Book: Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

The Uncanny Kingdom Collection

An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection

David Bussell M.V. Stott

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Copyright © 2018 by Genre Reader

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


Become an Insider

London Coven

Underground Magic

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Familiar Magic

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Nightmare Realm

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Deadly Portent

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Fresh Hell

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Something Rotten

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Twice Damned

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Dark Lakes

Magic Eater

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Blood Stones

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Past Sins

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Become an Insider

Become an Insider

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London Coven

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Underground Magic

Familiar Magic

Nightmare Realm

Deadly Portent

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Underground Magic


London, February, 1957

I pulled my leather jacket closed; London was cold and prickled my skin.

My name is Stella Familiar and I was tracking something very, very bad through the streets of Hammersmith, West London.

I looked down; there were spots of red on the paving stones before me. It took the tip of one black boot and poked at it. The crimson smeared.

Fresh blood.

The creature couldn’t be far ahead.

I brushed past Londoners; noisy, breaths fogging, going about their days. Hurrying home, or perhaps heading to the pub to get one last drink before the bell rang. None of them saw the city as I did. Saw the streets as I did. They all thought they understood what the world was. Understood their place in it and the dangers that lived there. Prided themselves on being the top dogs. Top of the food chain.

If they knew the truth, they’d never leave their homes.

There’s an underbelly to the city that people like me call the ‘Uncanny.’ A hidden world that overlaps the everyday, unseen by most. Unseen until it makes itself seen, and pray you never see that day. Chances are you’ll be dead.

London is full of the Uncanny, in fact, the whole of the United Kingdom is. But a place like London… for some reason it’s a hub for the Uncanny. We’re drawn to it. Every stripe of strange finds themselves here eventually. Drawn to the noise and the chaos and the concentration of magic like flies to a corpse.

I turned the corner and scanned the street, looking for any sign of my monster.

My job for today.

Bodies had been turning up across this part of the city. Homeless people, mostly, found with their chests ripped open. The police thought they were dealing with a serial killer, and they were sort of right. But this wasn’t the kind of killer they’d be able to hunt, arrest, take to trial, and put behind bars. This was a killer from a horror story. A thing that didn’t exist outside of a child’s worst nightmare. At least, that’s what they would think. I, and those like me, knew better.

Monsters are real.

Not that all monsters are killers; some live hidden and are no threat at all. But some… some live to feed. To stalk, to kill, to devour. To use their abilities to sow damage, destruction and death. To see your face twitch in fear at the moment you realise your little life is about to end in a bloody full stop.

At this point, I knew these things without ever actually experiencing any of them first hand. But it was all there, in my head. A giant file I could flick through, like I’d had decades of experience. Centuries, even. It was February 16th, 1957. It was my birthday, and I mean that literally. I didn’t exist the day before, and then, on this day, I did. Not that I was born exactly. No, I was created. Conjured.

More blood on the ground. I was moving in the right direction. Head down, fists clenched, I strode forwards, after the trail.

I’m a Familiar to a trio of witches; the witches of the London Coven. They’ve lived for centuries, always with a Familiar by their side. I hadn’t asked what had happened to their last Familiar, why they’d needed to create me as a replacement. I had a feeling I didn’t want to know.

My masters keep an eye on the Uncanny activity in London, sort of like a magical police force of three. Their job is to keep us all in line, make sure things don’t get out of hand, and punish those that transgress.

The punishment is where I come in.

I’m the blunt tool, sent out into the streets of London while they remain safe inside their heavily protected coven. I investigate, deliver warnings, unleash punishment, make judgement. End lives, if necessary. Whatever it takes to keep these streets safe.

In other jobs, I suppose they’d break you in easy, but here I am, first day at work, first day alive, first day breathing in and out, and I’m on the tail of a shape-shifting murderous monster. A monster that, if I wasn’t careful, would make this my last day on the job.

I should have been scared, I was dimly aware of that. No experience, barely hours old, chasing a murderer. But I wasn’t scared. I was excited. Eager to face up to death and take it down. To beat the thing senseless until my knuckles were red raw.

I realised I’d begun whistling to myself, and wondered what the tune was. I’d never heard it before. Well, I’d never heard any music before. Everything was a first for me. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the obstruction in front of me. My right boot hit something and almost sent me tumbling to the ground. I whirled back, steadying myself, fists already glowing defensively with power—

—I looked down, feeling foolish… and that’s when I saw the blood… the entrails… the dead body.

I’d been slow, and someone had paid the price.


Magic is all around you.

Every street, every rock, every blade of grass emits trace amounts of it. It’s like a constant hum of background radiation that we all swim through every day of our lives. Some places only emit a weak level of magical energy, some practically scream with it. The London Coven, for example, burns explosively with magic. If you could see in the spectrum I do, the London Coven would look like a raging, white-hot fire in the blackest night.

I feed on magic, all of the Uncanny do. We draw it in so we can use it. It sustains us. Without it we’d fall to the ground, helpless wrecks. Junkies going cold turkey, screaming for a fix.

Some creatures leave traces in this background hum, like footprints in a snowdrift. I kneeled next to the torn-open corpse, looking for a trace of the killer. The corpse’s mouth hung open in an anguished scream that never had the chance to escape before death took it. I could sense the presence of something foul, a faint scent that put a picture of the victim’s killer in my head.

It was a shape-shifting demon known as a thalang. A monster with two defences to detection. One, it could use concealment magic to hide its presence for a limited time. It could enter your home and you’d not even notice the thing crouched in the corner, ready to pounce. That magic didn’t work so well against people like me, we’re usually able to see through it, but not always.

Its second defence is its ability to alter its physical form. A creature that looks like a thalang isn’t able to wander around unnoticed for long, even with its first defence. By shape-shifting, the thalang is able to hide in plain sight. To make you believe that you’re looking at an ordinary person, not a grey, goo-dripping, razor toothed, nightmare beast. The thalang really is not a pretty sight.

I examined the corpse. It was a fresh kill, and the creature’s magic scent was still heavy in the air. It couldn’t be far away. I felt my hands throbbing with magic, ready to take the killer down before it could kill again.


I turned from the dead body to see a police officer jogging towards me, truncheon in hand, ready to bash me over the skull. I stood up, my hands reaching out, trying to placate him.

‘There’s been a murder,’ I said, though the evidence of that was plain to see.

‘Good God, I…’ His face turned white as he looked at what was left of the dead man at my feet. For a second I thought he was going to throw up, but he managed to more or less get himself back under control. ‘What in God’s name happened here?’ he asked.

‘Nothing good,’ I replied. I turned from him to carry on my pursuit, only to find a firm hand gripping my wrist and pulling me back.

‘Whoa there, hold your horses. You’ve got some questions to answer, young lady.’

‘It’ll get away!’

‘Who will? The murderer?’ He took out a notepad and a pencil. ‘Can you describe him?’

‘Are you stupid? It’ll kill more if you don’t let me—’

‘I’ll thank you to show some respect. You’re talking to an officer of the law, and what I say, goes, understand?’

I began to draw the surrounding magic towards me, ready to get rid of this troublesome road block as quickly and harmlessly as possible, when something made me pause. This police officer seemed… odd. Too calm, too bizarre. And then there was that smell. The creature’s magical scent hadn’t gone away. It should already have begun to dissipate, but if anything, it seemed to be growing stronger. Part of me said take no chances; take care of this officer now. He was a fake. The creature in disguise. But I had to be sure.

‘Shouldn’t you be blowing your whistle for back-up?’ I asked.

‘Telling me how to do my job now, are you?’

Too odd. Enough was enough.

The waves of magic flowed towards me and I raised my fists, both alive with fire, ready to be unleashed at the creature in its police officer disguise.

He saw what was happening and stepped back, seemingly in shock.

‘Now, what on earth...? A magic trick?’

‘Time to stop playing dumb, you know what I am, and I know what you are!’

‘I am a police officer—’

‘You’re a monster. I am Stella Familiar of the London Coven and you will—’

—I stopped when I realised he wasn’t looking at me anymore. He should have been, I was shouting about how he was a monster, my fists alive with boiling power, but instead he was looking at the ground to the side.

That’s when I realised I’d made a mistake.

I’d been right, the creature was still close, and it had shifted its appearance to hide from me. But it wasn’t the strange police officer.

A grey, wet tendril burst from the open wound of the “corpse” and wrapped itself around my throat, cutting off all thoughts of protection spells as I yanked frantically at the tightening rope of flesh that had cut me off mid-breath. Already I could feel my lungs burning, eyes bulging from their sockets.

I was vaguely aware of the police officer, who’d pulled himself together despite the horrors arrayed before him, and was yelling at the creature, which now resembled a human corpse crossed with something that hid in the darkest depths of the sea. I could hear him shouting at the thing but couldn’t work out the words over the noise of blood pounding in my ears.

There was a blur in front of me as the officer attacked the thing with his truncheon, causing it to loosen its grip. I managed to pull away, falling to the ground, gasping as I escaped its clutches, my neck glowing with pain. I gulped in air, chest pumping, eyes streaming, and looked up in time to see the police officer’s head being twisted all the way around, the snap of his neck ringing out like a gunshot.

The dead officer crumpled to the floor, his note book falling to the pavement, its pages rippling in the breeze.


A grey limb shot towards me again, quick as a viper—

—but I rolled away just in time, clambering to my feet and pulling the magic towards me.

The officer’s death was on my hands. I’d been sloppy. It didn’t matter that this was my first day; I was here to protect people like him.

‘You should have run,’ I said, my voice a low growl, and threw a ball of energy at the thing.

A second octopus-like limb shot from the corpse and wrapped around a post box, pulling the twitching creature out of harm’s way as my spell blackened a paving stone.

I whirled around, ready to attack, only to find it already leaping towards me, screeching from its corpse mouth. It was fast. Faster than me.

I leapt out the way, doing my best to toss some magic in its direction as I tucked and rolled, but a wall halted my momentum. My body complained at the force of the impact, but there was no time to feel sorry for myself. I stood again, ready to go on the offensive, but the creature had taken my earlier advice to heart. It was running. Well, “running” would be one way of describing what this malformed, multi-limbed thing was doing.

It rounded a corner and I gave chase, barrelling through Hammersmith’s foot traffic that was screaming in a mixture of surprise and terror at the sight of the half-corpse/half-monster shuddering, stumbling, and twitching its way towards the nearest Underground station.


I raced into Hammersmith Underground, in pursuit of the thalang. The Piccadilly line fed through there, taking people from the east into the heart of London. It was late, almost midnight, and the place would be shutting its doors soon. I hustled across the concourse, my footsteps sounding noisily in the empty, open space.

I saw the creature flop over the ticket barrier. ‘You can run, but you can’t hide!’ I yelled. A station guard eyed me quizzically, wondering what on earth it was I was shouting at. The thalang must have activated its concealment magic again – all the guard saw was a woman racing across the station after nothing. For a moment I was worried if he’d get in my way, maybe even end up dead like the police officer had after getting between me and the monster.

I couldn’t let that happen.

I drew the magic in the station into me and placed the right words together in my mind. Without stopping, I swept one hand in his direction and pushed a suggestion spell at him. Without knowing why, he forgot about me and headed outside to look for a brown dog. It was a short-term spell, he’d snap out of it a few seconds after he stepped above ground, but enough to get him out of harm’s way.

Another sweep of the hand and I was through the barrier and heading for the steps to the platform. The thalang ducked out of sight at the bottom. I was seconds behind it, closing the distance. I took the steps two at a time, almost falling twice in my rush, and hit the bottom, turning onto the platform.

The platform wasn’t busy, just five or six people standing in a huddle as a train pulled in. The thing hadn’t had enough time to run out of sight, and I could see spots of blood—probably the police officer’s blood—leading towards the people getting ready to board the train. That meant it had shifted, and one of these passengers was the monster in hiding.

Who was it?

The smart-looking gent in the bowler hat? The mother and child? The young couple, heading home after one drink too many?

The Tube train’s doors slid open with a hiss, and the passengers boarded the same carriage. There was no time for hesitation, if I didn’t act fast I was going to lose it. I bolted forward and hopped into the carriage just as the doors slid closed and the train set off with a jolt.

The passengers looked me up and down, an out-of-breath, sweaty woman with a look of grim determination in her eyes.

‘Close one,’ said the male half of the young couple. His companion giggled.

His companion.

I’d never get to experience something like that. Love. A relationship. It’s not what we Familiars are created for. We’re made to do the work our masters decide and nothing else. No outside life; no hobbies or lovers. Just this and this alone. Was I even really a person? I hadn’t been born. I’d been created just hours earlier, already a full-grown woman without a past, and a future that could be pulled away at any moment, either by some monster, or just the whim of my witches.

No, I wasn’t really a person. Not like the young couple. I was a weapon. The life they had was, and always would be, alien to me. I felt the corners of my mouth twitching downwards and shook the strange thoughts clear. I was getting distracted. I had work to do.

The smart gent was looking at my boots. I glanced down to see what had caught his attention: blood splashed across the toe, smears on the floor from the soles.

I looked up, catching his eye, and he quickly turned his head away. Whatever was going on, he didn’t want to get involved. Well, bad luck for him, because we were shut in a tin can with a monster, and I planned to get my hands on it before we hit the next station and it escaped.

I sniffed the air. There was that smell again, the same one I’d noticed when the thing was pretending to be a corpse. Its magical signature. I looked from passenger to passenger, trying to see if one of them caught my eye, or was trying to avoid my eyes too purposefully. That was when I noticed we had an extra passenger – a passenger who must have already been on the train when it arrived. A man, slumped across two seats, snoring gently. Probably passed out drunk.

Or maybe that was the creature.

Maybe it had been able to use its concealment magic to hide itself from me on the platform long enough to slip onto the train unseen. Maybe it thought I wouldn’t suspect some passed out drunk. Someone who seemed so vulnerable to attack. Someone I might automatically dismiss. This person hadn’t been on the platform, he’d already been on the train, so why would I ever suspect him?

Was the thalang really that smart?

I walked over to the slumped man and sniffed at him. The creature’s scent was present, but it was no stronger than where I’d just come from.

‘Is she sniffing that man?’ asked the girl from the couple.

I looked back to see her clutching her boyfriend, staring at me.

‘Maybe he wet himself!’ brayed the boyfriend, and started laughing loudly as the city gent huffed, annoyed.

I turned back to the drunk and prodded at him with the toe of my boot.

‘I’ve got you,’ I whispered. ‘And now I’m going to destroy you.’

I looked for a twitch, any movement to suggest that it could hear me. That is was readying to defend itself.

The man continued to snore.

The train lurched to a sudden halt. I only just managed to grab one of the standing bars to stay upright. The other passengers squealed and complained. The city gent bent over to pick up his bowler hat from the floor. ‘Bloody driver!’ he barked.

I looked back to the drunk. The sudden braking had caused him to shift slightly, but he hadn’t woken up. He tucked his legs up fully onto the seats and made himself more comfortable.

‘Blimey, can we just get going, please?’ said the mother loudly.

‘Yeah, we have places to be,’ said the boyfriend, before turning to his girlfriend and nuzzling at her neck.

Something was off.

The hairs on the back of my neck were telling me that this was no momentary pause to regulate the train service. Not the driver waiting on a green light to let him know it was okay to pull into the next station. I could feel it on the tip of my tongue: the tingle of a recently cast spell. The monster had made the train stop in the dark of the tunnel. Trapped us between stops. Something bad was about to happen, and I was stuck with no clue as to where the monster was hiding, and which of the vulnerable passengers it might take down in its rush to escape me. I had no choice but to put my cards on the table.

‘Everyone, please listen up—’

But the mother interrupted me. ‘Is the driver going to tell us what’s going on or what?’ she asked.

‘Rum lot, tube drivers,’ replied the city gent. ‘No care for common courtesy,’

‘Hey!’ I said, clapping my hands together.

They all turned.

‘Good. Now listen to me. We aren’t just waiting to move onto the next station, and we haven’t broken down.’

‘What’s she banging on about?’ asked the girlfriend.

‘Can’t you feel it? Can’t you taste it?’

‘Taste what?’ asked the mother.

‘Magic. This train has been made to stop because one of you is a shape-shifting monster, and I’m the only one who can stop it murdering everyone on board.’


It didn’t have quite the reaction I was hoping for, but in my defence, I was barely twelve hours old. I didn’t have much experience with normals. Or Uncanny’s. Or with anyone or anything, really.

‘Did she just say the train stopped because of magic?’ asked the mother.

‘That’s what I heard,’ replied the boyfriend.

‘She said we were going to get murdered!’ squealed his companion.

‘Ignore her,’ barked the city gent. ‘She’s probably been at the gin. The old mothers ruin. It addles the brain you know. Seen many a lady turned feral by it.’

I paced towards them, making sure not to present my back to the passed out man in case he was the monster, ready to take my turning away as an invitation to tear my spine out.

‘Look, I know you don’t know about magic and all the hidden things of London, but I’m telling you the truth.’

‘I know about magic,’ said the boyfriend.

‘You do?’ I asked, surprised for a moment. Maybe I had an ally after all.

‘Yeah, my mum took me to see Walter the Amazing when I was little. He sawed a lady in half.’

Okay, I didn’t have an ally.

‘I don’t have time to dance around this, so here we go, here’s some magic.’ I pulled the power in the carriage towards me, placed the words together correctly and opened my right hand. A ball of fire appeared, hovering inches above my palm.

‘Hey,’ said the mother, ‘How’d you do that?’

‘I’ve seen better tricks,’ said the gent, sniffing dismissively.

‘Yeah,’ agreed the boyfriend, ‘Walter the Amazing sawed a woman in half. Right down the middle. Amazing!’

That’s the thing about the impossible; once someone has witnessed it—even if it is just stage trickery—they become numb to it. To a normal, summoning a ball of real, bona fide magic is no more impressive than guessing what’s on a playing card.

I needed to come at this from a more recognisable place. I let the spell putter out and closed my hand.

‘I chased someone onto this train. A dangerous someone. A killer.’

‘A killer?’ asked the girlfriend.

‘Are you a police officer?’ asked the mother.

‘Of course she isn’t,’ replied the city gent derisively. ‘Look at her, she’s not one of our city’s finest, she’s a fantasist. A gin-addled fantasist, if ever there was one.’

‘No, I’m not a police officer,’ I admitted. ‘Well, I am in way, but I don’t wear a badge.’

‘Well that’s cleared that up then,’ said the boyfriend, and the girlfriend tittered at his side.

‘There’s been a murder. More than one, actually, across West London. Hammersmith, Ealing, Acton. Bodies found torn open.’

‘It’s the ghost of Jack the Ripper,’ said the boyfriend in a spooky voice. He turned to his girlfriend. ‘Be careful, my dear, or his spirit shall come for you!’

She swore and swatted him away.

‘This is serious! People are dead. Do you hear me? Dead!’

That sobered things up a bit.

‘I was on the killer’s trail, trying to put an end to it, when it jumped on this carriage.’

The passengers stopped and looked around. I could see they were confused. I knew what was coming next.

The city gent raised his arm. ‘Sorry to burst your bubble and ask the obvious, but if you were following this supposed killer, and they “it” is this carriage, perhaps you might point the horrible individual out to us? I mean, if you would be so kind.’ His voice dripped with condescension, and I had to restrain myself from throwing something nasty in his direction.

‘The killer…’

The city gent gestured for me to continue as I trailed off.

‘…The killer is one of you.’

There was a moment or two of silence as the passengers took this in, looked at each other, then began to laugh. All but the city gent that is, who just shook his head and huffed. ‘Absolute hogwash.’

‘Did she say one of us is a murderer?’ asked the mother.

‘Complete poppycock. You’ve only to look at us to know none of us could be a killer. A young couple, a middle-aged woman, a man of my obvious breeding, and a sleeping drunkard. Which of us is the beast, young lady? Hm?’

‘It’s me,’ said the boyfriend, laughing and turning to his girlfriend. ‘Sorry to tell you like this, but I just get these bloodthirsty urges. D’you think your dad will mind?’

The girlfriend laughed.

‘This isn’t a joke!’ I spat.

‘No,’ replied the gent, ‘A joke usually elicits laughter.’

The train carriage’s lights spluttered, flickering off and on.

A crackle on my tongue.

Something was about to happen.

‘Everyone, grab hold of me! Quickly!’

‘I most certainly will not,’ said the mother.

I looked to the passed out man, expecting to see him twitch into monstrous life as the lights continued to splutter. There was no time to find out for sure; unless I went on the offensive soon, something terrible was going to happen. I had to go with my gut and end this.

I drew the magic in the carriage towards me and felt my hands begin to warm with power. I clenched my fists and lifted a hand to—

—blackness. The lights cut out completely, leaving us in impenetrable dark in the tube tunnel. Someone cried out in surprise. Was it just surprise?

It only lasted a second or two, then the lights flashed back on again, causing me to shield my eyes for a moment at the sudden brightness. I squinted at the seating. The passed out man was still in place. It didn’t look as though he’d moved an inch.

‘Oh my good God…’

The city gent’s voice.

I turned to see his mouth slack, eyes wide, looking over to the young couple.

I knew I wasn’t about to see anything good.

The boyfriend was staring ahead, his face white, streaked red.


But not his own.

His girlfriend was lying there, her intestines torn out and coiled around his feet.

That’s when the screaming started.


I pressed my back to the carriage doors, keeping all of the passengers in my vision. Maybe the monster was the passed out man, maybe it wasn’t, but since boarding this train I’d discovered it had magic beyond its concealment tricks. At any moment it might plunge us into darkness again and take out another victim. I had to finish this soon or we’d all end up like that woman. Twisted on the floor with our guts hanging out.

A train of the dead.

The passengers wavered in mute shock, the boyfriend now seated, staring at his dead girlfriend’s mutilated corpse.


I thought back to the dead body I’d found outside. To the police officer. I’d been sloppy then, and the officer had paid the price. I had to make sure I wasn’t being tricked the same way.

I stepped swiftly towards the body and crouched beside it, sticking my fingers into the still-warm, open wound of her stomach.

‘Holy Mother Mary!’ gasped the mother.

‘What in God’s name do you think you’re doing!’ pleaded the city gent.

‘Checking,’ I replied. I closed my eyes and extended my senses, probing the corpse for any trace of the Uncanny. There was none. She wasn’t the creature in disguise.

I felt hands on my shoulders, shoving me backwards, sending me sprawling to the floor. I looked up to find the boyfriend stood over me, his features tight with anger.

‘Take your bloody hands off her!’ he demanded.

I stood, hands out, placating. ‘I had to check, I’m sorry.’

‘Check what?’

He was staring at my hands, coated in his girlfriend’s blood.

‘I was telling the truth before,’ I said. ‘There is a killer on this train. In this carriage. But it’s not a killer from an Agatha Christie novel. This is something unlike any killer you’ve seen, beyond anything you’ve even heard of.’

‘I feel sick,’ said the mother, her hand at her mouth.

‘That’s it, I’m getting the blasted doors open!’ boomed the city gent. ‘We can’t be far from the next station.’ He tried to wrench the doors open, grunting.

‘It’s no use,’ I said.

‘Well, then somebody help me!’

The boyfriend stumbled over and the pair attempted to lever the doors open. They didn’t give an inch.

‘It’s stopping you. The creature doesn’t want any of us to escape.’

The city gent whirled on me, a vein in his temple throbbing. ‘Stop it, will you! There is no creature! Such things do not exist!’

‘I’m sorry, but they do, and it’s hiding among us.’

‘Where?’ asked the mother. ‘Come on, then! Where is this thing if it’s in here!’

‘Oh, don’t entertain her demented fantasies.’

‘No, I want to know. If there is a monster, where exactly is it hiding? Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t a wealth of hide-and-seek options in here!’

‘Yes,’ said the city gent, ‘good point. Go on then. If there’s really an ooga-booga monster in here, where is it hiding?’

There was a moment of silence as they all stared at me.

‘I told you, this is no ordinary killer. It’s not a person, it’s a thing. A thing that can change form at will. It moves around unnoticed, changing mid-step if it needs to, disguising itself from anyone who might have a fix on it.’

The city gent hooted and clapped his hands. ‘She’s out of her bloody mind!’ he roared.

The boyfriend was stood over his dead girlfriend again. ‘We’d been seeing each other for a year, you know. I’ve never been in love before. I liked it. I was going to ask her to marry me. I was going to buy the ring next week, I’ve been saving for months. And my dad, he gave me a bit extra, too, you know? Just so I could get something special. Something special like her.’

‘I’ll find out who did this,’ I told him. ‘I promise.’

He turned towards me, pulling something small and gleaming from his pocket.

A flick knife.

‘No, I’ll find out,’ he said, brandished the blade at us, a tear rolling down his cheek.

‘Careful with that thing, lad,’ said the city gent, taking steps back so he was behind myself and the mother.

‘One of you did this. Did this without getting a spot of blood on you. Now you’re going to own up to it, or none of you is getting off this train alive. I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t care anymore.’

I could see he meant it. There was nothing behind his eyes now. No spark like there had been earlier. He’d become a husk, an empty person. That told me something else: that he wasn’t the monster. That was three people scratched off my list now. It couldn’t be the sleeping man, the girlfriend or the boyfriend.

I stepped slowly towards him, hands out in supplication.

‘Please, put the knife away and trust me. This is what I do. This is my job. I’ll find out who did this to her and I’ll make them pay. Not by taking them to prison. There’s something worse waiting for them.’

He jabbed the knife at us. ‘Tell me who killed her!’ Spittle flew, his face snarling, a wounded animal.

‘It was her!’ cried the city gent.

I turned to him to see he was backed up several metres now, pointing at me.

‘You sure?’ asked the mother.

Things were spinning out of control. I pulled the magic towards me, ready to defend myself, to dampen whatever might be coming.

‘Don’t listen to him,’ I said. ‘He’s just a coward, and a coward always points the finger.’

‘Go on,’ said the boyfriend, gesturing to the city gent. ‘Tell me!’

‘Just think it through! Which one of us boarded the train blathering about monsters? Monsters that are—apparently—hiding among us? Well, I’m not a monster, and d’you know why? Because monsters don’t exist! But crazy women do.’

‘What are you saying?’ asked the mother.

‘It’s her!’ he replied. ‘She’s the one who killed the girl!’

They were buying into it, I could feel it. My hands began to grow hot with power.

‘No, listen to me, I didn’t kill her, it wasn’t—’

‘Blood! She had blood on her shoes. Look over there by the door, she walked it in here. I saw it when she ran on. That was before… before her,’ he pointed to the gutted woman on the floor of the carriage.

‘Well?’ asked the mother.

‘Listen to me. Just stop. There is a monster on this train, and if you don’t trust me it’s going to kill every last one of us!’

‘No,’ said the city gent. ‘You’re not going to hurt anyone else, you mad cow!’

The boyfriend made his move. Quick as a flash, I pulled the magic into me and swept my hand at him, yanking the blade from his hand and sending it shooting down the carriage, where it embedded in a seat cushion.

He looked at his empty hand, then up at me, ‘How did...?’

‘I told you, magic. I’m telling you all the—‘

Something cracked along the back of my head. I stumbled forward, the carriage tilting. The city gent lowered his umbrella, its handle snapped in half.

I tried to put words together in my mind, some sort of spell to try and pull me out of this, but my brain was scrambled. I watched helpless as the solid, handle of the umbrella came at me again.

Then there was black.


‘...Worry… I’ll… tell us the truth…’

The words smudged in and out as I regained consciousness. The city gent seemed to have put himself in charge, which was no great surprise. My head was throbbing and I could taste blood in my mouth. I moved to get up, but my hands and ankles were secured. I looked down to find they’d used their coats to tie me up.

‘She’s awake,’ said the mother.

‘Don’t try to escape. You’re stuck until we move, and then we’re going to find the nearest police officer and that is that for you, you reprehensible mad woman.’

I looked up at the city gent and spat a glob of blood at his feet.

‘Disgusting,’ he said, grimacing.

‘I don’t feel good about this at all. I just don’t,’ said the mother.

‘You’ve made a mistake,’ I said.

‘I suppose you’re innocent?’ replied the gent.

‘As it happens, yes I am. And you’ve tied up the only person who can help you. Assuming you’re not the killer, that is.’

‘Still with this rubbish. She’s quite mad you know,’ he replied.

The boyfriend was sat on the seats, head in his hands, looking at his knife, rolling it around in his hands. He looked up at me, eyes unblinking. ‘How did you do that? With my knife? It was like you yanked it away from me without using your hands.’

‘I told you, magic.’

‘Oh, give it a rest, love,’ said the mother.

‘I didn’t kill your girlfriend,’ I said. He looked at me, or sort of did. I’m not sure if he really saw me. His whole world had been burned down and all he could see were the ashes.

I had to try and get through to him. ‘I didn’t kill her. Neither did you, or the passed out man. Which leaves one of the others as the killer.’

‘Poppycock. Absolute poppycock.’

‘Shut up for one moment!’ I told the city gent.

The boyfriend sighed and stood, a little unsteady on his feet, passing the knife back and forth between his hands. He was about to do something terrible, I could tell.

He stepped towards me. ‘I believe you. I think you are magic.’

‘I am,’ I said, a little hope sprouting.

‘And I think that’s how you killed her. With your magic.’

‘No, I didn’t kill her, you’ve got to believe me!’

‘You killed her,’ he said. ‘And now, I’ve decided, I’m going to do the same to you. For her.’

‘What did he say?’ asked the mother.

‘Now, hang on a moment there, you can’t do that,’ said the city gent, stepping towards the boyfriend.

He rounded on him, blade up, and the city gent backed off quickly. ‘She doesn’t deserve to live. Look what she did.’ He used the blade to point to his girlfriend’s twisted body. ‘Look!’

‘This is a matter for the authorities now,’ said the city gent. ‘It is not our place to administer justice.’

‘Yes. I know,’ said the boyfriend. ‘But you know what? I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway.’

Okay, that was enough. I placed the right words together in my mind and my bonds fell away, allowing me to stand up.

‘I tied those knots myself,’ said the city gent. ‘I’m very good at knots, how did you do that?’

‘Drop the knife,’ I said, but I could tell he wasn’t going to.

He screamed and thrust it towards me. I pushed his arm aside and jabbed him in the throat, just hard enough. The knife fell from his grip and clattered to the floor of the carriage as he coughed, eyes bulging. His hands went to his neck as he staggered back into a seat.

‘You’ll be fine in a moment,’ I said, turning to the others. ‘Until then I’m going to see which one of you—’

A magical spark—

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up—

Too late—

‘Everyone, just—’

The lights went out. I stumbled into the black. A scream, then the carriage was flooded with light again.

The boyfriend was dead.

Slumped in his seat, throat torn out, eyes wide with surprise.

‘Oh, Jesus Christ!’ cried the city gent, hands to his mouth, face pale.

The lights spluttered again—


They lit up again and the passed out drunk was on the floor, his chest ripped open, his heart sat beside him.

‘Stop!’ I said. ‘No more!’

I pulled the magic towards me, boiling with fury, and thrust both of my hands out. The magic surged from each, taking hold of the mother and the city gent, lifting them off their feet and pinning them to each side of the carriage.

‘No more!’

‘Oh, God. Oh, Jesus Christ!’ cried the city gent.

‘Please don’t hurt me!’

‘Which one of you is it? Tell me! Stop hiding, you coward! Face me!’

I blinked. And again. The blood draining from my face. It was suddenly very obvious ‘Oh…’ I said. ‘Oh.’

I lowered my hands and the mother and the city gent stumbled forward, released.

‘How... how did you do that?’ asked the gent.

‘She’s a demon!’ screamed the mother. ‘A demon!’

The mother…

How could I have overlooked something so obvious?

Six of us had entered the carriage.

‘Where’s the girl?’ I asked.

‘The girl?’ said the city gent. ‘You murdered her earlier, or did you forget already?’ He pointed past me, to the corpse of the girlfriend.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘The other girl. The child.’

‘Child?’ he asked, absolutely perplexed.

I turned to the mother. ‘Your daughter. You walked from the platform and onto this carriage with a daughter. Where is she?’

The mother looked at me, confused… because of course…

‘Daughter? I don’t have a daughter.’

I’d been stupid and I’d been slow. Again.

There had been no daughter; no little girl trailing at her mother’s side. I’d seen her and dismissed it. Overlooked it. Concentrated on the adults.


The hairs on my neck prickled again and then there she was, the little girl, charging at me from where she’d been sat quietly all this time. The thalang’s concealment magic must have been working full-throttle to hide itself from me, telling me to ignore it. Telling us all to ignore the little girl. To not see her over there, quietly watching and waiting.

She tore into the city gent and the mother, their blood spray painting the carriage as their bodies whirled and collapsed, dead at my feet. The young girl, the monster, turned to me.

‘You’re not very good at this, are you?’ she said, and smiled, her mouth a mess of jagged, yellowed teeth.

She sank them into the passed out drunk’s throat and ripped his windpipe out clean.


I was running, my feet crunching the loose gravel of the tunnel floor, heart thudding faster and faster.

Back in the train carriage I’d thrown everything I had at the thalang as it bounded around inside, its body transforming from its disguise into the grey, long-limbed beast it truly was. At the height of the battle I’d tossed a spell that narrowly missed the creature and blew a hole through the side of the carriage. It had used the opening as an escape hatch, leaping out and twitching away into the black.

I was chasing it now, and I could hear the thing ahead of me. It wouldn’t get away. I wouldn’t allow it. I was leaving behind a carriage full of corpses, their blood criss-crossing my face and body, and their deaths were on my hands. My entire reason for existing was to take down creatures that would harm the innocent — to stop them hurting normals and Uncanny alike. And now six people who had crossed my path were dead. Families, friends, partners would all soon get the news, and their lives would crumble.

Some might never recover.

And all because I’d been slow and stupid. Bad at my job. A failure.

I couldn’t let any more people die. I wouldn’t. This had to end before the thing made it back into the world and left another body on my patch.

If I made it out of this I knew I would have to remember them. All of them. See their faces in my mind’s eye every time I stepped out of the London Coven with a job to do. Even the passed out drunk, who I never exchanged a single word with. Who fell asleep and never woke up.

All of them.

I would remember, and the memory of them would keep me sharp. Remind me that I couldn’t let any more people fall because of my stupidity.

The tunnel opened up: a station.

It was dusty and dark; clearly a station that hadn’t been used in some time. One that had been dropped from the route and allowed to fall into disrepair. There were several of these “ghost stations” across London. Vagrants set up home in some of them. Rats in others. I had a feeling that something else altogether had chosen this place as its den.

I scrambled up onto the platform, my senses on high alert. The place was heavy with background magic, with the music of the Uncanny. The thalang must have called this place home for a long time.

‘I’ve got you,’ I told the creature, ‘there’s nowhere left to run to. No one else to kill but me. Now get out here and give it your best shot.’

I absorbed the magic around me as I moved carefully forward, feeling the power inside of me grow, ready to be unleashed and put an end to this. To actually, finally, do my job and free London of a monster.

My footsteps echoed around the empty, dead space. I had to resist the urge to unleash everything I had and incinerate all that stood in front of me. I had to see and I had to know; I’d been short-sighted too many times so far.

‘Hey, you’re a big scary monster and I’m just a little Familiar. Surely you’re not that much of a coward? Wouldn’t you like to taste the soul of a Familiar?’

Movement to my right—

I whirled round, fists up—

The little girl stepped out of the shadows.

‘Do you really want to hurt me, Miss? I’m only a little girl.’

‘You’re an ancient monster, probably hundreds of years old. If you think that disguise is going to stop me making your head pop like a balloon, you’re very much mistaken.’

I raised my right fist and magic rippled around it like fire—

—then I stopped.

Why was the thing standing there, right in front of me? Why would it willingly emerge from its hiding place and make itself such an easy target?

Because it was trying to keep me from looking elsewhere.

I ducked and leapt to the right as something hurtled past me from behind. As it passed, it glanced my left side and sent me corkscrewing into the wall. Arms and legs flailing, I righted myself to see a second creature stood next to the first. This one wasn’t pretending to be anything other than what it was: a nightmare beast.

‘I was almost stupid enough for you again,’ I said, panting. I felt the cold of the wall pressing against my back; nothing would sneak up on me again. If they wanted to attack, they’d have to come at me head on.

‘She is very stupid,’ said the little girl. ‘I’ve killed lots and lots today, and all the while she stood and watched like a complete moron.’

‘Ah, you were right,’ replied the other monster. ‘She is as fresh as they come.’

I didn’t like how this was starting to sound. ‘What do you mean, “you were right”?’ I asked.

‘Well,’ came a third voice, as another of the creatures twitched out of the shadows, ‘why do you think we made it so easy for you to follow?’

‘Because,’ said a fourth voice, ‘we wanted you.’

I was breathing heavy now, my body trembling with fear and adrenaline.

‘You are the talk of London. The new Familiar for the witches of the London Coven, sent out into the world for the very first time.’

‘So fresh.’

‘So alive.’

‘So vital.’

‘Had to have you.’

‘Had to.’

‘Really had to!’

‘So tired and bored of feeding on normals and boring Uncanny’s.’

‘We want a fresh taste.’

‘Your spark, your sparkling soul, so new and brimming with power and possibility, unsullied by time, age, and experience, why… a thing like us could feast in toe-curling ecstasy on your spark for decades.’

The four creatures stood together now, looking at me with fierce hunger.

I put up my fists, jaw clenched.

The creatures began to meld together. To flow into each other until they became one writhing mass, scraping across the floor towards me.

I hadn’t found this place by chance. I’d been left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

And now the trap had been sprung.


A tentacle erupted from the combined pile of grey, wet flesh in front of me.

I ducked to one side just as the wall where my head had been exploded, showering me with shards of mortar.

I rolled over and tried to hop back onto my feet, only to feel a tentacle wrap itself around my ankle and begin to drag me towards the beast. I looked on in horror as mouths tore into life all over the wet flesh, teeth chattering, desperate to chew me up.

I screamed so hard I tasted blood as I threw everything I had in me out of my right hand. It erupted in a boiling torrent, but I’d been acting in blind terror, too scared to think or aim. The magic went wide and missed the main body of the thing.

Luck was on my side though, and the magic managed to connect with part of the tentacle, slicing it in two.

The creature shrieked and as the severed limb convulsed before it, spewing a geyser of black blood, coating the station and myself.

I tried to pull the surrounding magic into me again, ready to go on the offensive, only to see fresh tentacles shooting from the creature, grasping me by the wrists and hauling me from the floor.

I pulled and kicked, but the thing had me tight.

The power inside me was ready, but my hands were held above my head. I had no way of directing the energy towards the thing.

The images of the police officer, the train passengers, flashed one by one in my mind to the rhythm of my heartbeat. Was this it? Was this the best I could do for them? This pathetic scuffle?

The creature lifted me above the main bulk of its disgusting frame as a fresh, giant mouth tore open below me.

My hands were still pointing to the heavens.

I had one chance.

Power shot from my hands and into the ceiling, causing the roof to crack apart. Head-sized chunks rained down onto the beast, causing it to scream as heavy rocks pummelled its body.

The tentacles reflexively released, letting me to tumble to the floor, ankles jarring, as it rolled out of the way of the collapsing roof.

It flopped over onto the train tracks and I followed, a giant piece of ceiling missing me by inches as I tumbled off the platform and landed heavily below.

No time to count my injuries.

I hauled myself up, already drawing fresh magic into me, my fists ready, as the creature whipped around.

‘This is for everyone I couldn’t protect tonight.’ I punched my right fist forward, then my left, then my right, a fresh eruption of magic arcing towards the beast with each thrust.

The creature screamed from its many mouths, tentacles twitching, as each ball of power struck home and left a fresh wound.

It turned to the blackness of the tunnel and tried to escape.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ I screamed.

The creature may have been large and ungainly, but it moved like lightning. I could already tell it was pulling away from me as I sprinted on behind, throwing fresh volleys of power in its direction as I went.

If this carried on I knew it would escape. It would pull too far ahead, reach another platform—a working platform—and by the time I caught up it would have assumed a new form, blended in and vanished. It could escape and carry on what it was doing. Wary of taking me on again, perhaps, but still cutting a swathe through the city. Who knew how many more it would murder before I caught up with it again weeks, months, or even years from now?

The tunnel forked in two and the creature headed left. It knew this system, knew where it was going. An escape point was close.

I wracked my brain for my magical inventory. If I hadn’t been so new, the right spell would have come to me immediately, but it took the sound of an approaching train for me to find it.

The train was heading towards us. A battering ram, a giant bullet, a man-made solution.

I reached high and pulled the surrounding magic into me, then punched out my right fist, power arcing from my knuckles in a great, livid yellow rope that struck the beast and brought it to a quivering halt. It roared and raged as it tried to move forward, but it was no use. The spell had bonded the creature’s flesh to the metal of the tracks and would continue to do so for as long as I could keep the spell active.

The creature pulled at the tracks. It was strong, but I was stronger. I soaked in wave after wave of magic, directing it through myself and out again into the spell, keeping it fed and alive. The creature could scream and fight all it liked, but the spell would not break.

It still wasn’t enough.

The monster was large and solid; it would cause carnage as the train ploughed into it. Crumple it like a concertina, turning the passengers inside into paste.

I had to add a second spell into the mix.

Two spells simultaneously wasn’t something I was even sure I was strong enough to pull off. The witches, my masters? They could do that and more, but I was a lowly, new born Familiar. Could I really contain and direct two spells like this?

What choice did I have?

I had to.

I would.

I focussed on the new spell, jaw clenched so hard I thought I might grind my teeth to dust. The new spell began to slide into place in my mind alongside the first.

I unleashed it.

The spell struck home, the monster screeching anew as it felt itself being changed. I was making it weak. Soft. Soft enough that a train could hurtle into it without damaging anyone aside.

I was shaking as though I was having a fit, blood rolling from my nostrils, my eye sockets, my ears—

I could feel my heart jack-hammering, ready to explode—

I couldn’t do it—

I couldn’t—

I think I heard myself screaming, but it didn’t sound like me, it sounded like a wounded animal.

Where was the train?

Where was the train?


Too much—

Taking too long—

The world turning white—

I couldn’t hold on.

Had to—


It was killing me—

Killing me—

Killing me.

I might not be a person. Not like other people who walked the streets and travelled these underground train lines. But I had a life. A new, fresh, wonderful life that was all mine and I wasn’t ready to let it go so soon.

I didn’t want to die, not yet, not there.

The two spells were tearing me apart.

How much longer?

I couldn’t hold them both.

It was going to die.

I wanted to live and—

I was dimly aware of a roaring noise—the train?—and of light momentarily bathing the monster before a blur burst through it. The beast exploded into a thousand wet pieces like a bug on a windshield.

As the train carried on its journey I collapsed to the dirt, exhausted and trembling, finally allowing the two spells to die as the creature's blood soaked into my skin.

No time. No time to rest.

I dragged myself forward, knees and elbows and twitching fingers pushing me towards the site of impact. I had to be sure, had to know nothing of the thing had survived.

But the softening spell had done its trick. None of the four thalangs that had made up the giant beast remained. All that was left was goo and gore.

The creature was dead.

The job was done.

I’d have hooted with joy if I hadn’t felt like I was about to black out.

I somehow clambered to my feet though.

Stumbled on, looking for a way out.


‘Oh, there she is. You win ten bob.’

I staggered into the main chamber of the London Coven, my home, to see my creators, my three witches, sat in rocking chairs, knitting.

Kala, Trin, & Feal.

To look at them you wouldn’t know they, combined, were perhaps the most powerful creatures in the whole of the Uncanny Kingdom.

‘We thought you’d bought the big one, dear,’ said Kala.

‘You were betting on whether I lived or died?’ I replied, too tired, too shaken, to say anything besides the first thing that came into my head.

‘Don’t take it to heart, love,’ said Trin. ‘These two bet on everything.’

‘We’re very glad you’re alive.’

‘Great,’ I said as I stumbled slowly to the door, longing for my bed.

‘How was your first day?’ asked Feal.

‘Awful,’ I replied, curtly.

The three nodded.

‘Well, it won’t always be that pleasant.’

I snorted.

‘I take it the matter is dealt with? The thalang dead?’

‘Yes, it’s dead.’ I stopped and turned to them. ‘But I made mistakes. A lot of stupid mistakes. People died.’

‘They will do that from time to time.’

‘A terrible thing, but it can’t always be helped.’

I closed my eyes, saw the police officer, the passengers, felt a fist of anger clench in my stomach.

‘They didn’t deserve to die!’ My witches looked at me, a little taken aback. ‘They were just going about their business, living their lives, then in I stumble and that’s all gone.’

Trin put down her ball of yarn and stood, walking towards me. For a moment I wondered if she was about to mete out punishment. Shout at me at least. Maybe undo my very existence. Instead, she rested a hand gently on my shoulder and smiled, sadly.

‘All you can do, and all we can expect, is that you learn and try your best.’

‘Without us, without you, things would be so much worse,’ said Kala.

‘Oh, so much.’

‘We are all that stands between order and chaos in London. But that doesn’t mean we can save everyone.’

‘She’s right, love,’ said Feal. ‘It just means we try our best to. Because that’s our job. And now that’s your job too.’

I bowed my head for a moment, then looked up again: ‘The death. Losing people. Do you ever get used to it?’

‘Do you want to?’ asked Trin.


‘Good. Then don’t.’

Trin turned from me and made her way back to her knitting. ‘Now go and get some sleep. Tomorrow’s another work day, you know. We don’t get time off.’

I nodded and shuffled into the corridor, finding my way to my room with my eyes already half-closed.

This is what my life was. What I was created for.

To help.

To protect.

To destroy evil.

Maybe I wasn’t a real person, but the thing that I was? That was going to have to be good enough.

I couldn’t save everyone—I was going to have to get used to that—but I would always try my best.

My head hit the pillow and the world began to go quiet.

Day one, done.

I had a feeling that things were only going to get harder.

But I would learn.

And I would get better.

As my eyes closed and sleep took me, I thought I might even be looking forward to it.

The Uncanny Kingdom was out there, waiting for me. Full of danger, of monsters, of the unknown. Of screams in the twilight and nightmares made flesh. And I was going to show it who was boss, because I’m Stella Familiar of the London Coven, and this city is mine to protect.

The End.

Familiar Magic


It was the absence of magic that first got me, hitting me like a punch to the stomach.

As I stepped forward my legs actually shook a little, like they might give way and drop me to the ground. So much for the seen-it-all, jaded, powerful Familiar.

My name is Stella, I belonged to the London Coven as the Familiar to a trio of witches, and I’d just arrived back to find the door hanging off its hinges. After discovering this, I’d just stood looking at the thing for a few seconds, confused. It was impossible. It couldn’t be. And yet there it stubbornly was.

The entrance to the coven itself sits in Hammersmith, west London; just a few streets away from the underground station. It’s situated down a blind alley, so called because only those who know it exists can actually see it. A simple but very effective bit of perception magic that makes the alley invisible to most, even when looking directly at it.

Let’s get back to that impossible lack of magic.

It assaulted my senses like a rancid smell. Like meat gone bad. The coven and the blind alley that led to its door should be noisy with magic. Alive with boiling, agitated power. It was home to my masters, Kala, Trin, & Feal, the most powerful witches in England, and every inch of the place was infused with magic, old and new, black and white. On top of that, there were the spells of protection. Thousands of them. Anyone that wasn’t meant to be there could find themselves stepping into a patch of superheated air that would melt the flesh from their bones. Or perhaps they’d blink and, just before their heart gave out, they’d find themselves confused as their eyes opened one last time to see their insides were now on the outside. There were any number of ways it could happen. Any number of creative deaths to discover. The coven was locked up tight, it had to be. It was impossible for anything to step inside that wasn’t invited. And yet…

The door—

The lack of magic—

I swallowed hard and ducked through the gap created by the half-off door, straightening up slowly on the other side.

The place was dead.

There wasn’t a whisper of magic to be heard. To be felt. Tasted.

It was impossible.

I know I keep using that word, but it was true.

Every building, every street, every hill and river and grain of sand contains some residue of magic. It’s all around us every day. Even if this place hadn’t been a coven, hadn’t housed three of the most powerful magical creatures in the country, the very fact of its existence meant it should emit traces of the Uncanny.

But there was nothing.

I reached out with all of my senses, desperate for anything. For a ghost of some ancient incantation.

I came up empty and it terrified me.

‘Kala? Trin...?’


I stepped into the first room; it was empty but there were signs of a struggle. ‘Kala?’ Chairs on their sides, broken glass on wooden floorboards. The coven smelt the same despite the lack of magic; that weird mix of cinnamon, freshly cut grass, and lavender that seemed to permanently drift around the place, no matter which potion was cooked up or meal was prepared. The smell of my master’s witchcraft. I turned back and stepped into the hallway again.

‘Intruder, my name is Stella Familiar and you will show yourself or I… or I will…’

I pressed a palm against the wall to steady myself and swallowed, throat dry. The emptiness was getting to me, giving me the shakes. All magical beings are connected to the power that radiates from all things. They feed a little on the magic that naturally occurs, and I was no different. I soaked it in, night and day, without even thinking about it. It sustained me, made me stronger, gave me the energy to cast spells, and, for want of a better word, gave me a ‘buzz’. But now, in this place, in this empty coven, I was like a junkie who’d suddenly gone cold turkey after a lifetime of indulgence.

And it hurt.

It was actually disturbing to me how quickly I was affected. A minute had passed, tops, and I was a shaking, sweaty wreck.

I grunted, straightened up, and tried to get my shit together.

‘Intruder, my name is Stella Familiar and you will damn well show yourself to me for punishment!’ The words roared out of my mouth with a strength I really didn’t feel.

There was no reply.

I placed a hand on the door to the main coven room and pushed.

I tasted death before I saw it.

That coppery tang on the tongue that twisted my stomach and told me exactly what I was going to see before my eyes had chance to catch up.

There were three bodies on the floor inside. Three bodies, but more than three pieces. Kala, Trin, Feal, my masters, my coven’s high witches, had been torn to pieces and scattered around the room.

Eyes wide, hand to my mouth, I stepped inside.


The world had gone mad.

This couldn’t be happening.

Nothing was capable of doing this to the witches of the London Coven. Together, the three of them wielded enough power to crack open mountains, and yet my shoes were now soaking in a pool of their collective blood.

I crouched and placed a hand on a hunk of meat that could have once belonged to any one of my masters. It, like the coven itself, was empty. Not just of life, but of magic. Of power. Something had broken into a place it was impossible to break into, survived the magical protections it was impossible to survive, and torn to…

…and murdered my masters. Murdered creatures of immeasurable power. And then, to finish things off, they’d drained every last drop of magic from the place.

It was impossible on top of impossible on top of impossible and it made me tremble.

I stood, angry. Angry that I’d allowed fear to infect me. I cradled that anger and blew upon it, igniting it like the first spark of a new fire. It didn’t matter that this was impossible, it had happened. It didn’t matter that the kind of power needed to have even achieved one of the impossible things done to this coven would be enough to turn me into a puddle of bubbling goo.

None of it mattered.

All that mattered was that the coven was breached and my creators had been murdered as though they were nothing. As though they were less than nothing. They’d been ripped and shredded and tossed aside. My nails dug into my palms and drew blood, but I didn’t flinch. It felt good.

I was going to find out who was behind this and do something impossible myself.

I was going to get bloody, horrifying revenge.

I was nothing but a lowly Familiar, but I swore on every spell I knew that I was going to avenge my slaughtered coven.

‘Listen to me. Listen closely. You’ve made a terrible mistake. You’ve made a terrible mistake and you don’t even realise it. My name is Stella Familiar, and what’s happened here today will be met with fury like you could never even imagine. Do you hear me? I know you can. Whoever did this, I will find you, and when I do, I will rip your heart from your chest!’

A noise—

A movement in the corner of my eye—

I whirled and caught sight of something my mind couldn’t quite pin down.

I wasn’t alone.

And I was in terrible danger.


Whatever the creature was, it was taking its time. I had the distinct impression it was trying to scare me.

It was working.

Normally in this sort of situation, with an unknown beast stalking me, ready to leap and tear my throat out at any moment, I’d draw on the surrounding magic and cast a spell that would turn the thing into confetti. Sling a spell first, ask questions later, that was my usual way of dealing with threats. But there was no surrounding magic. I extended my senses as far as I could, invisible tendrils firing out in all directions, desperately searching for a hint of the strange to draw upon, but everything was cold.

This was a dead place.

The creature unleashed a low, rumbling growl that shook the floor beneath me. I was in deep trouble. I tried to ignore the blood, the chunks of my dead masters, and I reached out again to try and make sense of what I was up against.

A voice—

A single word, repeated staccato—


The words rolled in my head as I came upon the thing stalking me. It was a slippery creature, hard to get a clear grip on, but it was obvious it wasn’t the person behind this attack. It was a booby trap.

Okay. It was time to take stock.

I had no magic to draw on, only the weak power I already had stored inside of me, and even that was dulled by my surroundings, as though my magic was shrinking back in confusion at the emptiness around me. Did the creature keeping just out of sight know that? Did it realise I was running almost on empty? That I’d be bringing a slap to a gunfight?

No, I didn’t think so. It was just toying with me; that’s the only reason it hadn’t already pounced. It wanted to make me scared to death, before death actually came calling.

‘Whatever you are, this is already getting boring. Just show yourself, but beware: I have enough juice in me to make your head go pop. Understand?’

A bluff, but I sold it as best I could. From what I could sense, it was a simple attack beast, left to take care of anyone who stumbled into the dead coven. To take care of me. It was the monkey, not the organ grinder.

‘Do you hear me, you dumb creature? Show yourself or get the hell out of my house!’

A growl and the floor shook—

A wall in front of me exploded—

A creature erupted into the room, busting through plaster and brick as though it were matchsticks and spit. The thing looked a hell of a lot like the dog-monster Rick Moranis turns into in Ghostbusters; horned, eyes burning with red fire, a mess of sharp teeth.

It raised its great head, drool dripping from its mouth and splashing onto the floor, mixing with my masters’ spilled blood. I had to choose my next words carefully.

‘There, there,’ I said. ‘Good dog…?’

Yes. Not ideal.

A thought struck: This monster was created by magic, which meant it must have magic available for me to feed on. I ignored the fact that I should have already been able to sense any magic in my vicinity and tried to reach out to it, to draw in some of its power, but whoever had created this thing was no idiot. Some sort of extra spell had been cast upon the beast that made my mental feelers slide off it every time I reached out, like I was trying to push two magnets of the same pole together. So that was why I hadn’t been able to sense its presence, or its magic. The thing was shielded from me. Whoever had ripped apart my witches and left this booby trap didn’t plan on making things easy.

The thing took a step forward, a floorboard cracking beneath its heavy, cloven foot.

‘Stop! Stay there! Don’t take another step or you’re for it!’

I raised a hand by way of a threat, a weak cloud of sparks swimming around it, as though at any moment I was about to cast a furious spell upon the damn thing.

‘You will tell me your name, and the name of your master, or I will—’

—I didn’t get to finish the sentence. The creature snorted and began to charge, drool trailing from its mouth.

I flung the weak defence spell I’d conjured in the creature’s direction as I turned and bolted from the room. I didn’t bother to check for damage, I knew the energy I’d unleashed would have affected the beast about as much as running through a cobweb.

A second more and the thing was going to be on me; I stopped sharply and threw myself through the open door to my left and into another room, the monster tumbling past and away, unable to suddenly halt its momentum.

I landed on the floor, shoulder jarring, but I didn’t have time to notice the pain. I rolled onto my knee and turned to the open doorway; I could hear the thing scrabbling to stop and turn. I didn’t have time to run back out the door and head in the other direction, which left me only one option: the window.

I had to get out of the coven and out of the blind alley; that was my only hope. Either the thing wouldn’t follow me, had been conjured only to stay within the confines of the coven, and I would be safe, or it would follow. If it followed, then my one shot was to make it out of the blind alley and into the street with enough time before it caught up to pull what magic I could from the surroundings to do… whatever I could. I’d have at best seconds to power up. I already knew that wouldn’t be long enough for me to gain enough energy to destroy the thing, but I was out of options.

The corridor’s floorboards began to crunch as the beast headed back to the doorway. Its giant, snarling head came into view and its burning, hellish eyes looked at me. Looked at me with hunger, desperate to taste my flesh.


It was now or never.

This was going to hurt.

‘Here, doggy,’ I said, then used the last of my power to throw a chair directly at the thing’s face, hoping to slow it down for even half a second, as I turned, raised my arms up over my head, and threw myself through the window.


Shards of glass swarmed me like angry bees as I burst from the coven and fell hard onto the cobbles outside. I heard the beast, its roar barely muffled behind me.

‘Get up!’ I yelled, and pushed myself to my feet, hands criss-crossed with livid red cuts from the shattered window.

I’d made it outside, now I just had to make it another twenty metres to the end of the blind alley, to the streets beyond with their wash of background magic that I could pull on. I could do it.

Maybe I could.

Had to do it.

I took a step and my knee almost buckled beneath me. The adrenalin was pumping so hard that I hadn’t realised how hard I came down during my escape. I staggered, but managed to keep just about upright, even if I did step more sideways than forward.

‘Come on, you can do it—’ I gritted my teeth and kept moving. I had to make it to the street before the animal took me down. Had to. Had to!

‘Well, look at you.’

The new voice seemed to come at me from all angles and I span around looking for a source, even as I tried to keep moving toward the street.

‘Such willpower. Such determination. I find myself admiring you.’

‘Show yourself!’ I yelled, though I really hoped they would ignore the request. I was as weak and empty as I’d ever been. A kitten could have taken me down at this point.

‘Keep going, Stella. Don’t make it easy for me. I want you to struggle and hope and strive, it makes the inevitable all the sweeter.’

The voice speaking seemed to change from word to word, making it impossible to pin down. Impossible to try and work out who it might be. I knew every sorcerer, every member of the Uncanny that passed through London; if I heard their true voice, I’d know who it was in an instant. Another trick; more powerful magic used to evade and disorientate.

‘Why’ve you done this to my coven? Answer me!’

‘No,’ said the voice. ‘But you should know… they screamed for mercy, Stella.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Oh, they begged me for it. Even as I tore strips of flesh from their bones with my teeth. They tasted… weak.’

I stopped in my pursuit of the street, rage clouding my senses. ‘I’ll find you! Whoever you are, I will find you and I will kill you! I promise you!’

Mocking laughter swirled around me, only to be replaced by the crashing of the coven wall as the beast leapt through and into the blind alley.

Bashed-up knee forgotten, I turned and ran, the creature howling and giving chase.

I wasn’t going to make it.

I could feel the ground shake beneath me as the animal grew closer with each bound, felt its hot breath begin to beat against the back of my neck. Five metres to go until the end of the blind alley, until the street and its magic welcomed me.

It would be about four metres too far.

Out of options once more, I screamed and threw myself to the side, hurtling into the wall, lucky not to bash my brains in against it. The beast roared in surprise and tried to stop, stumbling over itself and rolling out of the alley, screaming in fury at having been so close only to be foiled once again. The creature was vicious and strong, but it wasn’t smart.

I pushed myself back up and ran for the street. I almost smiled as I stepped out of the blind alley and the dead veil, the absence of magic, was pulled away from me. I inhaled a great gulp of the natural background power of the place as shoppers screamed and sprinted from the insanity that had just intruded onto their day, browsing the Hammersmith high street shops. My every nerve ending tingled as the magic, weak as it was, washed over me and soothed my jangled nerves.

So sudden was the rush that I closed my eyes, a beatific smile upon my face, and I almost forgot about the giant devil dog that was about to feast on my guts. My eyes opened again and I took up an attack pose, legs spread, arms up and outstretched, ready to unleash whatever spell came to me in the moment.

I didn’t have time to consider my attack.

The animal was already up and just metres away from me, teeth bared, the fire in its eye sockets roaring with fury. As it leapt toward me I felt myself shake in terror. I always thought, when death came for me, that I’d be able to face it boldly, but here I was, shaking like a child. Shaking and unable to form a clear thought as six or seven half-formed invocations crashed through my mind and the certainty of death seized my heart.

I closed my eyes and braced myself for the end.


After eight or nine seconds, I’d begun to wonder why death was taking so long.

I opened my eyes to find myself looking up not into the furious, twitching face of a monster hell-bent on tearing my skin off, but instead into the face of a man. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and was wearing an expression of complete surprise.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘How did…’ he started. ‘I… I mean, where did…?’

Somehow, I’d jumped from standing in the street, about to be chewed upon like the favourite squeaky toy of the Godzilla of dogs, to being laid out on my back in some strange man’s kitchen. It was odd, but preferable to the alternative.

The man jerked back as I sat up sharply and took in my surroundings.

‘Have you seen a big monster dog thing that wants to eat me?’

‘I… what?’

I pushed myself up onto my feet and darted for the kitchen window, trying to see if the thing had been able to follow me.

‘A monster! Have you seen a monster?’

‘Of course I haven’t seen a monster!’

‘Good. It was about to kill me and is probably, currently, very, very angry that it’s not crunching my bones between its teeth. A thing like that doesn’t like its target to escape.’

‘Doesn’t it?’

‘Well of course it doesn’t, it’s the whole reason they’re created. Think it through… um…’ I gestured with one hand, ‘Name?’


‘Your name, what’s your name?’


‘Oh, I knew a David once.’

‘Most people do.’

‘He was eaten by a bear. Well, a powerful sorcerer pretending to be a bear. Well, a demon, pretending to be a powerful sorcerer, pretending to be a bear.’

‘Right. Of course. We all know people like that.’

I was babbling, I was aware of that, my brain sprinting.

I turned from the window, satisfied the devil dog wasn’t about to leap through the wall at me. My heart was still flying a hundred miles an hour in my chest, and I realised I’d been saying things to a normal I’d usually have kept under wraps. But then, this wasn’t a normal sort of a day. Someone had murdered the witches of London.

‘So are you going to, I don’t know, tell me what you’re doing in my house or—’

I raised a finger and pressed it to his lips: ‘Shh, David.’ Closing my eyes, I extended my senses out as far as they would go, searching for any hint of trouble. Any sign that I’d been followed. There was nothing; all I felt was the normal background magic of the place. I was safe. Well, safe for now.

‘Good, seems like I shook the thing off somehow. Not sure how though; all the half-formed spells rushing through my mind must have somehow combined, formed something altogether different, and snatched me away from danger, dropping me, well, here. Where is here, by the way?’

‘Can I talk now?’ said David, lips smushed by my finger still. I pulled it away.

‘Go ahead.’

‘Thank you. My name is Detective David Tyler, and you just broke into my kitchen. Not the smartest of smart moves. Because of the detective thing I just mentioned. I’m a detective. You… well, you’re in trouble.’

My first thought was to raise my hand, conjure up something horrible, and toss it in Detective David Tyler’s direction. Then I realised that was a bit rude, especially considering I had appeared from nowhere in the centre of his kitchen. On top of that, with danger passed for now, it suddenly hit me how weak I was. The fight, the strange lack of magic in the alley and the coven, the death of my witches… my masters… it was all too much. It was crushing me.

‘Okay, so I want you to start answering a few questions now, or—’

He cut off as my knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor.

‘Whoa, hey, sorry, are you… okay?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said, attempting to stand, only to find myself instead curling into a ball on the floor. ‘Okay, not entirely fine.’

‘Look, you can’t just—‘

‘—Please. Help me. I’m in danger.’

‘From what? And please don’t say a monster.’

‘I don’t know. I heard a voice. Lots of voices.’

‘A gang attacked you? Is that what all those cuts are from?’

‘I need a place to rest, just for a little while.’

David crouched before me as he came to a decision. ‘Okay. But I’m locking the door to your room.’

He must have carried me, because I found myself in a bedroom I didn’t remember walking to. I lifted my head from the wonderful softness of the pillow to see David stood in the doorway.

‘Thanks. You’re a good person.’

‘Some might say ‘idiot’, but I’ll take ‘good’ for now.’

I smiled and he smiled back. It was a nice smile, open and friendly.

‘I must be mental,’ he said, then lifted a key, waggling it back and forth. ‘One night, then you’re going to tell me the truth. That or I’m taking you on a guided tour of the police station. Right?’


‘Good. Okay. I left you a glass of water on the side, there.’

‘Thanks, David.’

My eyes closed before the door did, and sleep had its way with me. I heard the key turn in the lock, and then I was gone.


I opened my eyes.

I was in the London Coven.

Power rolled around the place in great waves. It coiled and it flowed and it sparked; every colour imaginable strobing endlessly. It was beautiful, intoxicating, and very, very moreish. It would be invisible to most people, but not to someone like me, a Familiar, a thing of the Uncanny.

I spread my arms wide and washed my hands through it, watching as it danced and weaved around my fingers. Few places in the country were as soaked in as high a concentration of magic as this place.

My coven.

It would be too much, for some. Any amateur sorcerer, or lowly creature with a foothold in magic, that walked through the door into this place might find themselves drowning in it, or driven mad. But then very few people ever stepped inside of this place. The coven was not open to visitors, and was protected by layer upon layer of spells from intruders.

Or, at least, it had been.

I looked down at myself. I was naked.

‘This is just a dream,’ I said to myself. I always knew when I was dreaming, and I’d had this dream often enough. It was the day I was created.

‘Familiar, I name you Stella,’ came a voice from behind me. It was Kala’s voice.

‘Why Stella?’ came a second voice, Trin’s

‘It was the name of someone who was kind to me once. Many centuries ago.’

I turned and looked upon them. My witches. My creators.

‘Well?’ said Feal, who had so far remained silent. ‘Can you talk, or did we forget the tongue again?’

‘I can talk,’ I replied. I felt tears prickle my eyes and fought to hold them back. All three of them were dead. But not here. Not in my dreams. Here they’d be able to live forever.

‘You are this coven’s Familiar, from now until your life is taken; do you accept your fate?’ asked Kala.

I nodded. ‘Yes. I suppose I’ve nothing better to do.’

Feal snorted, amused. One of the highlights of any day had been when I’d been able to make her laugh. Now she’d never laugh again. Not really. Not outside of my dreams.

A Familiar is created to serve a coven. Most witches don’t like to step beyond their home too much, especially when their home is as heavily protected as this one. So they use their Familiar, created by them for them, to step out into the world and do their leg-work.

I fetched. I carried. I delivered warnings, and worse. Much worse. Anything my masters asked of me. Most Familiars are not expected to last long. They are sent out into danger, they are not expected to always return. But I had, for sixty years, served them happily. But now… a Familiar was not meant to outlast its masters.

I felt the anger rise in me again and clenched my fists. I would get whoever did this to me. Whoever it was that murdered my coven. I would track them down, and I would make them scream in pain.

‘She looks angry,’ said Trin.

‘Can you blame her?’ replied Feal. ‘After what she let happen?’

That caught my attention, snapping me out of my anger, ‘What? What are you talking about?’

‘What are you talking about?’ repeated Kala, mocking me.

‘It’s your fault—’

‘Your fault—’

‘Your fault—-’

They stepped towards me slowly, making me back up until I was pressed against the wall. Without thinking, I drew in additional magic from the air, ready to defend myself. The witches stopped and watched as the wash of power in the room began to flow towards me.

‘I-I...’ I bit my lip, trying to calm myself so the magic would stop lapping towards me.

‘You think you can attack us?’

‘She means us further harm yet.’

‘No! I’m your Familiar! That’s who I am, that’s all I am; I would never do anything to hurt you! Not any of you, you know that!’

‘You know that—’

‘You know that—’

Mocking me again, but wait…

‘What did you say?’ I asked.

‘It’s your fault we’re dead, Familiar.’

‘Your fault—’

‘Your fault—’

Their voices…

It was only now I was noticing, or perhaps only now I was being allowed to notice…

The witches spoke, but not with their own voices. Each word came out as though a different person spoke it, just like the voice I’d heard in the blind alley outside.

Another trick.

‘I’m not a big fan of people attacking me in my dreams. Especially not when they use the bodies of my masters to do it!’


‘She catches on—’

‘Took her long enough.’

I drew the magic toward myself, spoke the words, and threw an orb of energy that turned the three fake witches to ash.

Breathing heavily, trying to ignore the guilt gnawing at me, telling me that I’d just burned up my own coven despite what I knew, I stepped forward. I poked at the ash with the toe of one boot.

‘Come on, you coward, show yourself.’


Would it be as easy as that? Well, it was my dream after all; maybe it was giving me this simple victory. Building my confidence and—

—a scream as a hand burst from the ashes and gripped my ankle. I yelled out in shock despite myself, and tried to pull away, but the hand, alabaster white with yellow, ragged fingernails that dug into my skin, held fast.

‘Get off me!’

I crouched and tried to prise the fingers free. They felt like ice. A second hand burst from the ashes, then a third, and a fourth, they were pulling me down!

I tried to raise my hands to form a spell, but more hands shot from the floor like vipers and gripped me, pulling me down into the floor itself.

It was just a dream.

Just a dream, that’s all it was.

I tried to calm myself by repeating that over and over. This was just a dream. A nightmare. It didn’t matter what happened to me here, I would wake up in Detective David Tyler’s spare room any moment, covered in sweat, breathing heavily, but alive.

‘Are you sure of that, Stella Familiar?’

‘Are you sure?’



The words, spat out in a hundred different voices, swirled around me, over and over, like a ribbon made of razorblades, and now all that was left of me above the floor, above the ashes, was my head. I closed my mouth to stop myself from breathing in my master’s remains.

‘I’m waiting for you.’

‘I’m waiting.’



Any moment now, I would wake up.

I had to.

Any moment.

Any moment…


I closed my eyes tight as the ashes swallowed me up.


‘Um, how did you get out?’

I looked up from the bowl of cereal I was eating and did my best to give a cheery smile.


‘You haven’t broken my door, have you? That’s a nice door, I like that door.’

‘Sorry. Had a bit of a bad dream.’

‘Were you naked? I’m always naked in my nightmares.’

‘Very naked.’

David sat down opposite me.

‘Tell me more.’

‘Then my masters tried to attack me, I killed them with magic, and was dragged down into the floor by twenty or thirty arms that burst up out of their ashes.’

David nodded slowly. ‘Well. Okay.’

‘Then I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to make myself useful. There’s coffee in the pot if you’re thirsty.’

David narrowed his eyes then went to investigate, pouring himself a cup.

‘Careful, I like it strong.’

‘Me too,’ he replied, taking a sip, then coughing slightly, eyes watering. ‘P-perfect.’

‘Thanks for letting me stay. Not every man would allow a woman who had broken into his home to sleep over.’

‘Well, I’m not every man. In fact, if my ex-girlfriend is right, I’m barely a man at all.’

I snorted. He was funny as well as kind. David took his place opposite me again, raising the cup of coffee to his lips, then thinking better of it and placing it on the table.

‘Well, thank you, I appreciate it.’

‘So… my door? Did you pick the lock, or…?’

‘Oh, I just used a simple trick to open it. Apprentice-level magic. It’s the kind of thing you learn on day one.’

David did his slow nod again. ‘I see.’

‘Do you?’

‘Almost definitely not.’




‘And by ‘magic’, you obviously mean…?’




‘Got it.’

More slow nodding, this time combined with a look in his eyes that said, ‘Careful, crazy ahead.’ For some reason it felt right to fill him in on my world. Like I owed it to him. Like by sharing with him it would make me feel less alone.

‘Look, Officer David Tyler—’

‘—Just David will do—’

‘—David, I know you’re not of the Uncanny. To you London is just another place, full of people, and buildings, and noise, and fried chicken shops, and everything can be explained. But what if I were to tell you that everything you knew about London, about the entire world in fact, was wrong?’

‘I’d say you and my ex would get on like a house on fire.’

I stopped and stared into his eyes, unblinking. ‘I’m being serious, David.’

He leaned back in his seat and folded his arms. ‘No, you’re being a nut case, and if you’re going to continue being a nut case, I’m going to have to take you down to the station for further questioning. I may be nice, but I’m not that nice.’

I stood sharply, my chair toppling to the floor. David rose, one hand out in a calming gesture, the other reaching to his pocket. I wondered what he had in there. Some sort of spray, or maybe one of those extendable batons?

‘I’m not going to hurt you, David.’

‘Good, getting hurt is one of my least favourite parts of the job.’

‘I’m not going to hurt you, I’m going to show you. Show you that I’m telling the truth.’

David’s hand retreated from whatever he had stashed in his pocket. Good. He gave me a place to sleep things off, the last thing I wanted to do was put him down on his arse.

‘Okay, you’re going to show me that magic is real?’

I nodded.

‘How? I’m afraid I don’t have a pack of cards to hand and you don’t have a hat to pull a bunny from.’

I snorted and shook my head. ‘You normals, you see only one, thin slice of reality. You’re looking at the world through a crack in a door.’

‘Okay, did you or did you not damage my door?’

The background magic of David’s house washed around me, but I didn’t need to draw on it for this little demonstration. My own natural power would be more than enough to turn his head.

‘Well? Let’s see this ‘magic’ then. Unless you’re talking out of your bum because you’re insane.’

‘Detective David Tyler?’


The ancient words ran through my head as I reached out one hand and pushed them towards him. ‘Shhh.’

I watched, amused, as David waited for something to happen, for the fireworks to begin. Perhaps disappointed, perhaps satisfied that I’d been lying all along, he smiled and opened his mouth to say something…

…only no words came out.

‘It’s no use trying,’ I said, as David’s eyes opened so wide it seemed like they were in danger of falling out. He gripped his throat, pulled at his tongue, walked around in a little circle of panic, all the time trying and failing to speak.

Finally he stopped and turned to me, mouthing some words, wide and slow.

‘”What have I done?” I cast a spell on you. Just a little one. It’s called the spell of silence and robs anyone it’s cast upon of their voice for a short time. Or until the spell is reversed.’

I pictured the words in my head once again, but this time reversed them, before reaching out to him: ‘Speak.’

‘—uck is going on? I…! Wait… I can talk! Hello? Hello? This is David.’ He looked up at me, relieved beyond belief. ‘I can talk!’

‘Yes, congratulations, you’re neck and neck with a two-year-old.’

He stopped rubbing at his throat and the relief began to drain from him as a horrible reality dawned.

‘That was… was that…?’


‘Yeah. That was magic, wasn’t it? I mean, sort of, magic-magic. David Blaine, but not tricksy bullshit.’

‘Your face has gone very pale.’

‘I’m just going to sit down and tremble for a moment or two, if that’s okay?’


David sat down, placed his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. ‘This is insane. This is completely insane...’

‘Would you like to see more?’

David looked to me, eyes wide, and shrugged. ‘Can’t hurt. Unless it can, in which case… still yes.’

I smiled and prepared myself to blow his mind.


‘Is that… that’s me!’

David hopped up onto his feet and backed up a little, staring with a mixture of confusion and wonder at the replica of him I’d just made appear between us. This David, this simulacrum of David, glimmered with colour, magical sparks popping and fizzing around it. It wasn’t solid, it wouldn’t fool anyone that it was the real thing. This conjured David was see-through, like a ghost. It took more power than I knew how to cope with to create a true double, a double that could replace someone and fool even the closest of friends.

‘Officer David Tyler, meet Officer David Tyler.’

The copy smiled and waved to him, ‘Hey there.’

‘Okay. Okay, that is very disturbing. Also, I am at least an inch taller than that, and my shoulders are a lot broader.’

‘Afraid not.’

I passed my hands through the double and he began to break apart, drifting like smoke.

‘Bye, David; good to meet you.’

David waved to his double as it faded from view. ‘You too...’

‘Well?’ I asked. ‘Convinced?’

He looked to me; I knew what he was feeling. Bewildered, excited, terrified, I’d seen the emotions pass over more than a few normals in my time as the London Coven’s Familiar.



‘What did you put in that coffee?’

I sighed and dropped my chin to my chest.

‘That’s all this is, must be. You put something… something illegal in my coffee and now I’m seeing things. Hallucinating. Tripping off my tits. That’s all there is to it.’



‘Definitely not.’

He put his hands on his hips and huffed for a second, searching for what to say next. ‘Well… I’m still getting that coffee tested.’

‘Stop. You know it’s not true. You know what I showed you was real, admit it.’

David’s breathing slowed as he calmed down and took a seat again.



‘Look, I’m not completely closed-minded. I’m open to the idea of, you know, the supernatural. Aliens. Strange shit. But… look, this is just a lot to wrap my head around this early in the morning, okay?’

I sat opposite him and reached out, placing a hand over his. I thought he might pull away, but his hand remained under mine. ‘You’ve no need to be scared of me, David.’

‘Who said I was scared?’

‘Your hand is trembling.’

‘Okay. Maybe a touch, you know, terrified.’

‘Magic is real. I use it to help people. I suppose you could say I’m the magical equivalent of you.’

‘So, you’re a what? A magic detective? Harry Potter with a badge?’

I smiled, ‘Sort of. I’m the Familiar to a coven of witches.’

A long pause.

‘Okay,’ said David. ‘Witches. Coven. I’m following.’

‘London is a hub of the Uncanny. All kinds of magical sorts run around these streets. If they were left to do whatever they wanted it would be chaos. It’s my coven’s job to try and keep things under control.’

‘So these witches, are we talking big floppy hats, broomsticks, black cats, giant warty noses?’

I laughed and shook my head, ‘No. Afraid not. They look more like a group of middle-aged women at a knitting circle. Well… looked like.’

‘Looked like? As in, past tense?’

I pulled my hand away and closed my eyes, hoping for dark, instead seeing that room, empty of magic, covered in the blood and torn flesh of my masters. My creators. My friends.

‘They’re dead. Murdered.’

‘What? Okay, I need to call this in, the police can—’

‘No. The police can’t do anything, this is way beyond their, you know, remit. This wasn’t a simple break-in. Nothing can get into my coven that isn’t invited; believe me when I say that place is locked up tight. If you had tried to wander in and we didn’t want you there, your heart would have exploded out of your ribcage before you took a second step.’

‘Right. Okay. Gross, but cool. Go on.’

‘Whoever did this to my coven is…’ I shivered despite myself. ‘They’re powerful beyond anything I’ve come across before, and they’re going to come after me. They already tried, that’s how I ended up here. Somehow. Not sure of the specifics there, but I’m grateful of the end result.’

‘Look, if what you’re saying is true, if someone just murdered some women on my streets, I’m not going to just look past that. I don’t care how high and mighty the perp is. I’m involved now whatever, end of discussion.’

‘You already helped me. Kept me safe.’

‘That’s my job, Stella. I don’t take a lot seriously, but the oath I took? That I do.’

I sighed and nodded. ‘Okay. So I owe you the truth, and you’re probably not going to like it.’

‘Well, today’s the day for surprises that make me want to poop myself, so go ahead, what is it? You’re not best buds with the Loch Ness Monster are you?’

‘We’ve met, but no.’

‘Okay, I’m probably going to want to circle back to that another time, but go on.’

‘Here’s the thing, David, by helping me, you might have placed a big, neon target on your back.’

David did one of his slow nods again: ‘So, some almighty magic man is probably going to try and murder me?’

‘Yes. Sorry about that.’

David sighed and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. ‘I’ve only been up twenty minutes…’


Murder, magic and mayhem were a lot to take in on an empty stomach, so we made our way to a nearby cafe. It was the sort of place that stank of last decade’s fat and cigarette smoke.

‘I’ll pay,’ I said.

‘Oh yeah, you’re definitely paying,’ was David’s reply. Which, given the circumstances, was fair enough.

We sat in silence as David ate, the quiet giving me chance to think things over and over and over. The witches were dead, so where did that leave me? What was I without them? I only existed because they decided I would. My entire purpose for being was to do as they asked. I wasn’t a person, was I? Not really. Not like David. I was their tool to use. So what did that make me now?

Now that I was just me.

David finished and pushed his empty plate aside, patting his stomach and reaching for a napkin.

‘You didn’t have to have the most expensive breakfast on the menu,’ I said.

‘No, I think I really, really did.’ He turned his head to the counter and waved his hand, ‘Garcon! Another round of your very whitest toast once you’ve got a mo.’

The woman behind the counter looked up with hangdog eyes and grunted.

‘Well at least you’re talking again. For a moment I thought I’d accidentally unleashed the silence spell again.’

‘Not funny, Stella. Not funny at all.’

‘A bit funny.’

David eyed me, then broke, smiling and shaking his head. ‘You know I should have you in cuffs already and be dragging you down the station. This is insane.’

‘I’m not the one who should be in chains.’

‘Okay, let’s say I believe everything you’re saying. Magic is everywhere and there’s a freaky underworld doing bad things, what makes you think all of them are above the law? They walk these streets the same as anyone else. Or at least, I’m assuming they do. Unless they fly. Ooh, can you fly? Can you make me fly?’

‘They’re not above the law. And no, I can’t fly.’


‘There’s just a different kind of accountability in my world.’

‘The London Coven.’

‘Exactly. We keep the peace. Or we did.’

A plate piled high with pasty toast and butter pats was dropped between us with a distinct lack of hospitality.

‘Thanks, Nora.’

Nora, body like a bin bag full of mayonnaise, grunted then shuffled away.

‘So, seems to me like someone didn’t like being told what to do by your lot and decided to do something about it.’

And that ‘something’, the ripping apart of the people closest to me into hunks of dead flesh, was going to get them killed.

‘I need to find out who was behind it.’

David slowed his toast buttering and looked up, serious for a moment, ‘And what’ll happen then?’

‘And then I’m going to bring them down in whichever way I decide.’

David nodded, finished up buttering, then took a bite and sank into thoughtful chewing for a few seconds.

‘You know that’s against the law, yes? Like, properly, incredibly, illegally against the law.’

‘Well, when I’m done, you can arrest me. Or try to anyway.’

David stopped and eyed me for a second, then broke into a grin. It might have sounded like a joke, but at this point I really didn’t care. What had been done to my coven… revenge was all that mattered. Cold, violent revenge. What happened to me after that didn’t matter, just so long as whoever was behind the murders screamed in terror and agony at my feet first.


A plate piled with more white bread was plopped into the centre of the table again by Nora.

‘Nora, I think one extra round is enough… Nora?’

The strange tone in his voice caught my attention. I looked up to Nora expecting to see her sagging face and hangdog eyes, instead I saw something else.

Something terrible.

Her face was twisted and distorted, like someone had torn it off and was wearing it as a mask. Something much larger and uglier than poor Nora. Her teeth were now a jumbled, sharpened mess and her eyes were missing, leaving two dark hollows.

‘Jesus...’ said David, his voice a trembling hush.

‘David, run, she’s—‘

The movement was so swift I didn’t see it coming, instead I found myself sliding across the floor on my back, my right cheek throbbing from the back of Nora’s hand.

‘Stella, watch out!’

Shaking the stars away, I lurched up onto my knees, only to find Nora eating up the distance between us.

Around us, chairs were falling and people were screaming, a mad rush for the only door and away from this sudden explosion of violence into their morning.

I needed to make sure Nora kept her sights on me and not on any of the fleeing bystanders, so I did the stupid thing and ran directly at her.

It felt like a head-on collision with a truck.

I bounced off her into a wall, the back of my head connecting and trying to pull me into unconsciousness. I clung on by the skin of my teeth.

The café was empty now apart from me, David, and the now possessed Nora. Time to get to work.

I staggered up and drew in some extra magic from my surroundings, ready to—

—Nora’s hand gripped my throat, and my handle on the magic words was lost. The palm of her hand, it seemed to burn my flesh.

As though I weighed no more than a bag of sugar, Nora lifted me with one hand, sliding me up the wall, a drooling, lopsided grin spreading across her face and showing off the full range of vicious teeth that crowded her mouth.

Any second now, she was going to lean forward and sink those teeth into my face. I needed to get my shit together, stop letting pain and fear cloud my thoughts, and find the right spell to—

—The hand around my throat opened and I dropped hard to the floor.

‘My name is Detective David Tyler. Step away from her and put your hands behind your head.’

Nora turned from me; I could see a livid gash on the side of her head. David was stood, extendable baton raised, one hand out, warning Nora to keep her distance. He must have hit her with the thing! More than likely saved my life.

‘I said my name is Detective David Tyler and you will surrender yourself or I will use further force!’

I got back to my feet, throat and rear end throbbing, and circled wide towards him.

‘David, no, you can’t talk a thing like that down. Hit it as many times as you like with your little stick, it’ll only keep coming.’

Hey, David, thanks for saving me from being choked to death a few seconds ago. Oh, don’t mention it, you’re welcome.’

Nora laughed, it sounded like metal twisting. ‘You will both die now. Die like those stinking whore witches.’

‘So I take it good ‘ol Nora here has been possessed by something magical and evil?’

‘You catch on fast, Detective.’

‘Well, the teeth, the empty eye holes, the super strength, they teach us to look out for these little clues at police school.’

‘Nora is dead. Whatever has claimed her is all that’s left now, and we are in a whole load of danger.’

‘I will rip and I will tear and I will grind your bones between my teeth.’

‘Oh, Nora, we used to share such sweet pleasantries.’ David raised his baton and charged forward.

‘David, no—!’

Nora grabbed his arm mid-swing and tossed him across the room like a rag doll. He came to a crashing halt out of sight as he flew over the serving counter.


‘I will kill you first, Familiar, send you to the dark pit your creators now dwell in.’

Okay. It was time to put a stop to this.

‘You know Nora, you’re kind of big-headed for a lowly pit demon.’

Nora stopped, head cocked, confused for a moment. That moment was all I needed. The café was old. The building had stood for over two hundred years, and was chock-full of ancient, strong magic.

I pulled it into me and pictured the correct order of words. It took only moments, and then, screaming with fury, I punched a fist toward Nora and unleashed the spell.

It surged from me, a golden lasso, dripping like molten metal, and swamped Nora. Her empty eyes widened.

‘Catching on now, Nora?’

She staggered back, clutching her head as it began to swell, bone cracking, skin tearing. Any second now it would be over. Nora knew it too. She lowered her hand from her rapidly inflating skull and looked at me with her black, empty sockets, smiling even as death came to claim her.

‘That’s good, Familiar. I like my marks to have a little fight in them.’

‘Who are you? Tell me your name. Tell me!’

‘And where would the fun in that be?’

She laughed.

And then her head exploded.


When something like that happens in public it’s best not to hang around too long.

I grunted as I lowered David, sitting him against an alley wall ten streets away from the café. Leaning back against the opposite wall, I inhaled slow and deep, trying to catch my breath and rub some life back into my muscles. I wasn’t in bad shape, but he was heavier than he looked.

So, that was attempt number two on my life. Whoever was behind all of this wasn’t going to let me wriggle out of things. I was a loose end it intended to tie up. Good.

But how had the thing found me? I did a quick check on myself, trying to locate any magical prints left on me that would help it zero in, but came up with nothing. Nothing obvious that I was able to sense, anyway.

‘M-my name is… I am a detective police man and you…’

I crouched down next to David as he came to, his bleary eyes gradually coming into focus as they locked on mine.

‘Hello, David.’

‘Hello, magic lady woman.’

‘Careful, you took a bit of a knock.’

He rubbed his head, confused. ‘I had the weirdest dream that old Nora at the café became possessed by some sort of magic monster and tried to kill us.’

‘Yes, sorry, that wasn’t a dream.’

‘Oh, I was afraid you might say that,’ said David, getting to his feet whilst using the grimy alley wall for support.

‘Careful, you’ve been out of it for almost six minutes.’

‘Don’t worry, I get hit on the head a lot. So, what happened to Evil Nora?’

‘I cast a spell on her.’

‘A nice spell, like the hologram one you showed me?’

‘Afraid not.’

‘A wild stab in dark, but is it connected to all the blood you have across your face and dried into your hair?’

I nodded, ‘Yes, I kind of made her head explode.’

David’s eyes went wide as he made to speak, stopped himself, and then threw up noisily. After breathing in a few times slowly, then wiping his mouth, he looked up at me again. ‘That was down to the bash on the head, not the… you know…’

‘Me exploding someone’s head.’

‘Bingo. Oh, God, I’m making small talk with a murderer.’

‘I didn’t have a choice. Nora was already dead, I told you, and we would’ve been next.’

‘Right, yes. Okay. This is just, you know, tricky, for me to get to grips with. I went to bed last night and everything was understandable, and now there’s magic, and demons or ghosts or whatever taking over the body of my favourite cafe owner and trying to murder me.’

‘The good news is, things aren’t going to get any better for a while.’

‘Yes, that is good news.’

I smiled and helped him back up onto his feet.

‘Right, if you don’t mind, I might just head off to work now and pretend none of this ever happened.’

I grabbed David by the sleeve as he tried to walk away, yanking him back.

‘You can’t go.’

‘Oh, yes, I really can.’

He pulled himself free and carried on walking. Seemed like we were going to do this the hard way. The words flashed through my mind as I extended my arms towards David and unleashed the command. There was a whoosh noise, followed by a slightly strangled yelp, and David found himself pinned, upside down, against the alley wall.

‘You know this is assault, right?’

‘You can’t go. Well, you can, but not without me.’

‘Are you holding me hostage? Because no one is going to pay a ransom. My family are very, very cheap.’

I smiled and released him, slowly, so he slid into an undignified heap on the ground.

‘I told you, there’ll be a target on your back now, too.’

‘So now whoever it is that murdered, your, you know, witches, is also going to kill me.’

‘Very probably.’

David stood, ‘You know, I’m starting not to like you very much.’

‘The thing that had taken over the cafe owner, it knows you’re with me. It will try to use that. Interrogate you, torture you. Pull your limbs off one by one to try to get to me.’

‘I get it. That’s enough detail, thank you.’

‘The only chance you have of getting out of this alive is to stay by my side until this is all over. Believe me, I’d much rather be on my own, too, but if I let you walk away, that’s another death on my conscience.’ I pictured my witches, torn to pieces on the floor of the coven and shivered.

David sighed and kicked at the ground. ‘Fine, okay, but you’re going to listen to me. I’m not a passenger, I’m a detective. A good one.’

I arched an eyebrow.

‘Well, not a terrible one, at any rate. I’m a solid six-and-a-half out of ten. Seven, on a good day. You can use me.’

I made to argue, then stopped and sighed. He was probably right. It wasn’t my usual job to find clues and piece together a case. To discover a likely culprit. No, up until now I’d been told what to do and where to go by my masters. They’d say go there and do this to that person and off I would go. I was a blunt instrument. A delivery service. Not the brains.

And now I was alone.

I was going to need all the help I could get.


Every town and city in England has a place like The Beehive. A place for magical types to socialise, to drink, to gossip. To mix together in a neutral setting. Outside of The Beehive, there were rivalries, suspicions, dangers, but inside all of that was expected to be left behind. A place for the Uncanny to relax in peace and be themselves, away from the eyes of the normals.

At least that was the idea.

But yesterday someone murdered the witches that made sure the peace in London between the Uncanny folk held, and I was going to tear apart this city looking for the beast behind it. If that meant upsetting the patrons of The Beehive, then so be it.

‘I already told you, there is no street up here on the left, it’s a line of old shops and then a dead end.’

I strode on ahead, despite David’s complaints. ‘That’s because it’s hidden from the likes of you.’

‘Um, the likes of me?’

‘You know, normals.’

‘That sounds a little like racism, Stella.’

I stopped in front of the blind alley. Much like the street the London Coven was situated on, the alley that led to The Beehive was hidden from all but those who should know of its existence.

David stopped by my side and stared blankly.


‘We’re here.’

He looked blankly ahead, then back to me, ‘Oh God, you’re mad, aren’t you? Magic and mad.’

‘Look, David,’ I said, and pointed down the blind alley.

David huffed and followed my finger.

‘Oh, I see it!’


‘No, of course not.’

The correct phrase entered my head and I released it towards him.

‘David, look now…’

David shook his head and looked in the direction I was pointing once again.

‘I told you! There’s nothing over… wait… wait a second, where did…?’

I smiled as I looked at his handsome features hanging slack, eyes wide.

‘Come on, you can buy me a drink.’

I strode into the blind alley, David trailing behind, arms outstretched as though it was all some trick and he was about to walk into a wall.

Pushing the door open, I stepped into The Beehive, feeling the thin skin of the protective spell part around me as I entered, like I was stepping into a bubble. The Beehive had a few pretty decent protection spells on it, one of which dampened the worst kinds of magic its patrons might try and wield at each other. As I said, that sort of thing was meant to be left outside, The Beehive should be a safe space, but this place sold alcohol, and anywhere you find alcohol you’re liable to find people stepping out of control.

So the spells of protection.

They couldn’t rob the people inside entirely of their abilities, but it was possible to deaden the magic to such a degree that nothing lethal could be thrown if someone happened to spill a short tempered wizard’s pint. Fist fights still broke out of course, like any other pub.

‘What is this place? Why don’t I know it? I know all of these streets, every nook and cranny.’

‘I’m afraid not, David. There are many, many streets that people like you would swear didn’t exist. But they do. London is full of them. We call them blind alleys, streets hidden from all but those who know they’re there. Now you’ve been to this place, you’ll always be able to see it.’

David stopped suddenly: ‘Wait a second… a year back I was chasing a guy, murder suspect, and he turned into a street sharpish; I got there seconds after and he was nowhere to be seen. We checked every house, and there were no streets he could have ducked down, nothing. Could he have…?’

‘Probably. Sounds like you were chasing someone with magic. You should be grateful they knew of a nearby blind alley, if you’d been able to catch him, it probably wouldn’t have ended well.’

David shook like a dog throwing off water, ‘You know this is all more than a bit creepy. To think there’s a whole other world, hidden from view. Skulking about down hidden streets.’

I scanned the early drinkers, recognising many of the faces. Some had been friendly in the past, others had felt the wrath of my masters through me. All of them turned away, looked at the floor, their drinks, the wall, once they noticed I’d entered. Word travelled fast in the world of the Uncanny, and a tale as juicy as this one would have been round the city a hundred times by now.

The witches of the London Coven were dead.

‘So what are we doing here, then?’ asked David.

‘This is The Beehive. Everyone who is anyone, high or low, passes through here. If anyone knows anything about the murders, they’re probably sat in this pub right now.’

David scanned the bar. ‘How many of these people could make my head pop like you did Evil Nora’s?’

‘Oh, at least half of them. But not while we’re in here. The worst they could do is break a stool over your skull.’

‘Good to know. Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to announce I’m a police officer, and you’re, you know, a magic police officer, or whatever, and that we want to talk to them all, one by one. Just ask a few questions, nothing heavy. Deal?’


I turned from David, picked up a wooden chair and launched it across the room, the wall on the far side bringing it to a crunching, splintered halt.

‘Listen to me. You know who I am. You know why I’m here.’

Every eye in the place was on me. Some of them glancing for the nearest exit, but the only way out was behind me. They weren’t going anywhere.

‘I don’t give a shit about what this place is. Someone here knows something about what happened to my witches, and I will beat each and every one of you into a bloody pulp if someone doesn’t start talking.’

‘Or,’ said David, ‘I suppose you could ignore me completely and do that. Either one, really.’


My fist met the guy’s teeth with a satisfying crunch.

‘Tell me what you know!’

He looked up at me, red running down his chin, and spat something solid out onto the floor. I felt the rage inside of me growling. It felt good. Good to unleash some of my pain onto someone’s face.

‘You shame your dead masters by acting like this in here.’

Well, now he was asking for it. I grabbed him by the neck and pushed him against the wall, his head snapping back and bouncing painfully.

‘Stella, stop!’ said David.

‘Don’t worry; this piece of crap has done far worse to far too many. Isn’t that right, Razor?’

He smiled, exposing his recently broken tooth, the remaining ones streaked with red.

‘You think now that they’re gone that you can do whatever you want, Familiar?’

I punched him in the gut by way of response, allowing him to crumple to the floor at my feet.

‘Stella, stop—’ A deep voice rumbled as the owner of The Beehive approached. Lenny was a mountain of a man, with a shaven head and grizzled beard. Everyone respected Lenny— respected what he could do with his coal shovel sized hands—but not me. Not today.

‘Don’t get involved, Lenny. You know what’s happened.’

‘I do, but this is The Beehive. There’s no place for this sort of thing here.’

‘Listen to him, little Familiar,’ said Razor, a giggle sliding out of his busted mouth that scraped across my skin like a blade.

‘I know you, Razor. I know the kind of grim corners you hang out in. I’m going to give you one more chance to tell me something useful, or else I’m going to start breaking bones.’

‘Whoa, Stella, come on, this isn’t the way you conduct an investigation. Well, maybe in the 70s, but not today,’ said David. I felt his hand grip my shoulder and I turned to him angrily.

‘Don’t tell me how to do my job! Someone murdered my masters, my family, do you understand?’

‘I understand—’

‘No you don’t!’

‘Normal, you need to get her out of here,’ said Lenny.

‘Oh sure, I’m going to drag the head-popper out of here. Good plan, Andre the Giant.’

They argued back and forth, but I tuned out. Turned them to static. My focus was purely on Razor and that bloodied smile. He knew every piece of scum that hid in the shadows of London, and he was going to tell me something useful, or I was going to kill him. It seemed like Razor read the look in my eyes.

‘You wouldn’t. That’s not how you do things.’

‘Maybe. But things have a way of changing.’

I grabbed Razor by the collar and dragged him towards the exit, throwing him out the door and into the blind alley beyond.

‘Oh shit,’ said David.

I ran out to make sure I cut off Razor’s escape, stepping out of the magic dampening bubble of The Beehive as I did so. I felt my powers sharpen, felt the surrounding magic rush into me.

‘You can’t do this!’ yelled Razor, cowering against the alley wall, spittle flying. ‘You have no right!’

‘Yesterday someone pulled the witches of London apart, piece by piece. Pulled bones from sockets, tore their flesh, and worse. That means, today, I do anything I want.’

I formed the words in my head and thrust my hands out toward Razor, unleashing a ball of flame. He screamed and tossed up a weak protection spell, as I knew he would. It was enough to stop him roasting to death, but he still emerged with hair singed and his face crisp in places.

‘Stella,’ said David, emerging from The Beehive. ‘Stella, come on, this isn’t you. I mean, maybe it is you, I barely know you, and you did make an old woman’s head explode earlier, but I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character. It’s one of the few things I know I’m good at. And everything tells me that you’re not, well, a violent psycho.’

‘Listen to him, Familiar! This isn’t the way; this is not how your witches would want you to treat me!’

‘You think you can speak for them, Razor?’ I punched out another spell that snapped his head back, cracking it against the bricks behind him and sending him down to his knees, world spinning, eyes unfocused.

‘Stella, come on, stop,’ said David. ‘I’ve seen a lot of bad coppers in my time on the force. Coppers who take bribes, and bully to get what they want. You don’t want to be one of them, trust me.’

I turned to David and looked into his eyes, ready to unleash a fresh stream of justification, but something about the way he looked back made the words freeze. I suddenly felt small, weak, vulnerable.

‘David… David, they’re dead. Someone came into our home and murdered them.’

He took my hand in his. I wanted to pull away. Wanted to turn back to Razor and beat him with my fists until my knuckles broke. Make him scream. But I didn’t. I stood still, vision blurring as tears prickled my eyes.

‘I don’t know your witches, but I know the law and I know real justice. You don’t get that by turning into one of them,’ said David, jabbing a finger toward Razor. ‘You need evidence. You need to know. Need to know for sure. And then...’

‘And then?’

‘And then you make them pay.’

I turned to Razor, who was still crouched on the ground, cowering. ‘Please, no more, I don’t know who killed the witches, I swear.’

‘But you know something, Razor. You always know something.’

‘I don’t, I swear it on the life of my hive!’

I opened my hand, a fresh ball of fire came into being and raged an inch above my palm. ‘You won’t be able to stop this one with your weak magic, Razor.’

His head fell, ‘Okay. Okay!’

‘Tell me what you know.’

‘The Den Club. Go to The Den and ask Anya why she and her kind were heard laughing about the attack. Toasting it. Patting each other on the back like they had a hand in it! Go ask them! Go ask at The Den!’

