Mercuria.

Indelible are the screaming texts of history

Bonded with the fibres of the vellum

we forget the long since dried

And smudge the fresh ink to hide dark and nasty truths

But are they recorded in vino veritas or did we always drive snakes between the syllables?

Only the watching dead shall know

Their tongues sea mist and skin moon glow

Peripheral guardians there then not

Even scares from sudden blasts cannot punch the heart as hard as judging eyes

So the land not dwelt nor stolen from keeps the mercurial things

In its madness patterns that are not calculated for the debt of man

Live beasts that flee from waking dreams

Live chimney blackened ghouls in between the smithy’s coals and screams

And back to silence in the dark folds of the robes of science

Each leaf and blade is its own godhead striking the gong of first light

Banishing jealous spectres to temple antiquity or the trail of abandoned satellites

And all of the poisons in fangs and statesmen’s pens are barely enough to hinder a revolution

This damned earth rich at the pointed tip craves endless retribution

It turns with winds and charts of wealth above the offended dead in their boxes

It endures through extinction and resurrection, time and again with new mistakes to correct

It bleeds and heals beneath mountains of embryonic fire and the marching feet of oppression

Until the Mercury that made madness and hats alike slithers between the joy of salvation and the threat of damnation

To right the wrongs and write the rights of all things equal in the eye that oversaw

Creation.

The Room Behind the Mirror.

“Charles, the walls are whispering to the furniture again. They’re conspiring to deprive us of comfort!” Millie enjoyed throwing her brother off balance with her wild imagination. She revelled in his befuddled face and the fear in his eyes as he tried to rationalise her nonsense, likening her to the desperate cuckoo darting out of the clock face.

“Millicent, for the last time, can you try to walk through the door marked ‘normal’ in the morning?”

The brother and sister lived in a beautiful red brick town house on the corner of a park festooned with cherry blossom trees and triumphant bulges of hydrangea.

Their days were spent exploring and finding adventures to new worlds, gently mixed with what they knew of the real world like a delicate cake mix.

The idyllic childhood was theirs to enjoy, riding the clouds of imagination as if they were on the back of a marauding dragon or narwhale plummeting the depths.

“Charles, I found a letter in the red room under the floorboards. I can’t tell the language but the writing is reddy black, it has weird shapes in the margins and it smells funny. Perhaps it’s a bible addressed to the mice warning them about worshipping cheese?”

Charles slinked down the stairs and across to the drawing room, his sarcastic frown, permanently painted onto his face, was curling upwards like a stale sandwich.

“Millicent, how did you find this little room? I never realised there was a door behind the full length mirror. It’s so odd that we haven’t found it until now.”

“Everything is red and there’s a huge star on the floor, little winged men with horns and a big rams face and I think they kept chickens in those cages – the feathers are lovely colours.”

Millicent took a gulp of air after her long sentence. She pulled at the tiny latch in the corner of the mirror and it swung open from right to left with a deep throated creak, releasing stale gusts into the light room.

The pair gawped at the tiny room daubed in thick, maroon paint and odd symbols from floor to ceiling. A solitary book lay on the shelf sideways with the title, ‘The book of the Lore’. White dust had collected in the corners and the eyes of the big ram, inside the star, seemed to follow them everywhere. The room smelled like old fish and on the ceiling was a triangle with a swirling eye in the centre. Flashes of lightening emanated from the eye, jabbing into terrifying faces.

In the corner, next to the chicken cages, was a splintered trapdoor with a latch that was a devil pushing out a long tongue.

After about ten minutes of frantic whispering, they both decided to look inside the trapdoor even though they were scared out of their wits.

The latch clicked and it heaved upwards revealing a dark blue staircase leading into the darkness of the wardrobe at night.

Or the corners without eyes and teeth.

Milly stood staring into a pantheon of imagined monsters and muttered to Charles.

“I can’t see the floor. Maybe there is no floor? Maybe it’s a staircase to the bottom of the world and through another trap door to space and we have to swim through the stars forever?”

Charles ignored his babbling sister and lit a long black candle, set with silver sevens, he found on a stone plinth then started down the steps.

“Are you coming to explore or are you going to stand there like a tailor’s dummy thinking up rubbish to make my ears burn?”

Snapped Charles, his eyes flashing at her with disapproval.

“Let me put my hand on your shoulder, Charles. It’s so I’m safe from the clutches of Professor Midnight.”

The Professor was Milly’s arch nemesis at bedtime and she would be awake long into the early hours trying to discern his willowy figure from the branches waving in the lamplight outside.

“Just stay close, Millicent and not a peep. If Nanny Gravestock finds us in here she’ll tell Uncle Ernest and we’ll get the buckle end of the strap.”

Uncle Ernest had kindly taken the children in when their parents were killed in a motorway pile up which saw them roasted to death in the debris. They did not get the chance to see them buried and Charles suspected that Milly’s quirks were protection from the overwhelming grief.

As they reached the bottom step, a wave of dread filled their hearts. With the thumping of blood making a death march in their ears, they entered a room exactly as the one above but the floor and ceiling designs were switched around. In the centre of the room were two coffins on trestle tables draped with silver trimmed red cloths.

“Charles, maybe they’re umpires?”

“Millicent, that’s vampires! They are for the dead and not the undead. We are going back up the stairs and…”

The candle blew out and the trap door slammed shut leaving them swallowed by blackness and utterly terrified.

“Charles…Charles…Please answer me!”

Silence was abruptly punctuated by two heavy thumps on the floor followed by dragging and the horrifying wheezing of laboured breath.

Not one, but two and loaded with gravel.

Milly dragged herself to the steps and began to crawl up slowly. Her heart almost jumped out of her chest when she felt two hands upon her shoulders and she clambered to the trap door. Pushing as hard as she could, the sprung door popped open and slammed onto the floor. She bolted to the door of the red room and, looking back briefly, she caught a bleary glimpse of two cooked corpses carrying her screaming brother.

Milly fell to the floor and tried to crawl out of the room before terror gripped her delicate senses.

“Professor Midnight, not you – not you!”

Already her vision was through the bottom of a wine glass and her brother was having his skin removed by one of the charred ghouls whilst the other had reached into his chest cavity, tearing his heart out through the gaping wound. Huge blood bubbles spattered the walls as roars and screams exploded from beneath the floor. Milly gasped as several brightly coloured cockerels scurried out of the trapdoor and began feasting on errant flesh scattered around the big ram’s head.

Finally, Milly succumbed to the numbing of her senses. She closed her tear streaked eyes just as a huge black shape lumbered up the stairs from the darkness below.

“Nati sunt autem videtis me adhuc Virgo cordibus vestris.”

(Virgin hearts will see me born again.)

Her dreams were a string of disjointed scenarios culminating in the skinned and mutilated Charles offering her his heart, perched upon a huge blue and silver seat atop writhing filth and horrifying shadows. Suddenly from behind it, a giant ram peered round with piercing yellow eyes and hissed,

“You are my new suit, child.”

