The Giggler In The Dark

I hurried back the way I’d come, past the jars and the rows of cages where something forlornly scraped to get out. I ignored it, picking up speed, eager to escape this infernal hell hole. As I walked my only companion was the thin high sound of the giggler in the dark. Shivering I began to run, the sting of the cold, cleansing air a valediction on my straining lungs.

Passing over the threshold, I didn’t bother looking back.

Empathy With The Devil

No one knew where I’d been born and no relatives could be traced. The warehouse had been empty for some time and it was as though I had just materialised out of thin air. My foster family gave me my surname, but the relationship didn’t work out and I was placed in a children’s home by the time I was eight. Needless to say I was a strange, truculent child who, as far as the authorities and my foster family had been concerned spoke to people who weren’t there and had very poor impulse control, taking what I wanted when I wanted it.

That was clearly something I had in common with the beast sitting opposite.

“Boyfriend, husband that sort of thing?” he asked.

“What do you think?

“I think you’ve never had a functional relationship with anyone let alone a romantic attachment for want of a better expression, so that would be a no.”

I nearly choked on my toast as he lounged, arms behind his head. No one but me was allowed to wallow in the shambles of my life so far.

“And how the hell do you know that? And what gives you the right-“

“It’s pretty obvious.”

“Oh really. I’d be very careful-“

“There’s a prime example right there. I’d say you’d be pretty scary to your average man. You’re an attractive enough woman Rose-“

“Gee thanks-

“Despite the dye job and the nose ring, but it’s pretty clear your life is in two dimensions: work and trying to forget about work. And of course the empathy with the devil thing you do…isn’t that a Stones song?”

Dead and Alive

“Just go straight ahead,” I said distractedly scanning the silent streets thronged by the legions of the dead, all calmly tracking my progress.

“I’ll let you know when.”

The last leg of the journey to the hallowed ground of Greyfriars Cemetery was grim. As we drove up Lauriston Place, past the old Royal Infirmary and round into Forrest Road, the horror of one of the older parts of the city opened its arms and enfolded me like a long lost lover. A mass of shades, spirits and revenants shimmering like a heat haze at high noon thronged the streets. I could still make out the road through their insubstantial forms, but the view was distorted and warped; twisted out of true by presences that had no business here. Some of them manifested as pools of moving shadow, a darkness in perpetual motion flitting across the assembly of the dead like a disease liberated from an artificial confinement. A shiver ran down my spine as I realised now what I was looking at: the birth of a necropolis where the dead wandered at will, unfettered by the mostly unconscious restraints imposed by the living. They had always been around, but not with this overwhelming power and purpose.

Dawn of the Dead indeed. So what the hell was high-noon going to bring?

Man on a Key-ring

He led me along darkened, winding passageways, down an endless flight of stairs so old the edges had worn away and through what was little more than a crack in the ancient stonework, before finally reaching the dank chamber that was our destination. Edinburgh’s subterranean passageways had brought us down into this eerie underworld and I felt more than a fleeting kinship with Persephone at that moment. At least she got to return to the real world on a part-time basis and I wasn’t sure I was going to be so lucky.

The interior of the room was lit by the same green phosphorescent glow I’d become all too familiar with. Shelves lined the walls from floor to lofty ceiling supporting enormous four by three bell-jars. Inside were squirming limbs and distorted faces fighting to press themselves up against the glass. One of them opened a tooth lined maw as I passed, the bell-jar shaking with the force of a soundless scream. The reptilian eyes were curiously vacant as though there was no mind directing it.

I was suddenly reminded of an old boy-friend.

“Do you like my homunculi?” Viridian asked coyly. “I make them myself.”

Blood and the Maiden

The next morning, I showered again just because I could and pulled on some jeans and a crimson mohair top, the colour of which would no doubt be matched by my cheeks any second now. But Santa impersonations were okay, because it was Christmas after all. I decided to let my hair dry naturally even though there was nothing natural about it and, absurdly, felt better than I had for days.

The unmistakable strains of Highway to Hell from the living room managed to extract a smile from me. It got even better when the mouth-watering aroma of coffee and toast wafted through the house. I didn’t have any fresh food (the bread was frozen) as I hadn’t been expecting to be home. Given that not only was it the festive season but also that the dead had decided to join in the celebrations by roaming the streets, it was perhaps a tad unrealistic to expect much in the way of food options. What I really hadn’t expected though was a thug from the Were-kin hard at work in a kitchen unused to such hard core activity making my breakfast and the best of things.