I stepped back as the news sunk in. If The Den had a hand in this…

I staggered aside as Razor took the opportunity to barge past and run from the blind alley.

‘Should we chase after him? No is a response I’ll be more than happy with.’

‘Let him go, he told us what we need to know.’

David leant back against the alley wall, clearly relieved that was all over.

‘Well that was all more than a little intense. Okay, so what’s next?’

‘Next?’ I said. ‘Well next we need to walk into The Den and talk to a succubus.’

‘Right. You know sometimes you regret asking a question?’


The Den hunkered at the end of a street in Soho; its neon sign burned like the lure of an angler fish, pulling the unwary into its belly.

‘So when you say we’re going to talk to a succubus… I take it that’s not a euphemism?’

‘Anya and her family are succubi. They feast on pleasure. Pain. Anger. On any heightened emotion.’

‘This is insane. You do realise how insane this all is, yes?’


‘No… no, I suppose you probably don’t.’

I watched as the patrons of The Den filtered in. The club offered all sorts of illicit delights, from gambling, to bondage, to… much, much worse. It wasn’t just a place for a succubus to hang out and indulge their ways—everyone came here. From the Uncanny to normals, all types of people would hear a whisper about this place in the darkened corner of a pub and find themselves drawn towards it. The place that made dreams come true. The sort of dreams you kept to yourself. None of them would have heard of it, or even noticed it, until that whisper in the dark, and then they would walk past it, see it, and it would be all they could think about. Inside those walls, pleasure waited. No judgment; whatever was desired was supplied. Even the strongest minded of people could find themselves bewitched by the place. Obsessed with it. And then Anya, the head succubus, had you. Owned you. I turned to David and saw how he looked at the place. A curiosity, a hunger.

‘So anything goes in there? Anything you could want?’

‘Clear your perverted mind, Detective.’

‘What? I wasn’t thinking about anything. Almost anything. And certainly not naked people covered in jelly, if that’s what you’re thinking.’

‘I wasn’t. At all.’

‘Well. Good. Me neither.’

‘That place leads people astray by offering them what they want; which means you’re definitely going to need protection.’

‘Like what? A gun?’

I closed my eyes as I placed my hands upon his head.

‘What is happening now? I’m not sure a head massage is really appropriate at this point.’

‘You know you really talk a lot.’

‘Yeah, you’re not the first person to tell me that. Hey, that sort of tingles.’

I opened my eyes and took my hands off him. ‘I’ve just placed a little protection on you. It should stop the worst of the place from affecting you. From getting its hooks into you.’

‘Oh. Thanks. Come to think of it, that jelly idea doesn’t seem half as appealing now.’

‘Come on, follow me and stay close. They can be civilised, but the monster is only a blink away. Don’t trust them for a second.’

I strode towards the entrance to The Den, the two doormen watching as we approached.

‘Well what do we have here?’ asked the first. He was seven-foot, twice my width, with a glistening, bald head.

‘Just what I was thinking, mate. What do we have here?’ His partner in thuggery, almost as tall, equally as bald, with a nose that had been flattened so many times that breathing through it was no longer an option. Jack and Jake had been the doormen for The Den since before I was created. I’d never found out exactly what type of Uncanny they were, but one thing was for sure: they’d lived a hell of a long time, and they enjoyed nothing more than someone stepping out of line. Then they could punch, head-butt, and kick that unfortunate person way, way, way out of line. So far out of line that being able to walk back into line was extremely unlikely.

‘Jack, Jake, always a pleasure.’

‘You know she don’t like you in her place, Familiar.’

‘Yeah, you know that.’

‘She knows that.’


‘Hi, I am also here. Detective David Tyler. Oh, that’s right. In the immortal words of Judge Dread: I am the law.’

‘Don’t show them your—’

‘Here’s my badge—’

I sighed and turned to the doormen, offering them an apologetic look.

‘We’d like to come inside, ask your boss a few questions,’ said David.

Jake and Jack looked at the badge, looked up at David, then at each other, and then burst out laughing. It was the kind of laughter that ran deep, bending the pair double as they grasped at each other for support, tears streaming down their knuckle-scarred cheeks. It’s not the sort of thing that fills you with confidence.

‘Ooh, a detective, Jack!’

‘A detective, Jake!’

‘Oh, I’m so scared!’

‘Absolutely terrified!’

Fresh hysterics gripped their giant frames as David put away his badge with all the dignity he could muster. Which wasn’t much.

‘If you two ladies have finished,’ I said.

‘So, you want to talk to Anya, huh?’

‘Anya’s who you’re looking for, is it?’

‘Yes, and I’m pretty sure you know why.’

They nodded as one.

‘The witches of the London Coven are dead.’

‘Witches are dead, that’s what I heard.’

‘That’s what I heard, too.’


‘And how do you know that, guys?’ asked David. ‘Wouldn’t be a little inside knowledge, would it?’

‘You’re gonna want to keep your normal on a short leash, Familiar.’

‘A very short leash.’

‘Cos there’s nothing we like more than playing with a normal, is there Jake?’

‘You got that right, Jack.’

‘Hey, don’t think that you can intimidate me, pal, okay?’ said David.

Jack stepped forward and looked down at him. ‘Just so long as that’s clear. Stella, over to you,’ said David, his voice barely audible.

‘We’re going inside and we’re talking to Anya. If either of you two think you can stop us, then please, take your best shot.’

The doormen turned to me, their eyes hooded and dark. I drew the surrounding magic towards me as it looked as though things might explode. I’ve had to grapple with the pair before, but they’re strong and they can take a lot of magic thrown at them and still keep coming. Wherever possible, it was wise to avoid taking them head-on.

The pair broke and laughed again, Jack opening the door. ‘In you go little Familiar, and your pet detective, too.’

‘Yeah, in you go. Anya was expecting you anyway.’

‘Expecting you, she was.’

‘The guilty always do,’ said David.

‘What was that, normal?’

‘Nothing,’ replied David, his voice high and sharp. ‘Shall we go in then? Stella?’

I shook my head and followed David inside.


It was warm inside, uncomfortably so, and I felt sweat prickle my forehead. All around us naked bodies writhed. People led around on dog leashes, women chained to the walls being whipped until their flesh ran red, men beating each other unconscious. Other things too; things you didn’t even want to think about, because they’d come back to haunt you later.

‘How is this place even open?’ asked David. ‘None of this is legal. Especially what that woman is having that horse do.’


‘Well, pardon me.’

‘Just stay close, will you, there’s a lot of bad people in here.’

‘Really? That lady over there using a cheese grater on that mans testicles seems just super.’


I ignored the voice, I knew it was only in my own head. We walked into the belly of the club, heads turning briefly our way as we passed, before going back to whatever depravity they’d gone to The Den to indulge in. Some of the faces you would recognise: Politicians. Sports stars. Royalty.

‘Wait a second, that’s… is that..?’


‘How does none of this get out? This would be spread across every tabloid.’

‘This is the place you go to do whatever’s in the dark recesses of your mind, because you know it never leaves these four walls. It never leaves these four walls, because the place belongs to Anya and her succubus family. To spread what you saw, to try and make money out of it, to blackmail, that gets you a home visit. A one-time and very final home visit.’


I nodded. ‘The only people allowed to make use of what goes on in here are Anya and her family.’

Stella, you let us die

Let us die, Stella

The voices of my dead masters, needling at me. I knew what it was of course; it was this place trying to find a weakness. A desire that I would unleash and indulge. I’d do that and I’d be in their hands. I’d been here on several occasions and had grown to manage the power of the place. To be able to cope with it and ignore it.

Or at least, that’s what I thought. But I’d never walked in there with any real, overwhelming desire before.

This time I did.


‘We need to go downstairs, to Anya’s office, right now. That’s where she’ll be.’

David was looking at me funny; ‘Are you okay there, Magic Lady? Your eyes look like a junkie’s who’s about to pull a knife on me.’

‘I’m fine!’ I heard how loud my voice was, how fierce. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. I needed to give myself a little of what I gave to David outside.

Don’t ignore us, Stella


Kill for us

Spill blood for us


I’d been stupid, arrogant. I needed to cast a little protection spell upon myself before—

‘Hey, I heard those bitch witches is dead, huh? Sounds like the good times are here at last!’

I turned to find a wall of flesh before me, a sneer upon his flattened face.

And then my brain seemed to implode.

I drew the magic in the room toward me and thrust my hands out, unleashing an explosive force towards the man that smacked him across the room. He collided with the far wall, his head cracking like an egg.

‘Stella, whoa, calm down—’

Without a second thought, I flicked my wrist and David corkscrewed away from me—

No time to stop—

For thoughts of restraint—

Only for anger and violence and bloody, awful, wonderful revenge on…

On who...?


I drew the magic into me again and again as I rampaged through The Den, wallowing joyfully in the screams and the panic, cheered on by the voices in my head, as I unleashed spell after spell and bodies fell and bled and cowered before me.

I wasn’t going to stop.

I was going to rampage through this place until everyone was dead. Then I’d find the others; the other dark Uncannys that would be revelling right now in the deaths of my masters. I would make them all cry in fear. I would make them all scream and bleed and die

‘Oi, little Familiar—’

I swung around in a rage, teeth bared, ready to sink them into flesh. Jake, one of The Den’s doormen, waved at me.

‘That’s right, look at me. Go on then Jack.’

‘Right you are, Jake.’

Jack’s voice came from behind me. I only had time to turn halfway around before something solid struck me on the side of the head, then out went the lights.


I came to, my head throbbing from whatever had been cracked over my skull.

‘Awake at last, Stella.’

I recognised the deep, sultry voice that seemed to caress my skin. Anya. Owner of The Den and the head of the succubus family in London.

‘Tell your doormen that if they try to knock me out again, I’ll turn their spines to jelly.’

I uncurled from the floor and attempted to hide my unsteadiness as I pushed myself up to my feet.

‘Always so feisty. It’s why I like you, Stella. Why I don’t just sit astride your chest and suck you dry?’ She licked her lips, slowly.

Jack and Jake were nowhere to be seen. Someone as strong as Anya doesn’t need bodyguards, it’s other people that need to be protected from her.

‘Before you ask, I’m having a really wonderful time,’ said David, who was chained to the far wall, his eye swollen.

‘Who attacked him?’ I asked, spitting the words in Anya’s direction.

‘Yeah, that would be you, remember?’ said David.

‘It seems you misbehaved in my club, Stella. You know I don’t take kindly to those who interrupt the serene debauchery of my clientele; it’s bad for business. I want everyone to know this is a safe space for them to do very unsafe, nasty, cruel things. I can’t have the likes of you giving the place a bad name.’

I snorted at that. A ‘bad name’. There were few worse places than The Den in the whole of London. The only reason my masters hadn’t closed the place down a long time ago was because they needed to keep the succubus family happy, busy, and contained. Sometimes diplomacy means letting awful things slide for the greater good. I’d learned that the hard way.

Anya strode across to a drinks cabinet, her curves barely hidden by the thin satin dress that clung to her like a second skin. She poured something red and thick into a crystal glass and drank it slowly, running her fingernails down David’s cheek. Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough for him to think she might.

‘People will know if I go missing,’ said David.

‘Shut up,’ I said.

‘I’m just saying, I’m a detective, the last thing a place like this wants is the police sniffing around. They’ll have you down the cells before you know what’s happening.’

Anya laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound, and it made me tremble despite myself. She gripped David’s jaw. ’Such mean words from such a pretty mouth.’

‘Okay,’ said David, his words coming out slightly garbled. ‘Maybe we could stop right now before this all goes too far. What d’you say?’

Anya smiled, ‘I say that I’m curious as to what it is that hides in the dark nooks and crannies of your little mind. There’s something in there, isn’t that right? I can see it. I can always see the dark. What d’you long for, Detective? What makes your blood boil, your loins twitch. Don’t be shy....’

‘Stella, anytime you’re ready to lend a hand!’

‘Anya, stop, now!’

Before I had time to think, she’d bounded across the room and pinned me to the wall by my neck, her eyes completely black.

‘Stella, darling, tell me why I shouldn’t break you over my knee, and feast upon the emotions of you and your new pet?’

I pulled the magic in the room towards me, ready for a fight—

‘You dare?’ asked Anya, and with a scream, she threw me across the room.

‘Leave her alone!’

I heard David yelling, my head swirling as I scrambled up, Anya walking towards me slowly. She wasn’t scared. What reason did something as powerful as her have to be afraid of a lowly Familiar like me?

‘Isn’t that sweet? The normal tries to stick up for you. The damsel in distress.’

‘Yes I… wait, is she the damsel, or me? Don’t answer that. Look, I understand you’re very powerful and scary and sexy, but I am an officer of the law. I don’t care who or what you are, you will respect that. I mean… if you want to.’

‘Such bravery for something so vulnerable. I almost admire the sorry thing,’ said Anya.

‘Don’t pay him any attention, focus on me, Anya. I’m the one you have to reckon with.’

‘I heard about what happened to the witches,’ said Anya. She turned her back on me, a sign of power. Of contempt. She knew that, right now, nothing I could do could trouble her. She could take me anytime she wanted.

‘My masters were always good to you,’ I said, trying to hide the shake in my voice.

‘Ha! Only because they had to be. You know as well as I do that if they could they’d have chased every succubus from England, never mind London. But even they had their limits, so we came to an… understanding.’

‘Did you have anything to do with their murder?’

Anya stopped and turned to me, one eyebrow raised. ‘Who has been whispering such nasty ideas into your ear, Familiar?’

‘So you don’t deny it?’

Anya sighed and walked across her office, taking a seat behind her desk. ‘Now, what possible good could it do me to try and kill the witches of the London Coven, hmm?’

‘Because no matter what horrible stuff you get up to, you’re still living within constraints, and that must burn you up inside.’

‘I won’t deny that, on occasion, it has stung. The knowledge that we could be doing so much more. We could turn the whole of London into one big, writhing, pleasure palace for us to feast upon. But I respect the witches. Let me rephrase that: I respected them.’

The word stung. They were gone. Past tense now. The fragile peace between all the different stripes of the Uncanny that stalked the streets and blind alleys of London hung in the balance, and I was the only one left to try and hold it all together.

‘So you’re denying all knowledge?’

Anya shrugged, picking up her glass and taking another sip of the dark liquid it held. ‘The first I heard about it was when Jack and Jake passed on the news. Said everyone was talking about it as they entered the club.’

She stood and walked towards David once again. ‘Hey there, Miss Head Succubus Lady; sorry about all that police talk earlier. Please don’t do anything horrible to any bits of me.’

Anya turned to me, smiling. ‘You know, I like your pet, he’s funny.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ said David, giving her two thumbs-up.

Anya opened the locks on his chains, and David warily stepped towards the door.

‘Okay, well, Stella, perhaps we should, you know, get the hell out of here before our fine host changes her mind and decides to make our insides our outsides, what d’you say?’

‘You look me in the face, Anya, and you promise me you had nothing to do with this.’

Anya walked towards me. I stood my ground, ready to stare her down.

‘Hear these words, Familiar. I had nothing to do with the murder of your masters. In all honesty, the idea that something, anything, could enter your coven and do that to the witches of London? It terrifies me.’

I searched her eyes, I saw nothing but the truth.

‘Come on, David, let’s get out of here.’

‘Best news I’ve heard all day.’

David opened the door and hopped outside. As I reached the exit, I paused: ‘If you hear anything…’

‘I am not your informer. I make no promises to anyone but myself and my family. But know this, Familiar… you are in terrible danger. A thing that could do that to the witches… I’m not sure what power could stop it.’

I shivered and stepped out of the office.


I sat feeling like hell at David’s kitchen table as he made himself busy with the kettle.

‘Do you take sugar?’

‘No,’ I said, running my hands through my hair, feeling more tired than I should have. A cup of tea was placed before me and I wrapped my hands around it, warming myself.

‘So, all in all, it’s not gone well so far, hey?’


David nodded and blew at his tea. ‘Still, now I know there are creatures like that Anya woman walking the streets of London, I can live the rest of my life in a state of blind terror. So that’s something.’

I smiled despite myself. I found I kind of admired the way he could keep a bright face on, despite the world-tipping situation he found himself in. Before I arrived, he thought he knew what the world was. And now there was magic. And hidden streets. And monsters. And here he was, making me a cup of tea and being funny, trying to cheer me up.

‘So what now? Seems like the intel was a bust,’ said David, taking a sip from his mug, then jerking back with a hiss as the still-too-hot tea burnt his lip.

‘I don’t know,’ I replied. And the truth was I really didn’t. I wasn’t used to picking up the clues myself. I did what I was told. I carried out instructions given by my masters. I had no experience of putting a case together, of solving a mystery. I was out of my depth and it made my stomach churn. The knowledge that I was the only one who could find out what had happened to my masters and bring about justice, and yet I didn’t have a clue as to how I was going to go about it.

I’d hit a dead end.

I was a failure.

I wasn’t going to be able to do it.

The witches of the London Coven had been murdered and I wasn’t up to the job I’d vowed. To take revenge upon whoever carried the attack out. Rage rushed over me and I screamed, throwing the cup of tea against the wall.

‘You know, my mum bought me that mug.’

I glared at him, then broke. ‘I’m… sorry.’

‘Hey, no biggie,’ he replied, smiling softly.

‘You know, what you did back at The Den. What you said to Anya. That was very brave of you.’

‘Stupid might be the correct word for it, but I’ll take brave. So what’s next?’

I shrank in my chair. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Oh. Well, okay, let’s just have a little think about this. What we’re carrying out here is a murder investigation, right?’

I nodded.

‘Okay, well it seems to me that we’ve missed a step.’

‘What step?’

‘Well, any good investigation starts at the scene of the crime.’

I felt myself grow cold. I closed my eyes and saw the main room of the coven again. The blood, the destroyed bodies, the lack of any magic whatsoever.

‘Hey, what’s wrong? What is it?’

‘I don’t think… I don’t think I can go back there.’

‘I understand it’s not pleasant, but—’

‘—No! You don’t understand. You don’t understand at all!’

‘Hey, come on, calm down—’

‘That was my family, David! My family! They brought me into this world and I’ve let them down! And now I’ve got nothing and nobody!’

I kicked the chair away from me and turned from him, ashamed to realise I was crying like a baby.

‘You’re right. I don’t understand. I’ve never lost anyone I loved. Well, they haven’t died. Even my gran is still up and kicking. But you want to do right by them, yes?’


‘Then we have to go back there, no matter how tough it is. No matter how scary. Because if we don’t, the bad guys are gonna win. And you never let the bad guys win.’

I felt his hand gently touch my arm and I allowed him to slowly turn me towards him. I didn’t want him to see me like this. For anyone to see me like this. Tear-streaked and vulnerable. I was strong. I was created to be strong. But in that moment, I felt like I had nothing left. No fight. Only empty, bewildered fear.

David smiled and rubbed at my tears with his thumb.

‘It’s okay. I may be an idiot, but I know how to carry out an investigation. This is my thing. You can trust me.’

I put my hand over his and nodded, breathing long and slow to try and get a grip on myself again.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s okay. Your family died yesterday, those tears just mean you’re not quite the robot I’d started to take you for. Maybe there’s even a real person with annoying emotions in there, too.’

We stood for a second, just smiling at each other, then I pulled away and dried my face. It was time to get serious.

‘It might be dangerous,’ I said. ‘In fact, it probably will be. There was a monster there waiting for me last time I was at the coven.’

‘That’s okay. I believe in you, Stella Familiar. You won’t let anything bad happen to me, or to you. And together, we’re going to find out who or what murdered your family. And then we’re going to bring them to justice.’

I nodded, and for the first time felt glad, really glad, that he was with me. He wasn’t a burden, an annoyance that was getting in my way. He was my friend. Together, we were going to solve this thing.


The blind alley opened up in front of us. At its far end sat the London Coven.

My birthplace.

My home.

‘I take it you’re not just staring at a brick wall, right?’ said David.

‘See it—’ I said, pushing the spell towards David.

‘I’m not ever getting used to that. One moment, it’s a wall, I blink, and suddenly there’s a whole other place that I can walk into.’

I stepped into the blind alley, David following. I realised with relief that the alley had already begun to fill up with background magic again. A least I didn’t have to deal with the withdrawal symptoms that had disturbed me so much the last time.

‘This alley,’ said David. ‘The cobbled road, the stone of the walls, this is older than the last one. How long has your coven stood here for?’

‘A long time.’

‘Not quite as specific an answer as I was angling for there, Stella.’

‘This was my masters’ home and seat of power for over three hundred years. But the London Coven itself has stood for longer, they just took it over from someone who looked after London before them. My witches should have continued here, continued to serve London, for several hundred more years. Now they’re gone, and this place doesn’t have a suitable successor to take their place.’

‘What does that mean for London?’

‘Nothing good, David.’

‘You know, you really have a way with an unnerving answer, Stella. It’s a gift, I mean that.’

I trailed one hand along the brick of the alley wall as we walked, feeling the history, the residual power that throbbed from stone that has stood for so long. I tried to draw in that power to bolster myself, to make me stronger than I felt. I needed it. Because as the coven grew closer with each step, a storm of emotions were fighting over me. A childish fear, as though I was cowering under my blanket from the bogeyman. Something terrible, something that I had never come across in my many decades of service, had walked into my home and done the unimaginable, and I was scared to face it, no matter how much I knew I had to. Knew I wanted to. A sense of unease, a sense that I was way out of my depth. Anger at what had happened, that I hadn’t been able to stop it, that I still hadn’t been able to do anything about it. A terror at the fact I was about to see their dead, ripped-apart bodies again. The bodies of my family. Would they have started to smell? Would their rotting odour infiltrate my nose, my very being? Would I taste it on my tongue? I feared I’d carry that smell with me for the rest of my life once I caught their scent. A phantom that would cling to me forever more. A reminder of the horror that had fallen upon our house.

‘Hey, are you okay?’

I turned to David, realising I’d stopped walking.

‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘You can do this.’

I nodded, but I couldn’t reply. I worried if I tried to that only a childish whimper would come out. A stutter of fear.

‘Hey, hey; listen to me, Stella. Don’t let them do this to you. Don’t let the bastards who tore your world apart win. You owe it to your witches, and you owe it to yourself.’

‘I-I let them down, David. I let them—’

‘Stop. Something worse than terrible has dropped onto your life and exploded. But you’re alive, and as long as you’re alive you’ve got to stay strong and stay determined. You don’t get to break down until whoever did this to you and yours is brought to justice, okay?’

I somehow managed a smile as I straightened up and shook off the worst of it. ‘Okay.’

‘There we go. Let’s get in there and do our job. Show them they messed with the wrong Familiar.’

‘Let’s do it,’ I replied, trying to force all the authority I could into my voice. Somehow I managed to make my feet move again, and the two of us walked towards the coven, boots crunching over the broken glass that littered the cobbles from my desperate escape.


‘Yes, Stella?’

‘Thank you.’

‘That’s okay. Feel free to cheer me up when you get a moment, because I am seriously shitting it right now.’


The bodies were gone.

All of the ripped up pieces of my witches had been taken, leaving only dark, dried blood splattered around the room. Part of me was outraged that they had been taken, that they weren’t here waiting for me to give them a decent final resting place. A larger part of me was glad I didn’t have to relive the carnage that had become of them. Did that make me a coward?

‘What’s that smell?’ asked David.

I breathed it in and the corners of my mouth twitched up momentarily: ‘Cinnamon, freshly cut grass, and lavender. The smell of home.’ Not just of home, of life. For me, it was my first real memory. Before I had even opened my eyes for this first time after being created, I’d inhaled once deeply, through my nose, and the smell of this place had become part of me. Now it just reminded me of what I’d lost.

‘So, whoever was behind this must have come back for the bodies?’ said David, walking the room gingerly, studying every square inch for anything resembling a clue.

‘There was a creature here waiting for me when I got back. A clean-up service in the form of a giant, devil dog, left to mop me up when I walked in. It’s what I jumped away from when I found myself at your place.’

‘Well, that’s something.’

‘What is?’

‘Whoever is behind this can be sloppy. Or too sure of themselves. Probably both. That means they have weaknesses, and weaknesses can be exploited. Sooner or later, we’ll find something that leads us right to their door.’

I found a little fresh hope sprouting inside of me. Was David right? Because it was true, leaving a mindless beast behind to finish me off rather than seeing to the job personally, rather than making sure, had been an error. Sure, whoever had done this was strong beyond measure, but all that’s needed is that one weak spot to exploit. And everyone, and everything, has that weak spot. It was just a case of finding it.

‘So when you came back, the place was drained of magic, right?’

‘Completely. That shouldn’t be possible. Especially not here. Every street, every building, every blade of grass emits some trace of background magic, somehow they’d just sucked the whole place dry.’

‘Tell me more about the security measures of the coven.’

‘I told you, the witches had layer upon layer upon layer of protective spells. No one but those three and myself were able to walk in or out unscathed. And only us four would be able to remove or even temporarily stop any of them.’

‘Could those be ‘sucked dry’? The magic of the protection spells, just like what happened to the background magic of the place?’

‘No, that’s different. The spells, they were fixed. It would be like trying to suck a bowling ball through a drinking straw. The only way to remove them fully is if you know what they are, the name they’ve been given, and how to mute them. It’s only then that it would be possible for them to be stripped away.’

David stood from where he had been crouched, studying the blood splatter pattern across the hardwood floor.

‘So! You know what that means?’


‘That someone must have told them.’

I bristled and marched towards him quickly, my head hot. ‘What are you trying to say? I’d be careful what you say next, normal.’

‘Whoa, chill your boots, Stella, I’m just following the evidence to piece together the most likely scenario. If what you say’s true, then whoever stripped away the magical security of this place must have found out how they could do that somehow. Which means either someone told them, an inside job, or they, I don’t know, overheard one of you regaling someone in detail about the hows and the whys.’

I snarled and turned away, marching across to the other side of the room to try and shake my impulse to grab David by the neck and squeeze. An inside job. There are only four people who could have told them, and three of them are dead. That just leaves me.

‘I didn’t say anything to anyone.’

‘Hey, did I say that, Miss Hair-Trigger? They found out somehow; if you can think why or how that might be then we have a thread to pull at. This is police work, Stella. This is how you do this. You don’t ignore the uncomfortable because it makes you uncomfortable. You look, you gather, you make connections, and you follow those connections all the way down the line until you find out who did it. And then you win.’

I sighed and turned back to him, the anger fading. ‘So what now?’

‘Now you die.’

That voice; no, voices. Every word like it was spoken by someone else.

‘Um, please tell me that throwing your voice is another one of your talents?’

‘Where have you taken their bodies?’ I said, turning in a circle, searching for some sign of the monster speaking to us.

‘Oh, I fed all of the meat and bones to my dogs. My ‘devil dogs’, that’s what you called them. They chewed them right up.’

I unleashed a blast of energy in anger, not even realising that I was doing it. David ducked and scrambled to the side as the room shook.

‘Face me! If you’re so powerful then stop these stupid games and just face me! Look me in the eyes and see if you can take my life!’

‘Not the best idea to encourage a psychotic murderer, Stella.’

‘Listen to the normal, Stella. Maybe you’ll live a little longer.’

A movement in the corner of my eye—

I turned in time to see a shadow step out of view in the open doorway—

‘Over there!’ I ran for the door, my only thought to catch, to confront, to kill.

‘Stella, wait!’

His words sounded dulled, my ears boom-booming with my heartbeat as I put the words together and felt the power grow in my hands, ready to be unleashed. Begging to be.

‘I’m coming for you!’

I burst out of the coven, ready to go down fighting at last.


I ran into the blind alley, both fists boiling with energy, desperate to be unleashed. To fly from my hands and attack the man of many voices who thought he could play games with me. Mock me. Mock my masters. Kill my masters.

‘Where are you!’

I heard a million different laughs in a million different voices, jabbing me from every angle. I couldn’t think straight, the desire to tear this piece of shit to pieces was too strong, and I began to unleash volley after volley of magic into the alley. Bricks exploded, rubbish caught fire, but all the time that laugh kept going. That mocking, sharp laugh, watching me throw a useless temper tantrum.

‘If you’ve quite finished, Stella...’

‘Come and get me, you bastard, you coward.’

‘But we’re having so much fun. Why spoil things now?’

‘Stella—’ David was at my shoulder, breathing quickly, terrified. ‘Stella, I think we should get away, now.’

‘No! No. The creature that tore up the witches is here, and I’m going to finish it. I owe it to them.’

‘Here? Who’s here? It’s just a trick. It’s probably got, I don’t know, speakers set up or something, because look around, there is no one here. No man, no monsters, just us. Just me and you.’

I felt the air ripple around me. I recognised the feeling. What was happening. Something was forcing its way into being. Forcing its way into existence. Something was being conjured.

‘Do you feel that?’ asked David, stretching his jaw as though his ears were about to pop.

Before I had a chance to reply, a concussive blast of air hit us, throwing us back against one wall of the alley and to the ground.

‘What the…?’

‘David, don’t move—’

I heard them before I saw them. For a second they were shrouded by the grey smoke that had accompanied the blast, but I heard their growls. Then light began to pierce the smoke. Twin balls of fire. One set, then two, then three.

‘What is that?’

I knew what it was. As the first paw of the three giant devil dogs stepped out of the smoke, I stood and flexed my shoulders. The last time I had only faced one of them and it had almost killed me. I had been weak, staggering through a world empty of magic, terrified as the impossible reality of my masters’ murders gripped my heart in its icy fingers. This time was different. This time I was swollen with power, with magic, with fury. This time I was going to rip them to pieces.

As one, the three devil dogs lifted their heads and roared to the heavens, ready to do what their master had created them for: to kill.

I drew the magic towards me, felt it eagerly fill me as David tried to pull me back—

‘Stella, come on, let’s get back inside, we can barricade the door!’

‘No. I’m not running. Not from anything.’

‘Stella, come on, this is crazy, look at those things!’

I didn’t have time to argue; a flick of my head and David—his eyes wide with surprise—was lifted from his feet and thrown through the air back into the coven. I heard him land with a thump and a grumble as I shut the door on him and willed it to remain so.

‘Well,’ I asked the air, asked the hidden puppet master, asked the devil dogs, ‘Are you going to do anything, or should I just get on with it and start killing?’

The first dog bolted towards me and, with a smile, or a snarl, or a scream, magic erupted from me in a great, gushing surge, ripping into the beast. It screamed like a puppy as it flew to the side, the crunch of its bones cracking against brick making me laugh.

‘You think I’m so easy to take out? I’m the Familiar of the London Coven, shit-head.’ A scream as I threw out my right arm and a torrent of fire surged from my palm and turned the broken devil dog to ash. I didn’t wait for the next attack; I turned on my heels, both fists cocked and ready, and sprinted towards the two remaining dogs. As if given the order to begin, they moved towards me as one.

One froze mid-step as I held out my left hand, the other only had time to yelp in confusion as the force firing from my right hand cleaved it neatly down the middle. It blinked once, then the two halves of the dog fell apart, its organs slipping with a heavy, wet, slap onto the cobbles.

‘Very impressive, Familiar,’ came the many voices.

I ignored them, instead turning my attention to the final, still-frozen dog. As I stopped before it and stared into the twin fires of its eyes, the simple thing suddenly understood what was about to happen, what it was about to lose. I could taste its fear.

It tasted good.

I screamed and thrust my burning hands straight into the thing’s chest and tore out its giant heart, throwing it away like the rubbish it was. The dog huffed once, then toppled to the ground.

‘That’s it. They’re done. If that’s all you’ve got for me, then you’re in big fucking trouble.’ I felt the devil dog’s blood on my hands, warm and sticky; I almost felt like licking my fingers with satisfaction. ‘Well? Why won’t you speak now? Are you done already? Did you run away?’

The devil dog’s body, whose heart I’d just ripped out, twitched on the ground before me. I stepped back into a boxer’s stance, hands up, power pulsing, ready.

And then an arm thrust out of the corpse. And another. Something was pulling itself out of the dead dog and into the blind alley. Something with long black hair, coated in the dog’s gore. Then the same happened with the devil dog I’d split in two. Viscera-painted women crawled towards me, leaving a bloody slug trail behind them. I should have dispatched them immediately. Should have already unleashed the power swelling in my hands to get rid of this latest horrifying attack, but I was frozen to the spot. I recognised the women. They were my masters.

‘Your fault.’

‘Your fault, Familiar.’

I staggered back as their dead, empty eyes fixed on me. All the power I’d built drained from me.

‘Please, I didn’t know, I couldn’t help, I didn’t…’

My witches screamed in unison as they crawled jaggedly towards me, their mouths opening wider and wider still until it seemed their entire heads were one large black hole, ready to swallow me down into the darkness. The damp cold of the wall soaked into my back and snapped me out of the fear that was washing over me. This was just a trick. A deception to make me scared. That’s all it was. All it could be.

They were almost upon me as I pulled in the magic around me and, with my eyes prickling with tears, I screamed and unleashed all the power I could onto the witches. My masters. The blood coated lies created to break my spirit

And then the screaming stopped. The only sound was the wind and my own heartbeat pulsing in my ears. Nothing was left of the witches, the lies, not even a patch of black ash. I drew what magic I could back inside of me as I stepped forward, knees like jelly, but I knew without speaking that I was alone now. Whoever it was that was behind all of this had already gone. It had done what it set out to do. It had poked and prodded at me, made me shake and scream with fear, but it would be back. It was playing games. Relishing my discomfort. But it wasn’t ready to take me off the board just yet.

‘David—’ I waved my hand across the coven door, allowing it to be opened again. ‘David, come out, it’s safe.’


‘David, come on!’

The door didn’t open.

My eyes widened.


I was running before I really even understood why. I threw open the coven door, hoping, dreading, knowing. David wasn’t waiting for me. The only thing greeting me was a pool of fresh blood on the floor.

David’s blood.


The door to The Beehive swung inward at speed, smashing back against the wall under the force of my boot.

‘Where is he?’

I stepped inside, feeling the pub’s magic-dampening bubble part as I entered. It meant I couldn’t make anyone’s head explode with a few well-chosen words, but that was okay. I wasn’t looking for anything that fast. My fists would do all the damage I was longing for.

I’d reached out for David, trying to sense him. I’d been with him long enough now that I should have been able to recognise his, for want of a better word, ‘scent’. The impression he left behind in the magic that surrounds everything. He’d only been taken perhaps seconds before I found the pool of blood, so I should have been able to get some sort of weak connection to follow; but there was nothing. I’d run around the coven, along the blind alley, and then wildly around the streets of Hammersmith. I must have looked like a crazy person as I’d sprinted around, wide-eyed, taking random turn after random turn, hoping to see or sense something. Anything!

But there was nothing.

And that’s when I realised I’d been played all along. Whoever was behind all of this, whoever was hiding behind the hundreds of voices it spoke in, wasn’t trying to kill me, or even trying to play with me in that alley. It was distracting me. Prodding at me; throwing obstacles with giant teeth in my way, until my anger took over and I pushed David out of the way. Then, with my back turned and fists throwing fury, it had been free to take him. First it murdered my masters, the only people I was close to. Now, the first person that came into my orbit, the first person I had taken under my wing and allowed to get close to me, it had snatched away, leaving nothing but a scarlet reminder on the floor.

But no body.

No corpse.

No shredded pieces of flesh this time, waiting to greet me as I entered my coven. And that was the only thing giving me hope. Giving me that terrible sense that maybe, just maybe, David was still alive. That this thing wasn’t done playing just yet. That it was going to keep David alive because it wanted me to come and find him. To try and fight and take him back. At least, that’s what I had to tell myself, because what else did I have?

I’d dropped into David’s life and turned it upside down. Exposed him to the kind of darkness and danger that no normal should ever have to know about. It was my fault he was who-knows-where with who-knows-what, his life on the line. So this wasn’t just about revenge anymore. I had to find this thing and I had to beat it, otherwise David’s death would be on my hands. Annoying, brave, strong, funny David. I couldn’t let that happen.

I wouldn’t let it happen.

‘Razor! Get out here, now!’

I stalked forward, the patrons of The Beehive parting before me. They moved back, relief washing over their faces as they heard me call out for someone beside themselves.


I shot Lenny a look, a look that told him all he needed to know. He nodded and turned away.


The door to the bathroom squeaked and Razor stepped into the bar. At first he didn’t notice me, instead he looked at the nearest few tables of drinkers, saw the way they were hunkered down, shoulders hunched, ignoring everything.

‘What’s going on?’

He turned and saw me, saw the smile on my face that didn’t reach my eyes.

‘You’ve been a bad boy, Razor.’


The only exit was behind me, so Razor turned on his heels, almost falling over in his hurry, and bolted back through the door towards the bathrooms. I gave chase, shoving the door open so it cracked against the wall as I ran through. I stepped into the men’s room, the sharp stench of piss burning my nostrils as I padded towards the closed cubicles.

‘Get out here, Razor.’

‘What d’you want with me? I didn’t do anything!’

I stopped in front of the closed cubicle door Razor was trying to shield himself behind. He may as well have been hiding under a thin sheet of wet paper for all the good it would do him.

‘You lied to me, Razor. You know that’s not a good idea.’

‘Lied to you? I didn’t lie to you! I mean, I have done, of course I have, I’ve lied to you lots of times, but not recently!’

I grunted as the sole of my boot connected to the door, its lock popping under the force. Razor was crouched on the toilet inside, feet on the seat.

‘I came to you looking for information, Razor. Information about what happened to the witches of the London Coven. Information about the piece of shit that murdered them. And you spat up a lie.’


‘You sent me on a wild goose chase that left me no closer to finding out who did this to them. To me. And now my friend has been taken.’

‘What are you talking about? You’re crazy! Someone help me! Lenny! Anyone!’

I grabbed Razor by the throat and squeezed until his eyes bulged. He swatted at my face with his hands. I barely felt the blows.

‘You’re going to give me something I can use, or you’re going to die in here, Razor. Die in a toilet. Do you hear me?’

With a roar, I twisted and threw Razor across the bathroom. He crashed into the mirror and fell hard onto the sinks. I smiled and moved towards him as he groaned, rolling and falling to the dirty tiled floor. I was strong. I was born strong. Right now, with the anger and adrenalin coursing through me, I was unstoppable.

‘Please… please, I don’t know what you’re talking a—’

I landed a boot in his side, heard a rib crack. It made me smile.

‘Wait, please, just wait—’

Razor winced and slid back until he was pressed against the wall, one hand to his busted side.

‘Give me a name, Razor. Give me something I can use.’

‘I swear, I didn’t send you wrong!’

I grimaced. Even now he was trying to feed me lies. He saw what was about to happen and lifted his hands to try and placate me—

‘Stella, wait! Just… just wait a second! Look, okay, I heard about the witches. And this might surprise you, but I’m not happy about what happened! I’m not! The London Uncanny without the witches? Chaos is coming! They held all of this together! Stopped the whole city from falling to bits!’

‘I’m not hearing any names, Razor...’

‘I didn’t lie to you, or whatever you think I did—’

My fist met his jaw, blood spat from between his busted lips.

‘Stella, please, come on, I haven’t spoken to you in weeks!’

What was this? A game? Did he think he was being funny? Did he think I was stupid?

‘I came in here and I beat a name out of you Razor.’

‘No, you didn’t. I’m telling you the truth!’

Enough. I grabbed him by the collar and threw him back against the mirror again so that his head left a fresh crack and a spray of red. He screamed as he fell, tried to make for the door. Bad idea. I took hold of him, threw him back until the side of the first toilet cubicle halted his momentum, crumpling like cardboard with the force. I couldn’t kill him with magic inside The Beehive, but I could toss him around like a rag doll.

I stalked towards him as he coughed up a fresh glob of blood.

‘Stella…Stella, I’m telling you the truth. It was playing a game with you. That’s all.’

I stopped. A game. That rang true.

‘Go on.’

‘I swear, Stella. I swear on everything my clan holds dear, I did not feed you any false info. I haven’t seen you since this whole thing started! It played you. The thing played you. It pretended to be me and sent you running after nothing!’

I crouched by the destroyed cubicle and gripped Razor by the balls. He screamed long and high as I twisted.

‘Give me a name!’

‘I don’t know any—’

A twist, more savage this time.

‘You always know something, Razor! Always! You swim in the filth all day; you taste a piece of every dark thing that goes on in this city!’

‘Please, I can’t, I can’t—’

‘I’ll tear these things off and choke you with them, Razor!’

He screamed again, his animal howls bouncing around the tiled room, caressing my ears.

‘Please-please, it’ll kill me if it knows I said anything—’

‘And I’ll kill you if you don’t! Give me a name!’

Razor’s chest was rising and falling spasmodically, his eyes pinned open as though they were about to pop out. He was terrified. Beyond terrified. Of me, I could see that, but not just of me. He knew who had killed my witches, knew who had David, and it terrified him.

‘Please-! Please don’t make me—!’

I grabbed a shard of the broken cubicle wall and jabbed it into his thigh.

He screamed.

I laughed.

I twisted the shard in his thigh—

‘Mr. Trick! Its name is Mr. Trick!’


True names hold power.

In the right hands, a true name can be a useful thing. But was Mr. Trick a true name, or just another part of the game? Another sleight of hand. A tripwire to send me sprawling to the ground, to be laughed at once again as I dragged myself up out of the dirt. To be stomped on and made an idiot of yet again.

I’d only had to hit Razor a couple more times before I believed what he was telling me, leaving him bloody but alive in a puddle of his own—and various other customers’—urine.

I’m only a Familiar, I didn’t have the knowledge or capability to do the kind of magic that I needed. Black Magic. Bad magic. The kind of spell I needed was forbidden. It latched onto an Uncanny’s very essence to pinpoint them, to show the user where they were. I might be too lowly to grapple with such spells, but I knew of one man ancient and powerful enough to do whatever he liked.

I pushed open the door to L’Merrier’s Antiques, the stale fug wafting over me as I crossed the threshold. I could see dust dancing in the few shafts of light that managed to penetrate the dim interior. Almost every inch of the place was covered in curiosities, large and small. Some were what you might expect from an antiques shop: old lamps, bits of furniture, the usual. But the usual shared L’Merrier’s shop with the unusual. Remnants of the country’s strange underbelly that I was a part of. The Uncanny Kingdom.


‘I allowed you to enter my establishment, little one. Be thankful.’ Giles L’Merrier’s voice rolled from the shadows like silk as he moved into view. He wore a floor length gown over his bulky frame, covered in ancient symbols. Despite his girth, he moved gracefully, seeming to glide rather than walk.

‘I didn’t feel anything.’ Unlike my coven, or The Beehive, I hadn’t felt the presence of any protection as I’d entered.

He smiled and interlocked his fingers, resting his hands on the bulge of his large stomach. He stopped in a shaft of light that bounced from his large, completely bald head, almost dazzling me.

‘A lowly Familiar such as you? Oh my dear, of course you did not feel it. I create spells of protection on a much higher plane than a familiar could ever hope to exist in. You are a bug. An ant scurrying underfoot, unaware that at any moment I could bring that self same foot down to crush you.’

‘I get it, you’re super powerful. Can we move on?’

His smile twitched into a frown, but just for a moment. ‘Do not test me, little one. I have not taken the life of an Uncanny in many years, but I do so hate the rude.’

He was trying to scare me, and I don’t mind saying it was working. He may not have killed an Uncanny in many years, but everyone in London and far beyond knew of his history. Of the stories. The true stories of Giles L’Merrier; the man that once strode the globe as though it belonged to him. He had gone to war with the most fearsome black magic practitioners of the age, and had never walked away the loser.

‘So, have you come to buy a trinket for your coven? A nice lamp, perhaps? I can do you a very good deal. Mate’s rates.’

He knew that wasn’t why I was there. The smugness he radiated made me ball my fists, made me want to give him one hard smack to the jaw. That wouldn’t have been my wisest move.

‘My masters are dead.’

‘Ah, yes. ‘Tis a shame, it’s true. They have served London well for many centuries.’

‘I need you to do something for me.’

‘Oh, I do not do requests. I’m sorry to say I am not coin-operated.’ He turned from me and began to glide back into the shadows. ‘You know the way out.’

‘You owe my coven a debt!’

He paused, his giant head turning to look back at me. ‘Is that so?’

‘My witches helped you a decade back and they never called in the debt.’

‘And now you are?’

I swallowed and nodded, my heart fluttering.

L’Merrier laughed, ‘The London Coven is dead, with no witches in place to take the reins. The debt is gone.’

‘No. The London Coven lives on in me.’

L’Merrier turned fully towards me now as he arched an eyebrow, ‘You?’

I nodded and tried to make myself look big. And less terrified.

‘Oh little one, that is adorable. But I think not.’

‘I will carry on my masters’ work. It is my duty. What I was made for.’

‘You are a trifle. A marionette moulded together from dirt, spittle, and force of will to do the bidding of others. Of great women. You are the monkey, not the organ grinder. My apologies to monkeys everywhere for that dreadful slur on their kind. Now, if you do not wish to make a purchase, you will leave.’

‘No, I came here to—’ I blinked and found myself outside, looking at the door to L’Merrier’s Antiques. Grunting, I pulled some magic towards me and punched forward, allowing the power to unleash and throw the door open, the handle smashing into the wall and leaving a mark in the plaster. I strode back into the shop, L’Merrier was waiting, his face slightly redder than moments before.

‘You dare, Familiar?’

‘The debt stands and will only be paid when you do the thing I want you to do.’

L’Merrier sighed, then swatted one hand back almost lazily; I braced myself as the spell caught me and lifted me from my feet, pinning me to the ceiling, my head cracking back and sending my vision fuzzy for a moment.

‘L’Merrier, please—’

‘Begging now? My, my. You come into my shop and make demands. Tut-tut, little one. I should dispatch you for showing such arrogance. Pluck your limbs from their sockets one by one. What say you? Shall we begin with an arm? Left or right, hmm?’

‘L’Merrier, the witches of the London Coven are dead! Murdered in their own seat of power, and it is my duty to get revenge! Do you want their deaths to go unpunished?’

I could see him waver, considering my words.

‘They were good women, ‘tis true. For witches, that is.’

‘My masters did a lot for you, even in the short space of time I had the pleasure of being their Familiar. Do you not want their killer found? If they could take down the London Coven, who’s next? Who’s safe? Maybe they’ll pay this shop a visit!’

He twitched his hand and I fell to the floor, my head jarring as the wooden floorboards caught me. I groaned and rolled onto my back, L’Merrier gliding into view as he leaned over me.

‘What is the animal's name?’

‘His name… his name is Mr. Trick.’


L’Merrier was stood in the centre of a pentagram. He had chalked it freshly whilst muttering strange words even I had never heard before.

We were in the basement of L’Merrier’s Antiques; at least that’s where I thought we were. In truth, he hadn’t allowed me to walk there, he’d clapped his hands and suddenly this was where we were. For all I knew, this inner sanctum was at the centre of a mountain in Tibet. Or underneath a betting shop in Ealing.

L’Merrier turned to me, his face drained of colour. ‘Familiar, using a name to find an Uncanny’s location is one of the black arts. I am friends with the black arts, the dark plane, the shadow realm of screams, but you may be…. upset by some of the things you see or hear.’

‘I can take it,’ I replied, trying to ignore the prickle of sweat on my neck.

‘Very well, then we shall begin.’ He clapped his hands together and it sounded like thunder, shaking the room.

‘Ruma-Chk-Ella-Ruma-Chk-Ella—’ His voice rolled out, deep and powerful.

The temperature in the room immediately dropped twenty degrees and I shivered as my breath began to fog in front of me.

‘Hear me. Know what I want. What I demand. Hear me.’

Something skittered across the floor, just out of view. I pressed my back to the wall as my magical sense began to recoil at the unnaturalness flooding into L’Merrier’s sanctum. My first instinct was to pull in the magic surrounding me, ready to defend, to attack, but the room was no longer bathed in ordinary magic. It was flooded with black magic. If I soaked that up, there was no telling what it might do to me. What I might do to other people. Whether I’d be able to walk out of the sanctum alive at all.

‘Chk-Ella! Chk-Ella! I, Giles L’Merrier, the wonder of mankind, have a name for you. A true name!’

There was a shape in the room. It looked almost like a person, but wrong. Stretched out. Bent. Its flesh was crisp and blackened, as though burned and diseased. It didn’t have a face, just a giant mouth, full of teeth; a snake’s tongue lazily slithered out to lick at the air. Two horns curled and wound from its forehead.

‘I am here,’ it said, its voice a harsh whisper that made me wince; fingernails down a chalkboard. It made my stomach a fist, and I felt like I might throw up.

‘I need to know an Uncanny’s place in the world. You will tell me, foul beast.’

The creature wasn’t listening. It was looking at me.

‘I know you, little thing. Yes I do.’

It stepped towards me, its movements twitchy, unnerving, as though watching a film with frames cut out.

‘Beast, I command you!’

My back was coated with sweat. I wanted to run, but as I looked for a place to escape I realised for the first time that the sanctum had no door. No window. No obvious place in or out. I was trapped in there. Trapped with a thing of the dark.

‘You don’t know me,’ I managed, my voice a childish stutter.

‘Do not speak with the thing, Familiar!’

‘Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes, I do. I have. Have yet to. Will. We all will. The dark knows you.’

A sonic boom as L’Merrier clapped his mighty hands together once more. The creature winced and turned from me, its attention caught.

‘Yes, look to me, thing.’

‘The magic man seeks our council once again.’

‘I have a true name in my possession; I demand you show me the Uncanny’s location!’

‘Why should we bend to you?’

‘Do not play games or speak falsely with me, foul creature. You know me. You know this sanctum, the shapes I have drawn, the words I have spoken, the magic that flows through this place is without question. In here, with me, you are bound to tell me answers.’

The creature took one long finger, the nail ragged, and drew it down its cheek. Black, thick blood oozed from the wound and the beast giggled.

‘Go ahead, ask and ask and ask.’

‘The Uncanny’s name is... Mr. Trick.’

‘Ah yes, the one who did slay the witches of London.’

‘Yes! Where is he?’ I cowered as L’Merrier’s eyes blazed at my interruption.

‘Ignore the insect, I am the one who asks, the one who is in control. The one who—with a few well-placed words—could turn you to ash!’

‘Ooh, threats. You would threaten a thing of the dark?’

‘And more besides. You know me. Know what I have done. What I will do again. Do not think that it is beyond me.’

The creature giggled again, and my knees shook.

‘Very well. Look...’

The creature’s hand shot towards L’Merrier, gripping his broad forehead in its filthy hand. He threw open his arms and screamed as the flames erupted around him from the pentagram’s chalk lines.


I shielded my face from the heat, from the sudden bright light. Had the thing killed him?

And then the blanket was lifted. The sanctum was free of the dark magic. The flames were dead. And on the floor, still at the centre of the perfectly chalked pentagram, sat L’Merrier, his head in his hands. He was trembling. That might have been the thing that scared me most of all about this whole thing. The mighty Giles L’Merrier, trembling like a little kid.

I stepped slowly towards him.

‘Is it over?’

He looked up to me, his eyes wide, and nodded. ‘I know where the thing is. But… It is like nothing I have ever…’

He stopped, stood, and strode across the room, grabbing a pen and paper and scribbling down the address. ‘Here.’

I took the piece of paper and read it. I knew where it was. Knew where the monster that had murdered my family was hiding. Knew where David, my friend, was being kept.

‘Now get out!’

‘Wait, what if we take on Mr. Trick together? I am only a Familiar, as you seem to like to remind me. Maybe you could—’

He rounded on me, his eyes ablaze with fury: ‘The debt is paid. More than paid. Do not come to me asking favours again.’


—But before I managed a second word, I felt the outdoor chill cool my skin. I was stood outside of L’Merrier’s Antiques again, and something told me I wouldn’t be allowed to walk in a third time. I looked at the address on the piece of paper, then stuffed it in the pocket of my leather jacket.

I knew where the thing was.

The thing that seemed to frighten even Giles L’Merrier…

…and I was going to kill it.


I felt my stomach churn as I lowered myself into the sewer, my boots splashing down into something disgusting. It’s amazing how often I find myself sloshing through these underground, waste filled tunnels in my line of work. For some reason, more than one dark Uncanny feels at home in these disgusting places.

I passed my hand in front of my nose—


Instantly, the smell of other people’s piss and faeces was hidden by an artificial smell of flowers and meadows. I didn’t usually like to trick one of my senses whilst I was in a place like this, a place—as I’ve already mentioned—that bad things call home, but I was so full of fear, expectation, and anger, that I was worried the stench would overpower me and have me chucking my guts up.

I slid my hand into my jacket and felt the crumpled piece of paper that held Mr. Trick’s address. Who knows how long the thing would remain at that location. I should have gone straight there to confront whatever it was, but what it had been able to do so far, and the look in L’Merrier’s eyes, told me that it would be a mistake to go rushing in head-first. I was a weak Uncanny compared to any of these people, so to even stand a chance I needed to be as powerful as my body could handle. To be topped up with enough magical juice that it was practically leaking it out of my ears. And that meant paying the fairies that lurk in the London sewer system a visit.

I looked back and forth, stretching out my senses as far as they would go. I made a choice, turned to my right, and set off.

One way or another I knew this thing was almost over. Mr. Trick would be where the piece of paper said he was. I felt it, deep in my gut. The way things had been going, I wasn’t just expecting him to be there, but was sure he’d already know I was on my way. That he would have felt L’Merrier stretching out into the dark arts to locate him. He wanted me to find him. Wanted a final confrontation. I felt like I understood the thing, its motives. It wanted to play with me, like a cat with a wounded mouse. But not forever. Letting me know its location meant that it was at last tired of its tricks. It wanted the grand finale; to take me off the board and start a new game elsewhere. Even the most cruel and delicious games can overstay their welcome, and Mr. Trick was ready to have this one be over.

A flicker of light in the distance, a stuttering pinprick of white in the stinking dark. Here we go. I ran towards it, filthy liquid exploding from my heavy footfalls to soak the bottom of my jeans.

Why was I chasing after a fairy, underneath London, in a crap-smeared tunnel? Because real fairies aren’t the creatures of delight they’re portrayed as in kid’s books. They’re like flies, feasting on waste, passing on infection to normals. They’re dumb animals that live only to breed, and the way they do that? By laying their eggs in a host. Generally a human host. They’re not above sneaking into your house and filling you full of their eggs whilst you sleep, but for ease of access they usually venture out after dark and attack a passed-out homeless person. They’ll extend what looks like a stinger from their rear ends and sink it deep into the person’s stomach, injecting hundreds of eggs, thousands sometimes. The infected person might wake up with a bit of a stomach-ache, but they won’t suspect anything. Why would they? Fairies aren’t real, especially the dirty little bastards that they actually are.

In a few short days, the host will find their stomach horribly distended, but they won’t look for help. The infection tricks the brain into seeking out a place to hide. So the sewer. Down here, out of sight, they will wiggle and writhe in agony for up to a week, until finally their flesh will tear, killing them, and out of the fresh corpse will pour a cloud of new fairies, ready to go and do the same to some other poor sod.

We Uncanny people do our best to try and cull their numbers to stop the normal population from plummeting, but the fairies do have their uses. They are chock-full of magic. Magic that can be extracted and devoured. Many use it as a sort of drug. There are dens all over London in which Uncanny people lounge on beds, drinking down the magic from a freshly-dead fairy, getting drunk on the sudden hit of magic coursing through their system.

So that’s why I was here. Stalking through a fairy-infested sewer. I needed to power up for a fight.

The fairy I was following was so fast I was beginning to lose sight of it. As I ran, I reached out a hand-


I placed the magical words together in my mind and felt energy fly from my palm, catching the fairy like the sticky tongue of a lizard and drawing the thing back and into my grip.

‘Got you, you little shit.’

It wiggled in my hand, squealing in its high-pitched but unintelligible voice.

‘Take me home.’ The creature stopped and blinked rapidly in confusion as the spell took hold. ‘Well?’

The thing nodded and I opened my hand, allowing it to hop into the air on its dirty wings. It flew from me, just slow enough that I could keep up. One fairy holds a nice amount of magical juice, but not enough for where I was going. I needed to find a whole nest of the things and take my fill.

Ten minutes later, the fairy stopped and allowed me to catch up. It pointed eagerly into the gloom. I squinted and saw it: a large nest stuck high to the wall. The thing writhed like a blister full of spiders. Seemed like almost everyone was home.

‘Thanks,’ I said, patting the fairy on the head, then I tore it in two and sucked out its innards. I gasped, my eyes wide as the magic filled me, warming my innards like I’d just downed a double of whiskey.


I threw what was left of the thing to the ground. I was too focused to hear it splash down. I reached up and thrust my hand into the nest, pulling out a fistful of fairies.

‘Stop wiggling,’ I said, and then filled myself so full of magic I thought my body might explode.


Nothing else to do.

No reason to put it off any longer.

It was time to go and finish this.

‘I’m coming, David.’

I left fifty fairy corpses swilling around in the watery filth as I made my way to the nearest exit, praying to everything I held dear that David was still alive.


It was an ordinary street in Ealing, West London. A nice stretch of three bedroom houses, away from any busy roads. The sort of street that nice families with money lived on. People who went abroad three times a year and left the kids with a live-in nanny.

Ever since I’d read L’Merrier’s scribbled down address, I’d been confused. I’d expected Mr. Trick to be lurking somewhere sinister, somewhere barren. Somewhere he could hide away from prying eyes. But here I was, in a densely populated and well-to-do street, tracking down a monster.

I walked forward, down the centre of the road, my senses on high alert, searching for any sign of attack. Any magical booby traps that might turn me inside out in a heartbeat. I didn’t think for a moment that this monster was going to make things easy for me.

I was so full of bubbling, raging energy from the fairy banquet that it took me a minute to notice something familiar: just like the blind alley and the coven when I’d discovered my witch’s bodies, this street was completely empty of magic. Not even a remnant, not a wisp of smoke twisting in the breeze. Just like earlier, the impossible had happened, and every ounce of the area’s magic had been removed.

I still had no idea how that was even possible. It shouldn’t be. Mr. Trick was not like anything I’d ever taken on before. Maybe not like anything anyone had taken on before; at least no one had ever mentioned a creature capable of such a thing.

Unlike last time, I didn’t feel the withdrawal. I was so hopped up on the fairy juice that I was furiously noisy with magic, and it seemed to be cancelling out the lack of surrounding magic’s effect on me. Good. This was clearly part of Mr. Trick’s M.O., a way to disorient any Uncanny that came its way. Putting them on the back foot before any confrontation, making them even easier pickings. Perhaps it just liked to watch as its victim began to sweat, twitching like a junkie, gasping for magic. It liked to see people suffer.

‘Who are you?’

The voice came from behind me. I whirled on my heels, hands instantly alive with power, ready to unleash. What I found was a small boy, maybe six years old, looking at me from the door to one of the houses. He was smartly dressed with neat hair, like he was about to head off to church on a Sunday.

‘It looks like it might rain,’ said the boy, his voice flat, empty of emotion.

‘Where is he? Where’s David?’

‘If it rains, we shall get wet.’

Was this Mr. Trick? This skinny boy? Could it really be? Or was this just a puppet of some kind? A part of the thing’s game. A fresh piece to throw me, keep me off-kilter and guessing.

‘I said, where is David?’

‘Dead. Or alive. Here or elsewhere. Up or down, a smile or a frown? It’s so hard to keep track in this day and age, don’t you find? And lose? And find again?’’

I began to walk towards the boy. His eyes fixed on mine, an empty smile on his rosy-cheeked face.

‘Don’t think talking in riddles is going to stop me. You’ll either tell me what I need to know, or I’ll beat it out of you.’

The boy laughed, the sound coming out in a multitude of voices at once. I clenched my right fist, the energy burning, desperate to be unleashed.

‘Nice of you to come and visit, Familiar.’ The speaking voice had changed now too, shifting into the style I’d heard before, as though a different person was speaking each word.

‘I know your name, Mr. Trick.’

‘Mr. Trick, will come to town, and all of the Uncanny, shall fall and frown.’

‘Is that what you want? To kill us all?’

‘So many dead and worse besides. Dead fairies, floating in filth under the streets of old London town; oh what a dreadful sight to see. You know when I was last here, the city was nothing but a huddle of wooden buildings. Even then, the stink of magic tainted the place.’

The thing was crazy. Had to be. Some sort of self-hating Uncanny? That was a new one on me.

‘I’m only going to ask you one more time: where is David?’ I threw a line of molten power that exploded from my palm like a lava lasso, scorching the brickwork to the boy’s right.

‘Your temper is a terrible thing, Familiar. It’ll get you killed; or worse. If you want David, just come along inside and find him. Mother said it’s okay, you’re expected.’

The boy turned and disappeared into the house. I paused for a second, aware that I was almost certainly walking into a trap. Maybe I could attempt to pull the front of the house off in one go to see what was happening inside without having to enter. Had all of the fairies I’d slaughtered and fed from given me enough energy to do something like that?

A noise.

A tap at a window.

I looked up to see a desperate figure waving down at me—


A hand grabbed him by the throat and pulled him out of view. All thoughts of caution evaporated, and before I even knew what I was doing, I was sprinting over the threshold into the dark innards of the boy’s house.


I stopped in the entrance corridor, the temperature inside a good ten degrees colder than the street outside. I turned and looked back to where I’d come from, to see the front door swing shut of its own accord, cutting off the view. Cutting off the exit.

And then the door disappeared.

I ran to it, very aware that I might have just made a mistake. I felt around, but couldn’t find any sign of the exit, just rough brick, solid, like it had been that way for years. Had always been that way.


I whirled round, glowing fists up, to see the boy skipping out of view at the other end of the corridor.

‘I’m coming for you!’ I screamed, hurling a ball of energy in front of me to show I meant business, practically crisping my own hair as I sprinted through it. I rounded the corner to find the corridor ahead empty, a staircase to my right.

‘Pssst, Familiar—’

The boy was crouched at the top of the stairs, looking down at me through the banister.

‘Enough with the messing around, Mr. Trick, are you actually going to stand and fight?’

I felt it before I heard or saw anything. That prickle on the back of my neck that told me I had to get moving. I turned to my right, just in time to see a large knife glinting as the blade embedded into the banister, where my head had been moments earlier. Still holding the knife’s handle was a woman in her late thirties.

‘Oh, I don’t think mother likes you at all, Familiar,’ said the boy, as mother yanked the blade free and swung it in an arc, only just missing my neck as I threw myself backwards, landing with a crash onto the floor.

‘Mother knows best, Familiar,’ she said, and stamped on my knee. I cried out in pain and reflexively tossed up a ball of flame that engulfed the woman. Her hair caught fire, in fact her whole head seemed to catch, but the woman didn’t flail, or fall to the floor, even yell out in agony as her flesh broiled. Instead, she giggled.

‘What are you?’ I asked, as the boy appeared at her side, holding her hand.

‘We’re bad and bad and bad all over, Familiar,’ he said. ‘Isn’t that right mother?’

‘Right as rain, son,’ she replied.

They stepped towards me, the flames dying and revealing the woman’s now blackened face, flesh scorched, eyeballs molten in their sockets.

I pushed back across the floor and attempted to scramble to my feet, my knee sharp with pain and almost dropping me as I staggered.

‘Already hurt?’


‘You’re even less sport than your bitch, whore witches.’

I snarled: ‘You made a mistake coming into my city. Into my coven. If you think you’re going to walk away from this alive, you’re wrong.’

‘Stella? Stella, where are you!’


I didn’t stop to think; I found the right words leap into my mind and unleashed a concussive wave of energy, sweeping the pair aside and depositing them in the kitchen. I ran for the stairs, taking them three at a time, any pain in my knee forgotten.

I moved from room to room until there was only one door left. I turned the handle and shook the door, but it refused to open.

‘Stella? Is that you?’

‘David, it’s me, are you okay?’

‘Just great, apart from being kidnapped by creepy mum and her even creepier son.’

‘Step back!’

I placed my hand over the lock, placing the correct phrase together in my mind. The lock clicked as it opened, the door swinging back. David was stood in the room.


‘Well, you took your bloody time!’

‘You’re welcome. Now come on, I’m getting you out of here and then I’m coming back to finish this thing.’

He followed me as I made my way back to the stairs, trying to ignore that tickle that was telling me this had all been far too easy. This couldn’t be the end of it. They weren’t going to let me just run out of here with him, right?

I soon got my answer.

There was a thump behind me and a yelp. I turned to find David on the floor, trying to get back up.

‘Sorry, tripped, classic damsel move.’

‘Stop messing around, we’ve got to get out of here!’

‘Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll—’

I took one step forward before I saw the look in his eyes as he stood. He was looking past me.

I didn’t have time to react.

A flash of something whistled past my head, then the knife found its target, entering David’s throat up to the hilt.

He looked at me with confusion, not able to understand what had just happened. I think he tried to speak, but all that came out was blood, coughed up in a violent spray.

‘No—’ I put my hands to my mouth as he stepped back, then stumbled, then fell to his knees. He looked at me one last time, then fell to his side, the handle of the knife clattering loudly as it hit the floor. I watched as a pool of blood began to form around his head, like a scarlet pillow.

I walked towards him in a daze, for a moment unconcerned about any threat to myself.

I fell to my knees.

A corpse before me.

I’d failed.

First my masters, now this.

What good was I?

What was I for if I couldn’t keep those around me safe?

The boy and his mother were holding hands at the other end of the corridor.

‘Mr. Trick has been a bad boy, hasn’t he?’

‘Hasn’t he?’

‘Hasn’t he?’

Words escaped me, I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t fight. Instead I felt all the anger, the fear, the despair and the shame boil up inside me like a storm. It met the still untapped reservoir of magic I’d drunk down from my trip underground, and without thinking, without putting any magical form together, I stood and threw my head back, my arms out, and screamed. Power exploded from me, rampaging down the corridor, around the house, like I was a volcano erupting, determined to destroy everything in my path. The walls cracked, the windows shattered, everything around me was turned to ash.

I don’t know how long it lasted. Perhaps a second. Perhaps an hour. Then, like a switch had been flicked, it was over and I fell to the blackened floor.


I’m not sure how long it took me to get back to the coven, or how I got there even. Maybe I walked, maybe I took the Tube. The world was a daze, a dream, an awful lie. I found myself back in my room, curled up on the bed I hadn’t slept on since this whole thing had started. I felt weak, drained of energy. Whatever I had unleashed back in that house in Ealing had completely sapped me.

I’d thought that I was walking into the big, final confrontation. That whatever happened, one or both of us wasn’t walking away. Either way, I was going to save David. That’s the one thing I was going to do no matter what. Didn’t matter what happened to me, I just had to stop Mr. Trick from taking that one life.

And I’d failed.

Mr. Trick had no intention of that being the grand finale. He’d just lured me in to make me suffer once again. To take something that had become dear to me and not even give me the relief of death afterward. No, he had more in store for me yet.

I couldn’t remember seeing him, seeing the boy and his mother, or anyone else—not after I’d unleashed all of my pent-up magic. Their bodies had been completely destroyed by my outburst, David’s too, but no part of me thought it was over. Those things weren’t Mr. Trick, they were just playing pieces being pushed around the board. Testing me, seeing what I had.

I could picture that look in David’s eyes as I tried to close my own. The incomprehension. Had he even known what had happened? That there was a kitchen knife embedded up to the handle in his throat?

I should never have involved him in this whole thing.

He was a just a normal. No, that’s wrong, he wasn’t “just” anything. He was a brave man, full of light, and I’d been too wrapped up in my own thirst for revenge to do the right thing. To know that involving him in a suicide mission against the most powerful Uncanny I’d ever known was only going to end one way. If I’d assumed facing down Mr. Trick might well put an end to my life as a Familiar once and for all, what had I thought might happen to him?

My body felt heavy. This was different to what had happened to my masters. They could handle themselves. They didn’t need my help to keep them safe. They were always safe. Well, always had been before Mr. Trick came to town.

Mr. Trick, will come to town, and all of the Uncanny, shall fall and frown.

Uncanny and normal alike. He wasn’t fussy.

-A noise from the corridor.

-A floorboard creaking, like someone had just shifted their weight.

I sat up and stared at the gap between the door and the floor.

A shadow passed, something moving quickly away.

I didn’t bother asking who it was, I already knew.

Mr. Trick had come to town.

It was time for this Uncanny to fall and frown.

But not without a fight.

I wouldn’t fall without throwing everything I had left in me at the thing, no matter how ineffective it might be. I wouldn’t give the monster the satisfaction of a meek shuffle towards death’s door.

I drew the magic in the room towards me as I padded toward the door and opened it quietly, peering out into the gloom of the corridor beyond. No sign of anyone.

I opened the door just wide enough and slipped out of my room, my right hand fierce with magic. A raging lantern, leading the way.

I could hear the murmur of hushed voices drifting from the main coven room. I moved forward. As I got closer, a chill crept across my skin, the gooseflesh breaking out.

I shivered.

The voices became clearer:

‘I told you.’

‘Me too.’

‘She was not ready.’

‘How could she be, a thing such as her?’

‘Spit and force of will.’

‘Dirt and rags.’


This was…

I knew those voices.

The power in my right hand grew weaker, then spluttered out altogether as I pushed the door open and stepped inside the main coven room.

In the centre of the room stood three figures. Three women more powerful than any other Uncanny of London, even though to look at them you would assume they were nothing more than three middle-aged women at their weekly knitting circle.

Kala, Trin, & Feal.

The witches of the London Coven.

My masters.

My creators.

‘Look how she gawps,’ said Kala.

‘This isn’t possible… ’

‘You think anything exists that could take us out? In our own coven? Our own seat of power?’

‘You really are pathetic.’

‘This was a test.’

‘A test?’

‘I told you she’d fail.’

‘Yes, but I never thought she would fail so completely.’

I fell to my knees as confusion overtook me.

‘Well, fail she did, and now you know what comes next.’

My masters nodded as one: ‘We have to destroy her.’


The world had become a nightmare.

Ever since I first walked into the blind alley in Hammersmith that housed my coven, I’d felt things spinning further and further out of control. Further into unreality, insanity, and now…

I looked up again through tear-blurred eyes to see my masters stood before me, smiling. Mocking.

‘I don’t believe you,’ I said.

‘Why would we care about a thing like that? Like what you think? What is that to us? What is your opinion worth?’

‘It is nothing.’

‘Nothing at all.’

‘You’re just a thing.’

‘A tool we created to take care of the drudge and the filth.’

‘You’re not a person.’

‘Not a person.’

‘Not even nearly.’

I stood and staggered back, angrily wiping away tears with the sleeve of my jacket. I reached out with my senses, searching for signs of the trick I was seeing. Because that’s all this could be, no matter how real it seemed, no matter how much my emotions boiled and told me it was true. This was Mr. Trick’s doing, it had to be.

‘Oh, that is cute.’

‘You feel it too?’

‘Of course. Her puny little magical tendrils eagerly snuffling around us like a retarded pup, searching for signs of falsehood.’

My senses recoiled as I failed to find any lies. They were alive, really alive. They didn’t seem like some pretence. As far as I could tell, the three women in front of me were the trio of witches that had created me. The ones I had served without question for decades.

‘She sees the truth of it.’

‘Why? Why did you do this to me?’ I looked at their smirking faces, and for the first time in my many years of life, I felt like I wanted to tear them to pieces. Wanted to draw in every scrap of magic and throw it at them. Wanted to knock them down and stamp them out like they were on fire.

‘Your face flushes, Familiar.’

‘Ooh, Trin, I believe she wishes us harm.’


‘Her own creators.’

‘You think something as worthless as you could harm a hair upon our heads?’

They laughed, but there was no humour in it, only malice.

I sank to my knees. My fists were hot with energy, but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Not just because they were right, me going against them would be like a fly taking on a T-Rex, but because, despite it all, they were my masters. My creators. For want of a better word, they were my Gods. And what right did I have to attack God?

I wasn’t a person.

I was a thing.

A thing they owned.

‘Just do it. Do it if you’re going to!’

My head sank, eyes closed, as I waited for them to put an end to my long life. If this was who they really were, I didn’t want to exist anymore. I thought about David again. About how I’d let him down. This was right. My own stupidity had got him killed. My failure to pass their stinking ‘test’. Well fuck it all. Fuck everything. Time to die.

And maybe I would have done. Maybe that would have been the end to my time, to this story. But it was then that I noticed something. Or should I say, I realised for the first time that I didn’t notice something. I opened my eyes and a smile spread across my face.

‘Why are you smiling, Familiar?’

‘She has gone mad. Accepting the truth.’

‘Accepting the end.’

‘The end at our hand! Because we created her—’

‘—And so we will also end her!’

I began to laugh, loud and crazy. Crazy with relief.

‘What is it?’


‘Answer us!’

I was a step ahead for once. I knew something he didn’t.

‘This was really good. You almost had me. But you made a mistake.’

‘Do not talk to your masters like—’

‘Oh, shut up. You’re a lie. Just another trick. You know how I know that?’

The three witches looked at me, dumbfounded. I savoured the looks for several seconds.

‘Tell us!’

I inhaled once, deeply, through the nose, then breathed out. ‘You got the smell wrong. This place always smells the same. It’s my first memory, that smell. Cinnamon, cut grass, and Lavender. The scent of the London Coven. And you overlooked it. Even I almost did.’

It was time for this trick to end.

I pulled the magic towards me and unleashed it in a torrent towards them. Towards the lie. They stood dumbly as my magic swirled around them; great silver, blue and gold arcs of molten fire. Then the screaming began. They wailed and thrashed as the magic penetrated their bodies.

‘Well played, Stella,’ said Mr. Trick, many voices as one. ‘You actually won a round, but I’m afraid the game isn’t over yet.’

I picked up a chair: ‘It soon will be,’ I snarled, and launched the chair at the squirming, screaming pretend witches. It turned them to ash on impact, and carried on through, breaking through the far wall. No, tearing through, it wasn’t brick, it was paper. How had I missed that? The entire room now began to sag and collapse. I ran for the tear I’d created and leapt through as the pretend coven fell.


I was in the street in Ealing again. Mr. Trick’s street. I’d never left; never stumbled back to Hammersmith, back to the London Coven, after unleashing all of the raging magic I’d devoured from the fairies and burning everything around me.

It had just been another trick.

He’d even filled the fake coven with enough magic for me to accept it. Now the illusion had wilted and I’d stepped out of it, I again felt the emptiness of his street. A street impossibly drained of all magic. It gnawed at my stomach like I was starving hungry, but I’d drawn in enough magic from the fake coven to feel some power inside me. To stave off the sweats and the shakes. But it wouldn’t be enough. Not to face this creature. I was walking towards who knows what without the safety of all the fairy magic coursing through me.

Who was I kidding? Even with that power inside of me, I hadn’t stood a chance. There was no difference between then and now. I was still walking naked into a pit full of hungry lions. But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was seeing this through, finally, to the end. To face the thing responsible for all of this and not back down. For the witches of the London Coven.

For David.

I flinched as all of the doors in the houses that lined either side of the street opened, and out stepped the same two people to stand and stare at me as I walked past. The same mother and child as I’d encountered last time, over and over, in front of every house, her arm around his shoulder.

‘He’s waiting for you,’ they said in turn as I passed. I shivered. ‘Mr. Trick has come to town, and all the Uncanny, shall fall and frown.’

I waited for one of them to break ranks, checking over my shoulder every other second, eyes darting from front door to front door, but they didn’t move from their doorway. They just calmly watched as I moved along the centre of the road.

‘It’s okay,’ said that familiar multitude of voices, ‘It’s almost over. You’re almost done.’

‘Get out here.’

‘I’m afraid I won’t let you go easy. Oh, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to wriggle and scream and beg, beg, beg for me to stop. And I will look down at you, your blood on my face and on my teeth as I smile, and I will say “no.”’

His words itched at me. Invaded me. His words were fear and I was breathing them in.

‘You want to see me? Really see me?’

‘Get out here!’

As I walked, I began to notice something strange happening. The street seemed to be devolving. As I moved forward it was like I was actually moving back. Back in time. The houses, the brickwork, neat gardens, cars, were gradually becoming wild grass, trees, forest. It should have been jarring, but somehow it seemed natural, like it flowed seamlessly.

Within a few more steps, the street was gone entirely. I looked back, but all I saw was a dirt road and trees, like the street had never existed at all. I didn’t know what magic this was, even worse, I couldn’t even feel the presence of magic. Like this was sorcery on a whole other plane. The kind a bug like me could never see or feel.

‘Mr. Trick, I know your name, I know what you want, so come on, stop playing games. Stop being a coward. Come out and take my life from me.’

I didn’t look into the tree line; I could sense things in there. Impossible, dark things. Maybe if I saw one of them clearly it would burst onto the dirt track and swallow me whole. Where on Earth was I? Was this place real?

‘This is London, Stella. A small sliver of old London that refused to die. Isn’t it beautiful?’

The voices came from everywhere, it was impossible to get a fix on him. I felt my hands burning hot with power, ready to do what I could to leave a scratch on the monster before he took me out.

‘No people, no cars, no chemicals or magic tainting the air. Free of the stink of the Uncanny. Almost free…’

My heart beat-beat in my chest, like it might burst from my ribcage at any moment and make its escape.

‘Why do you hate the Uncanny so much? You’re part of it, you’re the most powerful Uncanny I’ve ever—’

I was cut off as the unseen beasts of the forest screamed as one, drowning me out. Finally silence fell again.

‘Sounds like I hit a nerve there, Mr. Trick. Tell me, where did the evil warlocks, wizards, and witches touch you?’

A mighty crack to my right. I turned to see a giant oak tree falling in my direction and leapt out of the way, rolling in the dirt, the air punched out of me, as the tree hit down, its branches whacking me, scratching me up worse than the stones beneath me.

I pushed myself back onto my feet and staggered back, looking for any other signs of trees about to fall, but all seemed calm again. He didn’t want to kill me that way. Whatever happened, he wanted me dead by his own two hands.

‘Nice try, Trick, but your aim was a bit off there.’

There was now a large wooden hut in front of me, directly in the centre of the dirt road. Rather than a door, animal skin covered its entrance, gently undulating in the light breeze.

‘Is this it? Is this where you’re hiding?’


He was in there. It was in there. I knew it. My every nerve ending was screaming at me that he was, and that I had to turn and run. I breathed long and slow, then reached out a hand and pushed the heavy skin door aside, ducking as I stepped indoors.

The hut was dark and smelled like dirt.

I blinked several times and my eyes began to adjust to the dark.

There was a hunched figure crouched in the far corner of the room, draped in a thin blanket. It rose and fell rapidly as the figure sucked in short, sharp breaths.

My stomach churned, my senses retreated. Refused to interact with the person, knew I was in the presence of something beyond the dark. Beyond horror. Beyond death.

Mr. Trick was waiting for me.

‘I’m here,’ I said, my voice a croak, my throat dry.

No response.

Hand trembling, I reached out to the figure, took hold of the blanket and whipped it away. The material was damp.

Still the figure didn’t stand, didn’t move.

I reached out again, took hold of the person’s shoulder, tried to turn them-

‘Mr. Trick, I’m here. Here to end—’

—The figure twisted round, thrusting up to his feet, face rushing towards mine, teeth bared, eyes crazy—

I screamed and fell back to the floor, my mind refusing to believe what my eyes were seeing.

He stepped towards me as I pushed myself away across the floor—


He leapt over me, grabbed me by the collar, laughing and pushing his face towards mine.

It was a leering, mad face, with wild eyes and a rictus grin.

And it was a face I recognised.

It was David.


Somehow I wriggled free and half staggered, half fell, past the animal skin door and back out onto the dirt path that lead through the forest of London.

I stood to see the numerous mother and son copies emerging from the surrounding tree line and applauding wildly as David stepped out of the wooden hut; he then bowed and threw out kisses.

‘David, how are you… I don’t—’

This was a lie.

Another lie, that’s all, that’s all, that’s all.

‘Hello, Stella.’

The world tilted.

It couldn’t be true.

That voice.

Two words, two different voices.

‘My name is Mr. Trick, and I’m here to tear your city down.’

The unseen beasts of the forest stamped their feet and the trees shook and the ground trembled.

‘Listen to them, Stella.’

This was just another trick, that’s all. Like the witches, my masters—a lie inside a paper coven. I just had to sniff out the lie again, find the mistake, and then all of this would warp and crumble, and the snake would slither out to be stamped upon.

‘You’re a lie. You’re not Mr. Trick. You’re just another puppet. Another playing piece.’

‘Oh no, I can see why you would think that, but I’m afraid this really is the final act. Even the best of games has to end eventually, and this is where I take my trophy.’

The mothers and the sons clapped and cheered wildly, before being silenced with a gesture from David. From Mr. Trick.

‘I saw you die.’

‘Oh, even eyes can betray. Sad.’

I felt the fire in my hand and threw my arm out, unleashing the magic. It hurtled towards David, who made no attempt to jump out of the way. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, and the ball of furious power stopped. It hung in the air, rippling with energy.

‘And I thought we were friends. To think I let you stay in my home when you were hurt.’

‘That was David, you’re not him.’

He sighed and the ball of magic lurched towards me. I did my best to jump out of the way, but felt it hit my legs, turning and twisting me in the air, making my skin burn. I landed in a painful heap, limbs twisted.

‘With you this whole time. What a nasty trick of me to play,’ said David.


‘Why not? Why should I let my devil dogs eat you up straight away when there was so much more to be had from you. To watch you yell and run and search for clues like a good little Familiar. All the while with me at your side. You can be a brutal thing at times, can’t you?’

Could it really be true? I remembered my confusion when I opened my eyes to find myself in his house. I’d been moments from death as one of Mr. Trick’s devil dogs lunged for me, too flustered to string an incantation together, and then all of a sudden I was somewhere else. A nice, safe house, miles from where I had been, with a stranger looking down at me.

With David looking down at me.

Mr. Trick.

‘I think she’s putting it together. Finding the pieces slot neatly.’

The mothers and sons cheered once, high and sharp.

I realised with certainty that I’d entered another world, a mad world, and the last thing I wanted was to die there. I turned and ran, the people that lined the path laughing and pointing.

‘Where are you going, Stella? The end is the end is the end,’ called David. ‘When Mr. Trick comes to town, all the Uncanny will fall and frown.’

A bend in the path, and David—Mr. Trick—was stood in front of me. I pulled up short and darted into the forest, batting aside tree branches that fought to slow me down. This was a mistake. This whole thing. Trying to face Mr. Trick, and now running off the path. Nothing good came from running into a forest full of monsters.

‘Stella. Stop. It’s over. Now lie down in the dirt like the filthy Uncanny you are and wait for the heel of my boot to grind against your eyes.’

There was no time for a pithy reply—a defiant reply—all there was time for was running and fear. A real, primal fear. Mr. Trick, this place, this past London, it was like it had found the primitive part of my psyche and was jabbing it like hot pokers. In all my decades of life, I couldn’t remember ever feeling such blind fear. The kind of fear I imagined a child might feel as it lay hot under the blanket in bed, trying to ignore the thing inside the wardrobe.

I stopped to catch my breath. Where the hell was I running to? Was there even a way out? Was there a way back to London proper, or was I just sprinting further and further into Mr. Trick’s nightmare world?

A scream.

No, hundreds of screams.

Human, but not right, more animalistic, hungry.

I turned to see all of the mothers and sons, their faces masks of fury, mouths wide, teeth bared, running through the trees towards me.

No time for magic, for spells, I couldn’t even think straight to put the right incantation together.

All I could do was run.

I heard them behind me, desperate to feel me in their hands, under their feet, between their teeth. They wanted to rip me apart, I knew it. I looked over my shoulder, they were falling over each other in their desperation to get to me; to get to me first. The looks in their eyes… I’d never seen anything like it. Anything so… dark.

I yelled as I ran straight into something and bounced back, landing painfully on the forest floor. No time for pain, for stopping. I hopped up into a crouch, dimly aware of the sharp complaint of my ankle and prepared for the first wave of mothers and sons to pile onto me—

—but they were gone.

I couldn’t see them, couldn’t hear them. The only sounds now were those of my own heavy breaths.

I wasn’t going to get out of this. I couldn’t run from him. Couldn’t step out of old London and run back to my coven and lock the door. What happened to my witches was proof enough that no one and nowhere was safe from this thing. Sooner or later he was going to track me down.

I didn’t want to die.

I especially didn’t want to die at this monster’s hands.

This twisted bastard.

But I was out of options and tired of running.

Well, I refused to run another step. Refused to give the beast that satisfaction.

So I sat. I lowered myself to the forest floor and crossed my legs.

All around me, always out of view, I could feel great, ancient creatures moving through the forest. Ancient fears made flesh that lived in this place.

‘They are beautiful,’ said Mr. Trick, stepping out of the shadows and sitting opposite me.

‘Give David back.’

Mr. Trick arched one of David’s eyebrows.

‘I know he isn’t you. I feel it. You’re just a thing, hijacking his body. You’ve crawled inside him and used him.’

‘But he’s so warm and comfortable,’ he replied, smiling. ‘I think I may stay in here for a while, holding onto his spark. His soul. Squeezing it between my hands so it squirms and screams.’

‘You’re trying to make me angry. Make me frightened. I think I’m done with that.’

He nodded and reached forward, taking my hand in his. I tried to pull away, but found I couldn’t. Without a word, he broke my little finger. The snap rang out like a rifle shot. He let my injured hand go and I clung to it, trying not to scream.

‘You don’t make the rules, Familiar. I am the dark. The terror. I am what frightens the Uncanny. I will make you feel any way I wish. And then, well, then I will devour you. Take your spark and store it inside of me, next to all the others. Next to your poor, poor witches. They’re in me now, thrashing around. It tickles.’ He licked his lips.

‘Talk all you want,’ I said through gritted teeth, the pain in my hand sharp.

‘Sticks and stones, hey?’

I didn’t respond. Part of me was screaming to get up and run again, but sod that.

‘If you’re going to kill me, come and have at it. I won’t go easy.’

‘Isn’t she brave?’

The monsters in the forest roared in approval.

‘Well, perhaps I can break you yet, before I swallow you down...’

I shivered despite myself, wondering what he meant. More broken bones? I could take it. Would have to.

‘Here,’ said Mr. Trick, ‘Let me show you something to make you scream…’ He reached out his hands and grasped me by the temples and…


...I could see…

...I was a fragment and…

...Don’t let...

...I was lost, lost, lost, and...

The fog cleared and I was stood in a familiar place. The blind alley that lead to the London Coven.

‘What is this?’ I asked, but my words were silent.

The door to the coven opened and I saw myself step out.

A dark shape rushed past me, towards my other self.

I tried to shout out to warn her, to warn me, but couldn’t.

The shadow became a person of sorts, and it whispered in the other me’s ear. And then I realised when I was.

I saw myself turn to the door of the coven and watched as my hands swept over and over again, forming ancient patterns as I spoke secret words under my breath.


Oh God…

I couldn’t have!

The other me stopped and turned away from the coven, walked down the alley, walked past me and turned out of sight. I looked back to the shadow figure and watched it push the door open and step inside.

It was my fault.

All those protection spells. Layers upon layers of magical protection that nothing could ever get through unscathed, and only four people knew how to take them down. My three witches and me.

I’d let the fox into the hen house.

Mr. Trick had done something to me, whispered some magic in my ear, and I’d unlocked the place for him. Allowed him to step into the most protected place in London and tear my witches into bloody, dead pieces.

‘No!’ My voice rang loud and high, suddenly audible again as I found myself back in the forest, curled up on my side, a child sobbing in the dirt.

Mr. Trick looked down at me, smiling. ‘There’s that pain. That scream. That delicious anguish.’

I wanted to believe it was a deception, but I knew that it wasn’t. Now I’d seen it, it was like a door had been unlocked in my mind. I could remember it happening now. The strange compulsion to remove the protection. The satisfied feeling I’d had as I walked away. The confusion as I stepped out of the blind alley, and the knowledge of what I had done disappearing. I’d turned on the spot, wondering if I’d forgotten to take something with me. I’d almost gone back to the coven to check for the thing I couldn’t remember, but shrugged it off and walked away.

My fault. My fault. My fault.

Just a stupid, weak Familiar. A weak spot that had been taken advantage of.

And now all of London was going to pay. Maybe all of the UK. All of the Uncanny Kingdom.

‘What say you, Stella? A rum do and no mistake. Oh, I let them know you’d shown me the way in before I had my wicked, gruesome way with them. I think they were a little annoyed. Sorry.’

‘You bastard…’

I stood and felt what magic I had surge through me, exploding from my outstretched hands towards Mr. Trick. It was no use. He swatted my best aside and stepped forward, grabbing me by the neck and hurling me against the nearest tree. My back hit hard and I fell to the ground, almost unable to breathe.

‘Would you like to see how I finished them off? The fun I had? Oh, I took my time.’

‘Please, don’t.’

I felt his cold hands grasp my head again and—

—I was in the main room in my coven. My witches, my brave masters, were giving everything they had, but the creature I’d let in was too strong. It brushed each spell aside. It was a mouse playing with its scampering food.

They were bleeding, exhausted, terrified. I had never seen them scared before. It broke my heart.

‘Watch, Familiar. Watch me play.’

‘That’s enough. Please, I don’t want to see…’

I tried to close my eyes, tried to turn my head away as the dark figure rampaged through the coven, tearing flesh, opening wounds at will, but I could feel Mr. Trick’s hands on me, holding my eyes open, keeping my head still.

‘Watch me play, Stella. It’s so, so beautiful.’

The attack was not fast. He blocked any chance of escape and took his time to break them down. To give them hope that they could turn the tables, then smack them down again. Near the end, the witches of London struggled to meet each other. Dragged their shattered bodies across the floor, leaving trails of dark blood behind them. I could see it in their eyes now, the certainty that this was it. They’d done what they could and it was all about to be over. I felt the tears rushing from my eyes, soaking my cheeks.

‘Aw, it’s almost over. Still, we can watch it again, and again, and again…’

‘Please. Please don’t show me...’

I wanted to die. For him just to kill me at last and have it all be over.

But then—


Then I saw something. Something wonderful.

As the dark shape approached them, my witches held hands and did not fight, did not run. Instead I saw their lips move as one, saying the same words. Words I recognised. Casting a spell only my witches could have created, and only when working together as one.

I began to laugh.


I was hysterical now, great gales of laughter that hurt my stomach.

‘Stop it!’ said Mr. Trick.

The coven whipped away like a cloth being yanked from a table and I was back in the forest. Mr. Trick had rocked back on his heels, confused.

‘Is this madness? Have I broken you so easily?’

‘I’m sorry, it’s just, you’re making a habit of this.’

‘Of what?’ He studied my face, my smile. ‘Making a habit of what!’

‘Well, first you let me live when you really should have taken care of me right away. You don’t let a loose end run around. Then there was the lack of smell in the pretend coven earlier. Not a details person, are you Mr. Trick? A little too arrogant for that. Too sure of yourself. But this one? This one is a big boo-boo.’

‘What? Tell me!’ His voice roared out, the trees shaking, my hair blowing back, but I didn’t shield myself from it. I walked forward, walked towards Mr. Trick. Now I saw fear in his eyes.

‘Don’t you see? They left the door open for me to walk in.’

‘Your witches? They are dead. Dead! I killed them, tore them apart, left them as nothing more than meat rags on the floor! I swallowed them down, ate their spark! I did that! Me, me, me!’

‘Yes, but not before they left me a gift; and thank you for letting me see it, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have noticed.’

Mr. Trick blinked slowly.

‘What did they do? Tell me what they did.’

I smiled.

‘It’s something my masters created, called the Achilles Curse.’

His lips twitched.

‘No. No, no, no... that’s not.... not possible.’

‘A weak spot. A chink in your armour. Know where it is and even a two-year-old sorcerer could take you down.’

Mr. Trick backed away. ‘Where is it? Where?’

‘Now, those who cast the spell can’t take advantage of it. Magic has rules, it can be a right bitch like that. But me? I can use it. They left it for me. One last job to take care of for them.’

Mr. Trick screamed and raised his hands, ready to throw everything he had at me.

‘Hush,’ I said. He froze, unable to cast the spell that would surely have killed me.

I slowly walked towards him, savouring his terror.

‘Now it’s you that can feel fear. That can know what it’s like to beg for your life. I feel you struggling against me, but it’s no good. There’s no point. I know where your weak spot is, and I’m focussing my magic on it. You can’t stop me.’

‘You think you can put an end to me? You think I can just be—’

‘Oh, please shut up. I’m going to kill you now. For my witches, and for David. Goodbye and fuck you.’

I placed the right words together and a flaming sword appeared in my hand—


‘Oh, fucking, yes—’

I thrust the sword into Mr. Trick’s chest and he screamed, his mouth growing ever larger until I thought his head was going to split in two. Magic erupted from him in great flaming torrents, forcing me to stagger back.

He shook violently, like he was having a fit, and shapes began to burst from him, tearing his flesh open to escape and circle around us. They were the sparks he’d taken, the souls he’d eaten. It was clear he’d feasted often and for many years, and I knew my witches must be up there among them somewhere.

‘I did it,’ I said. I hoped they could hear me.

Mr. Trick’s body fell to the ground and something dark and wet began to crawl out of him. Began to crawl out of David. This was Mr. Trick’s true form. His true body. Dragging itself out of David’s corpse.

It looked drained and withered, foul black goo dripped from it. I wondered what it had been, how it had become such a horrific creature. It looked up to me, its face smooth and featureless apart from two giant, yellow eyes that met mine, imploring.

‘Beg all you want,’ I said, ‘You won’t find mercy here.’ I reached out my hands, fire shooting from my palms, reducing the thing to ash.

Mr. Trick was dead and gone.

I’d done it.

I’d started this whole episode seeing impossible things, and now I’d done something impossible myself. I’d destroyed the most powerful creature I’d ever met.


I whirled round to where David’s body lay. He wasn’t dead! Not quite, but he would be. I ran to him and cradled him in my arms, fussing at the open wounds that covered him, the giant gaping hole that Mr. Trick had crawled out of.

‘David. Oh God, David, you’re going... you’re going to be…’ I couldn’t finish the sentence, because he wasn’t going to be okay. His wounds were too severe, he was seconds from death. I thought he’d died once, but this time he really would. This time he was really going to die…


I looked up at the sparks still swirling around in a confusion of magic. It was forbidden, I knew that. It was the dark arts, black magic. It was especially bad for a thing such as me to use it, and maybe it wouldn’t work anyway. But...

I stood and lifted my hands to the sky, head thrown back, looking up at all of the sparks rushing around like a tornado. All of those Uncanny souls.

Was there enough? So much magic in one place, for this moment only, but would it be enough? Would I be enough? Would I be able to harness it and channel it correctly, or would it burn me up and leave me a husk on the ground?

‘Sod it,’ I said. ‘Let’s do this...’

The forms shaped in my head. The forbidden forms. I felt the energy in the forest change. I was a lightning rod, a thing of pure focus. I tensed, tried to ready myself, but as the first spark rushed into me I heard myself begin to scream. All the Uncanny sparks, the souls, entered me one after one; I could feel my bones burning, my flesh twisting; they were tearing me apart.


You will… do what I want… I… I control you… I demand it... I... demand...

I felt the dark energy I was tapping into, and it terrified me. Whether it worked or not, there would be a price. A Familiar like me can’t play with this side of magic, not without paying a toll further down the line. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. All that mattered was winning; was pulling one life back from Mr. Trick.

Throat raw from screaming, I lowered my arms and looked at David on the ground before me. I knelt beside him, my body on fire, and I gathered him into my arms, his head lolling back.

‘...Stella...I think...I think I’m going to...’

‘Shh now, David. Everything is going to be okay.’

I leaned down and placed my lips upon his and I blew into him. The power, the sparks, the dark magic, rushed from inside me and into him. He jolted from my arms and hung in the air in a brilliant ball of light, the trees around us catching flame, David screaming at the centre. The whole world was screams and fire and blinding light and it was too much, too much, too much—

And then, it was over.

He fell with a thump to the ground, the sparks gone, the dark magic gone, and all was silent. I slumped back, every part of me in agony, trying to catch my breath. I was alive. I’d managed to harness all that magic, tap into the dark plane, and somehow I’d survived.

But what about...?


I rolled over and crawled towards David, my head coming to rest on his stomach.


‘That really, really hurt.’

I smiled, ‘You’re welcome.’


A month later, back at the London Coven. Back at my home. My body had just about recovered from everything, though I still walked with a bit of a limp. I’d stopped coughing up blood in the mornings, too, so that was good.

For a while, it felt strange to come back to this place. To decide I was going to live there still. But it was my home. I wouldn’t let Mr. Trick win by forcing me out. This was my place. This was where I belonged.

‘Hey,’ said David as I entered the kitchen. He put a mug of coffee down before me. He’d recovered much quicker than I had. All the dark magic that had saved his life had fixed him up pretty well. I wrapped my hands around the mug and not for the first time wondered what the price would be for my harnessing such black magic. There was always a price. I looked up at David and knew I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

‘Hey, have I thanked you yet for saving my life?’

‘Only about ten times a day for the last month.’

He patted my shoulder and sat opposite me. He’d described what had happened like a sort of dream. He was aware at times that something was inside him, willing him to act in certain ways, but he hadn’t been able to do anything about it. At other times, he hadn’t known anything was wrong at all. Mr. Trick had only used him for brief bits of time, until he’d staged his disappearance. From then on, until Mr. Trick had crawled out of him, he’d been completely cut off and unaware of anything. Like he was in a deep, dreamless sleep.

‘So today’s the day?’

‘Today’s the day,’ I said, nodding.

‘You’re sure? I saw you pretending not to limp as you walked in here.’

‘London has been without its witches for too long. Without the protection and order of this coven. Well, I might only be a little Familiar, but I’m of here and of them, and until someone better comes along, I’m going to carry on doing what I was created for. Keeping the Uncanny of London in line.’

‘With me by your side, right? Remember, this is my city too. Now I know all of the spooky stuff that goes on, it’s my duty to make sure people are safe.’

I smiled and nodded. Truth be told, I could do with the help, and he knew things that I didn’t. People, places, ways to go about investigations. What to look for and how to fit clues together. I needed him. Not that I’d say that to him, he had a big enough head as it was.

‘Stella Familiar and Detective David Tyler,’ he said, ‘taking on anyone who tries to upset our city. This is going to be fun. Me and you, a crime-fighting duo. Ooh, like Batman & Robin! Bagsy I’m Batman.’ He whistled and began cracking eggs into a pan.

There was another reason I wanted David close by. Well, another two reasons. He’d been the home of the most powerful creature I’d ever come across. Was Mr. Trick gone for good? Would David now become a weak link, the creature’s way to crawl back into this plane? There was no way of knowing. And then there was the fact I’d used black magic on him. Who knew what the long-term effect of that might be. No, I wanted to keep my eye on him. To protect him. Maybe protect others from him.

‘It’s not going to be an easy ride,’ I said. ‘The Uncanny world is a dangerous one, as I’m sure you’re already very aware.’

‘Hey, danger is my middle name.’

‘I can’t believe you just said that with a straight face.’

‘I am pretty much shameless,’ he replied with a grin.

‘Oh, and David?’


‘You’re definitely Robin.’

The witches of the London Coven might be dead.

And I might not be a fifth of the Uncanny they were.

But it didn’t matter. I’d walked into Mr. Trick’s world and taken him out, and I’d do whatever it took to see off anything looking to take his place.

That was my job.

My whole reason for existing.

My name is Stella Familiar.

Created by the witches of the London Coven.

And this city will be protected.

The End.

Nightmare Realm


Blood sprayed across my face, but the creature kept moving.

‘Run all you like, you’re not getting out of here alive!’

A panting noise at my side let me know that David had caught up to me. He looked at my clenched fists spitting arcs of magical energy from my knuckles, saw the gore covering my face.

‘Here,’ he said. ‘Have a wet wipe.’

‘Maybe later,’ I replied.