A shaggy claw snatched the heart from Charles’ hands and bit into it with long fangs that gleamed when set against a purple black tongue. With a chilling cockerels cry, Charles then burst into flames and white dust blasted into her eyes. The white out cleared into black stars and white stars emerged from black shapes. Finally, two charred bodies, hands and feet tied with sticks in their mouths, sunk to their knees before the ram. The book on the shelf opened with a lion’s roar and the entire scene was sucked into its pages only to be silenced by the cover slamming shut.

Her uncle, clad in a deep blue cowl, picked up the book and winked at her through a sneer.

When she woke, Milly was in the master bedroom bathed in golden evening light. The ornate coving and cornices around the ceiling shone in their metallic coats and the room had the heady scent of cotton lavender to soothe her furrowed brow.

“Nanny, is that you? Nanny where’s Charles? I had such an awful dream. Where is he? Did the burned people take him?”

“Shhhh…Millicent. Try not to speak. You’ve had a nasty fall. Have a sip of water and rest. Your Uncle Ernest had the doctor look you over and he…”

“They screamed out the children’s names when the fire began to roast their lungs. Little orphans alone in the wicked world with the smell of burned flesh in their noses. Dear Nanny, with your secret trysts, you were never loved and never kissed in that way.”

Milly sat leering at her horrified carer. The sweet scent of the lavender had curdled to an acrid stench and, as a deep grey cloud passed in front of the sun, the shadow of her form sunk into a deep green hue and ludicrously curled rams horns grew steadily from her head. The windows splintered into frosted shards and an eerie gloom descended on the room like a blanket being thrown over a fire.

“My dearest Coleen, faithful nanny to the darling children, where do your thoughts wander when you are alone at night? Do they wander with your body to Ernest’s room to be humiliated? We know him and his ways. He aspires to be with us in legion and made bloody murder in that accident he arranged. There are no worse monsters than those who conspire to be one by design. The lies are smeared into the darkness like salt into stab wounds. Run along now, nanny Coleen, he can’t wait for too long with his weakened manhood.”

Leaping three stairs at a time, the nanny landed at the foot of the staircase with a sickening crunch as her right foot twisted round and her ankle bone sheared through her tattoo, folding it like a limp turkey neck onto the side of her foot. Her agonising yelp was fired into the front door as she scrambled for the latch and fell onto the road outside, her head resting on the kerb stone. It was only a moment later that a bus stopped beside her and, as it set off from alighting two oblivious passengers, her hair caught in the wheel and she was dragged under the huge tyres to become a clotted jam smear across the damp Tarmac.

Milly descended the staircase like thistledown on a breeze and crouched down to lick the blood pool and droplets trailing to the door. Rising from the hardwood floor, her blue tipped toes squeaked as they slid along up to the long mirror and stopped still. She stared longingly at her fluctuating reflection smiling as her eyes changed from powder blue to a fiery yellow. Long blue veins snaked up under her skin and across her body with blisters and lesions swelling to a head and weeping bile coloured pus into a pool beneath her feet. Her nails split with putrid black razors springing out like cat claws and, as the evening light cowered behind an awful darkness, she reached forward and rapped three times on the mirror.

The whole house began to shudder, the pipes knocked loudly, glass splintered into frosted panes and the temperature plummeted to visible curls of evil breath seeping from cracked lips and a vesicle pocked tongue.

Her three knocks on the mirror were answered from the other side and the glass became transparent to reveal a huge shaggy goat with large arms and talons, a jaw full of jagged teeth and eyes that matched hers in colour and intensity.

“I am you now, child. I have seeped into your bones and skin and run through your blood. My fall into the depths was an eternity ago. Now I have a soul and my despair shall be broadcast like seed in the fields. I shall kill their hope and hang it on the roadside for the carrion to feast upon. Enter my domain, child.”

She passed through the mirror and into the red room to find the two immolated figures feasting on Charles’ heart.

“Welcome, Millicent – our second born.”

Milly drifted over and took a slice of her brother’s heart, shredding it with her sharpened teeth and hideous talons.

“We gave our lives to reach Abadzrael and he made his choice when you found the scarlet letter. Humanity is ripe now to turn on their faulted god. Go forth and mystify, child. Your uncle Ernest is the key to the power on earth. Kill him then take the helm of his empire.”

Milly waved her arm and the trapdoor flew open allowing her parents to return to under the red room and rest for eternity.

Gliding through the mirror, she dragged the black chill of frozen space behind her and the laughter of the Professor.

Milly was the beast in shadow form but her body remained that of a child.

As she ascended the stairs, the paper on the walls peeled and split and the pictures bubbled in their glass frames, the smiling faces inside wilting to sadness. Her talons dug deep into the bannister rail, curling lacquered wood upwards with the squeal of a flailing mouse in the fangs of a huge spider. Her skin was now cyan which made her eyes burn bright in their sunken sockets and green vapour grew in wisps from her mouth and nose. Hellish shapes flanked her form, creeping up the walls and across the ceiling as frost pricked at the fibres on the carpet beneath.

“Eeeeerrrrrnesssssssssst! I seek the lascivious captain of industry. I am the queen of cups and will fill yours to overflowing with the horrors of artists dreams .”

Three hard knocks blasted into his bedroom door and Ernest woke from a slumber, staring intensely into the gloom. The doorknob rattled and the key dropped to the floor.

“Hide under your flimsy sheets, old man and I will slither between your toes, up your leg, across your belly and sit upon your chest to nip your breath.”

The door began to shake violently and a strange green miasma wafted beneath it and through the keyhole. It crept across the floor and up the walls, carving a hideous face on the opaque window.

Outside the orange street lights began to flicker as though moths were gathered around them and all at once they were extinguished to muted blackness.

Slowly, the door creaked opened and a chorus of shrieking mice, thick with spider venom, bounced around the room.

Ernest was aghast at the shadows edging in and across the walls as a faint crescent moon, behind rain clouds, provided a hint of the invader.

His heart was squeezing blood through his ears and two deep yellow eyes lit up in the dark doorway sending a cavalcade of dread up a crooked spine.

“Wh-at d-do y-you want with me?” He crowed, indignation braving the terror in his voice.

“I’m here to get what was promised to me in your little red shrine, Ernest Caulfield. You and your acolytes reached out to me in the void and I saw my resurrection in your little Millicent. I want your power and influence amongst the earthly devils in their suits and position. You are no more than bacteria that spoils the gut. Your perversions remain in this darkness and your rube nanny is a dead thing now.

You found the key by accident in the teachings and I was released. You have served to me a vessel and it must be rid of you…and it!”

Ernest reached into his night stand and pulled out a small pistol, aimed it between the eyes and pulled the trigger. The screeching roar that emanated from the darkness was followed by the soft gasp of a small voice.

