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Black Door, Part II: Rowan

Welcome to Part II of my short serial ‘Black Door’. If you want to read the first part of this story, it’s here:

I: Softly Does It

II: Rowan



owan has been following the luasgan for days, winding her way up through the southern hills, along the slanted shores of the great landmasses and ancient volcanic rock. This is where great plates butt and press into mountains. Mist drifts as horizontal falls. There is only mud and shale, the old stone ways, and the rustling scrape of gorse-thorns on waterproof, where she trails fingers over eroded spirals and the white bloom of lichen. She is the tiniest of tiny blue flames beneath the great vaulted grey skies of rain. Clouds grow up like vast cliffs of crushed snow, where castles of giants aught to sit, were not the weather bleeding the pendulous formations, pulling rain down to the level of the land, in one long downdraught of the elements.

Buckets. Sinks. Bail for your lives!

Mud cracks between her teeth. Her feet ache, her arms are numb; bones are bruised. These trainers will never be the same again. A wicked cut wanders her left cheek, like a crack split by a razor. And while there is pain in her eyes, brown as Autumn’s fingers, there is also determination. To find this trouble before it runs to ground with its last tatters of magic.

And then she hits the festival.

By the three!

The Festival – Edinburgh Festival – where the streets boil with tourists and performers, every eye looking to ingratiate at the latch, every hand a flyer proclaiming this show or that; and her pushing through the bodies that stop to watch the temporary stages, where men in dresses and women holding puppets vie with drummers and Oxbridge ya-ya-yas. Geisha, punks, Slavs, a man with his trousers round his ankles, a trio of nuns, false breasts bumping, bulges, wailing, singing, Lycra, lamenting, applauding, cat-calls and whistles – a bulbous honk-honk, ha, ha, ha, ha – balloons squick and squerk as they’re tied into inflated octopi, while rope is laid as impromptu stages on cobbles, and the stalls of jewellery and fine crafts are perused. A WWI infantryman with a face of pancake white wanders past, followed by his cardboard plane on little brown legs. Both are bog-soggy. Why they wear tutus is quite the mystery.

And through it all, dazed and dirty, the huntress wanders; wondering at the hopeless task of finding one unbody, unbound, in the hundreds of thousands, while Edinburgh is swollen like an overripe pumpkin of pithy players, and extravagant one-liners.

“Hey nonny, nonny,” says a bulbous fool, bowing in his motley. Mesmerised by his rubbery, red-tipped nose – a perverse eight inches long – she takes his flyer; but immediately – guilty and angry – dumps it one bin later, in the great snowdrift of similar flyers. Take it. Take it. Take it. Take a rude brush past, paper scraping at her edges.

Brows ratcheted low. Sighs. Too numb to be angry or involved, or anything. She keeps her hoody up, fingers pinched to the cap-brim beneath, squeezing moisture and the remnant prickle of a bracken spur.

Feels her heart speeding; stares down another flyer for a theatrical review, stapled stars fluttering, man gabbing about venues and discounts. Man face here, man face on flyer. He holds out the paper for the taking – see? She wonders, briefly, if she can state, ball-faced, she has no arms, despite the obvious swing of them. See what he’d say.

A silver Audi crumples along the cobbles, slowed to the speed of crowd awareness, and sinks down Coburn St.

A cycle rickshaw, held standing on chain and pedals.

“Be-yoot-iful lay-dee, issa wanna ride?” Along with the faux-talian, the Australian idiot is trying to keek under her black hood, and peer around her curtain of slung blond hair. An uneven antipodean smile, wet and dazzling; muscular legs and cycle shorts. Regretfully, she lets the pleasing movement of lips and teeth drop behind, swallowed in bodies.

People eating pizza, scattered with fistfuls of grassy rocket, with straw-clinking glasses of Mojito – gourmands and commentators sitting on aluminium chairs under a wide awning, rain a curtain, curling at the edges. Umbrellas ill-advised, block the view. Fuck’s sake!

Pushes through. Blue poncho’s, German, Italian, Spanish voices.

Suddenly exhausted.

She huddles in an arched ‘close’ beside a black iron gate, the bars as thick as three fingers. High on the wall, an iron plaque says something Scottish in raised gold paint.