‘It’s lemon scented...’

In the short time I’d known Detective David Tyler I’d become used to his sense of humour and the way he used it most during bad situations.

This was a bad situation.

We were chasing down a monster that ate and replaced family dogs. If that doesn’t sound so bad, just wait until you hear the rest.

This creature—despite looking like an eight-foot-tall skinned orangutan when not disguised—sits in your home being fed and petted like loyal old Rover, panting and wagging its tail, and then, once it’s nice and settled, it gets to work. The creature, known to the Uncanny as a ‘best fiend,’ for hopefully obvious reasons, secretes a noxious gas. The gas is invisible, has no scent or smell, but has a very particular effect on those within your household.

It gets them pissed off.

Your family begin to turn on each other. Old grievances sting anew. New grievances are given fire. Even made-up resentments will arise; anything to stoke the toxic feelings and make your formerly happy family scream and shout at one another.

And then worse. Much, much worse.

Someone, at some point, will be pushed over the edge. Maybe it will be your father, it often is. It might even be your youngest daughter, braces still on her teeth. The best fiend will sit, quivering, in the corner of the room, pumping out more and more of its gas, until finally one family member creeps up on another, kitchen knife in hand. A rolling pin. A pillow to force over a sleeping face. A match and something flammable.

The family will be found—what’s left of them—and their neighbours would be shocked and tell the papers that they seemed so happy. So content. Such a nice household.

No one will pay any mind to the family pet sat on the pavement, watching as the police arrive, the fire brigade, the TV news. Not even when it wag-wag-wags its tail and takes off down the street.

So, why does the best fiend do all of this? Apart from being a complete bastard of a monster? There are a few theories on that, the most popular being that it somehow feeds on unrest. On anger, and pain, and fury. It sits on the edge of things, a raw pink nightmare, soaking up every shout, every narrowed eye, every dark thought that bubbles and brews in its presence. Drinks it all in until the family are dead and its belly is full, and then off it goes to sleep it off for a few years, before waking up and seeking a new family to destroy.

Well not this time.

This time I’d received a tip-off about one of the best fiend’s hibernating spots, and had arrived just as it woke and twitched its way out of the sewers.

I thought it would be an easy job. Thought the creature would be dazed after its years of sleeping, its belly grumbling and defences down. Using the Amulet of Kanta—created to cleanse a house of such a creature—I would focus a spell onto it, and hey presto, end of problem.

But no one warned me just how tough and vicious these things were.

So, yeah, it hadn’t quite gone to plan, hence David and I running through the streets at night, me slinging spells at the fleeing thing as he puffed and panted by my side.

‘Do you see it?’ I asked.

‘Three o’clock,’ he replied.

I turned, ‘I don’t see it!’

‘Other three o’clock, uh, nine o’clock,’ he yelled, pointing in the other direction. ‘Sorry, I’m more of a digital watch man.’

We ran.

I don’t mind admitting I had a huge grin on my face as I readied for the attack, heart beating, body coursing with magic as I soaked in the area’s natural reserves. This was what I did. What I was created for. To hunt monsters and keep the normals of London safe from the worst the Uncanny world had to offer.

‘Over there!’ yelled David.

I followed his hand to see the best fiend pressed against a wall, desperately looking for a way out.

‘It’s run into a dead end,’ said David. ‘Not the brightest bulb, is it?’

I thought otherwise. This thing had—at a conservative estimate—six-hundred deaths to its name, spanning more than nine centuries. Whatever it was, it wasn’t stupid.

I held out my hand as we approached the best fiend and David tossed me the amulet. The metal was cold but fizzed with energy, needling my skin like static.

Best fiends were catalogued centuries back by a warlock who had taken it upon himself to rid England of the vile creatures. Unfortunately, the monsters could withstand a great deal of magic, which allowed them to escape even the most accomplished magicians. It would sometimes take six or seven concentrated assaults to see the things off, so the warlock went to his workshop and created the Amulet of Kanta: a tool fashioned from the remains of one of the creatures and designed specifically to combat the best fiend problem. Instead of focussing his magic on the creature itself, the magician would focus their spell into the amulet, which would redirect the spell towards the monster in a concentrated form, ending it once and for all. Don’t ask me how it works exactly, or why it only works on best fiends. All I know is that, according to the warlock’s instructions, it does the job.

David and I stood a few metres from the monster, its black eyes flicking every which way, desperate to find a way out. Except there was only one way out this time, and it wasn’t going to like it.

I held out the amulet and concentrated. The surrounding magic flowed towards me as I placed the correct word form together and fed the result into the amulet.

It began to glow.

Dimly at first, then brighter, and brighter still, until it hurt to even look at the thing, though it remained cold in my hand.

I think the best fiend screamed. I hope it did. Hope it recognised the tool in my hand, burning fiercely, and knew what was about to happen.

‘Goodbye,’ I said, and the amulet unleashed the intensified power.

It surged in red and blue molten lines of furious energy that smashed into the creature, pinning it to the brick wall, then coiling round and round, over and over, in ever-tightening circles.

And then the best fiend exploded.

I hurled myself to the side as blood and chunks of bone and flesh shot in my direction, landing with a jarring thump.

I stood, smiling and wiping the gore from my face, sliding the empty amulet into the pocket of my leather jacket.

‘Eat shit, monster.’


I looked down to see David looking up at me, dazed and laid flat.

‘What happened?’

‘When the monster exploded a chunk of it hit you and knocked you out.’

‘Oh. Which bit?’

‘A big wedge of torso I think. Mostly stomach.’

David nodded.

‘Okay. Well, it’s probably about time to get drunk then, right?’

I smiled. ‘Oh yes.’


‘Fill these up if you would, Lenny,’ said David, sliding the two empty pint glasses across the bar.

‘Don’t I get a “please,” Detective?’ asked the giant barman and owner of The Beehive, the most popular Uncanny drinking hole in London.

‘I’ll put a little sugar on top if you throw in a bag of cheese and onion.’

Lenny grunted and went about his business.

My name is Stella Familiar and I belong to the London Coven. Once upon a time it was home to Kala, Trin, and Feal, the three most powerful witches in the country. Together we were, for want of a better term, the “police force” of the Uncanny in London. I was their familiar. The blunt tool they created to deliver warnings and—more often than not—beat the hell out of monsters. We were winning the battle until the most powerful creature I’ve ever come across, Mr. Trick, murdered them and left their bodies in bloody pieces.

‘To another monstrous turd, successfully dispatched,’ said David, raising his pint glass.

I reciprocated, then glugged a third of my drink in one go.

‘Whoa, slow it down, booze hound.’

I answered with a burp.

‘How are you still single?’ asked David, rolling his eyes and digging into his bag of crisps.

It had been three months since I’d taken out Mr. Trick. Three months since I’d discovered the creature was hiding inside David. Getting rid of it had almost killed him; I’d had to tap into the dark realm to save his life. That was a big no-no. A witch’s familiar using black magic? There’d be a price to pay for that, that was for sure. But right then I had other things on my mind. Since my coven had been destroyed I bore the responsibility of protecting all of London on my shoulders. The rightful protectors of the city were dead, and now here I was—their simple, blunt instrument—trying to fill their shoes. Was I up to the job? I wasn’t a tenth of the Uncanny they were. I was just a creation, something they’d conjured into life sixty years ago to do their bidding. Was I even really a person? I had no parents, no birth certificate. One day I hadn’t existed, and then the next I just had, exactly the same as I looked in the mirror today. No growth, no childhood, no ageing, Always this. Always the same.

Then there was David.

The effects of my black magic aside, there was also the matter of him having unwillingly hosted the most powerful Uncanny I’d ever met. I’d dealt with Mr. Trick. Killed him. At least I hoped I had. That’s the thing with magic, with the Uncanny – nothing can ever be “for sure.” Maybe David would turn out to be a weak link. A toehold for Mr. Trick to cling onto and pull himself back into the world. Back into existence. There was no way of knowing for certain.

So many questions and dark thoughts fighting for space inside my mind. I’d never had to cope with such worry and responsibility before. Not like this. The only way I could keep my thoughts from going to dark places was chasing monsters and drinking beer.

‘Penny for them,’ said David, pouring the remaining crumbs from his crisp packet into his mouth.

‘I was just wondering at what point tequila slammers might make an appearance.’

David was just about to answer when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck dance as the air behind me turned cold.

‘Stella Familiar,’ said a voice I didn’t recognise. ‘We meet at last.’

I swivelled on my bar stool to see a man in a black suit and tie. He had a face with a natural resting point set to a smirk.

‘You know,’ he went on, ‘when my friend told me to seek out a familiar, I imagined a cackling imp sat on a witch’s shoulder. But you? Well, you’re much easier on the eye.’

‘And who would you be?’ I asked, polishing off my pint.

‘Aw. Thought you might have heard of me. I’m Jake Fletcher, the ex-exorcist.’

‘Ex-exorcist?’ asked David.

‘Very ex.’

‘You can see him?’ I asked, surprised.

‘Of course I can, I’m drunk, not blind drunk.’

‘Yeah pal, I think the reason Stella here is surprised is that you’re a normal, right?’


‘Right,’ said Jake. ‘So how in the name of sweet Bruce Dickinson are you able to see a ghost?’


‘David,’ I said. ‘Maybe have another go at blinking.’

He looked at me, then back at Jake, and finally blinked, shaking his head.

‘So, when you say a ‘ghost’, what you actually mean is…?’

‘A ghost,’ replied Jake, ‘As in dead as a dodo, pushing up the daisies. I am an ex-man, and not the fruity superhero kind.’

‘Right. So there’s ghosts as well as monsters and witches and all the rest of it?’

‘Afraid so,’ I replied, then waved Lenny over to refill our pint pots. ‘One for you?’ I asked Jake, then remembered the whole ghost thing.

‘I’d kill my own gran for a pint, but I’m not in my meat suit. Booze would pass right through me in this state, and I wouldn’t want to make a mess of this disgusting, sticky floor.’

‘Meat suit?’ asked David, sipping from his fresh pint, his eyes scanning Jake up and down. ‘Also, can you walk through walls?’

‘I can, yeah. And by “meat suit,” I mean the guy whose body I possess when I need to chat with you normals.’

‘You possess someone?’ I asked. ‘That sounds like the sort of thing the coven would frown upon.’

‘Not if they knew the prick I possessed, they wouldn’t. Bloke used to bully me something rotten growing up. One time he handcuffed me to a radiator and stood back laughing while it turned red hot and cooked me.’

He rolled up his sleeve and showed me a scar on his wrist.

‘Jesus,’ said David. ‘Sounds like a prize cock.’

‘Still is, but now he helps me do my job, whether he likes it or not.’

‘And what job is that?’ I asked.

‘Solving murders and showing dead people the way to the hereafter. So yeah, forgive me if I bend a little rule here or there.’

I stared at him hard, then shrugged, ‘What do I care?’ I lifted my fresh pint and blew on the head, making the foam splatter through Jake’s phantom form.

‘Very mature,’ he sighed.

‘Okay, I need pee-pee,’ said David, getting up from his bar stool and weaving towards the Gents.

I turned back to Jake, ‘Well? I take it there’s a reason you came looking for me.’

‘Something’s happening, Stella. Something not good.’

‘Could you be a bit more vague about it, please?’

Jake snorted, ‘Funny. Listen, I just had to deal with a demon running wild around Camden. Not one of your higher plane demons—this was a low-level turd of a thing by comparison—but it waltzed into my manor like it owned the place. As though the barrier between here and there was tissue paper.’

I shrugged, ‘Things slip through sometimes. It happens.’ I lifted my glass of tequila and dropped it into my pint glass, watching it sink to the bottom as the two liquids began to mix.

‘Look, Stella, I’m not an amateur. Something’s happening. Something bad. I can feel it in my bones.’

‘You don’t have any bones.’

‘True, I feel it in my... whatever it is I’m made of.’

‘With all due respect—’

‘—None taken—’

‘—You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’ve been chasing monsters for sixty years. I clean up messes the likes of you would have no idea about. If anything was going on, I’d be the first to know.’

I took a sip of my new concoction and winced. It was good.

‘Are you going to hear me out or just get bladdered?’

I smiled and took another swig.

‘Something is happening in this city, Stella. It’s like the stitches that hold everything together are starting to fray.’

‘Oh relax, will you? You’re dead, put your feet up for an age or two, you’ve earned it.’

‘Stella, this is serious—’

‘No. It’s not. I’m Stella Familiar of the London Coven. Dealing with evil is just a Tuesday for me. If anything comes my way—anything at all that threatens this city—I’ll take care of it just fine. So, thanks for the tip, Jake, but you’re interrupting happy hour.’

I took another mouthful of my tequila beer and smiled as I felt the bar begin to sway.

‘I’ve gotta say, I’m disappointed.’ said Jake.

‘I’m devastated. Don’t let the door pass through you on your way out.’

‘I heard you were a big deal. London’s great protector. But here I am, and all I see is a stuck-up drunk.’ He shook his head. ‘See you around, Stella.’

‘Hey—’ I turned, but he’d already gone. Disappeared in the time it takes to blink. I snorted, then giggled, then wondered what I was laughing about, then giggled some more, enjoying the warm glow of booze spreading through my body.

‘Ah,’ said David, settling back on his stool, ‘That may have been a contender for the world’s longest piss. Hey, where’d Casper the Smirking Ghost get to?’

I dropped David’s tequila glass into his pint pot. ‘Less talk, more drink.’


The night air was cold as we staggered back to the coven. I pulled my leather jacket tight and leaned my head back, eyes closed, enjoying the sensation of the breeze buffeting against me.

‘Whoa there,’ said David, yanking me out of the way of a lamp post I was about to collide with. He corrected my stagger and steered me on in a straight line. ‘So, any idea how I can suddenly see ghosts?’ he asked.

‘Well, the thing is, ooh, look at that moon. Look how big it is! Big moon! Big-ishly big moon!’

I was off my face and had already coated one alleyway with the contents of my stomach before insisting we head to the nearest burger van for a refill. I may have been alive for sixty years, and The Beehive was the place I’d been inside more than any other building, my coven aside, but I wasn’t what you’d call a drinker. At least not until a few months ago. Until Mr. Trick happened.

There was a clicking noise and my swimming eyes focussed on David’s snapping fingers.

‘Here we go. Focus, Stella.’

‘I’m not drunk!’ I said, loud enough to turn the heads of some people at the far end of the street.

‘Of course not, and neither am I. So, ghosts? How come I can see them?’

‘Prolly… probably something to do with, you know, the bastard. Being inside you.’

‘Mr. Trick?’

‘That’s the tosser. Such a tosser. Evil bastard tosser.’

I felt my eyelids begin to droop and shook it off.

‘It’s cool though, right?’ asked David. ‘It seems cool, being able to see ghosts.’

‘Second shite. Sight. The Second Sight. Spooky vision eyes, woooooh!’ I waggled my fingers in front of David’s face until he swatted them away and I almost toppled backwards over a bag of rubbish.

‘I wonder what else I can do. Maybe I can do magic! Or X-Ray vision. Or the ability to never have another hangover! Christ, I hope it’s that last one.’

I laughed and turned to him, throwing my arms around his neck and hanging off him, looking up into his eyes. They were nice eyes. Had I noticed that before?

‘You know, I like you. Being around. Around me. In front of me. And stuff.’

‘Well I like you too. Even if you have made me realise the world is a terrifying place and full of things that want to kill me.’

‘You’re welcome,’ I told him.

‘You never said.’

‘Never said what?’

‘Jake, the ghost, was there any reason he came looking for you?’

‘Pfft, just, you know, ghost worries. Ghost things. Thought he knew more than me about what was going on. Bit big-headed.’

As I hung from David’s neck he bent closer and closer until I could feel his breath against my mouth. Our eyes locked and I felt my stomach begin to do a strangle-swirl thing, and wondered if I was going to throw up again.

David pulled me up and I let go of him, staggering back a step.

‘Okay, here we are,’ said David, and I turned to see the blind alley opening up before me. It lead to the coven, my home. The London Coven, like The Beehive, sits at the end of a blind alley, so-called because, generally, only Uncanny people can see them. The rest of London, the normals, they walk past and never see them. Never see the vast array of hidden streets that thread through their world.

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘Bed is calling.’

I looked back to David, unsure what it was I was hoping he might say. He looked at me, smiled, then nodded.

‘Yup, better, you know… better head off home. I’ve got a shift tomorrow and something tells me I’m going to feel like death.’

He turned and headed off down the street. I watched him walk away until he turned out of sight, vaguely disappointed in some way I couldn’t quite pin down.

I shrugged and stumbled up the blind alley.


I rarely have good dreams these days, and that night was no different. My witches were there of course, Kala, Trin and Feal. I would talk to them and pretend it wasn’t just a dream for a while, then Mr. Trick would appear, and nothing good would happen after that.

‘They screamed, Stella. Screamed.’

I woke up gripping the bedsheets, the room tilting as my hangover made itself known.

‘Oh shit….’

I lurched onto my side and heard the splatter hit home in the bucket I’d placed there the night previous. I’d done this enough times over the last few months to know I’d need it, even when I got home blind drunk past midnight.

I flopped back and stared at the ceiling as an image of last night’s events flashed through my mind. I had my arms around David, looking up into his eyes. His breath against mine, moving closer and—

Oh Christ, no. No, no, no.

I stood up and paced the room, feeling something I hadn’t experienced in my entire sixty years of life. I was mortified.

Had I really made a pass at David? No. No, he wouldn’t think that. Nothing had even happened, not really, I was just a drunk woman hanging off his neck, that’s all. So what if our eyes had locked for longer than normal and our lips had been seconds away from touching. Drunk people do stupid things, and he probably, hopefully, didn’t notice anything anyway.

I left my room and headed to the kitchen, pouring myself a tall glass of cold water, downing it, then doing the same twice more.

I’m a familiar, I’m not created to have romantic relationships, or even have romantic thoughts, let alone sexual ones. I don’t have time for that kind of thing. Making sure people don’t get their heads bitten off by monsters takes up a lot of your time. A partner? Love, marriage, kids? That stuff just wasn’t on the cards for me.

Even if I tried to ignore all of that and “date” someone, there was the unavoidable fact that I didn’t age. I’ve lived sixty years and looked the same for all of them. Other people grow old and die, but not me. I’ll die alone and look just the same as the day I was born.

I stood and cursed at myself, pushing the thoughts aside. It was stupid, it was impossible, it wasn’t right. Just a silly drunken moment that wouldn’t be repeated.

I turned my mind to Jake instead; the ghost. I’d fobbed him off in The Beehive, ignored his warning, but it was clear he was genuinely worried about something, even if I’d been too drunk to pay him attention at the time.

Before Mr. Trick, if someone had appeared with a warning like that, I would have taken in everything he had to say and reported it back to my witches. But the witches were dead and gone, so there was no one left to report back to. There was only me, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Not really. I was making it up as I went along. Waking up every morning to a cold, empty coven and running out the door, looking for danger to punch in the face. Anything to keep me busy; to stop the fear getting on top of me and prove to myself and all of the Uncanny that I had what it took to replace my masters. To show that I was good enough. That London would be safe in my hands. That I wasn’t just some abandoned tool, collecting dust after the craftsmen left the workshop.

A fellow Uncanny had come to me looking to me for help, with a warning, and I’d brushed him aside like he wasn’t worth my time. But what was I supposed to do with Jake’s information anyway? Something is happening. Something. That’s what he’d said, but what use is that? Being told something might be happening is about as much use as not being told at all. There were no specifics there to look into. No leads to follow.

I wished my masters were with me still. They’d know what to do. They’d know what I should be doing next. No need for thinking on my part, just a job given. A task to execute. A wall to run through.

Christ, life had been simple in those days.

My phone began to vibrate on the kitchen table, snapping me out of my dreary thoughts. I looked over to see David’s name. I pulled away from it like it might nip me, then shook my head. I was being stupid. It was just the booze, that’s all. Nothing had happened between me and David. Nothing could happen.

I grabbed the phone and hit answer.

‘What is it?’

‘And a good morning to you, Stella. How’s the head this morning?’

‘Fine,’ I replied, ignoring the ice pick lodged in one of my frontal lobes.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘Because I’ve got something that’s going to be right up your alley.’

Given where my mind had been, I only hoped he was talking about a new case.


I strode into Ealing Hospital, the automatic doors sighing behind me as they closed, cutting dead the wind from outside.

‘Six kids?’

‘Yup, six kids; they all slipped into comas for no good reason on the same night. Sounds like our kind of thing, right?’

I went over our phone conversation again, trying to come up with a working theory as to what might have happened. A curse? Some sort of sleeping spell? Maybe it was just a coincidence. Yeah, six kids slip into a coma on the same night, totally could be a coincidence. Nice one, Stella.

I strode to the front desk where David was stood. He turned from a uniformed officer he was talking to and smiled, waving. I realised I was smiling back, but managed to stop myself from returning the wave.

‘Pretty weird stuff, am I right?’

I grunted and nodded.

‘Christ, you sound how I feel. Come on, I’ll take you upstairs for a nose. They’ve put them all in the same room.’

As the lift hummed to a stop and the doors slid open I felt the muscles in my neck tense. David stepped into the corridor and out of view, then leaned back with a quizzical look on his face.

‘You coming or just gonna hang out in the lift? I mean, it’s a nice lift, as far as lifts go, but come on, chop-chop.’

He ducked back out of view and I followed, turning sideways to slip through the closing lift doors.

Something was wrong with the magic in the air.

Magic is everywhere. It’s not something that we Uncanny just call upon, or have burning inside of us; the entire planet, every street, every rock, every car, naturally emits a sort of background magic. I and others like me can see it, washing around us in great, colourful waves. We draw upon it, feed upon it. Cast spells using the power we pull into ourselves. And now, as I walked through the wash of this floor’s magic, I could sense something was… off.

I didn’t know what it was, but it put me on edge. A taste in the air that I couldn’t place, but knew shouldn’t be there.

‘What is it?’ asked David, looking back at me, his hand on the door to one of the rooms.

‘Not sure. Maybe nothing. Maybe something.’

‘Maybe something bad?’

I nodded. ‘Let’s take a look at these kids.’

I followed David into the room.

Inside were six beds, each filled with a child, flat on their backs, eyes closed, machines by their sides beep-beep-beeping along to the rhythm of their heartbeats.

‘Bit creepy, right?’ said David.

‘Just a bit.’

It was worse in here, that sense of something being wrong. It was apparent right away that something Uncanny had happened to these kids.

‘They all look the same age,’ I said.

‘That’s because they are. All twelve years old, and all from a local school.’

‘The same school?’

‘Not just the same school, the same year and the same class. Miss. Henshaw’s, to be specific.’

‘So, six kids, all from the same class, all went to bed last night like nothing was wrong.’

‘Uh-huh, and none of them woke up again. Well, not yet.’

I moved to the nearest bed and looked down at the face of the child laid within it. She was still, face calm, red hair splashed across the pillow. You could barely tell she was breathing. If it wasn’t for the beep of the heart monitor, you’d think she’d already slipped away.

But there was something else to see.

To almost see.

I went from one bed to the next, from one slumbering child to the next.

‘What is it? What’re you seeing, Stella?’

‘I’m not sure.’

I squinted and turned my head to try catching something in the corner of my eye. Tried reaching out with my senses to see if they’d pick up anything being purposefully hidden from me.

‘There’s something… wrong with them,’ I said.

‘Well, yeah, I put that together myself, Columbo.’

‘No, I mean… I’m not sure. It’s like I can almost see something. A dark fuzz; a slight shadow sitting above each of them. Only I can’t actually see it. Like, I almost see it in the corner of my eye, but I don’t. It’s more that I sense it. Taste it in the magic surrounding each bed.’

‘Okay, well, what d’you think that means?’

‘It means that something dark has taken these children, and if we don’t find out what, none of them will ever open their eyes again.’


The first child, the one with the red hair, was called Lucy. She lived in a nice three bedroom house on Clitherow Avenue, a two minute walk from the nearest tube station.

Her mother let us in, David smiling a comforting smile and showing her his badge.

‘I’ve just stopped back to have a shower,’ she explained, apologetically, as though we might judge her for not being at the hospital. Was that suspicious? Shouldn’t she be there, at the hospital, sat in the waiting room with the rest of the terrified parents?

‘That’s okay, Miss Callow,’ said David. ‘We just wondered if we could take a look at Lucy’s room.’

She nodded, hands worrying the cloth of her shirt, then led us upstairs. Lucy’s bedroom door was decorated with a sticker that pictured her name written in flower petals. Miss Callow’s hand dithered on the handle.

‘It’s okay,’ said David, his voice soothing. He was used to situations like this. ‘We can take it from here, Miss Callow. You leave us to it and go take that shower.’

Her mouth twitched momentarily into a smile. ‘She always got up early. That’s why I… I shouted up. Then knocked on the door. Then stood over her, nudged her, then shook and shouted. She just wouldn’t wake up. I thought she was… at first, you know? Thought she must be, because why wouldn’t you wake up if someone was stood right over you? Shaking and shouting at you? Why won’t she wake up, detective? Why won’t my Lucy wake up?’

Tears were pouring down her cheeks, but as David went to comfort her she turned away and headed off down the corridor towards the bathroom.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Let’s take a look.’

He opened the door to Lucy’s room and stepped inside. I lingered and looked down the hallway to where Miss Callow had disappeared. I heard the shower start to blast, loud enough to almost cover her sobs. That deep-down love that a parent has for a child, was that what my witches had for me? Had they thought of me like that, or was I nothing more than a device to them? Something they fashioned from dirt, spit, and magic to make their job easier?

‘Oi,’ said David, popping his head back out of the bedroom, ‘You coming in, or what?’

I stepped into Lucy’s room, leaving her mother’s tortured tears behind.

The room was beyond neat; even the items on the dresser were placed just so. Posters of grinning young men covered the walls.

‘Which one’s your favourite, then?’ said David pointing to a poster featuring four non-threatening males, none of which looked as though their face had known the feel of a razor.

‘What are they?’

‘What are they?’ he parroted, rolling his eyes. ‘You know, sometimes you really do sound like a sixty-year-old.’

‘That is my age.’

‘Well, yeah, but… look, never mind.’

Lucy’s room had a heavy scent to it. A mixture of clashing smells. Chemical, flowery smells from a variety of sprays and creams and fat, multi-coloured candles.

‘Lucy’s mother,’ I said. ‘Do you think there’s anything in that?’

‘What?’ asked David. ‘You think she might be some sort of evil witch? Or a monster pretending to be Lucy’s Mum?’

‘Well, no, I don’t think so. I didn’t sense anything off about her, at least not like that. But isn’t it a bit weird that she’s already left her daughter alone at the hospital?’

‘Maybe, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. This sort of thing hits people in different ways. I’ve had husbands who were just informed their spouse had been murdered go into work the same day. Like they’ve gone into autopilot, going through the motions of their day like everything was just fine. I can understand her wanting to get out of that hospital and take a shower. To feel vaguely human for a minute.’

To feel vaguely human. I understood the appeal, if not the sensation.

I nodded and looked around the room, reaching out with my senses as David began looking through Lucy’s drawers.

‘You know, I’m not exactly sure what you’re hoping to find,’ he said. ‘Unless there’s an empty can of magical sleeping gas under the bed.’ He laughed, then looked at the bed for a few seconds. He stepped over, knelt down, lifted the dangling duvet and looked under the bed. He let the duvet drop and turned to me. ‘No gas can.’

‘Nothing in the air either. Not like at the hospital.’

There was no strange signature to the room’s magic. No hints of the dark shadows I could almost see back at the room full of sleeping children.

David sighed and sat on the small, single mattress, the springs creaking as it adjusted to his weight. ‘Okay, so we’ve got six kids from the same class falling into comas on the same night. And all of them zonked out after they got into bed. None of them fell face-first into their dinner, or collapsed in front of the TV. They all went to bed like normal, and the first time anyone knew something was up was when they didn’t get up for school the next morning.’

‘And now they all have something over them. Something I can’t quite see.’

‘Right. So…?’

‘I’m not sure.’

David sighed again and leaned back, one hand resting on the pillow. He stopped and turned towards it.

‘What is it?’

‘I heard a crinkle.’ He lifted the pillow, there was a piece of paper folded underneath. He looked up at me, one eyebrow raised.

‘Could be something,’ I said.

‘Yeah, or it could just be a love note Timmy had Gina pass Lucy during Chemistry.’

There were just three words on the piece of paper, neatly written with red biro in flowing, joined-up handwriting.

‘Well?’ asked David. ‘Don’t keep me in suspenders, what does it say?’

I handed him the piece of paper.

It said Wake No More.


We checked a few of the other kids’ bedrooms but didn’t find any other notes. I’d wondered if the note under Lucy’s pillow held some sort of curse. That whoever rested their head on it slipped into a coma. Written words can be infused with magic and used like booby traps. The lack of notes in any of the other bedrooms quickly derailed that idea.

Still, it was too strange a coincidence to dismiss, so as David left to head back to the hospital, I made my way home, to the coven, the note stored safely in my pocket.

‘Wake no more,’ I said, as I walked down the blind alley that led to the coven door. I rolled the words around to see if any residual Uncanny taste or images emerged just from my saying them, but there was nothing.

I entered the coven and made straight for the main room, throwing my leather jacket over the back of a rocking chair and causing it to creak back and forth noisily before settling into silence again. I remembered how much that creak-creak-creak would drill into my head when I was having a bad day. Trin, one of my witches, moving back and forth, a tireless piston, the sound of the chair accompanied by the click-clack of her knitting needles as she created an endless supply of scarves, sweaters, and gloves.

Some nights Trin didn’t go to bed at all, and I’d lay awake in bed, squashing earplugs in to try and cut out the noise that seemed so enormous in the dead of the night.

Now I missed that noise.

Sometimes I even lay awake, unable to sleep, because I couldn’t hear it.

I pulled the note from my pocket and opened it to reveal the neatly-penned words.

Wake No More.

Nothing else. Just one piece of paper with those three words written dead in the centre.

I grabbed a piece of chalk and crouched down onto one knee, sketching a simple pentagram shape onto the one-metre square piece of black slate fixed to the floor in front of the open fireplace (the fireplace was rarely used, the coven has central heating. We’re not savages). Great waves of power washed towards me as I raised both hands above my head and acted as a focal point for the magic in the room. I placed the correct words together in my mind, then pushed my open palms towards the chalk pentagram, infusing it with power. The lines glowed red for a heartbeat, then went back to normal.

I placed the note, open with the words visible, at the centre of the pentagram, then kneeled before it, hands on my thighs, head bowed and eyes closed.

The light in the room dimmed, though I hadn’t turned them off. It was the magic, responding to my request. My request to explore, to investigate, to interrogate. I was pushing everything I could think of into the piece of paper, sat in its place of focus within the chalk pentagram. Demanding the power within the London Coven reveal something about the note, about the words. To reveal the curse that had been placed upon it.

I came at the problem from every direction I could think of. Used any spell or magical command that seemed useful, but they all came up with a big fat nothing.

As far as I could tell, the paper wasn’t infused with any magic at all.

The words written upon it weren’t cursed.

The ink wasn’t laced with anything that might seep out and put the child in a coma after they closed their eyes.

It was just an ordinary piece of paper that Lucy had written three words onto.

I swore and sat with a thud on the floor, glaring at the note.

It must mean something. I could feel it. This wasn’t just some random coincidence. The piece of paper meant something. The words meant something. I just didn’t see the whole picture yet.

‘Is he here?’ I asked.

Lenny nodded and gestured to a far corner of the The Beehive pub. Razor was hunched at a table alone, half hidden in shadow.

‘Can I get you another of what you had last night, Stella?’ he asked.

I remembered how I felt waking that morning, pictured myself a little too close to Detective David Tyler’s lips the previous evening, and shook my head.

I made my way over to Razor and sat down on the stool opposite him.

‘Familiar,’ he spat.

The last time I’d spoken to Razor I’d left him in a bloody heap on the toilet floor, but that was months ago. Now fresh bruises patterned his face. By the looks of things, someone else had dealt him a beating, and recently.

‘You’ve been in the wars, there, friend,’ I said. ‘Care to talk about it?’

He glared at me, ‘What do you want? Did you come here to attack me again?’

I smiled. ‘No, not this time,’ I replied.

‘Oh, it must be my birthday. Hip-hip-hooray.’ He sneered, exposing two rows of sharp, yellowed teeth.

Razor was an eaves; a low-level Uncanny that specialised in knowing things. In skulking around and picking up secrets to pass on for a price. In the case of an eaves, the price is a dose of magic they feast upon. Despite being Uncanny, eaves don’t have access to magic in the same way as I do, but they crave its nourishment.

If you want information about something, there’s a good chance the likes of Razor know it.

I slid Lucy’s note across the table towards him. He glanced down, then back up. ‘And? What’s this then?’

‘You tell me.’

‘It’s a piece of paper, Familiar. I’ll take my fee now.’


He picked up the paper with the ragged nails of his cigarette-stained fingers and sniffed it.

‘Where’d you get it?’

‘From under a kid’s pillow. She went to sleep and never woke up.’

‘Aw, you’re going to make me cry here.’

I snatched the piece of paper from his dirty digits and stuffed it into my jacket pocket.

‘“Wake No More”,’ I said. ‘What does that mean to you? Have you heard the words used before? As a hex, as anything at all?’

‘Can’t say I have.’

‘Well, thanks, Razor, you’ve been a big help.’

I stood and began to make my way to the exit, frustrated to arrive at another dead end. I still wasn’t used to actually investigating. I’d been created to fight, not to gather intel.

‘Hey, Familiar.’

‘What?’ I sighed, half-turning back to him.

‘Don’t think I’ve just forgiven you for what you did to me. That was over the mark.’

Was Razor really trying to threaten me? I twitched in his direction and he shrank back into the shadows.

‘That’s what I thought.’

I turned my back on him and walked out of The Beehive, feeling my phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it out. It was David.

‘Anything new?’ I asked.

‘You know, you really need to work on your greetings. Most people go with a friendly “hello”.’

‘Get to it,’ I replied.

‘That note we found, I think I might have some new info on it.’


The flat belonged to Angie Tyler, David’s sister. I realised then that I hadn’t even known he had a sister. To me he was just David. A detective in the police force and a friend, and that was all… at least until we got drunk the other night and… no, I didn’t even want to think about that.

Angie lived in a terraced house in Acton, West London. The Victorian house had been split into two dwellings, with Angie and her daughter taking up the bottom floor.

Angie opened the door. She was in her mid-thirties with a riot of dyed-blonde curls that she’d attempted to tame with various clips and bands. She didn’t remind me of David at all.

‘You Stella, then?’ she asked.


‘Let her through, Ange,’ came David’s voice from inside.

I followed her through into the front room. The TV was on, halfway through an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

‘There she is. Hey, Batman,’ said David, hopping up off the couch.

‘Robin,’ I replied, nodding in his direction.

‘What?’ said Angie.

‘Oh, inside joke, sis’, never mind.’

‘Right. I’ll put the kettle on then.’

As she left the room David turned to me, his eyes widening momentarily, ‘Not one for the big chucks and yucks, my sister.’

‘I didn’t know you had a sister.’

‘I didn’t know myself until about six years back. Turned out my Dad had been a bit of a twat before I was born and got another woman pregnant. Angie turned up on my doorstep one weekend, telling me she was my half-sister.’

That explained the lack of family resemblance. She must take after her Mother.

‘Okay, so why am I meeting your sister?’

Amy was thirteen years old and had inherited her mother’s mess of thick curls, though hers were dyed bright purple.

She looked up from fiddling on her phone as we entered her room and stood sharply from the edge of her bed, as if we’d just caught her doing something embarrassing. ‘Oi, Uncle Dave, heard of knocking, yeah?’

‘Why, what were you doing?’

‘Nothing!’ she said, her face flushing.

‘You know I’m a police officer? Family or not I will cuff you and take you to the station, isn’t that right, Stella?’

‘Um. Yes. That is right.’

Amy rolled her eyes, but then broke into a giggle. She obviously had more of a sense of humour than her mother.

‘Stella Familiar, this is my awesome niece, Amy.’

‘Familiar? What kind of a second name is Familiar?’ she asked, arching a brow.

‘Well, it’s the kind of second name I have,’ I replied.

Amy looked to David, who, judging by the grin plastered across his face, was enjoying this awkward little conversation.

‘Okay,’ said David, ‘Tell Stella what you told me.’

‘Which bit?’

‘The whole bit.’

Amy sighed and sat back on the edge of her bed, looking down at her phone and sweeping her thumb across it to absent-mindedly scan Facebook.

‘It was just after what happened to all those kids. On the news. Not waking up and that.’

She shifted uncomfortably.

‘Go on,’ David prompted.

‘Well, there’s this rhyme and stuff that we all know at school, a sort of dare thing, and it’s scary even though it’s stupid. I know it’s stupid, I’m thirteen, I’m not a kid.’ Her face flushed again with a mix of embarrassment and anger.

‘You’re very grown up,’ said David. ‘Go on.’

‘Well, like I say, there’s this rhyme that kids at school started sharing. And then I heard on the news about the kids going to bed and not waking up, and Uncle Dave came over for lunch and he’s talking to Mum about it all. Mentions this note he found under one of the kid’s pillows—’

‘“Wake No More,”’ I said.

Amy nodded and looked at her knees, then back up at me, her eyes saucer-like. ‘I said the rhyme! I was trying to show Carly Fisher I wasn’t a baby, so I said it. Said it like eight times, because I’m not a kid, and now, what happens if I go to sleep? Will I wake up again? Am I gonna die?’

A tear escaped her eye and ran down her cheek. David sat next to her and put his arm around her.

‘Hey, Ames, it’s okay. You did the right thing telling me, because you know what bad things hate? Me and Stella over there. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, you have my word. Okay?’

She looked up to him and sniffed, wiping away the tears with the back of her sleeve and nodding. ‘You promise for real?’

‘For real.’

‘Amy,’ I said, ‘What happens if you say the rhyme? What are you all scared of?’

‘It’s just stupid, dumb kid stuff, that’s all. It’s just, the word is, if you say the rhyme out loud, it will come for you when you sleep. It’ll find you in your dreams and you’ll never wake up again.’

Wake No More.

‘What’s the rhyme, Amy?’ I asked.

‘I don’t wanna say it out loud again. It’s just, it gets under your skin. So Uncle David asked me to write it down instead.’

She stood and made her way over to her little dresser table and picked up a piece of paper. She held it away from her, pinched between two fingers as she walked back to me, like she was afraid it would bite her if she held it any closer.

As I took the note she gave a slight shudder of relief and quickly made her way to the other side of David, hiding behind him.

The first line of the note was familiar, the rest was new…

Wake no more

Said nobody’s child

Kicked and beaten

Turned mean and wild

Wake no more

Said the fearful small

For now I am here

To punish you all.


David and Amy talked with Angie for a while as I sat on the couch and sipped my tea, re-reading the rhyme over and over as Jessica Fletcher taught the police of Cabot Cove how to solve a murder.

‘For now I am here, to punish you all,’ I said under my breath.

The words had weight. On paper, they were nothing, just ink. But as I spoke them, I could feel the darkness that existed within them. Feel the magical shapes they cut in the air around me.

A curse activated by being spoken out loud.

The shapes of the words were strange and made no sense to me. But I could feel things in them. Feel dread. And terror. And pain. It was like I could hear a small voice, crying out in pain, at the back of my head. Something alone and terrified and angry. No, not angry, furious. A white hot, blind fury.

And there was something else too.

A hunger.

A relentless need to go on and on and on. This wasn’t some one-time phenomenon. Six kids went to bed the same night and never woke up, but that was just the beginning. The opening act.

I looked down at the piece of paper again and muttered the rhyme under my breath so only I could hear it. I felt the mess of feelings wash around me again...

More, more, more, never enough, never, never, never

‘For now I am here, to punish you all.’


The children of London were in danger. Every single one of them.

Amy had spoken the rhyme out loud, so there was no way we could leave her behind. The only place she could be was with us, even if that meant filling her in more on the nature of what was happening. Filling her in a bit about me and about the Uncanny. The alternative was leaving her behind and vulnerable to whatever it was that was behind this… this bewitchment.

‘She’s gonna stay with me for a few days,’ David explained to Amy’s mum. ‘A little uncle-niece bonding time, isn’t that right, Amy?’

Amy nodded, looking guilty as hell. Angie shrugged and made sure her daughter packed a bag with enough clothes to last a few days.

‘She was a bit easy to convince,’ I said later, as the Tube train roared and rocked.

‘She’s okay. She wants us to have a close relationship, so any time I wanna drop in, or take Amy out, she’s all for it. I can’t say I feel great about lying to her, though.’

‘What would you have told her?’ I asked. ‘That her daughter might be prey to some malevolent sleep curse? She’d have thought we were crazy.’

‘I know, but still. Got a little guilt-seed in my belly.’

‘The worst thing we could have done was leave her behind, David. Trust me. I spoke the poem out loud. I felt it. There’s something going on with the words when they’re all together. Something awful living inside of it. And Amy’s spoken them out loud.’

I looked over to Amy, stood holding onto a bar, swaying back and forth, earbuds in and listening to music through her phone.

She was just a kid. A little girl who wanted to listen to music, scowl at her Mum, and talk nonsense with her friends on the internet. And now she was in the sights of something I couldn’t quite see.

I scrunched up the note that contained the full poem, hand in my pocket, and hoped we could come up with something before Amy fell to sleep.


‘You two are proper mad!’ said Amy, as we tried to convince her to walk into a brick wall.

‘Go ahead,’ said David, ‘Just walk right ahead and the wall will disappear, honest.’ He looked up at me, grinning, obviously happy to be on the other side of this for once.

To someone like Amy—a normal—there was no alleyway, just a brick wall. That’s how it had looked to David, too, until I opened his eyes.

‘Go on then, Magic Lady, do your thang,’ said David, rubbing his hands together.

‘You’re enjoying this a bit too much,’ I said.

‘What can I say? Small pleasures for small minds,’ he replied, winking.

I smiled, shaking my head, and pushed a spell towards Amy.

‘See,’ I said.

Amy began to blink in surprise. ‘Uh. No. What? Where did that—?’ She pointed at the now visible blind alley, her mouth agape

‘Oh, you see the massive opening to the obviously there alleyway now, eh?’ said David, and put his arm around her, leading her forwards. ‘Come on kiddo, things are only going to get weirder from here.’

Minutes later we were sat around the kitchen table, each cradling a cup of tea.

‘Um. What?’ said Amy.

‘Stella here is a Familiar.’

‘A witch’s familiar?’ she asked.

‘You know about that stuff?’ I asked.

‘Well, yeah. My mate Jenna, she’s well into, like, Wicca and the supernatural and all that stuff. Said she saw a ghost once. But she also said she kissed Tom Bellow, and we all know she was chatting shit there.’

‘Whoa, young lady, less of the no-no words, thank you,’ said David.

‘No-no words? How old are you?’ replied Amy, folding her arms.

David laughed and Amy joined in. It was obvious they had a pretty good bond together, even if he’d only known her for a few years.

‘So, you believe me?’ I asked.

Amy turned and looked me up and down. ‘Sure, why not. If Uncle Dave says you’re a witch’s familiar, then that’s what you are. And that alleyway definitely wasn’t there until, you know, suddenly it was. So that seems like some real straight-up, legit magic to me.’

‘Well, you’ve taken to the idea a lot quicker than your Uncle,’ I replied. ‘He threw up.’

‘Oi! I had just been attacked by a demonically possessed cafe owner!’

Amy giggled.

‘So, are you magic and that, too, Uncle Dave?’

‘No. Well, I don’t think so. I can see ghosts though!’

‘Wow! Cool!’

David swagged his head back and forth, ‘Yeah, I suppose so. No biggie.’

‘So, you two do what? Solve magic crimes stuff, yeah?’

‘That’s right,’ said David.

‘Well, that is pretty cool.’

I smiled, ‘I suppose so.’

I pulled the note with the rhyme on it out of my jacket pocket and placed it on the table. Amy sat back in her chair as though it was radioactive.

‘So, when did you first hear this rhyme?’ I asked.

‘Not sure,’ she replied.

‘Can you think back?’ asked David. ‘Could be important.’

She shook her head, ‘No, it’s just… it’s been going round the playground for a few weeks. Someone had it written down and it was being passed around everywhere. The rumour was if you said it out loud the thing would get you in your sleep. That you’d never wake up. We were all, you know, joking about it. Trying to get each other to say it out loud. Pretend like we weren’t scared of some stupid rhyme.’

Amy’s hands were holding tight to each other, fingers interlocked, knuckles white.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘I’m not that small anymore, but I still get scared of the dark sometimes. Scared of waking up in the middle of the night and being on my own. I suppose… I suppose I’m not that grown up. Not really. You must remember what that feels like? When you were a kid?’

‘I was never a child,’ I replied.

‘What? That’s stupid, everyone was little once.’

‘Not me. I was born like this.’

‘For real?’

‘Yep,’ said David. ‘She’s a bit of a freak, this one.’

‘So, like, you never had a childhood?’

‘Well, no. No, I didn’t.’

‘Oh. That’s sort of sad.’

I shifted in my chair uncomfortably, then lifted my cup to take a swig.

‘Okay, Ames,’ said David, ‘Go on.’

She smiled weakly at him and nodded. ‘Okay. Well, I didn’t believe in it. In the rhyme and the curse and stuff. Well, I did sort of, but not really. But when I said the words… it’s like I felt something, you know? Like a bit of ice was suddenly at the centre of me. And then I heard about all those kids not waking up, and I just sort of knew they’d said the rhyme. I just knew.’

David placed a hand on her arm, ‘That’s okay. That’s enough. You did good, Ames.’

She flashed a pained, tight-lipped smile at him and nodded, her eyes a little too wide.

‘Is that gonna happen to me, Uncle Dave? When I go to sleep tonight am I gonna get taken by the thing and never wake up?’

‘Hey, come on,’ he took her head onto his shoulder and stroked her arm as her body racked with sobs. ‘Don’t worry about anything, okay? Trust me. The best thing you could have done is tell me and the magic lady over there. We kick monster butts for a living, alright? Nothing and nobody is gonna lay a hand on my family, you hear me?’

She sat up, snotty and sniffing, wiping the tears away and nodding. ‘You definitely promise?’


She seemed a little relieved by that and excused herself to go and use the toilet.

‘You know, you shouldn’t have done that,’ I said.

‘Shouldn’t have done what?’ David replied.

‘Promised her. We don’t know what’s going on. Not yet. All I know is it’s something very, very bad, and none of them are safe. Not Amy, not any of them.’

‘You’ll figure it out,’ he replied. ‘Got faith in you, magic lady.’

It was a good thing someone did.


So, any ideas?’ asked David.

We were sat in the main coven room staring at the slate tile I’d drawn the pentagram on. Amy was upstairs in one of the spare rooms, settling in. The coven has eight different bedrooms, though only four of them had ever been used in the sixty years I’d been living there: three of them by my witches, one by me. I’m still not sure why the other four were needed. Why they hadn’t converted them or used a spell to get rid of them.

‘Oi, daydream believer,’ said David, clicking his fingers. ‘I said any ideas?’

‘One or two,’ I replied.

‘I don’t suppose we’re going to be able to just, you know, find the thing, punch it in the kisser and toss it into a cell? Because that would be just smashing.’

‘Afraid not.’

‘You’re a real dream-crusher, Stella. So what do we do?’

‘Well, it’s obviously got something in for kids. Whatever it is, it wants to harm them. It’s not interested in adults, it just wants to take their children. Wants to make them scared. A spooky rhyme, an urban legend, a monster who comes for you in your dreams. It’s all designed to spook kids.’

‘Not just kids, I have a touch of the willies myself.’

We sat in silence for a minute or two as we contemplated the shit we were in.

‘Oh, I didn’t bring a toothbrush,’ said David.

‘What? Why would you need a toothbrush?’ I said, face flushing, my thoughts drifting back to the stupid, drunken, almost… what? Kiss?

‘Well, Amy is staying over, so I’m staying over. We can have a slumber party, minus the slumber: me and you two gals. What d’you say? Hair-braiding, pillow fights, Dirty Dancing on the telly…’

I arched an eyebrow, ‘We’re doing this to protect your niece, not to have a party.’ I smiled. ‘Besides, I’d murder you in a pillow fight.’

We took it in turns to sit up with Amy. I’d placed a simple alertness spell on Amy, to stop her falling asleep, but someone still had to be with her at all times. Just to make sure. Also, just to keep the terrified teen company.

The London Coven is fierce with magic. David and Amy can’t see it, but to me it’s like living inside of a dry ocean. Multi-coloured waves roll around me the whole time, ebbing and flowing, crashing off the walls. It should be a safe place for Amy. Should be.

Two things bothered me. One: I didn’t know what the hell was going on. That was a big one. I didn’t know what sort of magical, dark force was behind that rhyme. Behind the kids falling asleep and slipping into comas. Who knew how strong it was? Was it strong enough to seep into this place? If Amy were to close her eyes and let sleep take her, would she ever wake up again?

Then there was what happened three months earlier. Mr. Trick. My witches, murdered in their own seat of power. Was this place really as safe as I thought it was?

I couldn’t assume anything anymore.

I was on first watch and asked her if she’d like to see a film to eat up a few night-hours.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Do you have Dirty Dancing?’

David threw a pillow my way from the corridor. ‘’Ave it!’ he yelled, then scampered away.

‘This means war!’ I shouted back, launching the pillow back in his direction with a little magical force behind it.

We found the film online—which turned out to have a pretty good soundtrack—and Amy mouthed along to all the lines. I pulled some of the available magic toward me and pushed an extra protection spell in Amy’s direction. I infused it with the right words, the correct phrases, and settled into my chair a little easier as the spells of protection drifted over her like a comfort blanket. Would they actually do anything against a creature that could prey on her in her sleep? I had no idea, but at least it felt like I was doing something.

‘Stella,’ said Amy, as Johnny lifted Baby high above his head.


‘Am I really in danger? Like… properly in danger?’

I suppose I should have found a comforting way to say it, but if I were her, I’d have wanted the truth. ‘Yes. You’re in danger. A lot of danger.’

‘Right. But I’m going to have to sleep at some point, aren’t I? No one can just stay awake forever. I mean, I’m already tired now, even with the magic over me. I can feel my eyes wanting to close and I just want to curl up in this chair and drift off. At some point I’m gonna sleep and the monster will get me.’

‘Maybe. But I’m going to do whatever I can to find out what’s behind this. Me and your uncle both are. And once we’ve found the thing, we’ll kick its teeth in.’

Amy smiled and nodded and went back to the film.

‘So are you and Uncle Dave, like… ’ She let the sentence trail off and grinned at me.

‘Like what?’

‘You know? Doing it.’

I felt blood rush to my face.

‘What? No! Of course not. Gross. Nope.’

She lifted her hands up, ‘Hey, you know, okay, God. You just look like a couple and that.’

‘Well, we’re not. At all. I mean, no way. Anyway, you’re only thirteen – aren’t you a little young for this sort of conversation?’

‘I’m a teenager, Stella, I’ve had boyfriends you know!’ She caught herself. ‘Don’t tell Mum though.’

As the night wore on, David and I swapped back and forth, taking turns to keep Amy company for a few hours at a time, until finally, the sun rose and I sighed with relief. We’d made it through one night.

David entered, yawning and scratching at his midriff, his hair pasted to one side of his head.

‘Good morning,’ I said, standing from my chair and stretching.

‘I know, you two don’t have to say anything, I look beautiful in the morning.’

Amy giggled, then faux-gagged.

‘Hey, don’t be a hater just ‘cos I woke up this pretty.’

‘Okay,’ I said, ‘Who’s up for some breakfast?’

David twitched and reached into his pocket, pulling out his vibrating phone.

‘Detective Tyler,’ he said, answering. ‘Crap, how many? Okay, right, thanks.’ David hung up and looked to Amy, eyes wide.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

I already knew.

‘Fourteen more kids didn’t wake up this morning.’

I looked at Amy, who sat back in her chair and hugged her knees.


I left David to take care of his niece. The plan was that he drag her around the city to keep her awake and active until he heard back from me. Amy grumbled, yawning, but headed off with her Uncle with promises of “enough ice-cream to make you puke.”

Fourteen more children now resided within a ward in Ealing Hospital. That made twenty in total. Twenty kids over the last two nights who went to bed like it was any normal day, closed their eyes, and were taken in their dreams by… something.

‘For now I am here, to punish you all,’ I said under my breath as I marched towards my destination, Amy’s note still in my pocket.

I was heading towards L’Merrier’s Antiques, a shop I’d been ordered to stay away from after my last visit. It seemed more like a warning than a request, but I didn’t have a choice. I needed help, and Giles L’Merrier was going to give it to me.

‘Little Familiar. Insignificant bug. Fluff from my bellybutton. You seem to have found yourself within my premises once more. I assume this is some terrible accident on your part?’

‘L’Merrier, I need your help.’

His bulky frame was draped in a floor length gown, ancient symbols covering it. They weren’t just for decoration, he had magic sewn right onto his clothing. Protection. Giles L’Merrier had lived a long and eventful life. Many a dark Uncanny yearned to see his severed head roll down a gutter, though precious few had the ability to take him down, with or without his protection spells. L’Merrier was one of the giants. A man who had lived for centuries and taken out more enemies than any one person could count. These days he preferred to stay within the confines of his shop and leave the rough stuff to others. No one knew why exactly he’d stepped out of the game. Why he disliked people coming to him, looking for help. Some said he was waiting, but no one knew what for.

L’Merrier smiled at me, light dancing around his large, shaved head. It wasn’t a smile meant to provide comfort. ‘Perhaps you mistook my establishment for a newsagents? Or were merely passing when you tripped over your own clumsy feet and fell inside? Hm? Surely it can’t be that you entered on purpose, because I seem to remember a conversation, ooh, only three months ago, in which I stated, quite clearly, that my debt to your coven was paid and that you should not come to me asking favours again.’

I shifted, uncomfortable, ‘Thank you for your help, L’Merrier. If it wasn’t for you, Mr. Trick might still be out there. Might have killed me, too, as well as my witches.’

‘Don’t tell me you have returned to flatter. I am not a vain man, neither do I require the adulation of insects.’

‘I need… there’s a problem.’

‘This is London, there is always a problem.’ He stroked his bald pate. ‘Tell me, Familiar, where is your new pet? The detective? I thought he’d be scampering at your heels, his little tail wagging.’

‘I didn’t bring him, out of respect for you.’

‘Respect for me?’ he replied, raising an eyebrow, ‘And yet you return, after I made it abundantly clear that you are not welcome.’

‘Some things are more important than my own well-being.’

L’Merrier chuckled. ‘How very noble of you.’

He began to move among his shop’s shelves, hands dancing lightly across the various items on display. Some were what you would expect to find in an antiques shop, others were far more unusual. Ancient objects of the Uncanny, collected during his many centuries of adventure and exploration.

‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked, pointing to a glass case that contained a large, blackened object. I peered closer at the thing.

‘Is that... a heart?’

‘Correct. It belonged to a giant named K’lochenfer. The thing had been terrorising the people of a small village in Belgium. He would visit them once a week to grab a fistful of them to feast upon. I happened to be passing and decided to track the giant to its home. It was a cave of course; giants love their caves.’ He smiled as if enjoying a fond memory. ‘I crept inside whilst the creature was sleeping, reached into its chest and took out its heart.’

I looked at the heart in its glass case. It must have been three times the size of my head.

‘The giant lived for another month after that. Some Uncanny creatures are not so easy to kill, you know. The creature spent its remaining days searching Belgium for me, until finally the poor thing gave up and collapsed. I dragged its body back to the village and the people ate like kings for a month. Can’t say I found the giant’s flavour to be all that appealing, personally. Tasted like dirt to me. I’d never chewed such tough meat.’

‘L’Merrier,’ I said, ‘as fascinating as this is, I came here for a reason. I came for your help.’

‘And why should I help you? Why should I not render you asunder with a flick of my little finger? I no longer step beyond the walls of this place for a reason. I would like to think that you and others could respect my privacy.’

‘Something is taking children. Taking them in their sleep so they never wake up.’

L’Merrier raised on eyebrow and nodded. ‘I see. Do you have it?’

‘Have what?’

‘The rhyme of bewitchment?’

‘How did you know I’d have one?’

‘Because this has happened before. Many times. The troubling thing is, it should not be happening anymore. Not in London. It should be impossible.’

‘Well it is, I’ve got twenty kids in a hospital ward in Ealing who went to bed one night and refuse to get up.’

‘You do not understand. If what you say is true, if indeed this is the creature I think it is, then we can expect worse than a few children having a lie-in. Far worse. The whole of the city could be in danger.’


L’Merrier read the note Amy had written. The rhyme that seemed to be the trigger for each kid who spoke it being unable to wake up again. He sighed as he read the lines and nodded sagely.

‘You recognise the rhyme?’ I asked.

‘It is as I feared. The creature has found a way back into the thoughts and dreams of the children of London. It will only spread from there. Within a month, perhaps less, every child in the city will be taken; their bodies left to slumber as their souls suffer in eternal torment.’

He passed the note back to me.

‘What kind of creature is it? What’s its name?’

‘Name? Oh, it does not have a name, you stupid thing.’


‘It does not have a name because the creature is not really alive.’

‘So what? It’s a ghost?’

L’Merrier stared at me silently for several seconds. It wasn’t hard to work out that I’d said the wrong thing again.

‘How do you make it through a day without setting yourself on fire?’ he asked.

‘Well, sometimes I don’t.’

Almost a smile, I was sure of it.

‘The thing that created this rhyme is rage and fear and blind fury incarnate. Unconscionable deeds and desire for revenge weaponised. The idea made reality by a concentration of magic and emotion, exploding out of the infinite possibility and creativity of youth. And it should no longer be able to do the things it is doing.’

He was losing me with this, but the fact that he looked so troubled shook me.

‘What do you mean it shouldn’t be able to do all of this? Was it killed already?’

He looked at me and smiled, ‘You cannot kill a thing such as this. It is not what you and I would consider to be alive, remember. No, it cannot be killed, but it can be prevented. It can be locked, chained, banished from this plane. And it was once, many years ago, when it appeared in our city and began taking children. It was before your time, I believe. Poor Lyla was the Familiar then, of course. Tragic thing.’

My predecessor, Lyla. For some reason I always felt funny when she was brought up. No one ever told me what happened to her, but I had enough of the pieces to know that it was nothing good. I think, when they were alive, my witches were surprised that I had made it as long as I had. Sixty years of age. I don’t think anyone expected a familiar of the London Coven to make it to such an age.

‘I still don’t understand exactly what it is you’re saying I’m up against.’

L’Merrier bowed his head and sighed, as though dealing with a very stupid child. To him, that was pretty close to the truth.

‘Shall I make my words smaller for you, familiar? Would pictures help?’

I felt my fists clench. Yeah, that would be a great idea, Stella. I unclenched.

‘Emotions are never more volcanic than when we are young,’ he explained. ‘Never more frightening and strange and acutely felt. Reason is never more blinded by those very emotions that attack our minds and bodies as though we are a castle under siege.’

L’Merrier began to glide around his shop, hands drifting over his many strange display items. A helmet from some ancient army that I couldn’t put my finger on. A shrunken head whose mouth opened as though it was going to scream when his fingers made contact with it. A portrait of himself and three young women, its paint ancient and cracking. I squinted; was that…? My witches? My witches and L’Merrier?

‘Oh, I’m sorry, am I boring you?’ said L’Merrier, somehow within inches of me, even though, a heartbeat earlier, he’d been at the far end of his shop.

‘No, I’m listening,’ I said, acting unfazed. ‘Go on.’

He snorted and turned his back on me. ‘Imagine a bullied child. Bullied by other children. A tale as old as time, wouldn’t you say? Now imagine that raw emotion. The raw, explosive emotion of a child. The abject terror. The shame. The unfocussed terror and rage. Imagine that happening over and over and over again. A never-ending cycle, picking up a head of steam as all over the city, child after child is made to feel this way. Made to feel this way by other children.’

‘You’re saying bullying caused this?’

‘Simply put, so even your pea-brain can grasp it, the emotions stirred up across this city have come to a boil. The raw emotions met the Uncanny power that is so heavy in London, and an idea was born. An idea of blind retribution. A lashing out against not one child, but all children. And so this thing was created; this thing that exists not in our plane of reality, but that can take a child at their most vulnerable. In their dreams.’

I was finally getting the picture.

‘So, why the rhyme?’

‘Fear. Oh, it wants fear, and that is the first step. A whisper in the playground about a rhyme that can conjure the devil to take you as you slumber. A child will believe it. Oh, they would deny it, but there it will tickle, round and fat in their minds, as they walk up the stairs to bed. And then it has them.’

So, if I was grasping this correctly, what I was up against was not exactly a monster as much as the idea of a monster brought into “reality” by the raw, unchecked emotion of children. Why couldn’t it just be a flesh and blood thing so I could punch it in the face?

‘It doesn’t sound exactly fair. They just created an even worse bully.’

‘A creature born of centuries of bullying and made stronger every time a child bullies another. It has life and it has purpose: to unleash hell on children everywhere. To lash out at them for what they have done. To become wrath. It is not a rational being. It exists purely to vent that unthinking anger that every child feels towards their bully.’

‘And now I have come, to punish you all.’

‘Well, indeed.’

‘How did you stop it the first time?’

‘Oh, it wasn’t me. It was your coven.’

I smiled and felt my heart swell a little, but the momentary feeling was soon laid to waste when the pictures of their dead, shredded bodies popped into my mind’s eye.

‘What did they do?’ I asked.

‘They put certain, shall we say, magical locks in place. Safeguards. As I say, the creature exists in another plane. They blocked that plane from being able to interact with ours. No child should be able to speak those words in the correct order; your masters made sure of that. And that makes me worry.’

‘Has someone helped the thing?’

‘I think not. London is a focal point in the Uncanny world, which also makes it a weak point. A point of attack. A crack in the window. The witches of London did not just exist to police this place, they took it upon themselves to hold it together. To stop it sliding off the end of the cliff. Now, it would appear, that since their deaths, some of these locks have begun to, shall we say, spring open. Terrible things are slipping through, and more shall follow.’

‘Can you put the protections back in place? Reseal the locks?’

He looked at me in what I thought was a pretty shifty manner.

‘Perhaps. Perhaps not. I may be one of the most powerful Uncanny things to ever stride across this planet. A colossus. A true master of the light and dark arts. A man who has met the Devil and made him call me sir. But that does not mean I have mastery over all things.’ L’Merrier fussed at his gown, agitated, before turning to me with a scowl. ‘To put it bluntly, I have no idea how the witches did what they did.’

Well this was a day to remember. The mighty Giles L’Merrier, admitting he didn’t know everything. A flaw in the diamond at last. I almost danced a jig, but just about managed to keep my body under control.

He went on: ‘I only know that the three of them combined were able to set up a web of protective spells that criss-crossed this city and prevented it from falling into chaos. They blocked the worst of other realms from slipping into our reality. Neutralised certain threats. The power it would need to generate such a web, and to keep the magic fed so it would sustain, so it would not collapse and blow away upon the breeze… it is almost inconceivable.’

‘Something is happening in this city, Stella. It’s like the stitches that hold the place together are starting to fray.’

Jake the ghost, he’d tried to tell me that things were falling apart and I’d brushed him off. Had he been right? Had he felt what L’Merrier was describing? The erosion of these magical safeguards my witches had set up?

‘So, what should I do?’ I asked L’Merrier.

‘There is always a tipping point that gives “life” to a thing such as this. A single incident that lights the blue touch paper. You must locate that inciting moment: the terrified child, cowering from their bully. Do that and you will find the creature. In other words, you do your job—the one you were created to do—you insignificant glob of sputum.’


I left L’Merrier’s shop with no invitation to return and headed back to the coven. As I pushed through the ticket barrier and walked towards the tube platform, my head swirled with all the new information L’Merrier had dropped on me.

There was of course the wider concern. The idea that my witches had somehow kept bad things from slipping into London, and now they were gone those barriers were crumbling. That what Jake had told me was true. But I couldn’t get too side-tracked by that. All I knew for sure was that twenty kids in a hospital were being terrorised and might never wake up. That more and more would join them unless I could pin this creature down. This weird amalgam of emotions brought to life to lash out at kids, whether they were guilty or innocent. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that feeling of shame, of helplessness, of fear, of rage, all squashed up together and firing out of a child made to live in terror by other children. Kids it should be playing with, laughing with, not running from.

I felt Amy’s note scrunched in my hand, in the pocket of my jacket. I needed to find a way to locate the tipping point. The final inciting incident that had pushed things over the edge and made this creature powerful enough to drag itself into existence.

And then, well, we’d get to the “then” once we got there.

The train rocked me back and forth as it charged through the black.

I didn’t call David, I wanted him and Amy away from the coven while I worked. I didn’t know for certain that what I was about to do wouldn’t put Amy in danger if she was there to see it, so I left them to their day-trip and got to work.

I sketched a chalk pentagram on the slate square again and placed the note with the full rhyme at its centre.

The magic of the coven washed around me. I closed my eyes, tilted my head back, and drew the energy towards me. Felt it lap against me in great waves, soaking into me, becoming part of me. I trembled with the power, the buzz, heard myself giggle in delight. For this to work, I’d need to hold and direct a lot of power. More than I would usually take on. Drawing in even a small amount of surrounding magic was pleasurable, allowing this amount to drench me was intoxicating. I licked my lips and opened my eyes, my pupils huge, my cheeks aching from smiling. The magic of my coven had a special effect on me. An illicit thrill. A weaker Uncanny could become lost in it; let its mighty waves break over them again and again until they were buried beneath them.

But I was stronger than that.

I was created in this room.

This magic was my magic.

I took a step towards the pentagram, tendrils of multi-coloured, molten magic trailing behind me. I knelt and held out my open hands to the note, to the words written upon it.

I grunted and pushed the power into the words.

‘Show me,’ I said. My voice eight times my own, a mighty, booming, command.

The last time I’d only had a partial rhyme and no idea what it was exactly I was hoping to discover. This time I had the full rhyme and knew exactly what I wanted it to show me. I wanted it to reveal its past. Its birth. To drag the past into the present. That sort of magic was difficult, almost beyond me. It’s only in that room in my coven that I could ever hope to tackle such a thing. And even then it hurt.

A breeze.

Wind whipped back my hair.

I wasn’t alone.

The light in the room had dimmed, the walls seemed distant. Transparent. Were there things beyond the walls, in the shadows?

Wake no more, no more, no more, no more...

The words repeated on the wind as it pulled at me.

I pushed more magic into the note, into the words. They glowed silver and rose off the page, growing larger and larger as they spread to cover the ceiling. Only it wasn’t the ceiling anymore, it was the sky. Hadn’t I been in the coven? Hadn’t I been in my home?

‘Show me,’ I screamed. I didn’t realise at first that I was screaming as the magic of the Uncanny surged through me, fed the spell, fed the rhyme, but I was. I could tell because my throat had begun to hurt. Maybe I’d been screaming for minutes, hours, days, forcing the rhyme to give up its secret. To show me its birthplace.

To show me where fear turned to revenge.

Endless, constant, ravenous, unfocussed revenge.

‘Show me!’

Damp fingers traced a line across my neck, my cheek, pulled at my hair.

Revenge not against the bully who finally created this thing. Or against any bully. Just against everyone. Every child. All were guilty in the eyes of the cowering, isolated child with the bloody nose and trembling hands.

A figure in the corner of my eye, its movements unnatural, sharp, jerking its way towards me. Trying to distract me? Was whatever owned this rhyme trying to break my concentration? My link to its spell? Maybe it felt what I was doing, realised what I was attempting.

Was I in danger?

‘Show me!’

Wake no more, Wake no more, Wake no more...

I looked down to see a moving carpet of large, black rats flowing past me, their greasy fur buffeting against my ankles, my knees, my thighs.

I spoke the words of the rhyme over and over again, not allowing myself to disconnect from my focus.

A child was crying.

A mournful sob at the edge of my hearing.

I was in a school corridor, pressed up against the lockers, a fist coming to meet me, my head snapping back.

More tears now, more voices. So many, one after the other, a chorus of fear.

I was in a field with my sister—

My sister?

I don’t have—

I look up to see three boys climb over the fence and point at us, cruel smiles on their faces, I stand in front of my sister, I’m terrified. The biggest one runs towards me and—

‘Show me!’

So many screams, so many voices, I can see them all around me, crowding in. They look like ghosts, or afterimages, shuffling, alone yet packed in so tightly I’m worried they might crush me and—

I’m in my bedroom—

I’m in the school toilets—

I’m in an alleyway out of view of adults—

And I’m punched, I’m kicked, I’m spat on and laughed at—

Children’s faces, twisted with hatred leering down at me, the soles of shoes coming to meet my knees as they stamp down and down and down and—

I’m getting lost!

It’s too much—

So many—

So many broken children—

So much pain—

Maybe they deserve it—

Maybe the creature is right—

Punish them all, them all, them all—

‘You will show me!’


The book of the past has stopped jumping from page to page and the chorus of crying children had ceased. I was alone again. I lowered my shaking hands and pushed myself to my feet, staggering slightly, having to lean against the brick wall to steady myself.

I was in a wide back alley of some sort. There were bins, overflowing. Large bins. I was behind a row of shops where unwanted goods were thrown and rats scuttled.

I turned to find a pair of small legs poking out from behind one of the large, metal bins. They were laid out flat. Unmoving.

‘Hello,’ I said, stepping towards—

The picture warped like film, bubbling as if lit by a match. It was trying to burn the image down. To hide it from me.

‘I see it,’ I said. ‘I know where you come from now. You’re too late.’

There was a sound like a thousand children screaming in fury, then I was at the centre of the ghostly afterimages again as furious faces lunged towards me, fists pummelling me, passing right through, freezing me, I had to break the spell, had to get—

—I was on the ground. When did I fall? I wasn’t behind the shops anymore, wasn’t in my coven, I had to get back, I had to follow the breadcrumbs or I might be lost forever, and—

Wake no more.

No more.

No more.


I woke up to find David and Amy crouched over me.

‘See, she’s not dead,’ said Amy. ‘You own me a Mars bar.’

I sat up, my head groggy.

‘What have I told you about day drinking?’ said David as he helped me to my feet.

‘Hilarious,’ I replied. ‘What time is it?’

‘Almost ten,’ said Amy.

‘What? Ten?’ I’d been blacked out for hours.

‘Yeah, you were supposed to call us to tell us we could come back, remember?’ said David. ‘Only you didn’t call, it was late, our feet hurt like bastards, so here we are and there you were, spark out on the floor. What happened? Are you okay?’

‘I’m fine, I was just handling some, you know, heavy magic stuff. Must have fed back and knocked me out.’

‘Can you play Quidditch?’ asked Amy.

‘Nerd!’ said David, giving her a playful shove.

‘Shut up,’ replied Amy, scowling.

‘What’s Quidditch?’ I asked.

Amy looked at me in astonishment.

‘Our Stella has lived a long but sheltered life,’ said David. ‘Right, kettle on, two sugars for me. Go on, shoo,’ he told Amy, pushing her in the direction of the kitchen to leave the two of us alone.

‘So, wanna tell me what actually happened? How’d things go with your antiques wizard?’

I thought back to what had happened before I’d fallen into the black. The hundreds of voices. Thousands even. Pure fear and anger swirling around me, attacking me, trying to infect me. Whatever it was we were after, it had felt me there, searching. Knew someone was trespassing onto its land.

I hoped it was worried.

Hoped it had the capacity for that.

I filled David in on what L’Merrier had told me, skipping the part about the faltering network of spells and safeguards. That was just for me to worry about. For now at least.

‘So, a creature—a kind of creature at least—created by kids being bullied by other kids?’

‘Yep,’ I replied.

‘A creature that now targets kids? Seems like it’s kind of missing the point there, don’t you think?’

‘He said it’s not a rational, thinking being. All it has is the feelings that fed it, and the desire to lash out at other kids that might make it feel that way.’

David shook his head and sighed, ‘Well, I suppose that makes some sort of sense. At least as much as anything else has in the last few months. By the way, are we gonna circle back to the whole “me seeing ghosts” thing at some point?’

‘Let’s deal with one thing at a time. As soon as we’ve stopped this turd and saved every child in London, maybe then we can take a look at your messed up brain.’

‘You’re all heart, Stella Familiar,’ he replied, grinning. ‘I take it we have a way of helping Amy, right?’

I thought about the place the spell had shown me. The small legs poking out from behind the bins. ‘I think so. I hope so.’

Amy walked in, carefully holding three cups of tea. ‘Here you go, I make the best tea, you’d better believe it!’

‘Biscuits?’ replied David.

Amy grunted, turned on her heels, and stomped back out.


David insisted on coming with me. ‘She’s my niece, I want to help her!’

I agreed to his demand. The truth is, I liked it when he was by my side. For decades I’d handled the dangers of the job on my own, and it was nice to have some backup for a change. To have a partner.

‘We’re only going to be gone an hour or so,’ he told Amy, ‘We’re just checking a back alley out. You know how it is, the glamour of a police investigation.’

‘Why can’t I come?’

‘Because this is official business. No place for a muggle.’


She’d chased David around the kitchen, whipping him with a tea towel.

Even though we’d only be gone a short while and Amy had insisted she felt tip-top and wide awake, I placed my hands on her forehead and put the correct words together.

‘Awake. Alert.,’ I commanded, strengthening the spell I’d placed on her earlier.

‘Oh, that tingles like mad!’ said Amy. ‘Hey, can you give me superpowers? Make me fly like a witch?’

‘Of course she can’t,’ said David. ‘Witches can’t fly.’

‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Not without their broomsticks.’

I gave Amy a sly wink, causing her to break into giggles. It was a nice feeling. I hadn’t had much experience interacting with teens. Or children. Or people, really.

‘That should keep you awake while we’re out,’ I told her, ‘but if you find yourself nodding off, call David and we’ll head right back, okay?’

‘God, alright, Mum,’ she snorted.

The place I’d been shown by the rhyme wasn’t too far. A small, backstreet square behind a row of shops in Acton, just a short hop on the Underground.

As the train shot us towards our destination, I noticed David wasn’t his usual self. Now that Amy wasn’t around he’d let his cheery face drop, and instead stared at his feet, his expression set. It was odd. He didn’t seem like himself at all.

‘Hey,’ I said, but a combination of the roar of the train and the noise of his own worried mind deafened him to me. I reached out and touched his arm. ‘David.’

He turned to look at me, ‘I can’t let anything happen to her, Stella. She’s family. I just... I can’t.’

‘I won’t let it have her,’ I assured him. ‘I won’t. We’ll stop this thing, I promise.’

He smiled and nodded uncertainly, then fell into silence again.

There were no legs poking out from behind bins when we reached the place I’d been shown; a squalid area, out of the way of any passers-by. The only people who came back there were shopkeepers throwing out boxes of expired goods, tramps hoping for a safe place to sleep, and people looking to do things away from prying eyes.

‘Nice smell back here,’ said David. ‘It’s like a fart farted.’

I took a look down the alleyway and saw the backs of the shops to our left and a high brick wall to our right, both leading to another wall at the far end. A dead end. The only way in or out was behind us.

‘You’re sure this is it?’ asked David.

I nodded. This was the place. As soon as we’d stepped into the alley I could feel it. A fug of old despair that hung in the air, infused with the sharp smell of urine. Actions can leave traces of themselves in the magic that washes around a place. They can scratch a signature in the bricks even. Dramatic events, events of high emotion, even more so.

Something bad had happened here.

‘Hey, you okay?’ asked David.

I realised I was hugging myself. ‘Yeah, it’s just... this is definitely the place. I don’t know what happened here, not yet, but it wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all.’

‘So the monster was created here?’

‘L’Merrier told me there would have been a flash point. That years of bullying had built up until one final incident gave the creature the spark to exist. Whatever happened here gave it that spark. This is where it started. This is where a monster was born.’

‘And how long ago was this?’

‘Not sure. But before my time, so at least sixty years ago.’

A sound.

What was that? Footsteps running? A name being yelled? It was distant, right on the edge of my senses, but it was there.

‘The thing that happened here, it’s still happening,’ I said.

David looked at me, then looked around, turning in a little circle. ‘I don’t see anything, not even with my new super-awesome ghost vision. I’m calling it ghost vision by the way, because it sounds cool. Better than brain damage caused by an evil bastard monster anyway.’

‘I can sense it. Almost sense it. Like it’s just out of my reach. But the incident wore a deep groove here, and it’s happening over and over again, on an endless repeat. A child running, its name being called, a dead end. Over and over it goes, and it’ll never stop.’

‘So what do we…’ David stopped mid-sentence, furrowed his brow and shook his head sharply.

‘What is it? David, what’s wrong?’

‘Nothing, I… No… don’t let them… Stella—’

He started to back up, away from me, towards the dead end.

‘David? What is it? What are you seeing?’


His eyes were wild now, pure terror, he wasn’t seeing me, wasn’t hearing me. He was somewhere else, somewhere that scared him to the bone.

‘Don’t let them touch me!’

He turned and ran, but there was nowhere to go. He hit the dead end, turned, arms up, sliding down the brickwork screaming, arms over his head, tears rolling down his cheeks.

‘Don’t let them touch me! Don’t let them touch me!’


I had to get David out of the back alley before he dropped dead from a heart attack.

I grunted as I struggled to lift him.

‘David, it’s me, Stella. You’re okay. Stop fighting.’

‘Don’t let them, please, don’t let them touch me. Get my dad, my dad will stop them, please.’

After that he stopped resisting and went catatonic, paralysed with fear. I cradled him in my arms and headed out of the back alley and into the street, getting a few curious glances from the Acton locals as I turned the corner, lifting a full-grown man like he was a baby.

I managed to get him to a bench and placed him down, dropping into the space beside him and catching my breath. David sat slumped next to me, still frozen, lost in whatever it was the place had made him see. I wondered why the alley hadn’t affected me the same way. I’d sensed the dreadful things that had happened there, tasted the terror, the anger and desperation on my tongue, but it hadn’t seeped into me like it had David. Hadn’t made me mad with fear.

‘David, can you hear me? David?’ I tapped gently at his face. ‘Hey, hear my voice, David. It’s me, it’s Stella, you’re okay, you’re safe.’


I looked around, making sure no one was paying attention, then I belted him across the cheek hard enough to make my palm sting.

‘Ow! Hey! What d’you do that for?’ shrieked David, putting a hand to his reddened face.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Am I okay? No, you just smashed me in the… wait, how did we get out here? When did we decide to sit on this bench?’

‘What do you remember?’

David lowered his hand from his cheek and looked away, distant.

‘I was… we were in the back alley, which stank. I mean, just stank. And then… and then I was somewhere else. I didn’t feel it happening and it didn’t seem strange, I was just suddenly somewhere else. Like the sort of thing that happens in a dream, you know? One minute you’re one place, and the next you’re somewhere else, or even someone else, and you don’t question it. Dream logic. Your brain just tells you this is normal and on you go.’

‘Where did it take you?’

David smiled briefly, ‘I was in my garden. From when I was born until I hit ten, we lived in a place with a nice back garden. It looked out onto some fields. We didn’t live in London, then, it was Hitchin, a little place just north of London. More rural. So I’d sit in this back garden and I’d play, right? Drive my little toy cars around, make my He-Men fight each other, kick a ball about, whatever. And then… I stopped wanting to sit in that garden. My Mum would ask me why I didn’t go out there to play anymore but I wouldn’t tell her. Didn’t even like helping to hang out the washing on the line back there. The thing is, I couldn’t remember why I didn’t want to go out there. I’d blocked it out somehow, and then… well, then we went in that back alley it’s like a locked door opened up and I was pushed inside.’

‘So, it let you see some sort of, what? A traumatic incident from when you were a kid?’

David swallowed and nodded, his hands fussing at his jacket.

‘I mean, I didn’t remember this at all. The things a brain will do to protect you, eh?’

‘What was it?’

He looked away from me, looked into the distance like he was seeing it play out again.

‘I was maybe five and I was on my knees in the back garden. I was playing, happy. Mum was inside, Dad was out somewhere. I didn’t notice them at first.’

‘Didn’t notice who?’

He turned to me, fear dancing in his eyes.

‘I didn’t see the boys. There were three of them. In my memory, they’re giants, but they must have only been about eleven. Just three stupid kids who saw a chance to mess with someone smaller than them. To feel strong and powerful. I didn’t notice them, but they’d cut through the field and seen me. It wasn’t until the first one had climbed over the fence and the other two were following that I noticed.’

He was trembling, that same childhood fear fraying at his nerves again. I reached over and placed a hand on his arm, ‘It’s okay, David. You’re fine.’

He smiled and nodded, laughed even. ‘Yeah, stupid. It was so bloody long ago.’ But his eyes turned dark again. ‘One of them had a knife. Just a little flick knife. The kind of thing a kid might carry to show off to his mates when no grown-up was looking. To show how tough he was. It was the size of machete to me though. I couldn’t move. It’s like I was frozen. I wanted to run—every part of me was telling me to run inside, to scream, to shout—but I just stayed there, on my knees, as the boys sniggered and nudged each other. They ran the knife across my cheeks. My chin. My neck. Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough for me to think they were going to.’

‘Did they hurt you?’

‘No. They weren’t interested in that. They just wanted to frighten a little kid. Make them so scared that they’d wet their pants. Yeah, I wet my pants. They laughed, but they weren’t done yet. The one with the knife grabbed a chunk of my hair and pulled it so hard it almost came out at the root. The other two held me down as he sawed through it with the knife and came away with a handful. After that they put the blade away and climbed back over the fence with their trophy, laughing some more. I remember just staying out there, on my knees, watching them disappear across the field, then standing and going inside. My mum saw my piss-covered jeans and bald patch and went mental. Demanded to know what had happened. I knew better than to squeal, so I told her I’d tried to give myself a haircut and wet myself when it went wrong. She wasn’t impressed, I’ll tell you that.’ He sighed and leaned back, shaking off the recollection. ‘Well that was a shitty little trip down memory lane.’

‘The incident, whatever happened in that back alley, the place is heavy with it. It must have pulled out your childhood trauma.’

‘Well, that back alley can fuck right off,’ he replied, laughing, before raising a middle-finger in the alley’s direction. The laugh was a hollow one, and as he lowered his hand he turned to me, his face grim.

‘Stella, we have to stop this thing. We can’t let it make any more children feel that way. We have to find it, and we have to kill it.’


David was quiet on the tube ride back to Hammersmith. I could tell he hadn’t quite shaken off the fear that the trigger location had dragged out of him. I wondered whether that fear was generated by the place, or if it was an effect of the creature it had created. Whatever the case, it was obvious from our visit that it could force adults to experience the worst of their past emotions, but what about me? I didn’t have a childhood. I was born exactly as I am, exactly as I always will be until something kills me. I had no childhood trauma to attack, but I knew how deep down and painful those kinds of fears could be in other people. People who were actually born and then grew up. Effects of bad events when you’re a little kid can scar you like nothing else. That alley, that creature, whatever it was that had affected David, it hadn’t done anything to me. There was no childhood and no trauma that it could latch onto.

Lucky me.

As we got off the train and stepped out into Hammersmith, David looked at his phone and swore.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Amy didn’t reply to the message I sent before we got on the tube.’

‘Maybe she just hasn’t seen it yet?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, maybe.’

But somehow I already knew that wasn’t true.

We began to walk fast, almost breaking into a run as David dialled again and again, swearing as it went to voicemail, hanging up, and trying, hanging up and trying.

He ran ahead as we turned into the blind alley, the coven door at the other end.

‘Amy!’ he shouted.

She should be okay.

She should be safe.

I left a spell on her to keep her awake.

Into the coven, David already heading for the main room, to the couch where the previous night I’d sat and watched Dirty Dancing with his niece.

And there she was.

Curled up and fast asleep.

‘Amy, wake up. Come on, Amy!’ David patted her, shoved her, pulled her up into a sitting position. She wouldn’t wake up.

‘Do something!’ he said, staring at me, desperate.

I reached out and placed my hands on her temples.



I tried again, putting more force behind the word, pushing more of the magic of the coven into myself and out through my command for Amy to wake. To open her eyes. To be safe.

After fifteen minutes I staggered back, David staring at me in disbelief.

‘What? Is that it?’

‘I can’t reach her. She’s gone.’

His eyes blinked slowly then he turned back to Amy, fast asleep beside him.

‘You cast a spell on her. You said she’d be okay.’

I felt the knot of guilt twist in my stomach. I’d had good reason to think she’d be okay. A spell that keeps you awake, keeps you alert, was child’s play. I’d thought it would be too dangerous for her to go to the alleyway with us. As it turned out, there was no safe place for Amy. Sooner or later, it was going to get her.

She’d said the lines.

Repeated them out loud.

And that meant she was the creature’s to take.

She belonged in the creature’s realm now and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Nothing at all.

‘I’m… sorry.’ It was the best I could do. I didn’t have anything else to offer.

David closed his eyes, teeth bared like he might yell, then I saw it just melt away. He looked at me.

‘What am I going to say to my sister? I’m a detective, Stella. I protect people. How can I tell her I couldn’t even protect my own niece?’

‘It’s not your fault. There’s nothing we could have done.’

‘So what? What do we do now? We just let it have them? We just let it have Amy? I go to my sister’s house and tell her that her daughter is dead? Worse than dead?’

‘No. Not yet. Just because we can’t protect them, doesn’t mean we can’t stop this. Doesn’t mean we can’t stop it taking any more. And she’s alive! Look at her. Amy is alive. She’s breathing, warm, her heart beating. When I touch her head I can still feel her brain working in there. She’s not dead. None of them are. It doesn’t want them dead; it wants them alive to feel whatever it is it wants them to feel.’

‘So, we can get Amy back? This isn’t it, she’s not going to stay like this?’

‘Do you think I’d let it keep her? Let it keep any of them?’

I looked at Amy and I pictured the room full of children slumbering at Ealing hospital, and I felt my fists tighten, knuckles throbbing, magic swirling around them.

‘We’re going to show this bastard what we do to things that mess with kids.’


It’s stupid to make promises you don’t know you can keep, but as I looked at David and saw the pain on his face, all I wanted was to make him feel better. Make him feel hope. Make him believe in me.

I wanted that face to go back to its normal, smiling self. To see the sparkle in his eyes again. The idea of that fear eating away at him made my stomach drop.

But it was stupid.

I had no idea if I had it in me to stop this. My witches had done it once, but so what? What was I compared to them? I was a witch’s helper, that’s all. I didn’t have a tenth of their knowledge or a fraction of their mastery over the Uncanny.

But he’d stood there in front of me looking so small, so broken, that the words had just come spilling out. What if I wasn’t able to keep my promise though? What would David think of me then? Would he walk out of this dusty old coven and never look back? Would he leave me behind, a failed familiar, alone in the city?

It didn’t matter that I’d made the promise when I shouldn’t have. I’d made it, which meant I had to keep it.

David got a call from work and I managed to convince him to go. It was no good him sitting at the coven with Amy. He should carry on as normal and I’d do whatever I could to wake her up. The truth was, I just didn’t want to be in the same room as him until I had some sort of a plan figured out. Some course of action that made me feel as though I was doing my best to keep my promise.

All night I sat with Amy. I’d carried her through into one of the empty bedrooms and laid her out on the bed. I wondered how long she’d stay there. How long until she opened her eyes. Maybe she’d stay in there for good, until her body finally gave out on her. If that happened, would the part of her the creature had taken to its realm die, too? Or would it get to keep that part forever? To torture it for eternity.

I looked through the books of magic my masters had collected over their long lives, searched for anything that might be useful, but nothing came up. If only they’d kept records of some sort, then maybe I’d have an idea how to tackle this situation. But my witches weren’t the type to keep records. There wasn’t a scrap of evidence anywhere of their centuries of fighting monsters. No records, no reports, no computer files I could use to CTRL-F “Monster who steals sleeping kids.”

I walked the coven, going from room to room, lost in my thoughts. The creature didn’t live in this reality. Back in the alley where the monster had been born, I felt like as though I’d seen a glimpse of its hiding place. Felt its realm rubbing up against our own.


Was there a way to tempt it out? What if I could manipulate reality at the monster’s creation point and pull it into our world? If I could do that—lure it from its safe space and into this realm—maybe then I could kill the thing. Destroy it for good.

Still, just going to the alley and demanding it appear wasn’t going to be enough. I needed more. I would need some sort of physical link to the incident. To give me a direct connection to what happened there. Something real. Something related to the creature’s birth.

I needed to find one of the people involved in whatever crime had gone down there decades ago.

My phone rang. It was David.

‘Hi.’ I realised my voice sounded small, embarrassed. I coughed and straightened myself out.

‘How’s Amy?’

‘Good.’ That was stupid. She was far from good. I didn’t want to even imagine what terrors she must have been facing. ‘Sorry. She’s… there’s no change. She’s in one of the beds.’

There was a pause on the other end.


‘Sorry, still here. I think I have something.’

‘What? What is it?’

‘I did a bit of digging through the files, went way back, checking anything in the past hundred years that mentioned that back alley.’

‘And? What did you get?’

‘I think I found the incident. I think I found what started all of this.’

David told me what he’d found.

And I realised just why that monster had been born.


I met David at the gates to Acton Cemetery. It was dawn, the sun just pulling itself clear of the horizon. Forty-eight more kids hadn’t woken that morning. Forty-eight more families, confused and terrified, demanding to know why their child lay dead to the world.

‘Are you sure Amy will be okay on her own?’ asked David.

I wanted to reassure him, but I also didn’t want to lie.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, now I feel loads better.’

‘She’s as safe as anyone can be at this point. No one will be able to get to her at the coven, but if all we do is sit by her side playing nurse, we’ll just be watching her die. So let’s get on with this.’

I strode through the cemetery gates with David at my side.

It had happened eighty years ago. Twenty years before my witches created me. David had read about it on an old police blotter – a matter-of-fact rendition of something terrible. Something beyond terrible.

Alice Travers had been nine years old, sent by her mum to buy some bread early one morning. She never made it to the shop. Two kids from her year at school had been out early too. A boy and a girl who had made it their daily routine to terrorise Alice. Eventually, it lead to their exclusion from the school they shared, and Alice had thought it was over.

It almost was.

The two kids knew Alice would be out alone, bright and early. Being sent to the shop for bread was a daily chore. The boy had been the first to see her. It seemed like he was on his own. Alice had run, straight ahead, towards the shops, and the boy had given chase. Alice met the girl soon after, blocking the path ahead. The bullies has purposefully cut off two paths of escape, forcing Alice to blindly run down the back alley. The back alley out of view of any passers-by. The back alley with the dead end.

Alice must have realised right away that she’d made a mistake. Did she know what was about to happen? She must have been terrified but thought, at worst, they’d punch and kick her. Taunt her. Spit on her. Did she have any idea at all about what the two bullies really had in store for her that morning?

I wondered how they’d gone about it. Had they padded towards her, slowly and deliberately, enjoying the fear? Dragging it out until Alice’s heart felt like it was going to give out? Or had they run into the alley, sprinted towards her, hungry to get started?

The kids, when the police picked them up, claimed they hadn’t meant to kill Alice Travers. That they’d just wanted to teach her a lesson for getting them into trouble. For getting them excluded from school and in terrible strife with their parents.

Had they been telling the truth? Was it a case of bullying gone too far? Or maybe a mania had overtaken them, a blood lust as they egged each other on, past the point of no return. Maybe the creature had been there—almost a real thing but not quite—pushing them on and on to keep hitting, keep stamping, one more time, one more time, go on, enjoy the music of screams and broken bones. Dance to the pain.

Give me life.

They’d left Alice’s body behind the bins, legs sticking out. One of the shopkeepers found it a few hours later as he went to dump some old stock. Little Alice Travers, just nine years old and dead already. Her body a twisted mess. Who’d think two eleven-year-olds could be capable of such a bleak and vicious act?

The creature knew. And now it had come to punish them all. For Alice. For everyone like her.

‘Oi, over here,’ called David, waving me to him as he stood over a gravestone.

‘This must be it, look.’

Alice Travers, read the inscription, Beloved Daughter, 1928-1937.

Such a short life. Nine years and dumped behind some bins.

‘So, what now?’ asked David. ‘I didn’t bring a shovel. Are we just gonna knock on the gravestone and invite her out?’

I needed something from the incident itself. Something with a physical connection, and what would give me a stronger connection than Alice herself?

‘I’m not sure I feel entirely amazing about this,’ said David. ‘Fighting monsters is one thing, but robbing the graves of little girls is a bit, you know… much. I’ll be leaving this one out of my memoirs, anyway.’

‘We need Alice,’ I replied. ‘If it makes you feel any better, it’s just her bones down there, sitting in a box.’

‘Right, just a box of kid bones. That does make me feel lots better. Cheers, Stella.’

‘I mean, it’s not her anymore, it’s just stuff she left behind. She isn’t her body. She isn’t her bones. But those bones will give us the best connection possible to what happened in that alley eighty years back. Something to pry open the window between worlds and drag the creature out.’

‘So we can kick the shit out of it.’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Right. So, are we just digging with our paws like a couple of dogs, or…?’

I raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to stand back. I stood at the foot of the small grave and breathed in slowly. The magic of the cemetery began to wash towards me in great, lapping waves as I made myself a focal point for the Uncanny. The background magic here was strong; this was an old place full of ancient things.

I felt the magic filling me up and reached out with my hands.

‘Alice,’ I said. ‘Alice, come here.’

I fixated on the command, rolling it over and over in my mind. I felt my hands become irresistible, an undeniable force, demanding and insisting.

The ground below trembled a little, then the dirt on the grave plot shook and split.

‘Alice. Alice, come here now. Come here.’

Something began to force its way out of the ground. A patch of dirty white that spread and then pushed itself out and into the morning light.

A skull.

Alice’s skull.

I lowered my hands, allowing the magic to drain away from me. I felt David step in beside me and we both looked at the small skull that had wriggled free of the earth, its eyes wide black holes.

‘Well,’ said David, ‘nothing about that was a poop-inducing nightmare.’

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Grab the skull and let’s get to work.’

As we left Acton Cemetery, David holding the skull under his jacket, nodding meekly at an old man giving his dog a morning walk, I felt hopeful. We had something to fight with now. Something we could use to pull this creature into the light.

Something to save Amy.


Back at the coven I used a pestle and mortar to grind a piece of the skull into a fine powder.

‘She’s still… she’s okay,’ said David, entering the coven’s main room to join me.

‘Good. I’ve finished,’ I said, indicating to Alice’s powdered skull before carefully tipping it into a leather pouch, which I placed in my pocket.

‘You know, there’s something very wrong about all of this. It just feels, odd. I mean, we just ground up a child’s head.’

‘Believe me, I’ve done worse.’

David nodded, then shook his head and laughed. ‘Jesus, my life was a lot more simple before you showed up in my house, yapping about monsters. I had a life and a job I was good at. Well, pretty good at. Sometimes. And now…’

I almost didn’t respond in case the reply was something I didn’t want to hear. I swallowed. ‘And now what?’

‘Well, it’s never boring, is it?’ he said, and winked.

‘No. No, it’s not.’

‘I just want to say, Stella, I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t want to go back. No matter how bad it gets, I couldn’t just turn my back on all this and pretend the Uncanny didn’t exist. I couldn’t, you know, turn my back on you.’

A heavy silence. I thought back to the drunken walk home from a few nights previous, about what almost happened, then patted the bag of ground skull in my pocket.

‘We need to get back to the alley. To the place Alice was murdered.’

David sighed and nodded. ‘Yeah.’

‘You don’t have to come,’ I told him. ‘I can’t ask you to risk going through what happened last time. Not again.’

‘Hey, that’s my niece in there. My family. And even if it wasn’t, kids across the city are in danger. Helping them is my job. It doesn’t matter if that’s frightening, I took an oath. So let’s get on with it, yeah?’

We stood and left the coven, David checking on Amy one last time before we left her behind again. I wondered what it was she was experiencing as she lay still in that bed. What place the creature had taken her to and what it was making her go through. I almost felt like I could hear her screaming. Screaming in pain, in fear. Screaming for help.

Well, help was on its way.

At least I hoped it was.


David had started to talk a lot, even more than usual, and his usual level was like a six-year-old on a sugar high.

‘Easily the best Carpenter film, that. The Thing. How can you not have seen The Thing?’

‘My witches weren’t really big on movie nights.’

‘Well, we’re getting that watched. And then we can get on to the others. You’ll love They Live. It’s about this bloke who gets to see the world as it really is, all covered in monsters and that. Remind you of anyone you know?’ he said, jabbing a thumb at himself.

I nodded. I knew what this was; David was trying to distract himself. To dampen his nerves as we got off the tube and drew closer to that cursed place.

He stopped as we stood before the mouth of the alley.

‘You can stay out here while I do my thing if you want,’ I told him.

‘No, I’m going in there. You never know, you might need me to help you if, well, if shit goes down and stuff.’

‘And stuff?’


‘Okay.’ I walked forward, David following a pace or two behind. On my third or fourth step into the space I felt the atmosphere around me darken, just like the last time. The shadow of the incident, of what had happened to Alice as she had ran in there eighty years ago, the devil at her heels.

‘You feel that?’ asked David, breathing in short, shallow breaths.

‘Yeah. It still lives here. Stamped into our reality. Alice’s murder at the hands of her school bullies.’

‘You realise none of those sentences make me feel even the tiniest bit better, right?’

The first time we came here David hadn’t noticed the way the past had tainted this alley, not until it infected him. This time, it was like he was more tuned into the alley’s darkness. It had taken him once and left its mark on him.

‘Come on,’ I said, and made my way deeper into the alley, taking the leather pouch out of my pocket.

‘So what are you going to do, exactly?’

‘I’m going to try and summon the past. The incident is still happening, even as we stand here. It’s happening again and again, a never-ending repeat. We can use Alice to try and bring it fully into our realm so we can see it.’

‘And if you can do that?’

‘If I can do that, maybe the big bad will show up too.’

‘Well, there’s nothing I like more than terrifying hell beasts, so get cracking, magic lady.’

I poured the ground remains of Alice’s skull into the palm of my right hand. Felt its coarseness between my fingers.

Wake no more,’ I said, then threw the skull dust into the air. Rather than fall to the ground or get caught by the wind and whisked away, the remains hung in front of us, like someone had pressed pause on the passing of time.

‘Is that you doing that?’ whispered David.



The remains were caught in the heavy, bleak magic that washed up and down the alley. The skull was part of this alley’s story. It wanted it. Wanted to claim it. I closed my eyes and became a focal point for the magic, willing it to flow towards me, to enter me.

‘Wake no more, said nobody’s child, kicked and beaten, turned mean and wild.’

The alley darkened. It knew the words. Recognised the power they held.

The skull cloud began to swirl and dance in front of me.

‘Do you hear that?’ asked David, looking around. ‘I think I heard a kid.’

I ignored him. Couldn’t let him break my concentration. Couldn’t let anything break my connection to the magic in the alley, to Alice’s remains, to the rhyme.

‘Wake no more, said the fearful small, for now I am here, to punish you all.’

I threw my arms out and inhaled, my mouth a vortex, inescapable, the cloud of ground skull entering me, filling my lungs.

‘Stella? Stella, are you okay? Talk to me.’

For a moment I was Alice. I saw everything she ever saw, felt everything she’d ever felt. Her whole life opened up to me, every smell, every pain, every half-asleep dawn. It rushed through me, intoxicating. If I wasn’t careful I could get lost in it. Could become submerged and lose myself in the confusion. I couldn’t let it. If I did I might never escape.

‘Wake no more!’

I bent double, screaming, and the cloud of Alice’s skull was expelled, exploding out, tearing through what we saw of the alley like shrapnel through flesh. The alley as we knew it, in our time, was peeling away and being replaced by something that looked similar, but not quite. An older version. The version of eighty years ago.