“I built my empire from a run down store. Screw you if you think you’re just taking it.” Ernest placed the gun into his nightstand and looked towards the door just as long nails dug into his face and slammed his head against the headboard.

“I am impervious, you deviant! I shall be renewed by sunrise after I have eaten your putrid little cowardly heart.”

The bed slammed and tipped forward throwing Ernest across the floor and into the doorway. He scrambled to the corner by the window and choked at the sight of a little girl being raised from the floor, floating towards him and gradually flanked by black spectres. The frost was creeping up his body and the sight of her yellow eyes in a battered body with long talons and green breath, was too much and he grasped his chest in agony.

“Heart giving out, Ernest? Here, let me help you with that!”

He flipped over and arched his back as sinew and bone snapped and popped. His agonised screams were mocked by the creature until his rib cage was forced out through his thin skin and it snapped back like a bear trap being tripped. His organs bubbled out and slopped onto the floor and he was pulled up in front of the window by his hair. His last view was a slender arm with black talons reaching into his chest and wrenching out the heart. The window shattered onto the floor and his body flew out across the street and landed in the park. Within seconds a pack of stray dogs were furiously ripping it apart like a rag doll then scattering in all directions to feast on pallid chunks.

The child returned to the room behind the mirror to feast on the heart of the old man. Her natural colour was returning to her body and her eyes glistened a powder blue.

Swallowing the last mouthful, she reached into her night dress and pulled out the scarlet letter found in the red room.

Opening it up, a broad smile with straight white teeth flashed across her face and she began to laugh, ascending octaves to her natural voice.

The letter had become a last will and testament of Ernest Caulfield who bequeathed his fortune and position on the board to his darling Millicent.

She climbed onto his bed and curled up to sleep, eyes open wide and broad grin stretched from ear to ear.

“Tomorrow is the first day of the descent of man and the shadow world will come forth against him.

Power corrupts and absolute power is the ultimate corruption.”

From out of the shadows, the Professor stepped lightly and pulled the sheets over her.

“Goodnight, Millicent and may god receive what is his and reject what is not.”

The pillow beneath her crumpled over her face and she twitched violently until the stillness inside mirrored the night beyond.

The Professor raised his charred hand and waved.

“Goodnight, Milly, daddy loves you.”

Socket.

“YOU CUT ME UP YOU LITTLE BASTARD!” I screamed through the screen at a boy racer in a Volkswagen with a giant spoiler and windows full of fire stickers. This new job was a ham fisted gardener tearing the plants from the ground and hastily replanting without any nourishment whatsoever.

All along the black sky journey, past winter husk and huddle, the clock had moved backwards rubbing salt into my wounded career. Being downsized, downgraded then moved to the back of beyond is a mighty kick in the balls for twenty three years of mindless obedience and loyal service.

But this is the new world where managers are more disposable than staff and ascending graphs and returns are the making or breaking of them!

So the little rented white van, filled with my life so far, pulled into the sleepy hamlet of Truckle View where the sat nav drew a blank with unnerving silence.

I tapped it to check it was still working but the dot faded and the voice became static put through an effects loop:

“Hgggrreeeesst…flleeg…crrraaass…

Leave…flleek…shrereeer…

Then eerie silence.

The acoustics inside a tin can are madness inducing as metallic pops of rain bounced around, assaulting my already shredded nerves. The main road into Truckle View slowed histrionic, weaving traffic down to a lonesome rider moseying into town in some Western, being preempted by tumble weed and peering townsfolk.

“If I see one kid sat on a doorstep with a banjo…!” I quipped out loud whilst sitting in the torrent at a flared, red traffic light.

Suddenly, a gulp of air was sucked into my body by a sucker punch of fright.

Shadows of people crossing the road walking through one another, as though they were grey smoke from a dying camp fire, plucked a dissonant chord in my jangling senses.

The strangeness of the scene made my vision blurry until the blast of a horn behind jolted me to the urgency of an impatient green light.

I scoured the lanes until, at last, my apartment block shone through the dappled screen like King Arthur’s sword rising from the lake.

“Finally here and only five hours and twenty two minutes of rain.” I grumbled under my breath, opening the heavy van doors for the first, carefully boxed installment of my life.

The path to the front entrance was cobbled in spiral patterns with nine large white stones either side, five on one and four on the other.

“Strange big things amongst the small ones. They’re smooth and oval with cracks running across the length. They look just like…”

Before I could complete my muttered sentence, a large husky voice through a broad grin greeted me from the doorway.

“New blood to pollute the pool, I guess? Salutations to you, stranger. You must be the manager-to-be of the big store. I am Mrs. Clavell-Clarke, the building owner and Mayoress of our humble little one horse town of Truckle View. Come on inside out of the rain and we’ll get better acquainted, so to speak.”

“I’m Tam Dees, m’am.” I raised the box I was holding a little as a salute to replace a polite handshake.

“Well, hurry and I will show you to your apartment in the gods, with a view above the gloom and out to Sarkle Hill, our landmark and site of the annual pig chase. We release the pig at the top and the runner that catches the swine before the river gets join the circle.”

“The Sarkle circle?” I quipped before receiving a dozen steel daggers fired from ice blue eyes behind horned rimmed spectacles.

“Please don’t mock our traditions beyond these walls, Mr. Dees. You will quickly find it is no laughing matter and your stay will be stymied. Now, here’s your apartment, number twelve. Feel free to come and go as you please and keep the shenanigans to a minimum. Other than that enjoy your stay here and find your true self in this corn dolly world.”

What an odd thing to say!

The double barreled matriarch ushered me through the door and into a clean, well appointed space with pristine white walls, a plain brown linoleum floor and a small, two seat sofa placed curiously in front of the window, facing out.

“Oh and Tam, you must have your first meal with me. One hour from now in apartment three. I won’t take no for an answer.”

Mrs. Clavell-Clarke’s voice was warm and free from the business brusque of earlier and shed my armour climbing the stairs.

I unpacked quickly and sat on the well sprung sofa staring at the hill that was awash with shadows from a cloudscape halo circling a retreating sun.

But something jarred my senses.

The clouds seemed to be chased by darker shadows as though they were playing ring o’ roses around the hill and across the rocks and bronzed grass. The dark shapes had limbs and passed in and out of the outcrops before being blasted by the evening sun, dissolving into the ground amid a rush of startled birds scattering skyward.

“What was tha…” I muttered under the bellow from two floors down.

“Tam, tea is on the table. When you’re ready?”

The silence between broken conversations was a glacial reprieve that cooled each mouthful of hot Chilli.

“So, Mrs. Clavell-Clarke…”

“Please, call me Celia. I’m the Mayoress, Council Leader, neighbourhood watch uber-snoop, Chamber of Commerce chair, town planning committee…basically, if it happens here, it goes through me…

It goes through me and stops at my will.”

