Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Do Ghouls Like Demons?

Because demons are a ghoul's best friend, of course.

It's time for another triple bill of my Hundred Nightmares!

Nightmare 42: The Best Years of Your Life

Nicola never would have imagined she’d wear any kind of uniform voluntarily. But this weekend she was going to a school nostalgia disco.

“You’re too young to get nostalgic”, her mother had said, when she told her. “You’re not even thirty. When you’re my age, you can start getting nostalgic.”

“It’s just something people do, Ma”, said Nicola, trying not to look irritated. “It’s just like a fancy dress party.”

“Dressing up like a schoolgirl sounds kind of creepy to me”, her mother said.

“It’s not like that”, said Nicola. “It’s only guys my age there. Not…dirty old men.”

“Well, it could be worse, I suppose”, said her mother. “God knows, it’s best to be out of the world than out of the fashion. I’ll get Jenny’s uniform for you.”

“Thanks”, said Nicola, a little shame-facedly. Neither of them had mentioned the reason that Nicola needed her sister’s uniform: she had been five stone heavier in her school days. The svelte, eye-catching woman of twenty-five had been a dumpy figure at fifteen.

As her mother fetched the uniform, Nicola drank the last of her tea and looked around the pokey kitchen. She felt more at home here than she felt in the apartment. Even the holy pictures comforted her. She looked into the eyes of the Jesus in the Sacred Heart picture over the cooker, and smiled.

* * * 
“David, cider. Fiona, white wine and soda. Gemma, orange juice. Got it.”

“And peanuts, my love, peanuts”, shouted Fiona, drunkenly.

“I’m used to getting peanuts”, said Nicola, but nobody heard her attempt at wit over Boy George’s singing.

She moved towards the bar, threading through the press of bodies. She had been a little apprehensive, but it was turning out to be a wonderful night. Everybody was in good form, she’d met a couple of familiar faces (if not exactly friends) from St. Kieran’s, and—best of all-- she looked fantastic. Everybody said so, and so did the mirror.

She was waiting by the bar, trying to catch the Chinese barman’s attention, when a voice to her left said: “Nicola Walsh?”

She turned. It took her a moment to recognise the man who stood before her, his grey shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows and his jersey tied around his waist.

“Liam?”, she asked. “Is it Liam?”

He smiled. It was a beautiful smile. She had spent three years daydreaming about that smile, back in St. Kieran’s.

“That’s me”, he said. “You left in third year, didn’t you?”.

“That’s right”, she said, a thrill passing through her that he remembered. He was even more gorgeous than he had been back then. Brashness had been replaced by quiet confidence. She could see it in the way he smiled, the way he stood. “My family moved to Cork.”

“But you’re back now”, said Kieran, and he moved closer. He had never been cruel to her, like so many of the others in St. Kieran’s. But he had never looked at her the way he was looking at her now, either.

Boy George finished on a high note. Bon Jovi kicked in. The night was looking more promising than ever.

* * * *
“Hey…hey, is this Linda Fleming?”

There was a silence at the other end of the line, and then a hesitant: “Yeah, who is this?”

“It’s Nicola Dunne. We…we went to school together.”

“I don’t remember”, said the voice at the other end, almost brusquely now.

“I left in third year”, said Nicola. “We…we sat beside each other once, in art.”

A longer pause, and then a tone of mild embarrassment crept into the voice on the phone. “Oh…oh, yeah. How are you?”

“I’m fine”, said Nicola. “I got your number from your cousin….you know, Penny. I used to work with her. Hey, do you remember Liam Thompson?”

“God, yeah”, said Linda, with surprising fervour.

“Do you know his number?”, asked Nicola. “I thought I had it, but I must have taken it down wrong”

The pause that followed this was the longest yet. “Liam is dead”, said Linda, her voice almost toneless. “He died of meningitis in fith year, just before Christmas. Didn’t you know that?”

Nicola didn’t answer. She didn’t even answer when Linda asked “Hello? You there?” She killed the call, and laid her mobile phone beside her on the duvet. Then she rubbed her hand lightly over her stomach, frantically wondering what could be growing inside her.

