Bunny Spoiler

Having died already in my dream, the day could only get better. It had already dawned with an implacable leaden sky and a bitter chill. It probably wouldn’t brighten up much today and I was sorely tempted to have a duvet day. That’s one of the things about this job, you can’t pull a sickie and you can’t have time off, a life, or anything else to which you mistakenly think you’re entitled. Only five more sleeps until Santa and I suddenly wondered what my family were going to be doing. Given that I hadn’t met any of them (that I knew of) and didn’t know if any of them were even alive, that was really going to stretch my creative abilities.

I chewed dispiritedly on a fried egg sandwich loaded with ketchup and tried to force my brain to come up with the goods.

After clearing up I put on just about all the clothes I’d brought with my coat stretched to capacity on top. I went out through the French windows into the overgrown garden beyond and didn’t bother locking them. Whatever lurked here was not going to be put off by locks and bolts.

I called for the dog and the parallel between the beast that Lucille Harper-Hodge had told me about and the dog I’d taken to the vet wasn’t lost on me. She had said that although she hadn’t actually set eyes on it, she had seen a trail of blood leading from the door across the grass. Well, it looked like there was another wounded dog out there, prowling around in the garden and the woods beyond. Maybe they would breed and the Harper-Hodges could start their very own best-in-show Devil Dogs.

I walked over the grass and down the gravel path that curved into the wood at the foot of the garden. There was a little stream that I had to jump and thought, like the Rowan tree, what a good protection it usually was. It was true that some of the nastier beasts didn’t like crossing running water. Pity the problems were so much bigger in little old Midnight. The wind had that damp chill presaging snow and I pulled my collar tighter. Fallen leaves in colour swatches of gold, ochre and burgundy littered the grass and reminded me of Jean’s hair. Where had she been the previous night? I couldn’t imagine her missing such fun and frolics for all the world.

Crunching across the leaves I entered the dense, silent wood where no bird sang and no animal rustled. Just as well my coat wasn’t red and I didn’t have a little hamper with a polka dot cover over the top.

“Douglas,” I called, “Here doggy, doggy. Come on now, wouldn’t you like something to eat?”

I cursed myself, because that’s what I should have done: brought some food and the hound would have been mine. But nothing stirred in the wood, not the flick of squirrel’s tail or the flap of a bird’s wing. As I walked through the trees I could see some of them were diseased and some had partially collapsed onto other healthier trees making them buckle under the combined weight. It was like everything else in this place: the closer you looked the uglier it got. And anyway what was I thinking of? Why the hell was I trying to attract the attention of a creature that I wasn’t even sure was actually a dog? But even as the question formed, I knew the answer: he didn’t have anyone else, didn’t even have a name and I, god help me, felt sorry for him. Anyway it was a moot point now because it looked like I really was Dug less after all.

A bitter wind made foreplay with the portion of my face that was exposed, promising much and expecting little in return. I ignored it and pressed on much as I had in my dream. I felt uneasy and out of my depth. That my dream had been genuine, I had no doubt. What I wasn’t sure of was why I was having it now. Yes it was a premonition of death, but warnings from the great beyond don’t necessarily occur just before the big event. The fact was that, like everyone else, I was going to die. In my line of business, the likelihood of it being violent and untimely was quite high. The only question left was when. Besides the obvious point of the dream, it seemed to me to be more a message within a message. As though someone was trying very hard to tell me something. If they had known whom they were dealing with, they would have been a lot less subtle.

Dreaming about the Washerwoman was completely over the top. Sort of like being told in a dream you were going to die by a skeleton with a scythe. It was overdone to say the least. The Washerwoman was, like the skeleton, an archetypal figure representing death. The difference between her and the skeleton was that she existed in Gaelic lore: she was specific to this place and someone born and brought up here oh let’s say three hundred years ago just might have known who she was well enough to dream about her. While I knew a little about the folklore, or at any rate, enough to have heard of the Washerwoman, she certainly wasn’t uppermost in my mind. So if the dream was a straightforward portent of death that I’d picked up with my spidey senses, I’d bet a bottle of my favourite malt that my sub-conscious would have come up with some other way of depicting my impending demise.

