Hide and Bleed

It’s so traditional to wait on disaster befalling you, so why not ring in the changes and seek it out yourself? At least that’s what I told myself when I took out my scrying glass and signed my own death warrant.

The gleaming reflections of my scrying glass soon revealed my murderer-to-be perched on the top of Salisbury Crags. His tall, powerful frame and wings, the pinions of which rested on the ground on either side of him as he balanced on the Crags edge, were limned in red as the winter sun set over Edinburgh. It could have been classic fallen angel stuff as he contemplated his new kingdom with all the grace and terrible beauty of a Gustav Doré illustration. Except this kingdom was no more than a holding pen and the beast so delicately poised above it would gladly annihilate everyone and everything in it.

He turned quickly as though aware of being spyed upon and the last rays of the dying sun made a halo around his head the colour of old blood. The hair was long, a burnished blue black, stray strands of which were being blown across his face as though he was a wild animal staring out from behind bars. His skin was dark and the high cheekbones and tip-tilted eyes gave his face an easy glamour not often found in this forgotten, frozen corner of the world.

He wore old, battered leathers and a pair of boots that had metallic sigils of unknown origin worked into them. The nose was straight, the mouth full above the cleft chin. It was a terrible beauty, the last face you looked upon as you died screaming, giving him the gift of your intestines and gladly.

For the old ones like Luke, there was no need to fear the last faltering rays of a dying star because nothing interfered with their games of hide and bleed. The red ruin that day in and night out swelled and blocked city gutters up and down the length and breadth of the country was more than testament to that.

But he was on my trail and I was going to have to face up to that and try to find a way to kill him before he killed me. The slightly tricky part was how could you kill the unkillable before it killed you…

That Old Black Magic

Out of nowhere came a revolting, appalling, absolutely bloody brilliant idea. “Do you know a witch called Lucille Harper-Hodge?” He shrugged huffily not prepared to let me know one way or the other.

“If you do, you’ll know she’s a powerful witch. She killed her husband in a place called Midnight Falls,” I went on noting his reaction to the name and guessing that whether he knew her or not, he did know about the place.

“Well anyway, I can’t go to the police with what I know because it would be laughed out of court, so Mrs Harper-Hodge has literally gotten away with murder. But here’s the thing. I have something of hers. The doll she made of her husband so she could kill him, to be exact. I wondered if having it might be something you’d be interested in.”

He gaped at me, not quite believing his ears. What I was proposing was worse than murder. Lucille had worked a very powerful spell with the doll and because of its nature, she had left a trace of herself trapped within it. This was the thing about black magic, death and destruction could wrought by the witch or warlock, but there was a price. A price that in my opinion only a raving lunatic would have been prepared to pay. When you used a doll to kill someone you had to invest it not just with a sense of the person you wanted dead, but also yourself, because it was your will that set off the spark; the start of a chain reaction ending with the killing blow. That meant that when the deed was done, your essence remained behind, like a bad smell in her case.

And when you carelessly left an artefact like that lie around, it was only a matter of time and bad karma that an unscrupulous bitch like me would then sell it to a warlock who was known to trap and imprison the souls of the living and who could distil them from much poorer sources than the one I had in my pocket…

The Company Of Wulvers

We walked into an enormous room with high vaulted ceilings bathed in enough candlelight to make it look like it had been sprayed with old gold. The mellow wash flattered the hectic crowd as it drank, talked and clinked glasses; some of its members were even dancing to the inevitable ceilidh band who I could just see crammed onto a little podium. The band, a collection of shaggy haired young men, were howling, stamping and playing their fiddles as though their lives depended upon it. Maybe they did. There was enough dark energy here to power the coming of the Antichrist – if you believed in such things.

And then, as though someone had flicked on a switch, it all changed. A raw, roiling energy beat in waves over my head, as though I had just been pitched to the bottom of the ocean, where I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. No one else in the gathering seemed to feel it although the chatter, dancing and drinking became fevered, compulsive even, as though this was the last night on earth and there was nothing left to lose. I began to make out vague shapes flickering above their heads: formless at first, gradually assuming a bestial cast as though something was trying to escape the human clay but couldn’t quite break free.

The band played louder, the dancers whirled faster as though I was standing in the midst of an immensely powerful battery that everyone in the room was simultaneously feeding and draining, feeding and draining. Each time the power peaked it was at a higher level and the party got wilder and uglier in the no time at all I’d been here. A couple of scuffles broke out in the corner of the room, in one a one big burly guy threw a smaller one into a table which promptly collapsed covering him with food and drink which he was made to eat. The strange thing was that the smaller mand didn’t seem too upset about it.

There was still no let up in the power surges and the pain in my head became a vice. Time to leave. Then something else caught my eye and that dark sense of mine began to vibrate in time with the power: a young blond girl, blouse in tatters, head flung back in a weird, grunting ecstasy, with a grizzled head of indeterminate sex nursing at her breasts and rivulets of blood running down her bony ribs. The twisted energy in the room rose in a shimmering multicoloured arc above the heads of the crowd and the force of it was a singing, living thing so intense it had its own gravitational pull.

I’d only felt this much squeezing power once before and I knew it for what it was: shape-shifter. The room had become the pulsing chamber of a gigantic, infarcted, heart, each beat a countdown to detonation that would beggar Hiroshima. And here I was at the epicentre without so much as a table to cower under. Well if cowering was out, there was only one thing for it…

A Price Beyond Ruby’s

“I can explain, if you’ll let me, but it’s a long story I’m afraid,” said Ruby

I shrugged my shoulders, calculating where my next drink was coming from and more importantly, when.

“I was contacted by the police about a case where a two year old boy had gone missing. The parents said he had been abducted the police thought the parents had murdered him. Because there was no body, they couldn’t prove anything and were desperate to solve the case because the media had been getting on theirs. An order came from the top that they had to do something to crack it to stop the bad publicity – you’ve probably read about it yourself. Colin Anderson was the boys name. No? Anyway, as a last resort, they contacted me to see if I could find the body. You know how it is.”

I did indeed. Psychics like Ruby and I were grudgingly contacted by the pigs when they were desperate and had nowhere else to go. Bearing in mind these were often the toughest cases, even if you got results, they would be explained away as coincidence and you were shunted to the side in their frenzy to ditch you as though you had an infectious disease.

“So anyway, they gave me a teddy of Colin’s to get a sense of him and see if I could track him. I always hope I can’t because that means the child’s still alive. Holding the teddy I got the usual stuff, you know what toddlers are like, images of puppies, footballs, that sort of thing. A happy, normal, little boy like any other.”