I realised I was on my knees, coughing, with David patting my back.

‘You know smoking is bad for you, right? Especially smoking the ground up skull of a long dead child. Seriously, ask any doctor.’

I grunted and stood, ‘It worked.’

‘Yeah? So, did we travel back in time? Is that’s what’s happened here?’

‘No. Well, not exactly. We’re still in the same alley, we haven’t gone anywhere, or any-when. I just used the magic in the alley, the memory of what happened here with Alice as the connection. Used it to pull the past version forward so we could see it.’

‘Okay, tell me you heard it this time,’ said David, looking around.

I did. It was a child. A girl. She was screaming.

‘Look,’ I said, David following the dart of my eyes.

There was something behind the bins. Two small legs poking out and into view.

‘Is it her?’ asked David.

We stepped forward and there she was. Alice Travers, her chest rising spasmodically to drag in a desperate last breath or two. Her face a mess, her teeth in her hair like macabre jewels, blood the pillow her head rested upon.

She looked up to us through the one eye still open, and then she died.


I blinked and Alice was gone, melted away in a heartbeat.

‘Jesus Christ,’ said David, quietly. ‘The report said… well, it didn’t go into detail about Alice’s injuries. Kids did that?’

I nodded, ‘Two little kids. Cruel and savage and bloodthirsty.’

‘Where’s she going, Jack?’

‘Nowhere after this, Tilly.’

Voices at the entrance to the alley. We turned to see Alice, wild-eyed, racing towards us, her two attackers slowing as they entered, knowing their quarry had nowhere to go.

A dead end.

‘Hey, it’s okay,’ said David, trying to get Alice’s attention. But of course she wasn’t really there. This was a repeat. I shivered as the cold memory of her brushed past us, prickling my skin.

‘Is she a ghost? Are they all ghosts?’ asked David.

‘No. Not exactly. Ghosts still have their own mind, their own personality. Most of them anyway.’

‘Like Jake, from The Beehive?’

‘Right. This is different. This is a snapshot that the magic in this alley has claimed as its own.’

Alice was backed up against the wall now as the two kids, Jack and Tilly, walked past us.

‘They look so normal,’ said David.

It was true. They didn’t look like murderers. But then what would that look like anyway?

‘Don’t come near me, I’ll tell. I’ll tell a copper.’ Alice’s voice was small and thin. She knew it didn’t matter what she said, Jack and Tilly were going to hurt her anyway.

Tilly’s knuckles connected with Alice’s jaw and she fell to the ground.

‘Christ, can’t you do anything?’ blurted David.

‘Please,’ said Alice. It turned out that “please” was the last coherent word Alice Travers ever said.

Things moved fast then as a sort of mania overtook her attackers. Maybe it was the creature, or the idea of the creature, urging them on. Overwhelming them. Pushing them to go further than they’d intended.

Do it, go on, do it.

I realised with horror that the two attackers were grinning as they went about their work. David tried to intervene but it was pointless, this wasn’t really happening. Not now. It was in the past, an imprint of history.

Then came a blast of wind that almost blew the two kids off their feet, halting their savage attack. They turned, shielding their eyes as a bright light illuminated the alley. The brick walls and cobbled ground seemed to warp. A ripple, like a throat swallowing, flowing down towards us.

‘What’s going on?’ asked David.

‘Something has just been born,’ I replied.

‘Wake no more, wake no more, no more, no more.’

The words fluttered around us like feathers, tickling at our ears.

‘For now I am here, to punish you all.’

Jack and Tilly were the ones that looked scared now. They raced for a way out, sprinting from the broken body they’d left in a bloodied, undignified heap behind the bins.

This was it.

This was the moment.

I raised my hands above my head and willed the magic towards me. Alice’s skull was still in the surrounding air, and I inhaled some of it back into my lungs.

‘Please, Please, Please

A foot stamping down and down and I know suddenly I’m going to die and I worry about my Mum crying when she finds out and

‘Wake no more,’ I said, placing demands in my mind as I said the opening line again. I placed together ancient words that insisted the hidden Uncanny show itself.

‘Please, Please, Please

The magic around me crackled and popped. Screeched like twisting metal. Something was coming.

‘Wake no more, wake no more, wake no more

‘Stella, look!’ said David, tugging at my jacket and pointing all around us.

Shapes were beginning to emerge into this realm. Small shadows, one by one, fading up into view.

‘It’s… are they children?’ asked David.

They were. More and more appeared, crowding around us. All the children laid up in comas in Ealing hospital. In hospitals all over London. In my coven.


David ran to one of the shadows. Somehow we both knew it was her.

‘Amy, can you hear me? Come on Ames, it’s Uncle David, I’ve come to get you.’

The spell had only partially worked. I hadn’t been strong enough to completely pull the creature’s realm into our own, only to give us a glimpse of it. An afterimage.

‘Stella, come on, do something! She’s right here! Save her!’

I closed my eyes and willed the magic into me.

It filled me, made my skin itch, my heart dance, my breath quicken. More and more I soaked in.

‘Show me, show me, show me—’

For now I have come, for now I have come, for now I have come to punish you all.


The children, the shadows of all the children it had taken, were terrified. They scattered, running in and out of view, like they were blinking in and out of reality.

‘Amy? Stop, come back Amy!’

She was lost, it was impossible to know which of the shadows was hers now as they merged, ran, panicked, a mass of screaming horror.

‘What are they running from?’ asked David. ‘What can they see?’

A shiver ran up my spine.

‘Him,’ I replied.

There was a man stood before the brick wall, before the alley’s dead end.

‘They’re running from him,’ I said.

‘Wake no more, said the fearful small, for now I am here, to punish you all.’


The man, the creature, stood quite still.

He was tall, taller than any normal man, and thin besides. The suit he wore clung to him like a second skin. Perhaps it was his skin. His skin forming the idea of clothes. He had hair, brown, a simple short, neat cut, but below the hair there were no features. No face at all, just blank, white skin.

‘Is that it? Is that him?’ said David, backing up a step.

‘That’s the monster,’ I said.

‘Children? Why do you run from me?’ asked the man, somehow speaking even though he didn’t have a mouth. His voice was level, calm, soothing, and yet terrifying.

‘Children, I’m here. There is nowhere for you to go now. Only I exist. Me and my desires. And I desire to punish you all. All the wicked and small.’

The man stepped forward. Well, I assume he did. I didn’t actually see him move, didn’t see him place one foot in front of the other and actually step anywhere. It’s just that he was suddenly one step forward.

‘Why do you hide from me, children? I only want what’s worst for you.’

‘Stella, I don’t… I don’t feel good, I…’

David was backing up against the wall, his hair sticking to the sweat on his forehead.

He began to slide down the wall, lifting up his hands to protect himself.

‘Don’t let them touch me! Please, don’t let them touch me!’

The creature had moved again, another two unseen steps forward.

‘Cruel, cruel, cruel. So small yet so full of hate. I would cry and weep, and sob a river of tears, believe me; if only I had eyes of my own. Poor me. Poor, poor me.’

I ran to David, trying to keep the creature in my field of vision.

‘David, you’re okay, they aren’t here. Those kids are just in your mind.’

‘They climbed over the fence. He’s got a knife. I saw it! He’s going to cut me!’

‘Interesting,’ said the creature, now crouched at my side, staring with the eyes it didn’t have at the cowering David.

Its sudden appearance made me jerk away in surprise, falling onto my side.

‘Please, they’re pushing the blade too hard, it’s going to cut me. Going to cut me open!’

‘Let me see.’

‘Get away from him!’ I yelled, scrabbling to get up and onto my feet as the faceless man reached forward and sank his hand into David’s chest, as though his arm and hand were made of smoke.

David’s eyes opened wide. I wondered what he was seeing. Did he feel the creature’s hand on his heart?

‘Oh yes,’ said the creature. ‘Such pain. Sad, sad, sad. What is it you would wish to do to those boys?’

‘Hurt them. Hurt them badly,’ replied David, through gritted teeth.

‘Now I have come, to punish you all.’

‘Oi, monster, over here!’ I shouted, waved my hands and stamped my feet, but the faceless man didn’t pay me any attention. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I wanted to attack the thing. To throw balls of fire at its featureless head, but I couldn’t risk doing anything while it had its hand inside David’s chest.

‘Monstrous children. That is what they are, you know. All and all and all. The victim. The guilty. Interchangeable. One and the same. Anger and violence. Pain and shame.’

David whimpered, curled up on the dirty cobbles, the creature looming over him, its hand still inside his chest.

‘I didn’t do anything to them. Why did they do that?’ he asked, his voice smaller than I’d ever heard it. ‘They took my hair.’ That wasn’t David the grown man speaking, it was David the young boy. Scared and powerless. The creature was attuned to children, and to childhood trauma in particular. David may not have been a child, but the creature could sniff out his past. His pain. I didn’t have a childhood. Nothing for it to pay attention to. So it didn’t. I wondered if it even knew I was there.

‘I knew a child who killed dogs for kicks,’ said the creature. ‘She would tempt them with a tasty treat then lead them out to a field and stove their heads in with a brick, safely out of sight, for she knew what she was up to was wicked and rotten and worse besides. She would collect the bloody mess and throw it into the river, the water rushing the corpse away to bye-bye. Then she started taking schoolmates who ticked her off most thoroughly. In went their heads, the cracking of skulls, and hey-ho, into the river they go. I took her in the end. She said the rhyme and so she was mine.’

Finally, it removed its hand from David’s chest and stood.

‘David? David, are you okay? Can you hear me?’

He looked up at me, eyes red, mouth quivering and silent.

The creature looked about. ‘Children? Where did you go? D’you know, I don’t think we’re altogether where we should be. Whatever can the matter be?’

It wasn’t going to work, I knew that before I tried. I pulled the magic of the alley towards me and, with a scream of effort, punched my hands towards the creature, one after the other, again and again, molten cords of energy arcing from my glowing knuckles to whiplash against the creature.

It didn’t even flinch.

It looked solid, more solid than the shadow children, but really it was barely any more substantial. Just a piece of the other realm made visible to us by the spell I’d cast.

David was crying on the ground, and the creature turned to him again.

‘Ah, the music of tears. I know this tune well. This is my song.’

I ran at the faceless man as he moved towards David again. Screaming, I tried to tackle him, willed myself to make contact, but I passed through him and tumbled painfully to the ground.

‘Perhaps we could sing a duet?’ said the creature, and lifted David to his feet, before plunging both phantom hands into his chest. David gasped, his head snapping back, eyes wide.


The sound of children screaming began to swirl around us, growing in volume, almost physically assaulting me, beating me down. I pulled the magic into me in a panic, unleashed it in an unfocussed rage, trying to kill the spell. Send this version of the alley, the creature and the children, back to their own realm.

‘So sad,’ said the creature, ‘I feel your pain. I am your pain. I am your urge and retribution.’

David stopped crying and started screaming.

My hands burned hot. I didn’t have a choice. It was either pointless or dangerous, but this thing was harming David. Perhaps even killing him. I had to throw whatever I had at the thing and hope for—

The ground shook.

I staggered back, the wall stopping me, the fire in my hands spluttering out as confusion took the spell’s place in my mind.

‘Oh, don’t fight,’ said the creature to David. ‘We’re friends, you and I. Best of friends. Best of enemies.’

David’s head slowly righted itself to look directly at the creature.

There was something wrong with his eyes.

They were filled with fire.

A white hot glow that seeped from the sockets. Was this the creature’s doing? What was happening to him?

‘David! David, are you okay?’

He lifted his hands and took hold of the creature’s forearms, slowly pulling them from his chest. I’d passed right through the thing like I was a ghost, and yet here was David gripping the thing by the arms.

‘Don’t want to be friends? Oh dear. Oh my.’

David pushed the creature out of him, the power in his eyes had now escaped from his eye sockets and was spreading out, his whole head blazing with white fire.

‘David, stop,’ I said, weakly. I found myself sliding away across the wall, my arm raised to shield myself from the heat he was generating. This couldn’t just be the creature’s effect. What the hell was going on?

David spoke, his voice a deep, unnatural rumble: ‘Finished.’

He threw out his arms and the raging fire erupted from him, burning down this vision of the creature’s realm as the power he unleashed tore my spell apart. Pure, unbridled power flew from him and raged around the alley. I found myself on the ground, covering my head and fully expecting the flames to burn me to ash.

It didn’t happen.

Breathing heavily, I peeked out from behind my arms to see the spell I’d cast was over. Whatever David had done had wiped it away. Broken the connection. The other realm was hidden again and we were back in the here and now.


I turned to see David curled on the ground. Whatever the energy was that had burned around him and killed my spell was gone.

I stood and moved warily towards him.

‘David, are you… okay?’

He looked up at me as he unfurled from his foetal position, then slowly pushed himself up, using the wall for support. ‘This is definitely my least favourite dingy alley in London,’ he said. ‘And I include the one where a junkie stabbed me in the gut with a four inch blade. So, you know, stiff competition.’

He rubbed at his eyes, the eyes that had burned with magical power moments earlier.

‘It was here, David. The creature was here,’ I said, dumbfounded by what had happened. By what David had been able to do.

He put his hand to his chest, to where the faceless man’s hands had entered. ‘Amy was here,’ he said. ‘She was here. Almost here.’

‘I couldn’t save her. Not like she was. The spell wasn’t strong enough.’

David sighed and shuffled forwards as we made our way out of the alley and back into the light of the street.

‘So now what?’ he asked.

‘I’ll think of something, don’t worry. We’ll get Amy back, I promise.’

What had I said about making promises?


We found a nearby pub and collapsed into a booth, David’s hand noticeably trembling as he lifted his pint glass to his lips. His shakes upset the beer, which rolled down the glass and dribbled over his fingers and onto the table.

‘Shit,’ he said as he placed his glass down, half annoyed at the spillage, half embarrassed that he was still so shook up.

We should have gone straight back to the coven to check on Amy, but who were we kidding? We knew what we’d find. Amy laid out in bed, still as a corpse, no closer to being saved. So, instead we found a dingy corner to numb a bit of the doubt and frustration. I took two big gulps and rested the already half empty pint glass back on the table, holding it tight in my hand.

‘It could see me. The creature I mean,’ said David. ‘Why could it see me and not you?’

More to the point, what the hell did you just do back there, David?

‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘Well, not for certain. But I think it must be something to do with what happened to you as a kid. It seemed like you were experiencing that memory again. That childhood trauma. It must have put you on its radar. With me it acted like I wasn’t even there.’

‘Well, don’t take it personally, but maybe you’re not his type.’

I smiled and sipped at my drink.

‘Funny, but I think that is exactly it. I was born an adult, so I don’t have any childhood pain for it to take notice of. I might as well not exist as far as it’s concerned. Maybe it literally can’t see me because of that.’

David sighed and shook his head, lifting his drink to his mouth again.

He looked normal.

There was no trace of the power, the magic that had exploded out of him. No evidence of the white-hot flames that had burned out of his eyes, his mouth, his entire head.

‘You know, my nut is banging here; I must have hit it on the ground or something.’

“Or something” was right.

Was this connected to his new ability to see ghosts? What the hell had Mr. Trick done to him?

‘What are you looking at me like that for?’ asked David.

‘Like what? I’m not looking at you like anything.’

‘You’re looking at me like a big-eyed puppy that you’re about to put down. What’s up?’

‘Nothing, just… I didn’t like to see you like that. In the alley, I mean. That’s all.’

Well, that was sort of true. Just not in the way he would take it.

‘Yeah, well, it wasn’t exactly a picnic for me either. You know, I’d happily locked that memory up in the dark recesses of my noggin, and now here it is again. Any time I want to I can picture those three turds stood over me, knife in hand. I can even remember how I smelled after I pissed my pants. Of piss, if you were wondering.’ He snorted and shook his head.

I should have told him, I know that. It’s like finding out someone has an illness and deciding it’s better for them if they don’t know. It’s never better for them, but I didn’t know exactly what it was that had happened to David. It may have had nothing to do with the effect of Mr. Trick living inside of him. Maybe what had happened in the alley was just some, I don’t know, “natural” backlash to the creature messing with him. Maybe, because he was an adult, his body had just reacted like an antibody, fighting off an infection.

It was possible.

No, I didn’t believe me either.

‘Stella,’ said David, indicating past me with his head, ‘Oi, mate, turn that up will you?’

I looked over to see the barman pick up the remote control and turn up the sound on the pub’s television. It was a news report. A woman with a serious face and serious hair was informing London about the strange spate of children slipping into comas that was happening across the city. Since we’d last checked in, the number had grown.


Eighty-seven kids had closed their eyes and failed to open them again.

‘It’s spreading,’ I noted.

‘And the number’s increasing each day.’

The woman put forward one viewer’s tweeted theory that the children had drunk a contaminated soft drink; a chemical attack by terrorists. The Daily Mail was running with that one for the next day’s front page. One crackpot pundit said it was down to the soup of Wi-Fi waves we live in, affecting the brainwaves of developing minds.

The newsreader moved on to discussing the opening of London’s fourth cereal cafe, and the barman switched over to the football.

‘It’s only getting worse,’ David lamented. ‘What’s our next move, Stella? How do we batter this thing?’


My witches would have known what to do.

Kala, Trin, and Feal; they would have taken this thing down as easy as you like. The creature wasn’t even real, not in the dictionary sense of the word. It was just a magical creation, pulled into existence by the emotions of children. Kala and the rest had already taken it down once, before my time. They’d tackled the thing and beaten it. Protected the children of this city from saying the rhyme; from falling asleep and never waking up again.

But my witches were dead, and whatever safeguards they had put in place to stop this thing, to stop things like it, were growing weak. Now there was only me left to try and stop it. Well, there was Giles L’Merrier, but nowadays he seemed disinterested in the plight of man. Kala used to speak about him a lot. Of the brave and mighty L’Merrier, of the people he would save and the evil he would brush aside and stomp under his foot. She spoke about him with a sort of reverence in her voice, like he was one step above even them. Like she almost worshipped him. But that wasn’t the man holed up in his dusty antiques shop. Now it seemed like the world bored him. Irritated him. I wondered what it would take for L’Merrier to step out of that shop and lend a hand.

I sent David to the coven to check on Amy. I didn’t want to go back. Didn’t want to see her, not yet. Not since the promises I’d made were no closer to being kept. So I walked the streets of West London, pulling my leather jacket tight around me, lost in my thoughts.

Or at least that’s what I was doing at first. After that I was just pretending to be distracted. Pretending like I didn’t know someone was following me.

When you work in my line of business you develop a sort of sixth sense. A little twinge that lets you know when someone is stalking you. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. A prickle that worked itself up and down my spine.

I knew the routine by now. Knew how to snatch a look at who it was surveilling me without letting on that I knew they were there. I’d stop in front of a shop window, pretending to scan the goods inside but actually catching a glimpse of the person lingering behind me. Then I’d make a sudden change of direction, turning back on myself. The surprise would cause whoever was following me to stop, to waver in surprise, caught off guard. In the split-second it took them to right themselves, I’d learn who was on my tail and what they looked like.

It only took rolling those two strategies out a couple of times to figure out two things: first, it wasn’t one person following me, it was several. One was stalking me for a while, for five or ten minutes, then someone else would take their place, like they were part of a tag team. Second: I knew what it was. It was a breed of low-level Uncannys, all from the same clan. I knew that because they always kept to their own, and besides, I knew this one by name.

‘Razor,’ I said, nodding my head by way of a greeting as I sat on some stone steps, waiting for him to catch up.

‘Familiar,’ he said, spitting the words past his small, sharp teeth.

‘Is there something I can do for you? Your whole clan seems very interested in my movements.’

‘Yeah, because I asked them to find you. We eaves know things, hear things; if someone needs to be found, we can track them down.’

‘I’m still waiting for an explanation. And believe me, I’m not in the best of moods right now, so if you’re just here to piss me off, or try to feed me some more dog shit, I’ll be more than willing to take a little frustration out on that ugly mug of yours.’

‘So disrespectful. The High-born always are.’ He slapped his forehead. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, you weren’t “born,” were you? You were puked out by some witches to do their bitch work.’

I stood, hands throbbing with power, and Razor snarled, baring his teeth.

‘A little frustration therapy it is then.’

I raised a fist, magic swirling around it in molten threads, expecting Razor to either attack or run. Instead, he sagged his shoulders and bowed his head.

‘What is this? You talk big and then give in at the first sign of trouble? That is very disappointing, Razor. But don’t think it’ll stop me knocking those yellow teeth out of your skull. I don’t like being followed.’

I raised my fist and stepped forward, ready to teach Razor his—by my count—seventy-fifth harsh lesson. But something stopped me. He looked up, and for the first time I saw something in Razor I’d never seen before.


‘What is it? What’s wrong?’

‘I… I need your help, Familiar.’

‘You need what now?’

‘Your help. We all do.’ He broke eye contact, like he was ashamed. ‘It’s our children. You need you to help our children.’


Razor and I had never exactly spent quality time together. The extent of our relationship to date had amounted to me tapping him for information at The Beehive, or leaving a cracked tooth in his jaw when he did something to piss me off. Needless to say, strolling down the street by his side felt more than a little strange.

Obviously I didn’t trust him, never could and never would, so I was on high alert the whole time, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was he leading me into a trap? That seemed the most likely end result, but then what for, and for whom?

We didn’t make small talk as we walked, which was fine by me. He lead me through the streets of Hammersmith, up back alleys, down blind alleys hidden from the normals of London, through doors that lead places they shouldn’t have. He was taking me to his den. To his home. The eaves hide their nests where no one can find them, even if you’ve been taken there before and think you’ve memorised the location, you’ll soon find yourself lost and trying to figure out which wrong turn you took. It was one of the things they did with the magic they received in exchange for knowledge. Because when your stock in trade is tattling and telling tales, the last thing you want is to be traceable, otherwise who knows what will come knocking on your door.

Razor and I walked across rooftops then through a door into the sewers, swatting away the curious fairies that lived there. Well, I swatted them away, Razor grabbed a few and snapped them open, drinking down the magical juice within. For some reason fairy magic doesn’t have the same effect on the eaves as the magic I gave them. For Razor and those like him the fairy juice was like chewing nicotine gum. It scratched an itch, but wasn’t the same.

Finally, we found ourselves before a large, wooden door that had seen better days. It had been painted bright red once, but now the only paint left on it was huddled in small, peeling patches.

‘We’re here,’ he said. ‘Wipe your feet on the way in.’

As he opened the door I looked up at the large, three-storey Victorian house and wondered which street we were on exactly. I looked around me, squinted, but any time I looked away from the house it was like I was wearing goggles that someone had smeared gloop all over.

Giving up, I stepped into Razor’s house, wiping my feet on the mat inside and closing the door behind me.

‘D’you want a cup of tea?’ asked Razor.

‘Tea?’ I replied, surprised. ‘I never imagined you’d be much of a host, Razor.’

‘Yeah. Well. I do have some fucking manners.’

He turned and trudged up the staircase. I could hear the noise of a TV seeping down from above. I looked back at the closed door and wondered what the hell I was doing. How was this helping the job at hand? How was this helping me keep my promise to David about saving Amy?

‘You coming or what?’ said Razor.

I followed up the stairs. ‘You get five minutes,’ I told him. ‘Some of us have got work to do.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

Eyes peered at me from darkened rooms as I walked, and I heard a few unpleasant words muttered as I passed. I could hardly blame them for that. I’d never exactly been pleasant to them.

The house itself looked like a crack den; an abandoned, dilapidated building that the eaves has found and moved into. Squatted in, made it their own. From the look of the place, not to mention the smell, eaves weren’t too house proud.

‘In there,’ said Razor, pointing to the room at the end of the corridor.

‘And what am I going to find in there?’ I asked. ‘Because if this is some sort of trap, I’ll be leaving you with more than a few bruised ribs this time, understand?’

Razor snarled then spat onto the threadbare carpet. ‘Just get in there you piece of… just, in you go.’

He went inside and I followed.

I wasn’t expecting what I found.

The room was quite large; larger than you would expect for an upstairs room in a house like this. More evidence of magic. They obviously used it for more than getting off their heads and making their dens tricky to locate.

The walls were lined with single beds. Next to each sat an eaves, who looked up to me with barely concealed contempt as I entered.

‘What is this?’ I asked, my voice a whisper.

‘You know exactly what it is, Familiar,’ replied Razor, and went over to one of the beds, joining a female eaves who was sat next to it. I moved around the room from bed to bed. Each contained a small figure. A child. The young of this eaves clan. All had their eyes closed and were sound asleep. The reality of the situation was obvious.

‘They spoke the rhyme?’ I said.

‘Of course they did,’ replied Razor.

‘How did they get hold of it?’

‘We’re eaves, Familiar. We listen. That’s what we do. Something like that rhyme wasn’t going to be passed around our streets without us getting wind of it eventually.’

There were nine beds in all. Nine beds containing nine young eaves.

‘How long?’

‘First few went down two nights back, the rest since,’ replied Razor, one hand resting on the arm of the young eaves in the bed he sat next to. Was that Razor’s own child? In my wildest dreams I’d never imagined he was a father. To be honest, I’d barely given him much thought at all besides what I could get out of him, or what I would do to him if he sold me out.

‘Why am I here, Razor?’

‘Why are you here?’ He stood, a snarl baring his sharp, yellow teeth. ‘You’ve got the nerve to stand in this room, to look at these beds, and ask why you’re here?’

I tensed and took a step backwards, looking at all the eyes now on me. They weren’t happy eyes. They were angry, eager, ready to attack.

‘This isn’t my doing Razor, I’m trying to stop this.’

‘You’re “trying”? Trying doesn’t make our young open their eyes, does it? They’re alive right now—just about—but how long is that going to last? Huh? Will they die today? Tomorrow? Is there any way back for them?’

I never let Razor talk to me like that. Usually my fist would have connected with his jaw a few sentences in, but I felt weak. Powerless. Because he was right.

‘I know what the creature is. I found it.’

‘Then why aren’t my young awake?’

‘I just need to figure out a way to stop it. To destroy it if I can.’

“If”? I bring you to my den, show you this, and all you’ve got is an “if”?’

‘I can’t promise anything.’ I thought about what I’d said to David. The promise tumbled out easily then, more than once, because I wanted him to believe in me. I wanted him to believe I was going to take that pain away.

‘You know how long it took your witches to deal with this the last time? One day. One morning kids in Hanwell didn’t wake up and by the evening they’d taken care of the whole thing. The creature never affected another child. How many nights have passed this time?’

‘I’m not my masters,’ I replied.

‘No, you’re not. You’re a weak little familiar that they made out of dirt and spit. A mindless thug without an ounce of their knowledge. You think you’re what London needs? That you can just take up the mantle of the London Coven all on your own and keep everyone safe?’

I realised I was backed up against a wall, my heart beating like a jackhammer. He was right. I wasn’t as good as my masters, nowhere near. Maybe I didn’t have what it took to replace them. Maybe I doing more damage than good.

‘I’m trying, Razor. I’ll beat this thing, I pro… I’ll beat it.’

Razor snorted and his eyes narrowed. ‘You’d better. Because it’s not just the young of normals being taken. It’s everyone’s. And we all know whose job it’s supposed to be to fix it, so if you don’t, we’ll be coming for you. All of us.’ He pointed to the door. ‘Now get the fuck out of my house.’


David was slumped on the couch in the coven’s main room when I got back, his mobile phone discarded on the floor several feet away.

‘Good walk?’ he asked.

‘Yeah. No. Not really. Razor took me home to see the family.’

David looked at me with a not unreasonable amount of confusion. ‘Say what?’

‘Oh, he was just showing me what a shit job I’m doing, that’s all.’

‘Fair enough.’

I gestured at the phone on the floor, ‘What’s happened now?’

He sat up and sighed. ‘I called my sister. Had a nice chat. Lied to her about her daughter, the one in the coma that she might never come out of. You remember Amy, right?’

‘I remember.’

‘I told her Amy was going to stay a few more nights because we were having so much fun, and that the reason she wasn’t replying to calls or texts was because she dropped her phone into the toilet and we were trying to dry it out in a bag of rice. So, I feel really amazing right now and not at all like a subhuman piece of shit.’

I flopped on a chair and pictured the room of slumbering eaves, all being terrorised by the creature in its nightmare realm. They’d have been up and about had my witches been alive. Had Mr. Trick not dropped into our world and murdered them.

‘You know, Magic Lady, the whole defeated body language you’re rocking there isn’t filling this detective with a lot of confidence.’

I waved a middle finger in his general direction.

‘Ever the lady. Okay,’ said David, ‘enough with the sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves stuff, let’s actually try and get this sorted out, shall we?’

‘Don’t you think that’s what I want? I don’t know what to do, David. Everyone is relying on me to stop this thing and I don’t know how.’

‘Do I ever seem like I know what I’m doing?’

I raised an eyebrow.

‘Exactly, but I still solve cases. Because you don’t need to know everything, or even anything, I just have to know the things the case shows me as I stumble around in the dark like an idiot. So, let’s act like detectives and put everything we know on the table. We do that, we have all the pieces out there, and we’ll find what we need to do next. Standard procedure. Come on, what do we know about this thing?’

I smiled. David knew how to give me a metaphorical slap around the face to get me moving.

‘Well, we know it takes kids. It’s only interested in kids.’

‘Okay, that’s thing one. We also know it only takes them when they go to sleep.’

‘And after they’ve already said the rhyme,’ I said, standing and pacing.

‘We know it zeroes in on childhood trauma. That it’s drawn to it like a wasp to a sticky bun.’

‘Yes, it was even distracted by yours, even though you’re a grown up.’

‘Yes, I am a sort of a grown-up, whatever my ex says.’

‘It seemed like it couldn’t even see me because I don’t have any childhood trauma. Or childhood.’

‘Okay, another thing we know is that it doesn’t really, sort of, exist here. Not where we are, right?’

‘Right, yes. In the alley, when I managed to pull its realm into ours a little, I passed right through it. It doesn’t exist properly here.’

‘So, what does that mean? We can’t do anything to it?’

I stopped my pacing as a few thoughts started to coalesce. ‘Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what it means,’ I said, grinning.

‘Well, I’m glad that tickles you, Magic Lady, but it seems like a teensy bit of a problem from where I’m sitting.’

‘I know what we have to do. I think I know.’

‘That’s definitely a positive. Run with it, Stella.’

‘We have to go to the thing’s realm and kick its teeth in over there.’

David nodded slowly, ‘Okay. Following. Makes sense.’

‘If I can get there I can finish this, I’m certain of it. Well, pretty certain.’

‘Pretty certain?’

‘Sixty percent. Sixty-five maybe.’

‘You’re losing me a little. Let’s bring this home strong; how do we actually, you know, get over there? To Scary-Town?’

‘The thing only pulls children into its world, yes?’


‘Then I just have to convince it I’m a child.’

Another slow nod.

‘As simple as that, eh?’

‘Yes. Actually, no. There’s more…’


We found him supping a pint in the corner of the Camden Tavern.

‘Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,’ said Jake Fletcher; ghost and ex-exorcist, as we entered the pub. ‘I take it this isn’t a happy coincidence?’

‘Um, who’s this?’ asked David, pointing at the man in the booth.

‘That’s Jake Fletcher.’

David turned to him again, understandably confused. ‘What are you talking about? This guy’s much better looking.’

Jake scowled. ‘You’re a real charmer, you know that?’

We were off to a bad start, so I poured on some honey. ‘Nice suit,’ I said.

‘You like? Cost a bomb I reckon,’ he replied, stroking the lapels of his pinstripe jacket.

‘I was talking about the meat suit,’ I said, gesturing to the living body Jake was currently possessing.

‘Oh, this old thing? Yeah, I sometimes need to avail myself of a living person every now and again. You know, when I’ve got something important needs seeing to, or when I fancy a drink and a packet of dry roasted. Cheers,’ he said, raising the beer, taking a big gulp, and smacking his lips. ‘You’ve no idea what a bugger it is not being able to have a drink whenever you want. Probably the worst thing about being dead.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said David, ‘Are you saying you’re currently possessing a living person?’

‘Bang on, son. He’s quick, isn’t he, for a copper I mean.’

I smiled and sat on a stool opposite Jake. Well, opposite Jake and the man he was currently riding around inside of.

David took the stool next to mine, ‘Wait, is this not, well, not illegal, as such, but morally a bit… iffy?’

‘I wouldn’t get your knickers in a twist about it, mate. Grade-A turd, this one,’ he said, prodding the chest of his meat suit. ‘Like I said last time, he used to make my life a living hell growing up, so now, whenever I need a living body, I take his. Least he owes me, the twat. Besides, I make sure he never remembers any of it later. No harm, no foul.’

‘Alright then, I think I might get a drink. Stella?’

I nodded and David went to order.

‘So, how did you know I’d be here?’ Jake asked.

‘A little birdie told me.’

‘Oh yeah?’

‘Well, a little eaves anyway.’

‘Those little bald guys with the piranha teeth? I had a ruckus with one of them a little while back. Razor he was called.’

I smiled. ‘So, that was you who gave him the fresh bruises?’

‘Seemed rude not to.’

He certainly had a sense of humour for a dead guy.

‘So, is there a reason you two have rocked up in my local?’ Jake asked. ‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a pleasure to chew the fat with some other weirdos, but I was under the impression me and you weren’t too friendly.’

‘Have you seen the news?’

He nodded. ‘The kids.’

‘That’s right.’

‘I thought that was a bit naughty, yeah. I was going to have a gander at it myself at some point.’

‘Right after you’d possessed a former bully so you could get drunk?’

‘Priorities, Stella,’ he said with a wink.

‘This thing attacks children. It’s attracted to childhood trauma, and I plan to use myself as bait. I want it to latch onto me and pull me into its realm so I can kick its teeth down its throat.’

‘So, you’re going to waft your childhood boo-hoos under its nose and hope it takes a bite?’


‘And how are you meant to pull that one off? I’ve read about familiars, you’re created exactly like you are now, all grown-up. You don’t have a childhood.’

‘No,’ I replied, ‘but you do.’

Jake sat back and grinned.

‘Oh, I see how it is. You’ve come begging a favour, have you? Well isn’t this a turn up.’

David returned, placing a pint before me and sitting down to take a mouthful out of his own. He wiped the foam from his mouth and looked at the pair of us, silently staring at each other. ‘What did I miss?’

‘Jake being a prick.’

‘Right,’ he replied, and took another swig.

‘It’s funny,’ said Jake, ‘because I seem to remember, not so very long ago, coming to you with a little heads-up about a potential giant, terrible problem and being told to do one, in no uncertain terms. That stung my cold, dead heart, I’m not gonna lie, folks.’

‘You can blame her for that,’ replied David. ‘That’s just her personality.’

I glared at David, then started on my drink.

‘So, what’s the deal with you two? Knocking boots?’

‘What does that mean?’ I asked.

‘I’m picturing P.C. Plod here in something frilly, tied to a bed, while you stroll around in thigh-high boots, cracking a whip. Am I close? How close? Seventy percent of the way there?’

‘Hey,’ said David. ‘Why am I the one tied up?’

‘We’re not a couple,’ I said, my voice a little higher than I’d have liked.

‘So, what you’re saying is, you’re available?’

I felt the blood rush to my face and had to swallow the urge to clobber the man Jake was possessing.

‘Okay, okay,’ said Jake. ‘I’m rising above here. So what exactly is it you want from me that’s important enough to interrupt pint and peanuts night?’

‘Well,’ I said, already regretting the words before I spoke them, ‘Jake Fletcher, I want you inside of me.’

David coughed and spluttered as his drink went down the wrong way. ‘What did you just say?’ he gasped.

The way he said it, I sensed something more than just surprise. What was it? Was it jealousy? Did David care for me as something other than a friend?

This wasn’t the place. I turned to Jake. ‘So?’ I said.

‘So what?’ he replied.

‘Are you going to help me or not?’

‘Give us a second,’ he said, then lifted his pint, draining the last of its contents, before slapping the glass down and unleashing a deep burp. ‘Stella Familiar, it looks like we have ourselves a crossover episode.’


Jake knocked back eight shots of tequila, then went to the toilets and left the body he’d been possessing unconscious in one of the cubicles.

‘Let’s rock and roll,’ he said, as he walked through the door, back in his ghost form, and headed for the street.

The fact that Jake could possess the living, and that he’d chosen to possess that body in particular, had been the two things that made my plan come together.

I needed to convince this nightmare creature that I was a child. The magic to make myself look like one was simple, but I needed more than that. I needed childhood trauma. Real trauma. And I needed it embedded deep in my brain.

That’s where Jake came in.

First, he’d be able to jump inside me and share my body, share my mind. Well, share the bits I allowed him to. Then, when the creature came for me, my magic would convince it that I was a child, and Jake’s childhood trauma would seal the deal. The trauma he’d told me about when we first met at The Beehive. The trauma the man he liked to possess had been responsible for.

It was a good plan.

It would work.

It had to, because if it didn’t, I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

‘So, this is the London Coven, huh?’ said Jake, looking around. ‘I thought it would be a bit swankier. This place has all the soul of a motorway service station.’

We moved through to the bedroom where Amy was still laid out in her coma.

‘Who’s this then?’

‘My niece,’ said Jake.

‘Right. Sorry about that. She still…?’

‘She’s alive,’ I said. ‘The thing has her, but she’s alive. And I’m going to get her back.’

We moved Amy over so there was enough room for me to lay next to her. I took her hand and rested my head on the pillow. Amy was part one of the plan. My physical connection to her would get the trick rolling. Would fool the creature into thinking I was a child.

‘Jake, when you’re inside me, don’t try to control anything. Don’t try to move me. Just sit still and think about the things you used to suffer.’

‘Well, this is going to be a barrel of laughs. I’m being sarcastic, by the way.’

‘I got that,’ said David.

‘That’s why you’re the detective, Detective.’

David pulled up a chair and sat by my side. I held out my other hand and he took it in his. ‘You’re going to be my anchor, David. My way back in case I need to get out of that thing’s realm fast. By holding your hand I’ve given myself a living, conscious tether back into this world, so whatever you do, don’t let go. My life is literally in your hands.’

‘If I need to pee really quick, is that okay?’

I shot him a dirty look then turned to Jake. ‘Go on then, in you go.’

‘Don’t worry, darling, I’ll be gentle.’

Jake warped and fuzzed, then broke into an indistinct cloud that floated towards me. It felt like being dropped into a cold bath as the two of us became one.

‘Are you okay?’

David’s voice, but distant.

‘Yes. It’s just… it’s uncomfortable.’

I shook my head as Jake’s memories began to mix with my own. He wasn’t possessing me, not completely. If he did, my conscious mind would drop out and he’d take over completely. No, for this to work we had to exist as a duo. Like we were one and the same.

Alright darling, whenever you’re ready to stick your head in the lion’s mouth.

Jake’s voice inside my head. That was weird.

Yeah, it takes some getting used to.

I looked up to David, trying not to look worried.

‘Go and kick this thing’s arse,’ he said. ‘Go and show it who it’s messing with, then bring Amy back. Bring them all back. And make sure you come back, too, okay?’

He squeezed my hand.

I turned my head and looked up at the ceiling. The magic of the coven washed around me and I pulled it into myself, the colours strobing as they drew towards me.

I was a child. I was a child like Amy. I wasn’t a grown up, I was young, small, still to fully develop.

I felt the spell connecting, felt the spark, the static, between my hand and Amy’s.

Time for part two.

I put the correct words together in my mind, then closed my eyes and spoke a single word.



At first I was nowhere.

A black nothing without sound, without feeling, without time or space.

I tried to look at my hands to stop feeling so dislocated, but I wasn’t even sure I had hands anymore.

So I sat in the nothing for a while. Or stood in it. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing.

Then I was in a room I half remembered from over twenty years ago. It was a bar, somewhere in Soho. Not sure where now, but I remembered being there a few times. I was singing karaoke with a person I’d never met before. At least I didn’t remember meeting them. Then I was the person I didn’t remember and I was annoyed that this other person, the me I was now stood opposite, didn’t seem to know who I was.

‘How can you not remember me?’ I said to myself, but myself just shrugged, so we started to sing a duet to American Pie instead.

You’re dreaming, Stella.

‘I know that,’ I said to Jake’s voice.

I was myself again, and left the bar to get some fresh air, only when I stepped out into the street I somehow ended up in a train carriage. I sat and looked at the people at the other end, who seemed to be having a bit of a disagreement. I could see myself down there. It was my first mission for the London Coven. Not just my first mission, but my first day alive. I’d only been created hours earlier, and now there I was, chasing after a monster that could change its shape at will. I often thought about those people. The other passengers whose lives I’d dropped into. I’d made sure to remember each of their faces.

You haven’t changed much in sixty years.

‘I don’t age. I am what I am.’

Like a sexy Popeye.

I just about resisted the urge to punch myself in the head.

I needed to get off this train, to stop thinking about my first day of life, because if I thought about that it would break the illusion that I was a child. That I’d had a childhood at all. Instead I thought about Amy.

I was sat in bed and my Mum, no, Amy’s Mum, was at the door, smiling at me. Angie, David’s sister.

‘What you still doing awake, Miss?’ she asked.

‘Having trouble sleeping, Mum,’ I replied.

‘Why’s that then? You not tired?’

‘I am. But that’s when the bad thing comes.’

‘No use fussing now, love. You’ve said the rhyme out loud, haven’t you?’

I nodded.

‘Well then, damage is done as far I can see. Better off just accepting your fate and getting a good eight hours in. Night, night, love. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’

She closed the door and all was black. I felt the covers on my skin, the cool pillow against my cheek.

You know how dangerous this is? To put yourself up as bait for a monster? To waggle your bare arse in its direction, hoping it’ll sink its teeth into your seat meat and drag you into its realm?

‘Doesn’t matter. This is what I was created for. To put my life on the line for others.’

What if it doesn’t come for you?

‘It will.’

It came for children as they slept.

The children that had spoken its rhyme out loud.

It had marked them in some way. Shot up a flare that the creature could home in on. Well, I’d spoken the rhyme over and over again since Amy first handed me the note with all the lines written down.

‘Wake no more, said nobody’s child, kicked and beaten, turned mean and wild. Wake no more, said the fearful small, for now I am here, to punish you all.’

I’d probably said it out loud more than any of the children it had taken.

I was noisy with flares. The sky above me was a riot of bright explosions. It was just a matter of time.

‘Jake. Think about the things that man did to you as a child. Think about them and how they made you feel.’

I closed my eyes. I was in a classroom. I tried to stand but found my arm tethered, my shoulder jarring as I strained to get free.

Laughter, faces leering in, kids sneering down at me. I was handcuffed. Handcuffed to a radiator. It was hot and the heat was conducting through the metal of the cuffs. My wrist was getting hotter and hotter.

‘Let me go!’ I screamed, but Mark, young Mark, Jake’s bully, just laughed and waggled the key in front of me, letting me snatch at it but keeping it just out of reach.

‘It hurts! It’s burning me!’

‘What a fucking pussy,’ he said to the other kids.

We weren’t in the classroom anymore.

I was still cuffed to the radiator, my skin burning, Mark leering down at me—at Jake—but now all there was around us was black.

There was no noise. Mark still laughed and jeered, spittle flying, but he didn’t make a sound.

‘Mark? Mark, can you hear me?’

A pressure.

Something was coming.

I was alone. I grabbed the wrist that had been cuffed but was now free and rubbed at it. There was no burn mark.

I stood.

‘Jake? Jake, can you hear me?’

I couldn’t hear him in my head anymore.


The black rippled.

‘Night, night, love. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’

‘Night, Mum.’

Night air on my skin. Goosebumps.

I looked around. I wasn’t in the dark anymore, and I wasn’t in my own dreams.

I was in the back alley in Acton. I could see two small legs poking out from behind some bins.

Alice Travers, the young girl beaten to death by her two bullies, eighty years ago.

I was in the creature’s realm.

It had me.


‘David? David, where are you?’

I closed my eyes and tried to feel my hand in his. I wasn’t in my own dreams anymore, I was in a different realm of existence, a realm created by this creature when the murder of Alice Travers gave it life. I could easily be trapped here if I didn’t make myself an exit point, which is why I had David holding my hand. As long as he kept hold of me I had a living, conscious link back to my own realm, to what we think of as the “real world,” and I could escape from here.



There it was.

I could feel his hand squeezing mine. The warmth of his skin against my own.

‘I’m here.’ His voice was a whisper, indistinct, like a suggestion of a voice carried on the wind.


‘I’m here, I have you. I won’t let go, Magic Lady.’

Without opening my eyes I imagined a door that would lead me back to him. That if I were to turn the handle, open it, and step on through I’d find myself back with him. Back in my coven.

I imagined it was real, then demanded it be real, pushing the command out of myself.

I opened my eyes; there was a door in the brick wall to my right. A neon sign above it read EXIT.

Now my way out was set I could get back to it any time I needed to. But I wouldn’t step through it until I had done what I’d come here for.

First, I was going to find the kids. Find them and get them to this exit point. After that I was going to put an end to this creature. Not block its entrance into our world, not put a lock on its door. Locks weaken, and if this saga had taught me anything, it’s that half a solution wasn’t a solution at all.

No, this time, my time, I was going to make sure returning to haunt the dreams of children would never be an option, or I was going to die trying.

‘Jake, can you hear me now?’

Silence. No smart-arse reply. I couldn’t feel him anymore, but I knew he was still there. I could still hear the sound of Mark taunting him. His fear was still in me, and that meant Jake must still be there too.

I turned to where Alice Travers lay, her face a battered mess, and knelt beside her.

‘Hello, Alice.’

Alice’s broken lips twitched and her eyes flickered open, the whites bloodshot, one bulging from its socket.

‘My name is Stella.’


Her voice had no power behind it. No breath. No life.

‘Have you seen any other children here? Maybe a girl called Amy?’

‘I think I’m in a terrible way, Miss Stella. Could you call me a doctor? I don’t want to die.’

I took her cold, damp hand in mine.

‘I’m sorry, Alice, but you’re already a long time dead. What happened to you was eighty years ago.’

‘Eighty years? No, it just happened. It’s always just happening. I get back up and clean off the blood and then they come running after me again.’

She sat up, her clothes tearing away from the dried blood, and pushed herself back onto her feet, joints cracking like logs on a fire.

‘Look,’ she said, pointing to the other end of the alley, ‘Here they come again, and again, and again.’

I turned to see her attackers, her school bullies, running into the alley, their faces a mixture of joy and savagery, running towards her. I instinctively pulled the surrounding magic into myself and unleashed a molten arc of power, trying to stop the kids in their tracks, but they ran straight through the spell, not even flinching.

I looked away as they punched and kicked and stamped at Alice. They weren’t really alive. There was nothing I could do to stop this. Alice Travers was long dead and beyond anything I could do. I could only help the kids that were here but still alive, laid up in hospitals across London, in a hidden eaves den, in a room, laying beside me, in the London Coven.

Eventually the bullies blinked out of existence and it was just me and Alice left in the alley.

‘Alice? Alice, have you seen Amy?’

‘Yes. She was here once. I remember her. She tried to help me too, but you can’t help the dead, can you? Too late then. Too, too late.’

‘Can you tell me where she might be?’

Alice nodded, ‘She’s where her fear is. Find her fear. Oh look, here they come again.’

Alice got back to her feat.

‘Thanks, I’m sorry I can’t help you,’ I said, and turned from her, passing the two bullies as I made my way out of the alley.

Alice’s scream cut off abruptly as I stepped out of the alley and into what lay beyond. I didn’t walk out onto a street in Acton, as I would have done in the real world, instead I stepped into something that looked like a nightmare drawn by Escher.

Random pieces of reality were jammed together: rooms, streets, forests, lakes, schools, back gardens, caves, bedrooms, all slapped together by a madman in a dizzying array that made my head swim. There seemed no reason to it. It felt like I might fall into nothing with the next step. There was no way to orientate myself as the different places didn’t sit next to each other, but jutted out at every angle


Cackling laughter. I whirled around to see a boy in the distance. A black shape, a shadow. Was that the monster?

He stepped forwards. It was Mark. Jake’s meat suit. His bully.

‘Where are you going, Jake, you fucking queer?’

This realm was reading the fear inside of me, but it wasn’t mine, it was Jake’s. I wondered what effect this would have on him if he was really here? Would it pull out a primal sense of terror? Would it reduce him to a terrified wreck?

‘Oi, bender, I’m talking to you.’

Mark stomped towards me, pulling a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket.

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘but you’ve got the wrong person.’ I pulled the magic around me into myself and shot the palm of my hand forwards, fire arcing from it and burning the pretend Mark to nothing.

Mark was here for Jake. Somewhere in this jumble of places there was a room or two from Jake’s fears, and Mark was there to take him to it. To torment him forever. Well, bad luck, it wouldn’t work on me.

‘Amy, where are you?’

I reached out with my senses, trying to find something I recognised.

‘Listen,’ I said, placing the correct words in my mind.

‘Please, just stop! Please!’


That was Amy’s voice.

I closed my eyes and held onto the connection, stepping forward, trusting it to take me to her. I felt tree branches scrape against my skin, felt the cold chill me, then heat make me sweat. I felt the ground beneath my feet change from one step to the next as I moved through the crazy array of places and times that the creature had squashed together in its realm.

I stopped. I could hear girls jeering, the sound bouncing off something hard, like we were inside a tiled room.

I opened my eyes, I was in a communal toilet. Four cubicles on one side, a line of sinks and mirrors on the other. Four girls were stood in a little semi-circle at the far end, a fifth girl in front of them, her back pressed against the wall as the other girls leaned in at her.


‘God you’re fat.’

‘So fat and gross.’

‘Why’d you think Josh would even look at you, never mind fancy you, you dirty skank.’


‘What’s wrong with your clothes?’

‘Mum can’t afford anything decent?’

‘Shut up!’

‘Or what?’

‘What you gonna do, bitch?’

One reached forward and yanked on Amy’s hair.

I outstretched a hand and flames leapt from it, burning the mean girls like they were made of old newspaper, until all that was left were the echoes of their nasty little slurs.




‘Amy, it’s me, it’s Stella. I’ve come for you.’

Amy shook her head. ‘No, you’re lying. You’re just this place. You’re the monster!’

I didn’t have time to negotiate so I grabbed her and pulled her forward, past the mean girls that were beginning to form again, to give themselves bodies and not just voices.

‘Where you going, bitch?’

‘I’ll fucking kill you if you talk to Josh again, you hear me?’

I pushed the door and stepped out, pulling a struggling Amy after me. We stepped out onto an abandoned train platform.

Amy blinked in surprise then looked at me. ‘Stella? Oh my God, it’s you, isn’t it? It’s really you!’

This platform wasn’t part of her fears, this was the location of some other kid’s worst memory. Pulling her here had snapped Amy out of her own terror.

‘Yes, it’s really me. Me and your Uncle David, we came up with a plan, and this, well, this is the plan.’

‘How did you get here? You’re not a kid.’

‘Magic. And a ghost.’

‘A ghost!’


‘Oh, cool.’

I gave her a shrug. ‘You haven’t met him.’

‘Oi, bender!’

I turned to see Mark walking towards us.

‘Who’s that?’ asked Amy.

‘That’s one of the ghost’s issues, don’t worry about it. Come on.’ I threw a ball of fire at the pretend Mark as we headed for the platform exit.


We did our best to ignore what was happening to Alice Travers as we arrived in the back alley and approached the exit I’d created.

‘So, I’ll just wake up, as soon as I step through that door?’

‘Yes.’ I decided to leave out the “hopefully.”

She looked at the door with its flickering exit sign.

‘Are you coming?’

‘No, not yet. There are too many other kids here still. I came here to save all of them, not just you.’

‘But what if… what if the creature notices what you’re doing?’

That was the big question. Sooner or later it would realise something was up and come looking for me.

‘If it comes, I’ll smack it in its stupid, blank face,’ I replied, and smiled.

‘You’re such a bad-arse.’

‘Yes, I am. Now get through the door, your uncle is waiting for you.’

She smiled and opened the portal to a white light beyond. ‘Thanks, Stella. Thanks for saving me.’

She turned and stepped through the door, the light engulfing her before the door slammed shut again.

Okay, one down, a shit-load more to go.

I have no idea how long it took me. No idea if time even existed the same way in the nightmare realm. For all I know I could have been there for seconds in real time.

Or decades.

Every new place was boiling with fear and anger. With pain and hatred. It chipped away at me, little by little, even as I found the children, one by one, and led them to the exit.

‘Are you okay?’ asked one of the kids as I leaned against the wall, trying not to hear the sounds of feet stomping on Alice Travers.

‘Yes, just tired, that’s all. Go through the door. It’s time you woke up.’

And on it went: the image of Mark appearing again and again to torment me, or at least try to. After all, it was Jake’s trauma it was reacting to, not my own. The only effect it had on me was to make me increasingly annoyed as I struggled on.

I found all the eaves kids huddled together. They were the only ones not suspicious of me as I tried to help.

‘We know who you are.’

‘Of course we do.’

‘We’re eaves, we hear lots of things about you, Familiar.’

Finally, the last one, a small human boy named Tom. I found him locked in an abandoned hut in the woods. In this place the birds didn’t tweet, they screamed with the voices of terrified infants. Spiders crawled over every inch of Tom’s body as boys ran circles outside, hitting the walls of the hut with sticks and laughing and hooting. I burned them to cinders then carried the boy into the woods. Into the abandoned train station. The classroom. The caravan. The public toilets. Onwards and onwards through the sites of a thousand tortures.

At last we arrived in the back alley in Acton, a dying Alice Travers behind the bins. I pointed to the exit.

‘Go on. Wake up. Get out of here.’

‘Are you not coming?’

God knows I wanted to. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. This place had pounded against me relentlessly. Trying to find a way in.

‘I can’t. Not yet. I have one more thing to do.’

Tom nodded. He knew what I was staying to finish.

‘He’s coming.’


‘The monster. The monster man without a face. Can’t you feel him?’

‘He’s coming,’ said Alice, agreeing, her voice a death rattle.

‘This is nothing but a bad dream, Tom. Go and wake up now.’

Tom shook his head. ‘No. This is very, really, real, I’d say. And you can die if it’s real. Don’t die, Miss.’

And with that, he stepped through the door into the bright white and the realm was empty apart from myself and poor Alice Travers. Only one of us was real though. Alice’s cries and battered body were nothing but shadows cast by something that was over a long time ago.

The alley rippled and writhed, reality warping around me, making me stumble in my beaten down state. Making me feel like I might throw up. Like the world surrounding me was a boat on a wild ocean.

‘Children? Where are you, children?’

Alice Travers was by my side, fear on her corpse face. ‘He will be very mad with you. I think he’ll want to do terrible, awful things to you.’

My stomach was telling me to go. To run away and hide. To escape the bad man. But that was just this place. I knew that. Infecting me with fear.

I stood my ground even as the cobbles beneath my feet tried to throw me down.

A tear split in reality at the far end of the alleyway.

It was coming.

He was coming.

Alice ran to hide behind the bins where she’d died.

I clenched my fists as a pretend man without a face stepped out of the tear and into the alley.

‘I’ve looked all over and I can’t find them,’ it said. ‘In every bad place, in every haunted terror. What have you done with my children, Stella Jake?’


The creature stood still, arms by its sides, as the two bullies ran into the alley towards Alice Travers to punch and spit and stomp, stomp, stomp.

‘Is the music of my realm not beautiful, Stella Jake?’

‘You’re done, you hear me? You’re a monster, and you’ve just met the woman who finishes the monsters.’

I pulled the strange magic of the alley into myself and thrust out a fist, punching an arc of lethal power in the thing’s direction. I never saw it duck, or jump, or run – in the blink of an eye it just wasn’t where it had been. The magic sailed past and died.

‘My children liked to dance to the music of my home. Or hated it. Or clapped in joy. Or ran in screaming terror. So hard to know or understand for sure. Whatever have you done with them?’

‘I’ve sent them home, you piece of shit.’

I grunted with effort as I unleashed another arc of power, only to see the same thing happen to it. A blink and the creature wasn’t where it had been, and the magic guttered and died.

It tilted its head to one side, ‘I don’t understand. Is that not a home for them? I made it just for them. It only exists to hold them. To haunt them. To torture them. For now I am here, to punish them all.’

‘Stay still!’ I unleashed arc after arc of power, dragging the magic around me into my body and unleashing it over and over, but it didn’t matter what I threw at it, I missed my target every time.

‘Stella Jake, why do you fight so? This is right. Your punishment. All children will come here forever and ever and I will make sure only the very worst happens to them.’

‘Run,’ said Alice Travers from her pillow of blood on the alley floor.

‘I won’t run.’

‘You made yourself a way out? How did you do that, Stella Jake?’

He passed a hand in front of himself.

‘No, no. I’ll take it away.’

I turned to my exit, but all that was there now was a solid brick wall.

‘David? David!’

I tried to concentrate on him, tried to feel his hand in mine, but I couldn’t feel anything. Was I trapped there now? Doomed to suffer in this nightmare realm for all eternity?

‘Children? Where are my children?’

I screamed and threw everything I had in the creature’s direction. The bricks exploded behind where it had been stood a heartbeat before, shards shooting every which way.

I ran from the alley.

The world rushed past me in a jumble as I tried to formulate some sort of plan.

‘David? David, where are you?’

I couldn’t feel him at all, couldn’t hear even the faintest whisper of his voice. I was stuck here, maybe for good.

I skidded to a halt on the abandoned train platform and tried to catch my breath.

‘Where are you running to, Stella Jake?’

The creature was stood at the far end of the platform. It begun to move towards me, closer and closer with each second that passed, never once seeming to actually take a step.

‘Are you taking me to my children? Where have you put them? They have not been punished enough for their wicked ways.’

‘They haven’t done anything wrong! They’re just kids!’

The ground where the creature had been a second before exploded as another volley of magic flew from my knuckles and missed the thing.

‘They haven’t done anything wrong? Oh, that’s not true. They hurt. They shame. They kick and they punch. They make lives a misery, and now I am here to punish them all.’

I tried to run as the creature almost reached me, but jerked back, my shoulder jarring. I turned to see Mark grinning at me, my wrist chained to a radiator. And then I was back in the classroom, with Mark and his gang of savages laughing at me as the heat torched my wrist.

‘Nothing wrong?’ said the creature, stood at the head of the class, its head tilted to one side. ‘This is not me, I did not create this. This all happened. And it happens and it happens again.’

‘But this is just one bad child, why do you have to hurt all of them?’

‘One bad child? None are innocent. All must be punished for the way they made me feel.’

As he spoke, his voice began to morph into that of Alice Travers.

‘They kicked and they punched, Stella Jake. Punish them.’

‘No, Alice. That was just those two children. Punish them, not all of them!’

‘No,’ said the creature, now using another child’s voice. ‘Not just them. All. Every day at school I was mocked, spat on, had my money stolen, my face pushed in the toilet, and all saw. No one helped me, Stella Jake.’

‘I was taken out to the woods behind school,’ said another child, a boy. ‘Four kids from my class. They told me for weeks they were going to get me, so I bunked off, pretended I was sick, but eventually I had to go back. The other kids knew what was coming. They knew what the bullies were going to do and none of them stayed. None of them came to help as the bullies crowded around and ran me to the trees. They made me take my clothes off, Stella Jake. And then… and then…’

‘Punish them all.’


‘They’re all guilty.’



‘No!’ I stood, the handcuffs falling away from my wrist.

‘Oi, bender, where’d you think—’

I turned and swiped a hand across Mark, across his gang. They froze, then blew away like burning paper in the wind.

The creature tilted its head on one side. ‘How did you do that? You should not be able to do that.’

‘My name is Stella Familiar of the London Coven, and I tricked you to get here. This place only has power if you have a real childhood trauma to attack. Every kid has something. Some memory, big or small, that you could hurt them with. Well, guess what? Not me. I never had a childhood.’

‘We shall see,’ said the creature, and suddenly it was in front of me, plunging its hands into my chest.

I screamed, throwing my head back as its fingers wrapped around my heart.

‘There must be something. Something. Something.’

I snarled, gritting my teeth, trying not to pass out from the shock. ‘Afraid not. No childhood fears. I was born this way.’

‘Nothing. Nothing. Empty and empty and empty.’

‘That’s right, bitch.’ I grunted and shoved the creature away, shivering as its hands left my body. The faceless man hopped back, and back again, lowering its featureless head into its hands.

‘What are you?’ it asked in Alice Travers’ voice. ‘You are not a real person. Where is your childhood? Just nothing, and nothing, and terrifying nothing.’

The classroom shook, throwing me to the floor. I looked up to see Mark stood over me.

‘Who are you? You’re not him. You’re not Jake. Where is my Jake?’

I pushed myself backwards then clambered to my feet as the room began to deform and break apart. Mark began twitching and writhing as the arms and faces and legs of a hundred different kids, a hundred different bullies, burst out of him, their faces twisted with anger, with confusion.

‘So empty. Just nothing, and nothing, I am drowning,’ said the creature.

I fell through the door as the room bucked and found myself in the bathroom where Amy had been terrorised. The semi-circle of girls were now one gestalt beast, their flesh fused together, writhing in confused agony.



‘Josh mine.’



The tiles beneath the thing opened up and they fell through. As the floor continued to tear apart I ran from the room and found myself on the abandoned train platform.

The creature was waiting for me.

‘What is happening?’ it begged.

The truth was I didn’t know for sure. My best guess was that as it tried to latch onto my fear, to hold it, to taste it, my absence of a childhood had somehow infected it. I was the common cold, and this alien’s tripod was bucking and tumbling.

It stepped forward. For the first time I actually saw its feet move. Slowly it walked towards me.

‘Stella? Stella. What are you? What have you done? Where are my children?’

‘I saved them. Saved them all. And now it looks like you’re dying.’

‘Dying? I do not die.’

I pointed behind the thing. The platform was crumbling away like sand, leaving nothing behind but emptiness.

‘Tell that to this place. Tell that to your body.’

The thing lifted a hand to see that it too was starting to crumble. It lowered its hand, what was left of it, and turned its blank face back to me.

‘I am afraid.’

I grimaced. ‘Good.’

‘You cannot leave. Your way home is gone. I took it from you and I will not return it. We will die together.’

‘It doesn’t matter. This is what I was created for. To fight things like you. To give up my life in the name of others. So yeah, I’m gonna die, but you know what? This is a fucking good way to go.’


The creature collapsed as its legs disintegrated, then its arms, its head, until there was nothing left at all.

Almost nothing left of its realm, either. Just a few metres of platform and me, watching my time run out.

I thought about David, back at the coven, hugging his niece. Hugging Amy. Taking her back to her Mum. Leaving me and this life behind.

I’d done well.

I’d kept my promise.

I thought about David.


I realised I’d closed my eyes, waiting for things to be over.

‘Stella, where are you?’

Someone was holding my hand.


I opened my eyes. The platform was gone. Everything was gone.

I should be dead.

David was stood by my side, his hand in mine, holding me tight.

‘I found you, Stella.’

His eyes burned with white hot fire. He was like he had been in the alleyway again, when the creature had attacked the first time.

‘David, how are you doing this?’

‘I heard you. I found you.’

He turned and reached out a hand, pointing. A door with an exit sign above it appeared in the void.

‘Come on. Let’s go home.’

He walked towards the exit, his hand still in mine, and I followed.


All the kids that had fallen into comas survived.

One by one, far and wide across the city, they began to open their eyes. When asked what they remembered, all they said was they’d had a nightmare. A nightmare that a woman in a leather jacket saved them from.

David never told his sister what had actually happened. That Amy had been in a coma, like the kids in the news. He and Amy both thought it better to keep it a secret, and I agreed with them.

‘So what’s up with your detective?’ asked Jake, nestled inside his meat suit again as we sat in The Beehive, getting steadily drunk.

‘Nothing. He’s just... he’s fine.’

‘He doesn’t remember what he did?’

I shook my head. When I woke up I found him on the floor unconscious with Amy trying to wake him up. When he finally came to he said he’d been having a dream about fishing on a big lake. Like the last time, he didn’t remember changing. Didn’t remember his eyes filling with fire.

What he’d done was impossible. Stepping into the creature’s realm. Creating an exit and saving me.

‘You know, I’ve gotta say, that was all bloody impressive stuff, Stella. I’d written you off as some stuck-up, snooty cow, but what you did? That took a serious set of ovaries.’

‘Well, Jake, it was a pleasure having you inside of me.’

We tapped glasses and got drunk.

Someone was knocking at the door.

I opened my eyes, bleary, the thud of that night’s alcohol making my head heavy. It was the middle of the night, who would be knocking on the door in the middle of the night?

Then another thought: who would be knocking on the door to the London Coven at all? No one came knocking here. Not even David, he always called first. He said it was just manners, but I think it had more to do with all the magical protections I’d told him covered the place. He was just worried he’d come knocking, trigger one, and find his head rolling off down the blind alley, which, to be fair, was a distinct possibility.

Another knock.

Every time, three knocks, a beat between each set. They echoed around the room.

I threw the blanket aside and sat up, my bare feet chilled by the cold of the floor.

Three more knocks.

I put on some clothes, my boots, and padded towards the door.

Three more knocks.

A few metres from the door I stopped and reached out with my senses, trying to judge what was waiting for me outside. Was it a friend? An enemy? A monster?

‘Who is it?’

Three more knocks.

‘My right hand is cocked and ready to turn you into a puddle of goo. Got me? So stop playing around and tell me who you are!’

‘You know who it is. You were expecting me.’

I blinked with surprise, because suddenly, upon hearing his voice, I did know, even though I’d never met them before in my long life. It was like I suddenly remembered I’d been expecting him to visit. Which was very strange indeed. Was this some sort of spell? Magical suggestion designed to lower defences? No, I didn’t think so. I could sniff that out if I know I’m looking for it. This was something else.

I passed my left hand in front of the door’s lock. There was a noise of invisible bolts sliding aside, then I reached forward and pulled the door open.

On the other side stood a tall man in a wide-brimmed hat.

Well, he was sort of a man. A man that looked like he’d been whittled out of a tree, his face an immobile circle of wood with rudimentary features carved into it.

‘Stella Familiar, I am the Knot Man, and I have come to deliver the warning. May I come inside?’

We sat at the kitchen table on opposite sides, facing each other.

‘Why are you here?’ I asked.

‘I am the Knot Man. I walk through many worlds. Many possible realities. Every parallel potential. My job is always the same. To deliver warnings. I’ve given warnings to kings and I’ve given them to ordinary men. Men about to become all that stands between the light and the spew of Hell itself.’

‘Well, it sounds like you meet a lot of interesting people.’

The Knot Man smiled, only his mouth didn’t move, couldn’t move, so I don’t know how I knew that.

‘So, you have something to warn me about?’ I asked.

The Knot Man nodded.

‘Are you ready to hear the warning?’

I shrugged. ‘Okay, go ahead.’

‘It is about Detective David Tyler.’

My heart fluttered and I sat up.

‘What about him?’

And then the Knot Man told me.

The End.

Deadly Portent


The screaming came first.

Not just one scream, but a multitude, jabbing sharply into the street and causing the passing foot traffic to put an extra spring in their step as they propelled themselves away from the sound as quickly as possible.

‘Well, Stella, that does not sound good,’ said Detective David Tyler, a master of understatement if ever there was one. ‘Not good at all.’

‘Let’s do this,’ I replied.

As I clenched my fists and made to move forwards, a large, shrieking man shot by me. He’d been ejected at speed from the blind alley that hid The Fenric club, and landed in a bloody mess at our feet. To any of the passing drinkers and characters that patrolled Mayfair at this hour, it would have looked like the man with the windmilling arms was spat from a solid brick wall. A few people gave a double take, but most just kept on moving; you don’t get involved unless you have to in a place like London.

David took a knee by the man as he looked up at us, wiping blood from his nose with the back of one hand.

‘Have a tissue,’ said David, holding out a crisp, white one.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ the man yelled, grabbing the Kleenex and squeezing his nostrils closed with it. ‘We called you an hour ago, what took you so long?’

I helped the man—who was at least twice my size—up onto his feet, his knees threatening to drop him again before he propped himself against the wall and tipped back his head to stem the bleeding.

‘We came as fast as we could,’ I told him. ‘Hammersmith and Mayfair are not exactly side-by-side.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ he said, or more accurately, grunted. The man (not that he was one, not exactly) was Lodo, the doorman of The Fenric, a five story private members club in the belly of Mayfair. It was a place for the Uncanny to hang out and socialise, a little like The Beehive, but for a more elite set of clientele. There were no sticky floors in this establishment, and the smell from the toilets stayed strictly where it belonged.

No, the Fenric was for a different class of Uncanny. A different breed even. You had to be invited and vouched for by three different members just to be given the address of the place, let alone be let in there. I’d never actually been inside myself of course. I might belong to the London Coven, but I was only a lowly familiar.

‘What exactly is going on in there?’ I asked.

‘Didn’t he tell you?’

‘Your manager was pretty keen to get off the phone so he could run for cover,’ I replied. ‘What can you actually tell me about—’

‘She’s a monster! She’s tearing the place apart! Just stop your shitting yapping, get in there, and do your bloody job, you stupid woman!’

I looked at Lobo’s wide, popping eyes. At the veins on his neck sticking out like ropes and the spittle on his lips. And I punched him square on the jaw.

As his eyes rolled shut and he slid to the ground with a solid thump, I turned to David. He was looking at me like a teacher would a naughty child.

I shrugged.

David smiled and nodded to the blind alley that housed The Fenric. Both of us could see it as clear as day, even as it remained hidden from the ordinary folk of Mayfair. ‘So what d’you think's waiting for us in there?’ he asked.

‘Nothing good,’ I replied.

‘We never go anywhere nice,’ he sighed.

I strode into the blind alley with David on my tail. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked, ‘I took you on that yacht party on the Thames last week.’

‘One of the guests turned into a werewolf and ate the other guests.’

‘Yes, but there was free champagne.’

‘That’s true. And sausage rolls. I like sausage rolls. Well, I like any meat wrapped in pastry, to be honest.’

We stopped and looked up at the Fenric’s facade, all dark, weathered bricks and criss-crossed wooden beams.

‘There doesn’t seem to be as much screaming now,’ David noted. ‘In my experience on the force, that’s never a good thing.’

A window three stories up smashed, causing us to duck for cover as a swarm of shards buzzed down, followed by a chair. The cobbles broke its fall, and also just broke it.

‘Come on,’ I said, and walked into The Fenric.

Unlike The Beehive, there were no magic-dampening spells protecting this place. As The Fenric prided itself on its higher class of clientele, its lack of dampening was a way of saying, “We don’t have the same sort of mindless riff-raff in here, thank you very much. Our patrons can control themselves without the necessity of some magical flim-flam.” The snooty could be dumb, that was for certain.

As we entered the first main room I half expected to be met by a footman in a powdered wig, but the place was empty save for a collection of comfy chairs and a discreet bar in the corner. Not one of the chairs remained intact though, and the bar looked like a giant had reached into the room and crushed it in its fist.

A muffled cry came from somewhere above, so we moved on.

‘What do you think it is? A goblin? Another werewolf? An eaves?’

‘Shh,’ I replied.

‘A “Shh,” huh? Not heard of one of those.’

I ignored David’s shit-eating grin and we made our way up the stairs, glass crunching under our feet.

The next floor was much the same as the first: broken furniture, a smashed up bar, and scorch marks on the walls that told me angry magic had been tossed around up there.

To the third floor we crept.

I reached out with my senses, trying to get an impression of what it was we were about to go up against, but whatever it was was powerful and knew how to block me from getting a clear fix.

Fourth floor next, the same story as the others. David stood at my side, panting slightly. ‘You’re sure there isn’t a lift in this place?’

‘Okay, last floor, get ready,’ I said.

The fifth and final floor is where we found the creature causing all the chaos.

She stood with her back to us as we edged into the room, and was swaying back and forth like the room was rocking. Her hair was a long, dark riot of waves, her clothes black and raggedy. In one hand she clutched a bottle of whiskey, in the other, a ball of red and yellow crackling energy.

‘Please, stop her!’ said the man with the pinched face who was cowering behind what was left of this floor’s bar.

The woman swigged from the bottle as she casually tossed the ball of magic in the man's direction. He shrieked and ducked as the magic sailed over his head and smashed into an expensive-looking art deco sculpture, turning it into slag metal.

‘Well,’ said David. ‘Better do your thing, magic lady. Put her down.’

‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ I replied.

‘Smart move, sister,’ said the woman with a slur, turning towards us and performing an awkward curtsy. ‘Workers unite!’

She was a familiar.

‘David, meet Eva Familiar.’

Eva waved, causing David to yelp and jump out of the way as she accidentally sent a ball of fire in his direction.

‘Sorry about that,’ said Eva. ‘Had the safety off.’


It turned out the pinched-face man was the manager of The Fenric. He said his name was Pierre Moreau, though his accent didn’t betray even a ghost of French. As we stood in the street and I tried to keep the outstandingly drunk Eva from wandering off, David did his best to placate him.

‘The damage!’ he roared. ‘My god, it’ll cost thousands! Tens of thousands!’

‘Can’t you just do a little, you know, Mary Poppins style clean up?’ asked David. ‘A click of the fingers and the chairs fix themselves?’

‘Stuck up bitch, that Poppins,’ slurred Eva. ‘You heard me. No time for her. Nope.’

‘She’s fictional,’ I replied.

‘Right, right, right, yeah, I know. Course. Who is? Has anyone seen Rambo? Now that’s a film!’

Lodo was stood by his manager's side, glaring daggers at Eva. I was hoping he wouldn’t do anything stupid, like to try to attack her as she had her back turned, as I could guarantee that would end very badly for him.

‘And then there’s our reputation,’ said Frenchie Le Fake. ‘This is not The Beehive!’ He almost gagged on the other bar’s name. ‘We pride ourselves on our relaxed, non-violent atmosphere. But then this… this thing turns up, demanding entrance, and refusing to go away!’

Eva twirled, bottle of whisky still in her hand, and pointed at the manager, who hopped behind Lodo with a shriek. ‘He was rude about my general demeanor and, you know, potty mouth, and such. The ignorant fucker.’ She went for a swig from the bottle, found it empty, and tossed it over her shoulder.

‘You see,’ replied Pierre. ‘You see!’

He flinched and ducked again as Eva raised her fighting hand, then lowered it, barking out a laugh.

We took our leave soon after that. We’d dealt with the problem, it wasn’t our job to compensate or clean up. I fought monsters, I didn’t sweep up, too.

‘So, are you going to tell me who she is exactly?’ asked David as the tube train shot us home.

I looked over to Eva, who was stretched out across several seats, sound asleep.

‘Eva Familiar. She’s like me. Well, not quite, she’s much older.’

‘How much older?’

‘If the stories are true, she’s been alive for almost five-hundred years.’

‘Well, shit.’


Eva snorted and rolled over, turning her back on us.

‘What is she doing here? I sort of assumed you lot stayed with your own coven.’

‘We do. At least we’re supposed to. But Eva doesn’t have a coven anymore.’

We managed to wake a disgruntled Eva in time to skip off the train, then steered her out of the station and back to my home.

‘This it then?’ she asked, swaying before the front door.

‘Yes, this is the London Coven.’

My place of creation. The sanctuary of the protectors of London since long before the place even used that name. My coven.

‘Right. I really need a bit of a piss,’ she replied, and let herself in.

‘Hey,’ said David, ‘how did she…? What about all the protection spells?’

‘She’s a familiar, David. This place knows its own.’

We followed her in.

If it seems like I know Eva, I’m giving the wrong impression. I know of her, and I feel a connection to her as we’re both familiars, but this was first time I’d actually met her face-to-face.

I’d heard the stories though. Of the wandering familiar. The very idea of it made me feel funny. A familiar is not supposed to wander from their coven, doing what they please when they please. We’re created for one purpose and one purpose alone: to protect the people safeguarded by our covens. But we did have something in common, Eva and I, apart from both being familiars: something terrible had happened to our witches.

‘What’s a fully grown woman got to do to get a drink in this place?’ said Eva, draped over a chair in the coven’s main room.

‘How long have you been drinking?’ I asked.

‘What time is it?’

‘Ten thirty P.M.’

‘October fifth, 1917.’

‘David, coffee, strong,’ I said.

‘Oh, I’m a waiter now?’

‘Yes,’ said Eva, ‘Now don’t make us wait-er any longer.’  She burst out into tear-rolling hysterics.

‘That is the worst joke I’ve ever… was that even a joke?’ said David.

‘Wait… er…!’

‘Two sugars, please,’ I said, and David left the room, still grumbling.

‘He’s a fine young boy, Stella Familiar. Where’d you find that side-piece?’

I ignored her. ‘What are you doing in London, Eva? And why didn’t you come here first if you were passing through?’

‘You know, this is a much nicer coven than mine. The Cumbrian Coven is all cold and medieval looking. Depressing. I used to go on at my witches all the time about redecorating. Updating the place a little, but would they listen? Pfft.’

The inside of the London Coven looked a lot like an old village pub in many ways, the kind you rarely saw anymore. Dark wood, a large open fireplace, beams low overhead. You could imagine the air thick with pipe smoke and the taste of ale.

Eva pulled a small bottle of something strong from an inside pocket, took a swig, then offered it my way.

‘No thanks,’ I said.

‘Suit yourself,’ she replied, and necked a large mouthful.

‘Well? Why are you here?’

‘Hey, everybody’s got to be somewhere. And I’m here,’ she said, tapping the arm of her chair.

‘So that’s it, you were just wandering through?’

‘It’s what I do these days. Just because you continue to let yourself be tied to a desk, doesn’t mean I have to. I’m free!’

She snorted and took another swig before pocketing the bottle. So that’s all it was, another stop on her endless wander. Okay. Looks like I was expected to play host, which is not something I was created for.

‘So, are you going to fill me in?’ said Eva, interrupting my train of thought.

‘About what?’

‘Oh, you’re a secretive one, are you? Your non-normal normal, what’s the story?’

I felt my heart skip a beat. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Don’t kid a kidder, young one.’

‘Milk?’ called David from the kitchen.

‘Black!’ said Eva. ‘Like my heart.’ She snorted, then began waving her hands around in front of her face. ‘Ooh! Look at it go.’

I watched as she washed the colours in the air around herself. The heavy concentration of magic in the coven could be hypnotic; great, multi-coloured waves that swam around the place constantly.

‘He’s not normal, is he?’ she said, getting back to her point.

‘He is. He’s just my friend. Just Detective David Tyler, that’s all.’

‘Nah. He’s… odd. I’m not entirely—’ she burped, then continued ‘—sure what he is. Lots of, you know, magic bouncing around in him for someone who isn't actually magic. It’s fizzing around in that body like a firework display. I’m surprised he’s able to keep it under wraps.’

I daren’t tell her the truth. The truth about David’s recent explosive demonstrations of magic. About how, when I’d been cut off in the nightmare realm as it collapsed—the home of a creature brought into existence to torment children everywhere—that David had somehow, impossibly, appeared, eyes burning with white hot flames, and saved my life.

David didn’t remember a thing about it. I’d gently prodded at the issue, trying to see if anything would spark, but he was completely oblivious. As far as he was concerned I’d just woken up from the dream state I’d put myself in. He hadn’t done anything to help.

A month had passed since then, and David hadn’t shown any other signs of that sort of power. In truth, I was hoping whatever it was that lurked inside him had burned itself out. That whatever changes had been brought about by being possessed by Mr. Trick, and by the black magic I’d tapped into to save his life, had guttered out already. Eva’s questions had put that idea to bed though.

‘Whatever it is,’ said Eva, ‘It’s interesting. I was planning to head off in a day or two, pop up to Manchester to see a man about a God, but maybe I’ll stick around longer. I’ve got this feeling in the bottom of my bottom that something interesting is on the horizon, and my rear end never lies. Not like these tits of mine.’

‘Here we go then,’ said David, entering with a tray of coffees.

Eva had already crashed out by then, so the two of us shovelled her up and tossed her into one of the coven’s spare rooms.

As I lay in bed later, I thought about what Eva had said. Yes, she was drunk, but she’d seen the truth. Her eyes were older than mine, and more attuned to the Uncanny. You can’t hide what you are from a familiar that old.

She saw what was inside of David.

She saw what the Knot Man had come to the coven four weeks back to warn me about.

That whatever had happened to David had changed him, and that the change could spell disaster for the whole of London.


The next morning there was no sign of Eva, just an empty bottle at the foot of the bed and the covers in a corkscrew on the floor.

I found the note on the kitchen table.

At first I thought it must be from Eva, a thank you for letting her stay, or a message to tell me she’d see me later. What I didn’t expect was that it would be from Giles L’Merrier.

The note was business card sized and written in large, flowing letters. It simply read: To me, now. L’Merrier.

A summons from the mighty L’Merrier? What on Earth was going on? L’Merrier wasn’t one to entertain visitors, least of all from a lowly witch’s familiar. Something told me he wasn’t inviting me over for tea and biscuits and a gossipy chat.

I rolled the card over in my hands, tracing the crisp edges with my fingertips, wondering what in the hell L’Merrier could want from me. He’d made it quite clear during my last few unwanted visits that my presence in his shop was far from desired. In fact, I got the distinct impression that he rather disliked me. A lot. Then again, that just put me in the same boat as everyone else walking the streets of London. Giles L’Merrier had long ago retreated from the world, a virtual hermit, content to stay hidden away in his shop, his past a thing of whispered, awed myth.

Perhaps this invitation was proof that he’d finally decided to step out into the world again.

I slid the card into the pocket of my leather jacket, fully intending to head straight to L’Merrier’s Antiques. You don’t keep a man like that waiting. As I reached the front door though, I felt my phone vibrating. It was David.

‘Morning, sunshine,’ he said, brightly.

‘What is it?’ I grunted.

‘Ah, there’s that friendly disposition I’ve come to love.’


‘I’ve got something. A body. I think we’ve got a new job on.’

David was waiting for me at Ealing Hospital.

I strode in, detectives and medical staff nodding and smiling at me as I passed. Technically, I shouldn’t be anywhere near an official police investigation. I wasn’t on the force, I had nothing to do with the case, and I didn’t even technically qualify as a human being. But I did know magic, and I knew how to use it to cloud the thoughts of normals and make myself welcome in places I didn’t belong. I never pushed it too far. All I did was put out a suggestion that I was meant to be there. Just a gentle nudge. People would never be sure quite who I was, but they also wouldn’t question it.

Oh look, it’s what’s-her-name. She’s expected. She’s down. She’s on the list. You know who I’m talking about... what’s-her-face.

...And they’d nod politely and let me by, no questions asked. Don’t get me wrong, the spell has its limits. The effect crumbles if I stick around too long, but for a quick visit, it does the job nicely.

I followed the signs to the hospital morgue, where I found David stood next to a ceramic slab bearing a covered body. Opposite was a wall full of small, metal doors, I wondered how many of them hid bodies of their own.

‘Hey,’ he said. ‘How’s the booze hound this morning?’

‘Eva? Gone.’

‘Oh, I thought she might end up taking up in one of the coven’s spare rooms.’

‘Yeah, well, she hasn’t.’ I realised that I’d been vaguely hoping that, too. My witches were dead; it was just me and David trying to keep the Uncanny peace in London’s sprawling streets now. An extra-experienced familiar like Eva mucking in wouldn’t have hurt. I mean, it’s not like she really had a coven of her own to go to. She’d been wandering the country, a free agent, for years now. It was time she got back to work.

‘So, what have we got?’ I asked, changing the subject.

‘This is a weird one,’ replied David, ‘so hang onto your breakfast...’

He reached down to the slab and peeled back the white plastic sheet to reveal the naked body of a man.

He’d been found that morning by his teenage daughter. She’d called up to his room to let him know his morning coffee was ready, and he hadn’t answered. Hadn’t arrived downstairs, bleary-eyed, hair a mess, desperate for his morning rocket fuel. So, she’d called again, and again, getting louder and more annoyed each time. Finally, she’d stomped her way up the stairs, thrown his bedroom door open, and yelled, ‘Are you coming down or what?’

The final word had caught in her throat as she’d flicked on the light and saw her dad, laid out on his back in bed, quite dead, his body completely drained of moisture. It looked like he’d been left out in the desert to mummify. The man was a withered husk.

‘Jesus,’ I said.

‘Yeah,’ replied David. ‘This is one for us.’

‘This is definitely one for us.’

‘Oh, it’s you again,’ came a woman’s voice from behind me. It was Detective Layland, David’s partner. She was a hard-faced young woman who, on the few times I’d met her, had made it very clear she didn’t like me. Just like the others, she put up with me because of the suggestion magic I pushed at her whenever she got near. She thought I was a specialist of some sort. A gopher from some strange department or other that dealt with the weird stuff, an associate of David’s who he’d call in from time to time. If she ever tried to examine the thought too closely—to really subject it to scrutiny—the thought would be pushed out of her mind, like she was trying force two magnets of the same pole together.

Despite the magic, or perhaps, subconsciously, because of it, Layland didn’t care for my presence one bit.

‘Hello, Detective,’ I said, without turning to look at her.

‘Another freak show.’

‘The body, or Stella here?’ asked David.

I raised an eyebrow.

‘Please don’t hurt me.’

‘Any ideas?’ asked Layland, even though her voice made it very clear that it pained her to even ask.

‘One or two,’ I replied.

‘Care to enlighten me?’

‘Not sure of anything, not yet.’

‘Right, right. You see, solving this sort of shit, murders and so on, is kind of my job. We like to find killers, and arrest them. One way of doing that is to share facts, opinions, thoughts, hunches.’

‘She has a very good point,’ said David.

‘As soon as I have something worth saying, I’ll say it.’

‘So, never then?’ said Layland.

David snorted, then took a half step back as I narrowed my eyes at him. ‘Hey, come on, that was a solid return of serve.’

Layland sniffed derisively, then headed off. ‘Fill me in on whatever shit she spouts, I’m gonna go and bang on the neighbour’s doors. You know: police work.’

David grinned at me. ‘You know, I think she has a crush on you.’

‘How about a little respect, David? We are stood over a murder victim.’

‘Alright, alright.’

I ran my eyes over the corpse again; at the leathery skin that looked as though it had been left to dry out in the sun for decades. The wide open eyes, their colour drained away. The mouth cracked apart, stretched in a silent scream. The withered tongue that hung from it, burnt to a crisp like a rasher of overcooked bacon.

I didn’t like the way my thoughts were turning.

Because I recognised the signs.

Yes, there were a few different ways a body might end up in a state like this—and I’d have preferred if one of those ways had turned out to be the actual way—but as I reached out with my senses and probed the corpse for answers, they only came back with bad news.

‘I know what creature did this,’ I said.

‘Why do I get the feeling I’m not going to be over the moon with the answer?’ replied David.

‘Come on. We have to go pay a visit to Anya.’

‘There it is. Bollocks.’

David covered the dessicated corpse and we headed from the morgue and out of the hospital, quickly, before my suggestion spell broke apart.


Anya and the rest of her family spent most of their time holed up in The Den, the Soho club they owned.

And fed in.

‘You’re sure there’s a connection?’ asked David, warily looking towards the entrance of The Den, its door flanked by Jack and Jake, the two giant, shovel-faced doormen.

‘Only one creature I know leaves a body like that,’ I told David. ‘A succubus did this.’

‘I thought you said they were under control these days?’

That was true, or had been when my witches were alive. Since then, who knew? Maybe Anya and her family had decided all bets were off and were starting to step outside of their club to feast.

The deal between the succubi and the London Coven had been struck to put an end to a no-win war. The witches agreed to leave Anya and her family unchallenged, and in exchange, the succubi had acquiesced to limiting their feeding to the confines of their club. They also promised not to drain any of their clientele to death. They got to take a nice, big gulp, and then their victims walked out, alive and healthy.

The Den was a no-holds-barred fetish, sex, violence, and whatever else got your engine running club. Your wildest fantasies could come true within the walls of the place, and the succubus family would then feed on all the wild explosions of emotion unleashed. The building lay hidden in plain sight. A place that you didn’t know was there, no matter how many times you walked past it. Not until, that is, you heard a whisper about its existence. About the things you could experience if you went there. And then it sunk its hooks deep and you found yourself walking through its doors, ready to indulge in your most depraved fantasies.

The succubi family had you then, because there was no way you weren’t going to return again, not after a taste. And even if you were strong minded enough to resist, enough to want to try to get it closed down, it was too bad, they already had you. They knew your darkest recesses, had them recorded for posterity, or blackmail. And if that wasn’t an option? Well, a family member would just pay you a visit as you lay in bed one black night.

The Den had existed, unchallenged, since before I was created.

‘Perhaps,’ I said, ‘Anya and her family have grown tired of restrictions. Perhaps they think they can kill again, now that it’s just me in charge.’

‘So what’s the plan?’ asked David.

‘The plan is, we talk to Anya. And, if we have to, we stop the succubi from hurting anybody else.’

‘And how exactly do we do that?’

‘We’ll think of something.’

‘Phew, that’s my worries eased,’ said David. I believe he was being sarcastic.

‘Come on.’

‘I was being sarcastic by the way.’

Told you.

I headed towards The Den, David nipping at my heels. As we approached, a furtive looking man stepped out of the place and pulled his collar high, his hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, his eyes wide and bloodshot.

‘See you again,’ Jack said to him.

‘See you again,’ said Jake.

‘No,’ replied the man, ‘I won’t be back.’

‘That’s what they all say, ‘int that right, Jake?’

‘That’s what they all say, right enough, Jack.’

The man scurried away. That was the thing about The Den. It wormed its way into your mind. Became an addiction. Once you’d had a taste of it, once you’d experienced the kind of things it offered, it was difficult not to make a return visit.

‘Well, well, well; look who it is,’ said Jake.

‘Well, I never, look who it is,’ replied Jack.

‘I’m not looking for trouble, boys,’ I said, making sure to draw in some of the surrounding magic, just in case.

‘We never look for trouble,’ said Jack.

‘Never look for it, do we?’


‘It always finds us, though.’

‘Always knows exactly where we are, does trouble.’

‘Exactly where we are.’

‘We’re here to talk to Anya,’ squeaked David, then coughed to get his voice back into a more masculine register. ‘Anya. We’re here to ask her a few questions. If that’s okay. Please.’

‘It’s the detective, Jake.’

‘Look, Jack, the detective.’

‘Are you going to show us your badge again?’

The two slapped at each other, laughing it up.

‘No. Not if… you don’t want me to.’

‘Okay,’ I said, as the two doormen regained control of themselves, ‘Are you going to let us in or do we have to do it the hard way?’


‘So tough, I’m scared, really, aren’t you, Jake?’

‘I am. Very scared indeed.’

Jake turned and opened the door, ‘In you go, missy. Maybe Anya will tear off one of your arms or something.’

‘Or a leg.’

‘Could be a leg, could be.’

We stepped into the club, leaving the two doormen behind, grateful that our little confrontation hadn’t turned into something worse. Those two were a pain to fight head-on.

‘Remember,’ I said to David, ‘The spell I placed on you should protect you from the suggestion magic that rolls around this place, but stay close to me anyway.’

‘Oh please,’ he replied. ‘I have amazing self-control.’

‘Then stop staring at that woman rubbing oil into her four giant breasts.’

‘I was just… checking. Surveillance. That’s a police thing.’

I smiled and made my way towards the second floor of the club, towards Anya’s private office. The seating in The Den was vinyl, wipe clean, the tables and bar metal, and the walls were covered in dark, red velvet. As we walked I tried not to take in too much of what was going on around me in the sweaty, darkened corners.

‘There’s no way that’s going to fit in ther—’ David started saying, before a scream and the sound of a big, wet insertion cut him off.  ‘Oh, no, in it goes,’ he added, correcting himself. ‘I feel a bit queasy.’

‘Good. Better than the alternative.’

I can’t say I relish the times I have to meet Anya, or any of her family, come to that. She’s strong, all succubi are, but Anya is stronger than most. Her kind might seem friendly, seductive, even lovable, but they can turn in an instant and tear your guts out with one hand. They like to keep you off-balance, wary, as they prowl in front of you, prodding and poking.

You can never be sure they’re going to let you walk away without a fight, or worse.

‘Oh my god,’ said David.

‘What now?’

‘I think I just saw Todd over there. He’s a desk sergeant I know!’

‘Don’t stare,’ I replied. ‘Get your focus back, David, we’ve got work to do.’

‘Right, yes, sorry. But I’m never shaking Todd’s hand again. Not after what I’ve just seen him doing with that gibbon.’


Anya was stretched out on a couch in her office, propped up against the arm as she slowly drank something red and thick from a crystal glass.

‘Anya,’ I said, nodding my head in greeting.

‘I see you brought your little friend with you again,’ she replied, her voice smooth and playful.

‘Hello. Yes. I’m just going to stay behind Stella if that’s okay.’

‘Aw, I don’t think he likes me,’ replied Anya, pouting.

‘No, no, you’re very nice. Not at all terrifying.’

Anya placed her glass down and stood, her red, silk dress that hugged her like a second skin sliding down to cover her bare feet.

‘Tell me, detective, how can I convince you to visit my jolly little club without the chaperone?’

‘Anya,’ I said. ‘Someone’s died.’

‘Careless of them,’ she replied, never taking her eyes off David as she seemed to almost glide towards us.

‘Do you find me attractive, Detective? I know that you do, I can taste it.’

I took a step to the side so that David was now hidden fully behind me. ‘I came here to ask questions, not to watch you flirt with my partner.’

Anya looked at me unblinkingly for several seconds, during which the world seemed to hold its breath. Finally, she smiled and turned from me, heading towards her desk.

‘What could you possibly need to ask me about, familiar? And why should I answer? You are not your witches, why should I feel beholden to anything you say?’

‘You’re right. I’m not my witches. Not even close. But I am of the London Coven, and that still means something. So please, answer my questions, and I’ll be out of your hair. I promise.’

Anya settled into her chair like a cat and offered me a dead-eyed smile.

‘You know, your masters used to be a lot more fun than you. Such a pity they were torn to pieces.’

I felt my stomach twist and I took an involuntary step forward, fists clenched. I felt a hand lightly touch my arm.

‘We have a job to do, Stella,’ David whispered.

I controlled my breathing and unclenched my fists, feeling my palms sting from where my nails had dug in.

‘That’s a good girl,’ said Anya.

The truth was, an attack on Anya might have been the last thing I ever did. A familiar going toe-to-toe with a succubus? She could have beaten me into a bag of loose bone shards.

‘Okay, if you’re not going to stamp your feet and throw your little fists, could you ask the question you came here to ask? I’m growing tired of your company already.’

‘A body was found,’ said David. ‘A dead body, just to be clear. A corpse.’


‘And this,’ I replied, holding up my phone, which displayed a picture of the mummified man’s body.

‘Strike you as familiar?’ I asked.

‘I don’t believe we had ever met, no.’

I pocketed my phone. ‘Notice the way his corpse looked? He was alive the night previous, then was found like that in the morning. Completely dried out, not a drop of moisture left in his body.’

‘Perhaps he had the heating turned up too high.’

David laughed, the sound catching in his throat as I glared at him.

‘Sorry, but, you know, that was kind of funny.’

‘Anya, you know what I’m asking.’

‘You think that he may have met his end at the hands of a succubus.’

I nodded.

‘You are treading on thin ice, familiar. If I were you I’d choose my next words very carefully.’

‘We’re not accusing anyone here,’ said David. ‘Just a few friendly questions. Standard, you know, police stuff.’

‘Oh, I think your partner here is very much accusing my family of something, is that not so, Stella? Do you believe myself and my sisters to be guilty of the poor man’s untimely demise?

‘You’ve seen the picture. And I’ve seen the body up close.’

Anya stood and glided towards me. ‘I am the head of the succubus family of London, and whether your witches are dead or alive, a pact was made. I do not break my promises. My sisters do not break their promises. We agreed to feed within these walls and within these walls alone, and never to the point of a subject’s death. All who enter, all who we feed upon, walk out of this place alive.’

I studied her face, looking for a tell, but came up with nothing. She seemed to be telling the truth.

‘Could another succubus be out there?’ asked David. ‘One who isn’t in your family?’

‘No. We would know. I would know.’

‘You’re sure?’

‘We always know.’

As Anya spoke her eyes never left me. A blink and her eyes were black. She raised a hand, now more like a claw, and ran one rough, long, sharp finger across my cheek.

‘Maybe’ I replied, ‘someone in your family has a got a little tired of living by the rules and wanted to fully embrace their nature. To really sate their appetite.’

Anya’s nail stopped tracing my jaw. Instead, the point began to press against my flesh. The pressure began to increase, ever so slightly, with each passing heartbeat; sooner or later she was going to break the skin. Finally, I blinked and jerked my head away.

Anya sneered and turned from me.

‘When was the last time you had a, well, a full feed?’ asked David.

‘Too long,’ she replied, almost wistfully it seemed. ‘We were at war with the London Coven, and they fought with all they had to deny us our feeding rights. The last time I drained someone to death was one evening almost ninety years ago. She was a young thing, perhaps twenty, with lily white skin that had never known the touch of a man. I sat astride her and drank her down. Every last emotion, every desire and fury. All of it, until her perfect skin puckered. The truce was called the next day, after both sides had finally realised we’d fought to a standstill. I am a monster of my word, and neither I nor my sisters have fed fully since, no matter how much our stomachs beg us to.’

‘It must be, you know, difficult,’ said David. ‘I mean, I used to love a nice ciggy, puffed those things all day every day since the age of fifteen, only gave up a year ago. Went on the patches, the gum, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t scratch that itch in the same way. I still find myself  buying a pack every couple of months, just so I can smoke a single cig before chucking the rest out.’

Anya smiled, ‘He’s smarter than he looks, isn’t he?’

‘Oh, thanks. I think?’

‘It is difficult, but we are not human. We are not so weak. We can and do restrain ourselves. No occasional cigarette just to appease the itch.’

I held up my phone again, the picture of the man’s corpse still on display. ’You’re sure of that?’

Anya’s eyes snapped black again for a second before she caught herself and her composure returned.

‘You come to my home with accusations, questioning my control over my own family? That shows either surprising bravery, or extreme stupidity. Which is it?’

‘I’d say a little from column A, a little from column B,’ said David.

‘Can you explain the picture, Anya?’ I said. ‘If it wasn’t caused by a succubus, what else could it be?’

‘There are any number of things that might have done that, as well you know. I’m sure you yourself could manipulate a spell to do something similar.’

Perhaps I could, but I’d been close to the corpse, and no magic spell had caused it. I would be able to see evidence of that, be able to taste it. The specific Uncanny residue of witchcraft.

‘Well, thanks a lot for your time,’ said David, in his best police man voice.

‘Oh, it’s always a pleasure to see you, detective. Do come back any time.’

‘Yep,’ said David, his voice a squeak, before looking to me and pointing to the exit.

‘Stella?’ said Anya.

I stopped and turned.

‘If you come in here and accuse my family on such flimsy evidence again, I will mount and feed upon you until that old body of yours finally gives out. It will be… delicious. Do I make myself clear?’

I nodded and left.


We made our way back through The Den, again doing our best to ignore the various acts of depravity going on around us.

‘Do you believe her?’ asked David.

‘Not sure. Maybe. Anya’s a very good liar, but then again, why lie? If it really was one of her own, it would make more sense for her family to have jumped us en masse back there and torn us to pieces.’

‘Right. Well. That’s reassuring.’

Then again, maybe Anya wasn’t in quite such close control of her sisters as she liked to think. That’s not something she’d admit to easily, or at all to someone like me. No, as far as I was concerned, Anya and her family were still very much in the frame for this, at least until a more likely culprit raised their head.

‘Hey,’ said David, ‘isn’t that your new bestest bud in the whole world over there?’