I did occasionally get dream premonitions and this didn’t feel like one of them. And that was the crux: it didn’t feel right. Usually with warning dreams, or any dream about future events, the feel of the dream was crucial. From that you could generally figure out whether it was going to turn out in the end or not. Not with this one. Well, obviously I died, so how could that have a happy ending? But my instinct was that someone or something that didn’t know much about twenty-first century symbology and was far more familiar with ancient Gaelic folklore had sent me that dream. But who would that be and what would be the point to sending me such a message?

And what about the part containing Luke? That was the bit where I fell down a mountain of skulls and crashed to my death. Now that was definitely more like one of mine. But that was more about fear and being pursued by something that to me was the epitome of evil. I was feeling better about this whole thing by the second.

That was the problem with being psychic. You got the messages, but you didn’t get the decoder to crack them with.

My boot caught in tree root and I fell over in into a pile of bracken, winding myself. I looked up at the trees, anorexic branches raised as though in supplication to the blackening cloud gods rolling in from the east. And having looked up I saw it. It was made of the half decayed corpse of a rabbit, rotting flesh hanging off in red strips, with a glimpse of the pus coloured fat visible below the skin. The rabbit had what looked like withered leaves and stalks stuffed into the mouth. It was hanging from the first branch of a deciduous fir and swung gently in the wind. Something caught my eye and looking to the left I saw another one, identical to the first and then another. A rabbit serial killer’s treetop dump site. The small pathetic corpses swung and dripped in the wind them a surreal vestige of life.

It looked like black magic to me. And in fact walking around the trees from which this voodoo fruit hung I could see they were arranged in a circle and the trees themselves had small, almost insignificant marks cut into their bark. Something had been summoned here and scary as that was, the questions were by whom and why.

There was something lying in the bracken just by the drenched bark of a silver birch and the smell of mulch and leaf mould cloyed in my nostrils as I picked it up. I carefully turned it over in my hand and saw it was a crudely constructed doll made of sticks and human hair. Blond hair, just like the absent Henry’s from what I could see from the photographs in the Harper-Hodge living room. The doll, three sticks (one almost snapped in half and used to represent the legs) bound together with string, had no face and the head was hanging on by a thin piece of bark. The hair had been wrapped around the top of the stick representing the head at an incongruously jaunty angle and there was also a small rusted pin piercing the stick torso. Wrapping it carefully in a large hanky I put it into my pocket and walked thoughtfully back to the house which awaited me with open doors. I got my best scrying glass out and went to work.

Blood Baths and Dirty Laundry

That night I had a dream, although sadly it wasn’t of the Martin Luther King variety. I had decided to investigate the wood at the rear of the garden and was trying to plot the course of least resistance through the trees. The sound of my breath was loud in my ears and I could see it curling and dispersing in plumes on the night air. The trees grew steadily more impenetrable and the only light was provided by a sickly moon gilding the twisted tops of the trees. A branch grazed my face, bringing hot, wet blood which I tried to wipe away but couldn’t. It fell in a steady drip down onto my coat and I felt progressively weaker as though it was symbolic of something altogether more corrosive at work.

Then the dream shifted and I was being chased; my only hope was to reach the top of the hill. With implacable dream logic, although I didn’t know what awaited me at the summit I knew with a panicked surge of adrenalin that it was the only chance I had. The cold sucked on my bones and the ground became boggy and possessive of my shoes which I quickly lost. I didn’t have time to reclaim them, this place was redolent with the taint of something that had been waiting here for a long time.

Waiting for me.

I could feel its obscene excitement as it gained on me and ran faster, the trees inflicting hundreds of cuts on my face and body as more of my clothes got ripped away. The terrain abruptly cleared of trees and I toiled upwards eventually reaching a rocky outcrop where I knew I had to rest before I made the final push for the top.

But as I heaved myself wearily up the last few steps, I saw that what I had thought was rock was in fact the figure of an old woman. An queasy greenish glow surrounded her and she was slapping something repeatedly. My dream pursuer forgotten, I knew I had to find out what she was doing. An overwhelming feeling of dread paralysed my legs but something was driving me onwards whatever the cost and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

The old woman was tiny. Her deformed, arthritic fingers plunged rhythmically in and out of what appeared to be a pool of water. It looked rank and foul wafts of steam rose from it to escape into the clean air. She was washing something repeatedly in the fetid water and her head was held down so I couldn’t see her face.

