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.

My Favourite Things

I had to get out of the house. Pulling on whatever was at hand I was able to cover the resulting catalogue of sins against fashion and common decency with my full length leopard print coat. The telephone rang. I ignored it and left, heading for my nearest greasy spoon for breakfast, or since it was now night, dinner of dead animals and burnt fat.

I had just given my order to the harassed waitress, when my mobile started up with its Snapper download of my current favourite Ten Good Reasons To Kick Your Head In when a man in a base-ball cap pulled low over his face and scarf wound tightly around his neck and jaw, slid into the chair opposite me.

“That seat’s taken,” I said.

The peak of the cap raised slightly and a pair of burning orange eyes with what looked like boils around the contours stared into mine. The skin stretched tightly over the nub of a nose was dark with overlapping scales. Whatever else he was, human didn’t begin to cover it.

“I think you’ll want to make an exception for little old me, Rosie darlin’.” The voice was low and guttural, with a strange fluting quality as though there was something else in there straining to get out. He could go and strain elsewhere as far as I was concerned.

“Tell you what Toad, if you don’t leave immediately, I’ll be the one taking exception. That would be bad.”

“Big talk. Let’s see how talkative you are when my employers get through with you if don’t do what you’re told. That goes for those two you were just entertaining in your boudoir earlier. Have a nice little threesy did you?” He, it, whatever the hell it was, hawked and spat on the floor. The waitress gave a gusty sigh and bent down to clean it. He stared at her and the words she was about to utter died in her throat and she backed off and into the kitchen.

“Jealous? I’m willing to bet the only action you ever get is limited to onesy. You,” I said impatiently after he looked blank.

He was about to say something but I held a hand up to cut him off, “Okay, I’m curious. Who are you?”

He lowered the scarf and a lipless mouth was revealed with row upon row of pointed little teeth on show in what I took to be a smile.

He laughed at the revulsion on my face and said, “Me? I’m nobody. Just a messenger you might say. And the message is this: stay away from the Fox twins.”

I was genuinely amused. “Or what? Is this like a double bluff where you really want me to go see the Foxes, because I have to say it’s working.”

The would-be messenger stared at me, incomprehension plain on the lizard-like features and we all know what usually happens in the old messaging business. I leaned over to him and he withdrew by just the merest fraction of an inch, but it was a telling one activating the adrenalin and pitching me into hyper focus like with Ruby earlier, but this one would be more of a challenge.

“I ain’t dead Rose, you can’t mess with my head.”

“It’s your body I want, but then you must get that all the time,” I grabbed him by the neck before he realised what I was doing. Something metallic clanged to the ground and I was betting it was his blade. A quick flick of the eye downward told me I was on the money. Pulling his face closer to mine as though for a kiss, I flicked the blades on my finger-knives to the first setting: a mere half an inch of razor-sharp serrated steel. Enough to penetrate the skin, not enough for internal organs. He had his back to the two other diners and it looked like we were just getting cosy.

“You wouldn’t dare,” he wheezed.

I stroked the scales on his face with the tip of the blade on my index finger, just hard enough to pierce the tough skin along his jaw and down to the jugular.

“Wouldn’t I?” I whispered, lips inches from his and those sharp little teeth. I flicked the second setting on my middle finger and it went a little deeper into the scaled meat just shy of his jugular. He whimpered and bled.

I smiled and went to work.

Red in Tooth and Claw

On some nights on Leith Walk you can hear it calling like a grieving lover for the one it hunts and feel a faint trembling of the air as though the world itself fears what is about to come.

And that’s as it should be, because something has made Leith its larder. Locking doors and windows cannot keep it out and the penalty for such impertinence is a slow, agonising death. All that remains is to hope that it kills you quickly and that you do not catch sight of it as it consumes the flesh you can’t now call your own.

There is a new rule of law in town.

And this one’s rare steak bloody.

Hey There Gorgie Girl

She had been murdered before the Sainsburys in the Edinburgh area of Gorgie had been built, but that was as much as she remembered. The murder hadn’t even happened in Gorgie, but for some reason that was the place she had chosen to linger. Perhaps it was an old memory of the route to work she’d taken on the day of her death, just like everyday, on the number 25 packed with sleep befuddled commuters. More likely it was just random, like the dreams endured night after night by the living; triggered by a chance word or association and unfairly singled out by the mind from the deluge of the day’s detritus.

But there had been no one around when he had grabbed her from behind after she had gotten off the bus halfway down Leith Walk and bundled her up an alleyway where he slashed her throat with a broken bottle just because he could. She did remember trying to stem the red tide of her blood with grasping ineffectual hands, but the tide was not for turning.

Now she frequented the shadows in the early hours, ranging around the closes and dead-ends of Gorgie’s tenements, waiting, waiting for him to show himself. She’d been growing stronger since her death (at twenty-one), evolving into a force he’d have to reckon with if he ever dared show his face. And he would, she knew, eventually. Her rage was a molten, living thing that allowed no respite, no drifting off into the space of whatever happened next.

But her interaction with the world had had to begin modestly: first with rats and mice; then cats and later dogs. By sheer force of will she had learned how to lure the unfortunate creatures up darkened closes (the smell of a bacon roll here, the simulation of an owner’s voice there) and over time she refined her techniques. Now she could chew through flesh as though it was papier mache and only last night she had made her first practice kill on a human. He had been an old man, granted, but everyone had to start somewhere. His name had had been Robert Carswell, and he had been driven out of his bed by a rampant insomnia made infinitely worse by the recent death of his wife Muriel. He had thought a peaceful walk along darkened streets would soothe his aching head.