I turned in the direction he was pointing and saw a pile of rags piled upon a couch in a darkened corner of the club. It was Eva, curled up in a ball and snoring as a fat woman wearing leather lederhosen whipped a hairy-backed man in a gimp-mask chained to the wall beside her. As the whip cracked and the man screamed, Eva remained fast asleep, oblivious.

‘Shit,’ said David, looking at his watch. ‘The guv is going to think I’ve gone missing again.’

‘Go. Let me know if Layland has anything new for us.’

‘Will do, magic lady. Stay safe.’

I watched him leave. He looked and sounded fine. You’d never know he’d turned into something so… Uncanny, just a few weeks earlier. Maybe the Knot Man was wrong. Maybe Eva was wrong. Maybe it would all be okay.

Yeah, wishful thinking.

I made my way over to Eva and sat beside her.


‘I’m asleep,’ she replied.

I shook her and she sat up, groaning, the whites of her eyes as red as strawberries.

‘Christ on a bike, I think someone crawled inside my head and knocked some walls down.’

I picked up a glass half-full of something and passed it over to her; she downed it in one and shuddered.

‘That’s the stuff,’ she said, then glanced about to collect her bearings. ‘So, where are we, exactly?’ She jumped as the fat woman’s whip cracked against the gimp’s back and he let rip a sharp cry.

‘The Den.’

‘The what? Oh, yes, yep, I’ve got you. A whole lot of filthy buggers in here. I mean, I’d heard stories of course, but blimey. This right here is some next level filth.’

Another cry as the whip left a fresh, livid mark.

‘’Scuse me, love, do you mind,’ asked Eva, trying to get the woman to let up her assault for a moment.

‘What are you doing here?’ I asked.

‘I’m a tourist, just taking in the sights.’

‘You do know who runs this place?’

‘Mr The Den?’

‘Anya, a succubus.’

‘Oh, one of those sorts. I thought I caught a whiff of something, but then I’ve stuck so much up my nose recently it can be easy to make mistakes. Know what I mean?’

‘Not really.’

Another whip crack, another scream.

‘Oi, tons of fun, I won’t tell you again,’ said Eva.

The woman grunted, her flesh quivering in annoyance.

‘So, what are you into then, my girl?’ she asked me.


‘What’s your poison? You must’ve come here for a reason. A little light bondage? Fight club? Daddy play?’

‘No! No, no, no. None of that. I came here to ask the succubus who runs the place some questions, about a murder.’

‘Ooh, I do love a good murder.’

I pulled out my phone and showed Eva the dried-out corpse.

‘Now that, is one ugly fucker.’

‘Look like a succubus attack to you?’

Another cry from the gimp.

‘One moment, love,’ said Eva. She flashed out her hand and caught the whip just as the fat woman was about to give the gimp another bloody streak across his arching back.

The woman turned to Eva. ‘Oi,’ she said, ‘what’s your game?’

‘Me and my friend here are trying to have a civil conversation, you sack of mayonnaise, and it’s awfully tricky with all the screaming.’

The woman shrieked and lunged at Eva, who uttered an incantation under her breath and sent the woman flying through the air, pudgy legs whirling like she was on a bicycle, before a wall broke her fall and she crashed down to the floor, unconscious.

‘You know,’ said Eva, ‘in my experience, women in lederhosen are always very unreasonable.’



Jack and Jake, the Den’s bouncers.

‘What is it now?’ I asked.

‘Familiar’s Anonymous meeting is it?’

‘Sorry,’ I said, standing slowly, trying not to give them any more reason to get agitated. ‘The lady in the leather trousers started it when she charged my friend here.’

‘Is that so?’ asked Jake.

‘Oh, is that so, is it?’ said Jack.

‘Yes,’ replied Eva, ‘So why don’t you two numbskulls toddle off before I rearrange those flat faces of yours, hm? Come on Stella, are we going to chat with Giles L’Merrier or what?’’

Eva stood and shoved past the pair, staggering towards The Den’s exit. Jack and Jake looked at each other, slowly blinking in surprise, then turned to me.

‘Sorry guys, bit of a mouth on her, that one.’

I jogged past to catch up with Eva, leaving the befuddled pair behind before their surprised confusion turned to anger.


‘Do you mind telling me how you knew I was going to pay Giles L’Merrier a visit?’ I asked as the tube shot Eva and I towards L’Merrier’s Antiques.

‘Oh, I saw the summons on the card you keep teasing at without realising you’re doing it.’

I pulled my hand away from the card that I was holding onto in my pocket.

‘Did you see who delivered it?’

‘Nope. But then I don’t suppose the big man utilises delivery boys and such, do you? More of a flim-flam and away we magically go sort of message transference, I’d say.’

Well, if anyone had the power to bypass the coven’s security so they could deliver a note, it would be Giles L’Merrier. Better that than actually leave his shop, or pick up the phone. If anything, I was surprised he hadn’t transported me there already against my will.

Eva placed her hands behind her head as she propped her boots up on the frayed seat opposite. ‘Lyna, one of my witches, she told stories of L’Merrier over the centuries. Truth be told, I think she had a bit of a crush on the big man. I asked if they’d ever knocked boots and she turned me into a frog for six months.’ She threw her head back and laughed uproariously, which drew more than a few concerned glances from the other passengers in the carriage.

‘Yeah,’ I replied. ‘My witches used to talk about the sort of things he’d get up to.’

Eva nodded, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes onto her sleeves as her giggles finally died down.

‘Lyna once told me about how a gaggle of witch hunters had the coven surrounded. Before my time this, you understand.’

Before Eva’s time was a hell of a long time ago, by the way. If what I’d been told was true, she was probably the oldest living familiar in existence, though to look at her you’d swear she was in her late thirties at most.

‘So, they’d tried everything against these Godless fuckers and nothing had worked. What’s more, the turds had already dispatched my predecessor. Chopped her up and fed the bits to their horses. Bit grim....’ Eva’s eyes dropped and her head began to nod.


‘What? Yes?’

‘L’Merrier! L’Merrier and the witch hunters.’

‘Right! Are we on a train?’

Focus was not one of Eva’s gifts.

‘So, Lyna and the rest are completely surrounded, their familiar dead, powers drained, thinking they’re goners. Would’ve been too, but then up out of nowhere appears L’Merrier, large as life and twice as fierce. Is that a saying? I think I ballsed that up. Anyway, he had an enchanted tree branch in his big hands, and he whack-whack-whacked each of the witch hunters’ heads off, then threw their bodies into Derwent Water, one of the great lakes. Threw their horses in too for good measure. Trapped ‘em for good in The Nether. That’s just the sort of shit he did, before he went soft, figuratively and literally, judging by the blubber he carts around on him these days.’

Every story anyone told about L’Merrier in the old days made him sound like some sort of a god. To meet the grumpy sod who never strayed from the insides of his shop, it was difficult to match the two pictures up.

‘Do you know why he stopped?’ I asked. ‘Why he just stays in his shop these days?’

Eva shrugged. ‘Buggered if I know, but then even the best of fun gets boring, given time.’

Eva seemed to sag, her eyes becoming hooded, distant, looking at something I couldn’t see. I knew what it must be, because I know I often have that expression when I’m thinking about a certain something. David had told me often enough.

‘You’re thinking about them aren’t you? Your witches?’ he’d say, and I’d nod, hoping a tear wouldn’t escape if I blinked.

Eva’s witches were dead, just like mine.

We sat in silence for the rest of the journey, listening to the clack clack clack of the wheels on the track.


Like I said, L’Merrier isn’t the type of person who encourages visits. As a matter of fact, he’s warned me on more than one occasion to never darken his doorstep again. Needless to say, this mysterious summons of his had me more than a little curious.

And wary.

‘This the place is it?’ asked Eva.

‘Yes, the shop with the sign that reads “L’Merriers Antiques” is the shop we’re meeting L’Merrier in,’ I replied.

‘Smart arse.’

I pushed the door open, the little bell jangling to announce our entrance.

‘L’Merrier, it’s me, Stella Familiar.’

I peered around the shop, packed full of a jumble of strange objects, some everyday, others of the more Uncanny variety.

‘Is that a giant’s heart over there?’ asked Eva.


‘Now that’s not the sort of souvenir you pick up in your average gift shop. That’s something else, that is.’ She stopped and sniffed the air. ‘It stinks of magic in here. I mean, I thought your coven was heavy with it, but this place...’ She wafted a hand in front of her nose.

‘Familiar.’ A deep, smooth voice rolling out from the shadows.

‘Christ,’ said Eva, ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack.’

L’Merrier, in his floor-length robe with its sewn on symbols of protection, glided out of the dark, his fingers interlaced and resting on top of his bulging stomach.

‘I came,’ I said, ‘as asked.’

‘Congratulations for indicating the obvious, familiar,’ he replied. ‘I do not recall adding a “plus one” to the invitation.’

‘You’re bald,’ noted Eva. ‘Lyna never mentioned anything about you being bald.’

L’Merrier turned to Eva, ‘Ah, it is you, the errant leftovers from the Cumbrian Coven. Always running, running, running from her responsibilities. From her true place and purpose. As though she has any future that does not include her return to the dark lakes.’

‘Yup, that’s me,’ she chirped.

Was that almost a smile on L’Merrier’s face?

‘A pair of tragic orphans in my humble shop; it seems witches are becoming an endangered species, does it not?’

‘That’s enough,’ I said, feeling a little seed of anger sprout. He could say what he liked about me, but I wouldn’t stand for him mocking my dead.

‘A little fire in the belly, familiar?’ asked L’Merrier, one eyebrow raising with amusement.

Eva inhaled noisily, ‘You know, Giles, it really bloody reeks in here. It smells like you’ve been farting out your own brand of magic in a sealed room for twenty years. Crack a window, mate.’

L’Merrier swept one hand in front of himself and Eva found herself pinned to the ceiling.

‘Let her down!’ I yelled, stepping automatically into a boxer’s stance, my hands raised, boiling with magic.

‘Short temper on you, chubs,’ said Eva, ‘you should speak to someone about that.’

There was a heavy, silent pause, then L’Merrier burst out laughing, which was more disturbing than it sounds. With a twitch of his head he killed the spell and sent Eva tumbling back down to the floor.

‘L’Merrier,’ I said, slowly relaxing and allowing the magic to putter out from my fists, ‘Are you going to tell me why you asked me here or not?’

L’Merrier bowed his head, then looked up, fixing me with his eyes. They shone like golden coins in the dark.

‘You know why I have asked you here.’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘But you must suspect.’


‘There,’ said L’Merrier.

‘What about David?’

‘I believe you had a very particular visitor to your coven recently.’

I shuffled, uncomfortable. ‘I’m not sure I—’

‘Do not play dumber than you are, familiar, you know exactly of whom I speak.’

Eva raised a hand. ‘Not sure I do. Unless it’s me. Is it me?’

‘The Knot Man,’ I said.

‘Exactly so.’

‘The Knot Man?’ replied Eva. ‘Have I heard of him? I think I’ve heard of him. Far as I can tell, having him show up on your doorstep is never a good thing. Though, when is anyone turning up on your doorstep unannounced ever a good thing, am I right? Give me a “praise Jesus” if you know what I’m talking about. Okay, I’m bored now, I’m going for a ciggy outside.’

The doorbell jangled as Eva left the shop, pulling a tobacco tin out of her inside pocket.

‘First your pet detective, and now that stray,’ sighed L’Merrier. ‘Such delightful company you keep.’

‘What do you want to say about David?’

L’Merrier moved over to a glass display case, inside of which was what looked like a large hunk of rock.

‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘This is a piece of Apoc Hill.’

‘Is that supposed to mean something to me?’

‘No, it is not of this reality, it is of another, parallel earth, but it is relevant to this conversation. The Apoc Hill came to rest in the north, heralding a game. A battle between the light and the dark that almost resulted in that reality’s version of Hell rising and taking control of the Earth. Well, of that Earth. The Knot Man was there, as he walks between realities. Any time he pays someone a visit, it is just before a point of calamity. So forgive me for being curious when my web jangles and twitches and I look up to see him knock, knock, knocking upon your door.’

The idea that L’Merrier kept watch on things—kept watch on my coven—shouldn’t have creeped me out. Knowing his power, I should have expected it. But the idea of him watching me, peeping into my home, still made me squirm.

‘What do you think is going to happen?’ I asked.

‘David is no longer what he was,’ L’Merrier replied. ‘He’s been altered in some way by you introducing him into our world. I wonder what you made him face that changed him so. That is still changing him.’

I thought about the black magic I’d used to bring David back to life after Mr. Trick left him for dead, but I kept it to myself. Despite his own fondness for it, L’Merrier was known for turning others who used the dark arts to dust.

‘What is he changing into?’ I asked.

‘You already know. The Knot Man told you.’

A walking apocalypse.

‘He has no control over it, the poor thing,’ L’Merrier continued, ‘he’s just walking around blind in his little life, oblivious to the fact that his body is drawing in more and more power, more of the Uncanny, more potential, and, sooner or later, there will be a tipping point. He’s like a black hole, only instead of dragging light into his belly, he’s pulling in magic. At a steadily increasing pace, I might add. And then…’

‘And then what?’

L’Merrier spread his hands out, his face grave: ‘Boom.’

He wants to destroy him. To destroy David. That’s what L’Merrier wants, it’s what the Knot Man suggested too. No chances, no help, just cold-blooded murder.

‘He can control it,’ I said. ‘I can teach him.’

‘Oh no, not even I could do that, and compared to me you are but an ant, crawling across the toe of an elephant. The die is already cast. The power is filling him up. It will turn him monstrous, and then goodbye, London. His end must come, for the good of all.’

I stepped forward, not caring who it was I was talking to, how he could knock me into another plane of reality, David was my friend. ‘No one is going near him. I’ll help him. I’ll stop this and I’ll save David Tyler’s life. You hear me?

L’Merrier chuckled. ‘Headstrong. Always have been. But stomp and pout all you wish, if you do not take care of David, others will. Do you think a visit from a being such as the Knot Man to our fair city will have been seen only by me? No, no. Word is spreading even now among the Uncanny of London. They will come for him. It would be a kindness if you brought David here, to me, I could put him out of his misery. What do you say?’

I felt my head getting hotter and hotter, my nails digging into my palms as I clenched my fists so hard I thought my knuckles might burst.

‘Don’t you dare threaten him.’

L’Merrier smiled thinly. ‘I do not threaten, familiar. I say, and I do.’

‘No one is touching him. No one but me. Do you hear me, Giles?’

L’Merrier raised an eyebrow as I tossed his summons card onto the floor and turned to head toward the exit.

‘Have no doubt, familiar: David must be destroyed.’

I turned from the door as the bell rang above my head: ‘Over my dead body.’ I left Eva in my wake as I stormed out of L’Merrier’s Antiques, the door crashing shut behind me.

‘Oi, wait a minute,’ she said from around the cigarette clasped between her lips. ‘What’s up? What did old Giles L’Chubbier have to say for himself?’

‘He wants me to kill David.’

‘Right. Bit harsh. I mean that aftershave he’s wearing isn’t for everyone, but still.’

‘You have to help me with him, Eva.’

‘Whoa now, what gave you the impression I was the helping sort? I’m the drinking, the lounging sort, but very much not the helping sort.’

‘Then why are are you even here?’

‘I’m passing through. Always passing through. On my way from there, to here, to somewhere else.’

‘We’re familiars, it’s our duty.’

‘Ha! I washed these dainty, rough knuckled hands of any idea about getting involved in things like this a long time ago.’

‘So you’re happy for my friend to just die?’

‘Well, I wouldn’t say happy, but what’s your alternative? Let the poor sod massacre millions? Bit out of order, that, love. You just do your best, but be ready to do your worst if you need to.’

My heart was thumping in my ears, my breath short. No one was going to hurt David. It didn’t matter what was happening to him, I would find a way to stop it, and nobody, not even the mighty Giles L’Merrier was going to take David away from me.

Whatever it cost me, he would survive.


Another alleyway, another dead body. It seems like I’ve spent half of my life looking at corpses in narrow, damp, dingy passages. The dead stowed away, behind bins, in piss stained gutters. Something for the rats to gnaw at.

David waved and began to weave his way towards us, leaving his partner, Layland, behind.

‘Here he comes,’ said Eva, ‘the old walking apocalypse.’

I watched David as he approached and felt my heart ache. My witches had died; no, been murdered. I should be alone, but I’m not, because at the same time as the worst thing to ever happen to me came about, I met David. I had a friend, a partner, someone who liked and trusted me, and I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything harm a hair on his head.

‘Hello ladies, beautiful day to look at a dead body in a piss-scented alley, hey?’

As David lead us toward the corpse I thought again about what Eva had said as we made our way over: ‘Why are you still doing all of this? Your coven is dead. Walk away, live a life free of a duty that no bastard ever thanks you for doing anyway.’

I supposed it was a fair enough question. If a coven has, for all intents and purposes, “fallen,” why pretend? I was a genie who had been set free, I didn’t have to stay in the bottle anymore, didn’t have to grant wishes to anyone who picked up my lamp. I could just walk away. Walk away from London, and the constant churn of death and evil and horror.

I could live a normal life.

But what even was a normal life? Normal for me was smashing my fist into a monster’s mouth. Running around after unspeakable danger, my heart thumping like it might explode out of my chest. Going to sleep knowing I’d made the city safe for one more night.

I’m a familiar. This is what I was created for. How could I just walk away and pretend like every part of me didn’t want to carry on?

I don’t know how Eva finds it in herself to stay away from her coven, from her whole county, without going mad from shame. She didn’t belong anywhere. Anywhere but watching out over Cumbria, over the lakes, whether her witches were at her side or not.

‘There she is,’ said David, as we stood over the body of a woman. She wore dirty clothes and a pair of boots years past their best. Just like the last body we saw, hers was drained and mummified.

Eva crouched and sniffed at the body, leaning in so close the tip of her nose practically scuffed it.

‘If she licks the corpse I’m never going to hear the end of it from Forensics,’ said David, nervously glancing around at the other officers on the scene, some of whom were giving the still crouched Eva some odd looks.

‘What is it?’ I asked, as Eva stood and pulled out her cigarette case.

‘Nothing. Just, you know, the stink of death.’

‘Oh,’ said David, ‘who doesn’t enjoy a lungful of that?’

It was a succubus attack, I was sure of it. The face was the same, eyes and mouth wide, a reflex action in the last moments of being drained.

‘No I.D. on her, but judging by the location and the way she’s dressed, we’re pretty sure this one was a rough sleeper,’ said David.

‘Poor fucker,’ said Eva. ‘A shit life and a shittier death. Ain’t life grand?’

Layland approached, cup of coffee in hand. ‘Oh, you invited two weirdos for the price of one; my lucky day,’ she said, her narrowed eyes practically piercing my skin.

‘Whoa,’ said Eva. ‘Now that is a face you have nightmares about.’

‘Stella, is there a reason my numbskull partner invites you to these things, because I see a second dead body now and not a single helpful word from you.’

‘I’m working on it.’

I didn’t like the way Layland looked at me. Sometimes it felt like the suggestion magic I pushed out to make the officers accept my presence didn’t quite work as well as it should have on her. I probed at her a little with my senses, wondering if there wasn’t a distant bit of Uncanny about her, but came up with nothing. Maybe she was just strong-minded enough to notice that something was playing her.

‘I think God did it,’ said Eva, blowing out a cloud of smoke.

‘Oh, God, okay,’ replied Layland, and never had a sentence been spoken with so much sarcasm.

‘Oh yeah. I mean, if you think about it, God’s to blame for everything. Every death. That is if you believe in a God of course.’

‘And you do?’

‘I try not to think too much about it, love, that way leads to madness, know what I mean?’

Layland gave Eva a long hard look: the wild mess of black hair, the ragged clothing that made her look a bit like a goth Stevie Nicks. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘I know what you mean.’

Eva saluted and turned on her heel, wandering away from us.

‘You have the best taste in friends, Tyler,’ said Layland.

‘What can I say,’ David replied. ‘I attract damaged women.’

Layland sighed. ‘You know my previous partner wasn’t much for talking, or jokes. We worked together for three years and barely exchanged a dozen words a day. God, I miss Terry.’

David grinned and put his arm around her, ‘Come off it, you know you love me, you big grump.’

She looked at him, eyes half shut, and sighed.

‘Stella, if you can’t give us anything useful, I don’t expect to see you on my crime scene, got it?’

‘Got it.’

Layland gave me a last contemptuous look, then walked away.

I turned my attention back to the body.

‘So, are we still thinking the same thing?’ asked David. ‘One of Anya’s nearest and dearest out on the prowl?’

I stared into the poor woman’s wide, dead eyes, all colour drained from them. As far as I was concerned, there was no doubt.


‘Well that’s not good, is it? I mean, that’s very, very bad. Three “verys” even.’

He was right. It didn’t get much worse.


I was surprised to find Eva waiting across the street from the alleyway as I stepped out, still puffing away on a cigarette. I’d expected her to have done a bunk again.

‘Hey girlfriend,’ she yelled, raising a fist as I approached.

‘You know those are bad for you, right?’ I said.

‘Ah, fuck it. What isn’t bad for you these days?’

‘Not smoking.’

Eva snorted at that.

‘How long have you actually been alive now? It’s running into the hundreds of years, correct?’

‘Yeah, and it fucking feels like it, believe me. I may have the appearance of a youthful, sexy-as-all-damn-hell female, but my joints ache to buggery and I wake up to take a piss about five times every night.’

‘Information I wasn’t desperate to hear.’

‘So, a succubus gone feral, eh?’ Eva continued. ‘Nasty shit.’

I nodded, nasty shit was an understatement of epic proportions. Going toe-to-toe with a succubus was practically suicide as it was. There was also the matter of whether or not this was a fresh succubus, new to the city, or whether it was one of Anya’s family gone rogue. Neither option was appealing,  but the second one meant facing off against Anya and her entire family, and that sounded like a one way trip to the cemetery.

I felt myself shudder a little and reached out a hand towards Eva, who looked at me in surprise before handing over the ciggy. I inhaled and held it for several seconds before letting it fog out of me with a sigh.

‘That’s it, lady,’ said Eva, ‘just give in. Life kills you in the end, why try so hard? That’s my motto. Not that I have a motto, because that would make me a prize pillock, but if I did. Which I never would. Scratch this whole thing and give me that.’

She grabbed the cigarette back and slumped on a bench, pulling a half-full bottle of gin from her pocket and unscrewing the cap.

‘I’m not sure I can do everything that’s expected of me,’ I said. ‘Whatever magical safeguards my witches put in place on the city have decayed and the bad is just getting badder. I’ve never had so much work, and it’s just me and David now, who I’m lying to, and it seems like I’m supposed to kill him or someone else will and it’s all a bit, you know, much. What if I’m not good enough?’

‘You’re not. Accept failure, it’s easier in the long run.’


She grinned and toasted me with the gin bottle before suckling at it like a hungry newborn. I sat next to her and stared towards the alley’s opening as the body of the homeless woman was placed into the back of an ambulance and driven away.

‘My masters are dead and I’m here trying to keep some sort of order in London. One coven for a whole city, what were they thinking?’

‘That they were witches and therefore unkillable and above questioning. Arrogant sods, the lot of them. Well, death sure showed our respective creators, hey?’

Is Eva what I’d become if I took her advice and just walked away? If I said goodbye to the coven and washed my hands of my duties? How could she have done that? A familiar is built for one purpose and one place. How could shirking her duties not eat her insides away?

I looked to Eva, her eyes half closed, trying to drink from her gin bottle and inhale her cigarette at the same time, her hands trembling slightly. She’d been hiding from her responsibilities for years, and look what it had done to her.

I couldn’t become that.

I wouldn’t.

‘Hey,’ said David, making me jump. I’d been so caught up in my own dreary thoughts that I hadn’t noticed him approaching.

‘Hey,’ I said back.

‘Thirsty?’ asked Eva, holding out the gin bottle and giving it a wiggle.

‘Thanks, but I think I’ll pass for now.’

‘Suit yourself, more for Mama.’

David widened his eyes at me briefly, smiling. I looked past him to see the bulk of the officers leaving, the alley now taped off with a couple of coppers sat slumped in the front seat of their patrol car out front.

‘So,’ I said, ‘What are they making of all this? Layland and your bosses?’

‘They haven’t got a clue, which for some weird reason really pisses them off.’

I smiled. ‘What are they expecting from you?’

‘The same as always, results out of thin air, and fast. Only, no matter what happens here, I’m not going to be able to give them any actual results, because the killer is a monster that doesn’t exist. Or doesn’t exist as far as anyone else knows. All I can do is help you stop it, then it’s just another unsolved crime on my ledger. I’ve gotta say, joining up with you is not bringing any extra sparkle to my career prospects.’

David dropped into the final seat on the bench, his leg pressing against mine and making my stomach do a strange whirly thing. Nothing else had happened since the strange almost-kiss from a few weeks back. The strange almost-kiss that I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually notice anyway, and I’d blown up in my head out of all proportion. I’d been drunk. Worse than drunk, hanging off his neck with our faces too close for too long.

‘Is no one else going to notice that then?’ asked Eva, derailing my train of thought.

‘Notice what?’ I asked.

‘You seriously haven’t noticed?’

‘What is she talking about now?’ asked David.

‘Who’s “she”, the cat’s, you know… what is it? Cousin? Or…? What were we talking about again?’

‘We haven’t noticed something,’ I replied impatiently.

‘Oh right, yeah. So no one has noticed? I’m the only one, and I wasn’t even paying attention.’

‘Noticed what?’ I cried.

‘Lady muck over there! In the doorway of the boarded-up chip shop. She’s only been stood watching crime alley for the last fifteen minutes. Keen eyes, you two, this city is in really safe hands.’

I leaned past Eva to see what it was she was looking at. There was a person slouched in the doorway about fifty-metres away. She was wearing a floor-length, purple cloak with the hood up, which was a strange thing to have on, but not for this person.

I could only see a little of her face, but that was enough. I recognised her. It was one of Anya’s family.

It was a succubus.


The succubus was fast, moving swiftly and with little effort as I sprinted after her, David panting at my heels. What we were going to do if we actually caught her I didn’t know. My best current plan was: try not to die horribly. I already saw a lot of holes in that plan.

Just David and I against a succubus was bad, having Eva help out would’ve been a safer bet, but as we made to chase she’d just shrugged and said, ‘I make it a rule not to run unless I’m being chased.’

I didn’t have time to argue with her, or tell her she was shaming familiars everywhere with her cowardice, instead I just ran, pulling in the street’s magic as I went, readying for attack.

‘She’s ducking out!’ said David, pointing towards the succubus as she slipped past a group of passers-by and disappeared down an alley. I knew the succubus we were chasing – I’d spoken to her a few times over the years. Her name was Lorna, one of the younger sisters of the family. She’d always seemed one of the more restrained and approachable of Anya’s kin; at least you didn’t worry quite so much that she’d turn suddenly and try to drain the life out of you. As we turned sharply into the alley to continue the chase, I had to wonder what she had been doing near the crime scene. Had she broken ranks from the family and turned feral, murdering normals for her own satisfaction? Or was she just keeping an eye on the investigation on Anya’s behalf? Trying to find out who was really behind the murders.

Well, it looked as though I was going to get the opportunity to ask.

As we reached the end of the alley it opened up onto a little courtyard area with no exit. The succubus was down on her haunches at the far end of the courtyard, her back to us, dark purple cape pooling out around her.

‘Lorna! It is Lorna, isn’t it?’

The hood covering her head twitched a little, but she didn’t turn or answer.

‘Lorna,’ said David, ‘we’d just like to ask you a friendly, non-violent or in any way threatening question or two.’

‘Lorna, we have two people dead. Two people drained dry. And now here you are. What are you doing here Lorna? Are you just keeping an eye on things? Looking for clues just like us?’

‘Or maybe you got a little tired of being on Anya’s short leash,’ said David. ‘Of Stella’s pain in the arse rules about what a succubus can and can’t do. Hey, I can relate, my mum never let me go further than the end of the street when I first got a bike, but I did anyway. So. This is kind of the same.’

I gave him a look.

‘Well, it is kind of. Minus all the murder.’

I indicated for David to hang back as I took a step or two towards the still motionless Lorna. I dragged the surrounding magic into myself, cords of multi-coloured energy whirling around my clenched fists.

‘Lorna, the more you don’t answer me, the more nervous I get. The more I think you’re not here doing detective work. The more I think maybe it’s you doing the killing. Persuade me that I’m wrong.’

Things moved fast then. Too fast for me to do much of anything besides tense for impact.

There was a flash of purple as Lorna turned and stood, her cloak whirling past my eyes and its hood falling down to give me my first clear glimpse of her.

It wasn’t pretty.

She was in full beast mode.

Her eyes were unbroken pools of black, her face a stretched, razor-tooth-filled gargoyle scream. Before I knew what was happening, she’d swept the back of one elongated, clawed hand across my face and I was airborne, a wall breaking my flight painfully.

There was no time to check for broken bones or open wounds. I hopped up onto my feet instantly, my fists boiling with magic, and found Lorna stalking towards David, who happened to still be blocking the only exit.

‘Halt in…. the name of the law?’ said David.

He wasn’t going to just get out of the way, the stubborn, brave idiot, which meant unless I did something fast he was going to end up face down in a puddle of his own brains.

So I did something fast.

I clapped my hands together then pulled, creating a long, magical whip of crackling, bright orange energy, which I swung, striking Lorna across the back.


She hissed and twisted back to me, fury in her ink-black eyes.

‘Where do you think you’re going, succubus? I haven’t even started with you yet.’

All thoughts of escaping by way of a dead David had now clearly deserted Lorna. All she wanted now was to do some very bad and potentially very fatal things to me.

I struck out with the whip again, hitting her across the face, opening a livid cut across one cheek. She screeched and sprang towards me, claws out, ready to sink them into my chest. I dove left, rolled once, then hopped back to my feet, lashing out with the whip again, only this time she was wise to it and caught it before it struck home.

‘Oh shit,’ I said, and really, really meant it.

Lorna yanked on the whip, sending me flying towards her. I landed in a pile at her feet, the whip no longer in my hand, the world tilting as my brain jarred on impact. I looked up to see Lorna above me with murder in her eyes. As she loomed over me, face twisted with fury, claw raised and ready to strike, I pictured my dead witches and wondered if I’d be seeing them again sooner than planned.

That’s when the metal bin bounced off her head and sent Lorna sprawling to the ground.

‘Well,’ said David. ‘Get the up and twat the cow!’

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

I leapt to my feet, soaking up the magic in the air like I was breathing in smoke, my fists throbbing with energy.

‘My turn,’ I said, and punched my fist forward with a scream, unleashing a wave of energy that caught the still-downed Lorna flush and smashed her back against the wall.

I didn’t wait for her to gather her senses.

I punched forward again, and again, one fist after the other, the magic surging into me and then exploding out, crashing into Lorna like breaking waves. Taking on a junior member of the family had been a lucky break – she still had enough strength to rip me to shreds given the chance, but if this had been Anya, the chances of me walking out of this alley would have been next to zero.

‘Lorna,’ I said, unleashing another wave of energy, trying to keep her from gaining her footing and fighting back. ‘You know why I’m doing this. You’ve stepped outside of the pact.’

I looked at her as she squirmed, still in full beast mode, and wondered what could have—

—I blinked, the world swimming back into sharpness, to find myself on my back and looking up at the sky. What the hell?

‘Hello, Stella.’

‘Hello there, Stella.’

I sat up to find Jack and Jake, The Den’s doormen, stood before me with David in their clutches. We were in the courtyard still, but there was no sign of Lorna.

‘Hey, Stella,’ said David, ‘Jack here told me to tell you that if you try anything funny he’ll… what was it?’

‘Snap your neck like a twig.’

‘That’s it. That thing he just said. About my neck.’

‘And stomp your skull into a bloody paste,’ said Jake.

‘Oh, yeah,’ said David, ‘that too. Forgot about that.’

I stood, my fists clenched, ready to fight.

‘Which one of you fuckers knocked me out?’

Jack raised a hand. ‘It was this fist here.’

‘That one there,’ agreed Jake.

‘One punch.’

‘Back of the head.’

‘And down she went.’

I looked around, but she’d definitely gone. Lorna had escaped.

‘If you’re looking for Lorna, we couldn’t let you carry on with that nonsense.’

‘Not with that nonsense, I mean, you were being very rude.’

‘Rude is the word for it.’

I’d had enough.





I swept my hand across him and he lurched out of Jake’s grip, sprawling on the ground a few feet away.

‘Like that is it?’ said Jake.

‘Oh, like that, then?’ said Jack. ‘Oh goodie.’

I threw a fist forward, then another, striking both in the chest with a ball of crackling power. The bouncers flinched and slid back, like rhinos nudged by a couple of shopping carts. They didn’t go down.

They looked at each other and smiled, then back to me.

Christ, I hated fighting this pair.

They charged towards me as one.

I punched out more and more magic, but they were quick on their feet for their size, ducking and weaving as they approached, causing me to leap and roll to avoid their massive bodies crushing me against the wall.

‘David, away,’ I ordered.

‘I’m not leaving you to these lumps,’ he replied. ‘Christ, why am I so noble?’

‘Stella, stay still so we can hurt you,’ said Jake.

‘Yeah, stay still, Stella, we only want to hurt you,’ agreed Jack.

I soaked the magic into me, willing as much of it inside of me as I could. So much that I could see a dim aura glowing from me.

‘Come on then,’ I said, and began to charge.

Jack and Jake smiled and came to meet me. At speed.

There was a collision. There was a release of magic. There was a lot of pain. And then I was on the ground again, struggling to right myself as Jack and Jake, breathing heavily, helped each other to their feet.

One hand against the brick wall for support, I wrenched my complaining body back up, my head throbbing from the impact, vision swimming.

‘Had enough yet?’ I asked, my voice wavering.

‘Enough?’ said Jack.

‘We can do this all day,’ said Jake.

‘Ha, all bloody day!’

They hunched their shoulders and turned to face me, ready to charge again.

I pulled the magic into me, my legs still threatening to drop me back to the ground.

‘Enough,’ said a voice I recognised. Smooth, commanding, and above all, seductive.

Jack and Jake relaxed and stepped aside as Anya, head of the succubus family of London, slinked into view.


Anya’s hands caressed the chests of her two doormen, tracing the scorch marks on their starched white shirts.

‘Has she been playing rough?’ she asked.

‘Very rough,’ replied Jake.

‘But we don’t mind that, boss,’ said Jack.

‘Oh no, don’t mind that.’

‘We like it rough.’

Anya smiled and licked her lips as she turned and looked at me. ‘Go and wait for me by the car, would you, boys?’

Jack and Jake nodded, gave me a cheery wave, then lumbered away.

‘Well, isn’t this an awful mess?’ she purred.

‘You lied to us,’ I said.

Anya pulled a mock-hurt face and shook her head. ‘No. I did not.’

‘She’s the killer, isn’t she, Anya? Lorna, your sister, she’s gone feral, broken ranks, and you’re here to try and pull her back. Am I wrong?’

She turned towards David, who had his back pressed against the wall, trying to be invisible. ‘Detective Tyler, what a delight to see you again so soon.’

‘Oh, hey there.’

‘When will you come back to my club, alone?’ she asked. ‘I see such… fun in you.’

‘Pfft, I have such a busy slate at the moment. Otherwise… well, I still wouldn’t come as you and that place terrify me. A lot. A lot of terrified.’

‘Anya, I represent the London Coven, and you will answer my questions now. Truthfully.’

She turned to me, her mouth twitching momentarily into a grimace. ‘Oh, will I now? Are you really the coven, or just all that’s left? A remnant clinging onto something that’s already dead?’

I can’t pretend that didn’t sting. That it didn’t ring a little bell in my head. Eva popped into my mind’s eye briefly. Eva, who was just like me, but had given up her purpose after her coven’s destruction. Did she have the right idea after all? Maybe I was holding onto something that was over. I wasn’t a witch. What right did I have to try to act as though I were?

‘As things stand, I am the coven, Anya. And that means I can’t just stand aside. I can’t let people in this city die at the hands of the Uncanny, no matter which family that Uncanny might belong to. You know that.’

Anya stared at me a little too long, and I felt a chill caress my skin. I wondered what would happen next. If she’d turn feral and leap at me, sink her teeth into me, gouge my heart open with one claw.

But instead she smiled.

‘Yes. I know that. And again, I did not lie.’

‘The murderer, it’s Lorna.’

Anya bowed her head once.

‘So you’re telling me you didn’t know?’

‘That is what I am telling you.’

‘The powerful Anya of The Den, head of the succubus family of London, didn’t know when one of her own was breaking the agreement and indulging in a murder spree?’

‘I won’t tell you again, Stella,’ she replied.

I shifted, hands clenched, I didn’t like the way Anya spoke to me. L’Merrier was one thing, but Anya got under my skin.

‘Where is she then? Where’s Lorna?’

‘We will find her,’ said Anya.

‘Sorry,’ said David. ‘Does that mean you let her escape? You let the murderer get away?’

Anya turned her head in his direction, her eyes suddenly black, causing David to hop back in not the most manly of fashions.

‘No offence, just trying to get the facts down. It’s the copper in me.’

‘Why did you have your pair of idiot doormen stop me if you were just going to let her run away?’

Anya turned her attention back to me, the black in her eyes fading. ‘Because she is my sister. My family. She is mine to deal with. She is not yours to bat around or judge, familiar. Is that clear?’

‘No,’ I said, trying to sound braver than I felt.

‘No?’ she replied, arching an eyebrow. ‘One of these days your bravery is going to be your undoing.’

‘Anya, I can’t just allow Lorna to carry on killing and wait for you to clean up the mess.’

‘Is that so?’

‘Yes, and you know it is. I couldn’t just step aside even if I wanted to. It’s my job to take out whatever’s threatening this city.’

‘You know, Stella, I really must question that fiercely stated manifesto, considering your current company.’

She turned to face David again.

‘Tell me, Detective, how are you feeling?’

David looked past her to me, a little confused, ‘I’m good. Well, pretty good. Good with a side of fear, which is pretty much my default setting these days.’

‘You’re different than you were the first time we met.’


‘I am? I parted my hair differently this morning, but—’

Anya turned back to me, a humourless smile on her face. ‘A little hypocritical, familiar.’

She turned and strode towards the street. ‘Lorna is my family, I will deal with her.’

‘Not if I find her first, Anya.’

She paused briefly. ‘Get in my way, and it will not end well, regardless of your affiliation.’

As she left, David crouched to catch his breath. ‘You know, she is really very stressful to be around.’

Anya knew about David. About what was happening to him. L’Merrier was right, the news was spreading. How long before someone decided to try and do something about it?


I placed a pint on the table in front of David and dropped onto a stool opposite. We’d retreated to The Beehive to lick our wounds and consider our next move.

‘Cheers,’ said David, raising his glass and gulping down a few mouthfuls.

I now knew two things for sure. Firstly, the killer was indeed a succubus from Anya’s family gone rogue, and secondly, people were starting to find out about whatever it was that was happening to David.

‘I’m not going to lie, Stella,’ said David, ‘I really hope Anya finds that black sheep of hers before we do, because those succubi are not my favourite Uncanny peeps.’

I smiled and took a drink. I can’t say I disagreed with him. If Anya managed to get to Lorna first and pull her back into the fold before she committed any more murders, that would be fine with me. You could argue she should have to face some sort of justice for the murders she’d committed, but unless the family agreed, it would mean going to war. Justice couldn’t always mean punishment, not in this Uncanny world. It would be up to them how she was reprimanded. Stopping her would more than likely have to be enough. I touched the side of my head and winced a little; a painful reminder of my rumble with Jack and Jake.

‘So, what she was saying back there—Anya I mean—about me changing; what was all that about?’

‘How should I know?’ I replied, feeling like shit as I avoided his eyes, instead suddenly finding the foam on top of my beer super interesting.

‘Seemed like she was circling around something,’ he said, pushing.

‘She says a lot of things. It’s what she does. Trying to prick at you, trying to get inside your head. I learned a long time ago to block that crap out.’

David looked at me curiously, then shrugged. ‘Yeah, she’s a crazy one,’ he said, taking another swig of his beer.

I didn’t like lying to David, especially when it was about something that might actually hurt him later, but I didn’t see what choice I had at that point. I needed some sort of plan of action before I said, “Hey, so you seem to have turned into some sort of magic black hole, slurping up the juice around you, and at some point there’s a chance you might explode and wipe out the city.” As soon as I could cap it with, “But don’t worry, because this is how I save you,” I was staying quiet. Anything I told him before then was only going to make him worry, and that’s the last thing I wanted.

I drained my glass and stood, my stool scraping back like nails on a chalk board. ‘Another?’

David looked up at me, then at his own still three-quarters full glass. ‘I’m good. Thirsty?’


I made my way over to Lenny, The Beehive’s landlord, and ordered myself a second glass full.

‘So,’ began Lenny, then stopped.

He was never much for small talk.

‘So what?’

‘Your friend. The not-so-normal normal. People are talking.’

‘Let them. He’s under my protection. I’ll deal with it.’

He slid the full glass across the bar. ‘Sure. But maybe you should stay out of view for a while.’

‘What are you saying? You want me to leave?’

‘People are getting antsy. I see it. I see them coming in and out of here all day. I hear the chatter. Your detective has been coming up a lot lately.’

‘Let them talk. If they have anything more to say they can come and see me.’

‘All I’m saying is, be prepared.’

I looked over my shoulder, scanning the room. I saw little groups of people, huddled around tables, speaking in hushed voices, stealing glances at an oblivious David, who smiled and waved at me.

‘Put it on my tab,’ I said, and made my way back over to our table.

‘You okay there, magic lady? I mean, you scowl a lot, but even for you, that is one full-on, scowly scowl. That is a scowl squared. That is the mommy and daddy of all—’

I raised a hand to stop him. ‘I’ve got it.’

I took a sip, and took another quick glance around the room.

Now that Lenny had pointed it out, I could practically taste the unease in the room. Before, my attention had been so taken with the Lorna problem, and the fact I was lying to David, that I hadn’t noticed. But now I did.

Surely none of them would dare do anything though? Not with me there? I was Stella Familiar of the London Coven. David was safe with me.

‘So, what did old Giles L’Merrier want with you, you never said?’

‘Hm? Oh, nothing. Just, you know, to call me a few bad names, tell me what a terrible job I was doing. The usual.’

Certainly nothing to do with how you need to be put down before you go nuclear and blow up the entire city. Nope.

‘If ever there was a guy with a stick up his arse,’ said David, ‘it’s that man. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he rocks that robe like a boss, but he needs to get out once in a while. Mix with us little people.’

I smiled, and then the world seemed to hold its breath around me, time slowing to a crawl. I tried to search my memory to find something that told me I was wrong, that I’d just forgotten, but I couldn’t find anything. Because I wasn’t wrong.



‘How did you know I went to see Giles L’Merrier?’

‘You told me.’

‘No, I don’t remember telling you anything about that.’

David looked at me, incredulous. ‘Well you must have done, because I know about it, and I’m pretty sure Giles didn’t fill me in. We’re not exactly best buds.’

‘David, I didn’t tell you a thing about that. About his summons, about going, about any of it.’

Was this part of his new, growing power? Somehow he was reading my thoughts without even knowing he was doing it. That was bad, but things were about to get a whole lot worse.

‘Oi, why don’t you actually do something about him?’

I turned to see a group of men I vaguely recognised glaring our way.

‘What did you say?’ I replied.

‘You’re the London Coven. It’s your job, Familiar!’

Grunts of agreement from around the pub. I could read the signals. They were scared and readying themselves to do something stupid. Waiting for the bravest of them to work up the courage to attack, then piling on after him.

‘Hey,’ said David. ‘What’s going on? What did I do?’

‘It’s okay, David,’ I said. ‘They’re just drunk. Isn’t that right, lads?’

They weren’t playing ball though. ‘If you won’t do anything, maybe it’s time someone else did!’

Chairs scraped back as one by one they began to stand.

‘Oi,’ said Lenny, ‘everyone just calm down!’

But there was no calming this now, and no way of getting David out and through the door without getting past a good ten people brimming with murderous intent.

‘You really want to do this?’ I asked.

‘Do what?’ said David. ‘What are they doing? What is happening here?’

The men nodded. ‘What choice do we have?’

‘Right,’ I replied. ‘Come on then.’

And that’s when it all kicked off.


For a while I assumed I was dead.

There had been a fight. All of the drinkers in The Beehive dogpiling onto us, throwing fists and kicks and more besides. Normally I would have swept them aside without breaking a sweat, but The Beehive has an energy field around it, and our aggressors were determined to keep us inside of it.

So they could kill David.

The energy field is a type of protective bubble that affects the magical abilities of any Uncanny that steps inside it. It doesn’t take them away completely, it just dampens things, because drunk people and magical powers are a recipe for death and mass destruction. The field leaves you with enough power to make any fight within its walls extra interesting though. Extra bits of force behind punches, energy enough to unleash the magical equivalent of a supernatural fist to the nose.

All this is to say that we were taking on about twelve scared, angry people with two fists each and a little bit of magic to give their punches extra meat. David did his best to help out. With the bubble, things were a little more on the equal side, so he dove in and threw his fair share of punches. Still, we were more than a little outnumbered.

This had gone on for a few minutes when I found myself pushing my aching body up off the floor for the fourth time, spitting blood onto the ancient, stained carpet, ready to do some damage of my own.

That’s when I felt it.

Something was building. It made my skin prickle, my head itch. I began to hear a faint whine, like an engine building speed.

It was David.

Four of them had backed him into a corner, but were now heading in reverse.

‘His eyes!’

‘Stop him!’

‘Get out, we’ve got to—’

A chaos of noise, of voices, of furniture crashing aside as a vortex began to whirl around David, his eyes turning white as a pure flame began to seep from them. I’d seen this before. Seen it a couple of times in fact, when the magic being sucked into David like a sponge overtook him and he became… something else.

‘David,’ I said, shielding my eyes, ‘David, can you hear me? You’ve got to stop! You’ve got to stop or you’re going to kill us all!’

I didn’t know if he could hear me, he didn’t turn to look at me, he just threw his head back, his mouth wide, screaming, and then—


—I remembered a blinding light, a release of energy, a feeling as though the flesh was being melted from my bones—

—and then nothing.


Well, not quite nothing.

If you’re aware of the nothing then how can there be nothing? At the very least there was my consciousness, but I couldn’t see myself, or anything else, and I couldn’t move. It was like I’d forgotten how I did that. How I made my limbs move. How I blinked. How I breathed. Maybe I had nothing to move and nothing to breathe with.

No limbs, no mouth, no ligaments or lungs. Maybe this was what death actually was. Just an awareness, fixed in nothing.

A dislocated consciousness.

I stayed there for a while. It was difficult to know how long, because time didn’t exist. Maybe it was seconds, or maybe it was decades.

Then I felt something pull on the nothing that was me.

Something was gaining purchase on me, it felt like it was dragging me backwards. And if something could touch me, could move me, could pull me backwards, that meant I couldn’t just be a consciousness, I had to have a physical element.

Just as that thought entered my mind I blinked. I had eyelids. I had eyes for them to cover. Piece by piece I discovered my physical self again as I hurtled back and back, wind screaming in my ears, mixed with an indecipherable babble of layer upon layer of voices creating one painful roar.

And then it was over.

I lay still for a while, body trembling, the fresh wounds I’d received during the bar fight beginning to throb now I’d returned to reality.

But where was I? I wasn’t in The Beehive, that was for sure. I sat up and looked around. I was home. I was in the coven.

And I wasn’t alone.

I stood, quietly, padding towards the door to the main coven room. Someone was talking inside. No, not someone, three someones.

Three someones I recognised.

I pushed open the door to reveal my witches. My three masters and creators, Kala, Trin, and Feal.

‘This is a trick,’ I said, as I stepped into the room and the three of them turned to look. ‘This is just a trick.’

I pictured the last time something like this had happened; that had been down to Mr. Trick. A trap. A magical pretence meant to crush me. A shiver ran down my spine as I looked around, fearful that the creature I’d killed would step out to reveal himself.

‘What is she talking about?’ asked Trin.

‘A trick, just some sort of a trick. Or maybe I am dead after all, and this is the next stage. First nothing, then you start seeing things like… things like you three.’

‘Things like us three?’ replied Kala.

‘I thought you’d gone out,’ said Feal. ‘Did you forget something?’

I walked slowly around the edge of the room, not taking my eyes off the three of them in case they turned into something else. Something dangerous. Or just in case they disappeared and I lost them again.

‘Stella,’ said Trin. ‘Have you gone quite mad?’

‘Why isn’t she speaking?’

‘I don’t know, why would I know? I know as much as you do,’ said Feal.

‘You’re real,’ I said.

‘Well done,’ replied Kala.

‘I mean, you’re really real, this isn’t a trick. This isn’t in my head.’

My three witches looked at me, confused. But it was true, I could tell. I could feel it in my bones. This wasn’t an illusion. They weren’t ghosts. They weren’t tricks. This was really them. My three dead masters, resurrected. But how?

‘Wait a second,’ said Trin, licking her lips. ‘Something’s happening.’

‘What?’ asked Feal. ‘What is it?’

‘Can’t you taste it?’ asked Kala.

Feal began to lick her lips too. ‘Oh! Oh. Time travel.’

‘Time travel,’ said Trin.

They looked to me again as I took in what they’d just said. They weren’t resurrected. They were alive because they hadn’t died yet. Mr. Trick had yet to crash into our lives and take them from me.

Which meant…

‘Why are you here, Stella?’ asked Trin. ‘And how? Do you know how much energy, how much power, it takes to skip back into your own timeline?’

‘Even the three of us combined couldn’t pull that off.’

I stepped towards them, my heart beating ten to the dozen. I had a chance here. Whatever David had done, the magic he had released, it had sent me tumbling into the past, back to before my masters were murdered, and that meant I could save them.

‘Listen to me,’ I said. ‘I need to tell you about something. No, I need to warn you. I need to warn you about what’s going to happen.’

Kala stepped forward, waving her arms around. ‘Whoa now, hush.’

‘Stop right there,’ said Trin.

‘But, I’ve got to warn you about—’

‘We don’t want to know,’ said Feal.

‘Whatever has knocked you back here will pass. Time travel is only ever temporary. But while you’re here, you can’t tell us anything.’

‘But you don’t understand!’

‘Stella, we understand.’

I felt myself getting angry, frustrated. Why couldn’t they just let me save them?

‘Something bad is going to—’

‘Silence,’ said Trin, and I felt my words catch in my throat. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. She’d cast a silent spell on me. I felt my eyes prickle with tears as I felt the chance slipping away.

‘We understand, Stella,’ said Trin. ‘Something bad has happened, but it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t do this.’

‘Whatever it is, it’s already done,’ said Feal. ‘You can’t change it. If you tell us, and we stop it, do you realise the damage that would happen?’

‘You cannot change history,’ said Kala. ‘Not one line. No matter how awful those lines are, they’ve already been written.’

‘Those are the rules, no matter what.’

I wanted to say Damn the rules. Wanted to tear them up and stomp them into the floor. Who gave a crap about what damage it might do if I could save them all from Mr. Trick?

‘Stella, whatever made it possible for you to be here, it’s dangerous,’ said Trin.

Kala nodded. ‘I can feel it. The power that sent you to us. It’s almost too much to bear.’

‘Whatever it is,’ said Feal, ‘it must be stopped. No doubt we’ve already said this to you, but we’re saying it again. Stop it. Do whatever it takes, or else everyone will be in danger.’

The room began to fade as I searched for paper, for a pen. Something to scrawl “Run. Just run. Mr. Trick is coming!” but everything around me was turning to smoke. Or maybe it was me.

‘Stop them, Stella,’ said Trin.

‘Whatever it is, you have to destroy it.’

I tried to shout. Tried to scream. Felt my throat grow raw with a hundred silent cries.

And then they were gone.


I opened my eyes to find Eva looking down at me.

‘It looks like you had one hell of a party in here, love.’

I sat up sharply, my chest heaving. I was back in The Beehive. What was left of it anyway. Every stick of furniture had been reduced to splinters, and glass covered the floor.

‘Eva, where’s David?’

She looked around and shrugged. ‘Maybe he’s taking a piss.’

I stood and scanned the four corners of the room, but there was no sign of David, and no sign of anyone else. Of Lenny, of the other drinkers who’d attacked us, just the smashed aftermath.

‘There was a fight. A fight between us and, well, a lot of people. They were trying to kill David.’

‘Makes sense. Scared people do scared things.’

‘And then, David, he… well I don’t know what he did, not exactly, but this energy burst out of him, did this to the room, and sent me back in time. For a bit.’

Eva regarded me, surprised. ‘You went back in time? Actually, you know, hopped back? In time? Time travelled? In time?’

I nodded.

‘Huh. Well that’s cool.’

‘I saw my witches. They were alive and I spoke to them.’

Eva began to prod at glass shards with the toe of her boot. ‘Must be nice. I wonder what I’d say to mine if I had the chance.’

‘They wouldn’t let me warn them about what was going to happen. All they cared about was me killing David. Everyone wants me to kill David!’

‘I don’t. Though we should probably shove him on a boat and drop him off on a remote, uninhabited island and let him explode in peace.’

I yanked out my phone, surprised to see it was still working, and hit David’s name. It went straight to voicemail. ‘Shit.’

‘Aha!’ cried Eva, as she found the last unbroken bottle of alcohol in the pub. She yanked out the cork with her teeth, spat it against the wall, and took a nice, big swig. ‘Every cloud, Stella.’

‘Eva, I need your help.’

Eva drank some more, squinting at me. ‘I’m not much of a fan of helping, these days. FYI. I’m more of a sitter-outer. And a drinker. And a lounger. I am the Queen of lounging.’

‘Just… just help me. Please.’

Eva sighed, drained the bottle, tossed it over her shoulder, then waved her hand at me as she headed towards the door, which was hanging off its hinges. ‘Come on then, let’s find your super-dangerous-we-should-definitely-probably-save-London-from-him friend.’

I looked around at the destruction and wondered what had happened to everyone else. As if on cue, there was a ripple in the air, a dark blur, the sound of twisting metal, and then Lenny appeared on the ground, back from wherever David had sent him, his eyes springing open.

‘I did not enjoy that,’ he said, in his low rumble of a voice.

‘Lenny, you’re okay, thank God.’

Lenny looked around at his pub, then over to me. ‘I think you and your mate are barred for a bit.’

‘Yeah. I think we are.’

I headed after Eva, my boots crunching glass, as the others began to appear, one by one, back from their own short trips through time. I grabbed Eva and we hung back, out of sight, until they all left, staggering off to lick their wounds. I’d hoped David would appear at some point too, but he didn’t.

As we turned down David’s street I tried his phone for the twentieth time, but like the previous nineteen, it went to voicemail. Didn’t even ring, just straight through to the increasingly annoying recorded greeting.

‘Give it a rest,’ said Eva, ‘he’s not answering.’

I glared at her and pocketed my phone.

‘Look on the bright side, maybe he disintegrated. Maybe that was it. His big bang, and L’Merrier just overestimated what sort of damage he was going to do. Instead of leaving London a smoking crater, he just broke a few chairs, popped the lot of you back in time for a bit, and then turned himself into a fine powder of some description.’

‘So, your brightside is David is dead?’

Eva shrugged. ‘Well, better he dies and hurts no one else than, you know, he hurts millions of people, or even maybe you have to kill the poor sod.’

I didn’t have a response for that. It was true. If David was okay, all that that meant was that L’Merrier was right, my witches were right. Everyone was right. David was a danger and the danger was only ramping up. What just happened in The Beehive was evidence enough of that. A tremor before the big one. I needed to solve this, I only hoped to God it wouldn’t mean my killing him.

Whatever happened, I’d find a way.

I had to.

I knocked on David’s front door a couple of times, then let myself in with the spare key he’d given me. A few letters were piled on the welcome mat, which was about all the evidence you need that someone hasn’t been home. We went in anyway though, just in case. His outburst had sent me—at least briefly, and in another time—back home. Back to my coven. Maybe it had done the same for him.


‘Hm?’ she answered distractedly as she rummaged through a kitchen cupboard and retrieved a box of cereal, which she began to eat dry from the box.

‘If David had sent himself home, sent himself here, but to an earlier time, would you be able to sense that?’

Yeah, we’re both familiars, but Eva is more skilled than I am. She may have been dulling herself with bad living, but of the two of us she still had more experience, power, and ability.

‘Yeah. Probably. Kind of an effort though. To do the sensing bit. Like trying to squeeze out a difficult poo, if you know what I mean.’


‘I mean a giant, bone-dry hog of a turd.’

‘Thanks, I get it. Can you just do it, please?’

She shoved another handful of cereal into her mouth, then sighed, sending a cloud of crumbs firing out. ‘Fine. You know you’re a needy bitch.’

Eva sat at the kitchen table and laid her hands down flat, closing her eyes. I felt the magic in the air begin to ripple around me, then surge towards Eva as she willed the Uncanny into her and searched for any signs of time disturbance.

There was a rattle to my left. I turned to see dishes on the drying rack trembling, then cupboard doors vibrating, the light fitting juddering. Eva reached out with her senses, not just into the here and now, but probing fissures to the past. Sweat beads began to form on her forehead, then roll down, her face twitching as her body shook with the effort.

Finally, she opened her eyes and the kitchen fell silent again, apart from Eva taking ragged gasps of air.


‘No, I’m not. I’m severely shagged out.’

‘Did you find anything? Did David send himself back here but to an earlier point in time?’

‘Oh, no. I got nothing besides a damp bra,’ she said, scratching her underboobs.


David was alive, I knew it. I was sure that if he’d obliterated himself I’d feel it. I had to find him before someone else did and decided to finish the job the patrons at The Beehive had started.

Or before he took out the entire city.

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘let’s get to the coven and think of something else.’

‘Okay. Also, can I borrow a new bra when we get there? I’m telling you, this one has soaked in a good cup full. It is not comfortable.’

I tried my best to ignore that image as we headed for the front door, opening it to reveal a familiar face.

‘Well, well,’ said Layland, David’s partner. ‘Would you look who it is.’


I blinked a few times, trying to take in what Detective Lauren Layland had just told me.

‘Can you say that again?’

‘What’s wrong? Hard of hearing now, as well as full of more shit than a backed up turd machine?’

I’d like to say I hated Layland, but the truth was I sort of respected her take-no-crap attitude. Still, I can’t say I hadn’t occasionally thought about the sound my fist would make connecting with her nose.

‘Please, just repeat what you said.’

‘I said, have you been in contact with Detective David Tyler since he dropped off the face of the fucking Earth three days ago?’

Yeah. The fight in The Beehive was, it turns out, three days ago.

‘Three days?’ I repeated, turning to look at Eva.

‘Hm?’ replied Eva, still more interested in the now almost empty box of bran cereal she was clutching.

‘It’s been three days since… well, you know.’

Eva frowned, then began to count on her fingers. ‘Oh, right, yeah. I suppose it was three days.’

Layland narrowed her eyes at us as I tried to dance around the subject.

‘You might have mentioned that,’ I told Eva.

‘Hey, in my defence, I forgot.’

‘That isn’t a defence.’

‘It had the word defence right there in the sentence,’ she said, turning to Layland for support. ‘Hey resting bitch-face, am I wrong?’

Layland bristled and took a step forward. ‘What did you just say to me?’

‘Just ignore her,’ I said on Eva’s behalf. ‘She was dropped on her head as a baby.’

Eva laughed. ‘That’s actually true. A small section of my skull is made of wood.’

‘You’re both fucking loonies. And I must be a loony too for putting up with you.’

‘Detective Layland,’ I said, trying to get things back on track, ‘we haven’t seen David. That’s actually why we came here, because he hasn’t been picking up his phone and we wanted to check on him.’

‘How long have you had a key to his home?’

‘Does it matter?’


‘A while.’

‘Want to be a little more specific?’

‘About six months.’

Layland nodded, then wrote it down in her notebook.

Eva nudged me with her elbow. ‘I do not think that this pig likes you.’

‘Nope, and I also don’t like you,’ replied Layland without looking up.

‘I respect that. I’m an acquired taste.’

‘I’m ignoring her now,’ replied Layland, focussing on me. I didn’t like the way her eyes bored into mine. Those eyes that radiated suspicion. An unfocused suspicion, but one that assumed—rightly too—that I was at fault somewhere in all of this.

‘The last sighting we have of Detective Tyler was on the street with you, heading through Ealing Broadway on foot. Care to tell me where you were going?’

A hidden pub for magic people that he then wrecked with his ever-increasing and terrifying Uncanny powers.

‘We had a drink at a pub to talk over the case. The strange murders.’

‘Which pub?’

‘I don’t remember exactly. They all look the same, don’t they?’

Layland snorted and scribbled more notes.

‘And then?’

And then I travelled back in time for a while.

‘And then I left him to finish his drink, and that was the last I saw of him.’

Layland fixed me with her eyes again, searching my face for any sign of a lie, for any giveaway tics. A standard technique, put the suspect under pressure, make them sweat, and they’re more likely to say more than they ought to.

‘Okay,’ said Layland, flipping her pad shut and pocketing it. ‘You’ll tell me if he gets in touch, right?’

It was an order, not a question.

‘Of course.’

‘Detective David Tyler might be soft in the head, but he’s my partner. My friend. And if anything has happened to him, and you’re in any way connected, then I’ll have you.’

I couldn’t blame Layland for the way she reacted to me. She knew something was off, and didn’t like her partner dragging in seemingly crackpot outsiders onto her cases. The very fact she allowed it, when I knew full well she could block me from getting anywhere near her crime scenes, told me how much she actually respected David. It might piss her off, but she let him have his weirdo friend pop in every now and again. Part of me wondered if it wouldn’t be easier just to go to her with David and let her in on everything. On me, on the uncanny, on the world of monsters that shared her streets. But no, too many normals who find out the truth end up dead.

‘I believe it,’ I replied.

‘You’d better believe it,’ said Layland, as she turned and got in her car.

‘Now that,’ said Eva, ‘is one hell of a woman.’


We made our way back to the coven, at which point Eva staggered off to bed.

I paced the main room and tried not to think about the fact I’d recently been speaking to my dead masters in this very room, if not this time period.

I tried not to think about the fact that I’d had a chance, probably my only chance, to save them. To change history and overturn what Mr. Trick had done. If only they’d listened, if only the three of them hadn’t been so caught up in the rules of right and wrong. Maybe if they’d known their lives depended on it they wouldn’t have been so quick to tie my tongue and—


I heard it, but it was faint. A distant whisper on the edge of my hearing.


It wasn’t Eva, she was sound asleep, her door closed. This was a disembodied voice. Something not quite of this realm.


‘Stella, I… where… am I...?’

David was here, somewhere. Sort of here. I needed something of his to try and focus the pair of us on. I scrambled around the coven, trying to keep him talking, trying to keep in contact, as I searched for something of his.

‘David, tell me where you are.’

‘I don’t… dark… can’t seem to…’

His voice was so weak. So far away. A ghost of a thing.

‘David, tell me about something real. Tell me about the last thing you remember eating.’


My heart leapt in my chest.

‘David? David! David, can you hear me?’

Had I lost him? Had I been too slow?


‘Chips. Bad chips. Greasy, from a van.’

‘Okay, good, keep thinking about those chips.’

A pen, one end chewed; David’s. I grabbed it and ran back to the main room.

‘David, you’re lost, but that’s okay because I’m here and I’m holding a lifebelt.’

‘I think.... drifting apart…’

I grabbed some chalk and drew a pentagram on the large square of dark slate set into the wooden floor, then I placed David’s pen at its centre. Dropping to my knees, I willed the magic in the room to flow into me. To assault me. To drown me. Then, with a grunt of effort, I thrust my hands towards the pentagram, feeding it with the magic I’d absorbed.

‘David? David, are you still there? Stay with me!’

‘Here. I’m still…’

‘Okay, okay good.’

I began to focus on David’s pen, sat in the centre of the now glowing pentagram. The pen began to float, to glow as ribbons of energy coiled around it.

‘I’m going to bring you home, David. Just try to focus. Try to see something that wasn’t there before. Can you see it?’

‘Not… what are you…?’

I fed more magic through myself into the pentagram, into the spell, the pen glowing brighter and brighter still.

‘David, look for it, a faint spot of light, do you see it?’



‘I see it.’

‘Okay; move towards it! Move towards that point of light! You need to grab hold of it, and—’

I fell back in surprise as a hand thrust out of nowhere and grabbed the floating pen.


I lunged forwards and grabbed the wrist, wrenching back, pulling David back into this realm, back into the coven. I collapsed back with him crashing on top of me, knocking the wind from my lungs.

I looked up to find David’s face so close to my own that the tips of our noses were touching.

‘Hey, magic lady.’

I laughed and threw my arms around him.

I placed a cup of tea on the kitchen table in front of David and took my place opposite.

‘So, what do you remember?’

‘Not a lot. There was a fight, I was getting my arse kicked, and then, well, nothing until you started talking to me about chips.’

It seemed like whatever had overtaken David hadn’t knocked him through time, or obliterated him entirely. Instead, it had, for want of a better way of putting it, phased him out of this visible realm and hidden him in another. Like an unconscious move to yank him out of harm’s way.

‘How am I going to explain going M.I.A. for three days at work? To Layland?’

‘We can tweak the spell I use to make your colleagues accept me at crime scenes. Feed it with a ton of extra magic and make them forget they’ve even been looking for you. That you’ve been missing at all.’

David blew on his tea, then looked up at me, making my heart skip. I could see fear in his eyes. The eyes that, the last time I had seen them, had been engulfed with white hot flames. ‘Stella, tell me what’s wrong with me.’

‘I’m not… I don’t know. Not exactly.’

‘You know enough though, right? L’Merrier warned you about something. I know you didn’t tell me, but somehow I know he did anyway. I’m scared, Stella. Make me less scared.’

I wished I could.

‘Something happened to you. Mr. Trick, the most powerful Uncanny creature I’ve ever met, took over your body for an extended period. Couple that with the black magic I used to bring you back to life, and, well, it’s altered you.’

David nodded slowly as he took in the information. ‘Am I dangerous?’

I paused, then nodded once.

‘How dangerous?’

‘Dangerous enough that Giles L’Merrier told me I needed to murder you.’

David’s eyes widened as he went to speak, stopped, then tried again. ‘Okay. Well, shit.’

‘“Well, shit,” indeed. You’re pulling in a massive amount of magic. You’re not doing it consciously, it’s just happening, and you keep… turning. Having ‘episodes’, I suppose you’d call them.’

‘Did I kill anyone? At The Beehive?’

‘No, you just trashed the place and sent us all back in time for a bit.’

‘Oh. Cool.’

I thought about my lost opportunity to save my masters. Nothing about that was cool.

‘What do Giles and the others think I’m going to do, exactly?’

‘They think… they think you’re like a bomb. Of sorts.’


‘That you’re soaking up more and more magic, and, at some point, the end result will be more than a few trashed rooms and time travel trips. The end result will be London becoming a smoking crater and millions of people being… less than alive.’

David shrank back in his chair, trying to take it all in. It’s not every day you’re told that your future is probably going to amount to you murdering millions of people. All things considered, he took it pretty well.

‘Okay, could Mr. Trick be behind this? Could any part of him be hanging on through me, making this happen? One last nasty trick?’

‘No, I killed him.’ I don’t know why I said that with such authority. Why I felt like I had to lie. The truth was, I had no clue, and it wasn’t as though I hadn’t wondered before if David being alive gave Mr. Trick some sort of weak grip on existence still. Who knew what something so powerful, so other, could be capable of?

‘So what do we do?’

‘We stop you.’

‘Right. ‘I take it you’re not…?’ David mimed dragging a knife across his throat.

‘What? No! Of course not!’

‘Good. That’s good. I appreciate that.’

I hoped to Christ it was true, that it wouldn’t come to that. That I’d never find myself having to make that choice.

‘But what if it’s the only way? I don’t want to kill anyone, Stella. I’m not worth all those lives.’

I went to say, “You are to me,” but bit my tongue.

‘You’re not going to hurt anyone, and nobody is going to hurt you. We just need to find a way to stop you going boom.’

‘You’re sure there’s a way?’

‘Of course,’ I lied, ‘there’s always a way. Trust me.’

David looked at me hard for a few seconds, then smiled and nodded. ‘Okay, magic lady. I trust you. But if it comes to it, promise me you’ll do the right thing.’


‘Stella, I’m serious. I won’t hurt all those people. If you have to, if it’s the only way, you do your job and you stop me. Do you hear me? You stop me.’


I looked down at the pile of dried-up, withered bodies stacked on top of each other in the centre of the living room. A family of five, a mother, a father, three kids, in a three-bedroom house in Hammersmith.

Lorna had indulged in a sick feast to celebrate our return.

‘Why do you keep inviting her,’ said Layland, eyeing me evilly, cup of coffee in hand.

It hadn’t been easy covering David’s absence, Layland especially had needed three or four doses of the spell before she forgot he’d been missing. Even after all that I got the impression she was aware she was pissed off for some reason she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

‘You force this woman on our crime scenes because you think she can help in some way. Well, this is crime scene number three of this case, and I’ve yet to hear one useful word drop out of her mouth.’

This really was the problem with our set up. If I was involved, it was because something Uncanny was going on. Something Uncanny that we were never going to just capture, put on trial, and lock up like your normal criminal. As far as Layland was concerned, I was about as useful in an investigation as a house brick. Worse than a house brick. At least with a brick she could pick it up and throw it away. I kept coming back.

‘Layland,’ replied David. ‘Trust me, she helps.’

Layland grimaced at him. ‘I can’t help but think there’s something I’m forgetting to shout at you about.’

As she turned and left us, I dropped onto my haunches to look closer at the bodies. I wanted to really see, close up, the result of my ineptitude. Five more people dead, including children, because I’d failed to uphold my duty to keep the people of London safe. I reached out and touched the arm of the smallest body, a girl named Sally. She’d only recently celebrated her fifth birthday, and now that would be her last, because of me.

Had I murdered her myself? No, of course not, but it was my job to stop things like Lorna, and now she had seven bodies on her slate, and more to come if I didn’t get it together and take her down. It didn’t matter what Anya had said; that she thought it her mess to clear up and that I should stay out of it. Three days had passed since that confrontation, and still Lorna was on the streets, murdering innocents.

This had to be the last of them. No more. This bitch was going down.

I leaned in to the girl’s body. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough, but I’ll get her. I’ll get your killer.’

The girl’s corpse opened her eyes. ’He must be destroyed.’

I jerked back in shock.

‘David, tell me you can see that.’

‘I see it. And hear it. And I really don’t like it.’

The girl’s eyes had no colour to them. Two dried out, white prunes sat in their puckered sockets. How was this possible?

‘Kill him. Stop him. He is death,’ said the girl, her voice dry and whispery, empty of life, of emotion.

Someone was using the bodies to get a point across. Some sick bastard playing with the dead.

And then, one by one, the other bodies began to open their eyes and join in with the girl’s demands for me to put an end to the dangerous man. I didn’t need to ask who they meant.

I looked around the room to see if anyone else was seeing what we were, but they carried on, oblivious. This wasn’t real, this was an illusion meant just for us.

‘Listen, you sick fuck,’ I said, leaning in as I spoke so no one else would hear me and wonder why I was threatening a pile of dead bodies, ‘if you think this is going to scare me, you’re wrong.’

David raised a hand: ‘Job done over here though.’

‘I promise, if you or anyone else tries to force my hand, or tries to take him out by yourself, I will fuck you up.’

I stood and turned away from the bodies, David following as I left the house and the bodies fell silent.


We needed to get back to the coven and find a way to track down Lorna before any more corpses piled up. Hopefully Eva would still be there and I could actually convince her to lend a hand.

‘Just so we’re clear, they meant me, right? That you should kill me?’

‘Yes,’ I replied.

‘Blimey. Even the dead want me dead. I mean, I’ve not always been the most popular of people, but this is a new low, even for me.’

‘That wasn’t the dead speaking, that was some fool speaking through them.’

As we walked I felt eyes on us. I didn’t turn to look, or to confront, I just kept us moving as quickly as possible. Once we were in the coven, we’d be safe.

‘Um, Stella?’


‘I think we’re being followed. No, I know we are, they aren’t being at all subtle.’

A crowd was forming, ten or twelve Uncannys, more joining as we moved forward.

‘Don’t worry, we’re almost at the coven, then they can try all they like, they won’t be able to touch you.’

I sounded confident but I didn’t feel it. Things were coming to a head; word of David had clearly spread far and wide since the altercation at The Beehive. The apocalypse man wasn’t a rumour anymore. He wasn’t someone you could wait for someone else to deal with. David was a threat and needed to be taken out before he turned everyone in London into ashes.

I wondered why they were hanging back, why they weren’t attacking before we reached the safety of the coven.

I got my answer when we reached the blind alley.

Because there wasn’t one.

Someone had blocked the entrance.

‘Did you do that?’ asked David, looking nervously from the solid brick wall in front of us, then over to the crowd of Uncanny stood calmly, waiting.


I pressed my palms against the bricks and tried to find the way in, my fingers dancing over the stone, senses extending, desperately searching for a fault in the spell. I pulled magic into me, placed the words together in my head, and fed a spell into the wall, demanding the blind alley appear again and allow us entrance.

But nothing.

Whoever had done this was powerful, their magic stronger than I could counteract. They knew the coven was the one place David would be safe. The one place I could hide him away until my time to cure him ran out and he went boom. So they took the coven off the table and left us with no safe space.

No safe space and a crowd of scared, angry Uncannys ready to do what had to be done.

‘We don’t want to hurt you, Stella,’ said one person in the group I recognised. A half-wizard on his mother’s side who, fifteen years back, I’d rescued from a hex a pissed-off ex had placed on him that was turning his genitals to stone.

‘Karl, you don’t want to do this. None of you do.’

‘What choice do we have? You know what he’s going to do. You know of the portent. Why would you endanger us all like this?’

We had our backs to the wall – to the now missing blind alley entrance. My instinct was to run, but a quick glance to my left informed me that two groups had formed to block off both directions.

David stepped forwards. ‘I’m not going to hurt anyone, I swear.’

I grabbed him back, placing myself in front of him as a shield.

‘David, I need you to stay calm, okay?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘They’re going to attack. We can escape, but they’re going to attack, and if you switch like you did at The Beehive, I don’t know what will happen. You don’t know what will happen. So stay back, stay behind me, and stay calm. Please.’

David nodded, and I did my best to smile. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.’

I pulled the magic into me, placing my feet into a boxer’s stance and raising my fists.

‘Who’s brave enough to take the first hit?’

The two groups looked at each other, then to me, then swarmed us as one.

This fight wasn’t like the one at The Beehive. Out there, in the street, there was nothing to dampen my attacks or theirs. But that was okay, I was strong, and I was used to fighting. That was my whole purpose for existing. Violence had been bred into me.

I didn’t move far from my starting position. I held my ground, shielding David, as wave after wave of people surged forward, unleashing all sorts of magical attacks, not to mention fists and knives. One of them even swung an enchanted axe.

Despite it all, I stayed on my feet.

My body trembled as I opened it up to more and more of the magic in the air, starving my attackers of a strong connection by gorging myself on it. Willing it to be mine and mine alone as I blocked attack after attack and unleashed a fury of my own.

Bodies fell, blood splattered, bones cracked. The enchanted axe became enchanted kindling.

They had the numbers but I had the expertise. Thank Christ I was only dealing with your run-of-the-mill Uncannys. Nothing here was above my pay grade.

Soon enough there was a gap, a way out. I grabbed David’s hand and pulled him after me as I swept my free hand back and forth in front of me, scattering anyone that got too close like skittles.

I placed the correct words together in my mind and shared a spell between myself and David: ‘Run.’

And run we did, the spell letting us go a little faster, a little longer, than our bodies would normally allow. We took turns sharply, tearing through the street until the spell wore off and our bodies finally forced us to stop.

We staggered into an alley and collapsed on our backs, gasping for air, our lungs furious with pain, limbs shaking like we’d run a marathon.

‘Holy… holy… shit….’ wheezed David.

When I finally had strength enough, I pushed myself into a sitting position and flopped back against the wall.

David dragged himself over to sit beside me. ‘Remind me… remind me never to piss you off,’ he said.

We’d lost the pack, but more would come. More people, stronger people. Soon enough, either through sheer numbers or magical expertise, it would be more than I could handle.

‘Someone has cut off the coven, so we need to try and stash you somewhere else. Somewhere safe enough until I can find a way to stop what’s happening to you.’

‘Do you think you can? What if there isn’t a, you know, “cure,” or whatever? Maybe this is just the way it’s going to be. Maybe nothing but death is going to stop this.’

I pushed myself up onto my feet, my jellied knees threatening to keep me down. ‘There’s always a way. Always.’

David hung his head for a moment, then nodded. ‘Okay. But what I said before still stands. I won’t become a mass murderer. If it comes to it, you put me down.’

I went to argue, but the look in David’s eyes stopped me. Part of me knew he was right. I would do everything I could to stop it, to stop him. To prevent him not only dying, but becoming a mass murderer in the process. But the very idea of… of killing him, it made me feel weaker than I’d ever felt in my sixty years of life. I had to find a way. No matter what my dead witches had said, no matter what L’Merrier demanded, I had to find a way to save him, and save everyone else, too.

‘It won’t come to that. I promise.’

He smiled.

‘So what now? Where can we go that people won’t be able to find?’

I had an idea about that. A favour that it was time to call in.


We found him at one of his usual haunts.

Razor, the head of his eaves clan.

‘What the fuck do you two want?’ he asked, hissing through his needle teeth.

Normally we’d have sat in The Beehive until Razor showed up, but The Beehive was currently in need of a drastic remodelling, so we had to do a tour of his other known drinking holes. It took us ducking into six different pubs until we found him, all the time trying to keep David out of view.

We took our place uninvited opposite Razor.

‘We need your help,’ I said.

Razor looked at me, then over to David, then back, his eyes blinking slowly, then he burst out laughing.

‘I’m thinking that might be a no,’ said David.

Razor spluttered to a stop, wiping the tears from his eyes. ‘Too right it’s a no. Are you mental? Why the fuck would I want to help either of you?’

I leaned forward and locked my eyes onto his. ‘Because you owe me.’

Razor’s smiled dropped. ‘How do you figure that one, Familiar?’

‘Are you forgetting how I saved your clan’s children? Not one, not two, but all of them. They’d have never woken up if I hadn’t rescued them from the nightmare realm. I could have rescued the innocent and left your offspring to rot, but I didn’t. Because I wouldn’t. I saved your clan’s future, and now you’re going to grant me my favour, do you understand me?’

Razor glared at me fiercely, then broke eye contact, grabbing his drink, taking a swig and wiping the back of his filthy sleeve across his mouth. ‘All the Uncanny of London want your friend here dead. How am I meant to help you with that, exactly?’

I smiled. ‘You can build him a house.’

Eaves are low level Uncanny, but they do have one particular skill that I needed right now—that David needed—they could hide their homes. An eaves trades in secrets. In hearing things that shouldn’t have been heard and passing the information on to anyone willing to pay the price; and that price was a taste of pure magic.

A person with that sort of a predilection will find themselves on a lot of shit lists, so they need a place they can lay their heads at night without keeping one eye open. The eaves have developed a way of using some of the magic they earn to create a strange network of spells, of misdirection, of shielding—layer after layer of it—that makes their homes almost impossible to find, no matter how many times you visit.

And that’s what Razor and two members of his clan were now creating for me and David. A place for David to lay low. A place that only I knew how to get to and from whilst I figured out a way to save him.

I drip-fed Razor and his two grimy clan members magic while they worked, siphoning it from the air around us. It was a strange thing to watch. It looked like they nibbled at the air with their needle teeth, scraped and swatted at it with their filthy hands, their ragged, long nails clawing at the space in front of them as they walked steadily forward, almost like they were moles digging a tunnel into the earth.

They moved steadily through streets, down alleys, through doorways that should have led one place but now led somewhere else entirely. Across rooftops, through sewer tunnels, into tube train carriages, public toilets, libraries, until at last they stopped in front of a green door.

Razor turned to us, his two partners leaning against the wall either side of the door.

‘There,’ he said. ‘Done.’

I turned in a little circle to see the surrounding area was a blur, impossible to make out. Like someone had smeared oil all over the view.

‘I’ll be able to find my way back,’ I said, ‘but no one else will be able to, right?’

Razor nodded. ‘You were with us for the creation, you’ll always be able to find this place.’

‘Hey,’ said David. ‘Thanks, Razor. Really.’

Razor grunted. ‘I may be scum, but I’m honourable scum.’

I raised an eyebrow at that.

‘Well, maybe not honourable, but you did save our young. You deserve one good turn. But don’t think you’ll get another, this is us clean now. If you ever come back looking for another favour you’ll be shit out of luck.’

‘Got it,’ I replied.

Razor snorted dismissively, then he and his two clan members turned and walked away, seeming to fade away into the indistinct blur as they did so.

David placed his hand against the green door. ‘Will this work?’

It was our best  shot at keeping him out of harm’s way, but the only place I’d have been entirely happy with would have been my coven. Whoever had blocked our entrance to that was going to find themselves spitting teeth before this was all over.

‘It’ll work.’

I opened the door and we went inside.


I left the safe house as night fell and shivered, a sharp chill had invaded the air.

I wanted to stay with David, of course I did. Stay right by his side in the safe house to make sure nothing could get at him. But he was as safe as I knew how to keep him, no one should be able to unravel the maze Razor had set up, and I had another promise to keep.

To my coven.

To the bodies of a young family, tossed on top of each other like they were nothing but waste ready to send to landfill.

Lorna, the succubus, was still out there, and it was only a matter of time before she killed again.

I had to trust in Razor’s work and carry on trying to put Lorna down, because that was my job. What I was created for. If I paused in my duty to take care of a personal matter, to solely concentrate on David’s safety, then I was betraying my purpose.

So I left the safe house and I worried about David, worried that I wouldn’t even be able to find my way back, no matter what Razor had assured me. After I found myself back somewhere I recognised, I stopped and attempted to find the path back to the green door, back to David, in my mind’s eye; and there it was. As clear as fresh water.

‘I won’t be gone long,’ is what I’d told David. I hoped it was true. I needed to take care of Lorna as quickly as possible so I could get back to him.

‘I understand,’ said David. ‘I’m good here; I’ve got a TV, I’ve got food. You need to do your job, I don’t want anyone dying because you’re babysitting me, okay?’

I felt my stomach swirling with butterflies as I thought of him, but there was no time to indulge in any kind of stupid romantic feelings, if that’s even what they were. I had a monster to hunt.

‘Why are you calling me?’ came Layland’s voice into my ear.

‘Has it struck again?’

‘“It?” You need to pull your head out of your arse, Stella. We’ve got a murderer on the loose, that’s all. Where’s David? He’s not answering his phone again.’

‘I’m not his minder,’ I replied, which actually, at the moment, wasn’t true.

‘Look, I’ve had about—’

I ended the call and pocketed my phone. That was good, no more attacks yet. At least none that had been discovered. Now I just had to find a way to locate Lorna before she struck again.

Before he left, I’d told Razor to let me know as soon as any of his clan spotted Lorna, but I had the feeling he wasn’t going to be in too much of a rush to throw himself in with me after building David a safe house. He owed me that one, but right now I was hiding the most dangerous man in London. I couldn’t exactly blame him for wanting to steer clear of me, to not let it be known that he was helping David.

So I headed for the coven.

I bought a cheap baseball cap and shades to try and stay incognito as I made my way home, making sure to check every few metres that I wasn’t being followed, that I hadn’t been spotted.

I made it to where the blind alley should open up, relatively sure that I’d made the journey unseen. The alley entrance was still blocked. It may well have been a waste of time, but my magic was at its most potent within the walls of my coven. If I could just find a way to get inside, to disrupt the blocking spell for even a moment, then maybe I could get past it. Get home and find a way of tracing Lorna.

Looking both ways before I began, I placed my palms flat against the wall and willed the magic around me to flow through me, to follow my command, to rush out of my hands and search the wall for a place of weakness. There was always a point of weakness in this sort of thing. Well, almost always.

‘Yeah, not this time, love.’

I span around, heart jumping, to find Eva shambling towards me, one lit cigarette in her mouth, another in her hand.

‘I was inside when someone pulled up the drawbridge,’ she continued, gesturing with one hand at the wall blocking the blind alley entrance and scattering ash on the wind.

‘You were in there? You were in there when this spell was cast?’

‘I’m a heavy sleeper. Once I didn’t wake up for almost a month. It’s a gift.’

‘Eva, focus, if you were in there, how did you get out?’

‘It’s only a one way block. They knew you were out, so they only had to stop you getting in, not getting back out again. They could make the spell stronger by only having it block one side of the alley, too.’

Okay, that made sense.

‘I didn’t even realise the thing was there until I stepped past it.’

‘What did you do next?’

‘Well…’  she held up her cigarettes and pulled down her coat pocket to reveal a small bottle of vodka. ‘I made breakfast.’

‘How do we get back in?’

‘We don’t. That’s way above what the lowly likes of us can dismantle. No, that thing’ll last until the incantation naturally wears thin. And judging by the taste of it—’ Eva ran a finger down the barrier, then licked it, ‘—that’s not going to happen for a while.’

‘Fuck!’ I said, giving the wall a kick.

‘Yeah, that’ll help.’ Eva unscrewed the cap from her vodka and took a swig.

‘And that will?’

‘It never hurts. Well, that’s not true, it frequently hurts. But it hurts good.’ She waggled her eyebrows and took another glug before sliding the bottle back into her pocket.

I’d had enough. Enough of the whole situation. Of the murders, of people telling me to kill my friend, of Eva’s whole attitude; she was an insult to the name Familiar.

‘You know, none of this started, the murders, until you showed up,’ I said.

‘Very true.’

‘And you haven’t exactly helped, in fact you seem very keen on not helping as much as possible.’

‘That’s my thing these days, being unhelpful. I’ve had hundreds of years of doing the right thing, it can get boring.’

‘Maybe you’re doing the opposite of helping.’

‘Okay, I may be drunk, well, I am drunk, but you’re going to have to get to the point.’

‘Tell me why I shouldn’t suspect you of being part of this.’

Eva raised her eyebrows, then spluttered and laughed, almost doubling over.

‘Oh, that’s a good one, that.’

I didn’t really suspect her. Well, I didn’t think so, but she was there and I was out of ideas.

‘Eva, tell me why I shouldn’t suspect you.’

‘How bad is your nose, love? Do you really not smell that?’

I watched her, confused, as she leaned towards the wall now blocking entrance to the coven and gave it a sniff.

‘I mean, the thing stinks.’

‘Stinks of what?’

‘Of very bad news. Of a very good reason why we should just walk away.’

‘Stop being so fucking enigmatic and just tell—’

I stopped as I caught sight of something over Eva’s shoulder.

Someone was stood on the other side of the street, watching us. They wore a long cloak, the hood up but enough of their face on show to reveal their identity.

It was Lorna. It was the rogue succubus.


Eva and I remained still, not looking directly at our observer. I didn’t want to spook Lorna and make her bolt before I’d arrived at a plan of action.

‘Didn’t her mam, or boss, or sister or whatever tell you to stay out of that whole thing?’

I bobbed my head just slightly.

‘Because, when a head of a succubus family gives you a not so friendly warning, it’s best, in my experience, to run the other fucking way. And I believe I’ve already spoken about how much I despise the act of, you know, running.’

‘I don’t care. She’s just murdered a whole family, including kids. Kids, Eva.’

‘You’re sure it wasn’t me, ‘cos it sounded like you thought I might be the big bad.’

‘Shut up.’

‘Oh, nice. I’ll take that as an apology.’

Eva sighed, her brow creasing, as she swore around the ciggy that was still lodged between her lips.

‘We can do this, Eva. Me and you, if we go at her, full force, we can stop all this.’

‘Or just piss her off, and her whole family, and bring trouble crashing down on us.’

‘This is what we do.’

‘Not me. I gave it up for my health, love.’

I glared at her. I think she may have shrank a little. Was that something close to shame I saw momentarily twitch across her face?


She looked away from me, didn’t want to make eye contact.

‘That whole mess just….’ She looked at the wall that now stood at the entrance to the blind alley and inhaled through her nose, ‘It smells like trouble. Trust me. It won’t lead anywhere good.’

Lorna was on the move, heading away from us. I had to do this. Had to do it now.

‘Eva, help me. She was six years old. One of the kids was just five and she sucked the life right out of her. Do what you were made for.’

Eva sagged, spat out the cigarette, then stomped it out under her boot. ‘You know, I’m starting to not like you.’

I smiled. ‘Let’s get that bitch.’

We turned as one and ran towards Lorna, pulling in the magic around us as we moved, our fists starting to glow with energy that begged to be unleashed. To hurtle towards Lorna and blast her off her feet.

‘Stop in the name of me,’ said Eva, flinging a ball or orange energy in Lorna’s direction. The succubus felt it coming and dropped onto all fours and started running, the magic sailing harmlessly overhead and detonating a post box.

‘Shit it, she’s a fast bugger,’ yelled Eva.

We turned into a street more densely populated with foot traffic and people began to scream and scatter as Lorna barged her way through, still on all fours, the claws from her hands gouging holes in the pavement as she went.

You’d be surprised at the sort of sights the normal population finds a rational explanation for. This thing scampering through town on all fours wasn’t some sort of beast from their worst nightmares, it couldn’t be. No, more likely a strung out addict, high on a combination of who knows what, rampaging past. Better to get the hell out of the way than stop to look any closer.

I was relieved when Lorna ducked out of the high street and began to lead us down a warren of backstreets, before we emerged into an almost empty car park. I grunted as I flung a ball of green fire in Lorna’s direction, catching her feet and sending her tumbling head over heels into a wall. Eva saw her chance and punched out a few rounds in a row, slamming into Lorna over and over, pinning her back against a wall as she screamed in fury and thrashed back and forth.

Both hands throbbing with power, I nodded to Eva, and we both unleashed a volley of hits, Lorna raising her arms to try and bat the assault away. I thought we had her on the ropes, when, with a screech, she pounced, taking me by surprise. I crashed down onto my back, Lorna crouched over me, her face furious, mouth wide, ready to slurp the life out of me. I tried to wiggle myself free enough to punch her, but she was too strong, I was pinned like a butterfly.

A flash of yellow and Lorna was blasted aside by a burst of magic from Eva. I scrabbled to my feet, ready to redouble the attack, only to find a traffic bollard hurtling in our direction.

‘Shit—’ was all Eva was able to get out before the heavy stone bollard smashed into us and knocked us to the ground.

I think I blacked out for a second. The world turned fuzzy and distant. I tried to claw my way back into full consciousness, aware that any moment Lorna could sit astride me and that could be that.

I felt someone grab my jacket and yank me into a sitting position, then slap me around the face.

‘Hey!’ I said, holding my stinging cheek.

‘I think we need to take some ducking classes,’ said Eva.

She helped me back onto my feet, my head throbbing from the impact with the ground. I looked around, but there was no sign of Lorna.

‘Yeah, that cow legged it whilst we were taking a nap,’ said Eva.

‘Fuck. Fuck!’ I punched a ball of energy out in frustration, wrecking a long out of use phone box and sending prostitutes’ calling cards everywhere.

‘Hey, that was a perfectly nice drunk person’s toilet you just wrecked, there,’ said Eva.

‘That was it, that was our chance to stop her and we failed.’

‘I’m sure she’ll turn up again.’

‘When? And how many more bodies will have piled up before we get another chance? How many more children won’t get to grow up, Eva?’

Eva hesitated. ‘Ah, fuck.’ She pulled out her vodka, the bottle miraculously unbroken, unscrewed the cap and took a swig. ‘Fuckity, fuck.’ Another swig.

‘What is it? What’s wrong?’

‘A lot of stuff.’’

‘Tell me.’

‘I think… I think I might know where we can find her.’

I blinked in surprise then grabbed Eva by her coat, ‘Tell me!’

‘You’re really not going to like this. I’m not, either. On a scale of one to ten, this isn’t even a number. It’s basically a big hole full of poo that we’re in and it’s just passed over our eyebrows.’

I yanked Eva closer to me, my teeth clenched, veins on my neck popping: ‘Tell me where she is.’


I looked up at the sign and shuddered as a mix of fear, of fury, of disbelief danced up and down my body.

‘Well,’ said Eva, ‘you happy now?’

I was a long way from happy. Maybe this was a mistake. Or maybe there’d be some sort of explanation that would make it all okay. Something gone wrong that could now be sorted.

Except I already knew that wouldn’t be the case.

L’Merrier’s Antiques.

The home of one of the most powerful wizards to ever walk the face of the Earth. A hero to my witches; to Eva’s too.

‘Come on,’ I said.

I took a breath and opened the shop’s door, the bell tinkling to announce our entrance. The shop was shrouded in gloom, the windows only allowing a few shafts of light to filter inside in long, stark fingers.

I pulled the magic into me, wondering even as I did why I was bothering. Would I really attack the mighty L’Merrier? What would be the point? It would be like a toddler throwing a tantrum in front of a grizzly bear.

‘So, here you both are,’ came L’Merrier’s disembodied voice, sliding out of the shadows.

‘Why’d you do it?’ I asked, both fists crackling with strands of multi-coloured magic.

‘You have come to accuse me of something? I, who make arch demons quake?’

‘We get it, love,’ said Eva, ‘you’ve got a big head.’

A break in the shadows, and out slid L’Merrier, his hands clasped atop his stomach.

‘When did you first suspect?’ he asked.

Eva looked to me, wavering.

‘Eva?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I’m not the only one who has been keeping secrets, am I, Eva Familiar? I can taste it on you.’

‘The alley. The dead tramp in the alley way. I thought I got a whiff, but I couldn’t be sure,’ she said.

‘Ah,’ said L’Merrier, ‘The Cumbrian Coven always did produce a finer stripe of familiar. ‘Tis a pity what happened to them.’

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’ I asked.

Eva looked at the floor.

‘Because she is a wretched, broken thing, is that not correct?’

Eva scowled at him, ‘You know what happened to me. To my coven.’

‘Yes, and you have been pouting like a child about it for ten years, betraying your creators with the dawning of each day.’


‘When we first came here, to this dusty shop of old crap, I said I could smell his magic,’ she said. ‘That the place reeked of him. Well, I thought I got a hint of that stink on the corpse in the alley. But we’d been here directly before, I thought it was just because I still had the smell of this place in my nose.’

‘More people have died, Eva! That’s on you, that’s on your conscience. You’re a familiar, Eva, you should have told me!’

‘There’s nothing I should do, love. Not anymore.’

‘Don’t fight, you two, it is not Eva’s fault that she has grown to be such a selfish coward, shirking her responsibilities. It’s everyone else’s. Is that not so, little one?’

For once, Eva didn’t have anything to say. I felt betrayed, that was sure enough. Betrayed by L’Merrier, and now betrayed by Eva, another familiar, one of my own kind. Should I have been surprised that she’d kept the information to herself? That she hadn’t wanted to get involved? I knew what Eva was. I knew how she lived her life. That, in the end, she got involved at all was the real surprise.

‘So why’d you do it, L’Merrier?’ I asked. ‘Why turn a succubus feral and let her off the leash? Why’d you block the entrance to my coven?’

L’Merrier sighed. ‘My goodness, but you are a slow one. I told you what needed to happen.’


‘You want David dead.’

L’Merrier spread his arms wide. ‘Of course. Believe me, I take no pleasure in that fact, but I have the best interests of this city at heart. Something you should also have, Stella. I believe David detonating and wiping out the city would be a bad thing, don’t you?’

‘But why Lorna?’

‘Simple. A distraction. Something to pull you away from him, to keep you busy. You’re so dedicated to your purpose—unlike your misbegotten ally here—that I knew no matter what was happening with Detective Tyler, you would have to take care of a feral succubus. You would not just let it run riot whilst you stood by his side, his Uncanny bodyguard. If he is alone, if you do not have access to your seat of power... well, you can put together the rest, surely?’

L’Merrier wanted David dead, but he’s not the kind of man to get his hands dirty. At least not for a century or more. He stays within the walls of his dusty little shop. That meant others needed to do the deed. Needed to murder David. If I was with him, L’Merrier knew I would fight tooth and nail to protect him. He needed David alone. So the rogue succubus, so the distraction to pull us apart.

I felt myself trembling with rage.

‘People died, L’Merrier. Children died.’

He bowed his head, his brow creasing, ‘Yes, and I will live with those deaths. I will remember their faces. Their names. And I will pay for each. But what I have done is for the good of all.’

‘You know, love,’ said Eva, ‘You really are one special piece of shit.’

A movement in the shadows. It was Lorna, feral, eyes black, hands claws, stalking into view.

‘Stay,’ L’Merrier commanded, and the feral succubus stopped in her tracks, her face a mask of frustration. She wanted to lunge across the room at us, but L’Merrier’s control kept her at bay. For now.

‘As the truth is now out, it seems I must be more direct. Lorna here will now keep the two of you busy whilst I go and do what, unfortunately, must be done. For you. For me. For this city.’

‘No!’ I cried. He was going to leave and he was going to murder David. Murder my friend. Even as terror and fury coursed through my body, I wasn’t consumed enough not to realise how big a deal that was. How big a deal all that L’Merrier had done to try and fix the David problem was. How big a deal it was that now he himself was going to walk out of his sanctuary and do the killing himself.

He didn’t know David, not that it would have mattered if he had. London was in danger; at any moment David could rupture and the magical fallout would kill everyone in London. As far as L’Merrier was concerned, he was doing what was right. Doing what he saw I couldn’t. Because he thought I was weak. Thought I was compromised.

And he was right.

But I didn’t care.

He was still responsible for the deaths of innocents. I wouldn’t overlook or excuse that. And I wouldn’t just let him murder David.

‘I won’t let you kill him, L’Merrier.’

He looked at me, pity in his eyes, ‘You have no choice. It must be so, and so it will be.’

‘You don’t even know where he is, big fella,’ said Eva.

‘Oh, I know.’

‘Then you know I had the eaves build us a safe house,’ I replied. ‘You won’t find him.’

‘Familiar, that would work for most, but me? It is like a child hiding behind some curtains. I can see their feet poking out from underneath.’

With a sweep of his hand, Eva and I were thrown across the room, crashing into the wall and landing with a painful thump on the floor.

‘Well, that’s just bloody rude,’ said Eva, standing up and pulling her fist back to punch out some magic.

‘Eva!’ I cried, but it was too late. She turned just in time to see Lorna springing through the air. The pair went down, rolling over and over into the shadows.

L’Merrier was at the door, about to open it, about to leave.

I summoned the magic into me, the sounds of Eva’s struggle seemed distant as I focussed on stopping L’Merrier leaving. From stepping outside onto the streets for the first time in living memory to go and slaughter my friend.

‘No!’ I punched out a blast of energy, and another, L’Merrier turned smoothly, his robes floating, and deflected my attack back at me with the flick of a wrist, the impact throwing me across the room.

‘For what it is worth,’ said L’Merrier. ‘I take no pleasure in this. None.’

I grimaced, ‘Fuck you.’

He nodded and opened the door—

—to reveal Anya and the six remaining members of her family.

‘We have come for our sister,’ hissed Anya, eyes black.

‘Oh yeah,’ said Eva, staggering back into view, face bloody, after managing to wriggle free of Lorna’s grasp, ‘I might have passed on the news about you brainwashing their family member earlier. Whoops.’


If there was one force that could maybe—just maybe—cause L’Merrier a little trouble, it was the succubus family of London, working as one. And right now, that family was angry beyond belief.

They turned feral in a heartbeat and swarmed into the shop, surrounding L’Merrier, Jack and Jake joining them, as they launched an attack from all angles.

‘Come on!’ I said, waving Eva ahead.