“What are you doing?” my dream self asked despite every instinct I had screaming at me not to attract this creature’s attention. I wanted to run as fast as I could back the way I’d come, but it was as though I was trapped in a set script and that demanded to be played out and my traitorous limbs remained rooted to the spot.

The crone, for that was what she was, finally looked up and I tried to look away but was held in thrall to the power that pulsated around her. Her eyelids had been sewn together over empty sockets and it looked as though someone had hacked her lips from her face. She was filthy and the surface of her skin was crawling with hordes of tiny mites that made it seem as though her features ebbed and flowed as they went about their business.

“Come here child,” she said, without any movement of the raw skin where her lips should have been.

Compelled, I obeyed and walked closer to her. I stared down at what she was washing and saw that it was the red top I’d been wearing that evening, along with coat and hat. She held them between her fingers and trailed them in and out of the stinking pool with an almost voluptuous caressing motion. Then I saw a severed hand float to the surface of the pool and suddenly wasn’t green anymore; it was red and my clothes were covered in blood and other things and still the old woman swirled them around in the blood bath as though wrapping chocolate around some delicious confection.

“You know me child, don’t you?” she whispered in my mind.

And I did. She was the Bean Nighe, the Washerwoman: a premonition of violent death to whoever saw her. The unsuspecting victim always stumbled across her in a wild, lonely place while she washed their bloody clothes.

The scene shifted to me flying up the same hill. My dream self swooped up ravines and up and up and up into the heavens as though on invisible wings. It was an exhilarating ride until all too soon I was at the summit and walking towards the huge cairn that had been built there. Where I had flown, now I could barely walk and each step took all the strength I had. After an age I reached the cairn and saw that it wasn’t any such thing. It was a collection of skulls, some huge and vaguely canine and others human. Sitting on top of the skulls with wings folded was Luke, teeth bared, hair streaming out behind him in the wind. I heard a distressing gurgling sound and I realised he was laughing.

I turned and started to run back down the hill but he swooped after me talons reaching for my eyes. And then I fell; faster and faster down what was now a Mount Everest of skulls, my body bashing on jagged fragments of bone, losing little bits of me as I went. I screamed and cursed until I hit the ground with a bone-crunching thud at the bottom of the mountain where I died reviling the sorry, misbegotten fates that had led me there.

When She Was Bad

He was as good as his word and within an hour a were called Keira turned up at my door. She lived in Edinburgh and was some distant relation or other to Jack. She was thin, with shaggy brown her that tumbled down her back, so long she could sit on it. Her eyes were a hot, angry brown and despite her age she radiated a power and unpredictability that you really wouldn’t want to cross. That’s probably what being named Keira would do for a girl.

The three of us stood in the room with the dead thing and it was really beginning to stink. Jack had taken off the ludicrous bandages and had managed to have a shower and change into clean clothes. He exuded a warm, tactile energy that crawled across my skin with leaden little boots but I was glad to see he could still could use the arm that had nearly been ripped off, He was clearly having problems with his mangled hand, but his body was most definitely on the mend, even if his temper hadn’t improved. The initial euphoria of the morning and metamorphosed into low level rage.

Keira crouched down beside the hand so that it was at her eye level, her movements cat-like, fluid. She delicately sniffed the thing, though in truth it stank to high heaven. She was clearly sifting through the scents to the one which would tell her who the maker of the gruesome object was. I began to say something, but she held up an elegant long-fingered hand and I meekly did as I was bid.

“A few different people handled this,” she said, voice high, sullen. I began to wonder if this was such a good idea.

“What do you want me to do when I find them?” she asked Jack.

“Do nothing. Just let us know where they are. Do I make myself clear Keira?”

She looked balefully up at him, for all the world just like your normal, surly teenager. But seething under the surface was an intensity, a swirling were energy that spoke of apure blind rage and a tremendous power only just under control. The word nut-job also came to mind, but to my eternal credit I didn’t let it exit my mouth and work its magic.

“And why are we doing this for her? She’s the cause of all this,” she hissed.