And now he lay beside the Tynecastle Stadium, hours from discovery and beyond hope.

She knew she needed some more target practice before he came and she had even picked out a likely victim: a young girl not much younger than she herself had been, out late after a work’s night out.

Everyone ended up in Gorgie’s mean streets at some point whether they intended to or not. And maybe, just maybe she was a Gorgie sort of girl after all.

Reconstructive Surgery

It had been born in a chance encounter between fork lightning and a hillock already gravid with the old magics. Now all the wildling had to do was survive until adulthood worked its own brand of enchantment making it invulnerable to attack. But that was a long way off; a journey fraught with danger.

Rather like the one it was now embarked upon in the wee small hours of a Monday morning. It had broken into a ground floor flat at 18 Marchmont Road as the occupants, a young couple called Babs and Jamie Robertson and their two month old baby Noah, slept. It had been watching the young family for three weeks and it knew their movements with an intimate if unloving precision.

Babs, a nurse at the Royal Edinburgh, was on maternity leave and struggling with the demands of a new born baby. Jamie, a freelance graphic designer with too much time on his hands, generally got under her feet feeling more than a little put out that he was no longer the sole focus of her attentions. So far, so normal. Neither of them had the slightest inkling that they had caught the attention of a malign spirit, one that was bent on getting rid of their child and taking its place in the nest forcing them to care for it; identical to their lost son down to the last eyelash. Unlike the cuckoo though, the wildling would eventually murder its adopted parents at the moment it reached maturity. A bloody rites of passage that was the hallmark of all its kind.

But tonight was only the first small step on that road and the wildling needed to make sure this part of the plan went seamlessly. It stood, a smoky shadow without substance or form apart from a dull red glow that throbbed somewhere in its core. It looked down at the sleeping child, dark lashes fanned out on each plump cheek and felt contempt for such a weak, lumpen creature. It was going to have to take on the appearance of this mewling ball of flesh while its harassed parents tended to its every need. They’d wonder what had happened to their placid baby boy, why he was so cruel and vindictive, first to them and then later to other children. His teachers would huddle in groups in the common room discussing his latest essay, the ways in which it showed what a disturbed little shit he was and endless referrals to an army of psychiatrists and psychologists who would all come to the firm conclusion it was the parent’s fault.

It reached into the cot and took the child, smothering its face before it could cry out. It was important to keep it alive for now so the replication process could begin. It would of course end when it neatly slotted into the cot recently occupied by its true owner some time before Babs and Jamie woke. It wrapped the struggling baby into a blanket and fled, this time having to use the door which shut with a gentle click. Aided by a loosely worked spell of forgetting, no one noticed it as it ran through the chilled night air up Marchmont Road and headed for Blackford Hill, a lonely spot at this hour where it could begin its work.

Finally it came to rest on a little hillock much like the one where it had been spewed into existence and laid the child down on the ground.

Life, it reflected to itself as it began to put on its first flesh overcoat, was a funny old thing…

Soul Sucker

“Horror’s not my thing,” I said, “Stepping out the front door of a Monday morning’s scary enough for me. Now, back to you young lady. When did you get sick and what happened?”

“I’m not sure. I was sick at school a few months ago and daddy had to fetch me and bring me home. I just got worse and worse until I couldn’t really get out of bed anymore. It feels like I’ve been in this room my entire life. I am going to die though, I know it,” tears spilled down her wan little face and I fished out a clean hanky and wiped them away.

“Don’t be daft, nothing wrong that we can’t fix.” Another lie.

“Wh-what is wrong with me?” she sniffed.

“Hold on-there,” I said while the Dead-Lights played over her, uncharacteristically gentle. It only took a few seconds for them to get to the source.

“Found it. This will sound funny to you, but you’ve got a little hole in your aura.”

“Aura? What’s that?”

“It protects you, like your skin protects your insides, only this protects your mind. Everyone has one. Imagine if you didn’t have any skin, your insides would be outside and you’d have to run around carrying them in a wheel-barrow,” I mimed this, puffing out my cheeks as though at the effort and she gave a weak giggle. I wasn’t aiming for a precise comparison, just something a child could get her head round.

“Your aura’s like that except it protects your thoughts, your feelings and keeps other folks thoughts out. You’ve got a tiny hole in yours. Not to worry though, I know just the person who can help you fix it.”

“Why can’t you do it? Why do I have a hole?”

We were getting onto sticky ground. She needed to know some truth, but not the whole truth which was that some sort of parasite had broken through her natural protection and was literally sucking the soul out of her. Why the parasite had picked her, how it had broken through and when it would finish her off was the million dollar question.

“I’m not a healer. But I know someone who is. She’s really nice, you’ll like her.”

And she would; everyone liked Ruby Fox, but Ruby like the rest of the psychic community didn’t like me. This appeared to be because of my little nocturnal hunting expeditions which they thought the height of immorality. I thought they were the pits of hypocrisy and we usually left our mutual loathing at that. But Ruby specialised in auras and healing and there was at least a chance she could restore Emma to health while I hunted the spirit that was killing her.

Stick to your strengths as my old mother might have said…