Dead and Alive

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

“I’ll let you know when.”

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

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

Man on a Key-ring

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

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

I was suddenly reminded of an old boy-friend.

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

Blood and the Maiden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“I’ve no idea.”

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

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

The Road Less Travelled

I had no time to react, let alone defend myself as I was pitched out of my body into a eerie twilight world where creatures scuttled on the edge of my vision, chittering angrily at the sacrilege of my presence. An unseen force made me walk along a twisting path set in flat featureless countryside. Huge roiling shadows boiled across a monochrome landscape and I knew I would die here. Nameless deformities writhed out of sight giving a mere glimpse of a tail, or the mutated stump of a limb. This particular road had no end and the power that propelled me onward had all the time in the world to force me to take it.

“This is your life now Rose, or rather what’s left of it. Do you approve?” whispered the voice close to my ear as though reading my thoughts.

“Well Eamonn, I’ve always secretly wanted a big red book moment, but to be honest I’m not sure it’s all it’s cracked up to be.”

Coffee Break Part Two

Without any plan worth the name, I strode towards the column of the dead, extending my hand into it as I did so, ignoring the slashes to my flesh from the satellite plates and broken glass caught in a crazy stilted orbit and the blood dripping down my arm onto the floor. It was the stupidest thing I could have done and it should have taken my arm off with the sheer power of the centrifugal force generated by the spectral mass.

But it didn’t. My arm slipped through into the belly of the beast and without thinking about the wisdom of doing so, my body followed until I was inside the essence of the beast. I wasn’t aware of the debris anymore, but I had the brief sense I was being protected from it before it absorbed me whole and I couldn’t think anymore.

The noise was indescribable, a vast roaring sound like a succession of bombs exploding in the dark surrounding me and I thought I was losing what was left of my mind. But as I got used to it I began to make out patterns, not one, but many in the melee, like the sound of hundreds of hearts beating out of time with each other. My eyes were readjusting to the dark and for the moment I couldn’t see. I put my hands to my ears to shut out the noise as a wave of claustrophobia engulfed me and I fought not to try to run out, because by that stage I had discovered just how excited that would have made this Frankensteinian patchwork of spirits. I knew there had been something more than familiar about this thing.

As my eyes adjusted to the cave like interior of the thing, a huge face carved from the darkness pressed itself into mine, thick tuberous tongue roughly probing my face and trailing thick, hot sticky secretions all over it. I lost it for moment and started to claw against the face, eventually head-butting it only to be rewarded by a vicious bite on my cheek, drawing blood. Another faced formed from the darkness and then another and another until I was surrounded by them, all of them licking me tasting what I was made of and finding it sugar and spice, like being in a serial killer’s wet dream where body parts were not only kept alive but were emphatically, ecstatically up for the ride. In the strange penumbra generated by the guts of the beast itself I could see that they were drawing back as though an order had been given. All rendered from the same darkness now made flesh every eyelash, every leer lovingly delineated for either my benefit or because this was the collective’s way of remembering their individual selves. This was how they dreamed themselves into being. There was also some other debris within, pale against the dark and I recognised what looked like the top of a very small thigh-bone. This entity fused together from what had been countless separate spirits clearly took its own slaughter house with it.

A gigantic head, burst from the darkness, so close I could make out wisps of hair on its elephantine skull and little tusks beside the gaping, wet, formless mouth which hovered inches in front of me like a snake about to strike. My skin tingled where I’d been licked as though I had acid on my skin. I got a flash of how the spirits killed their victims and I realised that was the prelude to being eaten alive. It was going to start the process of consuming me whole, absorbing me into its gut exactly like a snake.

“I know you from somewhere, don’t I,” I said as though this was a chance meeting with a casual acquaintance. The heads grew angry and chittered, a high pulsing sound that got under my skin.

The head wobbled although it wasn’t supported by anything visible and I thought it was about to speak, when another three heads appeared to my left with murder in their eyes.

“Don’t you remember?” I asked plaintively.

“Well, maybe you’ll remember this,” I whispered and slammed my power into the meat of the column of souls and they screamed as one in agony. A cobalt blue lightening zipped up and down the column burning the heads as it went and shrivelling the new and tender flesh it had sprouted for itself. Not like in the good old days when I knew it as the spirit collective that I’d met underground, the one that had followed me like a love sick teenager and had evolved into this.

