The thing clinging to the living-room ceiling winked at me and, wiggling its little backside, vented the contents of its bowels on the corpse in the half-open casket beneath. It giggled, a high girlish sound and scuttled to the corner of the room where it hung upside down, watching me and rubbing its six fingered hands over vestigial ears like a monstrous, mutated bat.
Not paying it any attention, I picked my way through the wrecked furniture, moved aside the teetering piles of clothes on the hitherto untouched fake leather sofa, and sat down. Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, the creature began to creep back towards the centre of the room and the dead body. Posing for a moment like a prize diver showing off a new move, it dropped down onto the open portion of the casket where it began to dry hump the stiff with more vigour than skill. While I certainly knew that feeling well enough, I also knew something the creature did not: that in life as in showbiz, timing was everything.
Beyond the window, night smothered the remaining light. Not a difficult task given this was the desiccated heart of winter with its perpetual dark only ever leavened by shades of grey.
I had already broken my own rule of not getting caught after sundown here in Gilmerton, a village only just within city limits that didn’t have any other boundaries which dared apply. Perhaps that was why, in true old fashioned pioneer spirit, the hardy soul that had survived here for the past two years only thought he had a poltergeist to deal with. I couldn’t wait to tell him that it was so much worse than something that just wanted to throw a few pots and pans around.
A phlegmy chuckle was muffled by whatever the thing was doing to the corpse, a woman of indeterminate age – although given the part of town I was in she could easily have been anything under thirty. Isa Simpson had been a big woman, someone the quacks would have classified as morbidly obese. The collapsed lower third of her face and missing lips indicated an absence of teeth and grey, straggling hair struggled to make it to her shoulders. Her distraught brother Alec Simpson had told me that the whole sorry business had begun last week when she’d died of a heart-attack. Furniture had been thrown including plates and cutlery, some of which had struck their two little nephews glancing blows and injured the dog. Worst of all, no one could get near the body to take it for burial due to the hail of missiles which had ensued when they’d tried.
A feral growling reminded me why I was here. Crossing the room, I took the scrying glass out of my pocket and, ignoring the humper, positioned the obsidian surface to reflect the corpse’s face. Scrying glasses, if you made them properly and had the eyes to see, showed not just the surface of things, but also any lurking behemoths awaiting the chance to break through.
And there it was: reflected in the polished glass was a fluttering of eyelids that should have been well beyond that type of tease. I edged forward to get a better look, making sure I didn’t touch the monstrous little bastard – time enough for that later. I moved the glass closer and the creature paused in its labours for a few seconds, before whipping round to goggle at me in exaggerated horror, its jaw dislocating itself and stretching all the way down to its bony knees, like a Looney Tunes cartoon. But there was nothing funny about that vast maw, flipped open to reveal countless layers of jagged, yellow teeth. The skin was black and lustrous like a seal, broken by protruding outcrops of malformed bone jutting out all over the head. It was as though it couldn’t decide what species of creature it had wanted to be and had tried out several, not liking any of them enough to evolve one way or the other. It stared at me out of the sewn up slits where its eyes should have been, tiny ticks of movement underneath, like pupae trying to hatch. The arms and legs were elongated with too many joints like a spider without any of its good points. I was sure of one thing: it was dead and it had stayed here for a very good reason.
Through the scrying-glass the news was dark indeed: a spectral face thrashed behind the dead flesh mask, mouth agape, like a negative of an old film with the sound turned down. A chunk of what had been the sideboard flew towards me and I ducked, missing a nasty concussion. We had been doing this dance for a good hour now and after my discovery with the scrying glass, I had to admit with a bitter, sinking heart, that we were going to be doing it a whole lot longer.
The creature laughed…..