I had no idea what either toddlers or normality were like and no inclination to change that any time soon.

“They also gave me a picture of him which I didn’t need but took anyway. I suddenly received a signal that was so strong I just about blacked out from the force of it. That’s how it is with me. Once I tune into the spirit of the person that owned the object, if that spirit is no longer encumbered by its physical body, the sense of them is very strong. Like they are an unadulterated version of the thing they used to be when they were alive. Once the spirit has cast off its flesh overcoat there is a period of time just after, when for a short while anyway, it’s very powerful. Like a match that flares into life and then goes out.

“Except usually the going out part is where the spirit moves on. But the period of power is when the spirit can manifest itself to those with any sensitivity and there’s lots of reports of folk talking to their nearest and dearest just after they’ve died. Sorry, of course you know all that. I just wanted to explain how my ability works because as you also know, its different for everyone.

I was beginning to drift off here. If she didn’t get to the point soon, all the whisky in the world wouldn’t keep me awake and focussed.

“Well Colin was dead alright but that was just the beginning of the bad news. Once I get the signal, it’s like I tune into the station, just like a radio. Because the spirit still has a strong connection with its physical body, that means I can always pinpoint where it is. The physical location I mean. That can be tricky to actually find though, because it’s often in the countryside, or in a lake or canal and one tree or body of water looks pretty much like every other, I can tell you.

“But not in this case. The signal I got took me to a house. A little boy’s bedroom to be exact with Thomas the Tank Engine posters and a bed shaped like a racing car. Then I was propelled into the living room and then kitchen as though someone was carrying me. When I was in the kitchen, I saw two people, a man and a woman, eating at the table. This couple weren’t Colin’s parent’s and I had no idea why I been brought here: after all it didn’t seem likely Colin’s corpse was here.

Suddenly I was seeing inside the fridge and something was pulling out the contents and throwing them around the room. The couple started screaming and tried to run out of the room, but whatever was carrying me slammed the door shut and continued smashing the place up. A feeling of what I can only describe as the purest pleasure, so acute it was almost sexual came over me.

“I don’t need to tell you the feeling wasn’t coming from me. The thing was though that it seemed to be fuelled by the fear and hysteria of the couple. The more upset they became, the better whatever it was I was inside liked it. The more violent things got, the higher the buzz. There was one point when a plate was smashed on top of the woman’s head and the pieces gashed her face, blood everywhere. The man at this point was scrabbling at the window, trying to get it open. My host shot across the room to stop him and something caught its attention on the wall. A mirror to be exact. My host looked at itself in the mirror, with great satisfaction I can tell you, and I got a fleeting impression of a dwarf floating in mid air with red eyes and a mouthful of black, razor-sharp teeth looked back. But when I looked again it wasn’t a dwarf. It was-

“Kylie Minogue?” I said.

The Demon Unbound

“Lukastor, Lord of the fallen, mightiest of the line of Asriel, with the element of earth, I thee bind.” Viridian handed Alice a stone from the perimeter of the circle and she laid held it out to the mirror as though in supplication before carefully laying it down at its foot.

“With the element of air, I thee bind.” This time he gave a feather to Alice who solemnly repeated the ritual.

“With the element of fire, I thee bind.” A lit candle dripping yellow fatty wax was placed before the mirror.

“With the element of water, I thee bind.” Viridian reached into the velvet bag and brought out a dead fish which joined the others at the mirrors foot.

A paranoid crazy thought invaded my brain taking no prisoners: this ritual sounded suspiciously like a mockery of marriage vows, but I didn’t have time for any more before my suspicions were heightened:

“With this corrupted flesh I thee worship,” and so saying he drew the body of a small black kitten out of the bag. It had been skinned and I realised it must still have been alive and that was what I’d heard screaming earlier. I felt sick to my stomach. Sickest of all of myself for participating in this insanity.

But the luxury of introspection was one I couldn’t afford, as the base of the mirror previously engulfed in black flames, quickly became a small inferno that gave out no heat and swallowed the meagre light from the candles greedily, lasciviously, like a long lost lover.

Alice stood in front of the looking glass, arms raised, black flames enveloping her body of which she seemed oblivious:

“Lukastor, by the power of earth, air, fire water and all fleshly things, I command you to come to me.”

Nothing happened. A minute passed, then another. It was obscene, banal and vaguely comical and I was participating in it. Then someone in the room started a hushed conversation and I felt the slow, sick bloom of the realisation that it wasn’t going to work; that it had never had the ghost of a chance of ever working and that it was all a hellish, twisted practical joke of which I was the dunder-headed butt.

And then, almost imperceptibly, the ceiling began to vibrate, graduating to a palsied shaking and then a grand mal seizure of epic proportions. People started screaming and running for the door as enormous cracks appeared in the walls and plaster fell, knocking some of them out and coating everything in a fine, white dust. A disciple ran past me, face a mask of white, hood flapping as though he had come to a fancy dress party as a ghost only to find that’s what everyone else had done. The gash at his temple, a vivid, terrifying blast of colour in the lunar, post-apocalyptic landscape that had once been an ordinary room.

A terrifying, roaring wind whipped around the room sweeping the unwary off their feet as though it was trying to scour the room clean of anything living. A woman to my left screamed and started babbling to whatever it was she worshipped, but the wind whipped her words away and I couldn’t hear who the Lukeky recipient was. It didn’t matter in any case because seconds later the back of her skull was crushed by an old, brass light fixture and she lay like a broken doll at me feet. I felt removed, other-worldly, standing stock still as the killing rain fell, feet apart, face tilted upwards: whatever happened I’d die on my feet. A piece of what once had been the ceiling crashed to the floor just inches from where I was standing breaking the boards on the floor with a deafening almighty crash. Splinters of glass were flying around and I felt my face run with something warm, although I couldn’t feel anything. The mirror was the only thing that was miraculously untouched and the black flames belched forth emitting foul, noxious fumes.

The whole room was shaking now and because the ceiling and walls had been gouged down to brick and beam, they too began to rain down on those who remained, which included Viridian and Alice. In my dream-like state I suddenly became aware of the crush at the door, as people panicked and tried to force their way through, heedless of anyone else and driven by the sheer animal instinct to survive. Some had fallen and were being crushed as their erstwhile comrades stampeded over them oblivious to their cries. Those at the back impatiently pushed those at the front producing a groaning, bleeding heap of the dead and injured. The shocked, writhing mass of humanity melded together as though it was a giant organism comprised of hundreds of component parts that didn’t much like each other, the ultimate Frankenstein’s monster, trapped in the ninth circle of hell.

