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.

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.

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.