Up until about three years ago, I was normal. Now I stand outside the Co-op in Dalmuir and I’ve got a dog, with a piece of string for a lead. People like my dog. It’s a mongrel and a friendly wee thing that accepts gifts with a mouth as delicate as a well-worn pink slipper, but sometimes she shape-shifts. She’s got her regulars and some old dear knitted her a coat during that bad spell when it was really icy cold. Something below zero. But I kept to my post. Soldiering on.
I’ve not had much luck in the battle against evil. But I’ve had a full life of sorts all parked away inside my skinny jerking frame and for that I’m truly grateful. I’m not a disgrace. I’m not a mongo or parasite that should just die. I writhe on the ground now and again and my arms and legs snap about and dance. People grow used to it. Laugh, think I’m pissed, steaming drunk and treat it as free entertainment. A strange wailing sound comes from my throat. That’s me talking to angels.
I smell burning and I see hell. You don’t want to be in hell. There’s no escaping it. But you’ve got to try.
There’s a girl that works on the checkout. She’s nice to Shadow, my dog, always patting him and brings him treats. A sandwich. Cheese. I like cheese because it’s tasteless. She hands me a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup.
‘To warm you up,’ she smiles. With her long dark hair and perfumed presence, some men might be tempted to call her pretty.
I love her unconditionally, but I’m mute and immune. I only talk to angels. But if I was giving her advice I’d suggest multi-coloured tank tops should only be worn by tanks as camouflage and they should be greenish and not busty. She stands out for different reasons.
The flickering flames of hell lie within her. Dormant, but ready to engulf her and everybody around her. She’s a carrier, but a slow burner.
I’ve been watching it progressing these past years and I’ll try and save her. She didn’t seem that troubled.
After work, it was raining hard and she was crouched up, sheltering from the rain and the thing inside her.
‘You following me?’ she asked, with clenched teeth, looking from me to Shadow and back again, both of us drookit as we plodded along beside her.
The puddle lying over the cobbles at the entrance to the park was full of angels, washing their wings.
She splashed through it and kept walking. Sighing and shaking her head.
That’s when I should have done it. But I lacked courage and I needed some part of her to turn away, but she didn’t or wouldn’t. She looked straight through me and levitated three feet above the ground. She wasn’t aware of it.
Once this had been a frightening novelty. The pattern is the same, paroxysms threaten, makes itself known by a burning sensation, then the demon in her disappears.
She’s human, too human. The acrid aftermath is a taste and a smell. That’s why food and drink are tasteless. No end in sight.
I followed her back to her ground floor flat in Scott Street. She always kept the curtains closed and the windows locked. A light flickered on in her bedroom and Shadow slumped down, lying over my feet for the long night ahead.
Standing is more exhausting than the regular jobs I used to have. You can wrap up against the cold, but the rain always gets you. But I’ve been bathed in the wounds of Christ and the angels tend me and I manage a kind of somnolent awareness.
I’m waiting for her when she comes out of the flat in the morning. The devil has grown into her face and mannerisms. Despite myself I take a step backward and Shadow growls.
‘I’m warning you,’ she strides away from us. ‘Stop fuckin following me about. It’s creepy. I’ll phone the police. I don’t want to, but I will.’
I take up my position beside the Co-op and a stooped old man with a walking stick shuffles towards us. He presses something into my hand and I think it’s a five-pence coin, but when I finger it, realize it’s a solid silver St Christopher medal. St Joseph carrying Christ. When I look around he’s disappeared. It’s a message I too must carry my burden. I must watch the checkout girl, and wait.
My body starts dancing with frenetic joy. Shadow barks and circles looking for chinks of light and the angels sing, Halleluiah. Halleluiah.
The checkout girl’s shadow falls on me and her voice is a siren call. An ambulance woman stands above me, her movements choreographed as she pushes through the onlookers and snaps on plastic gloves.
‘You again, George,’ she said. ‘What we going to do with you?’
‘What’s his medication,’ said the ambulance man behind her.
‘He’s non-compliant. His medication is the moon.’ She pats Shadow. ‘God knows whose dog this is. He steals them, you know. Same shit. Different dog every time.’