“No.” Viridian screamed, “You cannot break the circle. Don’t you understand? It’ll loose the spirit. Do not break the circle.”

But no one was listening and in truth his words could hardly be heard above the disintegrating building and howling supernatural wind.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the black flames of the burning mirror were extinguished, the wind dropped and the room stopped its awful dance. And he was in the mirror. I drew in a convulsive breath, I couldn’t help myself. He floated as though in mid air, long black hair trailing behind him like a silken waterfall. Obsidian eyes glittering with scarlet flame flickering in their depths and a molten destructive force that would have beggared a million Hiroshimas. His battered leathers were open to the waist revealing the smooth brown skin beneath. Unfurled wings cast possessive shadows over his face that moved with a life of their own. The power of his mere presence in the mirror was like being doused in petrol and then set alight. The only question was how quickly death would provide blessed release. I couldn’t move, speak, think. I was completely caught in the monster’s thrall; and just when I didn’t think things could get any worse, they did.

“Tsk Tsk Viridian. What have you been up to?” The voice was low and musical and the sound encompassed the room trailing filaments of light as though marking its own progress. It was like being encased in velvet and lovingly suffocated with it. The amused contempt was unmistakable.

“My Lord,” Viridian began, his own voice shaking, reedy with fear, “It was her,” and like a naughty school-boy caught out in his wrong-doing, pointed accusingly at me, blurting: “She wanted to bind you. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“She?” The enveloping voice was now flirtatious, playful, wrapping me up in gossamer skein that held me tight and promised all manner of dark delights that would bind me closer still. Then without warning the monster in the mirror casually stepped out into the little room and the souls caught in it screamed with one bone shattering voice. The sound brought me out of my trance-like state and nearly burst my eardrums. I fought not to vomit, losing my new found focus now was not such a good idea.

Thick wet gobbets of something poured out of the mirror’s depths, pumping out into the room as though like blood from breached artery. It was then that I realised this was the living essence of the mirror and it was now dying. The cracked walls oozed the same dark, clogging substance as though in sympathy with the mirror’s death throes. But I was wrong, it wasn’t the mirror that was dying, it was the souls that had been imprisoned in it: they had become part of the trapping mechanism and when Luke tore it apart by walking through it, he tore them apart in the process. The carnage was indescribable: as though the death and pain from a million abattoirs was concentrated in this small, dirty room.

But all of that was insignificant detail as his presence lit up the room, brown skin a warm copper glow, a beacon of light and warmth that sucked everyone and everything toward it to be consumed ecstatically in its flames. His hair, reaching almost to his waist, had the blue tint of true black and the fathomless ebony eyes traced an arc of light around the room, finally coming to rest on me. The face was of a vaguely oriental cast, high cheekbones tapering to a strongly moulded chin which had the faintest indentation. Slanting black eyes glittered under black brows promising an infinity of unimaginably painful ways to die and the full mouth was set in an uncompromising line. The start of a glossy black tattoo peeked over the collar of his leathers on the left side of his throat and extended to the top of his left hand where his sleeve ended. It wouldn’t be for decoration on a creature like this, it would be some sort of protective ward.

He was huge: I estimated around six feet five with broad shoulders tapering to a slim waist. The battered leathers hugged him like a second skin, the top of his belt tracing the line of his hips above which was a couple of inches of bare skin. A wicked looking knife hung from one side of his belt, a short axe from the other, their hilts engraved with ancient symbols, blades glinting with evil intent. Whatever else this creature was, it was a seasoned warrior. I tried not to imagine what battles it had fought over the millennia, what manner of men and monsters it had faced and felled.

“My Lord-” Viridian stuttered but what he said was lost as Luke raised a languid hand without turning his gaze from mine and the magician was lifted up by forces unseen and smashed head first into a cracked wall from which the plaster had long since fled. The force with which his body had been hurled into the wall was incredible, almost like a flesh and blood cartoon except there was nothing comical about the sickening crack of his skull or the red ruin at the back of his head where I actually see through to softer tissue which must have been his brain, or what was left of it. His body slumped and fell abruptly to the floor in a scarlet spray as though it had momentarily been supported by an unseen hand, and was now lying prone in a rapidly spreading pool of his own blood when it was whipped away; bereft of any signs of life like a puppet that had had its strings cut by a sadistic puppeteer. Alice rushed forward, throwing herself to the floor cradling him in her arms sobbing softly to herself as she rocked to and fro with her bloody burden. But then I discovered I had some pressing problems of my own.

“You,” he said in a lover’s whisper that felt like metal piercing my flesh. The pain was good and brought some hard-won focus. I had caused this mayhem to barter with this devil, barter I would if I could just manage to stay alive long enough.

Dead Head

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

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

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

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

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

Stairway to Hell

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

“Oasis?  What the fuck?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee Break

Despite the terrorist toxic gas story, not everyone had left Dodge, as I discovered walking down Lothian Road under a steely sky, head bent against the rain squall and vindictive, nipping wind freshly blown in from whipping up the icy, grey waters of the North Sea.  I needed to clear my head and now my sanctuary had been invaded, the best place to do that was just to walk and see where it took me.  I turned left at Shandwick into the city’s West End, normally a thrumming hub, but now a water sodden, wind-blown waste-land.  The darkened windows of the Art Deco building that housed Fraser’s Department Store stared onto the street like the empty eye sockets of a long dead giant.  A particularly vicious tug of the wind almost cost me my hat and by the time I had things under control the welcome orange glow of lights bursting out of the crepuscular gloom from a Starbucks at the corner of Palmerston Place caught my attention.  I hurried towards it and to my utter amazement, found it was open for business.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, maybe no matter what happens, nuclear war, bubonic plague, return of the living dead, there will always be a Starbucks, staffed and ready to serve.  It was housed in an imposing building, a bank in a former life with high vaulted ceilings and now was reduced to eking a living trying to pretend it was someone’s living room complete with comfy chairs where strangers came to drink coffee.  There were two rooms connected by stairs and a long counter near the door, behind which a skinny young man with lank blond hair did the necessary.  I sat in the furthest away room and sipped my drink, glaring unseeingly at the chocolate cake I’d also bought.  There was around fifteen to twenty people in the place and they were all relatively young, bright eyed and feverish, the kind of vibe that I had always imagined would have been around during the war: trying to carry on as though the day was like any other, but knowing it might be your last.

