Love Thy Neighbour

When I moved into my new flat in Home Street, the first thing I did was to make peace with the spirits who haunted it – or so I thought. It was just routine, the first rule of good house-keeping and something I always did in a new place.

But I hadn’t reckoned on the thing that haunted the small cupboard in the stairwell, not then.

I had laid out my offerings as usual, consisting of supermarket own brand cognac accompanied by some slices of Madeira which for some reason was always a favourite. The spiritual under-class who refused to pass on, choosing instead to crowd this world with their unwanted presences and unseemly demands had a very sweet, and undeniably alcoholic, tooth.

It was Wednesday lunchtime in a drear and dreich July and I still hadn’t fully unpacked. But some things were more important than settling in.

The flat was poky and dark with loose windows through which the dull roar of the midday traffic and a seeping damp insinuated themselves. I remember I had lit a few candles to get me in the mood and was nibbling absent-mindedly on some cake when they came.

I was aware of the grey smog before I saw it, death sense pinging its presence back to me like a bat’s sonar. And of course I smelt it too, damp and mildew underlaid with that sickly-sweet scent of decay.

They came flowing towards me, men women and children, some whole, more not. The dead soon forgot their appearance in life and evolved into other forms most of which were often not recognisably human. A dark blur raced around the walls of the cramped living-room while a group of children in Edwardian clothes gaped at me, teeth sharp, eyes bright.

The cuckoo clock chimed the half hour and that’s when I became of the presence outside the door.

It wanted in. Not like the ghosts of those who had died appeased by stale sweets and cheap booze, no, this wanted in. A crushing pressure on my chest made it difficult to breath and I fell to floor with the realisation that what was waiting for me outside wasn’t going to be bought off or bargained with.

I didn’t understand, it had never gone like this before. What the hell was waiting for me on the other side of the door? I reached up to the pine coffee table scrabbling for my mobile, but either it wasn’t there or I was unable to reach it.

A click of the lock and then a slow wet, slither in the hall told me my guest had arrived….

Piggy In The Middle

I caught the X12 at the Ingliston Park and Ride just in time and settled into my seat shaking the rain from my hood. It was just gone 6.50 am on a gloomy Monday in July and I had an urgent appointment with a woman in Burdiehouse about a supernatural parasite that had laid its eggs in her toilet cistern. Of course she didn’t realise that, but what hadn’t escaped her was that it didn’t appear to be a fault with the plumbing, given the fact that the plumber in question had run screaming from her top floor flat and she’d heard nothing from him since. So distraught was he, that he’d left all his tools in an untidy spill in her hallway.

“Oi,” said a voice from the seat behind me, “You’ve soaked me, you inconsiderate bitch.”

I turned my head in disbelief and saw a young girl of perhaps eighteen glowering at me. She was blond and petite, pale blue eyes dominating a delicate, heart-shaped face. She might have been pretty minus the scowl but what really caught my attention was the seven foot elemental attached to her. A long, veined tentacle thicker than one of her thighs had wrapped itself around her body, penetrating the flesh at the base of her neck. The elemental itself was a pulsating mass, featureless and unformed for now. It had also not been in situ for that long judging by the size. These things could grow to the size of skyscrapers if left long enough and if the host had sufficient juice.

The thing about these creatures was that they made the hosts, well, not to put to fine a point on it, crazy – and not the lovable, harmless ditzy variety either. That meant the hosts with the most needed to get rid of their uninvited, joy-riding parasites before they got too entrenched. Once that happened it was Goodnight Vienna.

I specialised in getting rid of these things and from what I could see, this one looked distinctly doable. The tentacle on this one throbbed rhythmically as it sucked on the girl’s life force. A faint blush spread like an angry rash over her pale skin and I wondered what cocktail the elemental was feeding her.

“Listen-” I began.

“No, you listen.”

She jabbed a slender forefinger inches from my face in staccato counterpoint to the torrent of abuse spewing from the rosebud mouth. The tentacle coiled more possessively around the slender body and the peristaltic contractions became more pronounced.

I turned away from her and she jabbed me in the back, hard.

“Oi, you, you ignorant cow. I’m going to rip off your head and spew down the hole and you’ll thank me for it by the time I’ve finished with you.”

“Not without a head I won’t,” I said without turning round.

I fished around for a pen and paper in my bag and started scribbling a note for her all the while knowing it was hopeless. Even if I gave it to her and managed to get off the bus without her stuffing it down my presumably still attached throat, the chances of her ringing me for help rather than more abuse were remote.

I sighed and tried to ignore the frantic jabbing in my back. I was getting off at Haymarket and we were nearly there. But my troubles had, it seemed, only just begun as a sweet little old lady dressed in lilac sat down next to me.

“What a to do!” she said breezily. “No one’s leaving this bus until we’re all extra special friends again.”