“You see, the thing is,” I continued, “When the word becomes flesh and I think you know what I mean, the flesh feels things it didn’t before, small unimportant things: pain for example,” I let another bolt of my power rip into the column and smelled burning meat, like week old kebab without the spices. An unknown multitude of throats screamed their raw, tortured homage to a new mistress and it felt so fucking good.

“And whether you get flesh or not, you’re still dead, which technically makes you…does anyone know the answer? You, yes you, Cyclops over there? No?

“My bitches,” and with the last two words I loosed murder with every piece of rage and hatred that had ever pooled in my bones. The visceral feel of slicing through the newly acquired just healed flesh in search of whatever animated it was like biting through gristle and bloodlust bloomed through my veins like a fine wine. I saw and heard the things it had done and oh how it deserved to die and die with infinite slowness. It didn’t just feed on people’s fear anymore, not now it had muscle and heft and a whole plethora of needs and wants it had thought long gone: it fed on flesh and soul. It had consumed men, women and children to power its continued existence; to make it stronger, cleverer, as bad as its worst nightmares promised.

But the essence of this thing told me something else: not only was it my old pal from the not too distant past, but it had delivered the Hand-of-Glory, left the mis-spelled message in my living room and had followed me here. Whatever this little community of the dead killed became part of it and added its strength and characteristics to the original gang of killers that had made it up.

A piteous whine buzzed around me like an insect, setting my teeth on edge.

“Pleasssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssse. Let live. So hungrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry.”

A thought struck me, distracting me from the sweet business of butchery.

“Who sent you? Tell me, or I’ll kill you. You know I can. I’m a succubus bitch remember.”

The remaining heads whined again.

“Not knowwwwwwwwww. Sent by woman. Promised we would eat. So hungrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryy-“

“Yes, I got that, loud and clear. If you don’t tell me, I’ll kill you, all of you and there’ll be no more hunger, no more life, no more bodies or souls to eat, no more of the living you can torment,” my voice had dropped to a whisper as though I was promising untold delights and I certainly felt that way. I wanted nothing more than to crush the life out of this thing. I rolled it around in my head. This collection of the worst souls and revenants had banded together in the first place because its lust for murder, rape and misery had been more than they could achieve on their own, but I could bind it to me and make do what I wanted. It was sheer slavery of course, but I didn’t give a shit. I was strong enough to do it and in this case might was most definitely right. I was also strong enough to know that it didn’t know who had sent it, nor where she was; but that was okay, I had another idea.

I imagined the equivalent of a leash wrapped around the entire length of the column, giving it a vicious pull and it screamed for me, so I did it again because it just felt that good.. And then I promised them something:

“When we find the woman who sent you to me, you can have her. You can eat her soul and you have my word. Will you serve me and no other? Once an oath is made, you cannot break it, you know the consequences now.”


“Go now and come when I call you. It will be soon, stay close.”

I walked away from the carnage and saw that the place was deserted, so the rest must have escaped. The Starbucks was destroyed and food, detritus and body parts lay strewn around as though a bomb had gone off. I could hear the sound of sirens in the distance and slipped out the door once I’d managed to figure out the bolts. I hurried back the way I had come and couldn’t help marvelling at the ease with which I’d made the spirit cloud, column whatever the hell it had become, my slave. I knew it with the certainty that I knew my arm was attached to my shoulder; I could feel them as an additional appendage and I could make them obey me in the same way. It used to follow me around because it wanted to and then it gained power from The Change as I was beginning to think of it. Now it had to follow me, because I had tied it to me. It wasn’t just fear of me that bound it, the beast would protect me, die for me if I demanded it. Whoever sent it after me had intended my death. But just as the dead had gained power from the Black Dog’s awakening, I gained power from the dead. If they were stronger, so was I. Whoever sent it hadn’t banked on that and when I found them, I’d keep my promise to the rapists, murderers and scavengers whose spirits made up the entity and I’d watch while she died.

And that was it in a nutshell: the more power I had, the more compelling my need to destroy grew and the more unstable I became.

Rambling Rose

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

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

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

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

Not yet.


At the end of the alley something stirred, something long dead.

And yet, judging by the roars of rage and the maelstrom of rubbish battering the surrounding buildings, that something was not prepared to concede the point. A little unsteadily, on account of all the whiskey I’d consumed at the World’s End pub (where I only drank because of the thrillingly cataclysmic name), I made my way towards the epicentre.

The sharp crack of a window smashing, the unmistakable tinkle of glass and the entity paused, as though surprised at its own strength; but only for a heart beat and the onslaught resumed with renewed frenzy. Walking through the flying shards of assorted crap, arm raised to ward off the worst of it, I was blinded, deafened, but unbowed.

