A Spirited Encounter

The dead hung around Tamsin St Bird in spectral filaments like trailing old lace on the wedding dress that Miss Havisham would have killed for. The shade of a young girl, more solid than most of the others, turned a featureless face toward me, blank apart from two cross shaped scars stitched into her translucent flesh where her eyes should have been.

“Tea Ms Garnett? Or perhaps something stronger,” smiled my hostess, making it sound like a dare.

“Whiskey, if you’ve got it Tamsin,” I said calling her on it but distracted by the ghost-trail marking out this woman’s every move.

The practiced smile slipped a little whether at the request or the use of her first name was anyone’s guess.

“Yes, of course. You don’t mind if I don’t join you? Nine in the morning isn’t my most alcoholic time.”

“In that case, I’d better have yours, so make mine a double,” I said, conscious I was going to need all the help I could get with this one.

“So,” I said settling into the uncomfortable cream leather couch and taking in the chrome and glass designer living room, incongruous in such an old house, “What can I do you for?”

She crossed the high ceilinged room and poured me a drink from the crystal decanter on the drinks cabinet. An oblong of golden light fell across the stripped wooden floor and the sound of the amber liquid sloshing into the shot glass was more relaxing that a day in the country. I knocked it back and held my glass out for more which she did with a bad grace.

“Really, Ms Garnett-”

“Call me Rose.”

“Very well. Rose. You make it sound like you’re offering a plumbing service.”

“Dealing with other people’s shit is what I do Lucille, so it’s not a bad analogy. Anyway, please go on. I’ve got some blocked toilets that need a good old plunging so we need to get down to business, no pun intended.”

The young girl shook her head, distressed, and an old man’s face appeared at Lucille’s elbow with exactly the same cross stitched eyes. He held an elongated spectral finger to non-existent lips.

She eyed me with a delicate distaste spoiled by her ghostly train whimpering in protest when she abruptly sat down on an overstuffed silk striped couch and crossed long, slim legs with a swish of expensive material. Everything about her was tasteful and reined in: long, beige, hair coiled demurely at the nape of her neck in what she probably called a chignon; designer dress, a rich chocolate brown with demure lace collar emphasising a long neck and a well preserved figure for someone in their mid-forties. If it hadn’t been for the eyes, a snapping, stinging, leaf green and the deformed crowd of revenants trailing her like a living shroud, I might even have fallen for it.

She impatiently tapped an expensive looking gold watch, more like a bracelet than anything crass enough to have a use and said:

“Look I know my husband hired your, uh, services, but you must appreciate he’s not been himself lately. I’d like to cancel whatever contract you had with him and pay you a fee for your trouble.”

“Pay me to go away,” I said.

“If you like, yes.”

“Ah, but I don’t like Tamsin. I don’t like at all. My arrangement is with your husband, not you. If he wants to cancel, then he’s the one that’s going to have to do it.”

The ghosts moaned, maws wide with fear, features comically elongating as their substance reconfigured itself to mirror their distress. The fact that she had a little ghost train going on, while unusual wasn’t completely off the scale: you wouldn’t believe the baggage people carried around with them and I don’t mean emotional. What it did mean though was that she was someone who was capable of exerting a serious amount of control over the people and things that were around her. I hadn’t seen such submissive ghosts attached to anyone before and if I was being honest, it was creeping me out a little. How that affected Mr Harper-Hodge was anyone’s guess. Maybe a damned good spanking administered by her followed by some ritual head-shaving down the village square was his idea of marital bliss.

“Okay you won’t take it the easy the way, so let’s get down to brass tacks.”

Clearly a woman who was used to getting her own way, which made her next play all the more jarring.

“My husband is unwell,” she sniffed brushing away a tear, “my child may be dying,” her voice broke, but she hurriedly composed herself and carried on, “the last thing my family need is a so called psychic feeding them false hope. If you had an ethical bone in your body you’d leave us alone and go sell your snake oil somewhere else. I’m offering you money to go away and when my husband calls you, to decline the job.”

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes but sorrow wasn’t what I was getting from the muddy purple and sickly yellow of her aura. I walked across to the crystal decanter where the whisky was held prisoner and liberated a hefty belt to her audible displeasure. I grinned.

“You asked me to come here Tamsin and I did, assuming you wanted to show me around the house and meet your daughter. Now it turns out you want to give me the bum’s rush and have me lie to your husband. What’s the sketch?”