“Keira, just do it,” he said quietly, “without question and if you can’t control yourself, I’ll punish you myself. It’s up to you.” The burst of power from Jack combined with hers was giving me a headache. He was recovering fast.

She looked like she was going to disagree staring angrily up at him, brown eyes almost black with an alien, frenzied rage that wasn’t personal, it was just part of who she was. Then, she abruptly bowed her head in a gesture more eloquent than mere words.

“Hurry,” he told her hustling her out, massive compared to her slender form, “we don’t have much time.”

She looked back at me, enunciating every work with venom and force, “I hope you die for what you’ve done. Slowly, in agony and alone.”

“Sounds like a plan,” I said smiling at her, “but you can forget the alone part. If I’m going down, you’re coming with me to break my fall.” Uncertainty fleetingly tainted her young face before Jack shoved her out the door. We stared at each other for a moment.

“Frightening youngsters something that gets you off, does it?” he asked harshly.

“I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss,” I said, making for the door “ a girl’s got to have a hobby”.

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…

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.

Midnight Falls Part 2

I drove carefully down into the village.  To my right, half way up what looked like an outcrop of volcanic rock sat a church with lights blazing like a beacon from every window.  I wondered just how the faithful managed the treacherous climb because I couldn’t see any obvious road or path.  To my left was a harbour filled with a motley collection of boats that sat still on the greasily smooth water.  Here and there people had put on lights in their houses, because even this early you needed a warm orange glow to ward off the smother of perpetual night in the freezing dark heart of winter.

My directions were thankfully excellent and for a change I hadn’t gotten lost as I drove along what passed for the main street: a huddle of shuttered shops and bedraggled collection of houses.  The place seemed deserted without so much as a stray car to pollute the silence.  I pulled over into a parking space just to read the directions over one more time and stuck the interior light on noticing it was snowing heavily.  I was supposed to carry straight on and out of the village, up a ubiquitously steep incline and the Harper-Hodges’ house was the first on the left.  I caught a movement at the edge of my vision and got an impression of a pale blur being pressed up at the window.  I whipped around but only saw a shadowy figure backing away from the car at speed.  I peered down the length of the street, but whoever, or whatever it was had disappeared into the snow storm.  The street was as before, completely empty, with the only sign of life being the lights from the houses.

It was probably just one of the crazy Deliverance style banjo playing locals, I reassured myself.  It never fails to amaze me how being in an unknown place, far from city life, can bring out the terrified bigot in you.  I decided I should get to the house pronto and dig in for the long night ahead.

I indicated, although there was no need with no one around, and set off for the house.  Where the village ended, the road was again thickly lined with massive trees, so enormous it was hard to see through them even in winter.  The thought came unbidden that it was as though they were trying to hide something from prying eyes.  Sure enough, the first left was the winding driveway to a Victorian monstrosity set in formal gardens that had been allowed to run wild.  No doubt the occupants had better things to do with their time.  Reproduction old-fashioned lamps lined the drive and more lights were set on the house itself drawing attention to the sheer scale of the house’s awesome ugliness.  There also seemed to be a small wood to one side of the grounds.  I’d explore them tomorrow when the weather was better and have a good old poke around.

I was starving and desperate for a drink, so I quickly parked and started to unload the car at the entrance to the monstrosity as I already thought of it.  Close up I could see that gargoyle’s had been dotted around the building which looked as though it had been carved from a dark red sandstone and glowed in the winter light like phosphorescent blood.

The snow had stopped and an intense cold had set in.  Frost had slimed a possessive, glittering trail over grass and statue, roof tile and path.  Wood-smoke mingled with pine and other night scents I couldn’t name.  A crow cawed hoarsely from the wood, I paused for a second, enjoying the heady sensation of being away from the enormous simmering bell jar of the city where millions of lives intersected but rarely touched.

I fumbled for the key to the Harper-Hodges’ house and, after bad temperedly dislodging most of the contents of my pocket, even managed to find it.

Lucille had thoughtfully arranged for the central heating to be left on given it was the depths of December and I was profoundly grateful.  This made me feel a little guilty about hating her house but it had to be done.