If only I had looked for that damned voodoo doll of Lucille’s.  It was too risky to have sent Keira to collect because I didn’t know where the damned thing was or what Viridian had done with it.  Clearly he hadn’t done very much with it if it was Lucille who’d sent the Hand.  But what death did it’s owner have planned for me?  Well, not doubt I’d be finding that one out and soon, if memory served about these kinds of curses.  I decided to call my old pal Stella.  If she was in on it, it didn’t really make any difference, I wouldn’t be giving away any state secrets: someone had sent me a death curse and I was going to die.  Simple.  But her type were always grandiose, contemptuous of others and it was often their undoing.  She might let something slip.  If she wasn’t in on it, or didn’t at least know about it, she might be persuaded to give a handy hint about what on earth I was going to do to stay alive.  I had done 1471 when she had called me at Lucille’s house and taken a note of the number.  Very organised for me I thought.

I took the creased paper out of my wallet, my mobile from my pocket and dialled.  No answer and there was no way in hell I was leaving a message, because the only thing I could think of was a long, profane and detailed list of what she could do to herself and with what.

I wondered how many people had stayed behind.  The only other customers apart from me in the room I was in, was a huddle of young women at the table next to mine and they appeared to be pouring what looked suspiciously like whisky into their coffee cups and giggling with the manic intensity of people who clearly believe, like REM, that it’s the end of the world as we know it.  Except feeling fine wasn’t even on the menu.  Sad, fucked up, crazy, maybe, but fine was for lunatics and suicides.

Rain pelted down outside and a dark shape slid by the window blotting out what meagre light the day was willing to give up.  Although I hadn’t seen anything much on the way down, the dead were becoming more substantial by the day it seemed.  There was still that sense of waiting for something, an expectation hanging in the air that the world was going to come down upon your defenceless head.  This was a pack of them hunting and I felt the heft of their attention, no, hunger was more precise.  The weight of their desire was a leaden chain around my neck and I felt trapped and panicky.  The barbed hooks of their wants trailed gently over my thoughts searching for a hold, something to anchor on to.  I kept my mind a careful blank, something I had had a lot of practice doing.

The darkness slid by a second time like a crocodile circling an injured baby antelope that had fallen into the river.  The girls fell silent, whisky consumption halted as they scented danger.  What had they seen in last few days?  I was about to find out what the lives of ordinary folk had come down to on Boxing Day in Auld Reekie.

I got up and stood by the connecting archway between the two rooms and wandered down the stairs, just to make sure.  The Starbuck’s employee had obviously gotten the vibe too because he hurried to the door and quickly shut the outside one that led to the street, reassuringly huge and wooden, like it was guarding a fortress.  He clanked the bolts shut and was just returning to the counter when the window imploded inward and a dark, sucking, jabbering whirlwind flew in uprooting chairs and tables and smashing the glass counter in a hail of glass, cakes, pastries and the blood and brains of the young man.  Part of his head, mercifully minus the face rolled awkwardly into the corner of the room where it came to its final resting place.

One of the customers, a red head wearing a purple fleece that clashed with her hair, began screaming in a high pitched whine that sliced into the brain like a red hot knife through butter.  I’d never not drink again if I got the chance.  The older man sitting beside her tried to calm her down and move to the farthest away corner of the room without much success.  One young guy trapped between the darkness and the window managed to get himself impaled an a huge shard of glass as he tried to force his way out the window and his blood ran like black rain and pooled, oily and viscous on the floor and down the remnants of the glass.

It was an enormous mass, a density of darkness that whirled and turned in on itself in a complex fascinating series of motions that held me transfixed.  I was still spellbound when the entire building began to shake and the detritus from what had already been smashed was borne upwards, and then rained down on the terrified little crowd who all had the same thought: escape.  But it seemed we had a sentient being on our hands because it snatched up the chairs and what remained of the tables within its reach and threw them at the door blocking the only escape route bar the hole in the window, but it was in front of that and the moaning man impaled on the glass shard illustrated the dangers of that particular plan with exquisite clarity.

The darkness boiled in on itself in an endless, sickening churn of billowing black.  And then saw them.  A multitude of faces formed and reformed, teeth bared, eyes wild, black on black and yet every snarl, every ferocious grimace appeared etched indelibly into the formless mass before it disappeared again.  But then I noticed that it wasn’t just made out of darkness; this fusion of partial souls, ghosts and revenants had begun to grow flesh.  I could see an oiled skin under the darkness as it moved in constant motion, another stage perhaps in its evolution.  Was this the change that the thinning of the membrane between worlds was bringing about?

Two of the girls at the table next to mine for some incomprehensible reason had run past me into the room and had tried to jam themselves under a nearby table.  The other three were rooted to the spot on the steps just behind me, crying and screaming for mercy and I didn’t blame them.  A stinking, sulphurous smell radiated out from the heads and one of the girls was copiously sick from her perch under the table.

A high shrieking sound like a freight train being derailed rent the air and the darkness expanded becoming a vast ten foot pillar in the middle of the room, whirling like a dervish making the detritus dance with the power of it and radiating a fevered, humid heat.  But the sound began to take on a rhythm almost as though…yes, it was talking, shaping words with whatever foul collective consciousness it possessed.  I couldn’t make it out at first and then:


A long, snaking limb broke from the pillar and wrapped itself around one of girls behind me, a statuesque blond with dread-locked hair.  Her screams had gone from terrified to ear splittingly hysterical within seconds and the smoke continued to coil around her until only her face was visible.  It was almost a sensual motion, like a lover’s embrace.  She stopped screaming and began to pray, snapping me out of my trance and reminding me forcibly of that little thing called priorities.

“Get to the next room, all of you.  I’ll take care of your friend.” I shouted above the cacophony.  “There’s a window there, break it and get the fuck out of here.”

None of them answered me, shock probably, but that wasn’t going to save their lives.

“Listen to me,” I shouted, “This thing will kill you.  Go.  Now.”  A piece of glass struck one of the girls a glancing blow on her temple and that seemed to galvanise them.  Without a backward glance at their trapped friend they fled screaming up the stairs into the other room and I heard the sound of breaking glass and wondered if Nick Lowe had really known what he was talking about.

“Go now, I’ll take care of it,” I screamed in what I hoped was a reassuring manner, but then another column of darkness went after the girls and I knew I had to do something and do it fast.

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.