“Taking people’s money for nothing is usually what you people do best, isn’t it?” she was trying for patronising but I was getting the real picture from the agitation of the ghosts swirling around her like the detritus from a geyser.

I drained my glass in one and slammed it down on the hideously ornate side table.

“Tsk Tsk Tamsin. I expected better that that-” That was a lie, the truth was I hadn’t expected this little visit to be so much fun.

“Don’t you dare-”

“What were you going to pay me? Just out of interest you understand.”

I wasn’t remotely offended and in fact had she been offering enough money I’d have taken it. Only a fool works when she doesn’t have to. But I never got to do business with my new best friend because that’s when the old ball and chain decided to stick his oar in and spoil the fun by bursting into the living room and chucking his car keys down with a crash on the smoked glass coffee table eliciting a visible wince from Tamsin.

“Darling,” he roared which I was about to learn was his normal volume. God alone knew what happened when he was angry.

Jason St Bird was big and blond with a large belly making an escape bid over the top of his chinos and from there through the buttons on his too tight mauve shirt. He didn’t look like he’d come from the office. Did any of these toffs work? Dissipated, watery blue eyes peered out from between the folds of a bloated drinker’s face.

“This is the young filly I was telling you about darling. She’s going to help us with Emma.” Filly? Whatever planet this man lived on it wasn’t in this solar system.

Turning to me he said, “Hang on a mo’. I didn’t arrange to meet you, did I? I thought I was to call you-”

“Your wife’s been trying to get rid-”

“-of any preconceptions she might have of the job,” Lucille cut in smoothly giving me a warning glance and a flash of her baby greens. “I didn’t want her to be under any illusions about what she’s up against.

“Quite right darling, Christ knows none of the quacks have been able to help.”

Jason didn’t have any hangers on like his wife, but his aura was distinctly murky. There was a dash of fear, a sprinkling of confusion and a merest soupcon of something darker that I couldn’t work out. What were these people up to and why the hell was I still even here. But then Henry saw my drink and seized it giving me such a vast refill it sloshed over the top. I saluted Lucille and took my medicine like a good girl to the noisy encouragement of her husband who had an even larger pick-me-up that was all gin and no tonic.

“No point in beating about anybody’s bush is there,” he boomed. “Come on and meet Daisy. She should be awake by now.”

“Jason, I really don’t think this is a good idea. Are you really seriously trying to tell me you think there’s a ghost in the house? That some psychic,” she paused infusing the word with a well-bred distaste and turned to me in mock apology, “sorry Ms Barnet nothing personal, is going to succeed where all the experts have failed?

“It’s Garnett.”

“Excuse me?” I could see the irritation in those sparkling tip-tilted cat’s eyes.

“The name is Garnett. And since I’m already here it couldn’t hurt to take a look now could it?” I smiled sweetly at her enjoying her anger like a fine wine chaser after all that glorious whisky.

“Lead on McDuff,” I said to Henry, “but before you do, get me another whisky will you old chap?”

Love Bites

Lucille and Henry Harper-Hodge’s marriage was, contrary to appearances, in free-fall. She had persuaded him to buy the blood red house in Midnight Falls because by that time she had already planned to kill him.

As a witch she was well aware that Midnight Falls was a haven not just for those practising the dark arts but more importantly for those way past the practising stage. The spell of forgetting would turn most mere humans away and discourage the authorities from asking awkward questions. Black magic involved a small and very select breed of creep willing to go quite that far and Lucille was a girl who would go all the way.

It also explained why the Harper-Hodges lived here. Humans occasionally did and of those that did, most were completely insensitive to the aura of the place. These folk wouldn’t have known they were in a village of weres if one gnawed their leg off and started hitting them over the head with the bloody stump. The others were like Lucille: not only in love with the gothic horror of the place but actively seeking to harness it.

Touching the doll I saw her face; lips moving silently as she pierced the surrogate Henry’s heart with her sewing pin. The after shock of her rage was a flash fire that roared around my skull taking all before it. She had spent a long time out there in the garden under a full moon; casting the spell with infinite care, setting up her unloved one’s death with more malice aforethought than if she’d just taken a gun and shot him in the head. She knew that Midnight Falls of all places gave its inhabitants a free get out of jail card. She had wanted to get away with murder and now she had.

And what I saw through my little glass darkly was not just the why of it, but the how.

