said controlling the slurring with a mighty effort.

The other two turned to stare at him with that same curiously serpentine motion and three pairs of black eyes fixed on his face with a disconcerting intensity. They must have been sisters because their features were almost identical. There was a sharpness about the nose and cheek-bones that he hadn’t noticed at first, but they were still stunners, no doubt about it.

“In a way,” the nearest one answered in a soft voice. He knew it, she was definitely up for it. Wait until Jackie found out that he still had the old one two magic.

“What’s your name?” she continued.

“Eh, Colin. Colin McQuarrie. And what’s yours?” he asked, finally remembering the finer points of leg-over etiquette.

“Margo. And this is Morgan and Marjorie.”

The blond in the middle, Morgan, slid gracefully off her stool and came to stand next to him. Maybe he’d be in the three-way before the night was out if he minded his p’s and q’s. He hurriedly calculated just how much he’d had to drink because it really wouldn’t do to disappoint the ladies seeing as how they were so up for it. Not if the abuse Jackie had regularly showered him with was anything to go by.

Morgan put a hand on his arm and was so close he could smell her: an intoxicating scent that reminded him of blue skies and the green promise of spring woods. He was just about to press his mouth to hers when she ruined it by speaking. That was women for you.

“Did you know you have an elemental attached to you?”

“An elephant? Are you pissed hen?”

The third blond, Marjorie had joined them and stood on his other side. He felt hemmed in for some reason and started to wonder where Rab the barman was; quelling a sudden surge of adrenalin as though some part of his brain was telling him to make a run for it. Why would he run from three lassies?

“An elemental,” said Marjorie.

“It’s a lower form of spirit-”

“That attaches itself to people who have done bad things in their lives. It feeds off the energy that creates-”

“What she means is the suffering of the victim. For every bad deed there must be a victim-”

“And for every bad deed, the elemental gets bigger-”

“And bigger and-”

“Yours is the size of a tenement. And it’s still growing.”

He’d lost track of who was saying what but it didn’t matter because it melded into a seamless whole as though the conversation was taking place entirely inside his own head. The three hadn’t taken their eyes from him, tracking his progress like a deer or some other prey that didn’t have a hope in hell. Being hopeless had never felt so good.

“You know those angry, frustrated feelings you get where you want to burn the world and everybody in it?”

He was pretty sure that was Marjorie who was stroking his arm snaking a trail up to the back of his neck. Dumbly he nodded.

“That’s from the elemental. Sort of like waste products if you see what I mean. You’ll have noticed how it’s getting worse no doubt? That’s the elemental getting stronger. Soon it’ll be powerful enough to consume you and then you’ll be part of it forever. Isn’t that something?” Margo smiled showing small, perfectly formed white teeth.

He was really confused now, unsure if it was the drink or if the women had drugged him. He wasn’t sure he cared, as long as they stayed with him.

“Can’t I get rid of it? I mean, couldn’t you help me?” he said, like a little boy pleading not to be sent to bed. He didn’t question the truth of what he was being told: it was as if he’d always known. Ever since that hit and run that he’d been responsible for as a teenager and then all the other stuff since then…

“Ah, now. We were just getting to that,” said Morgan. “But there’s something you need to do for us first.”

Fiends Like Us

“No. I will not bind myself to you.”

“And yet that was what you sought to do to me, was it not?” The heat in his voice was a scalding, blistering wind on my skin. I closed my eyes and screwed up what passed for my courage.

“There’s no way I’m going to bind myself to a demon. There are fates worse than death and that’s definitely one of them.”

He stared, the reflective surfaces of his jetty eyes a shiny carapace.

“I won’t bind myself to you.” I repeated. I had to keep saying it, because there was a part of me that was very tempted, like being offered a steamy extra marital affaire after years of an indifferent marriage that had doused the fire from your belly.

He was silent and I realised we had lost the only chance we had of sorting the whole sorry mess. I looked hard at my boots as though the answer was written there and turned to leave while I still could.

“What else could you possibly give me that I might want?” The soft silken voice insinuated itself like a breath across my skin. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Of course, it would have to be something very special, unique evem, to make it worth my while. Something that I don’t already have. Now what could that be?”

The demon had known all along I would refuse and this was the thing that he really wanted. I was such a fool and a vain one at that, I even surprised myself sometimes.

“As you can see,” he indicated the broken mirror with a sweep of his hand, “I can cross any boundary I choose, but there is one problem. Like the rest of my kind, I cannot cover my tracks. My enemies can track me with ease, should they be foolish enough to do so and that can be unfortunate.”

I waited for the punchline, unwilling to indulge the demon in its desire to torment me.

“But what would allow me to do that Rose? Come on now, don’t you have the answer to this? No?” The moment stretched out and out and out into a series of little eternities. I knew that whatever he was about to suggest was going to be worse than binding myself to him. The punishment for my pride was his joy.

“Get on with it, will you. You may have eternity, but for us lesser beings time is short-”

I had no time to react, let alone defend myself. I was pitched out of my body into a grey twilight world where things scuttled just out of sight chittering, as I ran along a twisting path set in flat featureless countryside. Huge shadows moved across the landscape in a grey, lightless world and I knew something was coming for me: I just couldn’t see it yet. Nameless deformities writhed always just out of sight giving me a brief glimpse of a tail, or the mutated stump of a limb and I forced myself onwards in an effort to outrun whatever it was in pursuite.

“You’d better hurry if you’re to have a hope of outrunning it,” whispered the voice close to my ear, “it’s got your scent and it’s coming for you.”

I ran.