There is stone and slabs and her own chest rising and falling; a split-splatter of water from the far end.


Revellers wander past like trash in a flood.

The ring in her lip burns cold.

Sighs. Slips some hard lines out of a plastic bag strapped up in elastic. Wipes water from the screen. Cursing the interminable digital wait, she composes a text. Her fingers are so cold they feel like meat impaled on metal. Her waterproof chaps at her wrists, flesh pressed into branching canals; white and pink.

Sniffs. Sniffs. Back of her hand wipes wet. Bloody weather!







Flicks open the phone again: SEE ADAM. K?

Not bloody K! She stabs the red exclamation, killing the phone, and dumps the L of black plastic back in her pack. Hopefully it’ll drop amongst her soaked underwear and explode. As it is, there’s a dull clunk, tunk, and ‘ptung’ as it bounces the length of a crossbow.

She has to push on.

Grubby fingers and torn nails rustle on waterproof fabric. She pulls out an agate arrowhead – smoky grey, white bull’s-eyes – on two foot of chain, each loop a tiny silver ring scribed by the Toichean, and hangs it there in the shadows that smell of kebab and strawberry ice cream. She relaxes her mind, spinning the beebaw, faster, twisting slower, slow, then faster revolving back again, slow, stopped, slow, revolving; moving it round in a circle over the stained concrete, slippery and black with chip fat.

Her mind opens up, then, like a door.

The door has ‘no idea’ written on it.

Her eyes snap open; almost yanks the chain into the ceiling.

Great. Stuffs the apparatus back into her pocket, loop-after-loop, and zips up the last poisonous coil. As if it meant it. Anger bubbles. Useless piece of –

Gods! As usual, no preparation, no place to stay, no way to turn back.

You could phone Adam, says a thought that’s looking to get stabbed. Shut up, she reminds herself. Meanwhile, something of the descendant wheel wanders the streets of Edinburgh. But where?

A small insect-like huzzz.

A piece of paper tumbles. She watches, black ice; eyes suddenly sharp, forgetting the dark bruises that ring them.

“Bloody Mary!” She mutters. Another scrap whirls around and around through the bars, where instead it should drop limp and wet, running low with the rain of the day. But it doesn’t. It is propelled.

This is paper brought by performers, loud and long from far away – those pushing the cheap seats and converted town houses, where theatre grows up behind black curtains. Fringe for Free. Punters deciding. Or not. Fate grows charged and dangerous on decide, decide, decide.

Or rather, those things decided against…

Horror-struck, she realises a deep, heavy magic has been performed in this city, with no care for those other travellers of the word; those already breaking rules.

Her in-breath is cut short. Glossy paper smacks and folds over her mouth, the white photography of ‘Britain’s bitchiest comedienne’ now the reverse of a smile, holding in, rolling on like film played backward.

All the better to wipe out her anomalous path.

She scrabbles for the knife in her pack, as more paper oozes, slips and slides beneath the tromping feet – discards, muddy and mongrel, looking for a fight. Others, whiskery, sliding like rusty sheers in buckets and bins, dry and sharp, as jabs of cutting paper begin to slide into her.

Now swiping in a circle with the stone knife, hacking towards her own features, flint whirling, scared to stab herself in the eye or face, and yet the paper is on the march, pressing in like papier-mâché, moulding to her face and tracts, the soft slumping of mushed words squashing water to her lips, moving like slug or worm.

All the while, the threads of reality are twanging like loose power lines – the antibodies of causality are on the march.

Her overwhelmed, thrown onto the metal of a dumpster, head clangs. And then, and then…

Slices across her face with the knife, the tip rattling her teeth, a taste of blood, and breath whooshes in.

She drops a word like a lead brick.


Tatters of paper, curling at the edges with an eye-blink of flame, others trailing smoke like downed tail rotors, other fluttering like black feathers, her stumbling out of the close, coughing, eyes red, watering.

Into the cheers of the crowd watching the backs of other cheering heads, while somewhere in-between are acrobats.

Soaked paper slides from her arms like wet flannel; some cracks and falls away like cooked egg-shell.

A woman – child in hand – snarks a face at the slup that’s ended on her boot-end, her eye-shadow crinkled to nail heads.