I sauntered through to the living room where the thug in question had neatly set out breakfast on the coffee table. A wan sun shone in the window that was just enough to give the room a warm glow with it’s copper coloured suite and scarlet and black Persian rug softening the effect of the floorboards.

“Nice place you have here,” said Jack gesturing with his arm to include the panoramic view.

“Thanks. I didn’t get to see yours.” I said pointedly, selecting a piece of warm toast from the teetering pile he’d put on a dinner plate and got on with smothering it in Marmite.

“So, do you celebrate Christmas?” he asked as I fought with the Marmite. It felt both surreal and ironic that here I was spending the most family oriented day of the year with something that proudly proclaimed its lack of humanity. No fighting yet though which was probably more than could be said for most households on this day.

“Do you?” I asked mouth full of toast and beef flavouring.

“Not in the Christian sense, if that’s what you mean,” he replied, eyebrow arching sardonically. “You? Do you have any folks that you should be with right now?”


My terse reply clearly didn’t phase him because he carried on: “Why not? Where are they?”

“I’ve no idea.”

He wasn’t even vaguely embarrassed which most people were when discussing this particular topic; in fact if anything he appeared too interested. Well, I wasn’t going to indulge him and that was that. I didn’t know who my parents were, or even if they were alive. I’d been brought up by a combination of foster family and children’s home and no one, including social services confessed to having the slightest clue who my parents were. All that was known was that I was found in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city when I was three years old. Apparently it was my screaming that alerted a security guard patrolling the grounds of a neighbouring factory near the end of his shift. He found me covered in blood, none of it mine as it turned out, sitting half naked and bawling my eyes out.

Come to think of it, that just about neatly summed up my life so far.

Rambling Rose

I decided I was going to go into the village and see what I could find out. My soi-disant employer seemed to think the villagers in Midnight Falls were in on whatever had happened to her husband but I wanted to form my own impressions. I didn’t dismiss what she had said, but it wasn’t hard to imagine the ease with which an incomer could get carried away on a tidal wave of paranoia. I wondered too if there was any way I could check whether or not she had reported him missing. Assume that everyone is at best mistaken, or at worst lying and Bob will invariably not turn out to be your uncle. The facts were the first casualties when emotions ran high, or when people had axes to grind deep down into the meat of the thing.

I shoved my mobile into the pocket of the full length fake fur coat that I was rather embarrassingly keen on, not least because of the fact that it kept out all forms of cold, natural and not. I put on the matching Russian style hat, even though it was slightly too small and therefore a bit of a squeeze for my clearly gargantuan cranium. Why did they only ever make hats in stupid pin-head size? The combination made me feel insulated from the world and ready for just about anything. Odd how something as superficial as clothes can alter your mood, or maybe that should just be stupid.

I checked my watch: half past nine. What the hell was I going to find out and from whom at this ungodly hour? Truth was, I was looking forward to stretching my legs, have a bit of a nose around the area, and maybe even get some fresh air for a change. The only exposed bit of me – my face – tingled with the extreme cold and my breath expired without protest into the morning air. The sky was vast, menacing, with billowing clouds boiling across it from the west, threatening a fate worse than rain. I’d never seen anything so dramatic: to the east shone an unearthly light, as the end of the world might look taunting you with the sheer beauty of it all just before you died.

I walked slowly down the garden path and turned to look at the house. Victorian definitely, with modern add ons for whatever Godforsaken reason had seemed good at the time. But underneath the veneer of change and bad taste imposed over the years, there was still something undeniably disturbing about the house. The colour for one thing, that dark red colour that screamed peeled flesh and raw wounds. There was also a sense of waiting, as though – stupid thought – the house was drawing breath before unleashing whatever was wrong with it, like pus from an ulcerous wound. Of course I didn’t have any proof there was something wrong with it.

Not yet.