It had been the oldest and most obvious reason in the book: good old Henry was fooling around with another woman. You could never really predict how someone would react when you screwed them over (or in this case, someone else) no matter how well you thought you knew them. Spurned wives ran the gamut between cutting out the crotches of their husband’s trousers and cutting off the offending body part itself. You couldn’t even know for sure how you were going to react yourself, until it actually happened. You may think you are a mild mannered sort of girl but then find when push comes to shove that for sheer blood lust, you made Sweeny Todd look like a lily-livered vegetarian powder-puff.

Yes, two-timing a common or garden woman was risky enough, but doing it to a practising black witch was just off the scale.

Poor old Henry. Maybe he hadn’t known his wife was a witch. If he’d been a witch himself that might have given him some protection, even so that was a big maybe. The glass showed me the sad sequence of events and my psychic connection provided the Technicolor and surround sound. The only thing missing had been the pop corn.

The unhappy couple had had another row and he was sitting downstairs in the living room while she was sulking in the kitchen. The telephone rang and he cut across the caller’s shrill tones:

“Yes, I’ve told her. But she already knew about us. I’ve no idea how. Look Tamsin, I’ve done what you wanted me to do and now I’m handling it my way.”

A short silence ensued while he listened to the piercing voice on the other end and then a quickly muttered:

“Yes, yes, me too. I’ve got to go.”

Clearly not very happy with any of the women in his life, he made himself a drink unaware it was to be his last and wondered mindlessly to the window to look out through the French windows to the garden beyond. It was early afternoon, but a hint of the day’s demise was foretold by the darkening grey clouds massing on the horizon. He was tall, blond and a little overweight, trousers fighting a losing battle with the onslaught of his gut. A blond fringe flopped over a florid complexion that was only in part due to the drink he’d already consumed.

He stared, unseeing, out into the garden, until a small movement caught his eye. Attention caught he focussed this time, but nothing untoward materialised. He made to turn away from the window and that was when he heard it: faint, but steadily growing louder the unmistakable sound of an accordion playing a jig. There was something about the music that commanded his attention because he opened the French Windows so he could hear it better. A smile hovered round his lips giving a glimpse of the handsome young man he’d been and that maybe Lucille had even loved; until the rot set in. And then he sealed his own fate: he stepped outside.

The garden was easily a couple of acres at the back and he wandered down its length towards the wood, glass still in hand. He didn’t seem to notice the bitter, freezing wind, or the fact he was in his shirtsleeves. Inane grin in place, he went to his death.

“Please come out. I promise I won’t bite,” he laughed loudly as though it was funny.

The music stopped the instant he spoke:

“Please. Let me see you.”

I wondered what magical compulsion was in the spell and soon got my answer. Three scantily clad young women with rippling long, blond hair and black eyes appeared. They all had an eerie sameness about them as though they had been manufactured from the same mould that tried and failed to simulate humanity, producing instead a vaguely distressing mutation. The bodies were convincing enough: lush and slender in all the right places emphasised by the flimsy white shifts they wore. But the vacuity of the bland formless features held nothing human, nothing that could be reasoned or bargained with and I was reminded of shop mannequins come to disturbing life. Henry didn’t mind in the least, or maybe he hadn’t gotten as far as their faces.

One of the girls giggled, a high pitched, fluting sound and Henry reacted as though he’d been given a sexual charge.

“Please, play your music again. I won’t interfere – much!” he said grinning like a loon. Another giggle and then one of the girls produced an accordion out of nowhere and resumed playing while the other two danced with each other; an incongruously sensual series of movements that sat ill with the old fashioned music that nevertheless had Henry rivetted. But the faint ridiculousness of the scene: the jarring discord between dancers and music; the uncanny Stepford appearance of the women themselves; and the sense that whoever had engineered the scene had got it subtly but distinctly wrong, made it all the more disturbing. There was a nighmarish inevitability about this death dance because that’s what it was. This particular three-headed spider had felt its helpless victim tug on the web and was now moving in for the kill.

One of the women dancing glanced toward Henry and motioned gracefully for him to join them, which he did without a second’s hesitation. No, I had whispered stroking the glass as though that would have made a difference to how it had to end.

