My Favourite Things

I had to get out of the house. Pulling on whatever was at hand I was able to cover the resulting catalogue of sins against fashion and common decency with my full length leopard print coat. The telephone rang. I ignored it and left, heading for my nearest greasy spoon for breakfast, or since it was now night, dinner of dead animals and burnt fat.

I had just given my order to the harassed waitress, when my mobile started up with its Snapper download of my current favourite Ten Good Reasons To Kick Your Head In when a man in a base-ball cap pulled low over his face and scarf wound tightly around his neck and jaw, slid into the chair opposite me.

“That seat’s taken,” I said.

The peak of the cap raised slightly and a pair of burning orange eyes with what looked like boils around the contours stared into mine. The skin stretched tightly over the nub of a nose was dark with overlapping scales. Whatever else he was, human didn’t begin to cover it.

“I think you’ll want to make an exception for little old me, Rosie darlin’.” The voice was low and guttural, with a strange fluting quality as though there was something else in there straining to get out. He could go and strain elsewhere as far as I was concerned.

“Tell you what Toad, if you don’t leave immediately, I’ll be the one taking exception. That would be bad.”

“Big talk. Let’s see how talkative you are when my employers get through with you if don’t do what you’re told. That goes for those two you were just entertaining in your boudoir earlier. Have a nice little threesy did you?” He, it, whatever the hell it was, hawked and spat on the floor. The waitress gave a gusty sigh and bent down to clean it. He stared at her and the words she was about to utter died in her throat and she backed off and into the kitchen.

“Jealous? I’m willing to bet the only action you ever get is limited to onesy. You,” I said impatiently after he looked blank.

He was about to say something but I held a hand up to cut him off, “Okay, I’m curious. Who are you?”

He lowered the scarf and a lipless mouth was revealed with row upon row of pointed little teeth on show in what I took to be a smile.

He laughed at the revulsion on my face and said, “Me? I’m nobody. Just a messenger you might say. And the message is this: stay away from the Fox twins.”

I was genuinely amused. “Or what? Is this like a double bluff where you really want me to go see the Foxes, because I have to say it’s working.”

The would-be messenger stared at me, incomprehension plain on the lizard-like features and we all know what usually happens in the old messaging business. I leaned over to him and he withdrew by just the merest fraction of an inch, but it was a telling one activating the adrenalin and pitching me into hyper focus like with Ruby earlier, but this one would be more of a challenge.

“I ain’t dead Rose, you can’t mess with my head.”

“It’s your body I want, but then you must get that all the time,” I grabbed him by the neck before he realised what I was doing. Something metallic clanged to the ground and I was betting it was his blade. A quick flick of the eye downward told me I was on the money. Pulling his face closer to mine as though for a kiss, I flicked the blades on my finger-knives to the first setting: a mere half an inch of razor-sharp serrated steel. Enough to penetrate the skin, not enough for internal organs. He had his back to the two other diners and it looked like we were just getting cosy.

“You wouldn’t dare,” he wheezed.

I stroked the scales on his face with the tip of the blade on my index finger, just hard enough to pierce the tough skin along his jaw and down to the jugular.

“Wouldn’t I?” I whispered, lips inches from his and those sharp little teeth. I flicked the second setting on my middle finger and it went a little deeper into the scaled meat just shy of his jugular. He whimpered and bled.

I smiled and went to work.

Red in Tooth and Claw

On some nights on Leith Walk you can hear it calling like a grieving lover for the one it hunts and feel a faint trembling of the air as though the world itself fears what is about to come.

And that’s as it should be, because something has made Leith its larder. Locking doors and windows cannot keep it out and the penalty for such impertinence is a slow, agonising death. All that remains is to hope that it kills you quickly and that you do not catch sight of it as it consumes the flesh you can’t now call your own.

There is a new rule of law in town.

And this one’s rare steak bloody.

Hey There Gorgie Girl

She had been murdered before the Sainsburys in the Edinburgh area of Gorgie had been built, but that was as much as she remembered. The murder hadn’t even happened in Gorgie, but for some reason that was the place she had chosen to linger. Perhaps it was an old memory of the route to work she’d taken on the day of her death, just like everyday, on the number 25 packed with sleep befuddled commuters. More likely it was just random, like the dreams endured night after night by the living; triggered by a chance word or association and unfairly singled out by the mind from the deluge of the day’s detritus.

But there had been no one around when he had grabbed her from behind after she had gotten off the bus halfway down Leith Walk and bundled her up an alleyway where he slashed her throat with a broken bottle just because he could. She did remember trying to stem the red tide of her blood with grasping ineffectual hands, but the tide was not for turning.

Now she frequented the shadows in the early hours, ranging around the closes and dead-ends of Gorgie’s tenements, waiting, waiting for him to show himself. She’d been growing stronger since her death (at twenty-one), evolving into a force he’d have to reckon with if he ever dared show his face. And he would, she knew, eventually. Her rage was a molten, living thing that allowed no respite, no drifting off into the space of whatever happened next.

But her interaction with the world had had to begin modestly: first with rats and mice; then cats and later dogs. By sheer force of will she had learned how to lure the unfortunate creatures up darkened closes (the smell of a bacon roll here, the simulation of an owner’s voice there) and over time she refined her techniques. Now she could chew through flesh as though it was papier mache and only last night she had made her first practice kill on a human. He had been an old man, granted, but everyone had to start somewhere. His name had had been Robert Carswell, and he had been driven out of his bed by a rampant insomnia made infinitely worse by the recent death of his wife Muriel. He had thought a peaceful walk along darkened streets would soothe his aching head.