She smiled a wry slanted half smile betraying a dullness of the eyes. A gloss free dullness that comes with a razure, a relationship so disastrous that she burned it and salted the earth after and placed a curse upon any thought of it after the paperwork had cooled.

Not one to cross this one.

“I see you admired the Nine Griefs as you entered the building, Tam”

Mrs. Clavell-Clarke removed her glasses placing them carefully on the table and stroked her throat just above the top button.

“Excuse me?”

“The nine white stones framing the cobbled swirls, they are the Nine Griefs? Large cobbles found on Sarkle Hill and brought here to pave the entrance to my home. Being the First Lady of Truckle View is a position that comes with unending perks.” She revelled in her piety and clawing sarcasm.

“But cobbles don’t have sutures, do they?” I quipped with a light barb.

“Sutures?” She snapped back with lightening speed.

“Yes, as in the growth lines in the skull. A big white cobble skull…”

The awkward moment was a balloon releasing air, both comedic and mildly threatening.

“Cobble skull poppycock! I think I made a tongue twister?”

We both enjoyed a relieved chuckle.

The scented candle finally smothered the cooking odours which subtlety signaled the end of a charming evening.

“Thank you for a tasty meal, Mrs. Clavell-Clarke. I’ve got a five o’clock rise to get a head start on the business.”

“Thank you, Tam it’s so refreshing to have new conversation as a civil tongue wears down like a dynamite fuse in this little place. Goodnight and sleep well…oh…and take this corn dolly for your door as it offers protection from dream phantoms.”

Wary of offending again, I held off laughter until she winked at me before making my way up the dark stairwell to the clinical apartment.

Opening the door in semi darkness, I noticed lights darting across the hill and hit the sofa clumsily to observe the activity.

The night sky was a shredded blanket pulled carelessly over the stars and beneath this was the distinct shape of Sarkle Hill being circled by a myriad of eerie, glowing wisps. They appeared then disappeared beneath it causing a supernatural strobing effect, reappearing larger as though re energized beneath the soil. Every so often the lights made a human shape and wafted down the hill and across the river towards town. It was when several passed through each other in the river that my mind was cast back to the traffic lights and I shuddered violently.

Sitting forward to take a closer look, a cold draught brushed my shoulder and I turned my head quickly to take in the naked shape of Mrs. Clavell-Clarke sitting next to me. She was drenched in blood with the head of the corn dolly where her own head should be and long spiny fingers covered in ash.

Then its eyes opened and the mouth uttered

“Run little curly tail

run little ham

run from the nine of them

Lest ye be damned!”

I managed a husky yelp when the alarm pierced the bubble and soapsuds residue of the nightmare blew into my face, waking me fully to shadows retreating into the dark corners and under the door.

The shop was a tedious Ma and Pa business that a school leaver could manage comfortably and my boredom etched face gazed longingly beyond the bargain spattered front window and onto the Truckle View high street. The regulars wore a groove to their usual brands and the profits trod water in a tea cup.

I would occasionally be an agent provocateur in local gossip which was my private middle finger to this slow death in the provinces. The spirit flattening dullness that passed for conversation here would might have seen me hanging by my corporate tie had it not been for the sunflower in a landscape of wilted weeds.

That was Shona.

She was the blithe spirit weaving brightly coloured threads between the sorrowful greys. She was the open window in the funeral home, a breath of fresh air with fresh ingredients, fresh flowers and a fresh conversation every time.

Still she saw me as thing of neglect gathering dust at the back of the shelf and gave me polite attention with a pang of hope drizzled into every “see you soon” cast backwards when exiting the shop.

Four months fled from my calendar and Shona caught the pig in the Sarkle race and moved up in the world, taking me from out of date to mouldy then decayed.

Each night, upon returning home, I’d have a tall glass of chilled beer and watch the Sarkle lights, wondering what was really up there?

Why the nine Griefs?

Why the lights?

Why the protection dolls and why the race?

This was getting into Wicker Man country.

So I decided to catch the pig and get into the inner sanctum of this town.

The evening before the race and Mrs. Clavell-Clarke invited me for a meal and to catch up on new events in the burg.

“I’ve made a lasagne with Chianti and Orkadian cheese. It will be fuel for the chase tomorrow.”

We ate and laughed at some of the crotchety characters that frequented the store and doused the dullness with a little alcoholic lustre.

“You’ve been here a good few months now, Tam and you’ve not met anyone special, have you? Excuse me for prying but I feel almost responsible being that it’s my town that’s kept you that way.”

She stared whilst cooing in a sympathetic dulcet tone.

“I’ve never had much luck with anyone really, Mrs. C…”

“Please, Tam, call me Celia”

“Thank you, Celia. I’ve been a silent observer my whole life and the more time has gone the more derelict my confidence became. Your self esteem evaporates and leaves you dried and crusty, unappealing even to the dating site dregs. And then one day you wake up and life is everything else but love.”

Celia leaned across the table and kissed my forehead gently.

“At least your heart is intact.”

My razure instinct was dead right.

“Thank you so much for dinner, Celia. I will have to invite you to mine for a bite to eat and we can watch the lights on Sarkle hill afterwards.” I smiled believing she was, as a long time resident, aware of the phenomenon.

“Lights, Tam? Lights on Sarkle Hill?

What lights are these?”

“The strange glow that roams around the hill at dusk and the shadow figures during the day when the sun is cloud covered. Surely you’ve seen them?”

“Indeed I have not. I must see these for myself. We must go to the hill tomorrow night and see them. I’m a huge paranormal enthusiast. I’m so excited. Come and get me at sun down tomorrow and we will take a walk over there. Thank you, Tam”

I trudged wearily up the stairs to my apartment and opened the door to complete darkness. The lights were gone and the sofa was facing into the room and towards the bedroom. I slowly turned from this sight to the doorway of my bedroom and froze.

There, inside my room, were lights in human form swirling round and round at great speed to create a zoetrope effect using my doorway as the aperture. I saw bodies dragged away, bodies screaming to be released and nine shadowy figures walking in procession carrying a huge corn doll upside down. Their heads were bone white and their feet were cloven. Slowly, I reached for the light switch and before the nine entered the main living space from the bedroom, I illuminated the scene causing the illusion to burst in my imagination like a distress flare at sea.

“Dear Lord, protect me!” I muttered glancing at the door where my corn doll gift from Celia was upside down with blood running down the frame. The blood tapered to a smear then beneath it nine oval shapes.

“I need to fly this cuckoo’s nest as soon as I can.” I thought, quickly remembering the last words of the HR director ringing in my ears.

“Make this a success, Tam or I’ll retire your shirt and you’ll be back to the apron and hair net.”

I must have checked underneath and inside everywhere twice before falling into bed exhausted.

My last thought before a dreamless sleep was “I must catch the pig.”