Henry threw himself into the dance with delirious abandon and was in the middle of a clumsy, lumbering jig, when the blond with the accordion abruptly stopped. She glided over to him and took hold of the front of his shirt in both hands and pulled sending a spray of buttons in motion and demolishing the last of Henry’s restraint. He began to tear off his clothes making a moaning sound deep in his throat. The women watched him impassive and silent; the mask of humanity discarded with the main event about to unfold. Finally he stood before them stark naked having strewn his clothes carelessly around without so much as a shiver of his ruddy flesh or a doubt in his mind. There was a moment where nothing moved and only the brittle susurration of the wind through the remaining leaves of the trees could be heard.

They fell upon him with claws the size of daggers and fangs the colour of old bone, great gouts of saliva soaking their shifts. They gouged and bit off hunks of his flesh, laughing at his screams and impotent thrashing. After one of the three twisted his leg out of its socket with a wet, tearing sound, he wasn’t able to do so much of that anyway. Just at that point Lucille appeared. She stood as close as she dared and called his name. He managed to turn his head, obviously hoping against hope this might mean rescue. That hope died stillborn when he caught the look on her face which was the last thing he ever saw because that’s when they took his eyes.

I looked away at the sound of sharp claws grinding bone. What I couldn’t shut out was the hysterical screaming and wet ripping sounds as though someone was tearing cloth. The three tore him apart while he lived, literally limb from limb, with a cool, dispassionate competence, careful to protract his suffering. And when he had been reduced to nothing but a slab of mutilated meat with nothing to indicate that it had once been a sentient being with hopes and dreams, whose only crime was to have had a white wedding to a black witch, they let him die.

One by one the creatures drifted off into the trees, white shifts stained black in the dusk and Lucille was left at the scene of the crime where she lingered, savouring the moment.

“You always said women would be the death of you Henry,” she said, smiling. Then she spat on the pitiful remnants, turned on her heel and left him to the infinitely tenderer mercies of the creatures that inhabited the wood at the end of the garden.

I Scry Part One: Black Witch White Wedding

Just at that point the floodlighting all round the garden came on making the interior more surreal somehow. I wondered what distorted forms Lucille imagined she was going to see picked out in the spotlight, on a dark winter’s night. I suddenly felt irrationally embarrassed as though we had been caught doing something we shouldn’t. I got up and started putting lights on in the house and the feeling of intimacy was squashed by the ridiculous décor.

“We didn’t kill Henry, or do anything else to him; you do realise that?” he said softly, running his hand slowly along the arm of the leather chair.

“Yes, of course I do. Don’t worry you’re off the hook because I happen to know who killed him.”


“His wife of course. She’s a witch – didn’t you know?”

“No. How do you know that?”

“Oh it’s the little things, you know: creepy doll with a bloody great pin through it; graveyard of flayed rabbits – that sort of thing.” I started to laugh, then pulled myself together when I saw his uncomprehending expression:

“It was meant to be Henry.” I explained, “The doll that is. She made a doll that was supposed to represent him and then she gave him a dose of the old black magic hoodoo. Hey presto, one dead husband.”

“What? I don’t believe that for a moment. How do you know it was her and not someone else who did the spell?”

“I got a strong sense of her from the doll. Her hatred for her husband at any rate. Plus I saw it all in my scrying glass.”

“A case of ‘I scry with my dark-adapted little eye’,” he said arching an eyebrow sceptically.

“Oh right. You can turn into man’s best friend at the full moon, but you don’t believe I can look into the past?”

“You might want to remember I can do it at will. And that first and foremost I’m a predator.”

“Do you actually know what you are Jack”

“Better than you know yourself, that’s for sure. Anyway, what else did you spy?” The slight emphasis on the last word conveyed his distaste even though his expression was unreadable.

I laughed again. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I really want to know. Henry was an alright bloke. Not very bright, but he seemed to love her from what I could see. But then you never know what goes on behind closed doors, do you?”

“I didn’t know you were a Kenny Rodgers fan.” The blank looked squashed that one nicely.

“Oh, well never mind. One horrible story deserves another I suppose,” I said and took him at his word.

You Need Hands

It lay there, a human hand cut off at the wrist, decaying gently on my table.  It was, not surprisingly corpse-white and the finger nails had long since fallen off.  I found if I looked at it from a different angle, I could see some bone protruding through the finger tips.  There was a candle wick protruding from the middle finger, unlit.  From my limited knowledge these things were meant to be preserved with herbs and then fired in an oven, but this one looked as though whoever made it hadn’t bothered with any of that.  Slime slid from the dead digits giving it a bilious tinge of hen-shit green.  Rumour had it that it had to be the hand of a murderer cut off just at the point of death when the moon had waned to its lowest point.  Even I knew better than to touch the thing, but that didn’t leave me with a hell of a lot of options.