And now he lay beside the Tynecastle Stadium, hours from discovery and beyond hope.

She knew she needed some more target practice before he came and she had even picked out a likely victim: a young girl not much younger than she herself had been, out late after a work’s night out.

Everyone ended up in Gorgie’s mean streets at some point whether they intended to or not. And maybe, just maybe she was a Gorgie sort of girl after all.

Reconstructive Surgery

It had been born in a chance encounter between fork lightning and a hillock already gravid with the old magics. Now all the wildling had to do was survive until adulthood worked its own brand of enchantment making it invulnerable to attack. But that was a long way off; a journey fraught with danger.

Rather like the one it was now embarked upon in the wee small hours of a Monday morning. It had broken into a ground floor flat at 18 Marchmont Road as the occupants, a young couple called Babs and Jamie Robertson and their two month old baby Noah, slept. It had been watching the young family for three weeks and it knew their movements with an intimate if unloving precision.

Babs, a nurse at the Royal Edinburgh, was on maternity leave and struggling with the demands of a new born baby. Jamie, a freelance graphic designer with too much time on his hands, generally got under her feet feeling more than a little put out that he was no longer the sole focus of her attentions. So far, so normal. Neither of them had the slightest inkling that they had caught the attention of a malign spirit, one that was bent on getting rid of their child and taking its place in the nest forcing them to care for it; identical to their lost son down to the last eyelash. Unlike the cuckoo though, the wildling would eventually murder its adopted parents at the moment it reached maturity. A bloody rites of passage that was the hallmark of all its kind.

But tonight was only the first small step on that road and the wildling needed to make sure this part of the plan went seamlessly. It stood, a smoky shadow without substance or form apart from a dull red glow that throbbed somewhere in its core. It looked down at the sleeping child, dark lashes fanned out on each plump cheek and felt contempt for such a weak, lumpen creature. It was going to have to take on the appearance of this mewling ball of flesh while its harassed parents tended to its every need. They’d wonder what had happened to their placid baby boy, why he was so cruel and vindictive, first to them and then later to other children. His teachers would huddle in groups in the common room discussing his latest essay, the ways in which it showed what a disturbed little shit he was and endless referrals to an army of psychiatrists and psychologists who would all come to the firm conclusion it was the parent’s fault.

It reached into the cot and took the child, smothering its face before it could cry out. It was important to keep it alive for now so the replication process could begin. It would of course end when it neatly slotted into the cot recently occupied by its true owner some time before Babs and Jamie woke. It wrapped the struggling baby into a blanket and fled, this time having to use the door which shut with a gentle click. Aided by a loosely worked spell of forgetting, no one noticed it as it ran through the chilled night air up Marchmont Road and headed for Blackford Hill, a lonely spot at this hour where it could begin its work.

Finally it came to rest on a little hillock much like the one where it had been spewed into existence and laid the child down on the ground.

Life, it reflected to itself as it began to put on its first flesh overcoat, was a funny old thing…

Soul Sucker

“Horror’s not my thing,” I said, “Stepping out the front door of a Monday morning’s scary enough for me. Now, back to you young lady. When did you get sick and what happened?”

“I’m not sure. I was sick at school a few months ago and daddy had to fetch me and bring me home. I just got worse and worse until I couldn’t really get out of bed anymore. It feels like I’ve been in this room my entire life. I am going to die though, I know it,” tears spilled down her wan little face and I fished out a clean hanky and wiped them away.

“Don’t be daft, nothing wrong that we can’t fix.” Another lie.

“Wh-what is wrong with me?” she sniffed.

“Hold on-there,” I said while the Dead-Lights played over her, uncharacteristically gentle. It only took a few seconds for them to get to the source.

“Found it. This will sound funny to you, but you’ve got a little hole in your aura.”

“Aura? What’s that?”

“It protects you, like your skin protects your insides, only this protects your mind. Everyone has one. Imagine if you didn’t have any skin, your insides would be outside and you’d have to run around carrying them in a wheel-barrow,” I mimed this, puffing out my cheeks as though at the effort and she gave a weak giggle. I wasn’t aiming for a precise comparison, just something a child could get her head round.

“Your aura’s like that except it protects your thoughts, your feelings and keeps other folks thoughts out. You’ve got a tiny hole in yours. Not to worry though, I know just the person who can help you fix it.”

“Why can’t you do it? Why do I have a hole?”

We were getting onto sticky ground. She needed to know some truth, but not the whole truth which was that some sort of parasite had broken through her natural protection and was literally sucking the soul out of her. Why the parasite had picked her, how it had broken through and when it would finish her off was the million dollar question.

“I’m not a healer. But I know someone who is. She’s really nice, you’ll like her.”

And she would; everyone liked Ruby Fox, but Ruby like the rest of the psychic community didn’t like me. This appeared to be because of my little nocturnal hunting expeditions which they thought the height of immorality. I thought they were the pits of hypocrisy and we usually left our mutual loathing at that. But Ruby specialised in auras and healing and there was at least a chance she could restore Emma to health while I hunted the spirit that was killing her.

Stick to your strengths as my old mother might have said…