I missed the alarm and awoke to a pounding at my door, which startled me and I rolled out of bed onto the hard wooden floor. The pounding continued until I scrabbled to the door and opened it whilst trying to focus.

“What the hell’s all this?” Boomed Stavinsky, my trusted assistant who had come to wish me luck for the Sarkle chase that was due to take place in one hours’ time.

I spun round and choked with shock at the sight of a floor filled with headless corn dolls and on the sofa, piled in a tower, were nine shining white pig skulls with their teeth removed and dirt stuffed into their sockets.

“What kind of weird shit?”

“NOT ME, OKAY!” I yelled at him before he could finish his sarcastic sentence.

“I need to get over to the race and get that pig. I know if I do, this strange stuff will stop and I’ll get to see the big secret on the hill. I’ll change into my running gear and we’ll go in five, ok?”

Stavinsky was already taking snaps on his little camera he kept round his neck at all times.

The climb up Sarkle Hill, on a warm spring morning, was a blow torch to the lungs. All the competitors gathered in an irritable scrum at the top behind a tatty scarlet ribbon and the pig, a glistening black saddleback with a thick pink hoop around its neck, shrieked in terror.

It was then I noticed Shona, Mrs. Clavell-Clarke and a small group of people dressed in long flowing gowns all carrying corn dolls except Celia, who was carrying a large gong and striker.

“To the fiercest spirit that will capture the hog before the river flow shall be welcomed to the great hill’s heart and all at once shall be in the bosom of the fold!”

Then she struck the gong with a grunt and the crowd pelted down the hill behind the petrified swine. I edged forward thanks to twilight training sessions and bounced over a large tuft of grass above a cluster of rocks. Behind me folks were falling and screaming in agony, broken by jagged stone and deep trenches and I eagerly scanned the path ahead for pitfalls. It was then the pig stumbled and rolled and I seized the opportunity to be victorious. Leaping as a big cat would do, I landed on the large black belly and roared. The pig shrieked in agony as razor sharp shards of stone sliced through its hind quarters and it spat out bloody mucus with a guttural retch.

“I caught the pig, I caught the pig!”

I yelled back up the hill strewn with writhing losers and decorated atop with golden overlords.

The pig thrashed its back legs and caught my temple and it was lights out.

“Hgggrreeeesst…flleeg…crrraaass..

LEAVE…flleek…shrereeer…

Then eerie silence.”

The sat nav in my van repeated what I had heard entering Truckle View as I roused from the forced slumber. My head was throbbing like the PA at a rock concert and my bleariness sharpened. I was inside a huge cavern lit sparsely by brass lanterns catching painted walls with figures and all manner of creatures that resembled a Brueghel hell depiction. The space was filled with a huge stone circle embracing nine seats at the centre. Under my feet, a channel in the rock fed to the centre. My first thought was blood sacrifice and my stomach churned with fear, sending reflux to flick the gag reflex.

“I’m going to die in this place. I’m going to become another shadow dancing across the hill.”

My mind was racing, as the urgency of loosening the bonds heightened with the sound of voices.

“Unto this place the nine shall appear!” Roared the familiar voice of Celia Clavell-Clarke, Mayoress of Truckle View and now, apparently, high priestess of the hill.

The whole circle began to tremble as the stone seats sank below view, rising again with huge hooded figures clutching corn dolls.

They were in my nightmare!

“Tam, wake up! Wake up and get out of bed, now!” I screamed but the dream was reality and, beneath the hill, the victorious catcher was about to be welcomed to the big secret.

“Behold the nine Griefs of Sarkle. All be thankful for their mercies and be as worms before their might.”

Celia’s voice filled the cavern as she and the other robed figures laid down on their stomachs to greet the supernatural beings, now standing over eight feet tall.

The hoods were gently removed by long talons coated in ash revealing the nine white stones that adorned the path to the apartment building, except these had runic symbols on the foreheads, large bulging eyes that once sat in the sockets of lizards, long teeth filed to razor points and the silent language of evil.

I looked around again and jumped, startled, as right in front of me was Celia Clavell-Clarke, straight out of my dream on the sofa, naked with the head of a corn dolly and long ashen fingers. Running them across my chest in neat ovals, she whispered a rhyme in an unintelligible language.

“Hello Tam. The pig saved me a job by knocking you out. You are the victorious catcher and deemed worthy to be a conduit of power. Your life force is strong but your life is singular and fruitless so won’t be mourned. I am the Clocker, the enticer of people. I bring them to these hallowed lands to be energy for the nine Griefs. They, in turn, govern the fruits of the land as their forebears did before the cross and the eagle turned bounty to scarcity with their strangle hold religion. The Nine Griefs have shown us the natural order, the yield and the sacrifice to weigh the scale. Your life force shall invigorate the Griefs and the cycle shall continue unbroken.”

“You mean I’m a bloody socket and they plug into me for power and the lights and shadows are pig catchers of past ages who are drained to grey spirits and left to wander Truckle View like smoke zombies?”

“Very perceptive, Tam and now the Griefs shall feast. Two shall feed upon the left arm, two upon the right

Two upon the left leg, two upon the right and the ninth grief shall drink in the elixir that cradles the brain.”

With an insidious grin, she struck the gong summoning the Griefs to feed upon me. They sank their fangs into my arms and legs and the ninth into the top of my head and the rush was exhilarating. I felt at peace as though I was high upon the hill on a summers day watching the blue and the green weave rainbows into my eyes. And all at once I was lifted on a breeze and swirled around the hill and under the rocks, into the cavern and rolled across the painted scenes of gods and men. The creatures they made and the monsters we imagined fighting for supremacy in the minds of men.

All at once I felt a huge jolt as if thrown through a windscreen after a high speed collision.

“Open your eyes, Tam!”

It was Shona.

She was standing in front of me in her flowing gown sprayed with fresh blood. All around the council members were lying face down with their throats torn out. At my feet were nine shattered skulls and disintegrating cowls and my bonds were severed.

“I lived, Tam and I beat them all!”

“My van! Quick, Shona we must leave. This cavern isn’t stable, we must go now.” I was so overwhelmed with the joy of freedom that I had no time to address the hope of love pounding in my chest at the sight of Shona. We made our way through the tunnel that lead to a narrow ridge and down to a path by the river. As we crossed, the earth trembled and, looking back only once, we saw the grand hill implode, folding inwards and burying the great secret of Truckle View forever.

“Tam, we must leave here right now and never look back, not once. Please Tam, right now!” Shona’s eyes were glistening with emotion and I wiped away a stray tear sliding towards her jaw.

“My van is over there. I’ll run upstairs and get my keys and we can be off”

“Please hurry, Tam. Please!”

I sprinted up the flights of stairs two and three at a time until I reached the open door of my apartment. Bursting in I found Stavinsky lying on the floor, his mouth and eyes wide open with sheer terror. All the corn dolls were gone from the floor as were the pile of skulls on the sofa and I rushed to the bedside table to get the keys. Grabbing them at lightening speed, I sprinted down the stairs as if chasing the pig and reached the lobby then stopped.