A man pretending to be a statue – dark bronze and verdigris from head to foot, tie wired, bowler hat steady – catches a fluttering ash that floats to his palm like a tall-masted rigger. He blows it away with a metal-lipped, theatrical stiffness; and then he catches the scent of charred hair and waterproof.

This – this is why the Fates let none play the warp and weft of the loom: Weave m’boy and the lands will end. Weave m’boy and the white seas shall have kith and kin of the word.

September 6, 2011   11 Comments

You Killed White Claw


made a cat into a hat once. Feel kinda guilty saying that. Found it washed up in a sewer with a bunch of plastic cups. But I tell ya, all that chocolate soup made the fur real soft. I still got it in the wardrobe. Could show you: it’s got ear-flaps and the tail hangin’ down the back. If I stuck it on a teapot it’d still look like a cat.

“Look, don’t look at me that way. I’m a ‘sterminator. An’ cats, well, you’re vermin, really. Ain’t chya? An’ you got shit for personality: buzz-saw through birds – and I don’t mind the little birdies by the way – and moochin’. Like you’re doing right now – rubbin’ ma socks over ma jean ends; the whatchya call it, purrin’; and all you want is that Gallo salami I got in ma lunch box. I could throw you a piece, but I got a whole building to fumigate. Rats up there, so big they could swallow you whole and shit out the collar.

“Ha. What? You not talkin’ to old Baz Kennedy ’cause he says it as it is? What are you? A kitten, or a cat? Don’t answer that. There obviously ain’t enough on ya to make a right-hand-glove for a Leprechaun.

“And get the F’ away from that box. Jesus-God, cat, you got a death wish or what? It’d be soooo damn easy to scoosh you down with this nozzle, right now: tank’s pumped up, trigger-guard up, target locked. Scoosh, scoosh. Meoweee!

“God knows what’s in them chems, but the rats don’t like ’em.

“Oops. Uh, man, damn thing leaks. Look at that, ma finger’s gone as yeller as lemon meringue pie!

“Scat! Clap, clap. Damn it. Okay, I’m takin’ the damn box away. Worst mistake a man can make is give’n a piece of his lunch to a God-damn cat.

“Hey, I move it left and you look left. Right, up, left, right again… that’s funny. Your head looks like it’s on a spring. You ejit!

“You want a piece of this? For real? Okay, I’m gonna gi…

“…eat it maself. Ha, you wuz too slow.

“Arp! Ugh, heartburn. Jeez, just like Aunt Annie.

“Gain? Okay cat, get that tabby fur greased – roll up yer little, furry sleeves. You wan’ it? You wan’ it?

“Ha. Too slow, I got it again. Man, you one stupid furball!

“Ooooh, is that, like, a little, tiny, cold cat-shoulder I’m gettin’ for teasin’ ya?

“Well, I guess, alrighty, then. What with you bein’ pissy n’ all. Here, a tiny bit, but only ’cause I’m stuffed, an’ ma yella finger’s burnin’ – that fingernail better not come off, is all I’m sayin’. No wonder them rats are goin’ off like bombs up there!

“Whoa, chewin’ that salami up like it’s one lip-smackin’ piece of griz – sounds like a wet welly stuck in mud. Yummmmmm… delicious lips n’ assholes. Eat up little kitty. Ugh, table manners of a tapeworm.

“So what is this? Fifth job, with you getting under ma feet? An’ I don’t feed ya. Well, mostly. You’se the closest I ever got to a pet, an’ you’se just a no-good stray.

“True that cats kinda zone in on people that don’t like ’em, ain’t it?

“Maybe I should ask you what’s-what, ’cause, well, hellova thing–

“What the? It’s a frickin lace, not a punchbag. Come here ya little–

“Like that was really worth huntin’ from the other side of ma boot? You cat’s can love some strange shit!

“Anyway, thought I heard a cat talkin’ today. Up the back of the warehouse. Rat ‘festation goes haywire tryin’ to get way from the cloud, all the exits taped, and blow me if some ugly lookin’ tom ain’t in the middle of it. Goes over like a sack of spuds. One eye, an’ white fur that was so grubby it looked wet, and a tongue hangin’ out, chipped fang, the works. An’ I coulda sworn. I coulda sworn it said somethin’.