Shutting the door firmly, I went to the bathroom to wash my own hands, aware but uncaring that it was more of a symbolic gesture than any actual need for hygiene.  Muttering under my breath I went to my bag and took out one of the ouja boards I hadn’t even had time to unpack.  It was the heavy duty board that had the power to summon the lowest spirits which were all that could help me now, although the price tag didn’t bear thinking about.  I’d just been handed a death sentence and if this had been a film, this was the part where I announced dramatically that it was now prison rules.

The Bruntsfield Beast

I roamed this land when it was covered in forest and sacrifices were brought to me in tribute.  The humans thought me a God who in a fit of anger had brought plague upon them.  They sought to placate me by delivering the sick and dying into the wilderness of the Burgh Muir as they called it then.  Men, women and children were laid down to die on the forest floor, protected in their extremis by the green shade of the oaks.  But there was no protection from me and I played no favourites.

Then they killed the trees and forgot.  Somehow I endured through the millennia, spurred on to survive as the only one of my kind, bereft of the silent solace of the wild places and the beasts that had made it their home.

And now there is only wasteland.  The human parasites gave it a new skin of concrete and stone, obliterating the natural order of things.  The sacred forest is dead and they danced on the grave knowing little of their blasphemy and caring less.  Bruntsfield they call it now, the final desecration of the place where once they buried their own dead.

But I have been filled with a new and growing purpose of late: to rid the old Burgh Muir of its tormentors.  Only then will the forest speak to me as it once did and I will not be alone…

Tonight it begins.

Killing Me Softly

The parasite first got my attention when it tried to suck my soul on Edinburgh’s High Street.  I watched with a certain clinical detachment as the grey, ragged substance of it began to swell outwards, misshapen teeth sunk into the exposed flesh in my hand.  Not physically you understand because at this stage in the little bastards evolution it didn’t have a body.  What it did have however, was a will hell bent on finding a way.  It was a doppelganger: a vicious predator that survived by duplicating what it fed on, human or non, it didn’t matter.

I watched it chow on down, lip curling as it began the transformation.  What had been a plume of dirty smoke began to balloon out in a parody of humanity, the skull taking shape, gaping maw still barnacled onto my hand.  I shook the offending appendage from side to side and the beast swung with it, at this stage at least weightless, like a jellyfish in tune with the ebb and flow of the ocean.  What it was really doing was getting in tune with me: the way I walked, to quote an old Cramps song, would soon be the way we walked.

Although it was a primitive spirit, without much in the way of intelligence its ability to replicate whatever it latched onto was an architectural achievement of Gaudi-esque proportions.  Although I suppose strictly speaking it was a master forger good enough to fool the victims family and friends, at least for a little while.  The thing was that the original always died while the copy piloted by the doppelganger, painted the town blood red.

I watched my own skull gaining flesh as the mouth worked ever more feverishly on my arm, siphoning my essence and growing stronger by the second.  Within seconds it had grown to five feet eleven and sported a short crop of hair dyed an alarming shade of scarlet.  I gazed critically at it, vowing I’d kill Mariella for talking me into letting her loose on my hair while we were both too drunk to remember anything about it.  My second self was on its knees, jaw working, gaining mass, solidity and an exact copy of my leopard print fake fur in a matter of seconds.

I began to feel a little faint, although that might have had something to do with the vat of whisky I’d had last night.  It was two in the afternoon in the heart of a frozen November and people shouldered past me with grim purpose and if they noticed anything it would just be a tall young woman standing stock still in the middle of the street.  But through the milling throng, I realised that I was wrong, someone had noticed the freak show and was staring at me with an expression of concern on her plump face.  I knew she could see my new best friend because her eyes were flicking between us and she was evidently deciding what to do.  She took a purposeful step in my direction which for some reason aroused me from my torpor.  The last thing I needed was some idiot who fancied herself as a bit of a psychic trying to help me out.  That particular little parlour game always ended in tears and sometimes in other less disposable body fluids.