Which was a shame really because if ever there was a moment when a kindly fate I don’t believe in should have intervened, turning me back to wend my weary, drunken way home instead of into the belly of the beast, it was that one.

But I was hooked now, because I could see it, motionless in the midst of its self-created mayhem.

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 should have belonged on a shrunken head, and a sliding slant of facial feature that only just erred this side of human. This was what happened to those that had been long dead. They forgot the exact size and shape of the flesh over-coats they had worn in life. Eventually they lost all resemblance to their living, breathing, human selves, spiritually decomposing in ironic homage to the way of the flesh and finally becoming nothing more than a plume of dirty smoke; a 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. Which is exactly what I should have done.

And I could have too: right up until the moment it reached for me…

Matters Of Life And Death

The legions of the dead reach out to me with insubstantial fingers and when I can’t or won’t pay attention to them, it makes them angry, mean. And it never stops. The demands are incessant and if I’m lucky obscene rather than insane. It goes on day and night wherever I happen to be, whatever I’m doing. If someone has died there, I’ll be the first to know. The thing is that death doesn’t improve most people. Especially as time passes and they forget who they were in life; then you’re left with what you might call the raw essence. Mostly, that’s not a pretty sight, sound or feeling.

No wonder I drink.

It’s almost the only thing that deadens the complaints and perverse whisperings that go on constantly whether I’m in the toilet going for broke or trying to get a leg over. It’s all the same to them and they don’t care if I’m asleep or awake. I can screen it out to an extent like white noise, but not always and never completely. They wait like jackals, greedy for that moment when my concentration starts to slip so they can subsume me with desires that should have died along with their flesh envelope.

But it’s what they evolve into that really sickens me. Still, I suppose it’s a life of sorts.

Just not as we know it Jim…

A Dark-Adapted Eye

I was flying high above the city, lights like rusted stars beneath me. The big beasts were out tonight and I raced past vast serpentine shapes, coils arcing through the air, some with prey leaking their lives onto the night wind and others with joy-riders astride their sleek flanks, wild cries swallowed by the sky. On the ground a dark mass had devoured half of the Meadows and was making it’s way up through Morningside. But I wasn’t confined to the prison of my own skull anymore and such concerns were only part of a larger and more intricate whole, one that consumed me even as I tried to unravel it. No longer separate and discrete, I was part of the fabric of the world: the weft and weave of night joining the dance of the cosmos and beyond; the rhythm of prey and hunter, light as air, fast as light.

I swooped down past lit tenement windows, orange beacons to whatever wanted to spy, past lovers’ quarrels, furtive stirrings in dark alleyways, the blare of car horns, the desperate calls of dogs and other creatures one to another, the ebb and flow of life incessant, irresistible. Low now over pubs and clubs, pumping out a never ending sea of humanity in search of fast thrills and faster food, the debris nourishing the wild things that crept out from the shadows.

Soaring over the affluent houses of the Grange, a massed, silent citadel of privilege set apart from the tattered glamour of the rest of the city. Huge Victorian villas in enormous grounds, some containing only one elderly coot too stubborn to die, too infirm to make the most of it. This was where the bankers and the wealthy elite lived secure behind their stone fortresses, dreading the day the barbarian hordes stormed the gates.

And come it would.

Monday, Monday

I woke up after seven to darkness and the dead, so closely packed it was impossible to tell how many there were. They stood silently, their milky eyes though blind, still able to track me wherever I went, like a field of grey translucent sun flowers.

Had my live visitors wrecked my wards earlier today? I’d rip their limbs off and feed them to them if they had, but somehow I didn’t think it was their style. Besides the wards were so powerful, I didn’t see how anyone could disable them but me.

The Deadlights woke, excited by the promise of all that dark energy and the room thrummed with them, making my head hurt worse than it already did. I waded effortfully through the frozen press of the dead, as though miles down underwater, with a million tonnes of water bearing down on my unprotected head.

I remembered I had a job on tonight and as if to confirm I got a full on visual from one of the Boabhan Sith showing the unmistakable shape of Salisbury Crags and the whispered message:

“The Guardian is awake. You must come.”

I also remembered that it was probably a bad idea given the Hand-of-Glory some kind soul had sent me last night.

It would be madness, mayhem, murder and worse if I accepted such a rash invitation. But then again, it was either that or spend a cheerless Monday night in the cold bosom of the dearly departed.

Of course I went.