‘They seem like they’ve got things covered,’ she replied.

But they didn’t. They fought well, fought hard, but L’Merrier was a giant. Oh, they were certainly causing him to work harder than he’d like, but it was quickly becoming clear that this was only going to end one way.

I pulled in as much magic as I could and unleashed it in his direction, I think I even managed to make him wince a little.

‘Enough,’ he said, voice booming.

Anya, breathing heavily, raised a hand and the assault paused. ‘You will die at our hands for what you have done to our sister, L’Merrier,’ she said.

‘I don’t think I wish to be delayed any further, not while the future of this city depends on me, and so…’

He clapped his hands together, unleashing a shockwave that caused everyone around him to take a step back, ears ringing. The magic in the room rippled and turned dark. L’Merrier rubbed his hands together, coils of dark, purple energy rolling around his fingers, and then with a grunt he flung the power towards the shadows. We all held our breath, but all that could be heard was silence.

And then something happened.

Lorna stepped to one side, only she also stayed where she was. And then she did it again. And again. Each time she stepped aside she left behind a copy of herself, until there were twelve versions of Lorna, all influenced by L’Merrier, stood in a pack, growling hungrily at her own family.

‘Good luck,’ said L’Merrier, striding towards the exit, pushing a clear path for himself as he swatted his hand back and forth, knocking his foes aside.

‘L’Merrier, stop!’ I demanded as I tried to go after him, but one of the Lorna clones turned, her mouth a giant, silent scream.

She charged me. I heard the door’s bell tinkle as L’Merrier left, but all I saw was the wild succubus attacking me, attacking everyone.

I felt panic overwhelm me. I was trapped here, and David was sat somewhere I’d told him was safe. Sat waiting for me to return and finally solve what was afflicting him, not realising for a moment that the mightiest wizard in the Uncanny Kingdom was en route to end his life.

I picked myself up from the floor after taking another hit from one of the Lorna copies, Eva lending me a hand.

‘Now this,’ she said, ‘is a real knock-down, drag-out bar fight.’

‘Eva, he’s going to kill him! He’s going to kill David and there’s nothing I can do!’

‘Yes there is,’ said Anya, dropping in beside us. ‘L’Merrier has made an enemy of my family with his actions, but that is for another time. Right now it is my priority to subdue and reclaim my sister, and I will. But this is not your business. Not your fight. You familiars leave here and go and take care of what is yours.’

‘Anya, I… thanks. Thank you.’

She nodded and turned, charging down one of the Lorna’s that was rushing towards us.

‘Come on,’ I said, grabbing Eva’s coat sleeve and yanking her towards the exit.

‘Leaving then,’ said Jake.

‘Looks like it,’ replied Jack.

‘This is a fun one, too.’

‘You’re missing out.’

A Lorna struck Jake across the face, leaving his cheek a bloody mess. Jake smiled, spitting blood, and fought on.

‘You know, I think I bloody love that pair,’ said Eva, as the bell tinkled and we got the hell out of there.


We paused a few streets from L’Merrier’s to catch our breath.

‘Okay,’ said Eva, ‘Time to get out of London town.’

I reached out and pulled her back, fury rising.

‘Get out? We have to go and help David! L’Merrier is going to kill him!’

‘I get the feels, love, I do, but that’s Giles L’Merrier, if he wants someone dead, the worst place to be is at their side. It’s time to get smart and see if we can get far enough away before your pal goes boom.’

She tried to pull me after her.


‘Going after a succubus for a bit of a ruck is one thing, but this is suicide.’

I pulled my arm free of her grip and rounded on her, furious. ‘Go! Run away then, that’s what you’re good at, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve twisted your life into, one long useless escape. I am Stella Familiar of the London Coven, brought to life by my witches to protect the people of this city, no matter what.’

‘Even if it kills you?’

‘Of course! I was born to protect this city until the last breath is knocked out of my lungs. And David… David is my friend. He’s my friend and none of this is his fault. ‘I’m going to spend every second he has left trying to stop him. Trying to save him. Because I have to.’

Eva looked at me. For the first time since I met her she seemed truly surprised. The mask of indifference, of inebriation, fell for a moment.

‘Help me, Eva.’

She seemed to waver for a moment, then: ‘Good luck.’

She turned and ran from view. If I’d stopped to think about how furious her running away made me, I’d have given chase. Have taken her down. Have punched some sense into her. Made her her join me. Help me. Help David.

But there was no time for that. I alone would have to be enough.

I turned and ran with the wind at my back.

Streets flew past, traffic, people, buildings, all a blur. I only saw one thing: David. Had it started? Had L’Merrier reached him? Was he already dead?

No, he was alive. He was still there inside of me, I could feel him. Feel his life still burning bright.

I realised with a burning certainty something I’d been dancing around. I loved him. Loved him fiercely and totally. The idea of him dying was beyond terrifying. It made me dizzy just to contemplate and threatened to turn my legs to rubber and drop me to the ground.

I loved Detective David Tyler.

Whatever that meant to me. Whatever it could mean for a familiar. Whether it was romantic, whether it was the kind of love I had for my witches, whether it was the love of true friendship, the first true friendship I’d ever had, I just didn’t know. But it was true. It was real. And it burned.

There was no fast way to reach him. Every eaves’ safe house is the centre of the maze for those who know the right paths to take, the right turns to explore. It took time. There was no short cut. And so on I ran. Ran through doors that should open into shops but through which I found ourselves on a rooftop a mile away.

And on.

And on I went.

Down ladders that should have led me into the fairy-infested sewers, but instead delivered me onto grass in the middle of a park.

And on, and on.

A kaleidoscope of places. Of London. Flashes of places swirling past me in a seemingly random order with each new turn taken, each new door stepped through.

Had L’Merrier found it as easy to locate the safe house as he’d said he would? I could only hope he was bluffing and that it would have taken him longer than he’d like to unwind the tangle and find the true way there.

I knew I was lying to myself, but I had to hope.

Finally, I stopped, the safe house in front of me. The green door hung off a single hinge, some of the paintwork scorched back from the magic that had blasted it open.

I was too late.

L’Merrier had found him.


I barged through the broken door and it crashed to the ground as the force of my entrance tore its remaining hinge from the frame. The air felt strange inside, like static crawling all over my skin.

I pushed on into the house. ‘David, where are you?’

The house was silent, but the signs of L’Merrier’s arrival were clear enough. Broken furniture, the smell of fire, scorch marks on the walls, on the carpets, broken glass and splintered wood crunching underfoot with each new step. A huge fight had taken place in the time it had taken us to get here.

Was it over already?

Would I step into the next room to find L’Merrier stood over David’s broken corpse?

And then I found them.

L’Merrier was on his knees in one of the bedrooms, his eyes rolled back into his head, trembling.

David was stood in front of him, though his feet didn’t quite touch the floor.


He turned his head to me, his eye sockets leaking a burning, white light.

‘An assassin,’ he said, his voice echoing as he gestured to L’Merrier, who was now frothing at the mouth like a mad dog.

‘David, it’s me, it’s Stella, your friend.’

He tilted his head to one side. ‘I see you inside my head.’

David’s body rippled, impossibly, bulging horrifically. The room shook, cracks appearing on the walls.

‘David, please, you’ve got to try and calm down.’

The room shook again, the house complaining, coughing up dust that stung my eyes.

David turned back to L’Merrier. ‘He came to murder. I do not like him.’

He waved a hand and wounds opened across L’Merrier’s face.

‘Maybe I will remove his skull. That will be a lesson learned.’

‘David, stop! Just listen to me!’

The magic in the room was strange – tainted by the energy David had coursing through him. It stung to use, it was like breathing in sand, but I needed it. I pulled the power into myself, body shaking with the effort.


He turned to me again, the fire in his eyes wreathing his head in a white hot tongue of flames. I needed to subdue him. Maybe if I could knock him unconscious, whatever switch had been flicked would turn off again. Would give me a new chance to find a way to stop this.

I circled him, throwing volley after volley of magic at him, hoping to knock him off balance, to take him down—even to make his face twitch would have been something—but it was like I was an ant attacking a mountain.

‘Enough,’ he said, and the floor beneath me opened like a hungry mouth and I fell, crying out in shock as my stomach lurched and I dropped hard onto the floor downstairs.

I could see L’Merrier across the room, he’d fallen too, but remained silent.

The air began to crackle and down, gently, floated David. He emerged through the hole he’d created in the floor, descending with a small smile on his face. He was in no rush, and there seemed to be no anger in him. He was calm, comfortable, and ready to rip me to pieces.

‘David, I know you’re in there, I know you can—’

The words were cut off as I found myself flung through the air, head cracking against brick as I struck the wall. I didn’t fall, he kept me there, pinned and helpless.

David did his curious head tilt again, then stepped slowly towards me. ‘I am new. I am born. Why do you fight my creation?’

‘David, listen to me, you have to hear me—’

‘I can hear you.’

‘No, please, I know you can fight this! I know you’re in there, I can feel it!’

He was in front of me now and I strained with everything I had to move my hand, just an inch or two.

I touched his shoulder.

David stopped and the flames in his eyes sputtered, then disappeared. David sagged, face in his hands, as his grip on me disappeared and I fell to the floor.

David lifted his head, looking at me with his own eyes. He looked terrified.

‘He came for me. The wizard came for me, would have killed me, and then… it just happened. It just swamped me, pushed me out of the way.’

‘It’s okay, David, I’m here.’ I placed my hands on his arms, he was trembling.

’No, it’s not, I can’t—’

The room shook.

David wasn’t back, he’d just bubbled up for a moment, dragged back by my pleas, by my voice, by my touch. But the monster was pushing its way back.

‘David, you’ve got to fight it!’

He staggered back, fingers digging into his scalp as he screamed and thrashed from side to side. The house shook, walls cracking, windows breaking.

‘David, don’t go!’

He looked at me, eyes wide, and then he blinked and white flames erupted from his sockets. He was gone.

David came at me slowly, reaching out his hands, palms up, pure white energy dancing above them.

‘David, please don’t. Please.’

But there was no pity in his eyes. No understanding. Just fire.

A sonic boom, air rushing past, bright red flames erupting, knocking me sideways as David was lifted off his feet and smashed through the door into the next room. I looked up, head dizzy, to see the last thing I expected.

‘Well, who wants to live forever, anyway?’ said Eva Familiar.


Eva stumbled over the wreckage from the ceiling that littered the floor and came towards me.

‘How are you here?’

‘You think an eaves can hide its home from me, love? I’m Eva fucking Familiar of the Cumbrian Coven, bitch. I’m hundreds of years old, this nose can pin down a fart in a hurricane.’

‘I thought you didn’t do this anymore.’

‘I don’t. I didn’t. But... Maybe I changed my mind a bit, okay? Because of you. Turns out I have a conscience; who knew?’

Relief coursed through me. Relief that I wasn’t going to have to face this alone, relief that maybe, at last, Eva was truly acting as what she was. A familiar. A protector.

‘Oi,’ she said, pointing at the smile on face,  ‘Don’t think I’m happy about it. I’m pretty sure I very much don’t like you anymore.’

A hulking shape rose behind Eva: Giles L’Merrier. He looked shaken, but otherwise unhurt.

‘Watch out,’ I said, putting myself between Eva and the mighty wizard.

L’Merrier pulled a piece of chalk from his pocket and sketched a circle large enough to fit several people inside of.

‘Now’s not really the time to practice your doodles,’ said Eva.

‘Silence your foolish nattering.’

‘You are a very rude gentleman.’

The house shook again and a white glow began to enter the room through the doorway. David was on his way back.

‘Inside the circle,’ L’Merrier commanded, and I found myself pulled towards it by invisible hands, Eva too.

‘What are you—?’

A rush of magic detonated around us as David shot back into the room. It should have hurt, maybe even killed us, but instead it roared around us, repelled by an invisible bubble that L’Merrier had created.

‘That’s a neat trick,’ said Eva.

L’Merrier grimaced and turned to me. ‘The circle will not hold for long, he is too powerful and growing ever more so with each breath.’

‘He’s too much even for you,’ I said, finding the idea strangely satisfying.

‘Nevertheless, we must stop him. We will stop him. Either we do it or we die. Or everyone in London dies, Detective Tyler included.’

I looked at David, his eyes burning fiercely, his body twitching, distending, then snapping back into place as more and more of the Uncanny poured into him, filled him up, readied him to go critical and take us all with him.

‘What can we possibly do?’ I asked.

‘Besides shit our pants,’ added Eva.

‘There is a war going on inside Detective Tyler. A fight for ownership of his mind that he is currently losing. I could sense it when I fought him, and I saw it when you, Stella, broke through to him for a moment. When his submerged self bubbled up to the surface. I believe you are the key.’

I pictured how his face had looked in that moments. The confused terror. It made my stomach hurt.

‘You used the black arts to restore him to life, did you not?’ L’Merrier asked.

‘How could you…?’

‘I am Giles L’Merrier, the man the devil calls, “Sir”, I can taste black magic when I am in its presence. You are a foolish, small thing to play with such darkness.’

‘He was dead! Mr. Trick had killed my witches and I couldn’t let him murder David, too. I couldn’t.’

I looked down in surprise as L’Merrier rested one of his meaty paws on my shoulder.

‘I know,’ was all he said.

‘Well, this is all very heartwarming,’ said Eva, ‘but we still have a normal turned magic-godzilla-bomb knock-knocking on our door, and the way this bubble is looking, I don’t think it’s gonna stand up to much more punishment, do you?’

She was right. The field L’Merrier had created with the chalk circle was starting to become visible as it took more and more damage, David relentlessly throwing magic towards us as the safe house tore itself apart around his now grotesquely bulging body. He was no longer popping back into his normal shape, and glowing cracks were appearing across his skin, the magic burning to be released.

‘What do we do?’ I asked.

‘As I said, I believe you to be the key. You are the one who was able to reach him. You will help Detective Tyler fight.’

Eva stumbled and grabbed onto me for support as another volley of magic pummeled against the barrier.

‘How’s that?’ asked Eva.

‘Stella, he knows you, trusts you. He is lost and afraid, cowering inside of his own mind as the thing he is becoming takes ownership. Of his body, his memories, his history. If I can project you into his consciousness, you can find him. He will trust and accept you, and you can help him fight back.’

‘Couldn’t you just pop inside and grab him yourself?’ asked Eva.

‘His mind neither knows me well, nor trusts me,’ replied L’Merrier. ‘The memories would not accept me, but they would accept Stella.’

He was talking about a form of astral projection, something beyond my powers, or Eva’s, but not his. The ability to leave your own body behind and enter another state. To explore other realms, other universes, other people’s inner worlds.

Another volley of magic hit and I felt heat lick my skin; the protection spell was almost dead.

‘How will that help stop this happening again? Why won’t the power overtake him again later?’

He clicked his fingers and a small box appeared in the palm of his hand.

‘What’s that for?’ asked Eva, almost falling as the floor beneath us quaked.

‘When you use the dark arts, there is always a price. A splinter of hell has embedded itself inside of Detective Tyler. I can see it within him now. After you locate his true self, you must find the splinter. Remove it. Place it within this box and bring it to me.’

I nodded and took the small box, sliding it into the inside pocket of my leather jacket.

‘Okay, let’s do this,’ I said.

‘One small problem,’ he replied.

‘Only one?’

‘The circle will not allow you to pass through. When I release your astral form, I must break the circle.’

‘Hey,’ said Eva, ‘wouldn’t that, sort of, be bad news for those of us hoping to see tomorrow?’

‘Time moves differently when in the astral form. For Stella, inside of David’s mind, a second for us will be like minutes for her. She must move swiftly, or else he will turn us to ash, and London soon after. This is it familiar, the only chance we have left. This is all upon you now. The life of this city rests upon your shoulders.’

‘I think what he’s saying is: No pressure, love.’ Eva winked, and I found I couldn’t help but admire her attitude. She could have gone on her way, enjoying her traveller’s life as best she knew how, rejecting the life she’d been born to. A life that had, apparently, treated her so badly. Instead she was trying to save someone she barely knew, but still facing it with a wink and a smile.

I grabbed her by the arm. ‘Thanks. Thank you, Eva.’

‘You can do it,’ she replied. ‘You’re Stella Familiar of the mother-shitting London bloody Coven.’

I smiled. ‘Yes I am.’

‘The spell is almost dead, are you ready?’ asked L’Merrier.

I looked at David, swollen to almost three times his normal size, his entire head engulfed in blinding white fire.

‘Do it.’

I felt L’Merrier’s hand grip the back of my head as he waved his free hand in front of us and the circle was broken.

David was screaming. Screaming in a voice I didn’t recognise as his. Death shot towards us from his hands as L’Merrier leant close and whispered in my ear. ‘Go....’


The first thing I heard were trees.

Branches, leaves, swayed back and forth by the breeze.

Then I felt the breeze myself, against my face, flowing through my hair.

I opened my eyes. I was in a field. No, I wasn’t really in a field, I was in the memory of a field. David’s memory. L’Merrier and Eva were back in the safe house, a heartbeat from death, and I was in the memory of a field, of trees, of sky, of grass, of wind.

‘Who are you?’

I turned to see the back garden of a house, a small fence between it and the field. A young boy, maybe six years old, was looking at me, eyes wide, head tilted.

‘Hello, David,’ I said.

‘How d’you know my name? Are you a friend of my mum’s or something?’

Young David was small and skinny, a bowl-mop of hair that he kept pushing out of his eyes because it was past-due a cut, mud on his cheeks and on his hands from digging in the dirt.

‘It’s complicated,’ I said.

‘Oh, like maths you mean? ‘Cos that’s well hard and complicated, and I’m not even a stupid person.’

I’d never seen a picture of David as a child, but this was just how I’d imagined him. The house with the garden backing onto a field, he’d told me about this. It was in a small place called Hitchen, just outside of London, where he’d lived for a while growing up. This must be the field where one day some bad kids will torment him so badly he’ll pee his pants. No wonder this memory burns strong, no wonder it’s the first place I find myself after L’Merrier projected my consciousness into his.

‘Is it okay if I climb over the fence to join you?’ I asked.

David looked at me, then over his shoulder to his house, then back to me again. He nodded. ‘Okay, if you’re a friend of my mum’s, I suppose that’s okay.’

I gripped the fence and swung myself over as David dropped back onto his knees and picked up a trowel to continue his digging.

‘What are you looking for?’ I asked

‘Buried treasure, of course.’

‘Found any yet?’

‘Nope, but I reckon there might be, like, a chest of gold, or a mummy down here, maybe. Something old and cool. It’ll get me on the telly I’ll bet, make me famous and rich and really popular. I won’t have to go to school or nothing anymore.’

‘Oh, of course.’ I knelt down to join him, digging at the hole he was creating with my hands.

‘I suppose, if we find anything together, you can have a share of the cut. Not as much as me though, ‘cos I’ve already dug a pretty big amount of this hole before you even got here. That’s just fair.’

I smiled. ‘Oh, absolutely.’

We dug in silence for a few seconds.



‘How do you feel?’

He shrugged, ‘Okay, maybe.’

‘Why just maybe?’

He stopped digging and sat back, thinking. ‘Not sure.’

‘Try to remember, David.’

He rubbed at his nose with his wrist. ‘Hurts to try.’

‘Hurts? In your head?’

‘Yeah. Like, my head's too full of stuff. Sometimes it feels like it’s getting fuller and fuller and it’s just going to explode like a big balloon. Just go Bang and I won’t be me no more.’

David’s mind knew something wasn’t right. His memories felt the change. The intrusion. He knew that he was under siege.

‘You’re not supposed to be here, are you?’ he asked.

‘I came to help you. Help you stop the balloon from bursting.’

He nodded, face grave beyond his years. ‘Do you believe in monsters, Miss?’

‘Yeah. I believe in monsters.’

He sat back, his legs crossed, digging for mummies forgotten. ‘I’m not even talking about monsters under the bed, or in the wardrobe. I mean, I used to believe in that sort of thing, so I’d have my mum leave my bedroom door open a crack with the landing light on, just in case. But that’s kid’s stuff really, isn’t it?’

‘What sort of monster do you mean, David?’

He hugged his knees and closed his eyes tight.

‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘you don’t have to be afraid. I’ll let you into a secret: My name’s Stella, and I’m the person monsters run away from.’

He looked up at me, eyes wide with wonder. ‘Really? You kill monsters?’

‘I kill monsters. Well, bad monsters. Not all monsters are bad.’

‘This one is. I know because I feel it here,’ he said, placing a hand on his stomach.

‘Then it’s a good job I came here today, because getting rid of evil monsters is my thing. What does your monster look like, David?’

He hung his head again, then looked back up, eyes watery, and pointed to himself.

‘It looks like you?’

He nodded. ‘Like me, but I know it isn’t. Though even my mum and dad thinks it is. They ask why I just did something and it wasn’t even me. It was the other David, and they tell me off for making up lies and send me to my room to think about what I’ve done and why lying to my parents is a rotten thing. He’s always up there waiting for me, then. The other me with the fire in his eyes that my mum and dad don’t seem to notice. Why don’t they see his fire eyes, Stella?’

‘Because he doesn’t want them to.’

David’s eyes snapped wide and he began to push himself away from me in a panic.

‘What’s wrong, what is it?’

David pointed past me to the hole he’d dug, a beam of light was shining out from within.

I stood, pulling David up to his feet and placing him behind me, his hand gripping my leg so hard it hurt.

‘It’s the monster!’ said David. ‘It’s other me with the fire eyes!’

An arm reached out of the hole we’d dug, shedding soil from its skin like scales. Then a second arm, the hands gripping the edge of the hole as a head rose into view, eyes burning bright and furious. Apart from the eyes, he looked just like young David. Same skinny arms, same unruly mop of hair.

‘What do we do?’ asked David, as the Other David pulled himself up out of the hole.

‘Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay.’ As I said the words, I had to believe them. Had to believe that I was going to save him. I tried to pull the magic into me, to conjure something to punch out of my hand and burn Other David to dust, but there was no magic. No magic in the air, no magic inside of me. Just my astral form, inside of someone else’s memories. I felt dizzy at the realisation as my body pulled again and again at nothing, not understanding the emptiness.

‘It’s okay, David, it’s going to be okay.’

A shiver passed over me and I realised I couldn’t feel David’s hand gripping my leg anymore, couldn’t sense him behind me.

There was a reason for that.

He wasn’t there anymore.

‘What did you do to him?’ I yelled at Other David, now stood before me, calmly smiling. I knew what he’d done. He’d erased him. Pushed the real David out of this memory. Now the only David that existed here was Other David. Memory by memory it was taking over, replacing him, until this other version owned him completely. No, didn’t own him, was him. There would be no David, just this thing with its fiercely blazing eyes. And when that happened—if it happened—David would tear open and London would die. Every person, normal or Uncanny, every family pet, every insect, every bird. All gone.

Other David stepped towards me and reached out a hand. I turned away, tried to run, but as I did the whole world seemed to be whipped away, like someone yanking a tablecloth from a restaurant table, the plates remaining still and unharmed upon it.

And then I was somewhere else.

It was getting dark, early evening, and I was stood in a park. In the distance I could see a set of swings. A girl was sat on one of the swings, a boy stood next to her. It was David, now a teenager.

He leaned in and kissed the girl.

What memory was this? His first real kiss? Or just some precious memory of an old girlfriend?

I began to move towards the set of swings, looking over my shoulders as I went, trying to find any sign of Other David appearing. I wondered what my plan would be this time. How would I stop David being pushed out of another memory?

I felt the small box L’Merrier had given me bouncing against my side as my jacket moved. A splinter, that’s what he’d said. A splinter lodged in David’s psyche, caused by the black magic giving him life. But where was it? Would I even know what it was if I saw it?

The girl had left, walking away from the direction I’d just come from. She turned and smiled and waved, young and happy and full of the fury of teenage love.

David waved back as he sat down in the swing, a big dopey smile on his face. He looked more like the David I knew now, though thinner, gawkier, with shaggy hair and a sprinkling of weak face fuzz.

‘David,’ I said.

He looked up, seeming to notice me for the first time.

‘Oh, hey… do I know you?’

No, not yet, but one day.

‘I don’t have time to explain, he could turn up at any moment.’

He looked at me warily, obviously taking me for a nutcase.

‘Right. Okay. I think I might just head off.’

As he turned I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. ‘No, it’s not safe, you need to stay with me.’

‘Don’t touch me you weirdo!’ he cried.

‘What do you remember?’

He blinked. Was that a twitch of recognition?

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘I think you do. When you try to think back on your past, it’s like there are holes, am I right?’

He shrugged, ‘Everyone forgets stuff.’

‘But not like this, not like you.’

Confusion crept across his face. ‘We dug a hole.’

Digging a hole; he could remember that? But he’d been pushed out of that memory. Maybe something clung on, maybe you couldn’t be made to forget everything.

‘It’s you. I remember you. I sort of remember you, I think. Only… we never met, but we did. A long time ago, but… I can’t quite remember it. It hurts when I try, like it’s a lie, or something.’

‘David, you—’

A sudden light from behind me caused David to squint and turn his head away.


I turned to see Other David moving fast towards us.

‘Oh. It’s the other me. But that’s just a bad dream, isn’t it? How can he be real?’

There was no time for explanations. I grabbed David’s hand and pulled him after me as I ran.

We ran across the park, not looking back, just moving, just going, going, going. The world shot past, streaking like a painting that someone had just knocked a glass of water over. The image blurred, the colours ran, and when I finally looked back I wasn’t holding David’s hand anymore. Other David’s eyes burned and I heard myself scream as I twisted, pulled my hand away, fell towards the grass and—

—I landed on a tiled floor, banging my head. The ceiling above me swayed drunkenly. I was failing. Another memory the real David had been pushed out of, more of him submerged under the new persona. I had to find the black splinter – had to search every memory until I had it. Did I have enough time? How much of the real David was left? How long did I have before L’Merrier and Eva were killed in the real world and this was all done with?

I sat up and looked around, rubbing at the back of my head. I recognised the room, I was in David’s kitchen. What memory was this, and where was David?

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I turned to find my answer. Other David was stood behind me. I pushed away, scrabbling back with my hands and feet, sliding across the kitchen floor, as there was a flash and a blast of air and then suddenly another me appeared in the room. I knew what memory this was. It was when I first met David. When, moments from death, Mr. Trick had yanked me out of the street and deposited me into his life.

And now David had been pushed out of this memory. I felt a surge of pure, wonderful fury ransack my body. How dare they rob him of the first time we ever met? Standing, I grabbed a chair and threw it towards Other David with a scream. I wanted to hurt this imposter. Wanted the chair to shatter his skull. Spill his brains. I wanted to hold him down and choke the life out of him.

Other David lifted a hand and stopped the chair in mid-air. He tilted his head, regarding me curiously, then with a flick of the wrist, launched the chair back in my direction.

I jumped out of the way, rolling and hopping back up onto my feet as the room blurred—

—I staggered, heart pounding. I wasn’t in David’s kitchen anymore. It was night time and I was in the street, close to the coven. So when was I now? What memory had I fallen into this time?

‘David? David, where are you?’

I soon got my answer: he was nowhere.

I watched as a memory of me swayed and stumbled down the street towards home, clearly drunk as a skunk, as Other David accompanied me. The memory of me threw my arms around Other David.

It was the almost kiss. The drunken moment of stupidity on my part.

Other David leaned in and the fire in his eyes spread out, enveloped the memory of me. Tendrils of pure white began to worm their way out of the fire and rubbed at the surrounding memory of the street like an eraser removing a mistake.

I ran from it and the world blurred once more as I—

—Another memory, and another. What good was I doing? Each memory went by faster and faster as every trace of the real David was removed. All I found were partial memories with Other David, his eyes burning furiously, at their centre. Time was running out and I could feel panic beginning to overwhelm me. To make me sweat and shake as I moved through each old recollection, desperately trying to find a true David, to find the splinter in his paw and remove it.

I was inside The Fenric. The members only Uncanny club in Mayfair. I walked up the stairs, calling out David’s name, already fearing the worst. I’d walk all the way to the top, only to find Other David already here again. Another moment between me and David pulled out of him and stomped into the dirt.

There was noise up ahead, the crashing of furniture, the breaking of glass. I stepped into the bar, a figure was swaying back and forth in the centre of the room, like the building itself was rocking, buffeted by the waves at sea.


David’s memory of Eva turned to me, ‘Don’t mind me, I’m just giving this club a bloody good twatting.’ An orb of fire appeared in her hand and she tossed it nonchalantly over her shoulder, the energy smashing into the bar and reducing it to splinters.

‘Magic? How can you be using magic here?’

‘Because I am actually here, a memory, not like you; an astral form projected into someone else’s mind.’

I really hadn’t expected her to say that.

‘You know what’s happening? How is that even possible? You’re not you, you’re just David’s memory of you.’

Eva shrugged as she picked up a bottle of vodka and took a swig. ‘Beats me, love. Maybe his memory of me is just of one really top notch, one-of-a-kind magical bad-arse that would know they weren’t real if such a, you know, situation occurred. Memory’s a weird thing.’

I thought back to mine and David’s actual encounter here with Eva, when we were called to take down some wild beast terrorising the club, only to find a drunk, indignant familiar trashing the place. I remembered what I’d told David about Eva. About how she was the oldest familiar in the country. Possibly the oldest ever. That she had power, knowledge and skill way beyond mine. It would seem that David had really taken that information to heart.

‘So, what’s the deal, then? I mean, I might be very, very, very, mildly tipsy, but I can sense things falling apart in here. This memory’s not right for a start, is it? You and David should be stumbling in here to confront me, but oops, no memory of you or David, just me and an astral projection. Something’s eating away at his subconscious.’

I took out the box L’Merrier had given me.

‘Ah,’ said Eva, ‘black magic? You know it’s really not smart to fuck around with that fuckery. Take it from someone who knows.’

‘Did you use it?’

She bowed her head. ‘No.’

It was strange to see her suddenly so sombre. Was she feeling something real, something true at last, even if she was only a memory of herself?

‘What happened, Eva?’

‘Do we have to? You’ve got someone to save and I’ve got alcohol to drink – we shouldn’t waste any more time on memories.’ She snorted. ‘Well you should, clearly, but not me.’

‘Eva, just tell me. Tell me why you’re like this.’

Her shoulders sagged and she dropped onto the only chair she hadn’t already shredded. ‘My coven. One member of my coven. They… I couldn’t stop them. None of us could. What do I do now, Stella? How much longer can I run from my purpose? It hurts.’

I opened my mouth to answer but the words caught in my throat as I felt a coldness prickle the back of my neck.

‘Oh, who’s this then?’ asked Eva as I turned to see Other David step into the room.

‘I’m too late, again,’ I said. ‘He’s already gone, he’s already erased the real David.’

‘Oh,’ said Eva, ‘No, that’s not true, I think he just ran into the Gents. He was white as a bastard.’

Other David turned to go, turned to hunt David down, to burn him away with the fire in his eyes.

‘Eva, I need you to slow him down, can you do that?’

Eva opened her palm and energy crackled. ‘Does the pope shit in the woods?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Well, consider it done anyway.’ Eva clapped her hands together, thick ropes of sizzling, brightly-coloured magic appeared between them as she began to pull her hands apart again and mould the spell. ‘Oi, big lad, think fast!’

Other David turned in time to see a wave of energy explode from Eva and sweep him aside, sending him crashing through the window and plummeting to the street below.

Eva lifted one hand and blew on two fingers as though they were a smoking gun barrel.

‘Less of the dilly-dallying, love, go find your boy.’

I ran from the room, from the memory of Eva, and sprinted down the corridor towards the Gents, barging the door open with my shoulder with such ferocity that I almost fell to the floor as I rushed inside.

David was curled up against the far wall head in his hands.

‘David? David, is that you?’ I approached softly, terrified that he’d look up and I’d see his eyes were on fire.

‘David, it’s me, it’s Stella. I’ve come to save you.’

He looked up and I couldn’t help but smile, my heart jumping. It was the real David. Memory after memory he’d been erased from, but I’d found him again at last. I ran to him and crouched, holding him, scared that if I didn’t he would just blip out of existence.

‘I found you. I found you, David.’



‘I can’t breathe.’

I released him from my bear hug, ‘Sorry.’

‘I knew you’d come. I wasn’t worried for a second.’

‘You’re curled up on a toilet floor.’

‘Just… having a breather.’

I pulled him up onto his feet and tried to ignore how scared he looked. ‘I’ve been searching all over for you.’

He smiled. ‘Yeah. Sorry about that. That glowy-eyed bastard keeps turning up. Handsome guy though, am I right?’

I laughed. Even here, even now, he couldn’t help himself, but when I looked at him again, I could see the worry in his eyes.

‘I’m almost gone, Stella. There’s hardly a thing left of me. I can feel myself getting colder as each bit of me is turned off. How are we going to stop... well, me? Other me.’’

‘I can save you, but I need your help.’

‘I can already see the flaw in this plan, but I’ll do my best.’

‘Somewhere in your memories, somewhere in your mind, is a splinter. A slither of dark magic. You need to take us to it.’

‘How am I supposed to know where it is?’

‘Close your eyes, try to picture it. To picture the point where this is all emanating from. The paper cut that stings.’

David closed his eyes, his brow creasing. ‘I’m not sure I can.’

‘You have to try. So many people’s lives depend on it; the whole of London depends on it.’

And you, David. That’s what I wanted to say. You depend on it, and I can’t lose you.

The Gents’ door burst open and a great blast of air blew us back, pinning us to the wall.

Other David appeared in the doorway, eyes blazing.

‘It’s too late,’ said David.

I grabbed his hand and looked into his eyes, our faces so close our lips almost touched.

‘David, please, you can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.’

Other David began to walk into the Gents, the fire in his eyes engulfing his entire head. I tried to ignore how my heart was beating hard enough to burst out of my chest as I concentrated on the real David.

‘I can’t feel anything,’ he said.

‘You can, David. Just ignore what’s happening in this room. This room doesn’t matter. Just open yourself up and feel the intruder. Feel the sharp point that stuck into you when I brought you back to life. Take us to it.’

Other David lifted a hand and it erupted in white flame as he prepared to remove David from the memory.

‘You can do it. David, you can do it, you can save everyone.’

His eyes snapped open and he inhaled sharply. ‘I have it!’

Other David was yanked back suddenly, as though attached to a bungee cord. Eva poked her head into the room.

‘Well go on then, bloody run!’

David grabbed my hand and pulled me after him as the room streaked and—

—A forest.

There were things out there. Hidden things, walking through the undergrowth. Monsters. I knew where we were. The only place that really made sense.

This was where we killed Mr. Trick.

Where David died and I brought him back to life using black magic.

Where this whole thing started.

‘Come on,’ I said, not letting go of David’s hand.

‘You know he’ll follow us here,’ replied David. ‘He’ll step into every memory I have until they’re all his.’

‘Then let’s not waste any time.’

The splinter hung in mid-air in a clearing. It looked like a shard of black ice puncturing existence.

‘This is what was left behind when you saved my life?’

‘The dark magic, it rushed through your body, through your mind, and left a trace of itself behind. There’s always a price to pay when you use the black arts, I knew that. But what choice did I have?’

I pulled out the small box L’Merrier had given to me.

‘I need to pull out the splinter.’

I reached up tentatively, unsure what would happen when I touched the splinter. Would it burn me? Would it turn my hand to dust?

I breathed in once, then let it go. I gripped the splinter. It was cold. Cold enough to hurt. It was also stuck. I yanked at it, but it wouldn’t budge.

‘Stella,’ said David, pointing past me. Other David, eyes aflame, was stood just beyond the treeline.

‘Come on,’ I said, grunting, trying again and again to pull the dark shard free, but it didn’t budge an inch.

There were more Other Davids with every passing second. Other Davids from every stage of his life. They stepped out of the trees, one by one, a complete circle.

David began to pull the shard with me, both of us pulling at it desperately. Did it move? Was that a slight give?

The unseen monsters in the forest howled and the Other Davids grew in number with every breath taken. Tens, then hundreds, then thousands. Other Davids from every moment of David’s life descending upon us.

‘It’s coming!’ said David, clenching his jaw so hard his teeth threatened to shatter.

The Other Davids began to walk towards us.

‘Come on, it’s nearly out!’ I cried.


‘What did you—?’

A wet hand on my leg.

I looked down to see something dark and withered and foul leering up at me with huge, yellow eyes.

I would have screamed if the realisation hadn’t robbed me of breath.

It was Mr. Trick, or the memory of him at least. That’s all it could be, surely? That was enough though. I let go of the dark shard in shock and fell to the dirt, bones jarring.

‘Stella, what are you doing?’ asked David, frantically pulling at the splinter as the Other Davids stepped closer and closer, ready to remove the last true David from his memories.

‘It’s him! Don’t you see him?’ But David didn’t look down, he carried on pulling at the splinter.

Only you, Stella, I’m here for you.

Mr. Trick reached up and scratched at my neck with his ragged fingernails.

‘Fuck you!’ I yelled and kicked out. As my foot connected, his body crumpled and tore, like I’d just attacked a wet paper bag.

I felt more hands on me as David pulled me back up. ‘Help me!’

I glanced down, but the memory of Mr. Trick was gone. I felt my neck throbbing, blood dripping.

No time for that. Not time for thinking or fear. I wrapped my hands around David’s and we pulled. It was giving! It was moving, a tooth ready to turn and turn and finally—

—Out it came!

We both fell to the ground, the splinter gripped tight in my hand. I pulled out the box and placed the shard inside.


Everything was out of focus.

I was flat out on a hard floor, body aching.

‘Oi, wake up, love,’ came a familiar voice.

Blinking the world back to sharpness, I sat up. I was still in the safe house that Razor and his eaves family had produced for us, with Eva stood over me.

‘I did it?’

L’Merrier stepped into view, holding the box out for me to see. ‘Yes.’ He rolled his wrist and the box disappeared.

‘Christ, my head is killing me,’ said David, rubbing at this skull as he sat up. I pushed myself over to him and held him tight.

‘You’re okay.’

‘I knew you’d do it. Wasn’t worried for a second.’


‘Okay. Maybe for a second, but no longer than that.’

I laughed as he wrapped his arms around me and we both did our best not to collapse from exhaustion.

I took David home and helped him up the stairs so he could collapse onto his bed and get some sleep.

‘I suppose you’re going to need to do a little more flim-flam on Layland and the others, magic lady,’ he said as he laid his head on the pillow and tried to keep his eyes open a little longer.

‘I’ll take care of it,’ I told him. I wondered how sharp his memory was now. How many holes the experience might have left him with. But we could sort that out later. All that mattered for now was he was alive. Alive, safe, and no longer a threat to anyone. L’Merrier made sure that information got out fast, so no one would take it into their own hands to try and kill him again.

I inhaled sharply as I felt David’s hand over mine.

‘Thank you, Stella.’

The words caught in my throat for a second, tongue dry. ‘It’s my job, detective.’

He smiled, eyes drooping. I wondered if I’d ever have stopped him if I hadn’t been able to prevent him going critical. If I’d have done the right thing and put the city first. Could I have done it? Would I have killed him? As I watched him drift off to sleep, his hand still upon mine, I thought I already knew the answer.

‘Where is it?’ I asked as I stepped into L’Merrier’s Antiques, which now showed no signs of the huge fight that had taken place just hours earlier.

‘The shard is destroyed,’ he replied, sliding out of the gloom, his hands resting on top of his stomach as shafts of light danced upon his large, shaved head.

‘People died because of you. Innocent people in my city.’

‘Yes,’ he replied.

‘And you almost killed David, too. All because you thought you knew best. Knew what was right. Knew what to do without ever even stepping outside of this fucking shop to find out for sure.’

I wondered what he would do. Would he attack me for speaking to him like that? Me, just a lowly familiar.

Instead, he bowed his head, for once unable to look me in the eye.

‘I made… a mistake.’

‘That’s not all you made,’ I said, stepping to him. ‘You made a new enemy too.’

L’Merrier opened his mouth to speak, but I didn’t wait to listen. I turned, disgusted, and walked out of his shop.

Eva was waiting for me back at the coven.

‘You could stay,’ I said.

‘Could I?’

‘London is a big place, and I don’t have any witches. The two of us could keep the city safe together. We could be the new London Coven; two familiars protecting millions.’

She smiled as she pulled out a cigarette and lit it, taking a deep drag, then blasting the smoke out of her nostrils.

‘Nice idea, love, but I don’t belong here. If all this has shown me anything—if you’ve shown me anything—it’s that I’ve been avoiding my responsibilities for too long. I need to go home. Which is a real pisser, believe me.’

Part of me was sad to see her go. Another friend, another familiar, it would make life… fuller. But how could I argue? The very idea of running away from London for ten years, like she had from Cumbria, made my heart skip out of rhythm. A familiar belonged where she was created.

‘Thanks for eventually helping,’ I said, smiling.

‘Pleasure. Well, mostly. Apart from all the nearly dying bits.’

I walked with her to the door. As she stepped out into the blind alley beyond, she turned back and winked. ‘Thanks, love. Thanks for showing me the way home.’

‘You’re welcome.’

She wavered and squinted at me. ‘By the way, that looks nasty, you should get it seen to,’ she said, pointing to my neck. As the door closed I ran to the nearest mirror, pulling down the collar of my jacket.

Four red lines were scratched into my neck. They ran at an angle, one next to the other.

Only you, Stella, I’m here for you...

My legs began to wobble and I pressed a hand against the wall, lowering myself down until I was sat on the floor, other hand to the scratches that now throbbed.

It wasn’t possible.

That had just been my astral form in an old memory.

‘When Mr. Trick comes to town, all the uncanny shall fall and frown…’

I curled up on the floor, and closed my eyes.

The End.


Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)


Fresh Hell

Something Rotten

Twice Damned

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)



My name is Jake Fletcher and you’re joining me at the point it all started to go wrong: the day I showed up at the Mitchell House.

In case you haven’t heard of the place, the Mitchell House is an affluent, family home in Camden overlooking Hampstead Heath. A five-mill, five-bed detached, hidden behind a set of wrought iron gates that could keep out a Sherman tank.

It was night-time when I got there—five past ten in the evening—and I was stood at the building’s entrance with my partner, Damon. It was chilly, and a stooping crowd of cedars shaded us from what little moonlight there was. The door to Mitchell House was pitch black, the same colour as my suit, which I wore with a plain white shirt and a neutral tie. Simple, smart, and timeless. I’m a firm believer in that old saying: Always dress better than your audience. Of course, that’s not hard when your audience is a rabble of snot-nosed kids with skid marks in their dungarees.

I’d come to the Mitchell House packing a briefcase. Inside of it were metal hoops, packs of playing cards and a black and white wand, among other magical doodads. I’d come to perform a show, and I was running late.

I went for the doorbell but hesitated, my index finger hovering before it teasingly.

‘Are we going in or not?’ Damon muttered in his distinct Irish brogue.

Damon’s only a few years older than me, but that doesn’t stop clients mistaking him for my dad. My annoying, perpetually pissed off, forty-cigs-a-day dad. Just like me, Damon was also suited and booted, but he was only dressed that way on my insistence. After all, it wouldn’t do for a magician’s assistant to show up dressed for a night down the pub, would it?

‘What are ye waiting for, ya eejit?’ he asked. ‘They’re not gonna bite.’ He ground the stub of a cigarette under his heel and shoved the front door, which opened with a lusty creak. ‘Your missus is right, fella,’ he added, ‘ya are a big baby.’

No manners, that woman, but what a critic.

Damon entered and I picked up the pace to stay on his heels. The house was absolutely ambassadorial inside. The period detailing was Elizabethan, all wood panels and ornate chandeliers. The place stank of money; of oil paintings of horses and mounted animals.

We heard a commotion in a room off the main hall, and headed that way. There, in the largest sitting room I’d ever seen, were a dozen kids in party hats and fancy dress costumes. There was a Teenage Turtle, a couple of Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) and no shortage of Princess Elsas. The birthday boy was done up like a little devil, with an ‘I AM 8’ badge pinned to his horned, blood-red onesie.

Damon and me carved out a bit of room in the corner of the room and set up for the show. Once I’d gathered my things and set up the old tabletop on a tripod, I called the proceedings to order.

‘Good evening, ladies and jellyspoons,’ I told the audience. ‘Gather around, one and all, and prepare to witness a spectacle that will astound your mind and excite your senses.’

Somewhat begrudgingly, the kids stopped what they were doing, sat down and formed a crescent in front of us.

With the stage patter out of the way, I got to work. I guessed cards. I turned a wand into a bunch of flowers. I made foam balls jump from cup to cup. With Damon’s help, I even conjured a dove from a handkerchief.

The kids couldn’t have given less of a shit.

They talked over us. They played video games on their iPads. The birthday boy even used his phone to look up solutions to our tricks before we could finish them. We were dying on our arses.

Soon the kids were united in one angry chant. ‘Boring! Boring! Boring!’ they cried.

Damon leaned into my ear. ‘Come on and blow them away already,’ he said, nervously fingering the crucifix around his neck.

‘No,’ I whispered back. ‘We stick to the plan, okay?’

I went to the briefcase for the final prop. From inside I produced a round, black disc, which I placed on the table in front of me.

I said the magic word, ‘Abracadabra!’, and the disc went pop and stood up straight to become a magician’s top hat.

That got their attention.

‘Now, which one of you fine young people is the birthday boy?’ I asked. The kid dressed as a devil (seriously, a devil at a kids’ birthday party?) stood up. ‘Please, come and join me on the stage,’ I implored him.

The brand new eight-year-old met me and Damon in the corner of the room and did an annoying little bow.

‘Welcome,’ I told him, shaking his sticky, chubby little hand. ‘Tell me, young man, how would you like a birthday cake?’

‘I dunno, can you can afford one on the money my mum’s paying you?’ asked the precocious little shite.

I ignored the snide comment, turned the top hat upside down and passed it to him.

‘Let’s make you that cake,’ I said, and into the hat I cracked two eggs, then poured in some flour and a bag of sugar. Next, I pulled out a bottle of milk and checked its sell-by date.

‘We have to be careful not to use spoiled milk,’ I explained, ‘or instead of a birthday cake, we’ll all end up with... a stomach ache.’

The birthday boy face-palmed and his friends began to boo again. That was until I tapped the top hat with my wand, smashed it upside down on the table and lifted it up to reveal a two-tier birthday cake, lit candles and all.

That really got their attention. The kids began to clap and cheer, all except for the birthday boy.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘aren’t you going to make a wish?’

‘Yeah,’ he sneered, ‘I wish I never grow up to be a loser like you.’

He scored himself a big laugh from the rest of the kids for that. The Teenage Turtle tossed a bowl of jelly at me. One of the Elsa’s almost puked.

A lesser man would have thrown in the towel then, but I am nothing if not patient. ‘Go on then,’ I told the birthday boy, ‘blow out the candles and make your wish properly if that’s what you want.’

With a shit-eating grin, he puckered up, leaned into the cake and blew for all he was worth.

A half-second later he was gone—vanished into thin air—him and the rest of the kids.

Ta da!

Hell of a closer, I think you’ll agree. Worthy of Copperfield.

You’re probably wondering how I pulled that off. I get it, you’re the curious sort. Well, it wasn’t a magic trick, I can tell you that much, at least not in the traditional sense.

What I’d done to the kids was exorcise them.

That’s, exorcise, not exercise, though kids these days could certainly use some of that. Not these ones though, they were well past the point of needing to shed a few pounds.

They were dead.

Ghosts who were unaware that they’d passed on, trapped between this world and the next. I deal with them all the time. It’s my job. You see, I hadn’t come to Mitchell House to entertain a bunch of primary school kids, I’d come to deliver some lost souls to their final resting place. The magic stuff was just to make their transition a little easier. I didn’t have to do it, but when someone dies traumatically and winds up a ghost… well, what’s the harm in treading a little softly? And believe me when I say these kids died some pretty miserable deaths.

It happened a year ago to the day. Killed in a house fire, each and every one of them. The story goes that the birthday boy got tired of waiting for his mum to fetch her camera and blew out the candles on his cake while she was out of the room. Like I say, precocious. Anyway, a candle caught the sleeve of his incredibly flammable fancy dress costume and he went up like a torch. When he ran into the arms of the Teenage Turtle he started a domino effect, and pretty soon the whole place was blazing. Everyone in that room—the room I was stood in with my partner, Damon—was roasted alive.

Grim stuff.

So then, here I am. *Stands up and coughs*. My name’s Jake Fletcher and I’m an exorcist. I probably should have mentioned that going in, but you must have figured out something was up. Right? I mean, come on, a kids’ birthday party in the night time? Walking straight into the house uninvited? No adult supervision? That bit about Damon’s crucifix? Like I say, I’m sure you picked up on the clues. You’re a canny one, I can tell.

Damon stuffed the props back into the briefcase, his mouth set in a sulky pout. ‘What was all that birthday cake shite about?’ he asked. ‘You go too easy on ‘em, that’s your problem.’

Damon has his own way of doing things, but it was my turn to take the lead on this one, and I was happy with the job I’d done. I’d been able to send those dead kids to the Great Hereafter with a bit of grace this time. Next job we did we’d work to Damon’s Banish and Vanish policy.

‘I wanted to send them on their way gently, that’s all,’ I explained. ‘Your fire and brimstone, “The power of Christ compels thee!” stuff wasn’t a fit for this gig. Those weren’t malignant spirits, just little kids who died in a fire.’

Damon tutted. ‘You’re a soft touch, fella. They’re a nuisance is all. Send ‘em to heaven and let God sort ‘em out, that’s what I say.’

As if Damon O’Meara knew the first thing about God. He might be familiar with a few bible passages and act like he walks on water, but the man’s a believer in the worst possible sense. The kind that only obeys the scripture he wants to obey, like he’s digging into a bucket of morality pick n’ mix. He liked to call himself a priest, but the truth is he got kicked out of the seminary well before he was ordained (don’t know why, don’t want to know why). After that, he went rogue. Bought himself a white collar on eBay and started practicing exorcisms without papal consent. Honestly, I’d be happy to stay clear of the man, but when you’re dealing with the Uncanny, it’s always best to work with a partner. It’s not all kids and magic tricks, this job. Things can get pretty hairy if you go messing with the wrong spook, and that’s not even getting into demonic possession. Only a nutter gets into this biz without having someone to watch their back, and Damon was the best I could manage.

But he wasn’t finished giving me shit. ‘You act all high and mighty, but the truth is you just don’t take what we do seriously. Look at you, you didn’t even bring a crucifix!’ he cried. ‘That’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Forget that, it’s like forgetting to bring a knife to a gunfight.’

Unlike Damon, I don’t have much use for a crucifix. I’m not really a religious sort of guy. The truth is, I was a straight-up atheist. I came into the exorcism game from a whole other angle to Damon, but we’ll get into that later. Right now, all you need to know is that I don’t put much stock in a higher power. Unless you want to count Iron Maiden, anyway.

Those guys shred.


I arrived home at my crappy two-bed in Tufnell Park. Well, I say crappy, it’s really just small—it’s not like the place is a slum or anything. Sarah, my wife, she keeps the place tidy enough. Who am I kidding, tidy is an understatement, our flat looks like it was set dressed by Stanley Kubrick.

I closed the door behind me quietly, tiptoed to the bedroom and shucked my suit onto the carpet. My bed was a futon on the floor of the spare room. Sarah preferred I slept there. We worked back-to-back, see: she did a regular nine-to-five while I mostly did night shifts. Sleeping in the spare room meant I wouldn't wake her up when I got home from a gig. By the time I’d show up she’d be fast asleep, and when I finally crawled out of bed the next day, she’d be long gone. I wondered sometimes if we were even living together anymore, that’s how little I saw of her. I’d check for dents in her pillow to make sure she hadn’t moved out on me, except being a neat freak, she’d smooth them out the moment she got up. The best indicator I had as to whether I still had a wife was the position of the toilet seat. Sure, go ahead, you can play that tiny violin.

To say Sarah and me had grown apart would be an understatement. By this point we weren't man and wife so much as cell mates. I should have seen it coming, I mean, we never did make much sense as a couple. Even at college, the place we met, we made for an odd pairing. I was the shiftless art student with the greasy hair who always reeked of incense, while she was the beautiful, driven girl with the eighty-quid haircut and the Prada pumps. Of course I was smitten with her—always did have a thing for the ice queen type—but no one expected her to take an interest in me, least of all yours truly.

Turns out she was only slumming it though. She came from a well to-do family and would do just about anything to piss off daddy, so naturally she went for the guy who dressed in a black trench coat, smoked liquorice roll-ups, and dabbled in the occult. Since then, the charm’s rather worn off. That stuff might be a lark at college, but it starts to wear a bit thin once you head into your thirties. Still, we’re married now, and it seems neither one of us wants to admit defeat.

I suspect she’d be happy to be shot of me though. Why do I suspect that? Well, my main piece of evidence is the fact that she tells me so. Again and again if she has too many G&Ts in her. Calls me an embarrassment. A loser. A big baby of a man who cost her the PIN to her daddy’s black credit card. And I dare say she has a point. I’m an easygoing, unmotivated, go-with-the-flow kind of guy, while she’s a successful, ruthless career woman. While she’s got her law firm gig up town, I’m stuck with a job most people don’t even believe exists. Like I say, we’re very different people.

As I laid down in my futon I thought of the dead kid I’d dispatched to the afterlife that evening. How I’d given him his final birthday wish and saved him from a life in limbo. I poured a shot of Glenmorangie from a bottle I kept in the corner cabinet, and raised a glass. Here’s to you, kid. You might have checked out early, but at least you’ll never grow up to be a loser like me.


As I took my morning piss, I noticed the soap in the dish on the bathroom sink was already wet. My heart swelled a bit. I still had a wife. Yeah, pathetic I know.

I took a shower, ate some breakfast, and went to the wardrobe for some clothes. Turned out everything I had was in the laundry basket or on the floor. I really did need to get my shit together. With nothing else to wear, I resigned myself to putting on the suit I’d used for yesterday’s birthday/deathday party. It was a little smarter than I usually dress for a daytime appointment (well, a lot smarter), but being as I was off to a business meeting, I figured what the hell?

See, Jake Fletcher doesn’t do exorcisms for the fun of it, he does it for a living (he also likes talking about himself in the third person, but that’s enough of that for now). When I bust a ghost I expect to get paid. I’m not a dabbler in the occult anymore, checking Crowley books out of the college library and pissing about with Wicca. I’m a professional, freelance exorcist with a list of clearances to my name as long as your arm. I’ve been at this game so long I’ve even earned a nickname from it: The Polterguy. Well, I kind of gave myself the nickname if I’m honest. Anyway, it’s honest work, and even though I don’t make a packet from it, it pays my way. Some may sneer, but what else was I going to do for a living? Cash in on my Fine Art degree?

The ghosts I purged yesterday had been haunting the Mitchell House for a full year, making it impossible to sell the property on, even after the fire damage had been repaired. All in all, an estate agents’ nightmare, but not for Vic Lords. There was a guy who knew how to profit from misery.

Vic Lords was a property tycoon and local gangster. The man had his fingers in an awful lot of pies: gambling pies, drug pies, prostitution pies. Another of the dodgy businesses he was involved in was buying haunted estates, which he picked up on the cheap then resold for a tasty profit once Damon and me had evicted the supernatural squatters. I found Vic to be a pretty despicable guy, but he paid well, and on time. Without him, I’d have been living like a student still, filling my car up a fiver at a time and getting my hair cut at Mr Toppers. At least this way I could make rent. Well, a fraction of it anyway. Sarah’s job covered most of the bills. Yeah, I know, I’m a real prince.

I arrived at Vic’s place of business, a seedy little office upstairs from a knocking shop he ran. It was located in an area of Camden you don’t go at night if you know what’s best for you. The bouncer who looked after the front door—the seven-foot murder tank Vic paid to look after his “little darlings”—recognised my face through the peephole and let me inside. He jabbed a thumb at a set of stairs and I headed for the first floor to meet Vic.

I knocked on his office door but there was no reply. Tired of waiting, I tried the handle and it opened, so I let myself inside. The office overlooked Camden Lock, and down below I could see drunks roaming the banks of the canal, screaming, moaning, making primal sounds. There was no sign of Vic though. Being the nosy sort, I decided to take a quick gander of the place before I went back downstairs and asked the bouncer where his boss had gotten to. Christ knows, I wish I hadn’t.

I found it on his monitor.

There, on the screen, courtesy of some tucked-away, nasty part of the web, were pictures. Pictures of women being forced to do things. Pictures that looked like they’d come from snuff films. Pictures that would turn the stomach of a twenty-time serial killer.

As I backed away from the monitor, I heard a toilet flush and saw a side door creak open. I’d forgotten about Vic’s en suite toilet. The big man stepped out, buttoning his trousers, then looked up to see me stood in the middle of his office like a lemon. He was dressed in fake Armani and scuffed brogues. His dyed black hair was scraped back from his puffy face, which had a blueish tinge from all the broken blood vessels creeping under its surface. Black hair and blue skin – the bloke looked like a photo negative of Donald Trump.

‘How did you get in here?’ he barked, heading for the monitor and jabbing the Off button.

‘The door was open,’ I mumbled. ‘It wasn’t locked or anything.’

He narrowed his eyes and gave me the kind of look a shotgun-wielding farmer might give a fox he’d caught gnawing through the mesh of his chicken coop. He took a seat behind his desk and sank into its duct-taped pleather padding. ‘You’re early,’ he said, still giving me stink-eye.

I checked my watch. He was right. ‘Look, I just came for my pay packet,’ I told him. ‘For the Mitchell House job.’

‘Of course you did,’ he replied, his lip curling. ‘And that’s all, right?’

‘Y-yes,’ I stuttered.

He handed me an envelope. ‘There,’ he said, ‘don’t go spending it all at once.’

I knew Vic better than to hang around counting my money, but this time I made my exit like my arse was on fire.

As I made for the door, he called me. ‘Oh, Jake?’ he said, just as my first foot crossed the doorframe.

‘Yes?’ I replied, not turning around, too scared of finding a gun there.

There was a pregnant pause that ran into its third trimester.

‘Nice suit,’ he said, and gave me a wink that closed my sphincter like a vice.


I was making my way home from Vic Lords’ office when a woman leapt out of nowhere, pulled me into an alleyway, and told me I was a murderer.

Let me back up a bit.

I was strolling at a clip down the lower end of Camden High Street, heading for the Tube, when a lady in a red scarf jumped out and yanked me down a side street. At first I took her for a vagrant, but as my eyes adjusted to the woman, I realised I knew her. She worked in a magic shop out in King’s Cross and looked a bit like a young Emma Thompson. I’d met her a couple of days before when I’d bought the props for that last exorcism.

‘Jake Fletcher?’ she hissed.

‘Yeah?’ I replied, taken aback.

‘I’ve heard about you,’ she insisted, ‘and I’m here to tell you that you have to stop what you’re doing.’

‘What do you know about me?’

‘That you’re no stage magician. That you’re an exorcist.’

I lifted my chin, defiantly. ‘Guilty as charged. So, what’s it to you?’

She shoved me again. ‘Don’t you realise you’re killing them?’

I pushed her away and dusted down my suit jacket.

‘Listen,’ I told her, ‘you have no idea what you’re banging on about.’

‘The ghosts,’ she replied. ‘You’re not freeing those poor souls, you’re obliterating them! Erasing them from existence!’

I laughed. ‘No offense, love, but I’ve been to your shop. You sell trick decks to lost tourists. What would you know about what I do?’

‘I know that what you’re doing is wrong. Exorcism is for banishing demons, it isn’t to be used on the dead.’ She tossed her red scarf angrily over her shoulder. ‘You’re not spring-cleaning, for Christ’s sake. Those are human souls you’re scrubbing away!’’

I guess it doesn’t matter what you do for a living or how much of a pro you are, there’s always someone who knows better. Everyone’s an expert these days. I blame the internet.

I shrugged her off and went on my way. ‘Get yourself to the chemist and re-up your brain medicine,’ I told her.

‘You have to stop!’ she yelled after me. ‘Not just for the souls you’re destroying, but for your own too!’


I carried on my journey home, starting with a Tube from Mornington Crescent. They’ve spent a lot of money fixing up this part of Camden. Artisanal bakeries, posh hair salons, trendy gastropubs. There’s even a truffle and prosecco bar opposite the station now, whatever the hell that is. Who do they think they’re fooling? They can tart the place up all they like, but they can’t disguise the puddles of sick and the spent syringes that crunch under your feet as you pass the fancy window displays. Camden’s like a monster wearing the skin of some beautiful woman. It might look alright at a glance, but take a closer look and there’s a beast under that mask, blood-red eyes and dripping fangs.

I entered the Tube station, passed through the ticket barriers and took the stairs to the platform, still feeling the chill from my last couple of run-ins. I reached the platform for the Northern line, tired, fed up, and shaken. To sooth my spirits, I plugged in my earbuds and put on some music: Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden, undisputably the best album by Iron Maiden. As I waited on the train home I was grooving to my favourite track (Track 9: Iron Maiden), when I sensed the dim presence of a figure shuffling up behind me. The hairs on the back of my neck began to prickle; whoever it was, they were getting way too close and personal for my liking. As I was turning to see who it was, I felt a sharp shove—


The force knocked me flying.

I made a desperate grab for something—for anything—but all my flailing hands managed to snag hold of was thin air. Thin air and a scrap of fabric, which proved less than useless at keeping me upright. A fraction of a second later I’d left the platform and landed face-down on the tracks.

Right into the path of an oncoming train.

In the split-second I had before the thing hit me, all I could do was crush myself flat and hope for the best. I pressed my face into the dirty ground and covered the back of my head with my hands. The noise was deafening as the train rattled over me and came to a screeching halt halfway into the station. Somehow, against all odds, I’d managed to stay under the axles of the rolling stock.

Shaking with adrenalin, I came up on my knees and slithered out from under the train, exiting through the gap between the carriage and the platform. For a while I just lay there on my back panting. I had just witnessed a bona-fide miracle after all – a death-defying escape worthy of Houdini himself.

When I opened my eyes, I found an elderly gentleman stood over me, looking down with a broad, pearly smile. He was dressed in an Underground uniform, though not the blue shirt and orange hi-vis combo I’d grown used to seeing. His outfit was a black, single-breasted suit with gold trim and polished buttons, all topped off with a flat brimmed cap.

‘You okay there, sonny?’ he asked, offering me his hand.

‘I’m fine,’ I told him, still trembling. ‘And I’ll be even better once I figure out who shoved me under a moving train.’

‘I wouldn’t worry about that,’ the old man told me, smiling benignly. ‘That’s all in the past now.’

With all due respect, I assured him, it really didn’t feel that way. In fact, it still felt pretty bloody pertinent at that point. Maybe the old feller was used to seeing people bumped onto the tracks, but the sensation was new on me.

‘You’ve got cameras, right?’ I asked. ‘One of those big banks of monitors you can check?’

‘Sure we do, sonny. Now why don’t you head on up the lift there? There are some folks upstairs waiting to help you.’

He helped me to my feet and smoothed down the lapels of my suit. I was pretty shaken up still, but the old guy had a real calming effect on me. ‘Up the lift there?’ I parroted. ‘Waiting to help me?’

He gave me that smile again and my eyes followed the sweep of his hand to the station’s Way Out sign.

‘Good luck, sonny,’ he said, and shook me warmly by the hand.

I made my way to the lift, waited for it to arrive and climbed aboard. I was surprised to find the interior decorated in wall-to-wall gold, as though Transport for London had decided to splash out and hire King Tut’s interior designer. Had it always been that way? I didn’t think so, but then I’d never been the most observant of guys. When your business is death, sometimes you don’t pay enough attention to the living world.

I realised I was trembling, skin cold and damp, a mixture of adrenalin and shock coursing around my body. Someone had tried to murder me. Me!

The doors swished closed and the lift began its climb to street-level. I stood listening to the piped muzak, trying to get my shakes under control. I recognised the song that was playing. Was that… no, it couldn’t be… was that Bruce Dickinson? It was! Bruce Dickinson singing Iron Maiden, my absolute favourite Iron Maiden song. Holy shit! What were the chances?

The lift continued to ascend. For about five more minutes in fact. Surely that wasn’t possible? The trip usually only took about thirty seconds. Had they built some extra storeys on the station that I didn’t know about?

Eventually, the lift came to a cushioned halt, pinged and opened its doors to reveal a place I’d never seen before. This wasn’t the ticket hall of Mornington Crescent station. Matter of fact, this wasn’t even Camden.

The first thing that hit me was a smell like fresh pine, and not the kind that comes in a spray can. Stretching out before me was a long, bright corridor – bright enough to make you squint. The place was spotless. I dare say it was even cleaner than how Sarah kept our place, and that’s saying something.

A beautiful, raven-haired woman in a skintight, red cocktail dress stood balancing a tumbler on a silver tray. A whiskey sour if I wasn’t mistaken. The woman was exactly my type, and the drink too. Something very peculiar was going down.

‘Good day, sir,’ she said, greeting me in a cut-glass accent. ‘You’ve had yourself quite a tumble, haven’t you?’

She handed me the cocktail as I exited the lift, and I snatched it from her and had myself a substantial swig.

Yep, a whisky sour.

‘Thank you,’ I said, wiping my mouth, ‘I needed that. Some absolute shit trench just tried to murder me.’

‘Yes, sir. If you’d like to head down the corridor and go through the door at the end there, you’ll be all set.’

‘Where am I?’ I asked.

‘Head on through that door and all will be explained,’ she said, cocking a hip.


‘—Through the door, sir. Do hurry along now.’


I emerged through the door into some kind of waiting room. It was a far cry from the one at my dentist’s office though. Instead of fluorescent strip lights, the room was suffused with a warm, celestial glow that leant the place a bit of a dreamlike quality.

Rather than posters of rotting molars, the walls were decorated with murals of beaches depicting beautiful, turquoise waves rolling gently onto shores of idyllic sand. And instead of coffee tables heaving under piles of outdated fitness magazines, there were refreshment stands brimming with exotic fruit juices and baskets of delicious, healthy muffins. About the only thing that was the same were the chairs, dozens upon dozens of them, full of people sat in neatly arranged rows.

There were plenty of spaces for me to take a seat, but being as I didn’t know what I was supposed to be waiting for, I thought it prudent to enquire with the receptionist. As I approached the front desk, a fifty-something woman with silver hair, high green eye shadow, and a kind face looked up at me through a pair of pince-nez.

‘Can I help you, sir?’ she asked, batting her lashes and making her eyelids flash like Kermit’s belly.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘I was wondering if you could tell me what’s going on. I was in an accident just now, well, not an accident, an attempted murder, and—’

‘Name, please?’

I told her, and she pulled my file from a cabinet and set it to one side. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I just need to know how to get—’

But before I could finish, she pointed me to a ticket dispenser attached to a pillar behind me. ‘Just take a number and you’ll be called momentarily.’

‘A number for what? I don’t even know what I’m doing here.’

Instead of answering, she handed me a pamphlet. Confused, I flipped it over and scanned the title. It read, So, You’re Dead…

I laughed. What else was I supposed to do?

‘What’s this about?’ I asked.

‘Try not to think of it as an ending,’ she said, all peaches and cream, ‘think of it as... a change in your state of being.’ I narrowed my eyes at her, but she only beamed back at me. ‘If you’re having trouble, why don’t you talk to one of the others?’ she suggested.

‘Others?’ I looked around the room at the strangers surrounding me. I started to see some familiar faces among them. Pete Burns from that Eighties band, Dead or Alive. The guy who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Alan fucking Rickman.

But they were all dead, weren’t they? Stiffs. Bereft of life. Resting in peace. Shuffled off their mortals coils. Run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.

And that meant...

God damn it.

‘There must be some mistake,’ I told the receptionist, suddenly flushed.

She sighed gently and aimed a painted fingernail at a sign that simply read, THERE HAS BEEN NO MISTAKE.

Well, I wasn’t having any of that. I gave her a piece of my mind, let me tell you; a whole bloody fistful of it. She wouldn’t be swayed though. For some reason quite beyond me, she remained entirely sure that I was dead.

‘You didn’t think it all convenient that the train just... passed over you?’ she asked, finally beginning to lose her patience.

It did seem a tad unlikely, I’ll give her that, so I changed the conversation. ‘What are you saying then?’ I asked, whirling around and flailing my arms in the air. ‘That I’m in purgatory?’

‘Hardly,’ she whispered, in a transparent bid to have me do the same. ‘This is the waiting room for the afterlife.’

Oh, simple as that. Nothing major. Just a waiting room. For the afterlife.

I wasn’t having it.

‘Listen, love,’ I told her, ‘if you’re going to muck me about, at least get your facts straight. When a person dies a traumatic death like the one I supposedly did, their spirit stays earthbound until their killer is brought to justice.’ I mean come on, she must have at least seen that Demi Moore movie with all the sexy pottery. ‘Trust me,’ I said, ‘I know these things. I’m an exorcist by trade.’

‘Sir, according to our records, you are an ex-exorcist. And no, I did not stutter.’

I held up a finger to get a word in, but she barrelled on.

She flipped through my file. ‘The only reason you’re not haunting Mornington Crescent station right now is because He wants to talk to you especially.’

There was a real note of menace in that last sentence. He? Especially? What the hell was that supposed mean?

‘If it’s all the same with you,’ I said, ‘I’d rather be getting back to the whole living thing. I’ve got a wife back home who loves me very much. Well, I have a wife. Sometimes.’

The receptionist took off her glasses, pinched the bridge of her nose and spoke to me very slowly, as though she were carving her words in granite. ‘Sir, are you going to take a seat, or are we going to have a problem?’

Sensing that was exactly what was about to occur, two burly security guards stepped up, biceps ballooning from the sleeves of their crisp, white shirts. Who knew God had bouncers? Seemed a bit suspect to me. What’s an all-powerful deity need with a couple of wide-necked doormen? It’s like the Pope riding around in his bullet-proof Popemobile of his: either the Lord Almighty has his shit on lock, or he’s as helpless as the rest of us.

Anyway, I have to say, I wasn’t much enjoying the reception I was getting so far. If this really was the staging area for the Great Hereafter, I’d be leaving the place a pretty iffy review on TripAdvisor.

I backed away from the two pituitary cases, hands raised in surrender. ‘Okay, fellers,’ I said, trying to act nonchalant. ‘I’ll take a number...’

Their eyes followed me to the ticket dispenser, and then to my chair. I begrudgingly took a seat next to a young man in his twenties with a neat haircut and a cleft chin. ‘What are you in for?’ I asked him.

‘Cancer,’ he replied.

I shook my head in commiseration. ‘Gets us all in the end, doesn’t it? Well, except me, apparently. They’re telling me I got flattened by a train.’


We chatted some more. Just two dead guys, chewing the fat, you know how it is.

‘So, what do you reckon comes next?’ I asked the bloke.

‘I dunno,’ he replied, then opened his pamphlet to a page showing a veritable paradise; a bright blue sky over a lush green meadow surrounded by snow-capped mountains. ‘I just hope I go there. You know, to the Good Place.’

‘I’m sure you will,’ I told him. ‘A young guy, dead from cancer? You’ll be a shoo-on, mate.’

He sucked some air through his teeth. ‘Yeah, but it’s not like I was always on my best behaviour. Not my whole life. I mean, we all make mistakes, don’t we?’

‘What are we talking about here?’ I asked. ‘Did you rob someone? Steal another guy’s girlfriend? Jesus Christ, you weren’t a Two Broke Girls fan, were you?’

He laughed. ‘Man, of all the places you shouldn’t blaspheme…’

He had a point. I looked across the room to see the two muscle-heads giving me hate-rays, and elected to keep the volume down.

‘So?’ said the guy next to me, ‘what about you? You going through the pearly gates?’

It was a good question. I was brought up Catholic, paid my taxes (mostly) and it’s not like I’d ever murdered anyone. On the other hand, I’d dabbled with the dark arts and still had a couple of LoveFilm DVDs sat at home collecting dust. And then there was the way that receptionist spoke to me, like a supply teacher about to send me to the headmaster’s office. I couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t going to the Good Place at all. And if I wasn’t going there, where did that leave me?

I suddenly decided I’d rather not meet the man behind the curtain.

I looked across the room to find the two heavies looking the other way. They were distracted by Lemmy from Motorhead, who’d apparently been sat waiting since 2015 and was becoming quite upset about it.

‘See you later, pal,’ I told the kid next to me. ‘Good luck with the interview.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘I don’t know, mate. Anywhere but here.’

The only other exit from the room led through a set of giant doors that were sure to lead me into more trouble, so I double-checked the coast was clear and started making for the lift I came up in. As I sidled across the room, a voice called out. The Receptionist had spotted me sneaking away and raised the alarm.

‘You there! Stay where you are!’

I ignored her, making good with my legs and scrambling down a gangway between two rows of chairs. The guards cannonballed after me, yelling for me to stop, but I carried on regardless. The rest of the waiting room’s occupants froze as I made my escape bid, all except for one, who stuck out his leg and sent one of the guards sprawling across the floor.

‘Rebel, rebel!’ the man called after me.

From the look I caught over my shoulder, I’m pretty sure it was David Bowie, or at least a Bowie impersonator. Probably the latter, now I think about it. Anyway, I flashed the bloke a thumbs-up, ran off down the corridor, passed the bit of fluff in the cocktail dress, and threw myself into the lift, which I was pleased to find ready and waiting.

I turned back to see the remaining security guard barrelling in my direction, the size of a bloody Coke machine. I slammed my palm against the button for the ground floor about a half-dozen times. Finally, the lift door slid shut just in time to stop the guard grabbing me by the lapels and dragging me back the way I came, which I was pretty grateful for, all things considered. The guard pounded his fists on the other side of the door, leaving great big divots in the thing. This guy was no angel, that was for sure. I jabbed the button to send the lift down again, but the bastard thing wouldn’t budge.

‘Come on!’ I screamed, praying to God then realising the futility of it.

I don’t know what possessed me, but instead of pounding the button some more I started to concentrate on it. Hard. Really hard. Willing it to work. Demanding it stop buggering about and send me home. I channelled everything I had into that stupid button, and only when I was absolutely sure it had gotten the message did I finally make my move. I put my palm to it, gently this time, like I was laying on hands.

And the lift’s Down light lit up.

Hallelujah! By this point the door to the lift looked like shredded tin foil, so I was pretty glad when it shuddered to life and began its downward descent. Well, until it started dropping like its cord had been cut.

‘Going down,’ spoke a piped-in voice as the lift dived into the depths.

Metal twisted and buckled, screaming like a kitten petted by Freddy Kreuger. As the g-force pushed me to the ceiling, I felt the temperature turn suddenly hotter, as though I were plunging into the bowels of hell itself.

This really was turning into one of those days.


There was a terrific explosion and everything went dark. The fact that I was able to observe this led me to believe that I’d somehow managed to survive. This came as quite a shock, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

I lay flat, stunned, not daring to move for all the broken bones I must have sustained. Eventually, I worked up enough bravery to wiggle my fingers. Oddly, they seemed to still be attached to me. Even more surprisingly, they moved just fine, and didn’t cause me the least bit of pain. I used my still-attached fingers to feel for my head, which was also where it was meant to be. Hell of a thing.

The darkness subsided as the smoke from the crash cleared, and I found myself lying among the pancaked heap of metal that used to be a lift; a regular lift now, not a gold-plated one. I was back where I’d started, in Mornington Crescent Tube station.

I staggered to my feet and called for help, but no one lifted a finger. I surveyed my body to check for damage, but I looked fine, not a mark on me. Christ, even the suit I was wearing was still in good nick. I was lost for words, and for thoughts, or at least any that made sense. I was in fine fettle. Perfect fettle. I put a hand to my chest to still my beating heart, but it wasn’t racing at all. Matter of fact, I couldn’t even feel the thing.

A crowd gathered around the crash site, hands over their mouths, staring at the devastation before them. Not one of them was looking at me though. It’s like I wasn’t there. Like I was invisible. That’s when the pieces finally fell into place.

I couldn’t be seen, I wasn’t injured and I didn’t have a heartbeat.

An existential dread came over me that left me feeling like someone had packed my guts in ice.

I was a frigging ghost, wasn’t I?

No Wayze, Swayze.


So, apparently I’d escaped the afterlife and snuck back to Earth as a ghost. Yay for me. I don’t know how I pulled it off exactly, but somehow I’d found a way to take a shit on about six-thousand years of God’s holy law. In case you're wondering how I did it—perhaps hoping you can use the information to duck the reaper’s blade when your time comes—I’m sorry to say your guess is as good as mine. I wish I could tell you, I really do, but I’ve got nothing.

The best guess I have is that it has something to do with my job. Spend fifteen years mucking about with tallow candles and pentacles and you’re going to learn a thing or two about life and death. I mean, how many spirits have I sent to the Great Beyond in my time. Hundreds? Thousands? You lose track after a while. It all starts to become routine in the end—business as usual—bust a ghost, grab some lunch, lather, rinse, repeat.

When I saw the button in that lift, the one I poured all my focus into, I just kind of wished it to work. Like I was reverse engineering what I did on the job every day. Instead of sending a ghost to heaven (or wherever it was I’d been sending them), I imagined my own soul going through the veil in the other direction. And now here I was, back on terra firma. Sort of.

I left the station in a daze, staggering along the high street, a fart in a trance. I passed by the mini cab office, over the zebra crossing, past the pigeon-shitted statue of Lord Cobden. The sun was up, but it shone right through me. The suit I was wearing was black as squid ink, not a spot of light on it. It actually looked pretty cool. I mean, what were the chances I’d be done up all spiffy the day I got the chop? If this was the way I was going to stay dressed for all of time, I could think of worse things I could have been wearing. Caught any other day, I’d have ended up wearing skinny jeans and an Iron Maiden t-shirt until the end of eternity. Don’t get me wrong, Maiden rock, but there’s a time and a place.

I was busy contemplating the concept of eternity when a shopper with a pram walked right through me. Like, literally right through me. In one side and out the other. I don’t know if you’ve ever been subjected to two generations entering your body (easy, now) and transforming before your eyes into a pair of Dr. Gunther Body Worlds sculptures, but it’s a sensation that kind of sticks with you. Quite possibly for eternity.

I recoiled, reeling backwards, right into the path of a pillar box. Instead of passing harmlessly through it though, I smashed the back of my head upon it and almost knocked myself out. What the hell? Was I intangible or not? Someone needed to write down some goddamned rules.

This was my first clue that certain, rare ghosts—me included—were able to interact with the physical world. In fact, most of the time, what the living call poltergeist hauntings aren't really hauntings at all, just phantoms tripping over things and making a mess of the place. Most ghosts aren’t scary at all, you see, just clumsy.

As I stood up, shaking the birdies circling my head, I heard a cackle. It came from a homeless guy sprawled out on the pavement beneath an ATM.

He pointed at me and yelled through the hole in his nasty beard. ‘Boo!’ he cried, throwing back his head and laughing like a good ‘un.

It wasn’t just the characteristic “Boo” that keyed me in, I had my suspicions from the off that he was something other than alive. A closer look confirmed it: the bloke was glowing around the edges and nowhere near as opaque as he should be. There were icicles in his beard too, I noticed. In fact, his whole body seemed frozen through like an ice lolly. It was a warm day—far as I could see, I certainly couldn’t feel it—yet he was covered in an unseasonal frost that glued him to the pavement.

‘Fresh meat!’ he boomed, leering at me like a bodysnatcher.

I’m telling you, pal, this bloody day...


Being as I didn’t have much else going on in my diary, I decided I’d quite like to know who murdered me.

My starting point was the morgue. Yeah, I know, too much C.S.I. What do you want, it’s not like I investigated murders for a living. Not yet anyway.

I let myself into the St Pancras Mortuary without leaving my name at the front desk. I’d had enough of receptionists for one day, thank you very much. I had a feeling I’d be able to walk through the building’s walls to find the room I was looking for, but since I didn’t have a complete handle on my ghost powers just yet, I decided to follow the signs like a normal human being. The last thing I needed was to get lodged in the brickwork and stuck wailing helplessly at passers-by for the rest of my life. Well, unlife.

I arrived in a room with white tiled walls, gutters on the floor and polished metal sinks. I didn’t have a sense of smell anymore, but if I did, I’m certain I’d have sniffed disinfectant. The place gave me the willies, right down to my core. I shivered, which was daft, because I didn’t have any nerve endings. I suppose it must have been a phantom sensation (Jesus, I just heard myself). Anyway, regardless of the physics of it all, the room was hardly the thing I ought to have been trembling at. The thing I should have been having a tizz over was the great, fleshy mess scattered across the ceramic slab in the middle of the room. The mess that used to be my body, now laid out in four big pieces: two legs, the bottom half of my torso and the upper part too, complete with head.

It’s funny the things you notice when you’re having a literal out of body experience. Despite the fact that I was lying there in chunks of marbled fat and muscle—which you might imagine I’d find quite distracting—the thing that most caught my eye was a patch of fuzzy, dark hair at the base of my spine. Apparently, my whole adult life I’d been walking around with this thing. Why did no one tell me? Honestly, it looked like I was wearing a merkin down there.

The door swung open and a dumpy Indian woman in a blue, plastic apron entered the room, followed by a woman wearing a charcoal grey suit and a lanyard that identified her as Detective Sergeant Stronge. I instinctively ducked behind the mortuary slab as they came in, but I needn’t have bothered, they couldn’t see me. That got me thinking—me, invisible, in a room with a couple of unsuspecting ladies—maybe being a ghost wasn’t going to be such a downer after all. I shook my head. No, not my style. I might be the kind of bloke who forgets to declare some earnings here and there, but I’m no peeping Tom.

DS Stronge approached the slab and ran a wry over what was left of me. ‘I’d say the cause of death was pretty conclusive,’ she noted, her expression unblinking.

The coroner in the apron nodded. ‘What’s his story then? He get bladdered and take a tumble off the platform?’

‘Doesn’t look like it. Street CCTV has him walking into the station in a straight line.’

‘So, what are you thinking? Suicide?’

I suppose that was to be expected. Suicides on the Underground are so common nowadays that they use an automated “Sorry for the inconvenience, there’s a person under the train” announcement to warn commuters that their journeys are going to be held up. A sad commentary on the modern age if ever there was one.

‘Unlikely,’ Stronge replied, raking a hand through her jaw-level bob. ‘No history of depression or drug use.’ She picked up a clipboard from a nearby aluminium counter, scanned the front page and flipped over to the second. ‘See there?’ she said, jabbing a finger at something in my record. ‘Because of that we’re having to consider foul play.’

I tried to get behind her to take a look at what she was pointing at, but by the time I got there she’d flipped the page back and tossed the clipboard onto the counter

The coroner sucked some air through her teeth. ‘Witnesses?’

‘Unfortunately not. Middle of the work day – no one around.’

‘What about platform cameras? Anything there?’

‘Negative. Turns out the one lens pointing his way was on the blink.’

‘Typical. Any suspects then? Jilted girlfriend maybe?’

‘He’s married.’ replied Stronge, then corrected herself. ‘Was married.’

The coroner stroked her chin. ‘In that case I’ll lay money the wife offed him. It’s always the wife with these things.’

Stronge offered her a condescending smile, the kind a parent who finds her kid with a mouthful of Play-Doh might give. ‘We’re looking into it,’ she said, ‘but it doesn’t seem like he had any enemies. Far as we can tell, the guy was a real nobody.’

I won’t lie, I did not love hearing that.

DS Stronge and the coroner made some parting small-talk, then each took off their separate ways, leaving me alone with my thoughts (and corpse).

The moment they were gone I made a beeline for the clipboard. The page attached to the front had my name on it, along with a list of my identifying attributes: the birthmark on my left thigh, the scar on my foot I got from stepping on broken glass at Scout camp, a burn on my wrist, the regrettable tattoo just above my right nipple (a story for another time). It was all boilerplate stuff really – but I knew from what I’d earwigged that the real juice was on Page Two.

I reached across to flick to the next sheet, only my hand went straight through the countertop. I stared at the clipboard in frustration, at the tantalising PTO that begged me to flip to the following page and learn some clues about my killer. I tried turning the page again, but my hand passed through the clipboard like it was made of water. I was so angry I punched the wall, but I couldn’t even manage that. Son of a bitch. It’s true what they say: being dead will put a real crimp in your day.

I knew I could touch stuff though. Knew it. The back of my head was still ringing from the collision with that pillar box earlier, so it was obvious that me and the material world could still tango. I just had to act like a man of substance for once in my life (well, death). I concentrated hard on the back of my hand, which it turns out I didn’t know half as well as the old saying goes.

‘Get solid,’ I ordered it, like an impotent man screaming at his genitals.

I imagined it filling up with cement, then I imagined the cement setting to form a hard, statue hand, like the type I’d seen on Lord Cobden’s monument earlier.

Nothing changed. Or nothing much anyway.

My mitt looked just the same, but it felt more solid somehow. Denser. Heavy even. Reaching out, I dashed a finger across the top of the clipboard and the front page tore free, revealing the one underneath. I allowed myself a little jig. I was crushing being a ghost. Eat my dick, Bruce Willis.

I scanned the second page of the autopsy report. There was plenty to read under Wounds, but nothing under Fingerprints and bugger all under DNA. I arrived at a section marked Fibres. I was hoping for a hair sample maybe, something that might have fallen off the killer when they shoved me. According to the coroner’s notes though, the only item of note was a length of thread found clutched in my right hand that wasn’t a match for any of my garments. It must have come from the thing I grabbed right before I fell under the train. I read on. The thread was a sheep’s wool/polyester mix, red in colour.


Same colour as the scarf worn by the crazy lady who accosted me on the high street, right before I had my “accident.”

Seemed like I had a visit to make.


So, that was who knocked me off the twig: the nutbar at the magic shop with the bee in her bonnet about exorcists. Guess she must have decided my soul was worth less than the ones I was supposedly obliterating. As if she knew the first thing about the supernatural, selling fake guillotines to stage magicians.

I decided to drop in on her at her place of work, the magic shop in King’s Cross. They’ve renovated most of the area since that part of London went international, but there are still some unsanitised backstreets if you knew where to look. Streets that seem to go out of their way to avoid foot traffic.

It was down one such dingy, piss-smelling alleyway that I found the place I was looking for, a dusty little shop squatting between a jewellers that looked like something from the Fifties and a book store (London slang for “porn hole”). Hanging from the magic shop’s wall was a battered sign, upon which, written in peeling paint, was the word Legerdomain.

Clever clever.

I didn’t want the bell above the door to tip the owner I was coming, so I dodged the obvious entrance and Caspered through the shop-front like I was walking through a beaded curtain. It has to be said, there are some definite benefits to being a nonentity. No hunger, no more aches and pains, and that weird thing I had with my back that made it hard to tie my shoelaces sometimes? Gone.

I arrived inside. The shop bell tinkled despite the fact that I’d avoided the door—which was strange—but I paid it no mind.

The decor of the shop was liver-red: walls, ceiling and carpet. Glossy black shelves heaved under all kinds of kooky crap: crystal balls, juggling pins, coin tricks, parasols, a ceramic hand holding a fan of playing cards that looked normal enough. But I hadn’t come to shop for props. I’d come to bring my killer to justice, and there she was, sat behind the counter with her nose in a dog-eared magazine.

I launched myself at her. ‘Boo!’ I shouted, waving my hands around and giving her a big, fat dose of the old ooga-booga.

Much to my surprise, her arse stayed glued to her stool. She didn’t even flinch.

Annoyed, I walked over to a display of balls and cups, and—after a couple of failed attempts—managed to knock them flying from their countertop and bouncing across the floor.

Still she stayed schtum, as if things went jumping around her store for no reason all the time. Instead of freaking out, she simply hummed a ditty and carried on reading her magazine.

I was beginning to lose my rag. I found a shelf of creepy ventriloquist dummies and succeeded in plucking one from its shelf and “floating” it towards her.

‘Wooooooo!’ I moaned, using the trigger inside its back to work the dummy’s mouth. ‘Wooooooo!’ I repeated, when I got no response.

She huffed and calmly placed her magazine on her lap, then—

—‘Hello,’ she said, looking me straight in the eye.

I would have pissed myself if I had any. The dummy went flying as I parted from the floor by a good couple of inches. Pretty shameful behaviour on my part. If I had any ghost friends at this point, I’m sure  I’d never have lived it down.

The lady reached under the counter and came up with a candle. She placed it on the counter and lit its wick with a match. It immediately gave off this weird, purple vapour, which filled the shop from top to bottom. I was just about to ask her what she was playing at, when from out of the corner of my eye, I caught my reflection in the metallic surface of a guillotine blade. There I was, plain to see. Large as life, or something like it.

‘So you’re the one messing up my shop?’ she said, peering over her spectacles. ‘What happened to you then?’

Being as she clearly didn’t give one toss that I was an apparition, I cut to the chase. ‘As if you didn’t know!’ I told her. ‘You’re the one who pushed me under the train!’

‘What are you babbling about?’ she replied. ‘I didn’t push anyone under anything.’

‘Oh yeah? Then explain how a thread on my dead body is a perfect match for your scarf?’

I jabbed a finger at her. There it was, hard evidence, wrapped around her neck still. The audacity of this woman. As if wearing a scarf indoors wasn’t bad enough.

Her forehead became a concertina. ‘I don’t know what faulty logic led you here, but I’m a magician, not a murderer.’

‘Sorry to break it to you, love, but working in a magic shop doesn’t make you Gandalf the bleedin’ Grey.’

She sighed. ‘That’s the over-the-counter stuff. It’s what I keep under the counter that makes me a magician.’

She pointed to the candle that had somehow made me visible to her naked eye.

‘Okay, I’ll bite,’ I said, ‘so you’re a real-life sorceress? Does that give you the right to go around killing people?’

‘For the last time, I’m not a killer.’

‘You’ve got motive up to your eyeballs, sweetheart – cornering me on the street and making threats on my life.’

‘I did no such thing. I don’t approve of what you do and I’m not afraid to say so, but I came to you yesterday to dissuade you, not to murder you.’ I folded my arms and let her go on. ‘I make it my business to oversee the Uncanny goings-on in this borough, and after I’d learned you were an exorcist, I felt the need to confront you about your shoddy business practices.’

‘A likely story.’

‘In any case,’ she sighed, ‘if I really wanted you dead, why would I accost you in broad daylight?’

She had a point there. If she really wanted to top me, why the warning? What she was telling me was beginning to sound annoyingly like the truth.

I threw up my hands, causing purple smoke to waft about the room. ‘Well, if you’re not the one who killed me, who is?’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘Isn’t it usually the wife with these things?’

I shook my head, exasperated. ‘Is that really the best you can do?’

‘I’m a magician, not a fortune teller,’ she replied with a shrug. ‘But I can tell you this much: if you’re hoping to bring your killer to justice before you flutter off to heaven, you’d better keep your head down.’

I laughed. ‘What do I have to be worried about? I’m already dead.’

‘There are powers in this world that can affect even the departed,’ she replied. ‘You of all people should know that.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘You owe a great debt, Jake Fletcher. All of those souls you thought you were sending to the Great Beyond are gone now, destroyed by your ignorance, and one of these days you’ll be asked to account for them. For each and every one of them. If I were you, I’d make sure I laid low and did all the good I could before that day came.’

As if I didn’t have enough on my plate. She was right though. I’d been reckless, fumbling around in the dark, making it up as I went along. I thought I was being kind. I thought I was helping those spirits cross over gracefully, but I’d bleached them away like grease stains.

It was too much. Too much to take in. Too much to accept.

I turned to leave, but before I could, the woman caught the sorry expression I was wearing.

‘Look after yourself, Jake,’ I heard her say over my shoulder.

I turned back. ‘I just realised, I never asked you your name.’

She swished her hands and traced a line through the candle’s purple haze, spelling out the words MADAME OLENA.

I regarded her signature. ‘Bit of a mouthful,’ I told her, forcing a smile. ‘I reckon I’m gonna call you... Jazz Hands.’

I left through the front door this time.


It didn’t take me long to finger my next suspect. Vic Lords. Had to be. I got so hung up on that business with the red thread that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Vic Lords. A shady businessman with underworld dealings and a really good reason to want me dead. Those pics I saw on his monitor were enough to put him in jail for a long time. Of course he’d be the one to bump me under a train, or one of his cronies anyway.

Vic could wait though. He wasn’t going anywhere, and besides, I had a grieving wife at home. Sarah and me might have been on a bit of a downslope, but you don’t live with another person for as long as we had without building up a certain… well, dependency might be too strong a word for it… let’s say, familiarity.

Whatever that purple smoke was about, its effect wore off the moment I left Jazz Hands’ magic shop. I made my way back invisibly to Tufnell Park via King’s Cross Station. I walked across the concourse on the way to the Underground entrance, past all the rush hour commuters, past platform 9 & ¾, the tourist attraction where Harry Potter fans could pose with a trolley embedded in a brick wall. If you ever want to see what human misery looks like, take a gander at the poor buggers they make stand next to that thing: the ones in the red waistcoats. The minimum wage teenagers they pay to hold the end of the tourists’ big woolly scarves, always out of frame, all to give the impression that some Potter nut’s neckwear is flowing gracefully behind them as they swan off to Hogwarts.

But then I saw something even more miserable than that. A group of apparitions, thirty of them at least, floating towards me, holding hands like a string of paper men cut by a child. As they got closer I saw that they were surrounded by a flickering orange aura. I stood, rooted to the spot, as they drew closer still. I could see now that the aura was more than just a light show, it was fire. The apparitions were wreathed by flames and burnt all over, no hair, no eyebrows, their features melted and raw. They looked like the ghosts of witches set on fire for practicing black magic, only these were no cackling hags, just dead human beings caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The apparitions whimpered like lost children. ‘Help us,’ they begged.

The fire.

The one that had ripped through King’s Cross station, back in ‘87. The one sparked by a lit match, tossed down the side of an escalator, back when the contraptions were made of wood.

‘Please, help us,’ wailed the ghosts, their pitiful voices rising in pitch.

I ran.

I’m not proud of it, but I ran as fast as my legs would carry me.


I arrived back at my flat so lost in thought that I could hardly remember what I was doing there. Matter of fact, I was so distracted, I even went for my house key, as if I needed a bit of metal in my pocket to go places anymore.

I phantomed through the front door and headed for the lounge. I heard the crying before I got there. Man, she was really howling. Poor Sarah, this had to be hard on her. I’d been so preoccupied with my own stuff that I’d hardly spared a thought for her. How was I going to make her feel better? There had to be some way I could let her know I was okay without freaking her out.

I crept closer to the lounge. She was crying still, at least… was that crying? Was that crying or was that something else? I rounded the door jamb. There she was, sat on the couch, head thrown back and whooping like a nutter.

She wasn’t crying, she was laughing!

Laughing at an episode of Two Broke Girls.

Fucking. Two. Broke. Girls.

The widow was not in black. Instead she was dressed in jeans, and halfway through a bottle of Rioja that had stained the skin red either side of her lips, leaving her with a creepy Joker smile. I was beginning to get the distinct impression that my death had not been the bombshell I’d suspected it might be.

The doorbell rang.

Sarah shot to her feet and ran for it, passing through me as if I wasn’t there (a metaphor if ever there was one). She flung open the front door without checking the peephole. Damon was there. Father Damon O’Meara, my old partner, in case you forgot.

‘Sarah,’ he said, in his gravelly Irish tongue.

He opened his arms and she went in for a hug. Wanna know how dumb I am? For about ten seconds I had it in my head that he’d shown up to offer his commiserations. My old colleague, showing a bit of professional respect, checking in on the grieving widow.

Then their mouths locked.

Steady on, I thought. That’s a bit much. There’s consoling, then there’s downright disrespect.

Without coming up for air, he closed the door behind him with his toe and pushed Sarah against the wall of the hallway. They kissed greedily, breathless and hungry, hands roaming all over. It was the kind of passion me and Sarah hadn’t shared since our college days, if at all.

I covered my eyes but my hand was transparent. All I could do was stand there watching my wife suck face with one of my least favourite people, and thinking, “Jesus Christ, it’s just as well I am dead, because I’ve got nothing much to live for now.”

Sarah grabbed the hair at the nape of Damon’s neck and peeled his face from hers. ‘How long?’ she asked.

‘Until what?’

‘Until we can stop hiding.’

Damon tried to avoid the question by going in for another kiss, but she turned away at the last second. ‘Not long,’ he replied, frustrated. ‘We just have to give it a bit more time before we go public. We don’t want people to start talking.’

Oh, don’t you, Damon? What’s the matter, worried it might seem a bit insensitive, hooking up with a freshly-minted widow before her dead hubby’s even in the ground?

Only that wasn’t the half of it.

Damon took of his coat.

Underneath was a red, woollen scarf.

I was so shocked I fell through the floor and landed in the flat below.


Tempting as it was to visit a shitstorm on my murdering widow, I decided Sarah could wait. The person I really wanted words with was the guy who actually pushed me under that train. I just had to wait for him to stop boning my wife first, that’s all.

After a spirited, and frankly eye-watering, bout of lovemaking, Damon snuck out of my flat like a thief in the night. I followed him at a distance as he made his way home, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. After an hour-long journey, he arrived in Stoke Newington, a well-to-do neighbourhood in Hackney, home to Guardian readers and trust fund kids.

On foot now, he crossed the road and hung a right to take a shortcut through Abney Park Cemetery. Toppling monuments lay scattered around, rubbed smooth by time and festooned with ivy. A London fog hugged the ground, curling about Damon’s ankles as he weaved a path between grave plots. It was the perfect place for a showdown.

They say the best revenge is to live a good life, but seeing as that wasn’t an option anymore, I thought I’d just cave Damon’s skull in with something heavy.

Without making a sound, I found a loose piece of broken-off gravestone, hefted it over my head and padded towards him. I was just about to bring it down on him when he stopped suddenly and turned around.

‘I know you’re there, Jake.’ he said.

The jolt to my concentration caused the chunk of rock I was carrying to pass through my hands and hit the earth below with a dull thud.

He laughed. ‘Did you forget you’re not the only one with The Sight?’

Stupidly, I had. ‘How long have you been watching?’ I asked.

‘Since back at Sarah’s place,’ he said, grinning like a split watermelon. ‘You’re a bit of a perv, ain’tcha, my lad? Peeping on the two of us going at it hammer and tongs.’ He gave me a wink that made me want to slap his face off.

 Like I say, for a believer, Damon’s got a pretty selective understanding of the bible and its teachings. He has a tendency to run with the bits he enjoys (the vengeance and destruction stuff) and discard the passages he doesn't (killing, coveting, basically everything else). The guy really was a perfect shit.

‘Why d’you do it, Damon? What did you have to kill me for?’

I figured for a religious man, Father O’Meara was well overdue a confession.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ he replied. ‘Sarah wanted shot of you. Had done for years. You think she likes living in that pokey flat, cut off from her da’s money and spending everything she makes supporting her no-good husband?’

‘If she wanted a divorce so badly, why didn’t she just say so?’

‘And risk ya taking half the money she has?’ he said. ‘Besides, who has the time for all that?’

Jesus, I knew Sarah was ruthless, but this was taking it to a whole new level. Had she really talked Damon into offing me just to spare herself some admin? I guess in her mind it was no big deal. I'd been dead to her for years, what was the harm in making it official? But no, there was more to it than that: another of those deadly sins... pride.

‘You were an embarrassment to her, man,’ Damon went on. ‘She only kept you around as long as she did because she didn’t want to admit defeat to her old folks. She married the rebel to piss them off, with your black magic and your Iron Maiden ting. Ya think she’d have bothered with ya if she knew you’d still be bollocksing about with the stuff as a grown man?’

I snorted. ‘That’s fucking rich. All she’s done is jump ship from one exorcist to another. How long do you think she’s gonna stick with you, Damo?’

