Twice damned an uncanny.., p.1
Twice Damned: An Uncanny Kingdom Urban Fantasy (Ghosted Book 3), page 1
A GHOSTED STORY
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Camden Town can’t die, it’s been dead for years. I don’t care how many craft breweries or yoga studios or artisanal coffee shops they paint over this place, they’re putting lipstick on a corpse. They can gussy it up all they like, but it’s a lost cause. Camden is rotten. A leaky, bloated carcass that should have been put in the dirt a long time ago. You can call me a pessimist if you like, you can fold your arms and tell me I’m seeing things through dirty glasses, but I see Camden for what it really is. I have to, it’s my job. Picking the scabs off of this town’s dirty little secrets is what I do.
Twilight stole away the day’s colours until the world looked like an old black and white movie. Only once the curtain of night had dropped completely did I make my way to Camden Cemetery. I passed through the graveyard’s spiked black gates and beneath a couple of sycamore trees to cut across the neat lawn of the memorial garden. Rows of tombstones stood left and right of me, some of them hundreds of years old, others smooth as bathroom tiles and inscribed with fresh etchings, black and crisp.
I joined a gravel path leading to a nondescript, stone-clad building and made my way inside. I’d arrived in the cemetery’s crematorium. A corridor stretched out before me, thick with darkness. I heard a steady drip-drop of water, and when my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw its source: rain water, piddling through a crack in the ceiling into a parked janitor’s bucket. The concrete walls were slick with black mould that looked as though it might, at any given moment, evolve into a higher life form.
I spotted a rusted gas pipe running along the corridor’s right-hand wall and followed it quietly, deeper into the building, then down a flight of stairs and into the basement. The pipe lead to a sooty, low-ceilinged room no bigger than a snooker table. On the far wall was an arched hatch enclosed by a sturdy iron door and a brick surround.
Lifting a heavy latch from its receiver, I tugged open the furnace door. I’d only pulled it an inch wide when it squealed noisily on its hinges, sending a sound like a wounded animal echoing through the building. I spun about, checking to make sure I hadn't alerted anyone to my presence, and only once a minute had passed did I return to the job at hand.
I flung the furnace door open in one swift action and instinctively pulled back from the hot blast that sprung from within. The oven blazed like a tiny sun, roaring boisterously and throwing long shadows about the small room. I glanced over my shoulder again to make sure I was alone, then I went to work.
Using the hooked end of a nearby poker, I dug around the fire, scraping aside ashes and fragments of blackened bone. As I rooted deeper, the hook snagged on something caught in the far end of the oven’s grill, and I carefully lifted it free, fishing it out from the hungry flames.
A scrap of charred white cotton decorated with small pink hearts. A fragment of women’s underwear. Evidence yet to be disposed of.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ demanded a gruff voice.
I turned to see a brawny janitor with a wooden rounders bat in his fist. He was tall; so tall he had to tilt his head to stop the room’s ceiling from giving him a bald patch.
I cleared my throat. ‘You’re working late,’ I said.
‘You’re trespassing,’ he barked. ‘This is private property.’
I stood up and straightened the lapels of my crisp black suit. ‘Private, is it?’ I asked. ‘Like this?’ I held up the poker, presenting the janitor with the scrap of singed underwear. A tic played on the corner of his mouth. ‘You’ve been a naughty boy,’ I tutted. ‘A very naughty boy.’
His eyes flicked involuntarily to the furnace, then back to me, sizing me up. ‘You ain’t with the nick, are you?’ he said, noting my evening suit and my distinct lack of a badge.
‘No, I’m not,’ I replied.
‘Then why d’you break in here?’ he asked, squeezing the rounders bat in his meaty paw. ‘Sniffing around for a dead body to play with, eh, you pervert?’
I didn’t appreciate the insinuation. The charge he was levelling at me was what’s technically known as “gross abuse of a corpse” (though really, any abuse of a corpse is, by definition, pretty icky).
I narrowed my eyes at the janitor. ‘I’m here on behalf of the woman this belonged to,’ I replied, showing him the scrap of blackened fabric clinging to the end of the poker.
‘And what makes you think I’d know anything about that?’
I shot him a hard stare. ‘Oh, that’s an easy one,’ I explained. ‘See, I know you do, because she already told me you killed her.’
The janitor’s nostrils flared. ‘So, you were having a conversation with a dead woman, is that it?’