Nightmare 43: The Mission

“The meeting with the union leaders is dragging on longer than scheduled”, said Melissa Dale, rolling her eyes. “Why am I not surprised?”

“They should know by now”, said Bruce, shrugging. “Any meeting with Rhonda is over in the first five minutes. The rest is just verbiage.”

“A Prime Minister shouldn’t be so patient”, said Melissa, glancing towards the closed door of the conference room. “Or so polite.”

“She said to me a few days ago”, said Bruce, “I had no idea that there was so much boredom to the job.” He grinned knowingly.

“I’m still having trouble believing it”, said Melissa, lowering her voice, looking around the legendary house with obvious awe. “I always thought I believed she’d make it, but I never really did.”

It was a month into Rhonda Shipperly’s tenure as Prime Minister. Melissa Dale had been working as her press secretary for five years. Bruce had been Cabinet Secretary for six months, seeing out the dying days of the last administration. His name was only beginning to make it into the newspapers, yet another shadowy Svengali for the press to caricature.

They had no idea.

“Why don’t you wait in your office?”, asked Melissa. I’ll send Rhonda in to you when she finally gets out.”

“Okey-doke”, said Bruce, nodding and turning briskly on his heel.

His heart was hammering against his chest and hands were damp. How had Melissa not noticed it? And she didn’t, he told himself. If you’re going to start getting panicky, at least keep faith in your instincts.

Today was the day decreed. Today was his day of great service.

As he walked towards his office, he barely returned the nods of the colleagues who passed him. He was no longer in Downing Street. He was in a small room in a hotel in Aberdeen. He was naked, and surrounded by a ring of equally naked figures. He was eighteen years old.

Do you swear eternal allegiance to the Bondsmen of Baal?


Do you defy the authority of the Great Tyrant?


Do you pledge yourself to the liberation of humanity and the elimination of the Tyrant’s servants?


Inside his office, he went straight to the television and switched it on. Television calmed his nerves. All it took was one look at the news to see who was winning.

Most of the time, that was. As soon as he switched the TV on—it was set to a news channel--- the face of Harriet Chambers, the Minister of Health, filled the screen.

A voiceover said Right-to-die and pro-choice campaigners have criticised the appointment of Harriet Chambers, a confessed member of the Catholic lay organisation Opus Dei, to the post of Minster for Health. Of course, Rhonda Shipperly has been open about her own religious convictions. A lifelong Quaker, she’s been called the most outspokenly Christian Prime Minister since Gladstone.”

Bruce scowled and changed the channel. He was sweating profusely now. It was almost time.

Now the screen showed a grinning JFK waving to the crowds in his final moments of life. Normally, this footage cheered Bruce up—if only the Bondsmen had been responsible!—but today, the parallel was too close to be comfortable.

Then there was a knock on the door.

He switched off the televison, swallowed hard, reached his hand into his trouser pocket, and called “Come in”.

The door opened. The short, svelte figure of the Prime Minister stepped into the room. She looked fatigued after her extended meeting, and she gave Bruce a rather impatient look as she closed the door behind her.

“Yes, Bruce, what is it?”, she asked, in her imperious tones.

Bruce drew the hand from his pocket. The Prime Minister’s expression froze.

“I just got the text”, he said, holding up his mobile phone. “Harriet Chambers will be found dead by her cleaner two hours from now. A heart attack. It’s very clean. Very convincing.”

A radiant smile crossed the Prime Minister’s face. She took a step closer.

"Well done, Bruce" she said, her voice lower now. "And don't look so goddamned worried, OK? Don't you ever listen to the proverbs of the pious? The Devil takes care of his own." And she laughed.
Nightmare 44:  The Shortest Day

“I’ll never forgive myself”, said Eva. She was trying not to cry, but the tears came anyway.

“Hey, look”, said Rachel, winding her arm around her niece’s shoulders. “It’s not such a big deal.”