Walking down the narrow hall-way, I began to sweat slightly in my full length fake fur coat.  I headed for what I thought was the living room at the back of the house and as I did, the telephone rang, its insistent summons ringing through the empty house.  It could only be the client, so I ignored it – the arrangement had been that I’d check in the following day so that’s what I was going to do.  There had to be some perks to being a psycho, sorry psychic.

The décor of the house was clearly fighting a running battle with its obvious age, being modern and full of designer type stuff straight from those lifestyle magazines to which I could never imagine anyone seriously aspiring.  A cream deep pile carpet made the room difficult to relax in.  Why did people choose colours like that?  The doomed guest with a tragically full glass of red wine, predestined to spill it over the unspoiled expanse, would have recurring nightmares ever after.  The only thing that wouldn’t recur would be the invitation.

The furniture was chrome and white and the overall effect was of being in a dentist’s waiting room.  There was no real sense of the person or people that lived here, just a shit load of money.  The funny thing was that I couldn’t pick up anything at all about the room’s past, almost as though it had been wiped clean, like the décor.  It was such a complete void that I had no sense whatsoever of the history of the place.  Now that was a disturbing thought.  Give me a room, any room and I could usually sense at least some of the things that had happened in it over the years.  The residue of emotions, deeds and lives past was well nigh impossible to get rid of.  But not here.  I looked around and saw a few framed photos scattered around showing a smiling, bronzed, blond couple looking unnervingly like brother and sister.  Must be mine hosts.

The large French windows faced into the garden and I could see a whole battery of yet more lights.  The place must be lit up like Blackpool by night.  There were so many of them that I began to appreciate that it went beyond the cosmetic or even security.  The Harper-Hodges’ were definitely scared of something, the question was, what.  I hadn’t really been able to make head or tale of the story of the malign presence.  The storm outside had intensified, so it didn’t look like I was going anywhere anytime soon.  I spied a fine malt whiskey being held prisoner by a gaggle of crystal tumblers and made straight for it, pouring a hefty belt.  No sense in using up my emergency stash when there was no emergency.

Sitting on the uncomfortable white leather sofa, drink teetering precariously on the arm, I waited for whatever the house had to show me.  The whiskey was going down well, so much so I’d have to replace it before I left this featureless hell-hole.  And that was when it struck me.  Every city, town, street, tenement, flat had its own history which left imprints, traces of those who had lived and died there.  Mostly those traces were like video re-runs, stories on a loop which only the sensitive could watch.  Occasionally however, it was more sinister: genuine hauntings by the vengeful dead, those who by sheer willpower had resisted the natural progression of things because of some wrong, real or imagined.  But not in this house.

But there was no commotion in this house.  Just a vacuum – and it wasn’t just the natural world that abhorred it.  The supernatural wasn’t keen either.  You never could tell what might be attracted by such a space.  I shivered despite the heat and leaned back, closing my eyes.   The ‘phone, which was right beside me on a fussy looking glass table, began to ring.  Stretching a languid hand over, I picked up the receiver:


“Rosie” a familiar voice rasped.

“Who’s this?”

“It’s the flamin’ Archbishop of Canterbury, who do you think?”

I couldn’t believe this.

“Who gave you this number Stella?” I said, voice tight with dislike.

“Listen shit-for-brains,” she coughed and there was a hawking and spitting sound, “You know I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire, so I’m only going to say this once”

I was intrigued and disgusted and didn’t know which way I wanted to fall.  Stella was a powerful witch, and also one of the most degenerate characters I’d ever had the misfortune to rub shoulders with. She was of indeterminate age, small, blond and looked like a misanthropic pig.  Which was just about the size of it really.  If there was something unsavoury, foul or downright wicked going on, Stella had a trotter in it.  She was also obsessed with what she thought were the finer things in life, and would sacrifice anyone or anything to get her hands on them.  We had had innumerable run ins over the years and sad to say we probably knew each other better than a lot of friends.  Although come to think of it, she didn’t have any.  Ahhh, maybe she was missing me.

“Get on with it, for Christ’s sake” I muttered.

“You’re all heart.  And you’re going to love this,” she dragged the moment out to its kicking, screaming limit, and I could just see her in my mind’s eye, lush, blond hair framing a podgy face lascivious with malice.