Silent and still in a moment of pure horror, I choked on a dry throated cough.

My van was surrounded by eight figures in dark robes and through the dirty windscreen I could see Shona in exquisite agony with the ninth figure sinking its long sharp teeth into her skull, spraying blood across the glass to obscure my view.

At that moment she fell forward onto the horn which blared out and, for a split second Shona became Celia Clavell-Clarke, releasing the figures into the ether, dropping their robes into a crumpled pile.

I stared in slack jawed horror at the van, at the screen and the bloody tufts of matted hair pressed into the dash board.

“My Shona, my beautiful Shona. Why? Why let us go only to do this?

She was my whole life ahead, you twisted bastards. I just want to get out of this hole in the earth and back to the world, no matter where I end up. Lord, help me.”

Out on the rain spotted road, the robes were moving, writhing as though a nest of vipers lay beneath. They moved together and merged then started to rise and unfold. There, in a light rain, was a figure with a corn doll head, long ashen talons and in one open palm, a gold ring. She breathed a heavy sigh and stepped forward until she was directly in front of me and I reached to remove the corn doll head.

“Shona!” I gasped.

“I was always Shona. The Celia you knew was their glamour. The illusion was created by the Griefs to bring them their power. You have returned to me, Tam. You came back to me. You moved away, escaped when I became theirs under the hill. But you’re here and they are now gone. Let us rebuild our lives.”

Dropping the ring into my palm, my ring that I left when I escaped, she smiled a broad grin.

“I’ll be upstairs making our meal.

Lasagne with Chianti?”

Shudder.

This is my last entry

The battery is almost dead

Darkness is closing in around me

If you find this camera

check the tapes and play them

It’s important you do this

The ghosts are real

The light is fading

Almost lost here

Something’s walking towards me

I can’t make it out

But I can hear the breath

It’s on my face now

I can’t breathe

The tyres of the police car crackled

On the loose grey gravel

Stopping outside the great front doors Strangostrath Hall

This disheveled sprawl

Red brick sanitarium and something more

Over the years it had become

A hotspot for the paranormal

It is here they come to reach the other side

With the spirits said to

Walk and crawl down corridors

Through the walls that were not built

In their remembered lives

The legend of the Hall

That keeps on reinventing

A Jacob’s Join of horrors only for the brave

The black hood spectres

Sending those attuned to their world

Running as they frantically pray

Sergeant Purcell pushed hard

On the huge green front doors

Staring unnerved at the weather worn plaque

Across the brass bloody smears

Spelling out May Day

Trailing down under the door as if

Someone was dragged

Inside

Where torture and murder and mayhem once thrived

Inside

Where devils in hoods and apothecaries plied

Agony lightning and limb twisting rapture

To pitiful nameless the state had revoked

Grievous disciples of sadistic practices

Bound and sedated, they never awoke

Cataclysmic and catastrophic

Stealing their aura and evermore life

Bones in the walls and just under the floor

A red mausoleum calls out for new life

All through the silent building

The stern policeman searched

Hoping that he’d find the pleading man alive

This place was an outpost

A sanctum for beasts

Where love had no foothold and faith was despised

The sense of dread was overwhelming

breathing in remembered agony

oxygen that burned like X-rays

And bleached the scope of seeing eyes

Hell was built from fractured minds

Scarlet walled infernal canvas

Where things of evil ran amok

As lithe as slight and slender dancers

Hanging from the tattered ceiling

Bodies drained of living colour

Missing lips and tongues and ears

But eyes moved from one to another

They were not held and fastened

But suspended in an aspic air

The gown of night swept past the window

The Sergeant fixed by deadly stares

This seemed like he was stuck in a nightmare

And all at once there came a call

A shrill and dulcet all at once

Callandria the sensitive

To route out what was here, ensconced

She found the Sergeant bound by spells

Encircled and consumed by awe

But awe that viewed obscenity

Through the keyhole of the door

“Lord that labours in the light place

This brick box is a chest of demons

It is a pot of sickness drawn

From purgatory’s bastard depths

The shadows are the murder monks

Whose god was none ‘ere written down

With blessings from the three above

The king revoked the prince’s crown

Thou shalt not covet from without

To line thy blackened lair within

This battle fought on barren soil

Between two armies breached by sin

My amulet I hold up high

That is the blood of sacrifice

It can command the charlatans

To kneel before its bold device

Illuminate this squalid tomb

Begone into your realms of naught

This is the word, the sacrament

Never more is this place sought

Rest the spirits tied to flesh

Seek the light, the river’s end

All of this shall end with love

Expulsior, Expulsior,

Incend”

The Sergeant woke inside his car

Grasping tight the seer’s charm

The flames that belched out thunder clouds

Were close enough to cause him harm

She lay across the wide back seats

And wept with eyes shut to the end

The hall, ablaze and horror’s razed

Never more shall they offend

Then in a burst of clarity

Between the smoke and killing ash

The lost man stood there by the door

The evil finally unmasked

He smiled at the policeman

As he pulled a black hood over him

The car flew as a bat from hell

Evil will inhabit anybody’s skin

Evil will inhabit everybody’s skin.

The Ditheroddle

Whistle in the hillside

and the banshees call to you

Creeping wisps in twilight’s pall

rise to clothe the stars

The creatures of the fell ignite

in folklore’s licences

Horrors made of trauma residue

brought home from wars

In the shocking mire of algae

are faces on the pond

Teeth as sharp as needles

and a billion bursting eyes

Your chimneys are all cold now

and your doorways usher death

And visions in the darkness

are a clue to how you die

Brittle voices ride the winds

across the crags and scree

To hear their harsh poetic stabs

is madness tentacles

The shadows in the corners

they teem with the bizarre

Screams gagged to a choking hiss

sing evil canticles

In between the skin of trees

is fog from demon’s breath

In between the dry stone walls

is sacrificial soil

The nails dragged across the slate

the howls in forests deep

And water in its wooded throng

is black as engine oil

Just below the surface

just behind the curtain

Just away from sunlight

Where feelings are uncertain

Just around the corner

or in a darkened pane

Just beneath the sleeping feet

Is terror’s hid domain

It is the queasy feeling

that skitters in the gut

The twinkle in the corner

of a wide suspicious eye

It slides in the subconscious

like ice unto the thaw

The Ditheroddle, ominous

a solitary magpie

It is the thing collected

From foul air in a feud

From battle cries and widow’s eyes

And hush after bad news

It is the roar of angry mobs

The wind from blasting guns

And when it overtakes you

The devil snuffs the sun

Famished

The sweet scents of fir, spruce and Scots pine brushing against one another, cloaking the forest in jagged viridian, tweak the taste buds as they fill my nostrils to bursting with tantalizing nectar.