Diabolus Ex Machina

Midnight Falls had been a haven for all those who sought refuge from the human world; an increasingly precious commodity. Morgana had established a nest in the hills and Tobias’s predecessors had built the town. Occasional skirmishes meant that there were casualties on both sides, but nothing dramatic enough to risk all out war about. Midnight Fall’s real attraction was the spell of forgetting strong enough to compel most of the humans who came here to leave none the wiser. Those impervious few who stayed were tolerated as long as they didn’t poke their noses, or anything else for that matter, where they were most decidedly not wanted. That may have accounted for the ostensibly human Harper-Hodges. But more importantly for the creatures of Midnight Falls, a compromise of sorts had been attained. Not perfect and certainly not amicable, but it worked.

Everything in the garden was, if not rosy, rare steak bloody. That changed when Morgana was challenged for her throne by a younger, stronger contender called Lilith. Morgana, fuelled by the carelessness of passing millennia had, like many of the old ones, become distracted from the more Machiavellian machinations of the slaughter house that was the nest. But she wasn’t down and out yet.

She conjured and made a pact with the demon Baphomet. Many were sacrificed: human; vampire; all to satisfy her demon lover and he was as good as his word. Better. In celebration, Morgana unleashed unparalleled carnage the chief attraction of which was Lilith’s torture which consisted of a piece by piece live dismemberment lasting months. When Morgana got bored with Lilith’s screams, she gave her to the tender mercies of Baphomet who gained more power than he had in centuries. That’s demons for you: whatever the bargain, they always came out on top while you whined on like an impotent idiot about how that’s not what you meant at around the same time they scooped your intestines out and used them as draft excluders.

The demon’s presence poisoned Midnight Falls drip by drop and the were folk withered under its influence. Nothing too alarming at first: their beast forms became subtly distorted. Then the deformities became more gross, less easily dismissed. The more powerful were better equipped to preserve the shape they once had, but in truth they all suffered. And it wasn’t just their beast form that was altering, their sense of identity was too. Meanwhile Morgana had decided to make the subjugation of the weres a sign of her new power not to mention a permanent source of live food for her growing brood.

Tobias, when he became leader had a brilliant, awful idea. The were-folk would take their own power source and gain the necessary strength to seal Morgana and her kind up for good in her mountain fortress. That power source was a captive spirit, to be kept in a state somewhere between life and oblivion enabling the were folk to feed from its life force for all time to come. The entity had to be powerful enough to perform this role but at the same time quiescent enough to control. And, in their desperation, that’s what the fools did. I didn’t bother asking what rituals were involved because I had an idea and it wasn’t a jolly old tea party. But it was Tobias who did the incantations and made the sacrifices, because as leader that was his cross to bear.

But he hadn’t done it very well because the force of nature that was the black dog was wakening. Tobias had hoped it would have been a slower process and then I turned up, hastening the inevitable. In any case, their prisoner didn’t yield the power for which they had hoped. Their beast selves were still increasingly degenerating and now so were the human. One half couldn’t live without the other. Now they were quadruply screwed: no leader; no power source; Morgana on the warpath; and a vengeful demonic spirit on their tails.

Talk about Diabolic intervention. Unfortunately for all of us, it had gone beyond mere words.

Black Dog Rising

Out of nowhere a black whirlwind came hurtling from the corner of my vision, vast slavering jaws agape briefly and then buried in the neck of my erstwhile tormentor with a meaty crunching sound as though bone had been pulverised. Jean screamed, a thin, ragged all too human sound which mercifully meant she released me before she was propelled by the beast’s momentum off of me and over the other side of the room. Something must have been broken in the beast’s attack, because Jean just lay there claws slashing ineffectually through the air monstrous head feebly moving from side to side, quite unable to ward off the snarling, frenzied black beast as it sought her throat and life blood. It had to have taken a massive amount of power to have done that and at first I groggily wondered if it was Jack come to save the damsel in distress.

With the benefit of surprise and the sheer size of the beast, it was able simultaneously to avoid Jean’s still lethal teeth and bite down savagely into the flesh of her throat, growling for a moment before shaking its head and ripping it out completely. A geyser of blood and gobbets of flesh and oesophagus rained over the room, the remnants of which could be clearly seen in the ruin of her throat. With a blood-curdling, rapid growl through the meat in its mouth, the beast shook its strangely familiar head as though reliving the moment it had been torn out and Jean’s life blood was sprayed around the walls for a second time. The enormous teeth bared in a snarl still gripping the flesh which had so recently belonged to Jean. The massive head tipped back and it ate the still quivering jellied mass, blood running down its jaws onto the carpet along with some pieces of muscle and tendon that had fallen out.