“Ruby told me you’re in Midnight Falls, but if you don’t get the hell out of Dodge tonight, you’re going to die there.”  The words came out in a rush like a bob sleigh whizzing down the north face of K2.  She waited, no doubt relishing the prospect of my horror at the thought of an untimely demise. I didn’t give her the benefit of a reaction, thinking she might give me more detail that way and I could find out what the hell she was on about.  The lady was nothing if not perverse.  But then, why tell me at all?

“Straight up,” she continued chattily, “I’ve been casting the runes for months now and the message is always the same.  Although…” she paused clearly thinking about something she didn’t like as much as my long overdue shuffling off of the old mortal coil.  That was interesting because Stella didn’t really do thoughtful.

“Midnight Falls has always been a favourite spot for me, there’s lots of juice up there ‘cos the village is cursed.  But you knew that, right?”  She seemed to be having difficulty containing herself, as though she were about to impart a wonderful surprise.

“I can’t believe you buy into all that cursed crap.  Listen to yourself, you sound about three years old.”

She didn’t miss a beat, clearly a woman with a mission, “I’ve heard reports of four different sightings of Black Dogs around that area within the last month.”

That brought me up short because I knew this was bad, the worst.  Black Dogs were associated with black magic, sacrifice and portents of death.  Genuine sightings were very rare and the unfortunates who’d done the seeing generally didn’t get the chance to see much of anything else.

“But that’s not all,” Get on with it, I thought, refusing to play her stupid game.  Just when I was about to put the receiver down, she cracked, caught up in the orgasmic rush of being the bearer of bad news.

“Given the fact that you’ve got all the psychic ability of a teaspoon, you probably haven’t noticed that there’s a spell of forgetting hovering over Midnight Falls.  I saw it right away when I consulted the runes.  Something big is about to happen there.  No idea what it is,” here a raucous gurgle of laughter worthy of the witches in MacBeth,

“But Black Dog sightings mean that there’s heavy duty black magic being performed.  And the fact that this just happens to be in and around the place where you’ve decided to do your Mystic Meg routine, ain’t exactly what I’d call good.  Actually on second thoughts, I’m being a wee bit previous, it could be very good.  Stay where you are my darling and worst of luck to you.”

I laughed along with her, genuinely amused, “And you just thought you’d call me to make sure I knew about my impending doom did you?  I didn’t know you cared Stell.”

“I don’t – and don’t call me Stell you little shit, or you’ll be in an even sorrier state than you are now.  You’re a pathetic loser Rose.  I can’t believe that Ruby rates you, because no one else does.  You’re, well know one actually knows what the hell you are.  One thing I do know is that you’ll drag Ruby down with you and anyone else stupid enough to get involved with you.  But a deal’s a deal and I made Ruby a promise.  And I always keep my promises – you know that Rosie.”

That was a thinly veiled threat and I knew how good the vindictive old harridan was at fulfilling them.  Some said she was into every kind of dark magic there was, including a few that no one except her knew about.  She was quite capable of sending me one of her deadly little surprises one of these long winter nights, just for the hell of it.

But I had to hand it to Ruby.  My soft hearted, irresistible friend, to whom even malevolent old monsters held themselves in debt.  I wondered though what Ruby could possibly have done to have achieved this sort of honour.  I’d better have a firm word with her: she was far too trusting for her own good and Stella was, well, Stella.  The thing was though, Stella was right.  I wasn’t popular with a lot of the, shall we say, psychic community in Edinburgh.  I was seen at best as a loose cannon and at worst as spawn of the devil.  That didn’t make the Satanists or black magic brethren take me to their collective bosoms.  No, they hated me the most seeing in me a threat to their carefully constructed bullshit beliefs.  The fact was, no one knew what I was because no one had had the sort of powers I had.  And when people can’t make sense of something, well, you know the script.

Confused and not a little pissed, I hung up on the evil old cow who was still in mid-curse and promptly fell asleep on the infernal sofa.  I woke up in the afternoon with a crick in my neck, drink all over the carpet, and the sound of birds intoning  a funereal dirge in the uncanny, blue twilight that passed for dusk.

At least the carpet had lost its cherry.

Midnight Falls

 The client hadn’t told me much, except that something inhuman had taken up residence in the attic of her holiday home and was scaring the straights. I was only to happy to take the job, swapping the horror of the festive season in Edinburgh, for horror of a different kind in the freezing solitude of the country.