I was beside the creepy Museum of Childhood and quickly ducked into on of the innumerable closes that infest the High Street, although I’d no idea which one I’d picked which could be very bad news.  I waited a few seconds scanning the street from the safety of the close and the plump woman had disappeared.  I looked down at the thing that was killing me softly and the increased heft of it wasn’t exactly a good sign.

“What am I going to do with you?” I asked it softly, running my hand along its brow complete with dark eyebrows and strange, silver-grey eyes upturned and fixed on mine while it sucked on me like a monstrous baby.  The disturbing thing was that I could touch it.  It had gone from nothing to something in under ten minutes.  I had noticed that the spirit world had become much more active lately; reports of the demonic had shot through the roof, but relatively unusual spirits like this doppelganger never had this much juice.

And yet here we were.

My speciality was communicating with spirits, but that was a euphemism for so much more.  I saw what they saw, felt what they felt in glorious Technicolor and surround sound.  Most of them were just re-runs, sad little shades who’d become stuck doing a particular, usually random thing with not much mind remaining.  But some of them had deliberately chosen not to pass on, usually the deranged, the ones who’d felt cheated by an uncaring universe and were out for blood as long as it was someone else’s.  But this ‘communication’ meant that some of the spirit’s essence stayed with me permanently and in my own way I wasn’t so dissimilar to the parasite I was trying to dislodge.

With every encounter, I was stronger, changed, carrying with me another alien piece in the vast jig-saw puzzle that was my life.  And if I didn’t stop this transference process in time I would consume the spirit totally, just as the parasite was trying to consume me.  That meant that I could kill pure spirit, whether it was the soul of a dead person, or my newest little friend that had become so attached to me.  But I could only kill if I was stronger than the spirit I was siphoning and so far I had been lucky: if you could call the Frankenstein patchwork that I’d become lucky.  Because make no mistake: you are what you eat and the bad shit I’d consumed lately was going to do more than harden my arteries.

“While I’m loving this whole weird twin thing,” I crooned to the thing stroking its/my hair, “the thing is, this town definitely ain’t big enough for the both of us and it’s not me who’s going to leave.”  The doppelganger began to purr, a wet, rasping sound and I staggered against the wall of the close.  A chill wind fresh from whipping up mischief in the North Sea nipped at my face reviving me slightly and  I realised I was close to passing out.  My lack of adrenalin was literally going to be the death of me one day soon.

But the seduction of the hunt was as ever too strong and I knew I’d risk everything for it.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I liked best: the hunt; or the kill.  That was the other prong of this wonderful talent I enjoyed so much: I could kill spirit so that it did not exist anywhere on any plane at any time.  It was the reason the psychic community shunned me because they felt, rather wetly I thought, that all forms of existence were sacred.  I shunned them because a) I had to keep my end up on the shunning front and b) I thought they were lily livered liberals and would personally liked to have inserted their own little doppelganger passenger in an intimate part of their anatomy for a few months to see if that changed their minds.  Whatever they liked to believe, there were beings in this world that deserved the kiss of death that only I could give them.  But I didn’t do it for the victims; no, I did it because I liked it.  Without wanting to sound like a high school cheerleader with a profound punning disability, the thrill of the chase was to die for.  As long as the thrill was mine and someone or something else did the dying.

Now I was about to find out what little doppelgangers were made of and if I survived I’d wear its skin next to mine.

Until the next hunt that is.

Staying Alive

It had begun in a vast, flat landscape, a monochrome of dark and light under a leaden sky.  This is where it was made: where the hunger had sparked into life by a beaten track because someone had bled and died.   The next life was taken by force, and then the next and then the next until the entity began to have shape and form, like a pearl formed from grit.

Locals, human and animal alike, began to avoid the spot and so it languished for a time; the life it had stolen beginning to leach back from whence it came.  But the entity was not beaten so easily.  If the prey would not  come to it, it would go to the prey.

And so the hunt began.

In time it reached the city and stalked the streets taking the old, the sick, the unwary.  But even this was not enough and its wants became more capricious and cruel.  It failed to notice the spirits that followed it: a silent army of sad revenants that grew with each passing day.

This was a night much like any other and it cruised the High Street for a likely victim.  A young man with wild, curly hair wearing only a long leather coat with no top underneath emerged from Mary King’s Close.  He looked furtively about him a couple of times and then stared directly at the entity.  Most people did not have the eyes to see, not until it was too late.

