All Hallow’s Eve, and the young demon, Mogg hurtles towards the gates of Hell, racing with his peers through tunnels and subterranean courtyards like a colony of bats. Tonight is when newly-ordained demons are allowed out for the first time to maraud in the realm of mortals, an occasion for which they have trained for aeons. Mogg’s witch-mother, Magg, taught him the techniques by which to terrorise men and women and their younglings. ‘Go for the vulnerable,’ she’d say, ‘The sick, the poor, the addicted. They say, there’s no such thing as devils; we say, there’s no such thing as society. Remember the three Fs: Fright, Freak, Fry. Scare them first, so they doubt themselves; freak them out so they start thinking you actually exist…’ (Mogg can never get his head round this one: surely, he does exist?). ‘Finally, when you have them for eternity, fry them, roast, stew, whatever you like.’ Mogg’s favourite is kebabs.
Passing out of the glowering portal of Inferno, he circles, viewing for the first time the legendary motto carved above the gateway: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. With a screech of glee and anticipation, he rises on silky black wings and speeds north, over woods, lakes and mountains.
Gliding down towards a sprawling metropolis, he avoids motorways with their roaring carriages, and main streets with their teeming crowds, alighting in a shadowed alleyway. The warm fug of the city, choked with fumes, and the sulphurous glow of lamps, are comforting. He edges towards a bigger thoroughfare, where a sign on a pitted, peeling wall says, Argyle Street. Human-shaped figures shuffle along, moving with the wingless, earthbound gait of mortals. It’s time to start work.
Creeping in the shadows, Mogg identifies a potential victim: half-lying, half-sitting by the wall, so thin it’s well on the way to being a skeleton, a hood masking its face. Clearly halfway to despair already; a soft target to begin the night.
Coiling himself, Mogg leaps in front of the figure, arms raised, clawing the air with his talons, spreading his baleful, batlike wings, baring sabre-like teeth and emitting a throaty hiss.
The head slowly looks up and glazed eyes attempt to focus on the demon.
‘Alright, pal,’ it says cheerily, ‘Any spare change?’ It holds out a small vessel.
Mogg steps back, not understanding the earthy, gutteral syllables. Crouching, he gives a menacing growl.
‘Nae worries. Hev a nice evenin’.’ The head droops, it pulls the hood back over its face.
Not as easy as he thought, he realises, as he half hops, half flies further along the street. He stops by an imperious, intimidating edifice: grand steps sweep up to a colonnade supporting a graceful portico. It reminds him of ancient temples and architecture he saw in the Other Place. He’d been taken there once, to those sickening heavenly spheres, to show him what he was missing. Across the front of the building, a motto:
People Make Glasgow
It seems unfinished. People make Glasgow what? he wonders. Great Again? Better than Edinburgh? The demon sneers. How can mortals make anything? Everyone knows, only gods can do that. Devils certainly can’t – though they’re wicked at destroying things – and he’s pretty sure these creatures can’t either.
He sidles towards another figure standing by itself, its fellow earthlings making detours round it. More robust this one, a hairy, grizzled creature, advanced in years, an age when they tend to weaken, giving in to fears and delusions. Ripe for picking. It holds something in its arms that reminds him of the lyres he heard in the Other Place. He recalls their pathetic twanging.
With his best bloodcurdling shriek and a blast of flaming breath, he flies straight at the earthling.
‘This is my patch, son,’ it growls, starting to beat its lyre with the vigour of Hell’s blacksmiths, and yelling at a volume that renders Mogg’s screaming thin and feeble:
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG
I WILL BE KING…
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG
CLANG, CLANG, CLANG
YOU WILL BE QUEEN…
Mogg reels back, head ringing. Attuned to the hammers, bellows and screams of home, this racket takes it to another level. With a wail, he scrabbles on all fours into a side-alley, a dark doorway. Gasping for breath, he calms himself with lungfuls of fumes from the carriages, and rank smoke that hangs in clouds around certain lurking figures.
Soon, the sound of high, piping voices alerts him to the approach of a cluster of younglings – a small skeleton, a half-grown devil, a were-puppy and a baby ghost. This is more promising, they’ll be wide-eyed, gullible.
‘Trick or treat, mister?’ they call and he leaps high, swirls, hanging in the air, shrieking and landing crouched in front of them, flashing his eyes, this time green.
‘Haha, that’s wicked. Nae bad costume.’
‘Wit’s yer team?’
Mogg freezes. He’s no idea what they’re saying, but smells no fear.
He opens his mouth and a whiney, strangled sound issues from it.
‘Yous English or what?’ says were-puppy.
He croaks some more and spits a sizzling gob of blood-coloured goo at their feet.
‘E’s aff his heid.’
‘Wha’ a bampot.’
‘That’s ma feckin’ trainers, ya dobber.’
They push past, jostling him. He lands face down on the cobbles near a sour-smelling splatter that looks as if it was, quite recently, a kebab.
Humiliated, empty-handed, not even the first of Magg’s three Fs achieved, Mogg gathers his last strength. He runs, extends his wings and lifts off, rising above the streets. Sounds carry through the still air: traffic, voices chatting, shouting, bottles clinking, the last notes of ‘We can be heroes…’ He yearns for the comfort zone of home, yet wonders if he couldn’t perhaps find it here, too.
Gliding by the wide river, he passes a wall that carries the same motto he saw earlier, but this time completed in a crude, handwritten script:
People Make Glasgow … Fierce, Fun and Fucking Fabulous
Agnes Longlisted for the 2018 Bath Flash-in-Novella Award.
LISTEN to Chapter One of Agnes
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Pheasant Shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction
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The Time It Takes Highly Commended in the 2012 Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction