Hell On Earth

And then they appeared.

Perhaps not all of them, but more than enough to be going on with. Whatever ward had been holding them back from their old haunts, so to speak, it had broken like an expectant mother’s waters. A pale female ghost, Victorian maid’s outfit emphasising a pregnant belly ascended to the ceiling in front of me as though climbing stairs, which perhaps is where they had been originally before the character and heart had been ripped out of the place. She was crying soundlessly and carrying a knitting needle raised in front of her as though about to use it as a weapon echoing some fraught drama that had taken place in this abominable old house.

A young man with a sad-eyed terrier under his arm prepared to tie a noose round neck as he stepped up on a chair that was no longer there and jumped off, neck lolling at an impossible angle. In the corner, a little girl in t-shirt that she had pulled down around her knees rocked back and forth, arm extended as though warding off blows from someone or something unseen. A middle aged woman raised a walking cane high into the air again and again, bringing it down on the supine body of old man in a wheelchair who was laughing, toothless maw wide open, shoulders heaving.

There were too many of them to count and they were all silent as the grave. A milling, mindless, soundless throng unable to utter so much as a word or scream, or connect in any way with this world. The truly disturbing thing about these ghosts was that they had either met violent ends or had dealt them out. Most ghosts did something random, like walking a particular path over and over again; or performing the same innocuous actions. Not these little vignettes of hell on earth. The spell, if it was such, had been broken and I needed to get out of there. Hopefully they were attached to the house and couldn’t come after me.

Only one way to find out.

When She Was Bad

He was as good as his word and within an hour a were called Keira turned up at my door. She lived in Edinburgh and was some distant relation or other to Jack. She was thin, with shaggy brown her that tumbled down her back, so long she could sit on it. Her eyes were a hot, angry brown and despite her age she radiated a power and unpredictability that you really wouldn’t want to cross. That’s probably what being named Keira would do for a girl.

The three of us stood in the room with the dead thing and it was really beginning to stink. Jack had taken off the ludicrous bandages and had managed to have a shower and change into clean clothes. He exuded a warm, tactile energy that crawled across my skin with leaden little boots but I was glad to see he could still could use the arm that had nearly been ripped off, He was clearly having problems with his mangled hand, but his body was most definitely on the mend, even if his temper hadn’t improved. The initial euphoria of the morning and metamorphosed into low level rage.

Keira crouched down beside the hand so that it was at her eye level, her movements cat-like, fluid. She delicately sniffed the thing, though in truth it stank to high heaven. She was clearly sifting through the scents to the one which would tell her who the maker of the gruesome object was. I began to say something, but she held up an elegant long-fingered hand and I meekly did as I was bid.

“A few different people handled this,” she said, voice high, sullen. I began to wonder if this was such a good idea.

“What do you want me to do when I find them?” she asked Jack.

“Do nothing. Just let us know where they are. Do I make myself clear Keira?”

She looked balefully up at him, for all the world just like your normal, surly teenager. But seething under the surface was an intensity, a swirling were energy that spoke of apure blind rage and a tremendous power only just under control. The word nut-job also came to mind, but to my eternal credit I didn’t let it exit my mouth and work its magic.

“And why are we doing this for her? She’s the cause of all this,” she hissed.

“Keira, just do it,” he said quietly, “without question and if you can’t control yourself, I’ll punish you myself. It’s up to you.” The burst of power from Jack combined with hers was giving me a headache. He was recovering fast.

She looked like she was going to disagree staring angrily up at him, brown eyes almost black with an alien, frenzied rage that wasn’t personal, it was just part of who she was. Then, she abruptly bowed her head in a gesture more eloquent than mere words.

“Hurry,” he told her hustling her out, massive compared to her slender form, “we don’t have much time.”

She looked back at me, enunciating every work with venom and force, “I hope you die for what you’ve done. Slowly, in agony and alone.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said smiling at her, “but you can forget the alone part. If I’m going down, you’re coming with me to break my fall.” Uncertainty fleetingly tainted her young face before Jack shoved her out the door. We stared at each other for a moment.

“Frightening youngsters something that gets you off, does it?” he asked harshly.

“I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss,” I said, making for the door “ a girl’s got to have a hobby”.

In Medias Res

As my old mother might have said, if I’d ever met her, “It’ll end in tears” and of course it usually did, along with a rain of other less disposable bodily fluids.