He offered a self-satisfied smile. I wasn’t a threat to him, I was just some nutcase who’d wandered into his territory and overstepped his mark by a country mile. ‘If I were you, I’d wanna get going, mate,’ he said. ‘Or do I have to crack you one with this?’
He slapped the stout wooden bat in his palm.
I looked him up and down. He was a big lad—a proper unit—and going by the muscles I could see bulging beneath his dungarees, he could handle himself too. He’d wipe the floor with me if it came to a fight, I was certain of it.
‘Look, mate, I’m not after any trouble,’ I said, backing off.
‘Is that right?’ the janitor chuckled.
I set the poker back down by the mouth of the roaring furnace. ‘I’ll get going now,’ I said, holding my hands up in surrender. ‘Just one thing before I do though,’ I added, Columbo style. ‘I know that you lured her into your home. I know that you strangled her to death with your bare hands and dragged her body to the bathtub so you could dismember her with an electric kitchen knife. Tell me this though: why did you cook her brain in a frying pan?’
The janitor rocked back on his heels, eyes agog.
‘I mean, I know supermarket prices have been on the up a bit since Brexit,’ I said, ‘but you can still get a kilo of roasting pork for less than a five
He finally found his voice. ‘How do you know all that?’ he demanded. ‘How?’
‘You said it yourself,’ I explained. ‘A dead woman told me.’
He lowered his head as if defeated, but when he looked up again, a satanic grin had transformed his face. ‘Right,’ he replied, ‘then I suppose she told you about this too?’
He unhooked the straps of his dungarees, pulled them down to his waist and whipped open his shirt. A cluster of rubbery black tentacles sprung from inside, dancing before him and oozing a gelatinous goo.
‘As a matter of fact,’ I said, eyes widening, ‘she did not mention that.’
Bit of an oversight on her part, I’d say. This thing was no janitor. This was something else, a creature born of another realm, a monster dressed in a human suit. The woman I was working for—the woman this thing had murdered—had failed to inform me that her killer was something out of a Lovecraft novel, but then standing by as a spectre while you watch your remains getting chopped to bits is wont to fuzzy the old grey matter.
The janitor/Cthulhu monster opened his mouth and screamed like two foxes fucking in a blender. ‘I’ll dice up your brains and fry them in butter!’ he shrieked as he came charging towards me, tentacles questing from his torso and making for my throat.
It all happened so fast.
I didn’t have time to snatch up the poker.
I didn’t have time to get out of the way.
I didn’t even have time to say, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you, mate,’ before the hellspawn janitor pounced—
—only to pass right through me and into his own furnace.
The creature went up like a box of matches, thrashing and wailing inside the white-hot oven. The scream he made was unbelievable; pure murder on the ear drums. The bloke was doing my head in, so I blotted out his racket by bumming the furnace door shut like I was closing a stubborn car door.
And that was the end of that little escapade.
I’m Jake Fletcher. Dead man. Professional ghost. An apparition trapped between this world and the next.
Not that I’m complaining.
After all, being a phantom has its advantages. When it comes to the earthly plane, I go as I please. I’m intangible, meaning I’m not hemmed in by physical constraints like walls, or locks, or red velvet ropes. Earlier, when I said I “passed through” the spiked black gates of Camden Cemetery, I meant just that. I manoeuvred my way to the other side of them like wind through a keyhole. Ghost style. No fannying about.
The only time I’m ever corporeal is when I make a special effort to be that way, like I did when I needed my hands to get inside that furnace. The rest of the time I’m basically smoke, as our friend, Mr Janitor Monster, discovered the hard way. I’m also invisible to most people, unless they have The Sight, which evidently the hellspawn burning up in that furnace did. The only reason he could see me was because, just like yours truly, he too was a member of the Uncanny.
What do I mean by “Uncanny”?
The Uncanny is everywhere. It’s all around you and always has been, but too few see it. The supernaturally inclined—ghosts, magicians, whatever the hell that janitor was—we’re tuned into the Uncanny’s frequency. We see the world that overlaps your world. The world that only exists in the corners of your perception. The floaters in your eye. The world your conscious mind filters out. The impossible place that you smother with the mundane.
Dealing with that janitor was my first successful job as a Paranormal Private Investigator (Finally, a P.P.I. that’s worth a damn!). My client, as I mentioned before, was the ghost of the woman he’d crisped in the same crematorium he ended up dying in, a hot dollop of karma if ever there was one. I broke the news to my client and she wept tears of joy before the golden elevator arrived to take her to the Great Hereafter. That’s what happens once an earthbound spirit gets a ribbon tied on their unfinished business, they get to pass on to their final reward. Well, most of them do. Some of us aren’t so lucky.