“Now, ‘atween you an me, Frank (your Uncle Frank, I guess) has a piss-ant kinda humour, that’d have him secret-learnin’ ventriloquism for five years, just to give me a turn for two minutes thinkin’ a cat’s readin’ out the dog results. But, he was downstairs tossing rats to the refuse – swingin’ ’em by their tails like nunchucks and whizzin’ ’em into black bags. Three-hundred-and-sixty-eight. Not a bad count, now, is it?

“Anyway, the cat says…

“… an’ look, you’d tell me if you could talk, wouldn’t ya? Wouldn’t ya? Ha, ha.

“Anyway, the cat says, ‘You killed White Claw.’ That’s it. ‘You killed White Claw.’

“Weirdest thing.”




In the half-darkness, the kitten stopped batting around the man’s lace, though its claws were still extended like tiny fingernail clippings. It sat back on its tail, and tipped its head in an inquiring manner, eyes black and beady. It was almost as if it understood the man, whose beard was a little white at the end, and who smelled of death and the violence of chemicals.

When it came, the cat’s voice was thin, and high – as much a mewl mated with a pipistrelle bat – and its said, “You killed my brother.” Then, after an ear-flattening hiss, “White Claw will be avenged.

The man dropped the rest of the salami and backed away, but the cat ignored the forgotten morsel, which, a moment before, had been used to so richly tease it. It was too busy with the sounds and feel of its own bones popping in its flanks and guts, and now it was down flat on its haunches yewling and yewling, as a force ran through it, that pumped it up and up like a rag being shaken out, until it was nothing more, and nothing less, than a snarling mass of muscle and bone, twice the size of a Pitbull: jaws a bucket of knifes, claws like butcher’s hooks.

It ate the man, peeling off the rubber suit like a mouse skin, chewing off his head, playing with the carcass a little – as is the way of all cats – and then, somewhat bemused, it bounded up and out through an open window.

As it ran, the splash of gore that greased its fur turned from a bucket of blood to a thin streak of red, as the discarded flesh released a kitten… that skittered away, chasing a peppered moth across the cobbles. The moth’s delicate fluttering left a pleasing sparkle in the sunlight.


June 24, 2011   11 Comments



our father’s up to no good, Tiff.”

Up above, the black clouds have gone all scribbly.

Tiffany, who is only six, stares at the cat, who is white and bleached, and is tied together like a bundle of chopsticks, without the tying up bits. No wool. No pipe cleaners. The cat used to be – probably still is – called Mei-Yin.

The little girl frowns. “A bad thing?”

“Yes,” says the cat, rubbing against her leg, tweaking her calf with its rough edges. Tiffany shifts her foot, but reaches down and the cat jumps into her arms. Somewhere inside its architecture – empty as a biscuit tin – a faint purr rattles.

Back that ways a bit, past the fences and dumpsters that look like huge cans of cat food, is the family compound. That’s where Tiff stays and it’s very, very naughty to be out – especially at night. This is what Papa would say: Bla, bla, bla… Tiffany, Bla, bla, bla – if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a millions times!

A ‘millions times’ seems a bit unlikely. But still.

Up that way – the way she’s headed, as soon as stuperific Mei-Yin stops clawing all those little loops out of her jumper – are dark buildings, more like cliffs in the absence of moonlight.

This is what Papa would say about that (you can draw on your own moustache and wag a finger if it helps with the maginings): You are not to go to where Papa works, okay! Play out back. Play with your medical kit. Dress up like a lawyer. Learn to be a heart surgeon or something – for your mother.

By all the levels of Diyu and all it’s insufferable horrors! Look, I got you this, okay?

Another thing crouched in a bamboo cage from the Yangshuo market, bright eyes shining with fear.

Be a good girl.

Tiffany yawns. The truth is, she doesn’t like those sorts of pets any more. They always die.

At least, they always used to.

The cat softly tweaks her hand with a sharp, broken tooth. “Keep it together, sleepy head. Watch your feet on that glass.”

It’s really, really windy.

The pair are soon surrounded by two wings of the Shimao Central Palace Apartment Buildings, rubble everywhere. It hasn’t been lived-in for twenty years. Papa says it was the bad qi – says it with a smile. Makes her want to cry without knowing why. Strips of cloth flutter on brown glass at a window, thorny plants grow from walls and the surprisingly grey rubble, the windows and doorways are empty faces. The gathering winds tousle Tiffany’s hair, and the spaces sigh in a rising and falling susserance.