In Nomine Patris

The thing clinging to the living room ceiling winked at me and wiggled its little backside before venting the contents of its bowels on the corpse in the half-open casket beneath.  It giggled, a high girlish sound and scuttled to the corner of the room where it hung upside down, watching me and rubbing its six fingered hands over vestigial ears like a monstrous, mutated bat.

Not paying it any attention, I picked my way through the wrecked furniture, moved aside the teetering pile of clothes on the untouched fake leather sofa, and sat down.  Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, it began to creep back towards the centre of the room and the dead body.   Posing for a moment like a prize diver showing off a new move, it stealthily dropped down onto the open portion of the half casket where it began to vigorously dry hump the stiff.  I sighed and pretended to examine my nails knowing that as in showbiz, timing was everything.

Beyond the window, the dark extinguished the remaining light.  Not a difficult task given this was the frozen heart of a Scottish winter: perpetual dark leavened occasionally by shades of grey, or that’s how it felt.  Meanwhile I was caught on a job in a run down housing estate in Gilmerton which although within city limits, was not a place to which any other type was brave enough to apply.  The family that lived here thought they had a poltergeist; not that they’d seen it, but they’d felt the freezing temperatures unrelated to the season and witnessed the damage done.

A phlegmy chuckle this time, muffled by whatever it was doing to the corpse, a woman of indeterminate age, although given the part of town I was in she could easily have been anything under thirty.  Isa Simpson had been a big woman, someone doctors would have classified as morbidly obese.  The collapsed lower third of her face and absence of lips indicated the complete absence of teeth and grey, straggling hair struggled to make it to her shoulders.  Her distraught husband had told me that the whole sorry business began last week when she’d died of a heart-attack.  Furniture had been thrown including plates and cutlery, some of which had struck the two little boys Kenny and Ryan glancing blows and injured the dog.  Worst of all, no one could get near the body to take it for burial due to the hail of missiles which had ensued when they’d tried.

A feral growling sound reminded me what I was here for.  Crossing the room, I took the scrying glass out of my pocket and, studiously ignoring the humper, positioned the obsidian surface to reflect the corpse’s eyes.  Scrying glasses, if you made them properly and had the eyes to see, showed not just the surface, but the behemoth lurking underneath waiting to break it.

And there it was: a fluttering of eyelids that should have been well beyond that type of tease.  I edged carefully forward to get a better look, making sure I didn’t touch the monstrous little bastard: time for that later.  I moved the glass closer and the creature went motionless for a few seconds before abruptly looking up, goggling at me in mock horror while its jaw dislocated itself stretching all the way down to its bony knees, like a Halloween cartoon parody.  But there was nothing funny about that vast maw, flipped open to reveal countless layers of jagged, yellow teeth.  The skin was black and lustrous like a seal, broken by protruding outcrops of malformed bone jutting out all over the head.  It was as though it couldn’t decide what species of creature it had wanted to be and had tried out several, not liking any of them enough to evolve one way or the other.  It stared at me out of the sewn up slits where its eyes should have been, tiny ticks of movement underneath, like pupae trying to hatch.  The arms and legs were elongated with too many joints like a spider without any of its good points.  I was sure of one thing: it was dead and the spirit had stayed here for a very good reason.

Through this glass the news was dark indeed: a spectral face behind the fleshly mask silently thrashing, mouth agape, like a film negative of a particularly bad scream queen with the sound turned down.  A piece of what had been the sideboard flew towards me and I managed to duck just in time, missing a nasty concussion.  We had been doing this dance for a good hour now and after my discovery with the scrying glass, I had to admit with a bitter, sinking heart, that it was going to take a whole lot longer.

The door leading to the hall opened and Mr Simpson’s wizened little head appeared as though on the end of something sharp:

“Are you okay hen?  Is it over-”

Naturally that was the incantation.  The sofa I’d sat on levitated into the air and hurtled towards the window overlooking the back garden, breaking it into smithereens.  A mini cyclone started dangerously near the coffin whipping up all the debris that had been created since I’d started this little adventure including shards of glass and metal from what had been the coffee table.  The temperature plummeted as arctic air replaced fetid and I could see my own breath rise in frozen plumes although I wasn’t sure this was an improvement.

“I told you to stay out the house with the rest of your family Mr Simpson.  Go back to your neighbour’s and don’t come back until I tell you it’s-“

A mighty crash reverberated upstairs and the head, to which the rest of Mr Simpson was attached, disappeared to be replaced by the sound of footsteps as he ran to find the source.  Why did client’s never pay any attention?  I seriously doubted however that this particular client could have followed the yellow brick road after extensive and detailed briefings by the Munchkins complete with flip charts and a Sat-Nav.

I flicked the light on wall and the room was bathed in harsh artificial light that did nothing to flatter the damage done.  There was a rat-like scurrying sound followed by the smash of a light bulb as I was plunged back into a smothering darkness only relieved the orange murk of the streetlights outside.

“Okay, let’s do it your way,” I said to the thing in the room.  There were two doors: one led to the kitchen, the other, through which Mr Simpson had popped earlier, to the hall.  It was a terraced house with two sets of windows facing front and back gardens, so these were the only escape routes for either of us.  A chill wind whipped through the living room along with the first flakes of snow and the dark obliterated what lay beyond the window, narrowing the world down to just me and it; both of us concentrating on the next move.

“I thought we already had this sorted-“ another missile was thrown with some violence grazing my temple which began to bleed freely.

“C’mon-” I was cut off by another resounding crash from upstairs as though a heavy wardrobe had fallen over and I could hear my client’s scream of pain or fright it was hard to tell.  So it could move objects in different rooms without much apparent effort; that would have taken some power from a spirit like this.  I heard the sound of the carpet being ripped free from its tacks before I saw the hideous floral pattern move.  A forceful yank and the carpet was literally pulled out from under me and I stumbled back landing with a painful crunch of my back on the windowsill.

I saw a flash of something shiny and the door to the kitchen was yanked open, a faint titter, and the thing ran into the kitchen and from the sounds of more breaking glass, through the window into the back garden.  Just what was so flaming funny, that’s what I’d really like to know.  How the hell did it have the juice to leave the house and cause so much damage?  Now I’d have to go after it.  Christ, I really needed a drink, I should have brought my hip flask; I just hadn’t thought this would take so long.  Seriously pissed off now, I made my way over the crap on the floor, squeezed past the sofa by the other window facing the back and into the kitchen, not bothering with the light.  From the smell there was a fair amount of garbage and rotting food and I didn’t need to see it too.  Sure enough the kitchen window had been broken and, opening the back door, I stepped into the night.