And as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over. I wasn’t naïve enough to think Jean would die, but it might give her something to think about for a while at least. The room swam with black spots which threatened to engulf the room and I felt myself losing consciousness, but before I did the black beast turned its huge head toward me and the huge red eyes seared themselves into my retina. Then I knew no more as a yawning black chasm began to draw me towards it. I remember wondering if this is what death was like.

Then, nothing.

Through A Veil Darkly

I hurried down the hall past a mother cradling her two dead babies, with a third older child propped against her shoulder, smiling up at her and playing with the point of a knife. A couple of indeterminate age and sex were having what looked like hugely painful and non consensual sex on both their parts- no pun intended. I reached into the cupboard for my coat and found the ghost of a young girl of about three cutting herself absentmindedly on her bare forearms and thighs as the blood dripped in a steady line onto the floor. They were becoming more realistic the longer I spent in the house and I wasted no more time. I ran upstairs pushing my way past a sea of rapidly multiplying faces trying to tune them out with only partial success.

I ran into my room, picking up my scrying glass, wallet, mobile and on second thoughts the ouija board that I kept for emergencies and scurried back downstairs back through the press of spectral presences. Blindly groping for the catch on the front door, I felt a pressure on my arm and turned round to see the woman with the dead babies. Her eyelids and lips had been sewn shut and she seemed to be trying to tell me something through the bindings. The fact that I could now feel them was very bad and it would be a matter of seconds before sound exploded in the house like a detonated bomb. They were gaining power and it had to be something to do with the dead crossing over where the membrane to our world had worn thin. I saw the doll Lucille had made of Henry on the hall table and on impulse snatched the repulsive thing because it wouldn’t do to leave something as powerful as that unattended for dead hands to make mischief with. You just never knew. I briefly wondered how Ruby was handling the Edinburgh situation before I swung the door open and threw myself across the threshold, shaking off a withered old hand in the process that was hanging onto my leg.

I backed away from the house clutching coat and gear and looked back at the house. I could see a multitude of the dead crowded at every window including the one in the front door. They weren’t doing anything now, as though all that activity had been a show for my benefit. I wondered when they’d gather the power to leave the house. I’d never seen such an escalation of power in what was a matter of minutes. Ruby’s words came back to me with a fresh urgency and I turned my back on the House of Blood and hurried into my car. I had to hurriedly scrape off the frozen accumulation of snow and put the heaters on full blast to deal with the ice that had collected on the inside of the windscreen. When I drove off, after what seemed like an age, I could feel innumerable sets of dead eyes, watching me, calculating what the next move would be.

I was wondering myself.

In The Belly Of The Beast

I had gone to bed around midnight and went out like a light for once. I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and grappled for the bedside clock beside me. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. Wasn’t that a Crystal Gayle song? Well, in any case it did look like it was going to be another sleepless night when I heard the unmistakeable sound of an intruder downstairs. I quickly pulled on the clothes I had shed and left on the floor by the bed and crept out of the bedroom. Facing danger is bad enough, facing it naked is just not on.

I walked slowly downstairs and into the living room, putting on the light as I went.

She was sitting in the same chair that Jack had earlier on, French windows ajar and curtains billowing in the arctic chill. Where he had been a study in relaxation, she was poised with her head down and her hands on her knees which were crossed at the ankle. She was wearing a black tightly belted coat and her long red hair completely covered her face and trailed luxuriantly across her thighs. A growl, low and feral trickled from her throat raising the hackles on the back of my neck and igniting the fight of flight impulse. Not being suicidal I didn’t even try. Feeling a freezing draught, I noticed that the French windows were open, although I could have sworn I had locked them when I went to bed.

“Jean-” I began but she had already leapt for my throat and we both went crashing down into the hideous glass coffee table which splintered on impact and the shards of which I could feel embedded in my back. I was more concerned with what was on top of me at that moment however. The arc her body had made as she flew from her chair to land on me had taken the blink of an eye and I hadn’t stood a chance, not even if I’d had a weapon. I knew though that a weapon wouldn’t have helped apart from to make me feel better. My hands were pinned by hers above my shoulders and I could feel the press of her knees on my chest. The growling had progressed to a full throated roaring that was so loud it made my teeth ache and bladder weak. This was it. The end had suddenly become imminently nigh.