Fresh Meat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greedy Guts

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

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

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

Or rather unimaginable until now.

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

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

Ciao Bella

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

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

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

But as always truth was stranger than fiction.

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

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

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

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

Tollcross Terror

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


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

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

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

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

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

All You Can Eat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Bites

There was something about the three blonde, black-eyed women that was not quite right. At least that’s what Colin thought as he finished one pint and thought about starting another. His thoughts turned as they always did to his bitch ex Jackie who was giving him grief, not letting him see the wee man until he paid up what she said he owed. Fat chance of that when he’d just lost his job in the off-licence where he’d worked for ten years. Who’d have thought offies in Scotland could ever go out of business? You had to get through the cold and smothering dark of the Scottish winter somehow and it was a time honoured national tradition that a vast quantity of booze was just the way to do it.

He decided on a another pint and whisky chaser and lumbered unsteadily to the bar to get them in. The Bingo Wings was a run down shabby sort of place, but you could sit in the gloom and nurse drink and grievances in equal measure with no interference from anyone who knew what was good for them. And from the hot glances thrown his way from the blond bints, he was positive he could show them a thing or two on that front. Talent-spotting wasn’t a usual pastime in the Bingo Wings: there were other more likely venues for that sort of nonsense. No, this was where silent, angry men sat and drank themselves into a well earned oblivion before picking a fight outside to round the evening off.

Christ they were fit though: lush, full figured and from the long legs, not much shy of his six feet frame. He thought maybe they’d been to a fancy dress party because they were all dressed in white see-through dress things that rode right up when they sat down on the bar stools, so you could pretty much see everything. Little tarts.

The nearest one turned her head to look at him, a sinuous, twisting motion accompanied by a fall of white-blond hair that was so long she could have sat on it. Well, if the little slag played her cards right, she’d be sitting on something else before the end of the night.

“Are you sisters then?” he said controlling the slurring with a mighty effort.

The other two turned to stare at him with that same curiously serpentine motion and three pairs of black eyes fixed on his face with a disconcerting intensity. They must have been sisters because their features were almost identical. There was a sharpness about the nose and cheek-bones that he hadn’t noticed at first, but they were still stunners, no doubt about it.

“In a way,” the nearest one answered in a soft voice. He knew it, she was definitely up for it. Wait until Jackie found out that he still had the old one two magic.

“What’s your name?” she continued.

“Eh, Colin. Colin McQuarrie. And what’s yours?” he asked, finally remembering the finer points of leg-over etiquette.

“Margo. And this is Morgan and Marjorie.”

The blond in the middle, Morgan, slid gracefully off her stool and came to stand next to him. Maybe he’d be in the three-way before the night was out if he minded his p’s and q’s. He hurriedly calculated just how much he’d had to drink because it really wouldn’t do to disappoint the ladeez seeing as how they were so up for it. Not if the abuse Jackie had regularly showered him with was anything to go by.

Morgan put a hand on his arm and was so close he could smell her: an intoxicating scent that reminded him of the green promise of spring woods. He was just about to press his mouth to hers when she ruined it by speaking.

That was women for you.

“Did you know you have an elemental attached to you?”

“An elephant? Are you pissed hen?”

The third blond, Marjorie had joined them and stood on his other side. He felt hemmed in for some reason and started to wonder where Rab the barman was; quelling a sudden surge of adrenalin as though some part of his brain was telling him to make a run for it. Why would he run from three lassies?

“An elemental,”

“It’s a lower form of spirit-”

“That attaches itself to people who have done bad things in their lives. It feeds off the energy that creates-”

“What she means is the suffering of the victim. For every bad deed there must be a victim-”

“And for every bad deed, the elemental gets bigger-”

“And bigger and-”

“Yours is the size of a tenement. And it’s still growing.”

He’d lost track of who was saying what but it didn’t matter because it melded into a seamless whole as though the conversation was taking place entirely inside his own head. The three hadn’t taken their eyes from him, tracking his progress like a deer or some other prey that didn’t have a hope in hell. Being hopeless had never felt so good.

“You know those angry, frustrated feelings you get where you want to burn the world and everybody in it?”

He was pretty sure that was Marjorie who was stroking his arm snaking a trail up to the back of his neck. Dumbly he nodded.

“That’s from the elemental. Sort of like waste products if you see what I mean. You’ll have noticed how it’s getting worse no doubt? That’s the elemental getting stronger. Soon it’ll be powerful enough to consume you and then you’ll be part of it forever. Isn’t that something?” Margo smiled showing small, perfectly formed white teeth.

He was really confused now, unsure if it was the drink or if the women had drugged him. He wasn’t sure he cared, as long as they stayed with him.