The cat nods. “Follow the bird.”

Somebody has forgotten to stick the feathers on it. Unable to fly, the nightingale hops along, skittering through the dust devils. Tiffany puts her head down and barges through the gusts, intent on following. Her jacket crackles like a plastic bag.

The cat presses with a claw. “Don’t let them see you.”

The bad men. She sneaks past the black cars – like they’re Mr Wolf coming to get you, ready or not – the glass-polish filmed with dust; and then past the archaeological frames and diggers and mounds of excavated rubble. Jinhai Construction is written in English under Chinese characters woven through themselves like balls of wool.

The grey stone and plaster of demolition, is replaced by spoil-heaps of reasonably fresh earth bearing the odd memento of the building’s construction – corroded, pale yellow plastic; an old coke bottle – to a sudden stain of red sandstone and the huge blocks, that appeared two days ago, hauled out by a really cool, Meccano crane. These stones are so huge, so perfectly finished, they look like alphabet blocks.

Lights twinkle.

The bird vanishes through a hole in the bottom of a building where a window has been pushed through.  A string of bulbs rattle and clank together here like bottles on a line; ten green lanterns hanging on a wall.

A dull cat’s growl, calling for hush. “They’re down below. You know about ladder’s, right?”

“I think so.”

“It’s easy. One paw after another.”

The faint chug of a generator rises up from the guts of the building.

The cat drops down so she can descend. “Take that hat.”

She takes the white dome from the rusted metal rack. If she tips her head one way and then the other it bing-bongs on her ears.

“It’s big-big, silly billy.”

“Don’t worry. Safety first.” There is a faint whispering of cat laughter. “You do look like a shiitake, though”.

Hand-over hand, deep in concentration, she touches down with a splat. Down here it smells of mud and concrete, oil and stale water. Waiting by the ladder are the papa and mama mices, baby mices, two other kittys – once strays – Mr Parrot, the nightingale, Ken Fredric Chicken, the snake. They look like toys made out of teeth, bits of eggshell, and no glitter.

“We’re quite the little army,” says Mei-Yin. “Very well. This way.”

The clatter and whispering click of tiny bones rattles down the excavated passageway, on a ramp of compacted earth.

“Down we go. Hoppity hop. Tiff, don’t stand on anyone…”

It’s only now, toddling along in the darkness, that Tiffany wonders how bones might actually walk. For instance, where does the cat food go?

That morning, Mei-Yin had returned from the great pet shop in the sky. Six months ago, she had been tears and tissue paper, and a red plastic shovel.

Papa, do cats go to heaven?

Definitely not! (Pause) Ah… well, that is to say, certain Asiatic cultures… Certain postulations… (Pause) Okay, yes. Yes. (Some makings) There: a Christianic cross out of barbecue sticks. Now let me press on with translating. They said these pictograms were almost entirely tenebrous, but they’re Yangshao – 4800BCE. Very, very old.

(Sighs) Err, no… that’s much older than Papa…

Now be a good girl.

Privately, Tiff thought she could do much better with a snappy old crayon: looked like pictures of men messed up with wolves.

Anyways, today’s morning, Papa was away digging, as always and always.

Then there was something scratchy and funny and wise standing right there in the hut. Something that probably shouldn’t be.

Don’t frighten it! Don’t pull it’s tail!

So, standing protectively behind an old trainer, she’d crouched and whispered close to where she assumed an ear would be, “Where did kitty come from?”

The cat’s tail twitched. It whispered back, “Sugar and spice and all things nice. What makes your graveyard grow? Why the pyramid, of course.”

Tiffany was somewhat indignant.

The cat sniffed. “Bad kitty yourself! You can so get pyramids. Egypt’s not the only – Look, it’s down there. Buried. Under.” It patted the metal floor with its paw. Tang-Tang-Tang. “Can’t you feel it? Getting stronger?”

No matter. Every dead thing she’d planted at the back of that portacabin had come back, in one way or another, hauling itself out of the mud like a little white robot, smelling of bad milk.

The cat’s jaw creaked. “And why are we whispering?”