The back garden was surprisingly large and was flanked by others to the side and at the bottom.  No one was around; hardly surprising since it was Baltic and had begun to snow with real enthusiasm.  I shivered and rubbed my upper arms in a doomed but automatic attempt to generate some heat.  Standing perfectly still. listened intently: not a sound apart from the distant hum of traffic and the neighbours to my right clanking around in the kitchen.  It was darker here because there were no sodium lights, just the reflected glow from the other houses.  But my inner dark adapted eye was more attuned than purely physical and I saw it clearly; crouched on its haunches half-way down the grass like a thermal image writ large.  It wasn’t an improvement: the face and body a hideous clash of reds and greens and electric blue as though it had been turned into a Halloween version of itself.  But it was the aura that got me: violet shot through with pale blue, signifying a much younger spirit that I’d thought.

The snow had provided a fair covering by now making the garden seem like an alien landscape no longer part of a run down housing scheme where half the houses had been demolished due to subsidence.

It started to dig, all the while grinning at me, as though it was some family pet looking for its bone.

“Got something to show me boy?”  I asked simulating enthusiasm.   “What is it?  Let me see?”  But it wouldn’t.  The close I got, the more it turned its back as though trying to hide what it was doing.

And then they appeared: five mauve lights that danced in a circle around the thing as it scrabbled uselessly in the frozen earth, without making a dent.  I’d heard about Will O’ the Wisps or Corpse Candles, either omens of death, but also the tell-tale signs that death had already occurred.  It couldn’t be.  Not here, not know, surely to the God I didn’t believe in.  They wove in and around the scrabbler as though caressing it, with a perverse fondness.  As I watched, it paused in its labours and reaching out captured one of the lights in its misbegotten hand, then setting it free to continue its dance.  It had to be one of the most pitiful sights I’d had the misfortune to witness.  Surely this could not mean that there were five, possibly six bodies buried out here in the garden.  And if there were, how many more?  It was too much to take in.

Then again, all that was missing was a big neon arrow pointing at x marks the spot.  Given the number of lights, I didn’t think my untimely demise was being predicted five times; no, five corpses and from the colour of the lights, young ones too.  The thing is, this isn’t rocket science.  Untimely death and all that accounts for a huge proportion of hauntings, so this really wasn’t a huge leap of logic.  Maybe the creature I’d been dancing with for what felt like the past three months was just a stronger soul than the others, more able to flesh out its purpose as it were.

“How did you die?” I asked.  It performed the now familiar wiggle of its backside as it gathered itself.  I tried to move, but it was too late.  A whoosh of air and it landed square on my chest with a mighty screech, knocking me over onto the snow and then it sat on top of me, drooling.

I flung my arms around it like a long lost lover “Gotcha,”  And I did.  Any contact with a soul or spirit living or dead and I would experience every dirty little secret they ever had.  The family couldn’t even see this particular house-guest, just experienced some of the consequences; but me, I could see and touch the little darling just fine.  My ability to not just communicate, but empathise with the dead always seemed to me to be like a serious of hooks implanted into its flesh through which the garrotte of my power wound itself, tighter, tighter, until I broke through.  It was visceral, bloody and felt like performing surgery without the anaesthetic for the patient.  It was also like having my own 3D Technicolor cinema complete with surround sound, except no cinema could compete, because I lived through all the petty little betrayals, shameful imaginings and unfulfilled desires of others as if they were my own.  And they became my own, because once I’d gone through this, the spirit or ghost was imprinted upon me and they were mine totally irrevocably.  All I needed was the spirit itself or something belonging to it.  After that I could call it, keep it with me like a pet, or if I was in the mood, kill it.  The spirits of the dead sometimes lingered, more often moved on to whatever was next, but if I exterminated what remained of their essence they didn’t exist on any plane.  Other people in the psychic community thought I was murderer and most of the time I didn’t see what the problem was.

The images came slowly at first; quickly becoming a torrent and I had no more time as me because I was plunged in over my head.  A confused serious of pictures played out before me like a badly edited montage in a film which only gradually began to make sense.  It was of two naked people glued together in varying positions at different times of the day and night in a room with a dirty single bed; the unmistakeable slapping and moaning sounds an unnecessary accompaniment to a very old song.  The sun tracked its way across the sky and the lovers progress and still it went on, indefatigable, relentless.  The small ill-fitting window in the corner sometimes open, sometimes not, the dirty lace curtain illuminated by rising and setting suns and then silvered in the moonlight.  Both were young, the woman with long, dark, abundant hair.  As time passed they aged and the identity of one of them became all too apparent.

Sensing my comprehension, the creatures in whose peepshow I was rummaging, screamed its excitement and the pincers of a thousand red-hot needles plunged into the meat of my head.  I yelled in agony and just as suddenly the pain was gone.  What I was seeing hadn’t necessarily happened, it was the spirit’s perception of what had happened in that shabby little room.  Not that this version wasn’t true, just that what I was re-living was a result of everything the spirit had learned, assumed and pieced together about what had happened.

“Do…You…See?” it said in a voice of flutes and trills as though from many tiny throats, a malevolent, chilling sound.

“Show me,” I released my obscene invitation into the fetid womb of the enveloping dark, not knowing what strange fruit would result.

The scene jarringly shifted, the lovers apparently sated for now.  The images had a grainy, gritty quality as though much replayed and I knew I was being shown the sequence of events at the root of the haunting.  With much swearing and fumbling and the sound of plastic being manhandled providing the soundtrack, the couple was trying to bundle a small object into a bag and from there into a small swing bin.  The object was making snuffling, whining noises, eventually muffled by bin once inside.  The atmosphere was tense, neither looking at each other, intent only on the job in hand.  There was blood on the bed, a basin of hot water and some bloody rags at the foot of it.  A scrap of what looked like discarded flesh lay unnoticed on the on the chicken-shit green carpet.

“It’s still alive,” the man whined.

“Leave it,” snapped the woman, “It’ll be dead soon enough.  Just put it in the boot and drive around ‘til it is dead.  And don’t bother coming back ‘til it is mind.  I’m not getting saddled with a wee bastard of yours and have the neighbours talking behind my back – it’s me’ll get the blame.  It’s your fault anyway,” she continued voice rising, “If we get found out, I’ll just say it was you that raped me like and then killed the bairn after it was born.  Like one of those psychos on the telly.”

He looked at her for a long time, dark eyes meditative, finally saying: “We won’t get found out.  It’ll be okay Myra.”