“Can’t I get rid of it? I mean, couldn’t you help me?” he said, like a little boy pleading not to be sent to bed. He didn’t question the truth of what he was being told: it was as if he’d always known. Ever since that hit and run that he’d been responsible for as a teenager and then all the other stuff since then…

“Ah, now. We were just getting to that,” said Morgan. “But there’s something you need to do for us first.”

The Devil Inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now.

The Beast With One Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ghost Formerly Known As….

I sat with the crime-scene photographs and the dead star of the show swaying above them leaching most of the light from my desk lamp and the warmth from the room. The ghost was a hulking, tattered thing with little memory of the person it had been in life and driven more than a little mad by its brutal exit. The taint of mildew, mould and rot saturated the air, as though I was standing in the middle of an old grave. As long as it didn’t have my name on it, I wasn’t too concerned.


I took off the dark glasses and studied it with more interest. There was a partial notion of a face: a snub nose so extreme it could have graced a shrunken head, and a sliding slant of facial feature that only just fell this side of human. This was what happened to the dead. Over time they forgot the exact size and shape of the flesh over-coats they had worn in life. Finally they lost all resemblance to the people they had been, spiritually decomposing in ironic homage to the way of the flesh. At the end they were nothing more than a plume of dirty smoke or patch of cold that you might feel as a shiver down your spine if you walked through it, but nothing more. The emotions were always last to go, stubbornly clinging on like dim-witted hangers-on after the main attraction had upped sticks and gotten the hell out of Dodge.

But some ghosts had a compelling reason to hang on delaying the decay and I was looking at a prime example. In life, it had been a woman called Amy, murdered in one of the most baffling unsolved cases I’d ever come across. From the evidence the police did manage to find, there was no avoiding the conclusion that death had been a release. The marks on the bones showed that flesh had been cut raising the grim possibility it had been done while she was still alive. The bindings found with the pitiful remains, told a dismal tale of captivity for at least a few days, maybe a week. A rusty hook and three skewers with traces of old blood had been found in her lonely cellar grave leading police to the conclusion Amy had been tortured until they had ground her down into so much meat. These weren’t empty guesses: the police had seen this type of murder before, not often, but enough know a thing or two about this type of predator and what they got off on.

So no, it had not been hard to work out why the ghost formerly known as Amy had decided to stick around.

The question was, what was it going to do now?

On the face of it you’d think there was nothing to fear from what was after all only a collection of spectral filaments. And nine times out of ten you’d be right. But the unadulterated rage that held this spectre together made it the exception that proved the rule. The fact that I had summoned it by using the photographs and some of Amy’s old clothes supplied by her grieving family didn’t protect me.

“Amy,” I murmured, “listen to me.”

The ghost howled, more sense than sound of an emotion so intense my vision began to spot, colours flashing at the periphery, and I could feel the first stirrings of a monster migraine. It lowered its partially composed face to mine, the intense cold raising the hackles on the back of my neck, and began to swirl around the chair I sat in, faster, faster, creating a thick, choking blanket making it impossible to breathe without extreme effort.

“Amy,” I whispered, traitorous tongue unable to shape the clotted air into meaningful sound. “Ben and Sarah-”

But apparently the ghost understood, because it keened, a high despairing sound sharp enough to shatter the glass of whisky on my desk, soaking my papers and lobbing an eye watering stench of ethanol into the room for good measure. But that must have distracted it somehow because the pressure eased slightly and my breathing adjusted itself to the restricted supply of air.

“Amy,” I said deliberately using its name in life as much as possible, “Jerry’s asked me to find and kill the people who did this to you. I said I would.”

Promises, the very words that contain them, have power and no one knows that better than the dead. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when it let me go. What I wasn’t prepared for was force of it and I almost fell off the chair, choking. As I righted myself and my lungs became reacquainted with an unrestricted oxygen supply, it calmly took up its original position hanging like a ragged curtain above the photographs as though nothing had happened.

Now all I had to do was come up with the goods.

What Deacon Brodie Did Next

Of course every Edinburgher worth his or her salt knew that old story. He had been a councillor and skilled cabinet maker by day and a gambler and rotten thief by night. The cabinet maker got invited into his victims’ homes where he took wax impressions of their keys, and the thief sneaked back while they were sleeping and robbed them blind. He led this double life until caught and hung on a gibbet ironically designed by his own fair hand.

Or so legend would have it.

But rumours persisted that he did not really die on the gallows and was instead spirited away to another life in the Americas.

The lesson to me was clear: don’t spend your time designing gibbets. If you do, you’d better have a rope-proof escape plan.