The smashed and felled timbers are abandoned monuments where villages of fern, needle sharp grasses and fungus blooms sprung up to revel in the undulating half light, snatched from between gusts of January winds and bursts of clear skies.

I arrive at this clearing clad in bloody, matted silver-grey fur ahead of the pack, acutely aware of my duplicity as the human brain begins to regain control.

I’m taking back the sapien from the savage, so to speak!

The pelt, jaws, claws, thick tail and iridescent eyes turn inwards at the passing of a shadow and push out the human form, a reversible beast trapped in an irreversible curse.

My villainous ancestors, who plundered in the name of the fat king of many wives, made their riches and titles slaying those in league with the three keys.

One such knight of death held notoriety the length and breadth of the isle as an ogre of horrific cruelty and debauchery, rivaling the tales of prince Vlad of Wallachia. His thirst for roman blood was insatiable and he reveled in the hunt, the seeking out of cassocked foxes in their hidey holes.

So it was that his attention turned to the eastern counties and to a settlement, on the moorland, in the grip of a vicious winter. Charged with thirty knights, Baron Thomas De Tabelet came upon a shelter for priests in a manor house and the merciless slaughter that ensued was enough to summon a demon from the black halls of hell itself.

This abomination reduced all of his men to pummeled meat inside their tin suits and stacked them as a pyre to cook in a flaming stink, soaked in the blood of their shredded horses.

Finally, it turned the attention to Thomas and drew furious sangestwyke magyck from the cesspools beneath their feet turning him into a snarling, ravening wild dog at the behest of the full face of the moon. He could only return to a man at daybreak, after the indifferent savaging of those he loved and those he knew nothing of. He was to suffer his animal misdeeds when human conscience returned and live until ended with a cleaved heart from silver and a virgin’s song.

The demon, said to be Azmagulth, sealed the curse with a five pointed star carved by a talon, roasted in his burning jaws, and placed at the nape of the neck to mock the penitence of holy men.

Since that time, a De Tabelet, now Talbot, being male born, has an inverted pentagram birthmark at the nape of the neck and be bound by satanic lore to transform beneath the blazing moon.

He is cursed to be wolfen and run with the pack to kill without inflicting the unholy imprecation on the wounded, as the stories would have us believe.

Even more disturbing is that the curse can only be passed along the bloodline when in wolf form.

So I am literally a son of a bitch!

The chill pinches at my extremities, drawing in the hairy parts, bereft of thick fur and a burning desire for bloody, screaming flesh.

I can hear behind me the thunderous pounding of huge paws as the pack descends upon this place like a biker gang on a roadside cafe.

I’m human again, naked as a baby and defenseless against bone crushing, slavering jaws.

I close my eyes and even though I know I will regenerate, even after they’re forced to regurgitate my chewed gristle, I dread the agony of the ripping, tearing, gutting and spewing.

The thunder subsides to soft footsteps and I can feel myself surrounded by large forms, panting with exhaustion and growling like idling bikes.

“Open your bloody eyes, you lily hearted Molly!” A gruff voice barks in jovial tones, whilst being slapped across the back.

I peer through tentative slits in my fingers and, to my astonishment, I’m surrounded by huge bearded men of all ages laughing like drains at my timid gait and petrified demeanour.

“Gentlemen of the De Tabelet lineage, may I present to you our latest addition to the bloodline pack, Lawrence Talbot.”

The men cheer and step forward to pat, pull my hair and punch me in laddish familiarity.

“Lawrence, my lad, I’m Thomas De Tabelet. I’m the first of our line; the Alpha Dog so-to-speak and I would like to welcome you to the hunt. We have thirteen in our midst and this qualifies us to call upon Azmagulth and fight him for our freedom. The last dog standing will be free from the curse and gets to walk away with the grand prize…

Immortality!”

I’m standing straight, staring my wicked ancestor in the eyes and sputter nervously,

“Well, it’s great to meet you all like we’re in a Finnish sauna and I’d like to thank you all for the night time shenanigans.”

Bellowing laughter rings out through the forest in a multitude of tones, scattering the birds from the high branches and

into a fiery morning sky.

Thomas spins on his heels, jumping unnaturally long from a standing position onto a felled tree to address the assembled family.

“We have run wild for centuries making widows, widowers and orphans in an abundance that would dwarf the pyre the demon made when creating our lupine lineage. Now we get a chance to call him up to settle the score.

Who wants to chew on a demon and die as a man?”

“Yaaaayy…aye…aye…aye…”

“And you, Lawrence, what say you? Will you be rid of the horrors and chance that your jaws will be the one to rip out its slimy black throat?”

I jump on the felled tree to stand with Thomas, addressing all with a surprising bravado,

“Let’s kill a hell spawn and meet in the big tavern in the sky!”

“Yaaaaaaaaaayyyy!” Yelled the pack at the top of their voices and we make our way to the gamekeeper’s hut in the copse to rest until the night time.

Tonight’s super moon rises with a bloody roar to draw the dog out of our writhing skins. The last human cry before a throaty growl was the demon’s name and we charge together towards the flaming hole in the field where Azmagulth is rising for his final showdown.

Each majestic silver shod beast, glistening like lake water under the glare of the big moon, ploughs into the wretched black smouldering horror as though they’re battering rams to a castle gate. It shrieks and stamps heavy black hooves onto the ash pile next to the fiery pit. Inside our wild attire, we are anonymous to the human form and stinking chunks of molten demon flesh decorate pristine fangs, chewing and spitting the vile stuff into the dirt. The demon lashes and flails, tossing wolf after wolf with its caprine horns and long spiny fingers.

Three are savaging its hulking frame as one wounded werehound jumps over their hackles to wrap its jaws around the abominable rippling throat.

The crunch of brittle flesh beneath iron jaws drew steaming gangrenous blood that sprayed all over the savaging animal, coating the fur in a grievous stench and soaking it in the last choking breath of a hell beast.

It stumbles on the ash mound, built on mountains of skeletons, falling back into the fire and taking the last of the wolves, still clinging to the spurting throat, deep beneath the earth.

The hole closes and the night departs with pitiful yelps.

The day reveals a dozen naked corpses, in varying degrees of decomposition, around a small mound of smoking earth.

A light rain douses the smoulder to wisps from the grass tiptoeing to the forest.

A long arm thrust upwards from the mound.

Then another arm and matted hair atop a head gasping in the morning air.

Lawrence blinks his yellow wolf eyes back into his head and returns with powder blue human ones.

“Arise, Sir Lawrence Talbot, first knight of the demon slaying wolf pack.”

A Conversation with Jack at Christmas

I despise with a passion the Yuletide!

To me it’s like a ravenous riptide that pulls you away into turbulent waters drowning you in plasticised triteness, eventually washing ashore on the jagged rocks of January’s malaise. Once you’ve coughed the rancid water from the lungs and crawled up the stony beach, over the flotsam of dour, indebted husks, you’re into another year of bloody noses and spiteful world events.