The other side of my empathic gift for dirty laundry kicked in, as it always did: the urge to kill the messenger in the ultimate act of consumer frenzy.   And nothing could whet my appetite for murder quite like an all singing all dancing peepshow.  It would be a mercy, the killer in me wheedled, this spirit could never recover from the damage that had been done to it.  Best to put an end to its misery.  Best for all concerned.  It was like expecting a lion to give up the zebra after having sunk its teeth into the jugular while the prey was still wriggling, just because you’d asked nicely.

Then the scene changed again and I was in the suffocating dark.  Not in the room any more, no: in a confined, stuffy space with the smell of garbage.  There was a rocking motion and I could hear a continuous low rumbling sound.  I screamed and cried until I was physically sick, but no one came.  Fear and pain alternated as I fought to draw breath through snot and vomit, what was this place and how had I come here?  The rumbling stopped and I thought for a brief, blessed moment rescue would find me, but it didn’t.  Then the heat came and I boiled as I spluttered and battled for air.  I struggled until the will left me, the weak spark of life lent to me, snuffed out, tossed away with the rubbish because I didn’t count.  And still no one came.

Another shift and six little corpses lay side by side on the grass, blue, faces contorted in death.  It hadn’t happened that way in terms of time, but the spirit was showing me what it believed to be true.  Grief, fury, confusion and an unbearable sense of loss ran through me, not my emotion, all of it theirs; raging at the incomprehensible waste and suffering they’d endured not just then but since, waiting for someone to come, take notice of the fact that they’d lived and then died; but no one did.

The spirit spoke in a voice that struck me like live electrical cable:

“Do you see?  Do you see us?” it hissed.

“Yes pet,” I whispered, inclined for the moment towards murderously maternal, “yes, I see.  Let’s see what you’re dad has to say about this, shall we?”

I got up without bothering to brush myself off and marched into the darkened house shouting: “Mr Simpson get your skinny arse in here.  Now.”

I just about fell over him in the living room and, pulling him out the front door away from that place, the house to which I was never again going to set foot.

“Get in,” I said unlocking my car parked at the kerb.

“But I haven’t got a coat, I’ll freeze my knackers-”

“In,” I shouted tearing the door open and pushing him in, which was tiny as he was stick thin and tiny.

“Fucks this about eh?”  I ignored him and locked the doors again, still outside.  He started banging on the windows and shouting obscenities, mouth flapping, eyes wild.  I ignored him and set about removing the accumulation of snow on the windscreen to get a grip on myself and also to make sure I was ready for a very quick getaway when I’d finished.

I unlocked my side again and got in, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck as he simultaneously tried to make a swift exit.

“WHAT THE-” he landed awkwardly back in his seat and fought to turn round and face me.

“So how many did you murder then?  All of them?  Just a couple?  Bet it was all of them wasn’t it?”  By the time I’d finished there was dead silence in the car apart from Mr Simpson’s breathing, which he was fighting to control.

“I dinnae need to listen to this shite,” he erupted, furious face inches from mine and despite the obvious rage I also aw clearly all the ghosts of disappointments past and a fair few in the present and future in the hard, dark gaze.

He raised his fist to lamp me one so I brought my forehead sharply forward to meet the bridge of his nose and broke it releasing a geyser of blood that looked black in the darkness of the interior of the car and would be impossible to clean in the morning.

“Stupid bitch, you’ve broken my nose.  What the fuck did you do that for?”

“If you want, I could break all the bones in your entire body just because I feel like it.  No?  Doesn’t appeal?  Then you’d better listen to what I’ve got to say.

“Sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.  It’s not a poltergeist like you thought.  You’re being haunted by the spirit of your dead son-“

“I’m not going to listen-”

“Yes, you are.  And then you’re going to the police.  If you don’t, I will.  Besides there are some things you need to do to stop the haunting because if you don’t it’s only going to get worse.  Understand?”

A little nod of the head indicated he did understand and I wondered just how bad the past week had been.  Whatever had happened, it wasn’t nearly bad enough.

“As I was saying, you’re being haunted by the spirit of your dead son-“

“I don’t have a kid.”

“That’s strange.  What about the six you had with your sister, Myra, wasn’t it?  You know Myra, the stiff in the coffin, the sister you’ve been shagging for the last twenty years, you must remember that at least.  So, anyway, can you tell me why they don’t count, the babies I mean?  Because you killed them maybe, or because you were porking big sis?  That would be a good get out clause wouldn’t it?  Sadly for you it doesn’t work like that.  Didn’t you at any stage connect the dots?  Forget that last bit; of course you didn’t.”

A convulsive shaking of the shoulders followed by great wracking sobs told me I’d sort of got his attention.

“I never meant-“

“To hurt them?  Well, you can tell the nice policemen and I’m sure they’ll see it your way.  But there’s other things you need to worry about more than that.  You see, now Myra’s dead, things have been stirred things up a little, you could say.  C’mon Mr Simpson, I need you to focus-”

“What does it matter now anyway.  They’re dead, so’s Myra. No one knows apart from you and I could fix that…”  The threat was eagerly made as though one more minor bit of murder on top of the other six was suddenly the solution to all his considerable problems.

“My agency know where I am Mr Simpson.  And anyway, even if you managed it, which isn’t bloody likely let’s face it, it wouldn’t sort what’s going on in your house and with Myra.”

“What’s wrong with Myra?  She’s dead isn’t she, nothing can hurt her now,” his voice broke so I hurried on fearing a fresh onslaught.

“Doesn’t work like that.”

“How’d you mean, it doesn’t work like that.  How doesn’t it work like that.  Talk English you dozy cow.”

“Don’t bother yelling at me, it’s not going to help.  I mean that your son-”

“That thing in there is not my fucking son.”

“Your son didn’t pass on like he’s supposed to.  Some spirits just sort of hang around.  Mostly because they died when they weren’t ready, or in your son’s case, because he was so pissed off he didn’t want to.  Over time he grew, not physically obviously, but he was around so long he started learning stuff, developing you might say.  And the more he developed, the angrier he felt which meant he became more powerful and on it went.

“When Myra died a few weeks ago, that was the queue for him to do something about all that rage.  And so he crossed through to this world, gave you some pay back, but that still wasn’t enough.  And he’d gotten very strong.  So strong, you wouldn’t believe Mr Simpson.  Anyway, when your sister died-”

He interrupted, eyes wide, “He killed her.  I know he fucking killed her…”

“What?  How do you know?  Look,” I said holding up a hand to stop the flow, “even if that’s true, it’s irrelevant just now.  You need to know what I’m about to tell you.”