Now the earth underfoot gave way to stone, as they passed through a hole torn in a wall.

“This is the apex. Ah, the ‘top bit’. Of the pyramid; the pointy bit – Meow! Don’t look at those. Keep going.”

Tiffany’s eyes drift past black slabs of slate mounted in the red stone. Bones, horrible eyes, knives. The carvings look shiny in the electric light.

The cat whisks down the steps. “Really, there isn’t much time.”

These steps are so big it makes her legs go funny. Her hips ache. Can legs fall off?

The stairwell descends rapidly. It is a lot of stepping down, but there’s only one set of lungs to register the exercise. Fresh cables twist around the sides like strawberry laces.

Eventually, a dark space opens up. There are statues here, on either side, that have bodies like big fat ladies and their heads are like octopuses; like the ones sliding over themselves in the market tanks. In one hand, a brass lantern, intricately fretted like lace, in the other, a skull – this time a peoples’ skull.

“Okay, quiet as a kitty cat. That means you, Tiff. Mice, birds, spread out.”

The huge chamber, beyond, is filled with bony figures as far as the eye can see – warriors arrayed under great brass, tarnished gongs, the metal jade-green with verdigris. Armour is half sloughed from necrotic bone. Amongst this endless army, are great beasts, twisted with silver-turned-black wire – shapes that should never have been – in the yokes, chains and traces of huge war machines, and carved artillery, more demonic than dragon.

There is one arc-light in the distance, at a central circular set of steps. Her Papa working. Trying, it seems, even this far away, to fit a final piece. Tiffany likes puzzles, but this one reeks of mania. Chinese men in suits. Chinese men lounging with guns.

The dead pets scurry, hop and run through the armed ranks, flitting through the long shadows – minnows dodging the shark’s teeth and corrosive faces – heading towards the gathering of men.

One of the kittys – Little Qing, perhaps – is gnawing and gnawing at a thick trunking cable.

Just like him; if it is him.

Mei-Yin nudges Tiffany’s leg. “Stay off the crunchy bits. If you make a noise, you’ll be dead too. I have to go.”

“Don’t leave me!”

“Don’t worry,” says the empty face. “You know I always come back.”

The cat scampers away, with a creak of ligaments and the tottering tick-tack of upright paws.

Tiffany crouches, bug-eyed in the shadows.

Qing is arring and gnarring. Ages later, there’s a yowl followed by a bug-zap of a spark, that illumes the inside of the little cat, and then the lights go out. There’s a horrible smell of scorched bone.

Shouts of, “Wù sè!”


An explosive gun shot. Automatic weapon fire clatters, followed by hollow-pottery explosions, and the rain-maker sound of bone fragments.

A hurricane of dust is blowing down the stairs; the wind wailing in the throat of the pyramid. Grit in her eye. “Mama!”

Something buts her leg.

By feel, she finds a smooth skull, then something metal and glass in the cat’s jaws. There is a rattle of teeth on chain as the links run through her fingers. At the touch of the metal, a chill runs through her – her nails and bones buzzing like an electric toothbrush.

“I got stuff in my eyes!”

A nip to her fingers. “Break it! Break it!”


“If you don’t, then, well… bad things! Bad things!”

“Zàn zhù zài fù jìn!” shouts an accented voice. “Shoot! Shoot!” cries another.

“The bad men,” gasps the cat. “Now or never, Tiff. Now or never. On the ground. Step on it, step on it!”

By feel she presses the metal under her shoe, almost falling over, almost stepping on her own fingers. Then she balances and fumbles upwards in the darkness. Hanging from a lantern chain, swinging like a monkey, she presses to her tip-toe.

Nothing happens.

Other foot on top. A little jump.

“Who’s there?” cries an ugly voice. A bullet burns through a brass belly, close by. The metal rings like a prayer bowl.

Then a big, big, bouncy, pointy jump.

There is a pop of crushed crystal and a blue flash outline of her sole. Her toes tingle.

“Well done,” says the cat with a strangled sigh.

The wind abruptly dies, to be replaced with the gathering roar of bone collapsing in the darkness, like a flood in a butcher’s yard.

“Kitty? Kitty?” But the cat’s voice is nowhere.


June 10, 2011   10 Comments