The young man smiled and beckoned, pointing behind him into the murk of Mary King’s Close.  Emboldened by the rush of the hunt, it did as it was bid.   A door slammed shut and someone laughed, a thin, gurgling sound.

Still unconcerned the entity sought out the life force of the young man finding nothing but the taste of grave, a faint odour of corruption.  There was nothing of life here.

“We’ve come for you,” said a watery voice as though talking through only partially formed vocal chords.  “We’ve come for the lives you stole.”

“Yes,” another voice wheezed and the entity recognised the owner was trying to laugh,

“You could say we want our lives back.”

Dead Man Talking

Colin didn’t mind that he was dead so much as the fact that he’d been killed by his unloving wife of twenty-three years.  To add insult to injury the bitch was now living the high life in what had been their suburban semi in Fairmilehead on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

She had laced his dinner with arsenic night after night for weeks and smiled at him over the dinner table as he’d eaten every last poisoned mouthful.  Tending him devotedly as he’d vomited his guts up, she had patted his hand when the pain got so bad he’d begged her to kill him and put an end to it.  Eventually she had relented and, picking up one of the over-stuffed pillows she liked so much, had lowered it gently onto his face with an odd little smile he didn’t recall having ever seen before.

He had tried not to fight of course, but found that his wasted body’s instinct to survive was still strong.  He began to struggle, to signal to her that he’d changed his mind, that she didn’t have to carry out her grisly promise to the man she loved.  But she only bore down harder with a strength he hadn’t known she possessed.  The last sound he heard before he died was his wife’s voice:

“I hope you go to hell you fat bastard.  It’s more than you deserve after what you’ve done.”

That was strange, because he hadn’t been fat at the end.  On the contrary the weeks and months of illness had rendered him skeletal, skin hanging in folds around his wasted frame like a flesh suit that had outgrown its wearer.

Well, she had got her wish.  Except he didn’t think he was in hell.  No, it looked very much like he was still here in the home sweet home they’d shared together for over two decades.  He had tried to leave, but found he couldn’t get further than the gate at the end of the garden.  This was unfortunate as he subsequently discovered that he had also fallen victim to the oldest cliché in the book: she had been having an affaire with his so-called best friend Cliff Morgan, the man he’d played golf with at the Swanston Golf Club twice a month for almost as long as he’d been married to Mary.

Well, as he had been fond of saying when he was alive, this was indeed a pretty pickle.  The first time Cliff had come round, he’d tried to get through to him, screaming himself hoarse to make his friend understand what Mary had done.  It was only when Cliff put one hand on Mary’s breast, while unbuttoning his trousers with the other that he realised the full horror of his predicament.  What was he to do?

It was only now that he wondered what Mary had meant when she’d referred to something he’d done.  He couldn’t for the life or even death of him fathom that one out.  He also wasn’t sure what had upset him the most: Mary’s betrayal or Cliff’s.  To his surprise, on balance it was his friend’s behaviour that had disturbed him the most.  She had killed him to be sure and he wasn’t about to forget that; but it was Cliff’s defection that had cut him to the quick.

Tonight the traitorous love-birds were having a romantic dinner for two: scented candles, roses, and the big dining table set as though it was a fancy restaurant.  She of course was done up like a dog’s dinner in a pink evening dress that was far too tight and revealing in all the wrong places for her frumpy body.  He had done that hideous Bobbie Charlton comb-over that Colin and Mary had used to laugh about behind his back.  Well, she wasn’t laughing now, the two-faced cow, as she slid her stocking-clad foot up and down Cliff’s pinstriped leg and gazed adoringly into his eyes.

Maybe this was hell.  Doomed to imprisonment in his own house watching his killer and his best friend canoodle with not a thing he could do about it.

Or at least that’s what he’d thought.  Just the other day (although time was fluid in this state so he couldn’t really be sure) he’d met another occupant of the house that could see, hear and understand him perfectly.  She said she’d died in the house when she was young and she certainly didn’t look older than sixteen.  She told him she used to watch over him when he’d been alive to which he retorted that she had obviously not done a very good job given recent events.  She huffed for a few hours and only came round after he’d apologised profusely.  Some assiduous flattery and ego massaging later (of which he was rather proud of given he’d never had to do it before), she revealed that yes, there was a way to intervene in the physical world after all.  It was tricky and dangerous, even for ghosts such as they, but it could be done.

It would be done, he thought grimly.  If it was the last thing he ever did, it would be done.  After he’d learned how, he felt sure the why and when would look after themselves.