She smiled, revealing a row of jagged brown teeth and a distinctly vulpine glint in her eyes.


One of the old guard that hunted human meat and weren’t too fussed how they got it. She might look like a vulnerable oldster, but judging by the dark maroon aura that was almost choking me she was in fact an exceptionally dangerous predator.

A shape-shifter that wasn’t for shifting beside me and an enraged maniac at my back. I was now officially between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea or Scylla and Charybdis if you more classically inclined. And all before I’d had my morning latte.

The question was, which way could I jump.

Fresh Meat

The December dawn ingratiated itself slowly in the east, ploughing runnels of crimson and ochre in its wake like a giant taloned hand gouging fresh wounds over old scars. Or maybe that was just how I was feeling at eight am on a Monday morning having kept myself awake with a mix of Red Bull and whisky for the second night in a row.

The reason for my devoted vigil was snarling from the dark depths of the living room and the only thing keeping me alive was the circle of protection I had cast as an afterthought, never dreaming I’d actually be in need of it. While that was a big bully for me, I had no idea how long it would hold and what to do when it broke.

Although that was my most pressing problem, there was another darker behemoth lurking behind it which disturbed me more. This creature defiling my house and every waking moment for two interminable days had in fact been stalking me between worlds for as long as I could remember. So long in fact I’d begun to forget about it, sheltered as I was by the strong wards that guarded my flat. But someone had broken those wards and if I survived, I needed to find out who that particular ill-wisher was.

The beast, a deformed, wretched thing, glared at me with red, slanted eyes, howling like a banshee until the ringing in my ears was almost as bad as the sight of its triple rows of mismatched, tusk-like teeth.

The protective circle chose that moment to break and the creature was on me in one loping bound, jaws snapping.

But there are worse fates than being eaten alive and I was about to find out the hard way what they were….

Greedy Guts

A darkness devoured the Meadows. It was perhaps unfortunate that it had chosen a Monday morning in June to do it, but then, such entities were not known for showing respect for the imperatives of the working week. It roiled in on itself revealing deformed limbs, countless gaping maws and a capacity for consumption that would have shamed the City of London.

Strange then that the good folk going about their business with varying degrees of grudging obedience failed to notice it. The darkness enveloped them as they trudged along the footpaths that criss-crossed the park and when they emerged blinking at the outermost edges, they had no idea that they were subtly, indefinably changed.

Each one carried a little, burrowing sliver of the creature that had hijacked their city and would soon be subsumed by it. It was their families though, that would bear the real cost and I knew that the newspapers would soon be full of reports of unimaginable atrocities.

Or rather unimaginable until now.

The only thing I could do was wait until it had had its fill and then try to tempt it from its nesting spot with a promise of fresh meat.

But in the meantime, I needed to find an alternative route to the office….

Ciao Bella

It was drizzling that Tuesday, a sullen, persistent skin-soaker that matched the mood of the funeral taking place in Liberton Kirk’s municipal cemetery. Everything was going to plan until Aunt Bella gave an unearthly shriek and threw herself into the open grave of her husband, trying frantically to prise the lid of the coffin open with bloodied nails. The rest of us gaped and stupidly looked on, struggling to come to grips with this one and only show of the closest thing to affection that we’d witnessed in their twenty-five year stretch together. You could have called it a loveless marriage on a good day but only if you were prepared to concede that it was a prison sentence on all the others.

She scrabbled uselessly at the coffin lid leaving bloody smears, her blonde hair loose from its chignon, mascara free-ranging all over her face. The too short, too tight skirt she’d been wearing had become rucked up in the fall and a hint of dark red underwear contrasted starkly with the black suit and rich brown of the freshly dug earth: a wound in tender flesh. It was the most tender side to Bella that I’d ever seen.

Uncle Monty looked like he was about to scramble down after her and paused as though thinking better of it when she started writhing where she sprawled, clutching her stomach and gagging as though she was about to vomit. I wondered for an irrational moment if we were going to be treated to an Alien type scene going on with Bella bursting open on the grave of her beloved.

But as always truth was stranger than fiction.

Two young guys I’d never seen before but would have been more than happy to meet later at the reception leapt down into the grave, manhandling the apparently stricken widow out of the grave and sat her down on a flat gravestone talking quietly to her, while she nodded and sobbed.

My mother gave me that look, rolling her eyes and twisting her face as she usually did when confronted with the excesses of others’ emotions.

So engrossed were we in this latest little family drama, that at first the muffled roars of rage from the coffin went unnoticed.

There was a loud snapping sound and the lid of the box sprang open…

Tollcross Terror

A shadow flitted towards the Tollcross area of Edinburgh. Not unusual during the day you might think and you’d be right.


The problem was that it was just after midnight and the shadow was a vicious parasite looking for a new home.