My high spirits may have had something to do with the fact that Ruby and Rory were giving me a lift to a job in Gracemount, a small but perfectly formed carbuncle on Edinburgh’s backside. Scratch it and you’d find it was only just within the city limits, but from what I’d heard, no other type applied.

“Hey Rose,” said Rory from the back of the car, “Must be great being such a Hell-spawn magnet. You must feel like the only booze at a Jakey street party every single day of your life.”

Glad of the distraction, I looked round at him sprawled over the back seat: eyes wide, mouth a cavernous o of horrified delight as though he had miraculously birthed a priceless pearl and wasn’t sure whether to get out the champagne or pay an urgent visit to the nearest Arse Emergency Department. My snappy come-back was a swine-like snort, triggering a vicious left hook somewhere behind the eyeballs – courtesy of the demon drink that had exorcised me good and proper last night. But that was okay, I was more than ready for a return bout tonight and then we’d see who was boss.

“Well at least that means someone loves her,” said Ruby wearily, having been dumped yet again the night before. She sighed and got back to concentrating on driving us out to the back of beyond and brooding over her latest rejection by a man almost twice as old as her, but with half her IQ: the most recent in a long, faecal string of serial shits.

Collectively, Ruby, Rory and I were the Fox-Garnet Agency, providing psychic services for the supernaturally challenged. What that really meant was we were mostly the clear up crew; psychic bin men for all manner of paranormal rubbish that no one else in their right minds would touch with top-of-the-line Haz Mat suits and a toxic waste facility the size of Brazil. Ruby and Rory were twins and the Fox part of the equation, I was the Garnet and business was out of this world.

Unbelievable as it was, there were people who touted Edinburgh’s toxic cess pit of a supernatural freak-fest to those foolish enough to dangle their nethers into it. And dangle they did, as though it was just another item on your ‘Scottish Holiday To Do List’, up alongside eating the contents of a live sheep’s stomach while being forced at gun point to listen to “Now That’s What I Call Bagpipes!” on a loop.

Given the unprecedented demand, the three of us had little choice but to go into business together because separately we just had too varied a work load and at least this way we could mostly pick the jobs best suited to our individual talents. The city was such a psychic hot spot, that if vengeful spirits and ancient grudges from beyond the grave were Olympic events, it would be prime contender for pure, spun gold. But make no mistake, the Fox-Garnet Agency got more than its share of the medals.

I had always thought that the secret to the city’s spirit-ridden success was because it had been built on seven hills; a volcanic plug spewed up as a dyspeptic offering from the belly of a bilious god, providing a vantage point more lofty than impregnable so the inhabitants got to see death coming. Instead of finding somewhere more amenable to sustaining their miserable lives, they focussed instead on the problem of how to make things worse. And they succeeded spectacularly. Edinburgh gave birth to the first slum high rises in the world ringed around by city walls just to make sure they built up instead of out. After all, no one loves a fat baby. Sheol was piled upon Gehenna as one hovel was built upon the next with the spaces in between serving as open sewers. These triumphs of human ingenuity were built so close to their neighbours, a flea couldn’t have passed in between them, but clearly some managed because the human population caught every plague and disease that fancied its chances. Whole streets were bricked up to try to contain the amorous attentions of whatever microbe that came courting. In this particular final solution, those who were about to die couldn’t even get a last hearty meal, never mind the space to salute.

And still they built up and up and up as though trying to clear the stench of the sewers from their nostrils or perhaps to get closer to a god that didn’t believe in them any more. When they had gone as high as they could go, banishing the light from the sky, they gouged at the soft sandstone ridge the godforsaken city sat precariously atop and burrowed downwards. Lo and behold, Hell on earth, above and below. The crush of the souls who had lived and died in what became a multi layered underground necropolis was like an albatross around the neck of anyone with the slightest sensitivity to such things. The weight of the world indeed.

But hey, why sweat the details of how we had come to this, because the proud proprietors of the Fox-Garnet Agency had never had it so good. So good in fact we were able to specialise. Ruby tended to do the clairvoyant work; Rory’s talents lay in exorcism and mine, well mine was communicating with the dead, but in truth all three overlapped. I was just glad that we were able to do something approaching constructive with the so-called ‘gift’. In ye olden days the church wouldn’t have rested until they had hunted us all down. And not just because they wanted to give us the usual full body massage, French-kiss and lingering pat on the backside.