The car had been loaded with needful things: clothes, Scooby snacks, a crate of Laphroaig and, last and least, the tools of my trade – two of the best of my remaining obsidian scrying glasses and a ouija board – just in case I really wanted to get down and dirty among the dead men.

If things did go tits up, I had a small handgun with a mix of silver and iron bullets. I’d rarely had to use it though, because although it might slow the supernatural critters down, it hardly ever killed them. The old wives’ tales, like silver killing werewolves or stakes for vampires, were just that.  True, a silver bullet had more effect than the ordinary kind, but you could also be assured that if the beastie hadn’t wanted to kill you before you drilled a hole in it, you would definitely be number one on its bloody, drag-you-to-hell screaming hit-list after.

All of which meant you only really had your wits to rely on and mine didn’t stretch as far as they used to.

As I drove, the sun finally managed to prise itself clear of the horizon, revealing a clear, crisp winter’s day. A vicious frost last night had tarted up the landscape with glimmering silver and the stubborn remnants of a creeping mist softened the stark lines of skeletal trees .  As I drove north over the Forth Road Bridge and into Fife, I switched on the radio, catching some horrendous boy band demolishing an old song, aided and abetted by its elderly creator who had previous for violating his own work.  Feeling a rant coming on,  I turned the hellish cacophony off and stuck on a compilation.  Placebo kicked off my one woman party with Every Me and Every You and by the time I got to Snapper’s Dumping You, I was singing along like a loon at the top of my voice, drumming my hands on the wheel.

A couple of hours later, hoarse and famished, I stopped off in Inverurie at the Manky Minx pub, devouring a massive lard-ridden fry up washed down with gallons of stewed tea. In the dim, dingy interior, a small collection of punters went about the serious, mostly silent, business of getting as pissed as possible before having to go back to whatever waited at home.

I resumed the journey on a seemingly endless, winding road that was supposed to take me to Midnight Falls.  It coiled, like a serpent around the banks of a Loch with a surface as smooth and dark as one of my scrying glasses. There were always local stories about such bodies of water, like drowned villages where church bells could be heard tolling on quiet nights when the moon was full. Or others about luckless victims, killed by the untender mercies of loved ones and laid to restless sleep within the glacial depths, only to return for a satisfyingly hideous and brutal showdown.

Jagged, snow covered peaks closed in as my car laboured through the narrow, tricksy mountain passes.  The sky darkened and a driving sleet came out of nowhere, obscuring the windscreen in seconds. The wild beauty of these lonely places always appealed, but  living here permanently had its own challenges. During the few wan, stillborn months called summer, this part of the country bowed before its insect conquerors and became a biting, buzzing, stinging hell – only alleviated by the deep freeze of winter when you got snowed in and had to eat your own kin to stay alive. If I’d had a family, I’d have given it a go.

Heavy clouds besieged the sky and I was still in the middle of a vast nowhere.  Sleet turned to heavy rain and my flat out  wipers only made things worse, the world beyond now a blur of dark grey and sepia.  The grunt and thrust of Snapper’s I’ll Stand By Your Man started up from my mobile on the passenger seat – probably the ball-breaking client, Lucille Harper-Hodge, checking where I was.

The road was now a one track affair, thankfully deserted.  Keeping the headlights on full beam I spotted a tiny, partially obscured sign pointing to the right. On impulse, I stopped the car, got out into the howling storm and brushed the snow off the sign, finally making out the words, Midnight Falls. You’d think the inhabitants of the village didn’t want to be found – maybe this was going to turn out to be my kind of town after all. I swung the car to the right and travelled down what was little more than a dirt track overhung with a tunnel of  huge trees, spectral in a perpetual dusk of their own creation which leeched most of the remaining light from  the day although it wasn’t even lunchtime.

Once free of the trees it brightened slightly as I drove up a steep hill, the gradient so extreme, the car was struggling even in seond gear.  When I eventually reached the top, I discovered Midnight Falls laid out beneath me, like a dark canker on the coast, caught between the turbulent Irish Sea on one side and impenetrable mountains on the other.  What manner of man or beast made their home in such an isolated, Godforsaken spot?

I was about to find out.