A late February slurry began to fall despite the best efforts of a chill arctic wind to keep it airborne. The shadow paused, raising a head narrower than a child’s grave as though sniffing the air. Apparently satisfied, it stood where the old clock used to be and began, almost imperceptibly to sink down below the ground.

There it would wait until the right conduit came along, preferably human, but in truth anything living would do.

Crossroads were always places of power. If you hanged a man on a gibbet on a crossroad at midnight and hacked his hand off at the point of death, you had just made yourself a Hand of Glory: one of the most potent weapons of death in this world or any other.

But this shadow was not concerned with such trivia, it knew that the magic of the spot would give it the ability to inhabit a living being and reduce it to the status of a mere vessel. Deep down beneath the road’s surface it smiled and curled into a tight ball, content for now to wait….

All You Can Eat

A morning mist hung low over frost slimed grass. A weak, diffused light fought to prise the grip of night from the landscape, resulting in a grey gloom from which the twisted trunks of trees reared like petrified beasts long dead.

The Meadows, slap bang in the middle of the city, felt torn from it as though committed to forming a little world of its own for some slight real or imagined. And in a way that was true enough, because the red-eyed creature I was hunting had padded this way on taloned feet stirring up some of the old presences that haunted this sacred grove.

In the bad old days the Meadows had been submerged under a body of water that stretched from Hope Park Terrace to Brougham Street. Nameless ancient things had lurked in its depths and even when the loch had been drained, they’d refused to take the hint and hung around just for the sheer hell of it.

Unfortunately for me it looked like some of that hell had decided to drag me down with it.

I nearly walked into the vast trunk of an old elm and cursed my clumsiness aloud. A bad move as it turned out because it drew the attention of another predator out on the prowl this fine Sunday morning. A low, throaty laugh, a caress of light breath on the back of my neck and I knew I had much more to worry about than the minor demon I’d been trying to trap.

“Well,” it said stepping out in front of me. “looks like breakfast is served.”

Love Bites

There was something about the three blonde, black-eyed women that was not quite right. At least that’s what Colin thought as he finished one pint and thought about 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 ladeez 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 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,”

“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.”

The Devil Inside

The demon wanted Deacon Brodie’s Heart badly enough to risk making me go fetch it for him. It was an order I wasn’t in a position to refuse.

And therein lay the rub. It was not a Harry Potter type cloak of invisibility so the owner could get up to jolly wheezes after everyone else had gone to bed. No, it was a deadly weapon that in the wrong hands could cause untold destruction. And the taloned grasp of this particular monster definitely counted as the wrong hands.

Yet another triumph in the Rose Garnet book of What The Hell Am I Going To Do Now.

And then of course there was the small matter of where I was going to find it. It wasn’t a body part of the good Deacon’s, no, it was just a talisman he’d owned and then lost. But the association with him had persisted as the Heart had passed from owner to owner down the centuries. By now, it could literally be anywhere and this was the sort of gallows humour that the demon was good at: bring me an impossible prize and I will let you live.

He looked at me pupils narrowed again to golden slits, shadows chasing wildly across the walls. I fancied I could almost here them scratching at the walls.

“One heart coming up,” I sing-songed moronically, starting to stumble over bodies and debris, desperate to cross the threshold and run as far away from my own personal demon as I could get.

For now.

The Beast With One Back

All I could see of the beast at the bottom of garden was a pair of red eyes shining out from the thicket of brambles where it was trapped. Or at least I hoped it was. A trail of blood leading into the thicket told me it was badly wounded and all the more dangerous for it.

The question was: what flavour of beastie was I entertaining in my own backyard. From the neon eyes clearly not one of the usual suspects. Or at least none of the things that usually roamed the mean streets of Bruntsfield. You’d be surprised what you can find lurking just over your threshold, waiting for a gold embossed invite RSVP.

A low, trickling growl grew into a full throated roar. I flinched involuntarily and wondered what the hell I was going to do now. It wasn’t exactly a SSPCA or council call-out because if it was what I suspected, everyone would die. And die hard.

I remembered I had a steak in the fridge. It was to have been my Friday night treat: burned to a crisp and washed down with a bottle of Talisker. Now it was just food for whatever skulked in the thicket, raw and rare steak bloody.

An icy north wind nipped the back of my neck and I noticed for the first time that no birds sang. It would be dark soon and whatever it was I was going to do, I needed to do it now. I turned to head back to the house when:

“Don’t go,” the beast rasped. “I want to kill you here, out in the open where I can see the light fade from your eyes. A last request you might say.”

And it chuckled, the gurgle of phlegm and blood not quite disguising the rustling of old leaves as it tensed, gathering itself for that final leap.

“Isn’t that a tad drastic,” I tried to say, but it was too late because by then the beast was upon me, slavering jaws biting and snapping, crimson eyes rolling in its bloody foam-flecked head.

There was a moral here somewhere but it didn’t look like I’d survive long enough to be humbled by it.