But communicating with the dead was only one strand of what I did, what I was very, very good at and was yet another euphemism concealing something far worse. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t train to do it and at times I wondered whether I was going to survive it. I often thought that any other profession would have been better than this purgatory; you name it, it would have been a step up: traffic warden; sewer rat; maybe even social worker. I must confess here and now that the sad fact of the matter was that my speciality wasn’t. While it was true I could communicate with the dead, what made me unusual was that I had the sorry ability to kill them.

Ouija Wonder

Slipping into the spare room I lit some candles and slid the ouija board out of its dark blue and black silk cover, placing it gently on the ground. It was a thing of rare beauty if I said so myself. It was very old, probably over a hundred years and the exquisitely wrought gold writing on the dark brown board had been hand painted. In addition to the letters of the alphabet, the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, ‘Hello’ and Goodbye’, were etched, one in each corner. The pointer, or planchette, was made from amber and glowed golden in the flickering light. The bed my visitor had bled in was a dark ominous rumple of sheets in the background and I did my best to ignore it. I had, shall we say, bartered for it in an occult market that had taken place in the infarcted heart of this demon ridden city, the Cowgate. It had cost something dearer than money and I hoped it was going to prove its worth for me at this ungodly hour. The more prosaic paper and lined A4 pad wasn’t as pretty but was equally important to write down any messages from the fetid darkness that was only too happy to infect our world with its insane whisperings.

I cleared my mind, going over some relaxation techniques that helped me focus on nothing. My body unclenched but there was a little voice screaming something incomprehensible at the back of my mind. I ignored it and tried again, thinking of a warm, cerulean ocean to clear my head and let me get into the dead zone. But there was nothing. No spirit wanted to come play with, or even terrorise me. The delicate tendrils of my thoughts were echoing around in a void where nothing was.

I don’t know how long I sat like that, but just as I was about to give up, I got a bite. It was big, powerful and I was going to need all my strength to reel it in. What I was doing was about as clever as going fishing in a coracle with line and tackle in a great-white infested sea, but in this line of work, intelligence was a distinct draw-back.

The room’s temperature dropped to below freezing and I shivered even wrapped in my bulky dressing gown. I could see the frozen vapour trail of my breath as it escaped. Sadly things weren’t going to be so simple for the rest of me.

The heart-shaped planchette began to move sluggishly as though it was wakening from a long sleep. I decided to oblige by starting with the easy ones.

“Is someone there?”

Trembling, the planchette agonisingly slowly crept toward the ‘Yes’ in the top right corner.

“Who are you?”

Rediscovering some latent vitality, the planchette sped up slightly spelling out:


Hmm. Not the best start to the conversation I was hoping to extract vital information from.

“Then why are you here?” I asked the void.

The amber planchette glowed in the candlelight, immobile for a few seconds and then whipped round the board with vicious jabs that left marks on the lacquered surface.


was the message. Another spirit that couldn’t spell, for some crazy, irrational reason that irritated me more. Could it be the same one that had left the hand or was education for the dead an underfunded project. I didn’t think it was the same, the power needed to smash into my home through the wards was considerable. This thing, though powerful in its own right, was just a tiddling bottom feeder in comparison.

“That sounds like it might be fun,” I conceded in a conversational tone, “Any particular reason?”


“Ah. You mean you don’t know. That’s okay, you-”


The planchette went crazy, digging deep trenches into the board. The dead didn’t like to be patronised any more than the living, clearly. The pointer was going almost faster than I could note the letters down. I eventually gave up when I realised that it was vitriol and not usable information that was being spewed across worlds. I needed to keep my questions simple and to the point. It could be the spirit knew something I didn’t, or, equally likely it was just one of the many vindictive presences that said this to all the girls.

“You’ll be eating the sole of my boot you little-” I made an effort to calm down, this was going nowhere fast. I tried again: “Who left the hand-of-glory in my living-room.”

The planchette ceased all movement raising the hairs on the back of my neck and I waited for what I knew was coming. But as it turned out I didn’t.


“Of yours?”


“You don’t know, do you?” I sighed, rubbing my eyes with my fingers.


“Then who is it?”


“Not tell, because you no know,” I snapped.


I left the room with the planchette still whizzing around the board. The spirit would either get bored with its game and leave or stay and haunt the house. It was a stupid thing to do and all the books told you never to do it, but I no longer cared because if it did, I’d be only too happy to personally hurl into the void from which there really was no coming back, without pity, without mercy, without a second thought.