“It’s a huge deal”, sobbed Eva. “How can you say it’s not a big deal? You’ll never get another chance.”

There were standing on a steep hill in the grey light of dawn. Hundreds of others were scattered on the slope. Some of them held microphones and TV cameras. Now and then somebody shot the sobbing girl a curious stare.

A short walk up the hill, the ancient mound of Newgrange stood out against the sky’s pale dawn. From this distance, it looked like a squat hill with a stone wall circled around its base. The passage tomb had been built five millennia ago—older than the pyramids, everybody said—and every winter solstice, for a few minutes, the chamber filled with the glow of the rising sun, streaming in through a perfectly-placed aperture in its roof.

It was a much coveted sight. Entry to the chamber was by lottery. Tens of thousands entered every year. Fifty were selected.

Rachel, on a long-planned trip to Ireland, had visited the site, filling out an entry form for the lottery in the nearby visitor’s centre. Then she had forgotten all about it, until an email months later told her that she had been selected, and could bring a guest.

Eva had been the first person she’d asked. The girl was a history fanatic, spending as much time in museums as most teenagers spent in malls and music stores. She’d even paid for the trip. Eva had been so excited she had barely slept in the past two days.

As it turned out, she’d been too worked up. Minutes before the famed beam of light was due to flood the chamber—and this year, unlike most years, the sky was clear enough of clouds to guarantee a show—she’d had a panic attack, shouting that she had to get out, knocking over a hand-held television camera and pushing through the tight crowd, back out through the tunnel and into the weak light of dawn.

Rachel had followed her out, of course. Truth be told, she was a hundred times less eager to see the event than Eva.

“Look, we’ll still get to go in”, she said now, squeezing the girl’s shoulder. “I mean, you get to see the sun every day, don’t you?”

Eva sniffed loudly, and tried to smile. “I don’t know what happened to me”, she said. “I just got so scared. I don’t know how.”

“Is this the young lady who left the chamber?”.

Eva and Rachel looked around. A tall man in a bulky red jacket and jeans was smiling at them. He might have been in his early forties, and he wore a gentle smile. He spoke in a European accent.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, young lady”, said the man. “You were overwhelmed by the presence of the sacred, that’s all. It shows you have been hypnotised by all the consumerism and careerism of our age.”

Rachel and Eva stood there, staring at him.

“I’m Jan Geerts”, he said, extending his hand. “I’m a minister in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands. I come here every year.”

“Isn’t this all a bit pagan for you?”, asked Rachel, grinning.

He gave a hearty, pleased laugh. “Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, what does it matter? All men—and women, of course—have felt the same awe for God, through all the millennia of mankind. Can’t you feel the divine energy, standing here?”

“I just feel cold”, said Rachel.

“Look”, said Eva, pointing towards the huge, carved stone above the mouth of the mound. “Look, it’s glowing!”

She was right. It was faint at first, but it grew brighter by the second. The crowd on the hill drew closer, slowly, murmuring.

Then they heard a muffled screaming, coming from inside the tomb itself. It could barely be heard, but faint as it was, the despair that filled it was horribly clear.

Then they saw it. At first, it seemed to be nothing more than a white gleam in the dark mouth of the tomb, but then it resolved into a line of shimmering figures, wrapped in phantasmal white hooded cloaks, marching forward in slow and stately procession.

Those who had assembled to witness the winter solstice at Newgrange turned, many of them falling over themselves in their eagerness to escape. They rushed down the hill to cars and buses, to the visitor centre, away from the hazy form that filled them with dread.

Back in the car, hurtling through the country roads, Eva and Rachel heard the news on the radio. In dolmens and cromlechs and passage tombs all over Ireland and Britain, the same phantasmal figures were flooding out in a seemingly never-ending stream. They were moving towards the towns and cities. The Old Gods were back.


  1. Great work Maolsheachlann. I'm torn between the conspiracy story and the celtic myth story for a favourite..

  2. And I thought they were two of the weakest stories in the collection! It's hard to guess what people will like. But I'm glad you did like them. Thanks!