Hell’s Bells

” Merry Christmas Rose.”

I couldn’t believe midnight had struck and here I was spending Christmas with a half man, half beast. And not in a good way. What the hell had happened to my life that this was where I’d ended up?

But Hell was definitely not going to mend me and one of these days I was going to have to come to terms with that. But for now I slipped between clean cotton sheets and into a dreamless sleep that not even the revenants at the window could keep me from.

The Grass Is Always Meaner

The white light of dawn did not flatter Greyfriars Cemetery. Not that this discouraged the ill advised idiots that flocked here in their droves with no idea about what they were messing with, or what the place was really for. As for me, it had always been my dearest ambition not to be found dead here.

Around four hundred years ago, the cemetery had moonlighted briefly as an open air prison for over a thousand people, their suffering leaving an indelible stain, like smoke damage in a diseased lung. It had been this little wheeze that had attracted such dark energies to the place, rather than its day job as a bone-yard. Now it pulsed with a febrile heat, as though something was about to hatch and I knew I was running out of time.

The great vaults were ornately carved: grinning skulls and coy angels coupled together in a sexless dance of death and resurrection; obsessively carved by the living in the hope of making sense of their own one way ticket.

Many of them were so old that the stone itself was crumbling as though in wry tribute to the way of all flesh. Theses cages of stone and iron were of course only for those rich enough to afford such pointless ostentation, constructed to keep the corpses safe from the attentions of the body-snatchers, or Resurrection Men as they were ironically known. They failed of course.

The grass on the other hand looked healthy and vigorous, fed on the superior nutrients leached from the great and the good. At least they had finally given something back to the community.

Flesh Fish

I sat in the car because, simply, there was nowhere else to go.

To the west, the darkening stain of an oncoming storm gradually cast a caul over the deserted street where I was parked and the sensation of being smothered was very nearly overwhelming. Yet there was still a shimmering quality to the air, as though trying to contain something that was intent on getting out.

I knew the feeling.

To my left was a fish shop which, although it displayed the closed sign, still had meat of indeterminate origin in the window. Great, grey eels were stacked on one side next to what looked like a small pieces of shark meat. Dun coloured fillets rubbed innards with something that had a huge head and lots of small, sharp teeth reminding me of an old school-mate from primary school.

A blurred burst of purple and red in the interior of the shop made me look again. The darkened interior stared blankly back at me and the hairs began to rise on the back of my neck because in that brief monent I had seen a familiar hulking shape: a creature I knew had never been burdened with the vulgarity of a pulse and the flesh over-coat that contained it.

Two doors down in the window above the grocer’s, the corner of a net curtain twitched as though hastily dropped by whatever was behind it. I was trapped in the eye of the storm, knowing that something irrevocable was just about come crashing down, something from which neither I nor this benighted village was ever going to escape.

I did what I normally did when faced with the end of the world, the end of humanity, the end of the end: I pulled out my hip flask and drained it dry.

The Giggler In The Dark

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

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

Empathy With The Devil

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

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

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

“What do you think?

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

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

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

“It’s pretty obvious.”

“Oh really. I’d be very careful-“

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

“Gee thanks-

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

Dead and Alive

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

“I’ll let you know when.”

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

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

Man on a Key-ring

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

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

I was suddenly reminded of an old boy-friend.

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

Blood and the Maiden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“I’ve no idea.”

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

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

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.