“The City of the Dead” by David Brennan

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Whispers.

They began in the schoolyard, scattering across games of Kick-the-Can like the wind through Autumn leaves. Friends told friends, who conspired with brothers, sisters, cousins and neighbours. One subject lingered as thick as the industrial smog drifting from the chimney stacks of the shipyards. By lunch, most of the school whispered tales of a monster.

The rumours continued to spread until the three o’clock bell when the sea of grey uniforms, as dark as the Clyde’s muddy waters, spilled into the dull middens of high tenements that dominated the Glasgow skyline. It was a time for games in the back-court playgrounds, but no one cared for Bogey races this evening.

John Galloway found his brothers among the excited crowd. Peter, Alec, and he were the middle children of eleven. John was the younger of the three. “Where’s everyone going?”

“Mind yer own,” Peter cautioned. “This isn’t for wee boys like you, John.”

“Am nearly six, Peter,” He argued.

“Aye, and how many times have the McBride lads stole yer piece this week.”

“They say it’s seven-foot tall, John,” Alec let slip.

“Shooshed, Alec, no in front of the bairn – “

“… and teeth made of iron.”

“Alec! Christ.”

John slunk back into the crowd, avoiding the same slap on the head Peter handed his brother. The mob thinned as the less determined disappeared up the closes. Some returned with an arsenal of walking sticks, kitchen knives, and crucifixes. A make-shift battalion of dirty toy-soldiers collecting bin lids and scrap metal. He followed the excitement, realising where the horde planned to search when he faced the grim, gothic gatehouse of the Southern Necropolis: The City of the Dead.

A familiar hand slapped him across the back of his blonde head.

“What the hell, John,” Peter scolded, clutching a garden hoe with both hands.

“Ye can’t go into the Gravy, Peter. Mum’ll tan our arses raw.”

“You, maybe, but no us. Yer still wee, John. Scrawny runts can’t go hunting a Vampire.”

“A Vampire!”

“Aye, now beat it. Go home, John.”

Peter gathered with Alec and their friends. John watched them disappear through the shadow of the archway and a low ground-mist swallowed the young mob.  John hesitated. The Victorian graveyard was the place where nightmares were born and crawled into the world, the resting place for a hundred, thousand corpses slowly rotting in the earth. His tight nerves told him to run, but Peter’s words grounded his feet. To them, John was the baby brother. Too young, too small, the kid at bottom of the pecking order with the hand-me-down shoes and left-over toys. But no one would look down on him if he were to find the monster. Everything would change.

The children scattered in all directions, through a haze of smog that crept through resting headstones. Dwindling light turned rows of Celtic crosses black and twisted the ghoulish shadows of decaying Willow trees. Where sculpted angels wept for babies, children disturbed the morbid silence. They vaulted over memorials with thunderous disregard and sang ‘Ring-o-Roses around tall, grey obelisks. Like bishops on a chessboard, they seemed peculiarly placed, huddled together to murmur in the wind

John walked alone, unsettled by foggy spectres that skipped between the graves, and the black ravens that steadily cried for the night. He found himself in the oldest part of the Necropolis, where age bleached eroded headstones and the nameless lay eternal. Many had collapsed, unkempt grass drawing them down into the soil, and were surrounded by rusted iron fences. Superstition ensured the occupants remained in the earth. They were clustered more tightly here, submissive to a central, charcoal-coloured mausoleum, a cube of solid, stone blocks, the size of a garden shed.

John froze, terrified. It was here. He saw it, cowered below a four-legged plinth lying in the shade of the tomb. It wore the ragged remains of a black burial shroud, mottled with holes and frayed at the ends. It reminded him of his grandfather, in the final hours when he was called to the death-bed, pale, with ridges of the skull-bone that pressed against dying skin.

“Why do you disturb me, boy?” It hissed. A voice so weak it barely scratched the air, yet the accent was thick, unfamiliar. John found a fallen branch on the ground and pointed it like a spear. “That won’t do you any good.” It replied.

“I’m not afraid of you.” John stammered, his body trembling.

The creature sniffed the air and exhaled a long, satisfied crackle of breath. “Yes. Yes, you are, child. Though you needn’t be. There is so little that can be taken from something so thin.”

John sensed its weakness. Like a bird nursing a broken wing, something was wrong. If he was going fight it had to be now. He could call out to his brothers. Together they could kill the creature.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” It warned, as if privy the boy’s thoughts. “I’ll snap your neck before you draw breath, but where would that leave me? I cannot return to rest and if the Sun doesn’t see my end your friends will. We both lose. However, perhaps there is a bargain to be made?”

Johns grip on the branch loosened.

“You want to be strong, I can give you that. Do you want power? That’s yours too. I ask just one, small favour.”

The stick fell to the ground. John accepted the creature’s instruction and approached a football sized aperture in the wall of the mausoleum. It was as described: a silver coin – like none he’d ever seen – wedged between the stones, preventing the creature returning to the grave. He removed and pocketed the coin, heard a flutter of beating wings and turned to find the creature gone. The voices of children drew closer.

“Thank you, boy.” Said a voice from the black veil inside the tomb. “Do you still desire what is offered?”

“Yes.”

The Vampire Hunters searched among the stones for two more nights before teachers and bobbies intervened. Over the following weeks the schoolyards, shipyards and tenements hummed with news of the missing boy – still no sign of him. The family were inconsolable. As the panic of Vampires and Ghouls drifted into urban myth, thoughts turned the McBride’s, fever had taken three of the boys in as many weeks.

About the Author:

Haunting coastlines, medieval Kirkyards, and castle ruins; the Scottish county of North Ayrshire is the perfect incubator of dark imaginations. It is also where David Brennan lives, works and draws inspiration from. As a child, nurtured on Alice Cooper and Ghostbusters, he developed an obsessive interest in the world of the Paranormal. There was no greater thrill, sneaking downstairs in his pyjamas, watching late-night runs of Hammer Horror with the sound turned low. He joined Garnock Valley Writers in 2016, taking the next step in a life-long hobby. He has enjoyed growing success in Flash Fiction challenges and submitted his first piece for publication in October 2017 “The City of the Dead” is inspired by the The Gorbal’s Vampire, a moral panic that occurred in 20th century Glasgow.

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2 thoughts on ““The City of the Dead” by David Brennan

  1. I love this piece, David. It has a great feel for the macabre and the dialog is excellent!

    1. Thanks Harvey, i have plans to expand on this, a little, and develop both antagonist and protagonist. The plan is to explore the desire of power

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