He gave me that rictus smile again. ‘Look at me,’ he said, fingering his white collar. ‘I’m respectable. Besides, ya think I’m going to piss away the rest of my life busting ghosts for a few quid an hour? You were always short-sighted, Jake. Clearances are only one of the jobs I do for Vic.’

He went on to describe the rest of his business dealings with our mutual benefactor: the gambling, the sex trafficking, even some veiled allusions to the stuff on Vic’s computer that I wasn’t supposed to see. The bloke was up to his nuts in sleaze. No wonder he could afford to live in this part of town.

‘Unlike you, I’m a provider,’ he said. ‘Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get away to me bed. I’m all tuckered out from banging on your wife.’

I made a lunge for him but passed right through the other side and fell flat on my face.

He screamed with laughter, sending a blackbird rocketing from its perch in a tree above. ‘Look at yourself, man, yer a fecking loser,’ he howled. ‘Yer nothing, fella. Yer shit on me shoe.’

He reached inside his jacket and brought out a bundle of sage. ‘Never go anywhere without the tools of the trade,’ he said, then took to it with his lighter and began wafting the smouldering stems about.

He was using a technique called smudging, an exorcist’s opening salvo against an Uncanny entity. Smudging was a purifying ritual used to cleanse the material plane of any spectral contamination. And it was working.

I started to feel dizzy—all woolly in the head—and I looked down to see my body boiling away. Evaporating to nothing. He was bleaching me like a grease spot, just like I’d done to the kids at that birthday party. Just like I’d done to a hundred other lost souls, and a hundred before that.

‘Don’t take it personally,’ Damon said as he sterilised my spirit. ‘I’m just sending you home a wee a bit before time.’

He tossed the sage and moved on to the second stage of the ritual. Out came the holy water, filched fresh from the font. He uncorked the bottle with his teeth and began whipping Jesus juice at me left and right, burning holes right through me.

‘Begone, heathen!’ he screamed, cackling like a devil. ‘I cast ye out!’

The bloke was having the time of his life. And look, I get it, busting does feel good (side note: if a Ghostbuster dies in the line of duty, is it up to his colleagues to bust him? It’s a real poser that one, professionally and ethically).

There was nothing I could do to stop what Damon was doing to me. I could feel my soul being torn apart, ripped to shreds and sent off to oblivion. I was about to die for the second time in as many days. I collapsed to my knees, weak as piss. I tried to force myself up again, and found a rock resting on the ground beside my hand.

A weapon.

Something I could fight back with. I tried to wrap my hand around it but my fingers passed clean through. I didn’t have the strength to pick it up. To make myself solid. I was tissue now, circling the toilet bowl, heading for the U-bend

‘Give it up, fella,’ roared Damon. ‘Yer totally banjaxed!’

I was about ready to give up, when a splinter of moonlight caught the crucifix dangling around Damon’s neck. His talisman. His protection against the forces that would do him harm.

That was it!

A talisman. If I could find one of my own to focus on—something I truly believed in—maybe I could resist the effect Damon was having on me. There was only one problem: in order to do that I’d need to submit to a higher power, and like I’ve been saying from the start, me and the Big Man have never much jived. There was no getting around that. Faith isn’t something you can fake: you either believe in a thing utterly, or you don’t at all.

But there’s more than one kind of higher power.

Seizing on an idea, I loosened my tie and dug around under my collar.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Damon, mocking my futile effort.

‘Banishing evil,’ I told him, and pulled out my talisman.

Eddie the Head.

A pewter pendant of Iron Maiden’s grinning, skull-faced mascot, bought at the merch table of their ‘98 Brixton Academy gig.

My talisman.

And look, I’m aware of the irony of using a heavy metal icon to fight the forces of darkness, but what can I say? Here was a thing I could believe in utterly. Because Maiden shred.

There was more to it than that though. Sure, the mighty power of Bruce Dickinson and his cohorts had given me focus, but what really saved me was a belief in myself. It had been too long since I’d let that guy get a look-in. Living with Sarah had left me with a pretty low opinion of myself: as a provider, as a man, as a human being even. Let a person run you down day in, day out, and your confidence is bound to take a knock. Since discovering she’d orchestrated my murder though, I was suddenly caring a lot less about Sarah’s opinion of me. So yeah, I think I might have tapped into myself as a higher power. I was my own talisman. Yeah, it’s some hokey, New Age shit, but there it is.

Whatever I did, it worked like a charm. Ever hear of the three-fold law? It’s a magical principle which states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, it’ll be returned to them three times. Well, Damon had thrown some pretty nasty juju my way, and because of that, he was about to get a triple dose in return.

The blowback hit him so hard that he took off from the ground, ragdolled through the air, an angry tangle of limbs, and slammed into a gravestone hard enough to break it in two. Pow! Have some of that, sunshine! The dust settled and I went over to check on him. He was alive, but out for the count. I stared at his ugly mug. Even unconscious, he still had that hateful look on his face, like the world was his enemy. How the hell did he end up that way? What was going on inside of that fat head of his?

I decided I’d take a look.


At 3:45am, “Father” Damon O’Meara walked into Kentish Town police station and turned himself over to the authorities. He insisted on speaking to DS Stronge, the officer overseeing my case. She came into the station especially to hear his story.

As well as handing over a scarf that matched the fibre evidence found on my body, Damon freely gave a taped confession that detailed the exact manner in which he’d been instrumental in my murder, along with his accomplice, my ex-wife, Sarah Godfrey. Stronge could hardly believe her luck. There it was, all tied up with a neat little bow on top.

‘Can you believe it?’ she was heard to ask a colleague after making the arrest. ‘It was the wife after all.’

Damon was detained and taken into custody. He entered his holding cell without putting up a fight. Didn’t so much as a flinch.

Not until I let him anyway.

You see, I’d been working him like a puppet since back in the cemetery. Spiritual possession; you’ve heard of it I’m sure. The words he’d been speaking into a tape recorder the last couple of hours, all mine. Of course, he recanted them the moment I left his body and breezed through the bars of his cell to freedom, but it was too late for that. It didn’t matter how much he protested, how much he screamed, the cops had everything they needed to put Damon away for a very long time.

Exiting the station meant heading up from the basement where the cells were, so I doubled back and made for the ground floor. I was just about to hit the stairwell when I heard a ping and I turned to see a nearby lift door slide open. From inside I was treated to a wall-to-wall gold interior and the familiar strains of Iron Maiden – an invitation if ever there was one. This was it. My way back to the afterlife. I’d always imagined a luminous pillar shining from the heavens like God’s own spotlight, but apparently the Man Upstairs had a real thing for lifts.

Well, this was it. I’d solved my murder and it looked like I was being given another chance to cross over. I stepped into the lift and the doors closed behind me. The selection panel only had the one button. I went to press is but hesitated, my finger hovering over it just like it had the doorbell of the Mitchell House before I died.

I thought of myself sat across a desk from the Big Man, called to account for my actions on Earth. What was I going to say in my defence? That I hadn’t meant to scrub all those souls from existence? That I hadn’t known I was doing wrong? Was ignorance a good enough excuse to buy my way into the Good Place? I doubted it, I really did. No, I reckoned I had a lot of work to do to balance out my mistakes. To get all that red out of my ledger. But what could I do? I was a dead man. An exorcist who wound up a ghost. A walking punchline.

I stood in the lift a good, long while, wondering how a man like me might do some good in this world, and then it dawned on me—

I was still thinking of myself.

What if, instead of worrying about my eternal soul, I worried about someone else’s for a change? People die every day, and too many of those deaths ain’t the natural kind. There had to be millions of lost spirits wandering this plane, scared and lonely, desperate to find their way home. I’d seen them, the ghosts of the dead, trapped where they didn’t belong. I’d seen them in King’s Cross Station when they called to me, begging for my help. I’d seen them on the streets, dead from hypothermia. What about the rest? The suicides, the overdoses, the murder victims. Who was looking after their welfare? Who was helping them find the light?

Then a thought, hot and sharp—

What about me?

I’d found my light. I’d found my stairway to heaven… well, elevator. I was standing in the thing. What if I could do for others what I’d already done for myself? Bring them peace. Bring them justice. Put their murderers behind bars. I don’t know, kind of like a... ghost detective. Yeah, I liked the sound of that. I liked the sound of that a lot.

I took the stairs out of the station. The regular stairs.

The End.

Fresh Hell


It was half past midnight when the screaming started.

It came from the east bank of Regent’s Canal, not far from Camden Lock. The person who called it in said they heard a commotion outside their narrow boat and pulled back a curtain to find a figure running along the towpath, screeching at the top of their lungs. The witness said they couldn’t understand why the screamer was making such a racket, not until they slammed their palm against the boat’s porthole and painted it with a big, red handprint.

The victim didn’t have any skin.

They’d been flayed alive from head to toe, peeled like a prawn, yet somehow they still had it in them to be running barefoot—literally barefoot—alongside the canal.

The victim ran some more after that, but didn’t make it much farther before they took a tumble over the bank and toppled face-first into the water. It probably won’t shock you to learn that they were pronounced dead on arrival.

When I picked up the message from DCI Stronge that the Marine Policing Unit had fished a skinned corpse out of the drink, I took an interest right away. Things like that—bizarre, gruesome murders—they’re right in my wheelhouse. All my life I’ve had a preoccupation with the macabre: the creatures in the shadows, the lurkers beneath the floorboards, the monsters in the closet. Believe it or not, back in a past life I used to be an exorcist (although obviously I’d prefer if you did take my word for it, otherwise this story is going to be a really tough sell).

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Jake Fletcher. I’m six-feet tall, I fill out a suit real nice and I’ve been told by more than one woman that I have—and I quote—“nice teeth.” Oh, and I’m dead. Dead as a doornail.

Now, don’t start giving me any of that, “Ghosts aren’t real, Jake”, bollocks, alright? You’re just going to have to go with me on this. I’m dead, ghosts are kosher, and Two Broke Girls is the nadir of human accomplishment. These are the facts. Deal with them.

Where was I again? Oh, right, me being an ex-exorcist…

You’re probably wondering how I wound up being one of those in the first place, right? I mean, it’s not exactly your run of the mill, garden variety profession. My school careers advisor had me pegged as a newspaper reporter or an English teacher, but I guess I was always destined to work with the dead. I was born with The Sight, you see, a special sensitivity to the Uncanny. No one knows how it works exactly—whether it’s a sixth sense, an overactive pineal gland, or just plain bad luck—but I have an ability to see the spirits of the dead. Ghosts, phantoms, spectres, whatever you want to call them, I can see the lot, and more besides. If I was to show you some of the “besides” that I’ve seen, you’d lock yourself in your house and soil yourself for seven days straight. It made for a challenging childhood—Jesus, it did—but it set me up just right for a career evicting spooks.

I spent a good few years doing the exorcist thing: screaming bible passages, waving burning sage about, cleansing haunted properties. That was until I died and became a spook myself. Yeah, I’m not blind to the irony. And don’t worry, I’m not the bad kind of ghost who makes the walls bleed and writes threatening messages in the condensation on your bathroom mirror. Honestly, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose, nor can I think of a single good reason for doing so.

Anyway, since I croaked, I’ve taken a bit of a U-turn on the whole “ghost rights” thing. Matter of fact, I’ve become something of an undead activist. Rights not rites, that’s what I say. Because I learned the truth. The real truth about the consequences of what I was doing as an exorcist. But we’ll get back to that later.

So… ghosts. Most of them end up marooned on the physical plane because they died a traumatic death and need closure to move on. Not me. I solved my murder – had my chance at the afterlife and passed it up. Well, that’s not entirely true. The truth is, I did a runner from the pearly gates. I didn’t feel I was ready to face the Big Man at that juncture. Not after the life I’d led. Not after the things I’d done. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be too quick to hand me a gold card to the exec lounge, at least until I’d cancelled out the stuff I’d been up to while I was still alive. Of course, I hadn’t known then that I was up to no good, but something told me ignorance wasn’t going to earn me a pass with Him Upstairs.

So, I found my way back here, back to the physical realm, back to London. Now I live somewhere between the two worlds, tucked in the middle and out of sight, like a g-string up an arse crack. I move invisibly in this realm, a rumour drifting through a world of facts. Tell you what, let’s stick with that last one—the rumour/facts line—it’s got a bit more poetry to it than the arse crack thing.

So, you probably want to know how I wound up dead in the first place, right? Well, you know that expression, “Die young and leave a good-looking corpse”? I managed to get the “young” part right. The “good-looking corpse” part, that’s a whole other story. The quick version: I succeeded in pissing off the wrong person and ended up cut into four chunks, so... not exactly good-looking. Unless a horribly mashed up corpse gets your motor running, in which case, hey,  I won’t judge you (actually, what am I talking about? Of course I will, that’s messed up).

Anyway, my death’s a story for another time – we’ve already got one sliced-up corpse bobbing in a canal, so let’s not muddy the waters with another. The reason I mention it is to remind you that, as a bona-fide “goner,” I don’t have a body. Most of the time I do just fine without one, but seeing as I was about to meet with the police and they wouldn’t be able to see me in my spook state, something needed doing. If I wanted to talk with DCI Stronge, I was going to have to make a quick stop-off.


I found him sat in the booth of a late-night bar with his arm around a woman. She was presenting enough chest to be charged with indecent exposure. He was ordering table service. Of course he was, he’d always been a wanker. His name was Mark Ryan and I’d known him since we were eleven years old. Since we were at school together. Since he left me with a scar that never healed.

Mark and me didn’t run in the same circles back then. His circle was all sports trophies and Duke of Edinburgh Awards and hand jobs behind the bike sheds, while mine—thanks to him—was the kind of circle Dante wrote about. Fucking Mark Ryan. No matter what I did to avoid the guy, he’d always find a way to seek me out and give me shit: barging me into my locker, kicking footballs at me, tripping me over in the corridor. Boosting his ego at my expense. I tell you, Mark Ryan was the first person to really make my life hell, and I’ve been closer to the place than most.

One time, Mark bought a pair of handcuffs into Science class, and when the teacher went out of the room to fetch some lab equipment, he manacled me to a radiator. I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t sound so bad, right? There are people who pay good money for that kind of treatment. Thing is, Mark wasn’t in it for the kink, he just wanted to hurt someone. The first thing he did was over-ratchet my cuff, making it too tight, cutting off the circulation to my hand. But that wasn’t what really hurt. The real hurt came when the heat from the radiator—which was set to warm a large room in the coldest part of winter—conducted through the metal cuff and into the bracelet I was wearing. That was a new kind of pain. Naturally, Mark and his crew did nothing to help me – just stood back and laughed like jackals, waggling the key at me as I thrashed around, howling in agony.

Even as a ghost, I still wear a scar on my wrist.

So yeah, Mark Ryan’s not exactly top of my friends list, which is why I had zero qualms about making him my designated meat puppet; the physical form I use whenever I need to pass for living. At least this way he serves a useful function in life. Think of him as my toupee, except instead of hiding a bald spot, he hides the fact that I don’t have a blood and guts body.

I looked over to Mark’s booth and saw him peck his side-piece on the cheek.

‘Back in a minute,’ he said. ‘Just going to siphon the python.’

He squeezed past the girl and headed to the Gents for a slash. Meanwhile, I breezed by the rest of the bar’s punters unseen and phased through the bathroom wall to follow Mark inside.

When I got there, I found him stood at a urinal, phone in one hand, cock in the other. In case you were wondering, no, his downstairs department is anything to write home about. The guy might act like a swinging dick, but he has a knob like an outie belly button.

I sidled up and prepared to stake a pitch in Mark’s body. Believe me when I tell you that it’s no mean feat, possessing someone. It took me a long time to get the knack of that trick. For a while there I was just jumping into people and going arse over tit through the other side as they stood there oblivious. Meat is a very tricky medium. Most ghosts never get a handle on it to be honest, but eventually I figured out a way. If you asked me how, I’d tell you that my work as an exorcist gave me a qualified understanding of ghosts and their unique metaphysical properties. I’d be shitting you though. All I know for certain is that after a lot of trial and error, I finally sussed out how to inhabit the living. Well, at least for a little while. An hour, two at most, and a living body rejects me like an unwanted kidney. That’s just the way things are, don’t ask me to explain the science of it.

I invisibly manoeuvred behind Mark and smiled. It’s funny, he used to get a big kick out of telling the kids at school that I was a “gay boy”, but only one of us was getting a man inside of him that night.

I stepped into Mark’s body and felt him jolt and recoil. Someone had flushed the toilet on his nice, hot shower, and he wasn’t liking it one bit.

He went into spasms, fighting me, doing what he could to resist my intrusion. He needn’t have bothered. A couple of seconds more and I was all moved in, boxes unpacked and making myself good and comfy.

Mark’s body was mine. I sniffed the air and sighed. It smelled like piss and urinal cake, but the simple act of breathing was reward enough. I’m telling you, it’s the little things you miss when you don’t have a body.

I zipped Mark up, washed his hands—a habit of mine, not his—and checked my reflection in the mirror above the bathroom sink. He was a handsome bastard, I’ll give him that; a swimmer’s chest and the kind of face that gets you places in life. Too bad for him that his body was a timeshare property.

I headed through the bathroom door and back to the bar. I saw Mark’s bit of fluff there, tucked up in her booth, sipping something tall and pink. Now, a more unscrupulous ghost might, when such an opportunity was presented to them, use Mark’s body to take his chesty young bint to pleasure town. Well, not me. I may, in many ways, be a bit of a bastard, but I’m not an utter bastard.

I strolled by her and made for the exit.

‘Where are you going?’ she screeched.

‘Out,’ I told her, and carried on walking.

Mark was going to have some explaining to do after I was done with him, that was sure. He wouldn’t have much info to go on though. He has no recollection of what I get up to while I’m wearing him, I make sure of that. All he has is guesswork. Did he have too much to drink? Did he take a spill, knock his head and black out? Did the light from a full moon turn him into a werewolf? (those are real by the way, plus vampires, trolls and witches. No such thing as mermaids though. Mermaids are for chumps).

And look, in case you're left with some lingering wisp of sympathy for poor old Mark—some moulded by a bad upbringing guff—you should know this: on top of being a bully, a womaniser, and an all-round subhuman piece of shit, Mark Ryan is a hedge fund manager.


So, I headed for the canal to meet DCI Stronge, my conscience clean and my spirit cosy inside of my meat puppet. A dead woman needed my help. A dead woman with a curious lack of skin.


I call myself a P.I.

The “P” can stand for “Private” or “Paranormal”, that’s up to you. Here’s the main thing you need to know: I’m basically Magnum in that old TV show, except I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of his shirts, and I mean that literally (full disclosure: I did attempt the moustache once but ended up looking like the type of bloke who hangs around school playgrounds. That ‘tache was sparse).

As a P.I., I help tortured spirits find peace by solving the mystery of their untimely ends. Why do I do it? Well, I figure if I do enough good deeds in the time that I have left on Earth, I’ll earn a spot in the Good Place. Thing is, right now I’m not so sure I’m on the guest list. Matter of fact, I’m more than pretty sure I’m not. If the Man Upstairs has a shit list, I expect I rank pretty high on the thing. Like I said before, I’ll come back to that. It’s a whole saga.

For now, let’s get back to the task at hand.

Wearing Mark’s body, I arrived at the crime scene at a little after one in the morning. The old bill had set up a secure perimeter around the canal, guarded by a couple of uniforms in reflective jackets and pointy hats. I flashed my ID at the constables and they nodded and let me duck the crime scene tape.

I made a beeline for Detective Chief Inspector Stronge, who was heading up the investigation. Kat, as she occasionally lets me call her, is a hell of an officer. A no-nonsense, workhorse of a woman with a sharp mind and the cheekbones to match. She’s also the detective responsible for locking up my killer—with a little help from yours truly—but again, that’s a story for another time.

Since putting my murderer behind bars, Stronge’s been promoted to the rank of DCI and the pair of us have struck up a professional friendship. Of course, she has no idea that I’m a ghost inhabiting another man’s body, or that I’m the same guy whose murder she solved five years ago. Reckon I’ll keep that to myself for a bit. Maybe save it for our third date.

I work for DCI Stronge as a “psychic consultant”. She took me for a piss-taker when we first met, but it didn’t take me long to prove my value. Turns out I have an eerie knack for solving murders – finding clues, unearthing motives, fingering suspects (not literally). Of course, these things are easy to come by when you have the luxury of consulting the victim’s ghost. Eighty percent of the victims I talk to already know who it was that killed them. I mean, it’s usually someone they know. A friend. A spurned lover. A business associate. A rival. A lot of the time I just have to ask, Who did it? then find the best way to steer the law at them.

I saw Stronge across the way, illuminated by a tripod floodlight. She was dressed in a black quilted jacket and an entirely sensible pair of trousers. A huddle of forensics officers in boiler suits crowded around her, making her look like a black sheep among a flock of white.

I met Stronge in the doorway of an evidence tent, which had been set up to conceal the vic’s dead body.

‘Morning,’ I said, and handed her a coffee I’d picked up on the way.

She gave it a sniff. ‘It’s not that castrated, decaff shit, is it?’

‘Nope. Cup of lightning, just the way you like it.’

She took a sip and nodded a thank you. ‘I was starting to think you weren’t going to show.’

I widened my eyes theatrically. ‘And miss all this?’

The faintest glimpse of a smile quirked her lips. God, I loved that smile. It was the hard-won type, the kind you had to chisel from stone.

She coughed and the smile was gone. ‘Let’s get to work.’

She nodded to the forensics officer inside the tent, who bent down and peeled back a tarp.

There it was, the corpse, female and naked—extremely naked—not even wearing her birthday suit. The woman’s dermis had been expertly removed, stripped from the body like the skin from a rabbit. The blood on her exposed muscles shone slick and glossy under the LEDs of the surrounding lamps. It looked as though she’d been hung upside down and dipped in blood, like tallow into red wax.

‘Jesus,’ I muttered. ‘She’s going to need a hell of a dermatologist.’

Call me callous if you like, but someone had to let the air out of the room.

‘Any news to share yet?’ I asked.

Stronge shook her head. ‘Early days. She has no ID on her, well, no anything on her.’

‘She have her teeth still?’

‘Yeah, but IDing her dentals is going to take time, and there’s no saying we’ll get anything anyway.’ Stronge raked a hand through her bob. ‘Well, what do you make of it?’

‘Not sure yet. I’m going to need to do my thing – the ‘ol psychic bit, just me and the body.’ I bent down to examine the corpse. ‘Alone.’

A second plainclothes officer barged into the frame wearing a thick camel overcoat. ‘Oh, you’d love that, wouldn’t you?’ he barked, spittle flying.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet DI Maddox, Detective Stronge’s partner and a royal pain in my dead arse. While his colleague is something of a paranormal sceptic, Maddox is a straight up heretic.

‘Why don’t you fuck off home and play with your ouija board?’ he inquired.

I refused to meet his eye, choosing instead to stare at the top of his head, which was bald and shiny like an ice rink for fleas.

‘Mr Fletcher is here under my invitation,’ Stronge told him.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he asked her. ‘Why do you keep entertaining this con artist? You know people back at the nick take the piss?’

Stronge shot him a look that could melt steel beams. ‘I’m the lead on this case, Maddox. If you don’t like it, I suggest you take it up with the Super.’

Maddox went to say something but thought better of it. He turned to me. ‘Five minutes,’ he growled, ‘then you can piss off to the nearest graveyard and get your rocks off there.’

‘I will, DI Maddox, your Great Granny’s expecting me.’

He took a step at me, only for Stronge to move in front of him. ‘Five minutes, okay?’ she said.

Maddox stomped away, leaving me and Stronge alone.

‘Do you have to?’ she asked.

‘I’m afraid so, Detective.’

A twitch of a smile as she shook her head and sighed. ‘You’d better come back with something good for me.’

Stronge left, closing the flap of the tent behind her and retreating to a respectable distance. Only after the scene was clear did I turn to the presence that had been watching me since I’d arrived.

A ghost.

The phantom spirit of the body dredged from the canal.

She looked a lot better with her skin on: waif-thin and top-heavy, with one of those faces that looked like it was cut from something rare and expensive. She had husky-blue eyes, a beauty spot right where it should be, and perfect, Cupid’s bow lips. Her glowing, blonde hair cast a halo about her head, making her look less like a ghost than an angel. The woman was stunning. Catwalk quality.

‘Hello,’ I said, letting her know I could see her but trying not to letch. ‘My name’s Jake. Jake Fletcher.’

‘You’re like me, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘Inside.’

She could see through my meat suit to the man within. Us ghosts can do that.

‘That’s right,’ I replied. ‘I’m here to help.’

‘I’m dead,’ she replied in her perfect, cut-glass voice. ‘How are you going to help a dead person?’

I get that a lot.

‘I can help you get to the next place,’ I explained. ‘That’s what I do.’

‘The next place?’

‘Take it from me, you don’t want to get stuck down here forever. No, there’s somewhere else you’re meant to be, and it’s my job to get you there. But first I need know what happened to you.’

I had five minutes to get what I needed, and time was running out.

Her face wrinkled and two perfect rivers of tears raced down her cheeks. ‘Oh God, I’m really dead, aren’t I? How can I be dead?’

‘Look, I know it’s hard but you have to tell me what happened. I can only help you pass over if you let me know who did this.’

‘I don’t know!’ she said between sobs. ‘He was wearing a mask. One of those… what do you call those things... the ski masks…?’

‘Like Jason?’

‘No, that’s a hockey mask!’

‘Oh, you mean like a balaclava.’

‘Yes. A balaclava.’

‘What else can you tell me? Anything at all, it doesn’t matter how small.’

She nodded and got a hold of herself. ‘Sorry, I’m just a bit, you know…’

‘Hey, I understand, believe me. You’ve just been murdered, that sort of thing can spin you out a bit. But you have to tell me what you remember. Come on, you can do this.’

She nodded and pushed away her tears. ‘He came at me from behind. He had a rag. Knocked me out.’

‘Then what?’ I asked.

‘When I woke up it was just me and him in a dark room. I didn’t see much before he came at me with the rag again. When I woke up that time he was gone. I wasn’t tied up or anything, but I was woozy and I hurt all over. I felt like… like my whole body was a paper cut and someone had poured lemon juice into me. It wasn’t until I looked down that I realised I was bleeding. Bleeding everywhere.’

I felt the human suit I was wearing grimace.

She went on. ‘I ran for help but I only made it a little way before I passed out. Next thing I knew, I was looking down at my own dead body. That’s all I know, I promise.’

I forced a smile. ‘That’s excellent,’ I told her. ‘Plenty to get me started.’


Well, no, but I wasn’t about to tell her that, so I changed the subject. ‘I just have a couple more questions…’


I took her by the hand. ‘Why don’t we start with a name?’

She told me her name was Ingrid. Ingrid Vallens.

Yup, you heard right. Former supermodel and Nineties “it” girl, Ingrid Vallens.

I thought I smelled catwalk on her, but I had no idea I was chit-chatting with the undisputed queen of lingerie models. Some people are so famous your mind just can’t handle it. It’s like your eyes know the truth, but your brain tells you no way. No way can this be the girl from all those music videos and perfume ads. There she was though, Ingrid frigging Vallens. Model turned fashion consultant, Ingrid Vallens. Ambitious, enterprising, and filthy rich. The kind of woman Beyonce likes to sing about. Ingrid Vallens. And some sick bastard had stolen her perfect skin.

I played it cool. ‘What else can you tell me about yourself, Ms Vallens?’

I got her next of kin, National Insurance number, home address, everything I needed to stick it to Maddox. I got her DoB too: 3rd February 1974. A bit of subtraction told me that put her at forty-two years old, which came as a bit of a shock seeing as she didn’t look a day over thirty.

I jotted down her details and snapped my Moleskine shut. ‘Thanks, Ingrid, that’s a big help.’

‘What happens now?’ she asked.

‘Now I start my investigation.’

Her brow knitted. ‘So you’re just going to leave me here?’

I took her hand again. ‘I have to, it’s the only way.’

‘Can’t I come with you?’

‘You have to stay here, near the site of your… passing.’

‘Then how come you get to go gallivanting about the place?’

‘It’s different for me, I know how to make the ghost thing work.’

In the five years I’ve been a phantom I’ve picked up a few tricks, not least of which is being able to stay anchored to the material plane. I’m a rare diamond though, most ghosts stay pretty rooted, but not me. My best guess is that it’s something to do with me having had an inside track on the Uncanny before I snuffed it.

‘If you were to go wandering from here you’d get lost,’ I told Ingrid.

‘I know my way around London, thank you.’

‘Not that kind of lost. I’m talking about your soul. Drift too far from this point and you’d risk losing it for good, or worse.’

‘What do you mean, worse? How could it possibly get any worse than this?’’

I was hoping she wouldn’t ask that. ‘Sometimes instead of turning insubstantial, a ghost can turn... well, feral.’

‘Like an animal?’

‘Sort of. They’re known as “malevolent spirits” or “shades”. The kind of ghosts you read about in horror stories: your wailing, chain-rattling phantoms.’

Turning feral wasn’t limited to her moving location either. The longer she spent trapped between this world and the next, the more likely she was to go full banshee.

‘Okay then,’ she said, casting her eyes to the ground. ‘I’ll stay here.’

‘Good. Plant your arse for now, I won’t be long.’

I could see Maddox and Stronge marching my way. My five minutes were up.

‘Jake,’ said Ingrid. ‘Why would someone want to kill me?’

‘I don’t know,’ I told her, ‘but trust me, Ingrid, I’m going to find out.’

Maddox arrived wearing his trademark scowl. ‘You’re out of time, Fletcher. So tell us, oh mighty Oracle, what have you got?’

I tore a page from my Moleskine and handed it to him. ‘Just a name, address and DoB. I only wish I could give you something useful.’ I practically fluttered my eyelashes at the turd.

He scanned my notes. ‘Are you taking the piss? Ingrid Vallens? As in Victoria’s Secret model, Ingrid Vallens?’

‘Yes. I’m sure there’s a lot more to her than a nice body though.’ I looked past him and gave Ingrid a sly wink.

Stronge took the scrap of paper from her partner and sighed. ‘This seems a bit unlikely, Fletcher.’

Maddox put it more succinctly. ‘You’re a fucking con artist, mate.’

‘Just run the details then give me a basket of muffins when you’re up to speed,’ I told him. ‘I don’t have time to piss about.’

As I turned and walked away, Maddox sang me a refrain.

‘You’re about as useful as a fucking magic 8-ball, Fletcher.’

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

I headed to the Camden Tavern for a breather and a pint. It was past closing time but they knew my face there (well, Mark’s face), so they let me break the lock-in and come inside.

I ordered a tap beer and found a seat in the corner under an old print of two Victorian pugilists squaring off in a boxing ring. It felt good to take the weight off Mark’s feet. I exhaust pretty easily when I’m forced to tote his big lump of a body all over the place.

Looking around, I watched the other patrons milling about, wasted, the lot of ‘em, staggering to and fro as if the ground beneath them were the deck of a storm-tossed boat. I took a sup of my pint. It tasted like heaven. As a ghost, I don’t get to drink, or eat, or even breathe. If I couldn’t take control of a person’s body from time to time, I don’t know what I’d do. Those simple, earthly pleasures are everything to me. It’s only the thought of sinking a beer from time to time that keeps me from going completely doolally.

A woman walked past me on her way to the bar; attractive, put together, a little stern looking. She reminded me of Sarah, my ex-wife. The two of us were in love once, back when I was alive, before she went mental and started acting like a thing possessed. I didn’t need that. Got enough of it from the day job, thank you very much.

I reached into my pocket, pulled out a Twix bar and unwrapped the packet. I took out one of the fingers and gave it a sniff. It’s important to savour the good things in life, take it from a dead man. I sucked the chocolate off the Twix, right down to the biscuit. Jesus H Christ, it tasted good, but then I’m a man of simple tastes. When you’re used to working the night shift, you tend to eat anything you can get your hands on, and that suits me fine. I’ve always been a Scotch egg in a service station kind of guy.

I finished off the Twix and drained the last of my beer. Mark’s body was beginning to twitch around me, trembling like I was stuck in a meat locker. I always hated this part. It was time to give Mark his body back before it unceremoniously ejected me. Ordinarily, I’d leave him in the pub once I was done with him – stick ten empty pint glasses in front of the bloke and let him join the dots. Tonight I was feeling puckish though. Tonight Mark had a date with an alleyway, a dry bottle of White Lightning, and a condom tucked where the sun don’t shine.


You know that Jon Bon Jovi line, “I'll sleep when I'm dead”? Well, it turns out the dead don't get that luxury, at least not if they ended up a ghost like I did.

I do have a place I go to when the working day’s done though. A place to spend my downtime. Somewhere I can put my feet up and pass the hours while the rest of the city snoozes. Since I don’t need a bedroom, I set myself up in an office block in Chalk Farm. It’s a bit dilapidated, but that’s to be expected since no one but me works there anymore. Apparently the place is haunted. Awful business.

The building is a converted gin warehouse. It has a lift with a folding shutter door that takes you up five floors. The top one is where you’ll find me. Actually, you won’t, not since I’m invisible. What you will find—if you’re nosy and brave enough—is one semi-furnished office with a panoramic view of Camden Town. I like to think of the place as my little patch of London. There’s a desk there and an old office chair I sit on when I’m talking to clients about potential jobs. Potential “psychic investigation” jobs that is. I prefer to take bookings by phone as it disguises the fact that I don’t have a body. People can be weird about that.

Aside from a simple office setup, the only other item of furniture I own is a TV/DVD player combo perched on a milk crate next to a pile of boxed sets and old movies. Changing the channel on the thing is a bitch. Even now, with all the practice I’ve had, picking up a remote is like working with a giant pair of Mickey Mouse gloves that keep turning into smoke.

With no small amount of trouble, I set the TV to AV1 and pressed play on a DVD. Movies are a great release for me, and the best way I know to chalk off some hours before the sun comes up. My favourite kind of movies are ghost movies, which I watch for the pleasure of yelling at them whenever I spot an inaccuracy. What can I tell you, a man needs a hobby.

The target of this evening’s ridicule was the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore vehicle, Ghost. I was only twenty minutes into it before I was mouthing off at the screen.

‘Bullshit! A tunnel of light? As if! ’ I hollered, as Swayze turned down his ticket to heaven so he could chase around after his Grumpy Gus girlfriend.

Ten minutes later, Swayze was having it out with some hobo on the subway and I was calling foul again. ‘He’s a droopy-faced old man! Just give him a punch in the bracket!’

Next thing I know, Swayze’s waltzing into the shop of some spiritual advisor. ‘Oh yeah, right!’ I cried, ‘because Whoopi Goldberg's going to solve all your problems!'

Maybe it was the day I’d had. Maybe it was seeing what some scumbag had done to Ingrid Vallens, I don’t know, but I was in no mood. I picked up the remote and hurled it at the TV screen, not hard enough to break it, but hard enough to give me some degree of satisfaction.

That’s when something weird happened.

No, not weird, downright terrifying.

Whoopi Goldberg turned, looked right down the barrel of the camera, and spoke to me.

‘You’ve been a naughty boy, Jake Fletcher,’ she said.

I yelped and scrabbled away from the telly like the chick from The Ring had crawled out of it.

Was I dreaming? Of course I wasn’t, I’ve already established that I don’t sleep. At least try to keep up.

Whoopi went on as her co-stars stayed on pause. ‘Your running days are over, Jake. We’re coming for you. You have to answer for the things you’ve done.’

‘Who are you?’ I asked.

Something told me I wasn’t really being addressed by the EGOT-winning actress and popular daytime television host.

‘You drifted from His light, Jake. You revolted against God.’

It must be one of the Big Man’s stooges, I thought. After five years on the lam, He was finally turning His attention to me. That didn’t add up to anything good.

Thing is, like I hinted at earlier, I did some bad stuff back in my corporeal days, and it turns out He took them kind of personally. Don’t get me wrong, I never meant to be a sinner, I was just… misguided. Like I say, I used to be an exorcist by trade—the only agnostic exorcist in the phonebook, thank you very much—and my job training was something I kind of pieced together myself. I thought I was doing the lost souls I dealt with a kindness, releasing them from their suffering and returning them to the Great Beyond.

Apparently, I was way off.

The fact is, I was obliterating those poor bastards. Annihilating them. Exorcisms, as it turns out, are for banishing malevolent forces, not for relocating fragile, earthly spirits. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was throwing the baby out with the bathwater on a daily basis. So many souls just… gone. By the time I learned the folly of what I was doing, it was already too late. I was dead. Time up. Off to meet my maker, and I wasn’t expecting him to roll out the red carpet for me.

So, here I am, a phantom on the run, trying to do as much good as I can to cancel out the bad before I’m made to answer for my misdeeds.

Whoopi glared at me through the TV screen, her eyes unnaturally bright – luminescent even. ‘Well then, what do you have to say for yourself, Fletcher?’

‘Listen, I did some bad things, okay? I hold my hands up to that. But I’m on the right track now, alright? Scout’s honour.’

‘Go on,’ she said, cocking her head to one side.

‘I have a case… I’m helping a lost soul find her way back home. Back home to you. That’s got to be worth something, right?’

‘You think that’s going to save you, Fletcher? You think one, paltry soul is going to rescue you from damnation? From an eternity in hell? After all the souls you turned to nothing?’

‘It’s the ghost of Ingrid Vallens,’ I said.

That caught Whoopi’s interest. ‘As in noted lingerie model, Ingrid Vallens?’

‘That’s the kiddie.’

Whoopi stared at me for a second then turned to one side as though she was being talked to by somebody standing off screen. She turned back to me, muttering something under her breath. ‘Very well, Jake Fletcher, you have bought yourself some time. But know this – if the soul of Ingrid Vallens isn’t delivered to us in one week’s time, I will come down there, and I will drag you back here myself.’

Suddenly, the light went out of Whoopi’s eyes and she returned to her scripted dialogue.

I looked at my hands. They were shaking.

Five years it took them.

I was starting to think they’re never find me.

But now they had my number.


Sun up, back at Regent’s Canal.

Eager to press forward with my case, I’d chosen to follow the next stage of the investigation au naturel, using my ghost form to tag along with Stronge and Maddox incognito.

I was dressed in a black suit and tie, the same duds I was wearing on my deathday. That’s the way it works with ghosts, we get stuck with the last look we had in life. Good news for those of us who dressed up nice for the occasion, bad news for the poor sods who drowned in the bathtub.

By daylight, the police had discovered a set of bloody footprints leading from the crime scene to the location Ingrid had taken flight from. The prints led into a disused warehouse along the wharf, one of the few in the area that had yet to be converted into luxury flats. The building was surrounded by a chain-link fence, but the blood trail led through a snipped out portion—likely the work of squatters—that Ingrid had managed to escape through.

I followed the police officers through the hole, across some broken tarmac, and into the warehouse. The interior was dark, dusty and mostly empty, save for a few wooden pallets, some empty shelves, and a clapped out forklift. The forensics team were on site already, dressed in protective clothing and shoe baggies, analysing blood spatter, collecting evidence, poring over the scene. I watched them drifting around in their white boiler suits and thought they looked more like ghosts than I did.

Stronge weaved between cordons and approached the Scene of Crime Officer. ‘So, what do we have?’

The officer tugged down his face mask and pulled back his hood. ‘So far we have hair, some soil samples, and a whole lot of blood.’

Stronge nodded. That much was to be expected. ‘Fingerprints?’

‘Nothing yet.’

Maddox chimed in. ‘Anything else?’

‘As a matter of fact, yes.’

I shadowed the officer as he led the detectives down a thin corridor marked by police tape. The space either side of us was a hub of activity, a crowd of CSIs performing fingertip searches, crawling over the scene like army ants. Having squeezed between them, we arrived at a cluster of evidence tags surrounded by a cordon of police tape. A photographer was leaning over it, taking snaps of what was inside.

There, drawn on the floor in lines of white chalk, was a pattern: a series of intersecting circles enclosed in a large square. The corners of the square were marked by candles, now just puddles of wax. I’d seen similar things in my former business as an exorcist. From the looks of things, Ingrid had been used as a blood sacrifice, an offering to win the favour of a demon.

Oh yeah, those are real too.

There’s a whole world that exists beneath the surface of the one most people know. Us Insiders call it the Uncanny. Ever since I was a kid I knew it was there – knew there was more to the story than I was being told. I could see them, the things that shouldn’t exist: the ghosts, the demons, the boogeymen. It wasn’t until I died that I learned about the rest: the witches, the warlocks, the imps, the skinwalkers, and that’s just the start of it. I’m talking hidden streets, sewers infested with fairies, even a succubus-run, anything-goes sex club in Soho that I may or may not poke my nose into from time to time. Hey, I may not have taken advantage of Mark’s bit on the side, but I’m a ghost, not an angel.

The fact is, all manner of bonkers shit is going on in London that you normals don’t know a thing about, but it’s every much as part of the city as your local corner shop, and it’s happening right under your noses.

Still, something wasn’t right here. The realm of the Uncanny is meant to live alongside the world as you see it, not collide with it. It’s not a free-for-all, with ghouls and goblins scampering through the streets of London Town. There are things that shouldn’t be able to crash into the normal world, at least not without a great deal of effort. One of those things is demons. Demons belong in hell, just like angels belong in heaven. Even for the most skilled magician, drawing a demon into the physical world is hard work. Summoning a demon capable of skinning someone alive would be like trying to push a water balloon through a brick wall.

I watched a forensics officer take a scoop of chalk from the pattern on the floor and deposit it into a Sure-Seal bag. I felt a chill – the kind ghosts aren’t meant to feel. If something like that could be pulled off, summoning a demon, what could that mean for reality as we knew it? Could it be that the barriers were weakening somehow? The stitches popping? Whatever was happening, long-term, it didn’t fill me with rainbows and smiles.

I looked closer at the chalk pattern on the ground. It was a warding symbol: defensive magic to make sure the summoned demon was kept in check. A barrier to stop the guest murdering its conjurer before a bargain could be struck. So, we had a sacrifice, a ward, and a demon. Only one thing missing: a lure. A summons targeted at a specific demonic entity. Without one of those, the conjurer might as well throw his invitation into the wind.

While the authorities chatted among themselves, I scanned the area looking for the missing lure. It took me a while, but I found it a few yards from the site of the sacrifice, lodged under a rack of dented aluminium shelves. It looked as though it had been knocked aside, most likely by Ingrid as she fled for her life. The lure was a ram’s skull with a sigil etched into its forehead. An infinity symbol with two evil eyes staring out from the holes.

There was that chill again.


I went to an old friend for her view on what I’d seen.

My friend goes by the name of Madame Olena, but I call her Jazz Hands on account of her being a magician. Jazz Hands is a serious woman with the wisdom of a million fortune cookies. She’s also the proprietor of a premises called Legerdomain, a dusty little magic shop tucked away in a King’s Cross back alley; stage props on the shelves, real magic under the counter.

I arrived at Jazz’s shop in an instant. It’s a skill I have. If I picture a place I’m familiar with and think about it hard enough, I can just kind of go there. In a comic book they’d probably call it something fruity like “translocation” or “teleportation”. Like it was a superpower. Personally, I prefer not to think of it that way. Superpowers are for ‘roided up beefcakes buzzing around in their jammies – I’m just a working class pleb with a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Superman doesn’t know how easy he has it – just about everything is my Kryptonite. Being dead ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know? As a ghost, the simple act of kicking a ball about without my foot passing through the thing is a ball-ache. Plus, I’m invisible to anyone without The Sight, which is about as annoying as it is useful. Oh, and like a London cabbie refusing to go south of the River, I can’t cross large bodies of water either.

Still, being able to zap from one place to the next comes in pretty handy.

I appeared in the middle of Jazz’s magic shop atop a Turkish rug that’s more hole than thread. The surrounding decor was the same as ever, liver-red walls and bowed black shelves heaving with all manner of magical knick-knacks and doo-dads, all lit by the scant shafts of sunlight that managed the penetrate the store’s grimy windows.

An entry bell tinkled, and the woman behind the counter sat up straight on her stool. I wouldn’t have tripped an ordinary chime, but there was no getting one over on Jazz Hands. She’d rigged a bell with magic, ensuring that it sounded whenever a ghost entered her premises, or more accurately, when I entered her premises.

‘Can I help you?’ she asked, not looking up from her magazine.

‘No thanks, just browsing,’ I replied.

Jazz Hands closed her mag and sighed. It’s funny, she acts like she spends all her spare time studying up on ancient grimoires, but every time I catch her, she’s got her nose buried in a celebrity gossip rag.

She reached down for a pair of pince-nez hanging on a chain around her neck and perched them on her nose. Right away her eyes landed on me. See, as well as the early warning system, she’d also manufactured a pair of violet-lensed glasses that allowed her to see ghosts. I guess you’d call them “spooktacles”, but only if you were an utter wanker.

Jazz addressed me in a croaky voice that told me this was her first conversation of the day. ‘If you’re planning a visit, I’d prefer you called ahead instead of appearing in the middle of my shop like a bloody—’



Since she was apparently entertaining guests, she checked her reflection in the blade of a trick guillotine and smoothed down her frizzy brown hair. Jazz Hands wasn’t exactly what you’d call a looker, but with the right light and a bit of slap, she had a kind of schoolmarmish charm.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘are you going to stand there like a lemon or are you going to tell me why you’re here?’

She acts all tough and spiky, but she loves me really. Besides, she has her uses. What Jazz Hands knows about the Uncanny could fill an aircraft hangar.

‘Got a new case,’ I told her.

She reluctantly set her magazine on her lap. The graphic close-ups of celebrity cellulite and tales of Khloe Kardashian’s troubled marriage would have to wait.

‘Very well then. Get on with it.’

I brought her up to speed. The skinned supermodel, the black magic ritual, the contents of the warehouse. Everything.

‘A ram’s skull?’ she said. ‘A bit bread and butter, don’t you think? Oh, for a wayward magician with a little imagination…’

‘This one had a carving on it. An infinity symbol with two eyes inside.’

‘Hmmm,’ she replied, and pulled a dusty old bestiary from under the counter. ‘Like this?’ she asked, flicking to a tab and showing me the page.

I was presented with a black and white plate of a goat’s skull. It was engraved with a collapsed 8 dotted with two pupils, and was a dead match for the one found at the crime scene.

‘That’s the kiddie,’ I told her. ‘So, I get what it’s for, but what’s it supposed to summon?’

Her expression turned grave. ‘The lure calls on a demon said to be able to grant its summoner the power of everlasting youth.’

‘Righty-oh. One of them Faustian pack deals; The Devil Went to Georgia and all that.’

‘You should take this more seriously,’ she said, and leafed forwards a couple of pages to point at another plate. ‘Look...’

She showed me a woodcut of… well, I hesitate to call it a creature even. It looked like a skeleton, with a slippery layer of flesh covering a set of long, sinewy limbs. It had claws as sharp as steak knives and two smouldering eyes that burned with unholy malice. Real nightmare fuel, this thing.

‘They call it “fuere epulone”, Jazz Hands explained.

‘In English?’

‘The soul feaster.’

Nasty. ‘Well, at least it’s out of our hair now.’

‘How’s that?’

‘Not to tell you your job, Jazz, but a demon returns to its realm after a bargain is struck.

Them’s the rules.

She shrugged. ‘Maybe, maybe not. Demons are tricky buggers. If this one managed to find a way to break through the summoner’s ward, it could be out there still… and hungry.’

In case you didn’t figure it out from what I said earlier, that’s bad. Demons are meant to keep to their plane, not go running around London willy nilly. I remembered the strange feeling I had back at the wharf and suppressed another shiver.

‘That doesn’t add up,’ I argued. ‘If the demon had gone AWOL, we’d be looking at two dead bodies right now: the sacrifice and the summoner.’

‘Not if the demon ate the summoner.’

She followed the book’s text with her finger, translating it from Latin as she read. ‘The demon feasts on souls, but it also has a taste for human flesh. To remain on the material plane, it needs to consume both.’

She snapped the book shut, making it puff a cloud of dust.

If Jazz was right and the demon was out there still, things were likely to get pretty dicey around these parts. And bloody. Not to mention deathy. A runaway demon is not the sort of thing you take on lightly. Or at all, if you’ve got any sense in you. But this was my case, and I’d made a promise to Ingrid Vallens.

‘Don’t even think about it,’ said Jazz, as if reading my mind.

‘What?’ I protested.

‘This isn’t your fight, Fletcher. There are beings in this city far more suited to taking on the things that go bump in the night.’

‘I am a thing that goes bump in the night!’

‘You know what I mean. This is too dangerous for you. Besides, you need to keep a low profile if you want to stay off His radar.’

Yeah, it was a little too late for that.

‘I appreciate the concern,’ I told her, ‘but the walls are closing in. I was given a message last night – some emissary of God telling me that if I don’t solve this case in a week, that I’m going back upstairs to answer for my sins. I can’t have that, Jazz. Because call me a handsome ol’ cynic, but I don’t think there’s anything good waiting for me up there.’

I had to solve Ingrid’s murder, had to rub some of that red ink out of my account, because right now it looked like Carrie on prom night.

Jazz stared back at me, her mouth set in a hard line. ‘You’re an idiot.’

‘You’ve got that right,’ I said, ‘so, are you going to help me or not?’

She shook her head and muttered something sweary under her breath. ‘What do you need?’

I smiled. ‘Let’s start with the summoner. What can you tell me about the person who conjured this soul eater thing?’

‘So long as you’re determined to pull at this thread, I’d start your investigation with the Order of the Everlasting Flame. They’re a group of magicians dedicated to the pursuit of eternal life. If you’re looking to find someone desperate enough to summon the soul feaster, the Order would be a good place to start.’

‘Okay. So where do I find these nutters?’

She shrugged. ‘That I don’t know.’

‘What? I thought you knew everything about the hocus pocus in this town.’

‘Not everything.’

‘You managed to track me down easy enough, back in the day.’

‘You were hardly a four-leaf clover.’

Fair do’s.

It looked like I was going to have to get my intel from someone a bit more in touch with the streets. Thankfully, I knew just the man.

‘Cheers for the help, Jazz,’ I said, and prepared to make haste.

‘Hold your horses,’ she said, and ducked under the counter. ‘I have something here that will help…’

She resurfaced with a ring.

‘Jazz, this is all so sudden. But yes, yes, a thousand times yes!’

She looked at me like I’d crimped off a turd on her Turkish rug.

‘Tough crowd.’

‘Here you go, chuckles,’ she said, holding out the ring.

I took it off her and rolled it over in my palm. Jazz Hands was a dab hand at enchanting, and had perfected a spell that made certain items tangible to me. Usually, solid objects pass through my body like a dodgy madras, but once Jazz had worked her magic, I could touch them, hold them, even wear them.

I examined the ring closer. It had a silver band and was set with an opal-like stone of shifting colours. I was really hoping for something I could use against a demon. A weapon, the more dangerous the better. ‘What is this, some kind of mood ring?’ I asked, squinting at the thing. ‘What colour is “disappointed?”’

Jazz Hands shot me a wicked frown. ‘It detects lies,’ she said. ‘Hold it up to the person you’re questioning and it will tell you if they’re being honest with you. If what they’re saying is true, it will glow blue in colour. If it’s a lie, it will turn red.’

‘That’s it? A voodoo truth detector? Can’t you knock me up something with a bit more oomph? A demon laser or something?’

She blinked twice. Slowly. ‘A demon laser?’


‘You ungrateful shit.’

I laughed. ‘Aw, you love me really.’

‘I certainly do not.’

I held the ring up to her and it turned red. As a blush mounted her cheeks, the colour of her face was quick to follow.

‘See you around, sweet cheeks,’ I said, and disappeared with a wink before the swearing really started.


I went to Frosty for the low-down.

Frosty’s a homeless guy I know, a victim of the Tories austerity measures. He used to get disability benefits for his gammy legs, but when the DWP declared him Fit to Work (despite him being no such thing), he lost everything. With no other way of looking after himself, he was forced to take to the streets begging. He didn’t last long. There was a cold snap that winter, and Frosty didn’t see the other side of it. The poor bugger froze to death on Camden High Street, and he lies there still, a ghost.

‘What’s up, feller?’ I asked as I knelt down beside him.

He coughed and hawked up a blob of ectoplasm. ‘What do you want, Fletcher?’

He didn’t look well, but then he never did. Dying of hypothermia will do that to a man.

‘I need to pick your brains,’ I told him.

‘You’re out of luck,’ he replied, ‘I haven’t had one of those in donkeys yonks.’ He cackled as he poked a finger into his head, right up to the knuckle. The cackle quickly turned into a hacking cough that led to another delightful eruption of ectoplasm, spat just to the side of me. I shuffled away from the up-chuck as it trickled towards my shoes.

You might wonder why I’d choose to hang about with such a charmer, but Frosty is without a doubt the most useful ghost I’ve ever met. No one’s more in touch with the streets than old Frost, and I mean that in every sense of the phrase. His pitch is a spot of pavement under a Sainsbury’s cashpoint – a patch of pavement he’s permanently frozen to. You’d think this would limit his power to know things, but you’d be dead wrong. See, where some ghosts can phase through solid objects and *ahem* teleport, Frosty has a different skill set.

From his vantage point, he’s able to read the minds of anyone he comes in contact with. Even better, he’s able to get a read on anyone that person has come in contact with, and the person they were in contact with before that, and so on and so on. It’s a whole six-degrees of separation thing. Thanks to that, Frosty knows pretty much everything that goes on in this neighbourhood. After all, everyone knows something.

A short queue of people lined up at the ATM, oblivious to the two ghosts chatting by their side. As a young woman stepped up to the machine to withdraw a couple of twenties, Frosty stole a look up her skirt.

‘Nice,’ he perved. ‘Have a butchers at that, Fletcher. No knickers, and she’s shaved it into a little heart.’

‘I’d love to take you up on that, Frost, but I’m a gentleman.’

He snorted. ‘You’re dead, live a little.’

‘That’s a hard pass.’

‘Ooh, I’m so sorry, Your Majesty,’ he growled. ‘Look, are you going to get to the point or what?’

Business time. ‘I’m looking for a cult calling themselves the Order of the Everlasting Flame. Got anything in the memory banks?’

‘Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t.’

‘Have you?’

‘Who’s to say?’

‘You. You’re the one to say.’

‘Perhaps I am, perhaps I’m not.’

I sighed and stood, play acting like I was about to walk away. ‘Well, I’d best be off then, Frosty, ol’ pal. Nice seeing you.’

‘Alright! I’ve got something, I’ve got something!’

Bingo bango.

‘Tell me.’

‘Hold your horses, sunshine. First things first, have you got anything for me?’

This wasn’t my first time dealing with the cantankerous old sod – I knew what he was after. From my jacket pocket I produced a can of Special Brew. This was no ordinary bruiser juice though. Any regular lager would pass right through the wily old lush, but this one had been blessed by Jazz Hands and made ghost-friendly, just like my new ring. I can’t say she was overjoyed at the prospect of blessing cheap beer, but she’s always been a sucker for the old Fletcher charm.

Frosty snatched the can of beer from my hands and glugged it down in five seconds flat. He wiped the froth from his beard, along with a few stray icicles. ‘That’s the stuff,’ he gasped.

‘So, what can you tell me about this cult?’ I asked.

‘What, is that it? One measly can?’

‘You know the deal, Frosty. I’ve given you a bit of what you want, now you give me what I want. Tell me about this Everlasting Flame lot. Where do they set up shop?’

He sulked for another minute or so, then he told me.

‘No way!’ I said. ‘There?’


It just seemed so… obvious. ‘You’re serious. You’re not shitting me?’

‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’

It was a weak promise coming from a ghost, but Frosty had yet to steer me wrong. ‘Thanks for the tip, me old mucker. I’ll catch you later.’

‘One can? One? You rotten bastard!’

I smiled, lifted a second blessed can from my other pocket and rolled it across the ground into his grasping fingers. ‘Don’t drink it all at once.’

He drank it all at once.

‘Mind yourself, Jake. There ain’t many things that can do us ghosts a mischief, but magic’s one of ‘em.’

He was right about that. He was right about that and then some.


According to Frosty, the people I needed to pay a visit were operating out of the Magic Circle. Yeah, that Magic Circle. Stage magicians with silk scarves doing card tricks for hen parties. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but according to Frosty, the top hat and tails stuff is all a front. Just like Jazz Hands, the Order of the Everlasting Flame like to hide in plain sight.

I arrived at the Magic Circle’s HQ under the cloak of night. The address was a nondescript building not far from Euston Station. Well, nondescript so long as you weren’t looking too hard. To the trained eye, the place stuck out like a sore thumb.

There was a cage around the building, a magical field that enclosed it from top to bottom. The cage throbbed with magical power, its bars strobing, spitting out purple sparks. It was as though the thing were electrified, but electrified with the Uncanny.

The cage presented a problem. Being a ghost usually makes it a piece of piss to get inside places—kind of like having an Access All Areas pass to the entire world—but this joint was strictly invite only. Anyone wanting to get in there had better know a thing or two about magic.

Thankfully, I knew plenty.

Back in the day, I studied it all: theurgy, thaumaturgy, tarot, Gnosticism, Enochian chants, the Quabalah, Left Hand occultism, and a healthy dose of Hitchens to balance out all the bollocks. While the rest of my friends were busy chasing skirt, I was reading ancient texts and learning about the pagans. When you’re born with The Sight—with a connection to the Uncanny that no one else around you can see or feel—you make it your business to investigate the esoteric. By the time I graduated from art school and my peers were drifting into temp jobs, I’d started to practice magic. Nothing major, just a few cantrips and such. I stuck with it though, learned some new tricks along the way, and one of those tricks was getting into places I shouldn’t be.

I spoke the words of disenchantment, took a strobing purple bar in each hand, and the felt the cage weaken in my grip, softening like boiled spaghetti. I continued to chant, forcing the bars apart until I had them at a shoulder’s width. Continuing the mantra, I squeezed myself through the gap in the cage until all that stood between me and my intention was a helpless brick wall.

I Caspered my way through that and arrived in the building's lobby. Stood before me was an impressive spiral staircase planted on an illuminated zodiac symbol. Something sparkly for the tourists to gawp at while the real magic was practiced behind closed doors.

I strained my ears and heard a muffled conversation going on upstairs. I headed off in search of it, and at the top of the steps, on the building’s uppermost floor, I found a door marked PRIVATE. Of course, no room is really “private” when you’re a ghost, but it always gives me a thrill to break life’s little rules. I’m only human after all. Well, sort of.

Passing through the door, I found myself in the Order of the Eternal Flame’s inner sanctum. The windowless clubhouse throbbed with a low, ambient hum that made the motes of dust hanging in the air quiver and dance. Display cabinets piled with all manner of magical oddments lined the walls, and in the centre of the room, throwing light and shadow all around, was a hammered iron brazier containing a large, flickering flame. Surrounding this was an engraved pentacle three metres wide with four men stood at each of its five tips, leaving one spot empty. The men faced one another dressed in cowled robes to preserve their anonymity. I suspect they were going for menacing, but despite the fancy duds and spooky decor, the gathering had the distinct whiff of an AA meeting about it.

‘Hello, my name’s Merlin and I have a wizard problem…’

All that was missing was the smell of stale cigarettes and a half-eaten box of Krispy Kreme.

Spying on the conclave, I roamed the room invisibly to see if I could get a better look at the four magicians. There wasn’t much to go on though; the only facial features I could make out were from the bottom of the nose down, which made the identification process a mite tricky. Still, I paid attention and took note of what I saw.

One had a waxed moustache.

Another a weak jaw.

The third a Ben Affleck chin dimple.

And the last a cleft lip.

Chin Dimple broke the silence. ‘Where are they?’ he asked, gesturing to the empty spot of the pentacle.

‘We don’t know,’ replied Moustachio, the eldest of the group, with an air of authority that led me to believe he was running the show.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ said Glass Jaw. ‘We’ve all seen the news.’

‘The murder at the canal?’ said cleft lip. ‘You think they were responsible for that?’


‘We can’t be certain,’ asserted Moustachio.

Glass Jaw snorted. ‘Can’t be certain? It’s all they ever talked about!’

‘They talked about the theory of it. I made it perfectly clear that the Order wouldn’t stand for one of its elders meddling with demonic forces.’

There it was. They were in it right up to their exposed chins.

‘And you think they listened?’

‘Forgive me, Brother,’ said Chin Dimple, raising his hand like a kid in class, ‘but why does the Order continue to enforce this draconian policy on demonic intervention? With the correct wards, the creatures of the Nether are our playthings, to do as we bid them.’

Why they all spoke like they were playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons was anyone’s guess.

Moustachio took a calming breath. ‘The reason we don’t practice demonology, Brother, is because not all demons are alike.’

This time he and Glass Jaw agreed. ‘The demon our colleague wished to strike a bargain with is a creature unlike any other. Forty years ago, the elders of this Order summoned the beast to this realm, and not only did most of them die for their temerity, so too did a string of innocents.’

Cleft Lip picked up the slack. ‘The authorities were as powerless as they were clueless. They pinned the murders on some nameless cannibal. Spent months chasing their tails.’

‘It fell to those of us who survived the demon’s wrath to send the demon back to its realm,’ said Moustachio.

‘How?’ asked Chin Dimple.

Moustachio’s shoulders went slack. ‘With the seraphim sword.’

‘The seraphim sword?’ parroted Cleft Lip. ‘The relic we keep in the museum?’ He cast a look to the ground, likely toward the sub-level where the item was kept. ‘I thought that was just a ceremonial piece.’

Interesting. A magic sword. I quite fancied getting a butcher’s at the thing, as soon as I was done earwigging on this little chinwag.

‘So,’ said Chin Dimple. ‘Who did it? Who wielded the sword and banished the demon?’

Glass Jaw turned to Moustachio, who looked as though he was recalling some terrible memory. ‘I did,’ he said, and rolled up his robe’s left sleeve. The arm beneath was plastic from the elbow down. ‘It was a battle hard won.’

A one-armed magician, eh? Nice gimmick I suppose, but I can’t imagine he booked many kids’ parties.

I was mulling that over when I came to realise that the magicians had stopped talking. I turned my attention back to the hooded group, only to find all four of them were looking dead at me. I checked my rear, thinking something must be going on behind me, and saw a shadow stretching from my heels all the way across the floor and to the room’s far wall.

The brazier.

The eternal flame that burned in the centre of the pentacle must have been witchfire: a magical element that casts shadows on the ethereal and the corporeal alike.


I should have seen it. I should have sized up the situation the moment I walked in, but I’d been sloppy. Being a ghost breeds a certain cockiness. Once you get used to moving around invisibly and unobstructed, it’s easy to forget that the world isn’t your personal playground. Easy to forget that there are things out there that can harm even the dead.

It was Glass Jaw who raised his finger first. ‘There!’ he cried, pointing to my dirty great shadow. ‘We’re not alone!’

Yup, I’d been rumbled good and proper.

Moustachio uttered an incantation and made a somatic gesture that flooded the chamber with a blinding, magenta light. When I opened my eyes, I discovered he’d somehow rendered me visible.

‘Hey, neat trick, how’d you do that? Because I’ve got to tell you, that would really come in handy now and again.’

Moustachio threw back his cowl, continuing to aim an accusatory finger at me. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded.

I offered an apologetic shrug. ‘Don’t mind me gents, I’ll be out of your hair in just a second.’

Time to pull a disappearing trick. I closed my eyes and imagined myself boomeranging back to Jazz Hands’ magic shop, but a strange thing happened.

I didn’t budge an inch.

I felt my body judder, saw it blur, like I was dropping out of focus, only to snap back into sharp, HD clarity. I tried again, but got the same result. It was a little disconcerting, I don’t mind telling you.

‘You’re going nowhere, phantom,’ said Glass Jaw, who I could see now had cast his own spell: a bubble of undulating, purple energy that surrounded me completely. Apparently, these guys had a real stiffy for the colour purple.

The bubble was somehow interfering with my hopping out of that place. Those numpties might have looked like they were playing dress up, but they were no joke. I rapped a knuckle on the side the bubble and found it hard as frozen oak. I was trapped.

‘Explain yourself,’ ordered Moustachio, the words falling from his mouth like a curse. ‘Or suffer the consequences.’

‘I came to see some card tricks, fellas, that’s all—maybe a rabbit from a hat if you were in the mood—but I can see you’re busy. Anyway, if you want to drop the old magic forcefield job, I’ll be offski.’ I started to skirt around the room, attempting to find a weak spot in the spell. There’s always a weak spot with these things. Well, usually.

‘Halt!’ said Moustachio

‘You know you can just say “stop”, right?’ I replied, not pausing, never mind halting.

The four magicians joined hands and began to glow as they muttered arcane words under their collective breath. Whatever they were doing was probably not going to be good news for old Jakey.

I kept moving as the purple prison surrounding me exploded with sparks. I turned to see Mustachio pointing his free hand in my direction, just as a globe of violet, sparking energy burst from it and headed in my direction. I ducked just in time and the missile missed me by inches.

I hopped up again, hands out. ‘Easy fellas, there’s no need for this to get—’

Another globe headed in my direction, cutting my sentence short as I was forced to roll out of its way. I pushed myself up, and kept moving. I tried over and over to jump to Jazz’s place—to anywhere other than this room—but got the same result each time: nothing. I had to find the weak point in this containment spell fast or—

I didn’t even see the next missile coming it was so fast, but holy shit, did I feel it. It felt like I’d run right into a wall. A wall of electricity that had collapsed on top of me. I lay on the floor, twitching, writhing in agony. Being dead, it’s not often I get to feel pain, or much of anything really, but whatever this spell was, it hurt like a bastard.

Once the effect had worn off a bit, I was able to push myself up slightly, vision hazy, and saw Moustachio nod to his fellow elders. The four of them held their arms in the air, hands splayed, swaying in unison. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what came next.

I was not wrong.

The magicians blasted the outside of the bubble with their combined power, and my prison began to shrink until I was the only thing contained within it. Then it shrank some more. And more.

‘Guys, I feel like we’ve got off on the wrong foot here. How about we chalk this one up to experience and I’ll be on my way, huh?’

‘Tell us why you have invaded our sanctum, ghost,’ roared Mustachio.

‘Not until you tell me how you grew that glorious lady tickler, because mine comes in patchier than a fourteen-year-old trying to convince a barman he’s of drinking age.’

‘Enough, fool! Tell us the truth or prepare to die for a second time.’

He wasn’t overstating the facts. While I am immune to most things—bullets, knives, the mystifying appeal of Orlando Bloom—magic can really bugger me up. Lucky for me, the guys working the enchanted trash compactor weren’t the only magicians in the room.

As I mentioned already, I’ve always dabbled with magic, but it wasn’t until I died that I fully got to grips with the Uncanny. Before then I had a trick or two at my disposal, but since I croaked, I’ve managed to expand my repertoire. When you’ve got nothing but time on your hands, you get to really dedicate yourself to a thing. Being a ghost is kind of like being an alcoholic who ditched the booze; your days suddenly start running very long. If you don’t find something to fill all those extra hours, you’ll go mental in no time.

‘Talk!’ screamed Glass Jaw, but I wasn’t about to spill my guts to some crusty old spell-slinger.

They began to lower their hands, and the bubble shrank further. If I didn’t act fast I was going to end up the same place as all those souls I’d evicted during my pre-dead, exorcist years. Nowhere. Scrubbed from existence. A non-entity.

There was a way out though. There always is with these things. Like I said, every spell has a weak spot, it’s just a matter of finding it; like picking a lock or turning a frog back into a handsome prince.

I placed my palms on the inside of the bubble and went in search of it.

Feeling for a glitch.

A chink in the amour.

Any vulnerability I could exploit.

The bubble pressed against my back and the top of my head, forcing me to crouch into a ball. I had seconds left at best. I began to panic, turning as best I could, searching, searching, searching for the way out. Where was it?

‘You were warned,’ insisted Moustachio, but I wasn’t paying the man much attention.

I was concentrating on my prison still, hands scrabbling, desperately searching for that sweet spot—

—when suddenly I felt it.

There it was...

A fault.

A fatal flaw.

I think I laughed out loud with relief.

I took aim and pulled back my fist, or at least pulled it back as far as I could – the bubble was so small it was like being zipped up in a sleeping bag.

I summoned all the strength I had, offered up a silent prayer to a God who probably wanted to send me to Hell, and threw my fist forward with a scream of effort.

There was a crack, and my knuckles burst right through to the other side.

I expected it to pop like a soap bubble, but instead it exploded, shattering and pelting my captors with shards of raw magic.

The elders howled in protest and prepared to lob a return barrage my way, but they were too late.

‘Nice meeting you gents,’ I said, ‘but I’ve got places to be...’


And like that, I was gone.


I decided to pay Ingrid Vallens a visit and bring her up to speed on the story so far.

I found Ingrid pacing the canal towpath near Camden Lock, just where I’d left her. She was very happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. To be honest, after what I’d just been through, I was happy to see anyone.

‘You came back,’ Ingrid trilled.

‘Of course.’

She gave me a glowing smile that melted my cold heart.

‘It’s been ages. I thought maybe you’d left and that I was stuck here alone. Alone and dead and, oh God, it’s still really strange saying that. I’m dead. I was alive and now I’m dead.’

‘Yeah, it takes a minute to get your head around. Well, a bit longer than that, actually. I’m still not completely there, truth told. But hey, at least we’re still, you know, “around”.’

Ingrid Vallens, ex-model, and ex-alive person, offered up another glorious smile and I drank it down like nectar.

This was only my second time seeing Ingrid, but I was already starting to feel a real connection to her. The kind of connection I hadn’t felt in a long time. There’s something about two ghosts coming together… something pure. When you take all the physical stuff out of the picture—the rutting, the hormones, the springs and the leaks—you’re left with a different kind of appreciation. An ability to enjoy someone on a purely spiritual level. Honestly, I was starting to wonder if I even wanted to solve her murder – not if it meant her going away. Not if it meant her heading off to her final reward and leaving me stuck here.

But of course I would, it was the right thing to do. Plus, after last night’s chat with Whoopi Goldberg, it seemed my own future depended upon it.

‘Well then,’ said Ingrid, ‘don’t keep me hanging, did you find out who did it?’

I told her what I’d learned at the Magic Circle: that she’d been used as a blood sacrifice – killed by a magician seeking eternal life. Naturally, she was horrified. Well, you would be, wouldn’t you?

‘I’m sorry,’ I told her, ‘but it won’t be long now. I’m on the right track, I promise. I’ll have the bastard who did this soon enough.’

She thanked me emphatically and came in for a hug, but I stopped her. ‘We can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘I mean we literally can’t. You’d pass right through me.’

It’s a sad impediment of the corporeally challenged that we’re not able to experience physical contact.

Ingrid nodded sombrely. I wish I could have hugged her. God knows I did. Hug her and turn that frown she was wearing into another of those glorious smiles.

‘I have to get going,’ I said.

Her voice came out crumpled. ‘Where to?’

‘To lay some bait.’

‘What do you mean, bait?’

‘I need to draw your killer out into the open,’ I explained. ‘That’s why I’m going to set a trap in Highgate Cemetery; to make him show himself. Once he shows, I’ll have the bastard.’

‘Why there? Of all the places, why a graveyard?’

It was a fair question. ‘It’s home ground,’ I replied, and I just feel safe there, don’t ask me why. Must be a ghost thing.’

She smiled that smile again, the one that warmed my non-existent heart.

‘Okay then, but don’t be long,’ she said. ‘I don’t like being here alone. It feels… cold.’ A tear spilled from her eye and she quickly swiped it away.

‘Don’t worry, Ingrid. Soon enough this will all be over, and you’ll be ready to move on to a better place. Just trust me, okay?’

‘I trust you, Jake.’

We said our goodbyes, then I left, heading off to my next destination, thinking of Ingrid the whole way.

Maybe one day—once I’d cleaned all that red from my account and made good with God—maybe then, something could happen between Ingrid and me. I pictured the two of us meeting up on the other side, going on a date, getting serious, making angel babies (I don’t know how things work up there exactly).

I smiled.

Dying might be the best thing that ever happened to me.


In order for my trap to work, I needed to get a message to a rogue magician, and in this town, that meant a visit to The Beehive.

Every city in England has a place like the ‘Hive – an old-fashioned boozer for Uncanny types. A place where we can relax, chew the fat, and get sloshed, away from the prying eyes of normals.

I felt my mobile vibrate in my jacket pocket. The phone was a gift from Jazz Hands; another of her handy enchantments. I sighed as it buzzed a second time. I may be dead, but even ghosts don’t get to escape the sticky tendrils of the modern world. There’s no rest for the wicked, as they say, and I’ve been more wicked than most.

I plucked the mobile from my pocket and saw Detective Kat Stronge’s name shining out. I smiled and answered.

‘How’s my favourite Chief Inspector?’

‘Overworked and underpaid,’ she replied.

‘What can I do you for, Detective?’

‘We’ve hit a wall with the canal case. Hoped you might have had another, you know, “insight”, or whatever you call them.’

‘It’s always straight to business with you. Whatever happened to the art of conversation?’


‘I’m working on it, Kat. These things can take time to, you know, become clear.’

I heard her sigh on the other end. ‘So you have nothing. Got it.’

‘Trust me, I’ll have better news soon,’ I replied, and I even believed it.

‘One thing that always bugs me about you, Jake—’

‘—I know, how can one man be blessed with charisma, good looks, and a sparkling sense of humour, right?’


‘You’re sure?’

‘I want to know how you always talk the same but your voice sounds so… off, sometimes, and only over the phone.’

Ah, yes. A smarter person would have practiced doing Mark’s voice when he wasn’t in his body, but I was a lousy mimic.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ I asked.


‘It’s to do with, uh, my “gift”, I said, winging it.

‘Your gift?’

‘Yeah. It can play havoc with phones. And… other sorts of technology. It’s a curse, really.’

‘What types of technology?’

‘Sun beds are a total no-go. Electronic toothbrushes – manual only for this guy. Toasters – I can’t get an evenly browned slice out of one of those bastards for the life of me.’

‘Sounds like a living nightmare,’ replied Stronge, deadpan.

‘Yup. Well, gotta go, Kat. I’ll let you know as soon as something juicy jumps out at me from the spiritual ether. Toodle pip.’

I ended the call, pocketed my phone, and carried on towards The Beehive.

The pub is stood at the top end of Ealing Broadway, and has been for a century or more. Don’t bother looking for it though, it’s situated at the end of a blind alley, a hidden passageway, invisible to anyone not in the know.

I arrived at a nondescript door bearing the faded image of a beehive, and pushed through to the pub beyond. I felt the skin of a protective spell part around me as I stepped through the threshold. The Beehive had a rule—no spells in the bar—and in case anyone decided to ignore that rule, the dampening magic that permeated the place saw to it that disputes never got too out of hand. It didn’t rob the patrons of their powers entirely, but it deadened any spells to the point of making them non-lethal. That way no one got burned to the ground for giving the wrong bloke’s missus the eye. Which isn’t to say that thrown fists were unheard of there. When you cater to the kind of crowd The Beehive does, all bets are off.

I scanned the lounge and a couple of heads turned toward me. Some Uncanny sorts can see ghosts, some can’t. As far as I can tell, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. For example, witches can see me, their familiars too. Fairies? Werewolves? Ogres? They toodle by on their merry way without ever knowing I was there. Like I say, the rules are a mess.

As I made my way to the bar, a distracted imp playing darts with a telekinesis spell saw his arrow go wide, and cursed in an ancient tongue as it buried itself in the door to the Ladies. It was barely lunchtime, but the place was already peppered with day-drinkers. I saw Lenny behind the pumps, the pub’s proprietor, a grizzled mountain of a man who looked like he was born with bear DNA. He was tall. The kind of tall that cast a shadow on a cinema screen, even when he’s sitting down.

He looked at me from head to toe. I wasn’t a regular, but Lenny knew me well enough to know I was an Insider; someone who belonged in his establishment.

‘What do you want?’ he growled.

‘I’m looking for someone,’ I told him. ‘A magician.’

‘Lot of conjurers come this way.’

‘This one belongs to a gang, or did before he went rogue. Order of the Eternal Flame. You know who I’m talking about?’

Lenny’s face stayed poker solid.

I was about to dig a little deeper when I felt a hand on my shoulder, heavy as a trailer hitch. Not good. Whoever that paw belonged to could touch me, and in this place, that did not bode well.

I turned around to see a short, muscled creature dressed like a pile of dirty laundry. He had no hair and a mouthful of piranha teeth. The guy looked like the keynote speaker at a psychopath convention.

‘You’re not wanted here, phantom,’ he spat.

I get this a lot. There’s a certain breed of people who just don’t like ghosts. I guess we must depress them or something. Remind them of their own mortality.

‘Leave it,’ said Lenny, cautioning the punter on my behalf. ‘Haven’t you had enough of being knocked around?’

It was only then that I saw the lumps and bruises on the little guy’s face. He’d been in the wars alright.

I smiled back at him, all peaches and cream. ‘What’s your name, mate?’

‘Razor. And I’m not your “mate”.’

Now he was just getting on my nerves. I came to The Beehive for intel, not to get mugged off by some… whatever the fuck this thing was.

I squared up to the little scrote. ‘What’s your problem, pal?’

‘You are. You stink. Stink of the grave. It turns my stomach.’

I tried one last time to lighten the mood. ‘Hey, don’t blame me if you can’t handle your spirits.’

He pulled an expression so sour I thought he might sneer his face off. Apparently the lowlife was not a fan of wordplay.

I began to wonder if the attitude I was getting was about more than Razor was letting on. Had he overheard the conversation I was having with Lenny? Did he know something about the rogue magician I was looking for? Was he protecting him?

I held my magic ring up to Razor’s face. ‘Do you know where I can find the magician? The one from the Order of the Eternal Flame?’

‘No,’ he growled back.

The ring glowed blue. He was telling the truth. Damn it.

Then, quick as a flash, Razor snapped his knife-edged teeth at my hand. Thankfully, I was quicker, and just about managed to pull my hand back in time to keep my full complement of fingers.

‘You dare use magic here?’ he said. ‘On me?’

He took a swing and chinned me, sending me sprawling through the bar.

‘Oi, staff only,’ said Lenny.

I rubbed my jaw and stepped back through the bar, narrowing my eyes at Razor, who stood ready, legs spread and solid like a boxer. Whatever Razor was, he knew how to throw a punch.

He chucked another one my way but I blocked it and gave him an elbow to the mouth for his trouble. Wallop. Couple of loosened fangs. Any more aggro and the next ones were going down his throat. I may not look like I’d be much use in a fight, but I’m not shy of a spot of fisticuffs. As a lad, I’d had it out on the cobbles more times than I could count. I was brought up in an all boys school in a rough part of town, and it could get pretty scrappy at times. Downright vicious in fact. My teenage years were no different; walk around small town Britain dressed like a goth and trouble has a way of seeking you out.

Razor sent another punch my way and it connected with my temple. I staggered backwards, my senses smudged. I realised I was actually smiling. Call me crazy, but when you spend so much of your life (well, afterlife) being about as solid as smoke, it’s actually kind of exhilarating to feel something, even if it is a smack in the chops.

‘That all you got, you stinking corpse?’ he snarled.

Oh, it was on.

The bar’s patrons gathered around, placing bets on the fight’s outcome. Well, the ones that could see me did. The others just enjoyed watching Razor take part in a vigorous bout of shadow boxing.

Bets were called. The imp whose dart game I’d disturbed put a hefty wager on the home player. That really jabbed my fight button.

Razor came at me again. He delivered a fist to my stomach this time, hoping to knock the wind out of me. Fat chance of that happening, what with me not being a breather.

I stomped on his instep and cuffed him hard around the side of the head, disorienting him and leaving him with a hell of an earache.

He threw himself at me, raging. We slugged it out some more, careening about the place, overturning furniture, hitting each other with whatever came to hand. The bystanders cheered, yelling for more, howling for blood. It was bedlam.

I shouldered Razor to the ground, and when he came up, he had a bottle in his hand. He smashed it on the edge of the bar and came at me with the sharp end, making to glass me in the face. Jesus, only in a country this vicious do we use “glass” as a verb.

As I backed away, I accidentally lost my footing and went sprawling to the ground. No sooner had I hit the deck than Razor was on top of me, bearing down with that jagged bottle. Razor could touch me, but did that ability extend to the bottle in his hand? Would it cut my skin, pierce my flesh? I didn’t fancy finding out the answer to that little riddle.

I managed to get a hand on his wrist, but he was surprisingly strong for a person of his size; a real pit bull of a thing.

The cheering bystanders reached fever pitch. I was beginning to get the distinct impression that none of them was rooting for me.

‘You act like a hard man,’ Razor hissed, ‘but I see right through you.’

‘Of course you do,’ I told him. ‘I’m a fucking ghost.’

I concentrated on my free hand, willing it to be even less solid than usual, and reached into his chest—right through his skin, right through his rib cage—and grabbed him by the heart.

He choked and froze.

‘One twitch and you’re a dead man,’ I hissed, tightening my grip. ‘So, what do you reckon? You wanna keep going at it, or shall we call this one quits?’

The kind of hocus pocus that could kill people was cancelled out by The Beehive’s dampening magic, but that couldn’t stop me from doing my ghost thing.

‘I submit,’ he gasped.

‘Good boy.’

To make sure he didn’t go back on the deal the moment I let go, I gave his ticker just enough of a squeeze to knock him out.

‘Take a nap, mate,’ I said as I rolled him off me, ‘and don't feel like you have to wake up.’

I stood up and dusted myself down. ‘He’ll be fine,’ I told the onlookers. ‘Just needs to sleep it off.’

A shadow swamped me from behind. Lenny.

‘Out. Now,’ he growled.

I didn’t put up a fight. I had no idea who or what Lenny was, but I knew better than to tangle with him.

‘Sorry about the mess,’ I said.


I called to the rest of the pub’s patrons as Lenny’s glare practically shoved me to the exit. ‘Listen up, dickheads. Any of you knows the scumbag that killed Ingrid Vallens, you tell him to meet me in Highgate Cemetery at midnight. You hear me? Highgate Cemetery! I’ll be ready with my fighting pants on!’

‘That’s enough,’ said Lenny.

‘You think they got the message?’ I asked, wondering if I’d stirred the pot sufficiently.

Lenny told me not to worry. ‘Don’t worry, the whole of the Uncanny Kingdom will want words with you soon enough...’


I stopped by Legerdomain to kill some time before the meet.

‘You’re telling me you walked into The Beehive and started a fight?’ Jazz Hands screeched.

‘No, he started it,’ I corrected.

‘You’re like a child! Do you have any idea of the things that go on in that place?’

‘I’m beginning to get an idea,’ I replied, rubbing my jaw.

She marched up to me, gesticulating wildly. ‘You could have been killed! Again!’

‘Goes with the territory.’

‘This isn’t your territory, Jake. You solve murders, domestics, hit-and-runs, muggings gone wrong. Since when do you get involved with magicians and creatures from the abyss?’

‘Hey, I was an exorcist once—’

‘—who banished piss-weak pit fiends and mopped up projectile vomit.’

‘Not exactly the way I presented it on my CV.’

She threw up her hands in dismay. ‘Idiot.’

I folded my arms. ‘Well, you’ve been a real ray of sunshine today. So glad I stopped by.’

Jazz slid back behind her counter and snatched up the handset of a telephone. It was an old-fashioned rotary phone with magical glyphs on the dial instead of numbers.

‘Who are you calling?’ I asked.

‘I’m calling for help,’ she said, jamming a finger in the wheel and giving it a swivel. ‘I’m contacting the London Coven.’

‘I thought you told me they’d been wiped out.’

‘They left a familiar. A protector. Someone they built especially to handle this sort of thing.’

The London Coven was, as far as Jazz explained it, a kind of a police force that kept an eye on the Uncanny of London, keeping them in line when the shit hit the fan. Except now they were extinct, and all that was left of them was a single familiar keeping the peace in the entire city. She must have been putting in a shit-load of overtime.

I turned my hand corporeal and placed a finger on the phone’s hang-up button, cutting off the call.

‘Listen,’ I said. ‘I appreciate you looking out for me, but the message I got from heaven didn’t say anything about bringing in a second party. I’m going to have to lone wolf this one.’

‘Then let me help you find a way to hide,’ she said. ‘There must be some way to get you off his radar.’ She began pulling old tomes off the shelves and riffling their yellowed pages.

‘Give it up, Jazz. There’s no hiding from this. Judgement Day is coming, and I’m going to make sure I show up for it spick and span. Anyway, aren’t you the one who’s always telling me I need to make up for the bad things I've done?’

‘Yes, but—’

‘So which is it? Do I carry on running from my fate, or do I get out there and atone for my sins?’

I had her there.

She hung up the receiver. ‘Tell me why you’re really doing this.’

‘I just told you—’

‘It’s a woman, isn’t it?’

‘How dare you. I am doing this one-hundred percent because it’s the right and correct thing to do! I am a ghost of honour, not driven by something as mortal as crotch-based lust.’

‘How pretty is she?’

‘Oh, off the scale pretty. I mean it is just insane.’

She sighed and buried her hands in her hair. If I didn’t know better I’d almost think she was jealous.

‘Look, Jazz, I have to do this. Not just to get the Big Man out of my hair, but because I made a promise. To the victim. To Ingrid.’

Ingrid. Of course she’s an Ingrid. What do you even know about this woman?’

‘That she’s dead and that she’s in trouble and that she needs my help. What else do I need to know?’

Jazz drew a long breath. ‘Tell me this, Jake... is she worth dying for? I mean, properly dying? No ghosting around, no playing detective, no anything. Just the void.’

I chose not to answer that one. Instead, I checked my watch for the time. Ten to midnight. Almost time for my rendezvous. ‘I have to get going,’ I said. ‘Duty calls.’

I was about to make off when Jazz Hands held up a hand. ‘Hold your horses.’

She walked away and went to the framed picture of James Randi that she kept behind the counter. Pulling it aside, she revealed a hidden wall safe, which she opened using a key she kept about her neck. Reaching into the safe, she produced a bundle of some sort and set it down on the counter. The contents of the bundle were wrapped in a silk handkerchief, which I touched and found solid. Whatever was under there, Jazz Hands had worked her magic on it.

‘Go ahead,’ she said.

I picked it up. It was cold and weighed heavy in my palm.

I whipped off the hankie and found myself holding a pearl-handled revolver.

‘Cool,’ I remarked. ‘Is this the demon laser I asked for?’

‘It’s a gun,’ Jazz Hands replied, flatly. ‘You point it at the thing you want to kill and pull the trigger.’

Huh. Well, that’d work too. ‘Thanks,’ I told her, slipping the gun into the inside pocket of my jacket.

‘Be careful,’ she said, full of motherly concern.

‘Always am.’

‘A month ago I gave you an enchanted knife you could carry. Before you’d even vacated my premises you almost had an eye out.’

‘You didn’t let me finish. Always am... since then.’

I doffed an imaginary cap as Jazz Hands rolled her eyes, then I made haste.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

A second later, I arrived at the rendezvous location, Highgate Cemetery. I held the pistol in my pocket, hand tight about its grip.

Would the rogue magician show, I wondered. I’d shouted my mouth off at The Beehive; surely word of my invitation must have spread by now. Someone was bound to have passed the news on to the guilty party, right?

So there I was, walking among the burial plots, using myself as tasty bait. Would the magician swim by and leave the worm on the hook, I asked myself, or would he take this opportunity to chow down and use me for fish food?

A light breeze rolled across a blanket of newly browned leaves, making the cemetery seem to whisper. There were no voices though; it was too late for the living and no place for ghosts. The graveyard was full of bodies, and yet nothing but empty.

Then I heard a noise. A commotion up ahead. I ran, wading through a sea of tombstones until I arrived at the source of the disturbance.

A man lay dead on the ground.

His chest sliced open.

His rib cage cranked apart.

I pulled out my gun and scanned the area, trying to get a bead on the killer. There was no one out there though, not as far as I could see. Whoever did this was long gone.

I returned my attention to the body and stooped down to see if I could ID him. His face didn’t ring any bells. Sixty or so years of age, dressed like a school supply teacher, an upper crust whiff about him. One of those chinless wonders with a face that seemed to connect to his neck with nothing happening in between.

The old geezer’s body was splayed out on a magic circle that had been painted in his own blood. This wasn’t a ward like before though. This was weakening magic – a trigger spell to sap the life force of anyone foolish enough to set foot inside the circle’s boundary.

The rogue magician had been here, that much was obvious. It seemed my visit to The Beehive had been a success, and that he’d gotten word I wanted a word with him. So then why cut and run, and why leave me a corpse for a calling card? What was the message? Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity, could that be possible? Was this poor sod coming to see his departed old mum, only to end up joining her in great hereafter?

I looked down and saw something odd in the pattern of blood surrounding him. A spot of something breaking up the red. A spot of something tar-like. I crouched down to get a better look at it. It was black—a deep, deep, stygian black—and it gave off some truly unholy vibes. Was this blood too? The demon’s blood?

Not wanting to touch the stuff, I took a sample by dipping the tip of my revolver into the stuff. Maybe Jazz Hands would be able to make something of it.

But before I got to that, there was something else bothering me.

I began to look around the area close to the body, even peering behind a gravestone or two. I was stood three feet from a dead man, a man that had only recently been murdered, and yet there was something very obviously missing.

His ghost was gone.

The soul feaster had eaten well tonight.


A cemetery tour guide found the old man’s body first thing the next morning.

The police transferred the body to St Pancras Mortuary for inspection, and Detective Inspector Stronge invited me along to attend the next stage of the investigation. I hitched a ride to the meet in Mark Ryan’s body. I’ve spent enough time in the guy’s skull now that I know his routine by heart, so finding the bloke when I need him is never a problem.

Stronge and her partner, DI Maddox (or Inspector Fuckwit as I prefer to call him), flashed their warrant cards at the front desk. Once they were let through, they led me down a series of antiseptic corridors until we reached the autopsy room.

Dr Anand was there, dressed in her customary blue plastic apron and scrubs. The two of us were intimately acquainted already, not that she was aware of it. Wait, that didn’t sound great. Let me try that again....

If Dr Anand were able to see through my meat suit, she’d have recognised the real me. See, Anand was the coroner that dealt with Jake Fletcher’s sliced-up remains—with my sliced-up remains—so she’d seen parts of me that even I didn’t know about. Like I say, intimate. Anand was also a major asset in solving my murder, which made her A-OK in my book.

‘Okay, let’s do this,’ she said, with just a touch too much relish for my liking.

While she snapped on a pair of powdered latex gloves and the rest of us rubbed oil of camphor under our noses, a couple of assistants fetched the corpse of the recently deceased. They rolled in a gurney and carefully lifted the bag containing the body onto the room’s ceramic autopsy slab.

‘Thank you, gents,’ said Anand. ‘Please close the doors behind you.’

The assistants did as asked and Dr Anand unzipped the bag. I noticed Maddox recoil slightly as she did it. Obviously this wasn’t his favourite part of the job.

Inside, was the body of the old man, just as I’d left him, save for the relocation from the cemetery. The only difference was the toe tag.

Anand whistled when she saw the state of the corpse’s chest, all opened up and flapping in the breeze. ‘Looks like somebody got this one started for me,’ she joked.

The three of us stood back while she did her job, delving around in the dead guy’s chest cavity for clues.

Stronge leaned over and whispered in my ear. ‘No coffee for me today?’

‘Sorry,’ I replied, ‘I was in a rush.’

She smiled that rare smile of hers. ‘Don’t worry about it. We can always grab one afterwards.’


Not that she was talking coffee two feet from a mangled corpse—Stronge’s always had a stomach to match her name—but that she was so obviously hitting on me. I’d always felt like there was a spark between us, and God knows I have a thing for ice queens, but this definitely seemed like an escalation.

‘Sounds great, Kat,’ I whispered back, ‘but I can’t.’

I don’t mind a bit of flirting here and there, but going the distance in another guy’s body? What can I say, I’m just not that kind of ghost.

Stronge pulled back. ‘Don’t get any ideas, Fletcher. I just wanted to discuss the case.’

Maddox heard her raised voice. ‘Everything alright?’

‘Everything’s fine,’ Stronge huffed.

Dr Anand broke the tension. ‘This is interesting…’

‘What is it?’ asked Maddox, gingerly stepping forward.

Anand picked up a pen from one of the stainless steel counters and used it to point inside the cadaver’s chest cavity. ‘See that?’

‘I don’t see anything,’ Maddox replied, wincing.

‘Exactly. No heart. Somebody took it out.’


‘Better to ask how. See the incision there, through the skin? See how clean it is?’


‘Now look at what’s going on inside the chest. See the aorta there? The pulmonary artery?’

Maddox hesitated, then leaned in for a closer look, green around the gills but keen not to show it.

Anand went on. ‘Unlike the opening laceration, the internal wounds are imprecise. Sloppy.’

Stronge stepped in. ‘I’ve a feeling this is leading somewhere, so can you please cut to the chase?’

Dr Anand arched an eyebrow. ‘It looks as though the victim's heart was eaten from their chest cavity. Chewed out.’

‘Jesus!’ said Maddox, before sprinting to a bin and chucking up his guts.

I stifled a smile. Oh Maddox, you big Jessie.

‘And that’s only the half of it,’ Anand added.

‘What do you mean?’ asked Stronge, covering for her partner while he ejected his breakfast.

‘Neither of these wounds was caused post-mortem. Both occurred while the victim was alive.’

‘So, something cut him open then ate his heart right out of his chest?’ asked Stronge.

Maddox arched over behind me and up-chucked again.

I leaned into the cadaver. ‘You’re sure?’ I asked Dr Anand. ‘That the body was opened clean?’

‘Sixteen years of medical training and a master’s degree in criminology? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve got this one, Mystic Meg.’

I walked right into that one. Still, what I didn’t know about dead bodies, I more than made up for with my demon know-how, and if there’s one thing I’d learned about this particular hell-beast, it’s that it didn’t eat its dinner with a knife and fork. The soul feaster would have stuck its head through the old fella’s chest and gone at him like it was bobbing for apples, only this meal had been dished up. Served hot and presented like a waiter lifting the lid on a soup tureen. That could only mean one thing.

The summoner and the demon were working together.

But to what end? If the rogue magician had convinced the demon to grant him eternal life, what was he doing running errands for the thing? I’ve heard of some wasted lives in my time—I count mine as one of them—but this took the cake.

Stronge broke my concentration. ‘The body, do you think there’s any connection between this one and the corpse we found in the canal?’

For a second I thought she was talking to me, but the question was for Anand.

The doctor shook her head. ‘I don’t think so. The skinning was meticulous. This killing… this was a feeding frenzy.’

Maddox wiped his mouth. ‘Great, so now we’ve got two killers on the loose.’ He turned to me and shrugged. ‘So…?’

‘So what?’

‘So, who did it? Who’s our suspect?’

‘Oh, right, yeah. Well, I don’t know that just now. Not yet anyway.’

‘And you’re our psychic, are you? What the fuck are you even doing here, Fletcher?

‘It’s not that simple, I need time to make a connection,’ I bullshitted.

‘Bollocks,’ he replied, smelling it.

‘I told you who the first victim was, didn’t I? Ingrid Vallens. Without me you’d still be trying to figure out how to dust a skinned body for prints’

Maddox’s lip curled. ‘Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that. About where you get your little tip-offs. Tell me this, Fletcher, you ever hear of Occam’s razor?’

I had, but I hadn’t expected to find it living in his thick head.

Maddox answered for me. ‘It’s a principle that says the simplest solution is usually the best one. So, I keep wondering to myself, what’s the simplest solution for the way you keep a step ahead of us? Is it that you can communicate with the spirit world, or is it that you know something about these dead bodies that you’re not telling us?’ His eyes bored into me like a pair of hate-rays.

Stronge put a stop to it. ‘Will you two put your dicks away?’ She smacked me in the chest with the flat of a clipboard. ‘He’s messing with you – we already have an ID on the heart donor.’

I took the clipboard and scanned the name at the top of the front page. Henry Carter PhD, retired theology professor. No criminal record, no known enemies.

‘I don’t get it. Why would someone bump off this guy?’

‘That’s what I’m hoping you can tell us.’

‘Of course,’ I said, except, thanks to the soul feaster, there was no ghost for me to question like there was after Ingrid’s murder. I stroked my chin, stalling for time while I thought of something to say. I had nothing.

Dr Anand saved me. ‘Could it have been a ritual? One of those blood sacrifices?’

Maddox snorted. ‘Like in the films? Leave it out. What we’re looking for is a lunatic with a sharp knife and a head full of wrong.’

I suppose he was half right. In any case, I wasn’t going to correct the guy. What would I tell him? That there was a bona-fide demon on the loose? That there was black magic afoot in the city and that everything he knew was a lie? I didn't like the bloke, but I wasn’t about to lay that load on him.

I turned to Stronge. ‘I’ll get a read on the killer soon enough, but in the meantime, what else aren’t you telling me? Did he leave any clues? Were there any witnesses?’

‘Just the one,’ she replied.

I threw up my hands. ‘Why didn’t you say so?’ I mean, talk about burying the lede. ‘Well? Did you get a photofit?’

‘We’re waiting on that,’ said Maddox.

‘Waiting for what, for Christ’s sake?’

‘Waiting for the witness to come out of her coma.’


It was getting on for three in the morning, and I was wandering the streets of Camden in the pissing rain.

It was day four of my investigation, and I was no clearer about the identity of Ingrid’s killer than when I’d started. I had to come up with something, and soon. Something solid to send her to the Good Place and clear some of that red ink from my account.

I passed a revolving door of tattoo parlours and kebab shops, thinking back to what Stronge had told me about the coma witness. Apparently, she lived in some big, glass, Grand Designs house overlooking the cemetery, and saw the murder go down through one of her floor-to-ceiling windows. Hazard of living in a transparent house, I suppose – sometimes you’re going to see some things you wish you hadn’t.

What she saw was recorded on her mobile phone, though not with enough clarity to be of much use. The video she captured was just about useless – dim, shaky, and worst of all, shot in portrait. What is it with some people? I swear to God, I could be filming the end of the world and I’d still have the sense to shoot it holding my phone sideways.

I was given a chance to review the video footage at the station. It showed the silhouette of a slim, four-limbed creature crouching over its victim, head buried in his chest. True to Dr Anand’s report, the vic was very much alive as it happened, thrashing about like a downed power line. It made for hard viewing, and I only got to see the blurry, happening-in-the-distance version. What the witness saw with her own eyes must have been far, far worse. No wonder it triggered the heart condition that laid her out.

After dropping Mark off, I’d headed over to Jazz Hands’ place with the sample of black blood I’d sourced at Highgate Cemetery. If it really was the demon’s blood, there was a chance—even if it was a slim one—that it could be used to power a dowsing spell, except instead of looking for water, I’d use it to find the thing behind these murders.

Naturally, Jazz Hands had tried to talk me out of it, but I’d charmed her into helping me – by which I mean I’d begged her for close to forty minutes.

I know a thing or two about magic, but Jazz Hands? Well, she may not have written the book on it exactly, but she sure owns a fuck of a lot of them.

She took a scraping of the sample, verified that it was indeed demon blood—soul feaster blood to be exact—and diluted it with a potion that practically hummed with magical energy. After that, she took the stirred-together solution and smeared a dollop of it on the centre of my chest.

‘Just follow the pull,’ she’d told me.

The dowsing effect wouldn’t last long I was told, so the chances of it working were slim, but I was feeling lucky. I’d find that demon in no time, I was sure of it.

I tromped around Camden for something like three hours.

I wandered this way and that, up main roads and side streets, hopping from location to location, and each of them proved a bust. Occasionally, I had a feeling like my chest was tingling and the spell was working, shepherding me in a certain direction, only for the sensation to peter out and disappear.

I was about ready to call it a night and go back to my boxed sets when my chest suddenly broke out in tingles, like a family of ants was hang a party between my nipples.

And that’s when I heard them. Screams.

Lots of them.

The noise came from up ahead, a little further down the high street and tucked down a side alley. What was it? Cries for help or just a bunch of drunks exercising their lungs? Had I finally found what I was looking for? I wouldn’t know unless I checked it out, so I sprinted down the road and took the corner.

Terrified ravers were pouring out of an all-night fetish club called F*I*S*T. They were scared out of their wits, wailing like banshees, their faces chiselled with dread as they piled onto the pavement.

I worked against the tide, passing through the screaming clubbers as I forced my way into the building and past the empty ticket office. I phased through bodies dressed in studded leather, in rubber tuxedos, in gas masks, and, in the case of one particular reveller, a crown made of foot-long dildos.

Thrash metal blared from downstairs, loud as gunfire, jangling my senses like marbles in a tin can. I followed the noise-abatement-order-defying racket to the basement, bounding down the steps three at a time. The stairs bottomed out in the club’s main room, and there, in the middle of the dance floor and lit by the frantic pulse of a strobe light, I found a dead body.

But that wasn’t all I found.

A mirror ball shaped like a human skull swarmed the grisly scene with pinpricks of white light. Hunched over the dead body was a figure, head bowed and feasting noisily on the corpse’s heart.

I’d found the fucker.

Stood nearby, her mouth agape, was a lone lubber dressed like Tank Girl—all pink neon dreads and bovver boots—a peculiar specimen known as a cybergoth that you only find within a hundred square yards of Camden. She was frozen to the spot, knees locked with fear. ‘W-what are you?’ she squeaked, not at me—I was invisible to her eyes—but at the creature on the dance floor emptying out a dead man’s chest cavity.

It was a fair question. I circled around the DJ booth to get a better look at the thing, moving silent and unseen. It was hard to make the demon out under the UV lamps and dry ice, but I soon found the right angle.

The demon wasn’t what I expected at all. The soul feaster looked nothing like the woodcut in Jazz Hands’ bestiary; all sinewy limbs and smouldering eyes and razor blade claws. It looked like a woman. A human woman with bad table manners and a real thing for offal.

She lifted her head and her blood-matted blonde hair parted to reveal a face.

It was a face I recognised. A face that made the room tilt and threaten to drop me to the floor.

The demon was Ingrid.

Ingrid Vallens.

But that couldn’t be.

Ingrid was dead.

Wandering Camden’s waterways as a ghost.

No way it could be...

…and then it clicked.

This wasn’t Ingrid. This was Ingrid’s skin—the same skin that had been peeled from her body—now worn by the soul feaster. It hung from the demon’s bones like a badly-fitted suit, baggy and uneven. She looked beautiful still, but her features were like a death mask, lifeless and limp. The demon definitely passed for human though, which would explain how it had been able to walk the streets without drawing attention. I’d assumed it was using some kind of concealment magic, but this was a far more elegant solution. Gross, but elegant.

The demon sniffed the air and its hollow eyes darted my way and flared orange.

The cat was out of the bag.

I went inside my jacket and pulled out my gun.

Tank Girl shrieked, startled by the sight of a pearl-handled revolver materialising from thin air. It was invisible inside of my ghost clothes, but out of my pocket it was there to see, plain as day.

The demon saw the gun too and froze, caught in the open, uncertain of what to do next.

I didn’t know what kind of damage a six-shooter was going to do a soul feaster—I might as well have been waving a fertility crystal at it for all I knew—but from the way it stalled, the demon was just as clueless as I was.

‘Stay there,’ I told it, cocking the gun’s hammer.

Tank Girl screamed at the sound of my disembodied voice. Poor love. She really was having one of those days.

The soul feaster twitched.

‘I said stay there!’

But the demon was having none of it. Quick as a flash, it darted behind a pillar then around the other side to grab the cybergoth. She screamed as the demon brought its arm around her throat, turning her into a human shield.

‘Please,’ she begged, ‘whoever you are—whatever you are—don’t shoot!’

I adjusted my aim but couldn’t find a clear target. No way I could risk taking a shot without slotting Tank Girl. Besides, what do I know about firing a gun? I’m no marksman – the only firefights I’ve ever been involved in went down on Xbox Live.

The three of us stood there like human statues.

It was a standoff.

Or at least it was a standoff until the demon lifted Tank Girl off her feet and tossed her at me, sending her soaring across the dance floor like she’d been fired from a cannon. She passed through me but collided with my gun, taking it with her. The revolver span from my grip and went clattering across the floor, lost beneath the dry ice.

I scrabbled around under the fog, desperate to find the one weapon I had to defend myself with, when suddenly I saw it.

I snatched it up and levelled the thing—

But the demon was gone.

I fouled the air with some choice profanities.

No one left but me and Tank Girl, out cold on the ground.

I scanned the room. The demon was fast, but it couldn’t have gotten too far. I went looking for a trail and found a path leading through the dry ice, coalescing now, but distinct enough to show me the way the demon had fled.

I followed the path to the bar and found smashed pint glasses where the demon must have vaulted it. Sliding through to the other side, I saw an open trapdoor and a set of steps leading to the beer cellar. I leapt through the hatch, landed like a feather—easy enough when you’re a phantom—and flashed my gun to every corner of the room.

I caught a blur of movement and popped off three rounds.




The third one did the business.

The soul feaster squealed like a stuck pig.

I’d winged it.

I lined the bastard up in my sights and squeezed the trigger again—

But the demon was quick.

And desperate.

With no way to get past me, it hurtled pell-mell into a cellar wall.


It landed hard. Hard enough to bust through to the other side and leave me lost in a cloud of brick dust. By the time it had cleared, the demon was gone. All that was left was a trickle of black blood leading through a crumbling hole in the cellar wall.

I stuck my head through the opening and peered into the inky gloom. The demon had punched through to the city’s old, Victorian sewer system. No way I was chasing it through there. The sewers were home to all manner of Uncanny – the kind that only walk the streets by cover of night. Creepers, lurkers, lurchers, not to mention fey folk. And I don’t mean the Tinkerbell kind of fairies that frolic at the bottom of your garden; these are spiteful, evil little bastards. Vicious bottom-feeders who lay eggs in your stomach that hatch like a pound of Semtex.

I pocketed my gun and headed back upstairs. Tank Girl was starting to come around, woozy still from being ragdolled across the room. It didn’t seem right to leave her head full of all the stuff she’d seen, so I stepped inside her and gave that blob of grey meat a good old scrub. I don’t like to possess strangers if I can help it—least of all women—but it was that or a lifetime of nightmares for the lass.

After I was done scouring, I gave the girl back her body, along with a big hole where some bad memories used to go. Far as she knew, she’d had one too many snakebites and nodded off. She might wonder why she was the only one left in the club when she came to, but I doubted it would occur to her until she woke up the next day.

With that taken care of, I went to the mutilated corpse spread-eagled on the dance floor. The dead body used to belong to a man. He looked to be in his mid-forties, but that was just a guess. Ordinarily, I’d have confirmed the deets with his ghost, but once again, the demon had snacked on his soul.

The deceased was dressed in a latex catsuit, complete with a tasteful peephole for his unmentionables. Much like the last body, the rib cage was torn open and the heart taken out, except by the looks of things, this torso had been pried apart by the demon’s bare hands.

It seemed the demon had decided to strike out on its own this time, without its summoner in tow. What was that all about anyway? I couldn’t make sense of it. A demon and a magician in cahoots? It made no sense. What was the summoner getting out of this? And where the hell was he now?

I took a closer look at the victim, trying to get an ID. Brown hair, blue eyes, a cleft chin...


One of the elders at the Magic Circle had a cleft chin. One of the Eternal Flame guys.

And then the obvious fell into place.

He was a member of the Order. Chin Dimple! The body at the cemetery, the one with the weak chin; that must have been Glass Jaw. Why was I only figuring this out now? I was losing my touch. Bad detecting, Jake. Bad.

It looked as though Chin Dimple and Glass Jaw were the victims of a vendetta. The rogue magician must have been the empty spot on that pentacle they were all stood on.

I had no idea how he was doing it, but the tricky swine had figured out a way to talk his pet demon into bumping off his former colleagues.

Chin Dimple must have known what was going on though, surely? That someone had cored one of his buddies and left them laid out in a graveyard? It was on the front page of the Metro for crying out loud, and what does this genius do? Squeezes into a latex catsuit and heads off to a fetish club to air out his privates. I mean, come on, man. Priorities.

So, who was this guy laid out at my feet? I firmed up my ghost hands and patted him down; no easy task when the act of turning a door handle can leave me shaking like a washing machine on spin cycle. Still, I soldiered on, and after a little while I found a pocket sewn into the upper leg of the dead guy’s latex outfit. Horny but practical – a winning combination.

Inside the pocket was a leather wallet, which I plucked out with a squeak and rifled for clues. His driver’s license had his name as Timothy Martin Jones, D.O.B February 4th, 1969. Other than that, he had forty quid in cash, an expired rail ticket and a creased-up library card. Nothing much of interest there.

I was about to return the wallet to its pocket when I noticed a zip on the side. I opened it up to find a condom and a half-empty blister pack of pills. I held the medicine up to the light to check the brand.


I knew that name. A flatmate of mine at university used to take the stuff. Called them “Nukes.” Used them to treat his HIV.

Guess that explained why Chin Dimple was living each day like his last.

Too bad for him that this was the one.


By the time I left the club, the sun was coming up and colouring in a new day. The police would find the body I’d left at the club soon enough, in the meantime I’d check in on Ingrid and let her know how things were progressing. I made a mental note to keep the stuff about a demon running around in her skin to myself. That just struck me as an overshare.

When I got to the canal, there was no sign of her though. I walked the towpath from Camden Lock to St. Pancras, checked under every bridge, inside every narrowboat, but Ingrid was gone.

Where the hell was she?

Had she drifted away and turned feral? Was she out there somewhere, haunting the streets, springing from alleyways and frightening the sensitive? Or had she gone full Bloody Mary, materialising from mirrors and scratching people’s eyes out?

I thought about Ingrid’s glowing smile. About how much I missed it already.

Then another theory occurred. What if the magician had gotten to her? What if he’d been down here, tying up loose ends while I was busy having it out with his demon at the club? Did he rub her out? Did he obliterate her, like an exorcist cleansing a haunted house? Just like I used to do.

I should have been here. Should have protected her. I was so busy trying to scrub that red ink from my account that I lost sight of what mattered. I was thinking about myself, not Ingrid. About getting square with the Big Man. Typical me. Selfish to the end. Till after the end even.

It was all starting to feel like a lost cause, but then I had a thought. If Ingrid really had been obliterated, where was God’s stooge? Why wasn’t he here with a shepherd’s crook, ready to yank me off stage and drag me in front of my maker?

I decided to keep my worst fears in check until I knew what had happened for sure. So long as there was a chance that Ingrid was still out there, I was going to fight for her.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

I went to Frosty for the word on the street.

He occupied his usual spot, the patch of pavement under a Sainsbury’s cash point, a stone’s throw from Mornington Crescent Station.

‘I need your help, Frost.’

He looked up at me with bloodshot eyes. ‘My fee?’

I didn’t have time for his bloody fee. It was day five of my investigation and the hourglass was almost empty. ‘I don’t have any booze for you, mate. Not right now.’

‘Then you’re shit out of luck, son.’

‘Please,’ I begged him. ‘Sort me out this once and I’ll have three cans for you next time. Scratch that, I’ll have a whole bloody six pack. A crate if you want!’

His lips smacked like waves lapping against a rock. ‘Promise?’

‘Cross my heart and hope to die.’ Again, not really a promise you could take to the bank, that one, but it seemed to convince Frosty.

‘Alright then,’ he said, ‘what do you need to know?’

‘Ingrid Vallens. Where is she?’

‘Ingrid Vallens the underwear model?’ he asked, arching a frostbitten eyebrow. ‘What are you up to, you mucky old bastard?’

‘I don’t have time to piss about, Frosty. She’s dead and I need to find her. Can you tell me where she is or not?’

He flared his nostrils. ‘You owe me one, Fletcher. Or six to be exact.’

He closed his eyes and did whatever it was he did. When he opened them again, his face was crossed with confusion. ‘That’s weird, I can’t get a fix on her. I know I should be able to. It’s like I can sort of smell where she should be, but I can’t get to her. Like something’s…’

‘Blocking you?’


I filled a speech balloon with some swears. The rogue magician had figured out a way to cover his tracks. Of course he bloody had.

‘What have you gotten yourself mixed up in this time?’ Frosty asked.

‘The Order I told you about. One of them’s gone AWOL and started bumping people off.’

‘And you think he’s hiding his footprints?’

‘Looks that way.’

He made a, “We’ll see about that,” face and scrunched his eyes closed to seek out the errant magician.

A minute passed. Any other day, Frosty would have come back with a hit in about the time it took a roulette wheel to stop spinning, but he was struggling with this one. I watched his eyeballs darting about under their lids. His face screwed up and an axe-wound crease furrowed his forehead. Finally, his eyes flicked open.

‘I don’t see him. It’s like someone went through a box of photos and cut the heads out of all of them. The bloke’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma—’

‘Dropped in a bucket of dog shit. Yeah, I know.’

I firmed up my foot and booted an empty can of Fanta across the street, surprising a couple of passing tourists.

Another dead end.

‘Oh…’ A smile cracked the crust of ice on Frosty’s face. ‘Your magician… I did manage to get one thing on ‘em.’

‘What?’ I asked, in a pitch that came out just a bit too high.

Frosty showed me two rows of rotten teeth. ‘I can’t give you a name, I can’t give you a face, but I can give you one thing.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A place.’


I didn’t have time to round up the authorities and take them with me. Three people were dead already, and I wasn’t hanging around to let another one croak. Besides, if I could just find the magician, I was convinced I could get the whereabouts of Ingrid from him, even if I had to beat them out of him with my bare fists. Or Mark’s bare fists anyway.

I took my mule to the address Frosty gave me. I needed Mark’s body if I was going to deal with this magician; how else was I meant to get answers from him? With a couple of ghost arms and good intentions? I don’t like to put Mark in harm’s way, but without a physical form I’m about as useful as Aquaman in Iraq. Besides, if anyone deserved to get roughed up a bit, it was Mark “Kick me in the balls for shits and giggles” Ryan.

The pad Frosty steered me to was a plush three-storey townhouse in Primrose Hill, an area of Camden inhabited by people who give their kids names like Saskia and Rupert. Was this really the place? Was this where my rogue magician kicked up his heels? I bounded up the front steps and stopped at the entrance. I’d planned to pick it with an unlocking cantrip, but when I arrived there I found the door hanging off its hinges, which, you know, is a little ominous. And by a little I mean a lot.

I had a sneaky suspicion that this wasn’t my rogue magician’s house. This was just his last known location, or at least his last location as far as Frosty could figure it.

I drew my revolver and slipped inside, padding down the hallway as quietly as I could, and following a trail of something on the ground that might have been soot.

The interior of the house was a mix of industrial and bohemian—exposed brick and polished teakwood floors—but the decor wasn’t the property’s most notable feature. The thing that really stood out was the smell – a pungent, smoky tang, like someone had been cooking BBQ indoors. It didn’t smell like any meat I knew though. It stank like burnt tramp with a top note of rotten eggs.

I reached the end of a hall and arrived in an open-plan living area: a lounge, minimally furnished with a loose scattering of tasteful Danish designs. No one was home. No one living anyway.

Sprawled across the floor and leaking its juices into an authentic bearskin rug was a body, its chest torn wide open, just like the others.

My man had been here alright, but I was a step behind him as always. This was starting to get old now. I was beginning to feel like an unwilling participant in the world’s grimmest scavenger hunt.

I crouched down to get a proper look at the rogue magician’s latest victim. He looked to be in his late seventies, with just a few wisps of hair clinging to his scalp and a pair of rheumy, blue eyes. Sat on his upper lip was a distinctive waxed moustache.


I checked his arm to confirm. Sure enough, the limb was prosthetic. No doubt about it, this was the Order’s chief elder. The leader of the pack—the one who lost a limb sending this demon back to hell the first time—had finally met his match.

Only Cleft Lip remained now. Three magicians down, one to go. Christ, I was making a real balls of this job.

I cast a look at my surroundings. There, on a shabby chic sideboard, sat next to a Bang & Olufsen stereo, was a framed certificate: an award from the Royal College of Surgeons. It was a diploma in the speciality of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. So, a dead theology professor, a departed HIV patient, and now a plastic surgeon. Three people sure to have a marked interest in the prospect of eternal life. No wonder they all belonged to their little immortality club. Ironic that it had turned out to be the death of them.

Searching the room some more, my eyes landed on a shape on the wall: the scorched outline of a silhouette spoiling a nice double-coat of tastefully neutral Farrow & Ball paint. Seemed I’d found the source of that BBQ smell. From the looks of things, Mustachio had gotten a last-second shot in before the soul feaster went to town on him. Fair play, old man.

Returning to the body, I saw something lying on the rug beside Mustachio’s hand. A twig, one end wrapped in a length of blue leather twine. I stooped down to examine the thing closer. There were etchings running along its side. Magical runes. No, this wasn’t a twig… this was a wand. A wand of lightning to be exact, which he’d used to blast the demon with. Magical wands and seraphim swords, huh? What didn’t these guys have... I mean, except for their hearts.

I reached down and picked up Mustachio’s wand. I wiped a smear of blood off it and ran my thumb along the runes, feeling for a magical spark. It seemed the enchantment had been good for one charge only. The item was spent. Those things don’t mess around though; the soul feaster must have taken one hell of a whack. Along with the bullet I’d put through the thing, it should be pretty wobbly on its feet right about now. I just hoped I could get to it in time to take advantage of that.

I leaned across the body to set the wand down where I found it—

When something lashed out and seized me by the wrist.

A hand, gripping me like a vice.

I almost jumped out of my skin… literally.

Mustachio was still alive!

The guy was opened up from navel to neck and I was ankle-deep in his blood. Bright red arterial blood. How could he possibly still be kicking?

‘I tried…’ he choked, blood bubbling from his mouth as he pointed to the scorched silhouette on the wall. ‘Tried... to kill it.’

‘Easy,’ I said, shushing him and making a face like everything was going to be alright, despite the wealth of facts indicating the opposite.

I could see his heart now, in his chest still and beating like a jackrabbit’s. He must have blasted the soul feaster before it had a chance to chow down on him. Chased the thing off before it could chew out his vital organs.

‘You did well, mate,’ I told him. ‘Played a blinder.’

He managed to croak out some more words. ‘...Has to be stopped…. promise… promise me you’ll stop it.’

His bony grip relaxed and I took him by the hand. ‘I’ll stop it,’ I told him. ‘I promise I will.’

He smiled. His eyelids fluttered. And his heart stopped beating.

I set his hand down on the floor and bowed my head.

All was silent.

Until a sharp yell came from behind me.

‘Put down the gun!’ barked a voice I knew all too well.

Detective Inspector Maddox. Inspector Fuckwit.

I looked at the revolver in my hand. At that point I’d forgotten I was even holding it.

‘This isn’t what it looks like, Maddox,’ I said, pathetically, like a teenage boy trying to explain away some questionable items in his browser history.

‘I said put down the gun!’ Maddox repeated.

I did as I was asked and placed the pistol gently on the rug. The blood-sodden rug that had soaked right through my trousers already. Into my hands, under my fingernails, pretty much all over me. I was marinated in murder. Doused in DNA.

I turned around slowly with my hands held high.

‘Stay where you are! Down on the ground!’ It was DCI Stronge issuing the orders this time. She looked as angry as she did disappointed.

A pair of laser sights dotted my torso. Both officers were armed with Taser guns.

Maddox grinned like the cat that got the cream. ‘Look at all this. You’ve been a busy boy, Fletcher.’

Stronge remained the more professional of the two. ‘Put your hands behind your head and lace your fingers,’ she ordered.

‘I didn’t kill this guy, Kat. You must know that.’

‘Is that right?’ chuckled Maddox. ‘What are you doing here then, reading the old man’s entrails? ‘Cause if it’s the future you’re after, I can tell you yours, Fletcher: life at her Majesty’s Pleasure, no parole.’

‘We don’t have time for this!’ I cried. ‘You're letting him get away!’

‘Who?’ said Stronge. ‘Who are we letting get away?’

At that point I heard a new voice. ‘What’s happening?’ pleaded the ghost of the dead magician, who was sat up from his corpse and looking down at the giant pool of blood surrounding him.

‘Tell them,’ I said, forgetting myself. ‘Tell them this wasn’t me!’

‘Who are you talking to?’ asked Stronge, following my eye-line but oblivious to the old man’s apparition.

‘Going for an insanity plea, are you?’ said Maddox. ‘Good luck with that.’

He started walking towards me with a pair of handcuffs.

‘I can’t go with you,’ I told him.

‘Oh, yeah? What are you gonna do, Fletcher? Fight your way out of here?’

I froze.

‘Yeah, I thought so,’ he said, and started to robotically read off my rights.

He was inches from me, about to slap on the bracelets. I couldn’t let him take me. Couldn’t let him lock me up. And that only left me with one option.

I sprang to my feet and kicked Maddox square in the nuts.

He went down like a bag of hammers, but I was quick to follow as a dart hit me in the chest, chased by about 50,000 volts.

My muscles convulsed and my teeth clamped shut as Stronge’s Taser lit me up and dropped me hard.

As I lay on the ground, drooling onto the teakwood floor, a thought occurred.

Two electrocutions in this place in one day.

And they say lightning doesn't strike twice.


I was taken to the station and shoved into a cell. The cops were holding me on breaking and entering, assaulting an officer, perverting the course of justice, and possession of an unlicensed firearm. Oh, and there was that pesky multiple murder charge too.

They weren’t just writing me up for the last batch of murders either. On top of Ingrid and the three dead magicians, they were trying to pin me with five years of homicides. Every case I’d assisted them on, every bad guy I’d steered towards the slammer, was being treated like a fit-up. As though I’d done the killing, planted false evidence, and served the police a patsy.

No doubt about it, things weren’t looking great for old Jakey.

Apparently, Stronge and her trained monkey had arrived at Mustachio’s house following an anonymous tip. I was beginning to get the distinct impression that I’d been set up. Taken out of the picture by the real culprit, the rogue magician. Was he working with Frosty? Had he paid that old lush off to feed me false intel? To speed up my trip to the noose?

‘You really had me going,’ said Stronge, as she locked the door to my cell. ‘You really did.’

It broke my heart to see her so betrayed. So utterly beaten. ‘I had nothing to do with this,’ I told her. ‘You really think I’m a murderer? Come on, Kat, you know me better than that.’

‘I only know one thing about you, Fletcher: you’re not a psychic, you’re a fucking psychopath.’

I was ready to plead my case but she cut me short.

‘A lawyer will be along shortly. If you’ve got anything more to say, you can tell it to them.’

And she left.

My ex-wife, Ingrid, Jazz Hands, and now Stronge. I was getting to make a real habit of disappointing women.

A short while later, Maddox arrived on the other side of my bars wearing the kind of smile that belonged on the face of a Disney villain.

‘You must have been laughing your arse off, Fletcher. Killing all those people and getting a pay cheque from us to play Nostradamus.’ He slammed his hand against the bars of my cell. ‘Well, you’re not laughing now, are you?’

He was shaving with Occam’s razor and making a proper meal of it.

I stayed schtum while he went on. No sense incriminating myself any more than I already had.

‘We found the one you left at the nightclub,’ he leered. ‘That your scene is it, Fletcher? Getting tugged off by leather daddies with nipple rings and pierced cocks?’

‘You haven’t got a clue,’ I spat.

Shite. Here I was, banged up inside someone else’s body and about to be done for multiple counts of murder. I'd really dropped Mark in it this time. You could almost feel sorry for the guy… well, you could.

I had to get out of there. If I could just get to the rogue magician in time, if I could get some answers from him before he set his dog on the last man standing and dropped off the map, maybe then I could find out what had happened to Ingrid. There was still a chance for her, and I wasn’t quitting until I had the facts.

‘Maddox,’ I whispered.

‘Yeah,’ he said, leaning in close enough that I could see the network of veins on his eyeballs, but not so close I could grab him through the bars. ‘What can I do for you, Fletcher?’

‘Just one thing.’

‘What’s that?’

‘You can bite down hard... ‘cause I’m coming in dry...’

‘Wha—’ was about as far as he got before I made my move.

Jettisoning from my meat puppet, I shot through the prison bars and right into Maddox.

He flailed about like he’d been set on fire, jerking around, bouncing off the walls, clawing at his skin. He put up a fight, I’ll give him that, but he was no prize bronco, and this wasn’t my first rodeo. I took hold of his body, breaking him in, seeping into his bones and clamping down on his mind.

‘Possession… for men,’ I whispered, using Maddox’s lips.

He was mine.

I ran a quick diagnostic to see what I had. I saw some things rattling around in that peanut Maddox called a brain. Things he wouldn’t let me near with a barge pole: memories, passions, secrets. The whole kit and caboodle. No wonder he put up such a fight. I mean, for a card-carrying homophobe, he sure thought a lot about butt stuff.

There was one particular memory in there that flashed like a beacon. It came from his twenties, back when he was at university. To join the rugby team, he’d taken part in an initiation that involved him taking to the field and running from one try line to the other, buck naked and with a hotdog up his arse. And get this, every time the thing fell out he’d have to pick it up, take a bite and put it back where he found it. By the time he made it to the other end of the field, that hotdog was a stub.

So yeah, Maddox had some things to work through, but then so did I.

The first thing I had to deal with was Mark, who had come out of his stupor and started freaking out over his situation. It’s not every day you wake up stone cold sober in a prison cell, and Mark had a lot to say on the subject. Before he could make too much of a fuss about it though, I thought it prudent to shut him up. I did that by using Maddox’s key to get into his cell, then used my spirit arm to reach into his chest and give his heart the required squeeze to put him out for a few hours. He’d wake up feeling like he’d taken the ice bucket challenge in Antarctica, but he’d live.

Now to continue my investigation. Since I had access to Maddox’s memories, I sifted past the butt stuff and had a root around for any info pertaining to the Vallens case. Anything the cops might not have shared with me. I found something noteworthy pretty quickly, from right back at the start of the investigation. It turned out that the warehouse Ingrid was skinned in belonged to a local businessman. Maddox had questioned him to find out if he was connected to the crime in any way, but the businessman had claimed the property had been broken into, despite not showing any signs of forced entry. Since the police couldn’t prove any connection to the crime, the suspect was discharged and the matter considered an investigative dead end.

Here’s the thing though, I know that businessman. He goes by the name of Vic Lords—an employer of mine from back in the day—and I can tell you this for nothing: Vic Lords is innocent of bugger all. The man’s a gangster and an all-round bad guy, and on top of that, he’s a closet Satanist. No surprise he’d be wrapped up in an occult ritual. Vic Lords and shady shit? The Venn diagram of the two is practically an eclipse.


It was early evening by the time I reached Lords’ office, and a gentle breeze yanked low, grey clouds across the dimming skyline. It was getting on for day six of my investigation. After that I’d have 24 hours to make good on my promise, or I was toast.

I hadn’t had the displeasure of Lords’ company in a while, not since I’d died in fact. Before then I used to do house clearings for him. He’d buy haunted properties on the cheap then bring me in to exorcise the place so he could sell the purged estates on for a tidy profit. There weren’t all that many gigs available to a freelance exorcist, so I tended to take whatever I could get my hands on. Of course, I’d always known Vic was dodgy, but I hadn’t known the half of it back then. Or maybe I’d just chosen to ignore it. The prospect of ready money can play tricks on a man.

Since I became a ghost, I’ve become intimately acquainted with Vic’s shadowy business practices: the illegal gambling dens, the drug smuggling operations, the sex trafficking rings, all of them nourished by his experiments in the black arts. Ever since he committed himself to mastering the occult, his power and notoriety have grown like a fungus, spawning in London’s darkest, sweatiest corners.

I stood across the road from Vic’s office and cracked my knuckles. Well, Maddox’s knuckles. I’d been wanting to put that sack of shit Lords away for years, but the bloke’s like Teflon. Pin whatever you like on him, he’d always have an alibi. Failing that, he’d grease some palms, or have his goons apply pressure to the arresting officer until he changed his statement. The cops could bring Lords in with a sawn-off head in one hand and a confession note in the other, and he’d still be back on the streets in the time it took to boil a brew.

I wasn’t there to bring Vic to justice though, I was there for answers, and I was getting them with or without his cooperation. I marched across the road and arrived at the entrance to his premises, a nondescript door stood next to a set of battered steel shutters that hadn’t been rolled up in years. I rapped on the door with Maddox’s knuckle, and a moment later a hatch slid open. The eyeballs peering out from the other side caught the flash of my badge, and I heard a series of bolts slide open. The door swung inwards to reveal Vic’s doorman, a giant slab of gristle in a too-small tank top.

‘Here to see the boss man,’ I told him.

The pituitary job flared his nostrils and reluctantly stepped aside. I brushed past him, maintaining eye-contact, then headed up the sticky staircase leading to Lords’ den.

I didn’t knock, but then I didn’t need to announce myself. Vic had already seen me coming on the black and white security monitor he kept on his desk.

‘Detective Inspector Maddox,’ he said in the sleazy, phlegmy voice of a Carry On milkman. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’

Vic Lords looked like a pile of spoiled luncheon meat with a layer of black mould on top: pallid skin and fish lips topped off with a head of greasy, coal-coloured hair and matching mutton chops. He sat sunk into a duct-taped, vinyl chair under a ceiling turned brown by decades of nicotine. His surroundings were the kind you didn’t want to touch, even with the soles of your shoes. I got the feeling that if someone were to shine a forensics blacklight about the place it would flare up like the Milky Way.

‘Vic,’ I said, and watched his lip curl. No one called Vic Lords “Vic”. I expect his own mother called him “Mr Lords”.

‘What do you want?’ he asked, stubbing out a cigarette.

‘I need you to answer some questions,’ I told him, pacing around his desk like a gestapo officer, arms behind my back.

Vic refused to be intimidated. ‘Anything I can do to assist your enquiries, Officer?’ he asked, with the oily smarm of a practiced toastmaster.

I thought it best I establish my intentions, so I grabbed a fistful of hair from the nape of his neck and ploughed his face into his desk. He landed hard enough to loosen a few letters on his keyboard, not to mention a couple of teeth.

‘Tell me what you know about Ingrid Vallens!’ I demanded.

Vic’s heavy was on the scene in seconds, crashing through the door, baseball bat in hand. He charged across the room and wound it up, ready to cave my head in, but Lords put up a hand.

‘Stop,’ he told him, wiping a dribble of claret from his chin. ‘No need to be alarmed, Kojo. Me and the officer were just having a little conversation, that’s all.’

Kojo lowered his weapon and looked me up and down. ‘As long as you’re sure,’ he said.

The bouncer took his leave and headed back downstairs to his post.

Vic grinned with bloody teeth. ‘It’s good to see you again, Jake.’

I’ll admit it, that shook me. I knew Lords was tapped into the Uncanny but I hadn’t realised he could see me inside of my meat suit.

‘An exorcist turned ghost, eh?’ he went on. ‘If I were comedian I’d be feeling some real pressure to make a joke right now.’

I composed myself and wrested control of the situation. ‘If you know what I am, then you know what I can do to you.’

I allowed my ghost hand to leave Maddox’s body and rested my fingertips on Vic’s chest. He flinched at the chill and held up his hands in surrender.

‘No need to get nasty, Fletcher, I’m happy to talk.’ He tutted. ‘You know, I liked you much more when you were alive.’

I ignored him. ‘You own a property by the canal. A warehouse—’

‘Yes, an officer already questioned me about it – the one you’re squatting in right now as a matter of fact.’


‘And I’m going to tell you what I told him: I don’t know anything about what happened there. Not a single thing.’

‘You better not be lying to me, Vic.’

He flinched as I raised my hand, but I wasn’t about to strike him. I was doing it to get a read from the magic mood ring Jazz Hands had given me. I put the stone to him, and sure enough, it turned red. The man was talking out of his arse.

Putting my hand between his flabby teats, I reached inside his chest and closed my fingers about the black lump of coal he called a heart. He gasped like he’d fallen through an iced-over lake and seized up stock-still, his eyes the size of dinner plates.

‘I loaned it out,’ he hissed, his lips moving like he was trying to throw his voice. ‘Gave them a key.’

‘Gave who a key?’

‘I don’t know—’

‘Give me name!’

‘I don’t bleedin’ have one!’

My voodoo truth detector turned blue this time. He was on the level.

I plucked my ghost hand from Vic’s chest and he let out a great sigh of relief. He sunk back into his chair, panting like he’d crossed the finish line of a marathon.

‘This guy, the one that rented the key, what did he look like?’

‘Not a guy. A girl.’

True again. How about that? This whole time I’d been on the tail of an elusive, rogue magician, I’d assumed I was chasing a man, but no, apparently there was a woman under that balaclava. A woman stripping Ingrid Vallens of her skin. A woman working in league with a demon.

So, the Order of the Eternal flame had accepted a female member, had they? Pretty progressive for an old boys’ club.

I turned to Lords. ‘The woman, tell me about her.’

‘Hard to say, she was wearing sunglasses. The big movie star kind.’

Sunglasses indoors? Now I really disliked her. ‘What else can you tell me about her?’

‘I don’t know,’ he said, the corners of his lips twitching, ‘women aren’t really my thing.’

I once had the displeasure of eyeing some particularly illegal images on his computer, so I had a pretty good idea what Lords’ “thing” was, the dirty bastard. I pulled back my arm and went to give him a taste of my ring hand.

‘You’re going about this all wrong, Fletcher,’ he snapped.

‘How am I?’

‘If you want to find a killer you don’t go looking for the killer. You go looking for their next victim.’

Damn it, he was right. I’d been going about this all wrong. The ID of the killer wasn’t important right now. Catching her before she killed the last magician was what mattered.

I made for the door, but just as I was about to leave, Vic called after me.

‘Oh, Jake?’


A splinter of sunlight caught his bloody grin. ‘You ever want some work, son, you just let me know. It’ll be just like the good old days.’


It was the dawn of day six of my investigation. I needed to track down the killer’s next victim before she popped his clogs, and I had a pretty good idea where I should start. The man was a magician after all, and if it’s a magician you’re after, what better place to kick off than the Magic Circle?

If this were a movie, I’d be taking a pause right about now. Grabbing a quick breather before the climactic showdown and ruminating on what I’d learned so far. If I only had that luxury. I had an hour at most before Maddox’s body rejected me, so the best I could do was put on my big boy pants and get cracking.

I was about to get going when I heard a ringing noise and realised it was coming from the inside pocket of Maddox’s overcoat. I reached in and fished out a digital police radio, a communication device that was halfway between a walkie-talkie and your granddad’s mobile. According to the read-out, it was DCI Stronge on the other end. I prevaricated for a moment, then decided to take the call.

‘Hello,’ I said, instantly wondering if that was the appropriate greeting.

‘Where are you?’ came the terse reply. She was expecting her partner of course, and had no idea I was the one picking up the phone.

‘Just… um, grabbing a bite,’ I told her.

‘Well, get yourself back to the nick. Our coma witness woke up and she’s given a description of the suspect.’

‘Is that right?’

‘Are you okay, Maddox?’ she asked. ‘You sound weird.’

I coughed and deepened my voice, as if that was going to help. ‘I’m fine, just a bit of a cold. What’s she saying then? The witness.’

‘She’s saying our suspect’s a woman for starters.’

‘No way,’ I replied, acting as shocked as my limited acting skills would allow.

‘A real looker she reckons. Model quality. Not what I was expecting at all. Sounds more like a fit for our first vic than the Jack the Ripper I had in mind.’

This came as no surprise to me of course, not since I’d learned that the demon was running amok in Ingrid Vallens’ skin.

‘Bizarre,’ I replied.

Bizarre?’ Stronge repeated, but with an inflection that told me she was growing increasingly suspicious of my Maddox impersonation.

I changed the subject. ‘How’s Mark doing? Jake I mean… You know, Nostra-bleedin’-damus. The man I really, really hate. The bastard.’

‘Fast asleep in his cell. And you know what they say about the prisoner that sleeps soundly?’

‘Guilty as fuck,’ I sighed.

Great. On top of bringing a rogue magician to justice and sending her demon back to hell, I also had to find some way to clear Mark’s name. The bloke’s no angel—he’s a bully who kicks his dog about and takes a pretty dim view on immigrants—but I couldn’t let the tosser spend the rest of his life behind bars because of me.

‘I have to go,’ I told Stronge. ‘Um… over and out...’

‘What is going on with y—?’

I cut off the call before her pitch could get any higher.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Being as I was hitchhiking in Maddox’s body, I wasn’t able to do my Mr. Benn trick and zap inside the Order’s HQ. Instead, I had to go the old-fashioned way, catching the Tube to Euston, hoofing it to the Magic Circle on foot, and bypassing the magical cage surrounding the place with a spot of the old hocus pocus.

I made it into the building’s ground floor lobby and took stock of my inventory. Being as I’d left my gun in my other trousers—so to speak—I had to work with what I had. Turned out what I had amounted to an extendable baton and some harsh words. Maddox must have checked his Taser in back at the station before I took hold of him. An arsehole to the end.

A noise drifted under the crack of a door marked STAFF ONLY. I stepped closer and pressed my ear to the door. I heard shuffling sounds beyond, accompanied by some kind of incantation. I went after the noise, pushing the door open and creeping softly down a corridor painted with murals of stage illusionists from days gone by. Rounding a corner, I found a man with a disfigured mouth stood by a door, frantically reciting the words to an unlocking spell.

Cleft Lip.

The last living magician of the Order of the Eternal Flame, and I’d caught up with him before the killer crossed him off her shopping list. At least I’d managed to save one of them. Hoo-bloody-ray.

I held out a hand. ‘You’ve gotta come with me, mate. Right now.’

The magician ignored me and continued to chant, stuck inside of his spell.

‘Pack it in, will you? We’ve got to get moving, sharpish!’

He placed his palm on the door and it began to glow. He wasn’t leaving until he had that thing open. What could he be after that was so important he was ready to die for it?

I went to grab him by the elbow and yank him upstairs when he suddenly spasmed. A jet of blood blasted out of his mouth like an accident with a beetroot smoothie. After that came a hand, exploding through his chest and clutching a pulsating, human heart.

The hand retracted and the magician’s body flopped to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut.

Stood there in the gloom, a still-beating heart in its hand, was the demon, all dressed up in Ingrid Vallens’ skin. The flesh hung off it now, loose and putrefying, a mockery of its former beauty. And it stank. Stank like a forgotten WWII death camp discovered in the mid-fifties.

The soul feaster dipped a pair of Prada shades, revealing twin hollows underneath that flared sulphur orange.

‘Oh look,’ it growled. ‘A witness…’

The demon padded towards me with murderous intent. Its rotting skin-suit was scorched from its encounter with the wand-wielding Mustachio; feathered with a pattern of lesions that looked almost tree-like. It had a bullet hole in its left shoulder too—in one side and out the other—the shot I’d dealt it back at the fetish club.

The soul feaster grinned and sunk its teeth into the magician’s heart, biting down on it like a candy apple. The demon’s eyes rolled back in its skull as it swallowed and hoovered down the elder’s eternal soul. It bowed its head, letting Ingrid’s blonde hair cascade down its face like a golden waterfall. When it looked up again, I saw its stolen features had tightened and become symmetrical once more. The demon’s second skin flushed pink, its wounds stitching together until they were gone completely. It removed its sunglasses to reveal a pair of perfect, husky-blue eyes.

There was Ingrid, just as she was the day I’d met her, only even more beautiful. Rejuvenated and in the prime of her life.

The demon drew its lips back in a snarl, tossed the sunglasses and crushed them underfoot.

What had I blundered into this time? I’d busted in, all ready to do battle with the forces of darkness, but stood before the enemy, I realised just how stupid I’d been. Not only could the soul feaster do me a mischief, it could take chunks out of Maddox too, and no matter how big of a tool he was, he didn’t deserve to end up on a demon’s dessert tray.

I decided to do a possibly very stupid thing. I decided to double-down and go on the offensive. ‘So, come on then,’ I yelled at the demon. ‘Who’s behind the mystery door? Who’s pulling your strings?’

The soul feaster arranged Ingrid’s perfect, Cupid’s bow lips into a glowing smile. It wasn’t just an approximation though, this was Ingrid’s own smile, as beautiful and beguiling as it was on the bank of Regent’s Canal.

‘Hello, Jake. How lovely to see you again.’

That smile. That voice. And that’s when it hit me. I took a wavering step backwards as the truth of the situation made my stomach drop. This wasn’t just some demon running around in Ingrid Vallens’ torn-off skin.

No, Ingrid was actually in there.

Ingrid’s ghost.

The victim was the villain.


Everything I knew about Ingrid Vallens had turned to smoke, and I was choking on it.

‘Surprised?’ she said, blood dripping down her chin. ‘Of course you are. You were my knight in shining armour and I was your damsel in distress. Just a dumb dead girl, waiting on a man to show her to the light.’

‘That’s not true…’ I protested.

‘Yes it is, Jake. You don’t know me, but I certainly know you. All my life I’ve had to deal with your type. Men who see me as a thing. A commodity. A piece of meat on their casting couch. Well, I got tired of playing the victim, Jake. Tired of photo shoots that turned into porno shoots. Tired of fat arseholes telling me that size zero was too heavy and pushing drugs on me to keep my weight in check.’

My mind was racing. How? How could Ingrid Vallens be the soul feaster? ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘you’ve been dicked around by men, I get it. That doesn’t explain how we got here though.’

I got here through hard work,’ she said, her jaw muscles twitching. ‘I had to fight for my spot on the pentacle. Do you think this old boys’ club wanted a catwalk model on their members list?’

I’d spotted a link between the rest of the elders already: a theology professor, a plastic surgeon, an HIV patient—the kind of people who’d be pretty keen to know the secret of everlasting youth—but only now was I seeing how obviously a former model slotted in there.

I still didn’t get it though. How could Ingrid be a murder victim, the fifth elder, and a demon too? That was an awful lot of hats to wear.

Blood dripped from her chin onto the generous upper slopes of her breasts and down the runnel of her cleavage. ‘Even when they accepted my membership I was a second class citizen to them. I’d studied magic for years, passed every test they threw at me, and still they treated me like a bimbo. I had ideas, Jake. Real ideas, to achieve what the Order was created for: to attain immortality! She lashed out and punched a fist through the corridor’s plasterboard wall. ‘But they wouldn’t listen.’

‘Easy, tiger,’ I said. ‘Don’t give yourself a nosebleed.’

‘You sound just like the rest of them,’ she spat. ‘Frightened. Scared of the unknown. For the rest of the elders the quest for eternal life had become academic. But they were men. This world lets men grow old. Not so for me. I was a woman, my looks fading, my best years behind me. I was ready to do whatever it took to get my youth back, and I wasn’t about to wait for permission.’

Okay, I got the motivation, but I still wasn’t seeing the whole picture. I still wasn’t seeing how Ingrid wound up inside a demon.

‘I don’t understand,’ I said. ‘You died. I saw your ghost.’

In a flash, she leapt forward and seized my head between her hands, clamping down on my skull like a vice.

A riot of images washed through my brain.

I saw Ingrid, in the warehouse by the canal, stood before a chalk pentacle.

I saw a ritual, a summoning, a demon drawn from the Nether.

I saw a mistake. A flaw in Ingrid’s ward. The demon crossing her protective barrier.

I saw the demon punishing Ingrid for her impertinence. Claiming its blood sacrifice.

I saw it drawing a fingernail across Ingrid’s flesh. Stripping her of her perfect skin.

I saw Ingrid escaping. Fleeing before the demon could feast on her soul.

I saw her red handprint on a boat’s porthole.

Saw her running until she could run no more.

Saw her topple from the bank of the canal and into its murky waters.

The images raced away from me, sucked from my head like water down a plug hole. I staggered and butted a shoulder against the nearest wall, clammy and hyperventilating. I had it all wrong. The rogue magician and the demon weren’t colluding, they were one and the same. ‘How though? How did you get inside a demon?’

She offered a high, brittle laugh. ‘With your help.’


But she wasn’t taking bollocks for an answer. ‘You’ve been helping me since the second you showed up, Jake. Ever since I first fluttered my eyelashes at you.’

‘Except I haven’t done a thing for you. I’ve been too busy for that. Too busy blundering all over Camden chasing the bodies you left behind.’

‘Mostly, yes, but not entirely. My first victim was all thanks to you.’

‘The body at Highgate Cemetery?’

‘That’s right. You’re the one who gave me the idea to lay some bait.’

She grabbed me by the head again and I felt another deluge of pictures.

I saw the ghost of Ingrid Vallens at the cemetery.

I saw the elder with the weak chin—Glass Jaw—furtively picking his way through the tombstones.

I saw the two of them talking. Saw the elder tell Vallens that she’d deserved her fate. That she’d paid the price for meddling with demons.

I saw the knife in Vallens’ hand. Saw it lash out and cut Glass Jaw from balls to sternum.

I saw the look on his face as he watched his innards slop onto the dirty ground.

The kaleidoscope calmed and my thoughts became my own again as she released her grip on my skull. I shook my head, trying to shake the images away, but they were seared into my psyche like a cattle brand.

Now I knew. While I was busy at The Beehive, laying bait for the mysterious rogue magician, Ingrid had taken inspiration from me and laid a trap of her own.

‘You’re good,’ I told her. ‘It took me years of being a ghost to handle objects like you did that knife.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, performing a smug little curtsy.

I managed to put together the rest. Vallens must have been lying in wait at the cemetery when the demon came sniffing around, eager to feed, hungry for a two course meal of heart and soul. When the off-brand Beelzebub went for the bait and tripped Vallens’ weakening magic, she’d struck out, capitalising on the soul feaster’s vulnerability and making its body her own. For once it hadn’t been the demon that possessed the human. This time the person was on the inside.

That was certainly a turn-up for the books. I had no idea a reversal of that sort was even possible. The ghost of a dead magician possessing a demon dressed in the magician's original skin? We had a real Russian nesting doll situation going on here.

‘So that wasn’t the demon eating the heart out of the old man’s chest,’ I said, piecing the last of together, ‘that was you inside the demon?’

‘Got it in one,’ she replied. ‘I have to feed to stay in control of the soul feaster, and since those daft old codgers had already made my shit list, I thought why not kill two birds with one stone?’

I laughed. What else could I do, given the circumstances? ‘You must be chuffed to bits,’ I told her. ‘You got your looks back and immortality to boot, and all it cost was four dead men.’

She shrugged. ‘It’s not the way I planned it, but it’ll do. C’est la vie, or Telle est la vie éternelle if you want to get technical about it.’

She really had played me for a mug. I’d only taken the Vallens gig for the karma, but the whole time I thought I’d been wiping red from my account, I’d actually been helping out a psychopath. Something told me I wouldn’t be earning any Brownie points for that little stunt.

‘So, where do we go from here?’ I asked. ‘I don’t suppose you want to be a good sport and follow me to the cop shop, do you?’

‘I’m afraid I can’t do that,’ she said, her face cut with a devil’s smirk. ‘See, I need one more soul to bond fully with my new body... and yours looks absolutely delectable.’

I could almost have taken it for a compliment if it wasn’t for the fact that she was eying me up like a full English breakfast.

A forked black tongue emerged from her mouth and whisked around her lips. ‘Goodbye, Jake.’


Vallens came at me fast, but I wasn’t defenceless. Yes, she could hurt me, but then I could always hurt her back… or at least my host could. DI Maddox might not be too sharp up top, but he had a club on him and a meaty set of arms to swing it with.

I whipped out Maddox’s police issue baton, grabbed it in both hands and battered Vallens in the neck as hard as I could muster.


The weapon broke in half like a piece of dry kindling.

The impact sent a shock coursing through my arm and into my shoulder, where it exploded like dynamite. I might as well have been hitting a marble statue for all the damage I did. It was as though Vallens’ skin was draped over a tank.

I didn’t stand a chance going against her toe-to-toe, so I made a tactical withdrawal that definitely wasn’t a desperate, cowardly scramble for freedom.

I pushed through the STAFF ONLY door to the lobby and surveyed the area in search of something to defend myself with. Unfortunately, the best I could find was an old umbrella hanging in the lost and found section of the cloak room.

A thought struck me, a memory from the last time I’d paid this place a visit.

I remembered the elders talking about their previous skirmish with a soul feaster. Mustachio had sent it back to the Nether that time, and he’d done it using something called the seraphim sword, which I suspected, or really, really hoped, the Order kept in-house. The locked door the last magician had just died trying to open—that must be where they kept it—and now I was cut off from the bastard thing. Not that it mattered. The vault was sealed tight with magic, and by the time I was done cracking that, Vallens would have sucked down my soul like a pup on a tit.

She arrived in the lobby with all the hurry of a murderer from a slasher movie. Meanwhile, I was left panting and wheezing from all the running around – one of the unfortunate side effects of having to haul about a living body. Another is not being able to phase through solid objects—at least not without leaving one’s host for dead—which meant I couldn’t evade my pursuer by scarpering through the nearest wall.

I had to get out of there though, so, aiming for the only exit available, I threw Maddox’s body towards the front door and went to give Vallens the Irish goodbye. I already knew the combination to that lock, so I could bust through it in no time.

Unfortunately, Vallens had other ideas.

Springing into action, she dived into my path and cut me off, escape-proofing the place. I felt a gulp travel up Maddox’s throat and back down again.

‘Relax, Mister Fletcher,’ said Vallens. ‘No more being cursed to walk the Earth for all eternity. You’re finally going to meet your maker.’

That’s what I was afraid of. I had a lot of work to do before I was back in His good graces. A lot of wrongs to right before I returned to the mothership. A premature trip would undo five years of good deeds and leave a big, fat, aided and abetted a demonic entity shaped full stop at the end of an otherwise glittering career.

Vallens closed in on me, ready to twist the head off my meat suit and drink me down—

When the door behind her swung open.

Filling the frame was DCI Stronge, looking suitably confused. ‘What’s the bloody hell is going on here?’ she asked, seeing her partner cowering before the bloody and surprisingly animate Ingrid Vallens.

‘Shoot her!’ I yelled, doing my best Maddox impression. ‘Shoot the demonic cow!’

Ever the pro, Stronge whipped out her Taser and planted a couple of high voltage darts in my attacker’s chest. Vallens convulsed, her legs locking as she keeled over backwards like a trust building exercise gone horribly wrong.

Stronge took her finger off the Taser’s trigger and turned to me. ‘One more time... what the hell is going on here?’

I changed the subject with a question of my own. ‘How did you find me?’

‘You sounded weird before, so I used your phone to track you.’

And thank God she had.

‘Come on,’ I said. ‘She won’t stay down for long.’

Vallens was already beginning to stir.

I was about to grab Stronge by the wrist and steer her outside when something dawned on me. If Stronge had been able to breeze in here unhindered, that must mean the magic cage surrounding the building was down.

Of course it was.

The protection magic was the combined product of the four elders, and since they were all dead now, the spell was broken. That meant the vault must be open too, which meant the seraphim sword was ripe for the plucking. If I could get to that, I could put an end to Vallens and the winged monkey she was shacked up in. Two birds, one stone.

Speaking of the devil—pun most definitely intended—Vallens had recovered from the effects of the Taser and was hobbling to her feet already, her spine unfurling from a question mark to a very pointed exclamation mark.

‘Isn’t that our murder vic?’ asked Stronge, her brain finally catching up with her eyeballs.

The sight of Vallens stood before her had understandably thrown Stronge’s tidy mind into a degree of disarray.

‘No,’ I replied, weakly, ‘it’s her… um, evil twin.’

But Stronge’s attention was already fixed on the threat, which was coming her way and seeking a swift retribution.

‘Down on the ground, now!’ Stronge ordered.

Vallens failed to comply, leaving Stronge no option but to pull out her baton and extend it with a deft flick of her wrist.

‘I wouldn’t do that…’ I started to say, but Stronge was not to be deterred.

She pulled back her arm and clouted Vallens across the side of the knee with the intention of immobilising her. The effect was altogether familiar. Stronge cursed as her cosh snapped in two, then cried out in pain as the shock of the impact exploded in her arm.

By way of a thank you, Vallens grabbed Stronge by the face, lifted her off her feet and flung her across the lobby. Plaster rained down as Stronge struck the wall and rolled to the ground. I rushed in and dived on her attacker, but was backhanded flat for my trouble. When I came round, I saw that Stronge had somehow managed to find her feet and was facing off against Vallens for a second time.

She’s a tough old bird, I’ll give her that.

Shrieking like a Valkyrie, Stronge swung at Vallens, raking her claws down her face and peeling away a big, red flap of skin. It hung there, revealing what lay beneath: a demonic skull studded with one incongruous blue eye. The eye’s partner had been punctured by Stronge’s nails and was dribbling like a split grape.

‘I’m going to make you pay for that,’ Vallens snarled, plucking the ruined eye from its orbit and flicking it to the ground with a squelch.

The hollow socket flared orange and the jaw of her skull mouth chattered as she paced towards her attacker. Stronge wasn’t even given a chance to freak out before her assailant pimp-slapped her to the ground.

DCI Stronge was out cold.

Vallens took a step backwards and cocked her head to one side to admire her handiwork. Satisfied, she pressed the heel of a Jimmy Choo boot onto Stronge’s throat and went to crush her windpipe.

‘Oi!’ I shouted, getting Vallens’ attention. ‘What am I, chopped liver?’

She removed her foot from Stronge’s neck and turned to me, face flap swinging. Her eyes burned like a pair of hot coals.

I took off up the lobby’s spiral staircase, running faster than a gambler from a bookie. With Vallens on my tail, I pegged it down a corridor I was already intimate with and pushed through the door marked PRIVATE.

I arrived in the Order’s clubhouse. The room was lit by the familiar, flickering flame of witchfire that burned eternally in its hammered iron brazier.

Once again, I went looking for a weapon to defend myself with, but came up empty. I was hoping to find something of use in one of the room’s musty old display cabinets, but all I found there were trinkets: crystal balls, a clutch of sinister-looking ventriloquist’s dummies, and an Edison cylinder containing a scratchy sound recording of Harry Houdini.

Vallens appeared in the doorway looking like a supermodel that had stepped into a Brundle Pod with Skeletor’s ugly cousin.

She had me cornered.

Nothing I could do now but plant my feet and fight.

‘Get ready to die for the second time,’ Vallens gloated.

‘You know, I’m really starting to think twice about you and me having any sort of romantic future.’

She came at me whipcrack fast and landed a punch in my gut so hard I’m surprised Maddox didn’t spew me up.

I managed to dodge the next blow, only for her fist to quest past me and through one of the display cabinets. I made an umbrella of my arms as glass rained down and all around. When I opened my eyes, I noticed a fan of circus throwing knives inside the busted cabinet. Seeing they were up for grabs, I reached in and plucked one out.

Vallens came at me again and I slashed her, sawing a wet flap of skin off her arm.

‘Bastard!’ she shrieked.

Beast mode activated, her fingertips split open and ten huge talons emerged from the ragged ends, absolutely devastating Vallens’ manicure.

I took a couple of steps to the side, continuing to ward her off with the throwing blade as I attempted to skirt her to the exit. Vallens was smart though, and circled around to block me.

‘You’re not going anywhere,’ she seethed.

Vallens tore the place apart, picking up whole cabinets and hurling them at me, smothering the place in glass and debris. At one point she managed to upset the Order’s brazier, which tipped over and spread a pool of witchfire across the floor.

I ducked and weaved, stabbing and hacking whenever Vallens made it within arm’s reach. I was quick, but compared to her souped-up demon body, I moved slower than a sundial’s shadow. The fact is, all I was doing was buying myself a little time. There was no way I was going to come out of this one on top.

After a spirited bout of evasion, I found myself all out of puff, which gave Vallens all the excuse she needed to swoop in for the kill.

She lashed out, but I managed to throw an arm up just in time to defend myself from the blow. I heard a noise I mistook for a gunshot then realised she’d snapped one of Maddox’s arms like a twig. His agony was mine to bear though, and I collapsed to the ground, clutching onto the broken limb.

Witchfire licked at the walls and smoke-choked the air, lending the room a distinct Hades vibe. As I lay on the floor, writhing in pain, Vallens leapt into the air like something from The Matrix and came down on me with one knee. I don’t know how I managed it, but I succeeded in rolling onto my front just as she landed and put a crater in the ground beside me.

Undaunted, Vallens grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and clawed me across the back with her talons. The only reason Maddox didn’t end up with ventilated kidneys was because of the stab vest he was wearing.

I squirmed and tried to roll over to face Vallens, but she had me pinned. I was about to give up the ghost—again, the pun is deliberate—when I saw the peephole Vallens’ knee had put through the floor.

That’s when I got an idea.

It was a risk, but at this point Maddox was dead anyway if I didn’t at least try.

Leaving Maddox at the mercy of my attacker, I exited his body and phased through the floor to the room below.

Up above, I heard Vallens cackle. ‘You really are a wretched coward, Fletcher.’

‘Are you coming to get me or what?’ I yelled back, as I scanned the room I now found myself in, desperately searching for the object I’d gone down there in search of.

‘Of course,’ she replied. ‘As soon as I’m done gutting this pig.’

I was afraid of that. I needed to rile her up some to get her off Maddox’s case and onto mine. Luckily for Inspector Fuckwit, when it comes to pissing off the fairer sex, I am no slouch.

‘Pretty good of the Order to take on a lady,’ I said. ‘Shame you had to go and kill them all – that’s going to set the women’s movement back a few years.’ I could hear Vallens upstairs, growling like the devil's hungry belly. The heckling was working. ‘Maybe you should have stuck with what you know,’ I went on, ‘keeping your mouth shut and looking pretty. You’d make a great magician’s assistant, I reckon. I know I’d want to saw you in half!’

Vallens punched through the ceiling and came diving down at me, shrieking like a three a.m. car alarm—

Only to find herself skewered on the business end of an enchanted sword.

The seraphim sword, to be exact, with me holding the other end of it.

Face contorted like a gargoyle, Vallens slid slowly down the length of the blade until the sword’s crossguard met her sternum.

Vallens’ nose met mine and I grinned back at her.

‘You… bastard...’ she hissed.

‘Sorry, Ingrid, no end-of-date kiss for you.’

It was only thanks to her cracking a hole between floors that I’d realised the Order’s clubhouse was situated directly above the vault, and with no magical protection to stop me getting in there, I’d been able to slip right through. Leaving Maddox behind was a calculated risk, something I had to do so I could get to the sword and goad Vallens into coming at me.

‘I’ll kill you!’ she screeched, and it was no idle threat.

Vallens’ skull face ripped free of her skin and chomped at my throat.

Her teeth snapped down next to my jugular with nothing to spare. And I do mean absolutely nothing. If ghosts were able to collect dirt, she would have cleaned my neck. She gnashed at me again and again, eyes blazing, flecks of grey spittle flying from her skull mouth. If I didn’t act fast, she’d bite my head off like I was a gingerbread man.

I widened my stance and white-knuckled the sword’s hilt, straining to hold her at bay.

‘...Kill you!’ she said, as if it needed repeating.

I grunted and twisted the blade. Her mouth shot wide open – wide enough to swallow a baby whole. She let loose an ear-piercing scream that shattered the glass cases pressed against the room’s walls, then the sulphurous fire burning in her empty eye socket guttered and died.

‘Goodnight, Ingrid.’

Vallens went slack and fell to the ground, where she lay splayed and still. As I watched, her body began to flake and disintegrate, crumbling away like autumn leaves. Vallens was gone, and the soul feaster too, off on a tandem ride to Hell.


The thing about witchfire is that it acts differently to regular fire. The stuff the blokes with the yellow hats and hoses put out isn’t known for being predictable, but compared to witchfire, it operates right out of a textbook. Magic fire spreads according to its own laws, unbeholden by such trifling matters as physics, least of all gravity.

When Vallens upset the Order of the Eternal flame’s brazier, she unleashed a blaze that burned their headquarters down to the ground. It was only through quick thinking and good fortune that I tossed the seraphim sword, climbed back inside Maddox’s body and scooped up Stronge before the place was razed.

The paramedics rushed the two detectives to the nearest hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and various secondary injuries.

Not long after she was admitted, I went to pay Stronge a visit. I decided it was high time me and her had a talk – real talk, as the yanks are fond of saying.

Greeting her with a familiar face would have been my first choice, but since my usual mule, Mark, was still in pokey, I had to improvise. I arrived at the hospital with the intention of possessing a nurse and passing along my message that way, but the second I entered Stronge’s ward, she sat up from her bed like she’d seen a ghost, which of course she had.

‘Who are you?’ she demanded, making a crucifix of some hospital cutlery.

This I was not expecting.

‘You can see me?’ I said, pointing at my face.

‘Of course I can see you.’

‘Well that’s… odd.’

‘I mean… I can see you, but… what are you?’

‘I’m a ghost.’

It seemed Stronge could actually see me. The real me. I’d heard of this happening before. Sometimes, when people have a traumatic experience with the Uncanny, they’ve been known to develop The Sight. It’s like it triggers something in their mind. Busts open a locked door.

I took a couple of steps towards her, hands held up in surrender. ‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘I’m a friend.’

I took a seat on the edge of her bed and she swept a hand through me.

‘You know, in the ghost community, that’s considered quite rude,’ I explained.

‘I know you,’ she wheezed, her lungs still feeling the effects of the smoke. ‘I do, don’t I? Where do I know you from?’ she asked, studying my face.

‘A few years back you solved my murder. My name’s Jake Fletcher.’

I’ll save us both some time and summarise how the meat of the conversation sandwich went down. I explained how I was a ghost that had, up until that moment, been carjacking a former bully to help her solve crimes. I explained the purpose of my investigation and broke down Ingrid Vallens’ scheme, being extra sure to let her know that the guy she’d banged up in the model’s place was in no way complicit.

It was a lot for Stronge to unpack, but she handled it well, all things considered.

‘So, the person I’ve known all these years is really your… what do you call it…?

‘My meat suit. Mark’s just a vessel. I’m the genuine article.’

Stronge slapped her forehead. ‘You didn’t even change your name! Why didn’t I make the connection before? Why didn’t I realise you were the same Jake Fletcher as the one we had on the slab five years ago?’

I chuckled. ‘It is a bit of a stretch: a dead man coming back as a ghost and setting himself up as a paranormal P.I. Don’t be too hard on yourself about it. Even Quincy wouldn’t have put those pieces together.’

‘Really? Quincy is your go-to? Why not Sherlock Holmes?’

‘What’s wrong with Quincy?’

‘Who goes with Quincy?’

We stopped and stared at each for a moment before breaking out in laughter. I’d just revealed the guy who’d been helping her out all these years was a ghost, and here we were arguing over fictional sleuths.

Stronge relaxed and rested her head on her pillow. ‘So, what do we do now?’ she asked.

‘Well, the good news is that you’re not one of the hoi polloi anymore.’

‘How’s that?’

‘You’ve had a peek behind the curtain now, which means you’ve graduated from being a normal to what we call an “Insider”.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean? Like I’m in some kind of secret society?’

‘Exactly. Really, really secret.’

‘Let me get this straight; I’m supposed to stay quiet about all the things I’ve seen? About ghosts and magic and skull-faced demons?’

I aimed a gunfinger at her. ‘Spot on.’

She shook her head. ‘Forget it. People need to know about this stuff.’

‘Trust me,’ I replied, ‘they really don’t. People are scared of the dark. They freak out at the sound of their plumbing. Can you imagine what they’d do if they found out vampires were real?’

‘Vampires are real?’ Stronge screeched, sitting bolt upright.

I cocked an eyebrow at her. ‘You take my point?’

She sighed and ran a hand through her bob. ‘What about Maddox?’ she asked. ‘He’ll know.’

‘He won’t, I’ve already seen to that, and I need you to help me keep it that way. Not a word to him about any of this. Your partner’s had it out for me since day one – you tell him I’m a ghost and he’ll be Googling proton packs before you finish your sentence.’

‘What about my superiors then? What do I say to them?’

‘Anything you like as long as it isn’t the truth. The Order’s HQ burned down, so you don’t have to worry about evidence. Find a way to sweep the rest under the carpet. Case unsolved. One for the X-Files.’

She pouted and folded her arms. ‘You’re asking an awful lot, Fletcher.’

I smiled, made my hand solid and rested it on her shoulder. ‘It could be worse,’ I told her. ‘At least you came out of this alive.’

I sat up and went for the door, then remembered I had one thing left to say. ‘Kat,’ I called back.


‘Take care of yourself. You’ve seen the Uncanny now.’

‘So what?’

‘So that means the Uncanny see you back…

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

I found Maddox in the ward next door with his arm in a sling. I crept in and waved my arms about in front of him, just in case he was able to see me too now. He didn’t even blink.

‘Oi, Maddox, you massive twat!’

Not a twitch, so I borrowed an abundantly proportioned Nigerian nurse I found doing the rounds, and paid him a visit that way.

‘How are you today, Mister Maddox?’ I asked.

‘Detective Inspector Maddox,’ he corrected.

I ignored him and used the nurse’s meaty paws to lift his egg-bald head and plump the pillow beneath.

‘Do you mind?’ he protested, squirming as I brushed his fragile wing.

I chuckled. ‘You have been in the wars, haven’t you?’ I said, in an accent that was, to put it politely, a bit borderline.

‘Yeah,’ he replied, then looked at me quizzically. ‘I mean, I think so. It’s all a bit blurry.’

Just blurry? It sounded as if I might not have done a good enough job scrubbing that peanut brain of his. ‘What do you mean, blurry?’ I prompted.

‘I don’t remember much exactly. They’re calling it a fugue state—some work-related stress thing—but I have these flashes… hellfire, a five-pointed star, some… thing with claws.’ He shook his head as if to erase the memories like an Etch A Sketch drawing.

I changed the subject. ‘I bought you something to eat, Detective,’ I said. I put a tray in front of him, on top of which sat a plate of something the hospital canteen generously referred to as “food”.

He prodded at a scoop of mashed potatoes thick enough to plant a flag in. ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ he sniffed.

‘I’ll go back and see if they’ve got anything more to your taste,’ I said, and rolled the food trolley towards the door. ‘Who knows, maybe they’ll have some nice, tasty hot dogs.’

I gave him a wink that freaked him out more than the hellfire and the demon combined.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

Back at the nick, Mark Ryan was declared no longer a suspect and cleared of any wrongdoing. I managed to get to him before he woke up and walked him home for a nice, long nap. He’d be okay, even if he did find himself with another gaping black hole in his memory. Something told me the bill for his therapist was going to run pretty high this month, which was only fair. The way he’d treated me at school had given me plenty to talk to my shrink about over the years. Still, I’m not completely heartless, despite all the things he put me through as a lad. I decided I’d go easy on him for a bit, let a bit of time pass before I hopped back inside for another run around. I’m nice like that.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

The shop bell tinkled as I arrived in Legerdomain to give my old pal Jazz Hands a debriefing.

‘Still alive, I see,’ she noted, peering through her magic spectacles.

‘Yup. Well, after a fashion.’

‘How did it go, then?’

‘Piece of piss,’ I told her. ‘Never in harm’s way.’

She arched a brow so high it practically lifted off her head.

‘Okay,’ I confessed, ‘it did get a little bit naughty.’

I gave Jazz Hands an account of my confrontation with the Ingrid demon, making sure to gloss over the parts I knew she’d lose her tits over. In my version of the events I’d faced my enemy down with a no-fail strategy, not just blundered in there half-cocked and hoping for the best. In the end, my story was less a tale of derring-do than a tale of derring-didn’t-really-do-at-all.

Still, Jazz Hands was not a happy camper. ‘I told you, she grumbled, ‘I told you you should have deferred to the London Coven.’

She had a point. I’d only survived this one by the skin of my teeth – next time I’d take whatever help I could get. ‘Do you have a name?’ I asked. ‘A contact at this coven place?’

‘Stella,’ she said. ‘Stella Familiar.’

I nodded and made a mental note.

After that, I gave Jazz back the magic ring she’d borrowed me. She placed it in the wall safe hidden behind the sage face of James Randi and asked after the revolver. The gun was a goner I explained, poached by the police and committed to an evidence locker. She groused some more and then, once she felt I’d been suitably chastised, returned to her celebrity magazine.

She was reading a particularly scintillating piece on Kristen Stewart’s new haircut when a thought occurred. ‘The sword you slayed the soul feaster with,’ she said, ‘did it happen to have a name?’

‘Yeah, it did. The elders called it the seraphim sword.’

Her eyes widened. ‘The seraphim sword is a tool of the angels,’ she gasped.

‘What are you saying?’

‘The blade is forged from iron derived from the blood of a thousand fallen demons. What have you done with it? Where is it now?’

My face pinched. ‘It kind of got burned up by witchfire.’

Jazz Hands’ face turned as white as the proverbial ghost. ‘There will be consequences for that,’ she said.

I shrugged. ‘Aren’t there always?’

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

I made good on my promise to Frosty and brought him the six pack of Special Brew I owed him, blessed by Jazz Hands for his drinking pleasure. He genuflected as I presented it to him, then glugged the beers down one after the other. I felt a bit sorry for him, watching the bloke sink six cans of bruiser juice, but it’s hard to grieve for someone who looks so damned happy.

Uncanny Kingdom: An Eleven Book Urban Fantasy Collection (Uncanny Kingdom Omnibus 1)

And what about me? What did I get out of all of this? Nothing I could lay my hands on, that was for sure, but then I stopped caring about material things the day I died. My reward was a spiritual one, a real one, not the bullshit kind the door-knockers with the pamphlets and fake grins are shilling.

I watched the end of my Ghost DVD. It’s not such a bad film really; the ghost gets to be the good guy for a change, and Swayze smashes it as always. It was somewhere near the end of the movie that Whoopi broke the fourth wall again. Acting as a mouthpiece for whatever jobsworth it was throwing his weight around Up There, she begrudgingly let me know that I’d performed my duty and that I was off the hook. At least for a little while.

For once I’d done some real good in this world – the kind that buys Brownie points with Him Upstairs. The kind that rubs a little red out of a man’s account. Maybe even a whole lot of red. This wasn’t sending down a pickpocket after all, or solving a little light fraud. This was big boy stuff. I’d sent a soul feaster back to Hell, and I’d brought a demonologist to justice too. No wonder the Big Man was so keen to have me send Ingrid’s soul His way, He must have known what she’d done and been champing at the bit to punish her for it. Would have been nice of Him to put me in the loop too, but what the hell. The important thing was that I’d completed His little assignment and bought myself some time before He came calling again.

I stood and looked out of my office window at the messy sprawl of Camden Town beneath me. It was almost dawn. I watched the sun peek over the horizon and laser off the morning fog before settling in the sky like a great, molten coin. When you don’t sleep, you get to see a lot of sunrises—it’s one of the nice things about being a ghost—but this sunrise was special. A new day was coming. A brighter one than before.

If I could defeat a rogue magician and win a fight with a demon, who knew what else I was capable of? What other kinds of Uncanny I could bring to justice. Vampires, werewolves, mermaids (just kidding), they were all on my shit list now. Sure, it might end up being the end of me, but it would hardly be a premature retirement. Besides, I owed it to them. Owed it to every soul I’d unwittingly scrubbed out of existence. Owed it to myself, too. To my future.

My name is Jake Fletcher. Ex-exorcist. Departed do-gooder. Phantom on the run. And when the Big Man finally pulls me in to judge my soul, I’m going to be ready.

The End.

Something Rotten


All around town, artists were dying.

Dying from electrocutions, from hit and runs, and unexplained heart attacks. Dying from falling objects, from bathtub drownings, and walking into open lift shafts. All of the deaths considered suspicious, but none of them suspicious enough to be ruled homicide. I might have sidestepped them myself if the deceased had been your rinky-dink, Camden Market artists selling affordable Banksy ripoffs and blown glass bongs, but these artists were the real deal. High profile painters, sculptors, and whatever the ones that shit the bed and call it an “installation” go by. Big name artists, falling like dominoes, and I had an inkling I knew who was doing the pushing.

A good place to start with any crime is to question the motive, and sometimes, a lot of the time, most of the time, that motive is money. So I got to thinking, who was it that stood to profit the most from putting these artists to bed with a shovel?

The buyers.

The art lovers who measured their love in pennies and pounds. The collectors who cared less about art appreciation than they did the appreciation of their assets. And what better way to see those assets mature than for the artist who created them to suffer a premature death? The kind that caught the marketplace by total surprise and drove the value of their work sky high. The man who owned a work like that—the work of a famous, tragically defunct artist—would stand to make a tidy sum. The man who owned the work of two? Three? A dozen even? He'd be a millionaire a few times over. And a fucking suspect millionaire at that.

That's how it is when a famous artist croaks; it's like their departure trips some kind of mystical inflation switch. A death bump, if you like. It stood to reason that a collector had a hand in these murders, the only question was, which one? Since no one was else was asking, I decided to make the investigation my own and find out.

I had a sniff around. Looked into certain private records, questioned dealers and gallery owners, greased the right palms. And one name kept coming up (well, not a name exactly, a face; the buyer was smart enough to make his purchases using aliases). Picture a London-based artist who died an untimely death in the last ten years and this guy, whoever he was, owned a piece of their work. Their masterpiece in most cases. The guy was making money hand over fist, and something told me he was more than just a canny investor.

If all of this sounds like some tin foil hat, swivel-eyed-loon conspiracy theory, I promise it only gets worse from here. Why wouldn’t it? After all, you’re reading the words of someone who’s witnessed actual demons and visited the nightmare realm of an interdimensional being that steals children’s souls. Oh, and I’m a ghost too, as in a real life, walking the Earth, honest to goodness, phantom. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t expect the needle of your internal Bullshit-O-Meter to sit too still on my watch.

Anyway, back to my art assassin case. Seeing as I didn’t have the killer’s ID, I figured the best chance I had of rounding him up was to catch the guy in the act. Ordinarily I’d lay some bait—cast out a line and see if any sharks came biting—but since I didn’t have anything in my chum bucket tasty enough to attract one, I had to go a different way this time.

Instead of waiting for the killer to come to me, I went straight to the source. I found the hottest artist in town, glommed onto the guy, and became his invisible protector. Since the police didn’t have the resources to play bodyguard for some gadabout artiste, I made it my job to keep an eye on him. It wasn’t an easy gig, but being a ghost means I don’t need sleep, so I was able to monitor him around the clock. Without the artist knowing about it, I’d been on him for the past eight weeks, glued to his tail while he swanned about town like he owned the place. A typical day in his company would involve me traipsing around after him as he went from brunch to lunch to elevenses, interspersed every few days with a flying visit to his studio to ensure that his assistants executed “his” work according to something he had the brass to call, “My vision.”

Eight long weeks of that I’d suffered, hoping like mad that the artist’s would-be killer made a show, and caring less about whether he succeeded in slaying my protectee each passing day. Just being in the guy’s presence was torture. Not only was he an utter prat of a man, he picked his nose, sucked his thumb, and ate an apple so loud that I twice thought about offing him myself.

The artist’s name was Cassey Levant, a sculptor fascinated by the endless oscillation of the zeitgeist, at least according to the artsy bollocks some poor sod had been tasked with transferring letter by letter onto the gallery wall. Tonight was the grand opening of his ten year retrospective, a glittering, champagne reception attended by some of the biggest dickheads in town. Truly, a Who’s Who of the least essential members of contemporary London society.

As Levant strutted about like a peacock I watched the crowd, looking for any signs of impending danger and guarding his six like some supernatural secret service agent. I certainly looked the part in my black suit and tie; the outfit I happened to be wearing the day I died and consequently my permanent fashion choice.

My phone buzzed. I answered the call and a voice only I could hear came through the speaker.

‘Anything to report?’ asked Stella.

Stella was working as my partner this evening, watching the outside of the venue while I kept an eye on the inside. My phone had been enchanted by my magician friend, Jazz Hands, who functioned as my sort of paranormal ‘Q,’ equipping me with items fit for my phantom hands. I have trouble interacting with regular physical objects – my natural state is ethereal, so manipulating the real world is like trying to win a prize on one of those fairground claw machines. A shop-bought phone in these paws would have more cracks in it than a plumber’s convention.

I scanned the room. ‘Nothing yet,’ I sighed.

No one besides Stella heard me talking. My voice and movements are inaudible to anyone not tuned into the Uncanny, by which I mean normals. And by “normals” I mean the regular people, the hoi-polloi, the bus-takers. Basically, you.

‘Stay on it,’ said Stella. ‘Keep the line open and maintain contact.’

She sounded like someone from a bloody Andy McNab novel. I thought about ribbing her for it but gave her a simple, ‘Affirmative,’ instead. Stella’s good at what she does, the best really, but she’s not much for levity.

The night crept on. Levant quaffed champagne and pressed the flesh as his adoring fans heaped praise upon his latest sculptures, which looked less like art than an explosion in a mannequin factory to me.

I was beginning to think the evening was a bust when a burly man in an unseasonably large overcoat happened onto the scene. As he made a beeline for Levant I saw his hand go for the inside pocket of his coat, and readied myself to turn corporeal and knock whatever weapon he was packing from his grip.

Levant’s eyes went wide as he saw the man barreling up to him.

I darted forwards, desperate to stop the killer before he could make his move and then—

‘Daaahling!’ squealed Levant.

The man in the coat met him in a big queeny hug and a flurry of air kisses before telling Levant how absolutely stunning he looked this evening.

Great. Instead of bringing down a serial killer I’d been a half second away from clotheslining some hapless art ponce.

The burly man handed his coat to a lackey, who gave him a ticket and squirrelled it away in the cloak room. The man went on to tell Levant that this was his finest work yet, and how every piece on display was a great, crashing triumph.

‘My God!’ he gushed, looking around. ‘Did you manage to hawk the entire collection?’

‘Not quite,’ replied Levant, gesturing to a mannequin with a head sculpted to look like a poop emoji for reasons I could not possibly fathom. ‘This piece remains stubbornly unsold.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked the sycophant. ‘It has a red dot right there...’

I followed his chubby index finger to the piece’s caption card, which had indeed been decorated with little red dot.


The red dot was moving—

Vacating its position on the white rectangle to travel along the gallery wall—

Creeping in the direction of Cassey Levant.

It wasn’t a red dot.

Well, it was, but not the kind you peeled from a pack of stickers.

It was the kind that killed.

I turned from the dot and saw a slim, red beam passing through the gallery’s south window.

Outside, across the road, and projecting from the mid-level of a multi-storey car park, was the source of the beam – a laser sight fixed to the barrel of a sniper rifle. Holding onto that rifle was a dead match for my suspect.

I turned back to see the laser’s red dot had finished its journey and arrived on the gunman’s target. Levant just stood there like a plum, mouth agape as the scarlet bead settled on the dead centre of his forehead. If somebody didn’t do something fast, the gunman’s stock was about to rise as quickly as Levant’s body fell.

‘Everybody down!’ I yelled, though of course no one heard me.

To make up for the intellectual shortfall, I dived into the fray like a goalkeeper. Having succeeded in turning my shoulder corporeal, I collided with Levant’s back and sent him buckling to the gallery’s faux-marble floor.

There was a popping noise, quickly followed by the sound of shattering glass and the appearance of a smoking bullet hole in the mannequin’s poop head.

Then came bedlam.

Champagne flutes rained to the ground as screaming art lovers ran for cover, swarming to the room’s only exit and arriving at a crush in the stairwell. Stunned, Levant rolled onto his knees and went looking for his guardian angel, but found the room empty except for himself. The luvvie he’d been air-kissing moments ago was long gone, rushing to get clear of the building with all the rest. Only me and my perspiring artist left now – and Stella, watching from her post outside.

I scanned the multi-storey across the road and whipped out my phone. ‘Shooter’s running, third floor, dressed in black.’

‘Affirmative,’ came the reply.

I went to the gallery window and waited for the fireworks, and yeah, “fireworks” made for a pretty apt description. As I watched, the entire third floor of the car park flared up in a brilliant vermillion light threaded with molten cords of furious yellow fire.

A second or two passed before Stella spoke again. ‘Threat neutralised,’ she said, calm as you like.

Did I mention that Stella is a witch’s familiar and a tough as nails spell-slinger? No? Well, here goes then. Three hags made Stella out of magic and spit about sixty-years ago – built themselves an enforcer to knock seven bells out of London’s Uncanny bad guys. So far I’d say she’s been doing a pretty bang-up job of it. She mostly looks after the big picture stuff around here—your higher-plane demonic entities, your cannibalistic death cults, your ancient curses—while I deal with the smaller jobs like missing persons and serial killers. It’s not often our jobs intersect, but I’d lent her a hand on that nightmare realm gig, so she owed me this one and a couple more besides.

‘Thanks, Stella,’ I replied. ‘You did us proud.’

I hung up the phone and let out a long sigh of relief. Eight insufferable weeks of tedium had finally paid off. All of that effort, all of that planning, and it was all done in a second. The killer was subdued and ready to be turned over and judged for his crimes. At least here on Earth. He’d have to wait until the day he passed to receive his eternal judgment, and as a multiple murderer, the die had already been cast on that one. His soul was destined for the Bad Place. No stating his case at the pearly gates, no passing Go, no collecting £200, the man was going to Hell in a handbasket.

I turned around to see Levant had taken off, leaving me alone among his collection. I walked over to the emoji mannequin and inspected the hole in its poop head. I could see the assassin’s bullet embedded inside like a little silver nugget. It’s funny; five minutes ago this piece of shit sculpture was unsold, but now the art world would be falling over themselves to get a hold of it. I shook my head. This whole scene was bonkers.

Still, what did I care? I’d put paid to a serial killer and avenged a slew of untimely ends. Thanks to me, the ghosts of a dozen victims would be able to cross over now, freed from the physical plane and released to their final reward. The job was done, the mission accomplished, now I could finally go home and make a dent in that pile of DVD boxed sets sat by the TV.

My phone rang. I was expecting it to be Stella, but the screen said otherwise. The incoming call was from DCI Stronge.

I picked up. ‘I was just about to give you a bell, Kat. We got him.’

‘Glad to hear it,’ she replied, ‘I’ll send a couple of uniforms your way to get him processed.’

‘You do that,’ I said. ‘In the meantime, I have a date with a stack of Good Wife DVDs.’

I was about to hang up, but Stronge wasn’t done talking. ‘Afraid that’s going to have to wait.’

‘Aw come on, what could possibly be more important than me finally watching the big Season 4 finale?’

A second of thought her end and then, ‘Is that the one where Will gets shot?’

‘What?’ I screamed. ‘Why would you do that?’

‘Because you've got work to do, Fletcher. Now get yourself to the Heath, we just caught a new one.’



My name is Jake Fletcher and I’m a P.I. The “P” can stand for whatever you like—“private,” “paranormal,” “platypus” for all I care—what matters is the job that goes with it. Without getting too bogged down in the details, I help my clients find their way to the spirit world. When a person dies a traumatic death their soul becomes detached and clings to its locality, trapped on the physical plane instead of riding the golden elevator to the great hereafter. I help those lost souls become un-marooned by solving their murders and bringing their killers to justice.

Why do I do what I do? Well, it’s not to get rich, I can tell you that much. We ghosts aren’t much concerned with the material things – which goes as much for money as it does anything else with a physical property. What use would money be to a spook anyway? What would I buy with the stuff? It’s not like I need to bother watching Season 5 of The Good Wife anymore.

No, the reason I help out other ghosts is to offset some of my own bad mojo. See, back before I kicked the bucket I used to be an exorcist. You know the fellers: “The power of Christ compels thee!” Crucifixes and holy water. Demonic possession. Children scrabbling about on the ceiling on all fours. All that malarkey. I also dealt with other supernatural nuisances, namely ghosts, or what we in the trade called “poltergeists.” Clients would contact me to report a haunting and I’d swing by their property to cleanse it of spooks. Bish bash bosh. They’d get to sleep at night, I’d get paid. Everyone was happy. Well, almost everyone.

See, here’s the rub: Just like the rest of my exorcist peers, I used the same methods to send demons packing as I did ghosts. Unfortunately, as it turns out, exorcism is not a one-size-fits-all operation. Instead of sending those ghosts to their final reward—as I assumed I’d been doing—I had in fact been obliterating them. Wiping them off the map. Off any map.

It wasn’t until I died and became a ghost myself that I realised the truth of it. I was a killer. A serial killer. Sure, I could claim I didn’t understand the consequences of what I was doing, but there had to be a price to pay for rubbing out that many souls. It’s why I busted out of the afterlife and ended up here a ghost; to avoid answering for my misdeeds. At first I was just running scared, but after I landed back on Earth, I decided I wanted to do something to make up for all those people I’d destroyed. To start saving souls the right way, and maybe, just maybe, save my own in the process.

As I made my way to Detective Stronge I wondered how much dirt I still had to scrape off my hide before I’d be clean. I arrived at Hampstead Heath at just gone one in the morning. A couple of uniforms flanked a ribbon of yellow police tape stretched across the park’s western entrance, but I ghosted by them unseen.

In darkness, the black grass of the Heath stood revived, unfurling after another day spent crushed beneath the feet of footballers and dog walkers. The sounds of screaming children and picnickers had vanished with the dying light, leaving behind an eerie calm. Trees swayed against the charcoal sky, and leaves scurried to a gentle breeze that might have raised goosebumps were I able to feel its touch.

I followed the glare of floodlights and the flash of a distant camera across the West Heath to the scene of the crime. The area was attended to by a number of officers and forensics experts, plus constables from the Hampstead Heath Constabulary, whose K-9s had alerted them to the scene. I threaded through the officers invisibly to arrive at a border of tape marked DO NOT CROSS, positioned to ensure that the enclosed area was given a wide berth by anyone whose fat feet didn’t belong there.

I phased through the cordon and saw the bodies. Two of them, both men, splashed across the grass like they were trying to catch moon tans. Their limbs were posed at awkward angles and their heads positioned in a way that told me they definitely weren’t sleeping. The smaller of the two had a rock in his hand, which was covered in a crust of dried blood and matted hair. The back of the larger one’s skull had been caved in like an egg shell, and one of his eyeballs hung from its socket, dislodged by the force of the blow. A river of congealed blood ran from each of his nostrils.

Turning to look past the police tape, I saw DCI Stronge. She sat alone on an aged oak bench beside the leg of Mutton Pond. She regarded me coolly as I made my way over and sat down beside her. Unlike the rest of her colleagues, Stronge possesses The Sight, which means she’s able to see ghosts. She acquired it as the result of a run-in we’d had recently with a demonic entity known as a soul feaster. Sometimes, when a regular person is shown the world as it really is, their eyes open to the Uncanny and they become—and I’m sorry to keep throwing these terms your way—what we call an “Insider.”

‘What took you so long?’ she asked, blowing on her coffee.

Stronge works in homicide and serious crimes, and was heading up this investigation. Tonight she wore her immaculate, flat-ironed hair in a neat bob that accentuated her angular cheekbones. The hair was brunette but her eyes were blue as the lights of the police cars I could see flashing in the distance.

‘I was finishing up with Stella at the other place,’ I told her.

‘Your magic lady?’ she snorted, shaking her head. ‘Sorry to drag you back into the gutter.’

If I didn’t know better I’d almost think she was jealous.

Ever since I got into the detective game, DCI Stronge had been invaluable to me. While Stella acts as my link to the realm of the Uncanny—one of them anyway—Stronge's my anchor to the regular world. My counterweight to balance out the crazy. She’s also my go-between to the Metropolitan Police, which I work for in a clandestine, consultancy capacity.

‘Where’s your partner tonight?’ I asked Stronge.

‘He’s taken temporary leave after… well, you know.’

Our encounter with the soul feaster. Yeah, I could see why someone might want to take a spell of absence after that business. A bit of work-related stress is to be expected when you’re dealing the fallout of a rampaging demon that skins people alive.

The Scene of Crime Officer approached in a white boiler suit and pulled down his face mask. ‘The site’s ready for inspection, Ma’am,’ he told Stronge.

‘Let’s go,’ she replied, and followed him to the cordon with me tagging along unnoticed.

‘I can take it from here, Officer,’ she said, and off he went about his business, allowing Stronge and me to talk.

‘Well, what do you think?’ she asked.

I looked at the two bodies laying on the ground; at the rock wrapped in the stiff fingers of one, and at the cratered head of the other.

‘Well,’  I replied, ‘I’m thinking it’s probably not a suicide.’

Stronge harrumphed, took the last swig of her coffee and squeezed the paper cup flat. ‘We’re considering the possibility that it was a lover’s quarrel.’

That figured. Even in the Grindr age, the West Heath was still a popular night-time cruising ground for gay men. The cops tolerated it so long as they cleaned up after themselves and kept it away from the kiddies.

‘Could have been a spat,’ I supposed. ‘What do we know for sure?’

‘Just two things. One: the victim is the only one with any wounds – the bludgeoner doesn’t have a mark on him.’

‘Could have been a heart attack. Sudden aneurism maybe.’ I stroked my chin. ‘What’s the other thing?’

‘The murderer, the man with the rock in his hand, forensics are telling me he’s been dead for at least forty-eight hours.’

‘Oh. Well, that’s…’

‘Yeah. It complicates things.’

The crime had to have occurred this evening, so how did a two-day old corpse wind up on the scene? My first thought was that someone must have bashed the one guy’s head in and dumped the other body here hoping to fit him up for the murder, but Stronge soon disavowed me of that notion.

‘Doesn’t seem that way,’ she said. ‘The bone and brain fragments on the skinny guy are consistent with him perpetrating a close-quarters bludgeoning.’

‘They couldn’t have been sprinkled on after the fact?’ I asked. Sprinkled, I said, like I was talking about decorating a cake.

‘I know this is a bit out there,’ supposed Stronge, ‘but could the bludgeoner be a zombie? Assuming those are a thing.’

‘They are,’ I replied, ‘but we don’t see too many of them around here.’

No, this wasn’t voodoo. Wrong continent. Wrong... vibe.

I looked to the bludgeoner’s body and then back to Stronge. ‘Notice anything else out of the ordinary?’

She considered the crime scene and narrowed her eyes. After a minute or so of contemplation, she admitted defeat. ‘I don’t see it.’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘Where’s the ghost?’

She slapped her forehead. ‘Of course.’ She hadn’t had her gift for long—if you want to call being tuned into a world of phantoms and horrors a “gift”—and was still getting used to seeing the world as it really was. ‘So what are you thinking?’ she asked. ‘Another soul feaster?’

I pursed my lips and swayed my head. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘Not this time.’

Call it a hunch, but something seemed different here. This was new, I was sure of it.

‘Wait a second…’ said Stronge, pointing to the two bodies. ‘You said “ghost” before. Shouldn’t that be “ghosts,” plural?’

‘Not necessarily,’ I argued.

Stronge was a brilliant detective, head and shoulders above me, but she still had a lot to learn about the paranormal.

I explained how not all traumatic deaths resulted in a disembodied spirit wandering the Earth. How a real villain’s fate is decided before they die. Like I said before, the Devil claims his due with a bit more ferocity than the Man Upstairs. If someone's an undeniable piece of shit—I’m talking murderers, war criminals, 2 Broke Girls fans—they get a one-way ticket to the Bad Place. No judgment in the afterlife, no paperwork to fill out, just a trapdoor to the fiery pit. I’m surprised I never got sent south for my crimes really. I can only imagine the Big Man wanted to get a proper, close-up look at me before he pulled the lever.

‘Let’s suppose the feller with the smashed skull was a bit naughty,’ I said. ‘A real baddie. That’d explain why he isn’t around to say hello.’

‘And what about the one with the rock?’ asked Stronge. ‘If you’re saying he wasn’t dragged to Hell, where did he get to?’

‘You already told me his body’s two days dead. That means he didn’t die here. Which means his ghost could still be hanging about wherever it is that he did snuff it.’

Stronge bobbed her head. ‘Alright,’ she said. ‘That gives us something to run with.’

I bent down to get a better look at the two cadavers. The one with his eye hanging out looked to be in his mid-thirties and was a real lump of a bloke; a bald head, thick rhino neck and biceps like rugby balls. The scrawny one with the skull gavel in his hand couldn’t have been older than twenty; a mangy-looking thing dressed like a rough sleeper. Despite the chill, he was only wearing a t-shirt, and had visible track marks up his left forearm. He also had a tattoo there that read, “What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.”

‘Bit ironic,’ I muttered.

‘The big lad came with a wallet and driver’s license,’ said Stronge.

‘The scag head?’


I nodded. It could never be easy, could it?

Stronge folded her arms. ‘We should divvy up jobs. I’ll check on one of their backgrounds while you look into the other.’

‘So, let me get this right,’ I said, ‘one of us has to rummage around the slums interviewing down-and-outs, while all the other has to do is run an ID through a computer?’

‘That’s right,’ said Stronge, wearing the thinnest of smiles.

I’ll give you two goes at guessing which job I got, but you’ll only need the one.


It was left to me to find out who the kid with the ironic tattoo was, and how his two-day-old corpse wound up dumped on Hampstead Heath with a bloody rock in his paw and a sprinkling of brain bits.

Just like I always do when I’m in need of answers to tricky questions, I went to see Frosty, my man on the street. And that’s “on the street” in the literal sense. Frosty’s a rough sleeper too, or was at least, before he froze to death begging one winter. These days he’s a ghost, so he doesn’t need sleep or loose change. Instead, he sits frozen to his final resting place, a patch of pavement next to an ATM opposite the square by Mornington Crescent station, draped by the shadow of Lord Cobden’s statue. You’d think he’d get bored, sat there all day and night, but he manages to keep himself amused. He mainly succeeds in this by looking up the skirts of women waiting in line for the cash point, but sometimes he doles out titbits to chancers like me that come to him looking for local lore. For a price anyway.

‘Evening, Frost,’ I said as I appeared by his side.

He flinched at the sudden intrusion. I have that effect on people. Since I’m able to arrive places instantly using my ghost powers, I often save myself the legwork of walking and translocate there instead. It’s a real timesaver, but it does have a habit of upsetting folks who don’t know I’m coming.

‘What do you want, Fletcher?’ Frosty growled.

As usual, he looked as though he’d spent a week trapped in a cold storage unit. Icicles clung to his whiskers and his skin had the pallor of old meat dipped in liquid nitrogen.

‘Looking for an ID on a murder suspect,’ I told him.

‘Is that all?’ he asked, then cleared his throat, rolled something around his gob and hawked it onto the pavement next to my feet. ‘What’s in it for me?’ he asked as the glob of ectoplasm rolled by my brogues.

Ever the charmer, old Frost.

I sighed and reached inside my jacket for his payment. His eyes lit up when he saw it: a can of Carlsberg Special Brew, the alcoholic’s gut-rot of choice. Frosty doesn’t have use for much in this world, but even in death he was not without his vices.

‘Give it ‘ere,’ he demanded, fingers twitching for his prize.

I keep a stock of the brew in reserve in case I’m ever in need of Frosty’s services. Each tin is individually enchanted by my magician friend, Jazz Hands, a process that makes them tankable for ghosts. Without her blessing, Frosty wouldn’t even be able to be wrap a mitt around one, let alone enjoy its contents.

He snatched the can off me then pulled back the ring pull with a feculent fingernail to suck down the bruiser juice inside.

‘Ready to do business?’ I asked.

‘Still feeling a bit cloudy,’ he replied, feigning forgetfulness.

I sighed and handed him a second can, which he took in both hands like a squirrel with a nut.

‘Not joining me?’ he asked, popping it open.

‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘but I’d sooner lick a stripper pole.’

He shrugged and knocked back the second can as quickly as the first. ‘And a third on completion,’ he told me.

‘Fine,’ I said.

Immediately, his attitude took a steep uptick. If he had a tail it would have been wagging.

‘What can I do for you, my good man?’ he asked, wiping his mouth with the back of a mittened hand.

I don’t take pleasure in being Frosty’s enabler, but since this is the only way I can get him to open his trap, he doesn’t leave me much choice. Besides, Jazz Hands assures me that alcohol doesn’t affect ghosts, even with her hocus pocus, so whatever it is Frosty’s getting out of it is purely in his head.

‘Looking for a young feller,’ I told him. ‘Possible street kid.’

‘Gonna need a bit more than that,’ he replied.

‘Early twenties. A user. Has a Nietzsche tattoo here,’ I said, rolling up the sleeve of my jacket to show him the underside of my left forearm.

Frosty made a face like he’d just seen a hearse blow a tyre. ‘Did it say, “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger”?

‘Yeah,’ I replied, taken aback. ‘Bloody hell, that was quick.’

It usually took Frosty a little while to cast out his feelers and get a handle on a person, but apparently he’d nailed this one right out of the gate. Ordinarily, he gathers intel using something I can only describe as ghost ESP. Whereas I have a fairly ordinary complement of ghost powers—invisibility, intangibility, translocation—Frosty has something that’s entirely his own. As if to make up for being rooted to the spot, he’s able to know pretty much anything about his surroundings by reading the minds of those he comes in contact with, and given his permanent pitch by an ATM, that accounts for a whole lot of people. Even more impressively, he’s able to read the minds of people his targets have been in contact with, which makes him something like the Oracle of Camden Town.

‘Did you say he was a murder suspect?’ Frosty asked, shocked. ‘Ah, Fergal, what were ya thinking...?’

Now I had a name. ‘You knew him personally?’ I asked.

‘Yeah. A runaway he was, fresh-faced thing when I met him a few years back. Came to town from Glasgow after a row with his folks.’ Frosty shook his head. ‘I told him to go back and make good with ‘em before he got himself into trouble down ‘ere. Looks like he didn’t listen.’

It occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned Fergal was dead as well as in the frame for a murder, so I put it to Frosty as gently as I knew how.

He cast a sullen look to the ground. ‘It’s a rotten shame,’ he said. ‘A rotten shame. He was a good kid really.’ His voice trailed slowly, like his words were unwilling to take flight.

‘Sorry to hear that,’ I said. I may not have a pulse, but I still have a heart. ‘There’s still a chance we can help him though.’

‘Help ‘im ‘ow? You said he’d done someone in. That’s a one-way trip to the Bad Place, that is.’

‘I said we were looking into the possibility that he’d done someone in,’ I clarified. ‘We don’t know for sure if he did the deed.’

‘Then ask his bleedin’ ghost!’ Frosty barked.

I explained that Fergal’s phantom, if there was one, was likely at the location he’d bitten the dust a couple of days back. ‘That’s where I need to be looking,’ I told Frosty. ‘Except I haven’t got a clue where to start. Maybe if I to talk to someone who’s spent time with him recently I’ll learn something.’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ Frosty agreed.

‘Right. So what can you tell me about Fergal’s  old…’ I almost said “haunts,” ‘...stomping grounds.’

‘You’d wanna get yerself to South Ken,’ he replied. ‘Cardboard city in the disused Underground station there. That’s where he used to bunk up.’

I nodded. ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I can work with that.’

I reached into my jacket pocket for the last can of Special Brew.

Frosty waved it off. ‘Keep it,’ he sighed. ‘I’m miserable enough without it.’


So long as I was determined to scurry around the bowels of Camden Town questioning vagrants, I was going to need a body. Don’t get me wrong, being an apparition has its uses in the P.I. game, but when it comes to questioning witnesses, a set of lips is paramount. That’s why I always keep a spare body on stand-by.

Another of my ghost powers, besides translocation, is being able to possess the living. It’s funny, back when I was a breather there was a sign at my gym that used to say, “Take care of your body, it's the only one you get.” True enough then, but a bag of shite now. My body’s long gone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t borrow a rental from time to time.

It’s not like I’m the only one at it. Ever found yourself spacing out and looking at your watch to find a half hour’s vanished into thin air? Might be that you were the unwitting vessel of an invasive spirit. Of course, it’s far likelier that you’re just a bit of a ditz, so try not to fret about it