Fresh Hell

As my old mother might have said if I’d ever met her, “It’ll end in tears,” and it usually did along with a rain of other, less disposable bodily fluids.

I was sitting in the living room of a terraced house opposite Bill and Bella McKinstry, their two kids Montel and Imani running around hyper and hysterical, which from the non-reaction of their elders appeared to be the default position. Bill and Bella sounded like a comedy duo, but nothing could have been less amusing than this god-forsaken set-up.

The room itself was rectangular with two sets of windows facing the front and back gardens. Seventies décor reigned supreme complete with mustard brown swirly carpet and stone fireplace in front of which an electric fire squatted like an enormous toad. Through the window, over Alec’s shoulder, darkness routed the day and the sodium lights began their thankless vigil even though it wasn’t 4pm yet.

Bella heaved herself off the fake leather sofa muttering about putting some lights on, although that didn’t turn out to be an improvement. The kids had drawn on the walls over the peeling, yellowing woodchip and there was a mound of dirty washing spilling out of the adjoining kitchen to within inches of my feet. Bill was small, thin and wizened, dark eyes looking out soulfully from beneath a base ball cap onto a world that hadn’t been kind to him in the past and wasn’t expected to change anytime soon. He was chain-smoking roll-ups and a small graveyard of the butts lay in the large glass ashtray bearing the legend “World’s Best Dad.” She by contrast was large, blond and anxious, wearing a dirty pink shell suit, small mouth set in a permanent sneer of disgusted disbelief as though that was the only expression she had had any use for and couldn’t remember the rest. I couldn’t decide what age they were: it could have been over forty or under twenty. Poverty and nae luck tended to do that to a person.

I was about to find out how far their run of bad luck had really stretched, although the mere fact that they needed my services spoke volumes.


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. While I certainly knew that feeling well enough, I also knew something the creature did not: that in death 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 by shades of grey. Twisted as my sense of fun undoubtedly was, being caught after dark and on the job in a run down housing estate in Gilmerton, was not my idea of a night on the town. Gilmerton, while technically within city limits, did have any others which dared to apply. Perhaps that was why, in true old fashioned pioneer spirit, the hardy family that had survived here for the past two years only thought they a poltergeist to deal with. I hadn’t had the heart to tell them it was so much worse than something that just wanted to throw the pots and pans around.

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 the quacks would have classified as morbidly obese. The collapsed lower third of her face and absence of lips indicated a teeth free zone 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. While it was true pots and pans had been thrown, some of which had even struck the two little boys Kenny and Ryan glancing blows and injured Tyson the dog, there was a new and sinister aspect to this little mortality tale: the creature appeared to be guarding the body. No one could get near to take it for burial and so it lay in all its decomposing splendour stinking up the house and giving the family a whole new take on dust to dust.

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.

From the frantic activity it looked like something was about to….

Dietary Fibre

Murder always drew the bad stuff to it: a lonely spot at the side of a road where a hit and run victim had died; the bedroom where a sadistic killer finished off his thirteenth victim; the site of a car crash engineered by a unloving husband for his unsuspecting wife. But the real jackpot were the murderers themselves, hoaching with enough raw, spiritual sewage to generate enough power to light up the city. Oh, and little old me of course.

Not being a telepath I couldn’t access the murdering bastard’s memories directly, but the evil spirits that infested them could. They literally ate into the homicidal maniac’s fond recollections and I ate them. From these memories it was possible to piece the victims final moments together and it was rarely a pretty picture. But I couldn’t deny, it was indeed a proud moment when you realised you were standing at the top of such a distinguished food chain.

And then the dreams…

There Goes The Neighbourhood…

The spirits of the dead filled Morningside Road while the living went about their Saturday afternoon business, oblivious for the most part to this silent invasion. While I could see every sad, dessicated detail of the revenant army, what I couldn’t figure out was what the hell they wanted.

The dead tended to forget the finer points of the flesh overcoats they had worn in life. As the years passed, that memory loss became the gateway to a sinister evolution of form and sometimes even substance. That explained the dark, shark-like shapes frenetically circling above my head and even the serpentine coils of some of the earthbound. What it didn’t explain was why they were all acting in concert, as though co-ordinated by a single mind.

Navy clouds massed above and within minutes, a torrent of water fell from the sky washing the debris and the living both from the streets. The dead remained, impassive, motionless and then, as though at an unseen signal, swung round as one to fix their lightless eyes on me. The weight of their attention drove the breath from my lungs as though I was being dragged miles down into the sunless depths of the sea.

Gasping, I did the only thing I could do: walked on, oblivious to the rain driving into my face but not the mortal danger. Recovering slightly, I picked up the pace, trying not to be too obvious about it in case that triggered the imminent attack.

I was heading for Holy Corner and the sleeping guardians formed from years of the worship of a god that didn’t exist. Whether or not they would deign to wake and protect me was a whole other can of worms that I’d have the pleasure of opening if I lived long enough to reach the can-opener.

Love Thy Neighbour

When I moved into my new flat in Home Street, the first thing I did was to make peace with the spirits who haunted it – or so I thought. It was just routine, the first rule of good house-keeping and something I always did in a new place.