Yet here it is again, hampering the morning journey with thick frost and temporary charitable spirits all wrapped in ludicrous festive garb.

I am a curmudgeon – I know that!

My crepuscularity is year-round thanks to the bind of loneliness.

Thanks to ‘the events’ of that day.

I rattle around this huge house like a marble in a cake tin now that the children have flown the nest. They’re over the oceans and, apparently, further than mail can reach or phone lines or the odd pigeon.

My heartbroken wife finally succumbed to her accumulated ailments and sailed away from her wretched body, through the ceiling and beyond the struggle.

It’s pitiful just how quickly the phone calls stop, the letter box hinges rust and the invites dry up like an Australian lake.

The eulogy wafted into the breeze, over the wake and out into the graveyard to settle onto carved words never to be read again past the perfunctory, monotone service.

Even the Christmas cards, that once stood like the Great Wall of China along the mantle and shelves, now sit in a tiny cluster by the walking frame and chemical toilet.

Still, I have a constant companion here, albeit a most unwanted one.

You see, before she died, my wife insisted on visiting a medium to find a little peace in passing. What we actually got was a terrible exchange, taking home a dark spirit that sent the medium into a foaming-mouthed, gibbering fit before we fled in terror and embarrassment.

She screamed a word, a name I think but we’d vacated by then and it petered out in the vestibule.

That was the day things dramatically changed at home and she rapidly descended into a wide-eyed mute, covered in mysterious sores and cuts and prone to horrific choking fits.

On the day she died I had gone to the shops to get mulligatawny soup, her favourite, as she could only manage sips through puffed, cracked purple lips set apart from a grey complexion and eyes like corkscrewed coal. When I returned home, the house was enveloped in swirling gloom whilst, all around it, the late summer sun made the whole road a golden yellow.

I rushed inside to find everything strewn across the floors like we’d been burgled. The stairs were showered with glass shards and all the doors had split down the centre as though cleaved by a huge axe.

I managed to get up the stairs and to the bedroom where I discovered her hunched over in the corner of the room cloaked in a vile black shadow. She was shaking and rolling across the wall violently until a loud crack from a broken neck ended the torment.

The dark entity blasted into a fine smoke sinking through the floor, ending the darkness, allowing the beautiful evening light to illuminate the room and bathe her aghast and pummelled face in warmth.

The police fired questions like machine gun bullets but could find no prints or other evidence of foul play and decided that it was self-inflicted during one of her more violent convulsions.

The golden light never graced this house again, not even for a second.

A languid summer gave way to a blustery autumn finally sinking into the icy depths of winter with no sign of the entity that plagued her into an early grave.

That was until December 24th and a hard white frost decorated the whole area… except for one spot.

I arrived home to find the swirling shadow hanging over my bay window like a black sail in a stiff breeze and an overwhelming sense of dread filled my entire body.

Had the entity come for me now?

I crept up the path, opened the door carefully and slid inside.

The house smelled of fresh lilies and it was cold, not winter cold but the occasional icy nip as though a spirit was walking back and forth through my body.

I sat in my armchair and stared at the long drapes in the warm firelight, mustering the courage to invite the apparition to reveal itself and join me and my glass of cognac, even though I was boiling with rage.

“Show yourself, murderer.” I whispered into the swirling alcohol.

The chimes of the grandfather clock passed ten and stopped abruptly as murky tendrils seeped up from the floor and made their way behind the long, lined curtains.

“If you are here to take me to the grave then can we be civilised about it?” I blurted out half way through a second glass.

It was strange to see the slender fingers appear and grip the curtain edge from behind and the leather boot protrude from under the hem.

“Come and sit awhile and we can talk man to man before succumbing to the business at hand.”

If I was to be taken, then I’m going my way and not as a punch bag full of curried soup.

The curtain blew backwards and he stepped into the room reminding me of the song, Don’t fear the Reaper.

He was tall, dressed head to toe in black with a silver tie and cuff links. His piercing green eyes bore deep into my humility.

“Salutations, I am the one they call Jack, The Whitechapel Butcher.”

In my head I could hear violins scrape a descending scale as the colour drained from my face.

“Hello, sir. I am…I am…oh…I…”

Fright had stolen my name, temporarily and he smiled an insidious grey-toothed grin under a murderous glint.

“You are Samuel and your wife was Katherine before she became a burden, a vapid waste of breathing life and a pitiful, slothful ruin. When they’re great in girth, they’re hard to drag but satisfying to expunge…indeed!”

I stared at the infamous beast letting his words sink in for a second then, with a heavy grunt, I lunged towards him and swung a shaking fist. My glass, that I had clung to for bravado, emerged through a cloud that reformed swiftly into the beast.

I composed myself and quickly conjured a question.

“If you are smoke then how did you do those terrible things to my wife with such force?”

“I didn’t, Samuel, I made suggestions in the dead of night to a long suffering, long since emasculated husband and he obliged willingly.”

“But I saw you destroy her in your smoke state. I was by the door.”

“A glamour, I’m afraid, Samuel. What you saw was a reflection from an altered view. This was my fate in London in Whitechapel. I met my dark mentor on Christmas Eve when I finished a surgery on a drunken woman who died at the table holding her child’s hand. I saw clearly the misuse of trust and the hollow future for our progeny. After scrubbing the filth from my hands, I sat, as we sit now, by my fire and despaired until he appeared from behind my drapes. He told me of a calling that I have answered and that the photographers’ flash had woken the world to a monster in the form of man. He showed me the photographs and we revisited the awful scenes as you have.

You see, Samuel, we are pawns in their game.”

“Who are they and what game?”

“They are the men that run the modern world by means of the weighty purse and carrion view. They have amassed their wealth by speculation, by deception, by perversion and, in their superiority, they create monsters from good men in the throes of tragedy. They are the dark between the stars with no end to the depths that they plumb.

And we are their creations.”

“How many have I killed?”

“You are a beast of scant mercy that has desecrated the beauty of trust. So many poor souls on the edge of descent to the grave and you are the reaper that mopped the brow. You have doubled my number and added more besides and, what you left behind to mourn, dwindled with a broken heart.

I am here to end your run and to bestow on you the mantle of dark mentor to the next name plucked from the hat.

And by the hat I mean that they use the upturned skull of Adam, the first man.

His hollowed head is a vessel for names folded and placed inside. The person who plucks the name is he that acquires the most wealth that year by means of the largest blood loss.

You are now learned of your fate, Samuel. Goodnight to all and to all a goodnight.”

He reached forward with a slender steel and cut my jugular.

I was a terrible monster that must pass on the baton to the next.

Thins the herd, I suppose?

Then arose such a clatter as the hooves of the hearse carriage horses drew into the room and collected me to be called upon for the next monster created by the secret society.

So, until I appear from behind your curtain…

Adieu.