Dead Head

The thing in the hall slithered closer to the living room door and I pulled the covers over my head trying to blot out the noise and pretend everything was all right.

Muffled noise insinuated itself into my cloth sanctuary; a voice perhaps, or maybe the scrape of claws on the floorboards. I listened intently: nothing that I could make sense of. Maybe it had gone away. Something hit my shoulder with a painful thud and I ignored that too, burrowing deeper into the nest I’d made on the couch. The room was freezing, despite the fact that my central heating had been cranked up to tropical.

A child’s giggle next to my ear almost cracked my resolve, but good things never came of that, so I huddled harder, willing whatever it was to go away. I should never have done that ouja session when I was pissed last night. I had done some stupid things in my life but this, this made moronic a state I could only aspire to with no hope of actually achieving. I risked peeking out and saw it was snowing outside, lending the darkened room a faint luminescence. A concentrated yet flickering spot of darkness appeared in the middle of the room and the hackles went up on the back of my neck. Another giggle devoid of humour hung in the arctic air and I could see my breath streaming from me in plumes as though trying to escape.

“Rose,” it whispered, echoes reverberating round the room as though we were in a vast cave rather than a small tenement flat in Edinburgh. How it knew my name, I’d no idea. The sound of someone walking through the room, feet striking the floor boards hard assaulted my ears, but there was no one there. No one apart from me and the spirit and whatever it had brought with it. I could make out the faint gleam of my mobile in the gloom and if I’d had someone to call, I would’ve.

“Rosieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” a child’s voice sing-songed. The duvet was pulled off me with sharp tug and I shivered in the pre-doom gloom from nerves or hangover, I didn’t know any more.

Stairway to Hell

The young man with the greasy brown hair scratched absent-mindedly at a pustule on his nose, and began to play the first faltering notes of Oasis’s Wonderwall.  A Goth with dyed black hair and eyeliner at the back of the shop eyeing a Gibson 335 groaned audibly at such a rude arousal from his latest Cramps fantasy, in which he’d been setting about Poison Ivy with it to her wildly enthusiastic delight, and hissed to his chubby girlfriend:

“Oasis?  What the fuck?”

“Just be grateful it’s not Hughey Lewis and the News like last week,” she replied angrily, having more than an inkling his attention was as ever, not where it should be.

They were in Gerry’s Guitar Shop and the pimply youth had been annoying all and sundry with his weekly violation of the best guitar in the shop: the black and white Fender Stratocaster, American vintage no less and rumoured to have been played by Hendrix himself.  The fact that the rumour had been started by Gerry didn’t detract from its mystique.

The pimpled one looked up and smiled at Mel, the pissed off employee who had drawn the short straw and been charged with making sure the dork didn’t actually do any real damage.  The problem was he kept threatening to buy it insisting to anyone who would listen that he was coming into some ‘big money’.

“Twat,” thought Mel fingering his nose-ring absent-mindedly.  He had a hot date tonight with the voluptuous Kelly from Greg’s the Bakers two doors down.

“She’s not voluptuous you fuck-wit,” Kev, one of the other Saturday assistants had said, “she’s fat.  What do you expect from a chick who works in a fucking bakers, eh?  Wait ‘til she’s twenty-two, you’ll be needing a winch and pulley system to get her in and out of that heap of shit car of yours.”

“My name’s Keith,” said the pimpled poseur, “you might have heard of me or my band, Head In The Sand?  H I T S, gettit?  No?  Well you will one day mate.  You will one day.  Now what’s that Led Zep tune everyone used to play about, like, ninety years ago or something?”

“What?” said Mel, feeling the first twinge of unease.  There was something he’d been told about, told not to forget and godammit  if he’d gone and done exactly that.

“You know, Led Zepplin dinosaurs of rock and all that.  I’m more into the Zappmeister than the Zep myself, but I just wish I could remember what the damn song was-”

“Stairway to Heaven,” said a fresh faced young girl no one in Gerry’s had seen before as she sashayed past in cloud of perfume.

“That’s the one!  Now how does it go again…” at that moment Gerry himself came out from the back room, a concerned frown on his perma-tanned face and Mel remembered with a start what he’d been told on no account to forget.

But it was too late.  Keith started to play the first notes even managing to get them right for a change and that was going to prove the biggest mistake of his life, although he didn’t know that.  Not then.