But I hadn’t reckoned on the thing that haunted the small cupboard in the stairwell, not then.

I had laid out my offerings as usual, consisting of supermarket own brand cognac accompanied by some slices of Madeira which for some reason was always a favourite. The spiritual under-class who refused to pass on, choosing instead to crowd this world with their unwanted presences and unseemly demands had a very sweet, and undeniably alcoholic, tooth.

It was Wednesday lunchtime in a drear and dreich July and I still hadn’t fully unpacked. But some things were more important than settling in.

The flat was poky and dark with loose windows through which the dull roar of the midday traffic and a seeping damp insinuated themselves. I remember I had lit a few candles to get me in the mood and was nibbling absent-mindedly on some cake when they came.

I was aware of the grey smog before I saw it, death sense pinging its presence back to me like a bat’s sonar. And of course I smelt it too, damp and mildew underlaid with that sickly-sweet scent of decay.

They came flowing towards me, men women and children, some whole, more not. The dead soon forgot their appearance in life and evolved into other forms most of which were often not recognisably human. A dark blur raced around the walls of the cramped living-room while a group of children in Edwardian clothes gaped at me, teeth sharp, eyes bright.

The cuckoo clock chimed the half hour and that’s when I became of the presence outside the door.

It wanted in. Not like the ghosts of those who had died appeased by stale sweets and cheap booze, no, this wanted in. A crushing pressure on my chest made it difficult to breath and I fell to floor with the realisation that what was waiting for me outside wasn’t going to be bought off or bargained with.

I didn’t understand, it had never gone like this before. What the hell was waiting for me on the other side of the door? I reached up to the pine coffee table scrabbling for my mobile, but either it wasn’t there or I was unable to reach it.

A click of the lock and then a slow wet, slither in the hall told me my guest had arrived….

Piggy In The Middle

I caught the X12 at the Ingliston Park and Ride just in time and settled into my seat shaking the rain from my hood. It was just gone 6.50 am on a gloomy Monday in July and I had an urgent appointment with a woman in Burdiehouse about a supernatural parasite that had laid its eggs in her toilet cistern. Of course she didn’t realise that, but what hadn’t escaped her was that it didn’t appear to be a fault with the plumbing, given the fact that the plumber in question had run screaming from her top floor flat and she’d heard nothing from him since. So distraught was he, that he’d left all his tools in an untidy spill in her hallway.

“Oi,” said a voice from the seat behind me, “You’ve soaked me, you inconsiderate bitch.”

I turned my head in disbelief and saw a young girl of perhaps eighteen glowering at me. She was blond and petite, pale blue eyes dominating a delicate, heart-shaped face. She might have been pretty minus the scowl but what really caught my attention was the seven foot elemental attached to her. A long, veined tentacle thicker than one of her thighs had wrapped itself around her body, penetrating the flesh at the base of her neck. The elemental itself was a pulsating mass, featureless and unformed for now. It had also not been in situ for that long judging by the size. These things could grow to the size of skyscrapers if left long enough and if the host had sufficient juice.

The thing about these creatures was that they made the hosts, well, not to put to fine a point on it, crazy – and not the lovable, harmless ditzy variety either. That meant the hosts with the most needed to get rid of their uninvited, joy-riding parasites before they got too entrenched. Once that happened it was Goodnight Vienna.

I specialised in getting rid of these things and from what I could see, this one looked distinctly doable. The tentacle on this one throbbed rhythmically as it sucked on the girl’s life force. A faint blush spread like an angry rash over her pale skin and I wondered what cocktail the elemental was feeding her.

“Listen-” I began.

“No, you listen.”

She jabbed a slender forefinger inches from my face in staccato counterpoint to the torrent of abuse spewing from the rosebud mouth. The tentacle coiled more possessively around the slender body and the peristaltic contractions became more pronounced.

I turned away from her and she jabbed me in the back, hard.

“Oi, you, you ignorant cow. I’m going to rip off your head and spew down the hole and you’ll thank me for it by the time I’ve finished with you.”

“Not without a head I won’t,” I said without turning round.

I fished around for a pen and paper in my bag and started scribbling a note for her all the while knowing it was hopeless. Even if I gave it to her and managed to get off the bus without her stuffing it down my presumably still attached throat, the chances of her ringing me for help rather than more abuse were remote.

I sighed and tried to ignore the frantic jabbing in my back. I was getting off at Haymarket and we were nearly there. But my troubles had, it seemed, only just begun as a sweet little old lady dressed in lilac sat down next to me.

“What a to do!” she said breezily. “No one’s leaving this bus until we’re all extra special friends again.”

She smiled, revealing a row of jagged brown teeth and a distinctly vulpine glint in her eyes.


One of the old guard that hunted human meat and weren’t too fussed how they got it. She might look like a vulnerable oldster, but judging by the dark maroon aura that was almost choking me she was in fact an exceptionally dangerous predator.

A shape-shifter that wasn’t for shifting beside me and an enraged maniac at my back. I was now officially between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea or Scylla and Charybdis if you more classically inclined. And all before I’d had my morning latte.

The question was, which way could I jump.

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….