Client care was ever the Fox-Garnet Agency’s watch-word even for multiple murderers.

“Your son has somehow managed to trap Myra’s soul in her body.”

He stared at me, wordlessly, eyes pleading.

“He chose not to pass on and now he’s stopping her.  It means her soul is still inhabiting her body.  It doesn’t mean she’s alive,” I said hastily, “her brain is dead and her body is starting to rot.”  I ignored the flinch and carried on, “Her soul is trapped in the shell of her body and can’t move on to where she’s supposed to go.  And don’t ask me where, I don’t know.  I just know it isn’t here.  Her spirit is fighting hard to leave and he won’t let her.

“Now, I don’t know what this is going to mean for her corpse, whether when she’s buried she’ll experience it like being buried alive, but I don’t think we can take the chance.  Your son has also gotten very strong and he’s managed to link up with the other five and together I don’t know how powerful they’ll be.  They could all develop like him and that really would be a laugh I can tell you – and one I wouldn’t be helping you with.  I also think there’s a danger they might try to kill you.”

“If I went to jail they couldn’t do nothing.”

“How do you know?  Sometimes it’s a house that’s haunted, sometimes a person and there’s every possibility your kids are strong enough to change venue quite easily.  How’d you like that?  Is that a chance you’d like to take?  But anyway, what about your sister.  You must have cared for her I assume, er, in your own way…”

I could see the fight leach out of him like a punctured balloon, shoulders sagging, head down.

“What do I have to do.”  The resigned tone didn’t even bother to make the words a question.

“Well, first off, I should warn you there’s a good chance it won’t work.  But,” I held a finger up to forestall any interruption, “It’s the only chance you and Myra have.  You need to ask the spirits to forgive you and you’d better mean it or it won’t work.  You go back into the house and try to connect with them, beg them to forgive you.”

“What?”  He almost snorted in his contempt.  “Forgive me?  And how the hell am I going to do that?  Eh?  And what if they don’t?  What if they kill me?”

“Then, Mr Simpson, in my professional opinion, if they kill you, that’s when you’ll really be screwed.  Now go back in there and get on with it.  I’ll wait out here.”

“Won’t you even come in with me?  What the fuck am I paying you for?”

“In the first place, it’s you they want, not me.  In the second, you told my agency you didn’t have any dosh, so we were doing it for free because it sounded serious.  And in the third I rather scrape my own brains out with a rusty spoon than take money from a murdering bastard like you.  Now, go.”

He refused of course.  Eventually I had to drag him bodily out the car taking the chance someone might call the police, but given the neighbourhood didn’t seriously think anyone would.  The front door had been left open and snow had settled on the carpet.  I pushed him in and shut the door, taking the chance he’d just run out the back.  I could hear him careering round the house, sobbing, screaming, pleading, falling over, switching on lights and then, silence.  I sighed, swore silently and then went inside.

“Mr Simpson?  Where are you?”  Silence; and then very faintly the sound of someone sobbing as though trying to suppress it.  I switched the hall light on and climbed to the top of the stairs that curved up to the first storey of the house.  Seventies patterned wallpaper shrieking in glaring orange and shit-for-brains brown complementing a mustard carpet of dubious antiquity.  The toilet was straight ahead with two rooms to my right, probably bedrooms.  I pushed open the door of the one furthest away and switched on the light: nothing, just a dingy squalid looking bedroom with a stained mattress on the floor and a heap of blankets at the bottom.  The master bedroom I was guessing.

I heard a noise like a suppressed sob and knew whatever was waiting was in the other room.  I put the light on and so him sitting on the single bed in what had clearly been the spare room.  Assorted clothes and bits of furniture littered the room and it was beyond bleak.  Mr Simpson was clutching a pillow to his chest with a corner of it rammed in his mouth, like he was trying to swallow it.  Finally he managed to extricate himself.

“What does it want?”

“I’m sure we’ll soon find out.”


“Shhh.  Listen.”

That’s when we both heard it, a slow slithering in the hall and then sounding as though it was getting closer.  A pattering of feet as though the owners couldn’t be very big accompanied it.

“See?  You did really want to hear the pattering of tiny feet didn’t you?  Why did you kill them?  It’s Alec isn’t it?  Why did you do it Alec?”

The slithering had come to a halt outside the door.

“I don’t really know like.”  A small giggle from behind the door like that of a child and then the handle began to turn.

“Well,” he gabbled more out of nerves than a desire to confess, “Our folks died and we stayed on in this house like, together if you get me.  And well, you know, we ah, had sex like and I don’t like to, you know, wear anything and she wasn’t all that bothered and well it just happened.  And she kept getting up the stick.  So once we done one, the next one wasn’t so bad and hardly noticed the next one.  She was a big woman like, big here,” he cupped his hands to his chest miming mammeries with the ghost of a leer on his wasted little face.  “And no one really noticed.  She quite liked being pregnant did Myra.  No idea why like…

“But wasn’t is simpler to just wear a condom or even get an abortion, for Christ’s sake?”

The door began to open and he kept gibbering, eyes fixed on whatever was coming through, “But I told you I don’t like them things.  Like having a bath with your socks on.  And she, lazy fat cow, she couldn’t be bothered to take the pill or anything.  And she never held with abortion,” and here he actually looked at me with righteous indignation, “and neither do I.”

“Ah.  But murder’s okay.”

“We were young ourselves and confused and we didn’t really-”

“But if abortion was wrong, why was murdering them after birth okay?  Alec?”

“Ehm, well, you’re just confusing me.  But I’m right sorry about it now like.  No, I really am.  If I could take it all back.  No one know’s what I’ve lost in all this,” and with that he broke down crying as if his heart would break.

The spirit, on the ceiling again, slid over the top of the door, reached down an impossibly long arm to switch off the light and proceeded to hang above the snivelling Alec, five mauve lights by his side.  The room became eerily illuminated by the glow and I could see by it that the spirit had turned his head one hundred and eighty degrees so that he could see the wretch who’d fathered him.  Listening to Alec I finally understood the phrase ‘the banality of evil’.  Alec and Myra murdered six children not out of blood lust or some weird notion about why it would be a good idea, but just because they couldn’t be bothered taking any precautions and couldn’t be arsed thinking it through.  Simple and all the more terrible for it.

The spirit dropped silently down and putting misshapen hands on his father’s shoulders, whispered:

“Father why hast thou forsaken me?” it said in a grotesquely deep voice that thrummed in my chest.

“Get off me, get away from me.  I’m not you’re father-