The sun came up, colouring the cemetery with the watery light of early morning. I sat there for a while among the tombstones, reflecting on a job well done, until I caught strains of choral music coming from the nearby chapel. I checked my watch and sat bolt upright when I realised what day it was.
Late for my own funeral.
In the movies, funerals are all wreaths of colourful laurels, tearful widows in elegant veils, and grim-faced pallbearers doing their best to contain their sorrow as they dutifully go about their solemn task.
In reality, what you get is a lot of awkward coughing, a pack of semi-strangers slyly checking their phones to make sure they haven’t missed anything important on their feeds, and a doddery priest reading a sermon from a hastily-scrawled crib sheet.
The man in the white collar threw in a few all-purpose platitudes about how, ‘Nobody could take my place,’ and how I’d be, ‘Missed by many,’ but then why were the only people I could see in attendance foreign to me? No one there knew Jake Fletcher really, least of all the bloke officiating the whole debacle, who managed to get my surname wrong and call me ‘Jake Felcher’ on not one but two occasions (thanks for that, Padre). I suppose it’s to be expected. Spend your life mucking about with black magic and malevolent spirits, and your Christmas card list soon starts to shrink.
After the service I stood in line, waiting to pay my respects to the deceased. Next to the open casket, supported by a cheap-looking easel, was a large picture of my face glued onto a bit of foam board. The photo’s colours were washed out, and the image distractingly low-res, having been haphazardly cut and pasted from my Facebook page.
I queued for the coffin beside a gaggle of rubbernecking old dears who were only too happy to see someone besides themselves lying face-up in a box. After they were done gloating, I finally got to approach the coffin and say goodbye to an old friend.
There I was, Jake Fletcher, RIP, eyes closed and hands arranged palms-down on my stomach like I was trying to disguise a hearty meal. Except there was nothing left inside of me now but formaldehyde.
The mortician had done a wonderful job on me. I’d never looked better, really. I hadn’t been brave enough to wear makeup in life (barring a brief flirtation with guyliner as a teenage goth), but I have to confess, it looked great on me. My skin was glowing, my lashes were thick and lustrous, and you could barely even see the multiple lacerations and crush wounds that put me in a coffin in the first place.
I died from being pushed under a moving train. It sounds gruesome—and looked it too—but it was over in a flash. One second I was staring down at the tracks watching a mouse gnawing on a discarded chicken wing, the next I felt a shove and found myself lying across the rails in front of the 11:45 to High Barnet.
I figured out later that my wife had orchestrated the whole thing. She’d put a colleague of mine up to it, the same colleague she was sleeping with behind my back. The man was a priest, of all things: Father Damon O’Meara. Christ knows what I did in a past life to earn that little Game Over screen, but it must have been pretty heinous.
I stared down at my patched-up, Frankenstein’s monster of a corpse and asked myself, Where did it all go wrong? Was it the day I shook the kaleidoscope and meddled with the Uncanny, or was it the day I first met Sarah Godfrey?
We found each other at college. I was the slacker art student with lank hair and a thing for Iron Maiden, while she was the leggy, blonde, law undergrad with the upturned nose and a heart so hard you’d think it had been frozen in carbonite. Sarah and I had no business crossing paths, let alone ending up together, and yet that’s exactly what happened. The fact that she was miles out of my league was plain to everyone—most of all me—but I grabbed that opportunity with both hands. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was this beautiful, cultured creature with so much money that even her laundry bag was Gucci,
Her interest in yours truly was an absolute mystery, at least until I realised that she was interested in me in the same way a cat is interested in a half-dead mouse. I figured out after college that Sarah had only hooked up with me to piss off her overbearing father, who’d had his daughter’s future mapped out comprehensively since he sent her to finishing school. And while most girls her age would have made do with inviting their trenchcoated, roll-up smoking suitor to the country estate for the next family reunion and watching the heart attacks pinball around the crowd, Sarah took it to the next level.
She married the reprobate.
All that effort, just to rub her daddy's nose in it. The old man told her she was forbidden to date a no-prospects, self-styled rebel with a thing for the occult, so to show him who wore the trousers, she dragged me down to the registry office and we got hitched right out of college. It felt like a big win at the time, but on balance, we both should have listened to the old feller.
by David Bussell have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes