Botanical Malice (extract)

Here is the beginning of my first supernatural fantasy novel, Botanical Malice.  It is the first book in a trilogy (as epic fantasies tend to be) and features a rather unconventional heroine, Rue Macabre, a bi-sexual, rum swigging, demon slugging bar tender who finds herself hunted by botanical golem assassins and only has an ex-priest, a fragile shaman and two violent Cornish piskies to help her.  It’s about to get very dark.

I’d love to know what you all think.

Tabatha x


Intimacy Issues

          Rue Macabre woke on the Second Day of the Seventh Month with worst sodding hangover in her drinking history. Her first mistake had been opening her eyes a wee crack and experiencing the vicious, yellow sun blasting her vision and her second mistake was opening them further.

‘Hey, Lover’, Frankie’s sticky, treacle love bug voice flowed over Rue’s banging head. ‘Mph’, Rue managed before sprinting to the bathroom where she heaved half a bottle of ingested rum into the sink.

‘Better out than in’, Rue managed as she pulled herself upright using the sink housing as leverage. After glancing  in the mirror and then groaning in disgust, Rue dry heaved again a few times, the sour mash of semi-digested rum flooding her mouth before moving back to the doorway of the bedroom.

Frankie lay pale, lithe and inviting across the mess of sheets and blankets.  She was made for sex the way profiteroles are made for cream. Everything about her oozed voluptuous ripeness, from her natural smell of honey and sunshine to her creamy curves. Every surface of Frankie seemed to scream ‘lick me, bite me, love me’. And Rue had obliged happily on several rigorous occasions.  Frankie had the black-Irish look, ice-blue eyes, hair the colour of tourmaline and a mind as inventive as Messalina but a lovely girl, really. It was just that Rue didn’t want baggage of any kind and her lover was getting hungry for something more, something Rue didn’t have to give and it was with a little regret that Rue had decided to cool things off.

‘Come back to bed, lover, Come back to bed, Rue Macabre, eater of my soul and commander of my lust’, Frankie invited, licking her raspberry lips, sweet and sharp like elderflower.

‘Ach, you do have a way with words, honeybee, you really do’, Rue sighed.

Frankie smiled and stretched herself in that way the makes a girl speechless. ‘Aye, I have a way with lots of things’, she countered, piling on the Clare brogue. Frankie came from a tiny village near the coast of County Clare where the ocean had smashed the rocks for millennia carving its own beauty into the cliffs of Moher that rose up fearless from the sea.

Her parents, Eileen and Gerrard Darcy, were God-fearing, ‘sin is fire’ Catholic farmers and Frankie was the only daughter in a family of six strapping brothers who worked the land, gave no trouble and married strapping girls who gave them dozens of red-cheeked bawlers. Nothing had changed for centuries in the Darcy family until their daughter Frankie managed to stutter one Sunday lunchtime that she wasn’t the marrying kind.   Her hateful brother Seamus had added that was because she liked to kiss girls and it was sinful beyond measure.  Then had sat back and watched as the Darcy family imploded.

Frankie had told Rue that she had ridden horses bare back under the full moon, holding her arms up to the Goddess and inviting her for a ‘ride’ when she was growing up but Rue dismissed that as that particular type of Irish fantasy that probably comes from the memory of being Fae centuries ago.

The sun was still working its wicked magic through the gaps in the shutters. Rue observed that she always preferred to stay over at her current lover’s house rather than invite them to stay at hers. She enjoyed the freedom of leaving when she wanted, sometimes at 3.00 am if the demons were too loud or the magic flared to brightly and she needed to walk Edinburgh until the sun came up and the inevitable hangover had beaten a wee retreat.

Rue Macabre was full of magic and it flared from her hands many times a day, particularly if she was upset or felt threatened.   These waves of light and colour had started after her younger sister, Lily, was abducted, but by the time Rue realised she was different from the rest of the children she lived with, her mother was already dead and she had no one reliable or safe to ask.

So the magic kept flaring in vivid colours and it seemed to change with either her mood or her adrenaline response, Rue wasn’t at all sure and as she got older she tried to box it up and forget about it. Wearing gloves helped and during her cyber Goth stage this worked well but summers were a blistering grind and she felt powerless and freakish. Rue felt suddenly irritable.

‘I’ve got to go, I’ve a shift at the soul stealer’.   Rue willed her magic back into her hands and stepped into the bedroom to face Frankie’s disappointment. And there it was painted into the plump of her mouth and the temporary wrinkles on her forehead. And suddenly, Rue felt tired of everything. The lies, the penance, Frankie’s pouting and her awful sodding job and was at the door dressed in minutes.

‘Will I see you tonight’, Frankie asked quietly. There was a long pause of the excruciating kind that implies the direct opposite of the question asked. Standing with her hand on the polished bronze doorknob and her back to Frankie, Rue studied the serpentine cracks in the wood door before replying quietly, ‘I don’t know, I might be late. I’ll ring you.’   And then she left leaving Frankie to fling a cushion at the closing door and a stream of very un-catholic invective at her lover’s back.

Rue carried on down the stirs, colour and light flaring from her hands before being quenched by the hefty CAT work gloves that she pulled from her bag. Pulling open the robust front door, Rue was struck yet again how peaceful New Town was. The sky, a dull over-washed grey, the cobbles attempting to copy it like a faithful pair of shoes and Edinburgh’s beautiful and plain, shopping and drinking and fucking in a regular, by your watch way that made Rue grateful and thirsty.

Ignoring the heat surging from her hands she pulled her blue velveteen collar tight up around her neck and walked up the road to the bus stop, pretending to be a normal girl, on a normal street going to her dead-end job on a Thursday afternoon.


El Hambre De Calaveras (The Hungry Skulls)


Simon de Smet of Antwerp Belgium married Rosa Maria Martinez of Guanajuato, Mexico on October 31st, 2015. It was a glorious Singapore day and the (much) younger bride had chosen a dress of ivory silk that clung and flowed with breathtaking ease down her supple body.   Simon, fat and ecstatic, bounced around his reception, drinking far too much of the fine burgundy wine, chosen especially by the Sommelier from the Raffles Hotel for the wedding.

The bridegroom’s friends, expansive, wealthy expats and a coterie of other middle-aged mishaps leered at the luscious Rosa who unusually had no family attending her wedding, just a few beautiful but silent women as attendants.

She rose above it all with a stoicism that she had learnt in the House of Witches, one of the most haunted places in Mexico and now the largest brothel in the landlocked city of Léon. Rosa didn’t care much for her Belgian husband and she countered his brutish advances with daydreams of cheap, wood coffins and garrotes.

Simon was the CEO of one of the largest Dutch/Brazilian companies in Mexico giving him an estimated annual bonus of two million USD.   The company was run by ‘wetbacks in suits’, the fat man was fond of saying, and that ‘Singapore suited him with its preference for multimillionaires who could sail close to the wind and never be reprimanded’.

The Belgian hated Mexicans with a passion, calling them ‘monkeys’ and ‘peasants’, so it could be thought odd that he had chosen a beautiful Latina as his bride.

In truth, there was nothing strange about it; just the usual fat, wealthy man who could have his pick of women and chose his bride from one of the poorest countries in the world to dominate and punch with a regularity that would not be out of place in the Politician Bar, Glasgow.

Rosa’s payoff would be a hefty pre-nuptial payment in the case of divorce and a life of luxury during the marriage.

If you looked very closely you might catch the fading violet flare of a bruise on the bride’s jawline but it was difficult because of the expert bridal makeup and Simon’s promise to his mother, a cruel and harsh woman, that he wouldn’t punch his betrothed for a full month before their nuptials. He had come close to fulfilling this promise.

Rosa’s outward serenity and placid demeanor harboured a rage that it lit up her guts like fire on an oil slick. Unable to use this anger against Simon in particular, but all men in general, Rosa used every resource available to her to abuse her, Pilipino housekeeper, Dumadora.

Daily, ritual humiliations were exacted. Cutting the lawn with nail scissors, eating out of a dog bowl, withholding wages and burning the maid’s passport.

Every sin, every dark spot, every lash and punch that had ever been visited on Rosa she now flung at her maid until Dumadora was tarred and feathered with abuse.

But Dumadora was a devout, selfless woman with a soul so clean, so straight and true that she bore these monstrous acts with the dignity and sacrifice of St. Gianna. Every Sunday, she crept out of the house and attended early Mass where she prayed for the health of her children left behind in Leyte in the care of their Grandmother.

Her tiny, windowless room dwarfed by the huge house of stone and marble wasn’t much at all, with only a mat to sleep on, the cheapest of soaps and a blue cotton rag to wash with. But in a crack, halfway up the grey painted wall that housed the door, Dumadora kept her most precious thing. A creased, picture of her children, taken years before but still offering comfort in the dark hours. If she held it to her chest, her heart would beat more slowly, her body relaxing in the warmth of a mother’s love.

And, if she held the photograph up to her nose and inhaled, she could smell her children as newborns, sweet and milky.   This single thing gave her comfort like a soft blanket for a cherished child or tall whiskey on a sullen, wind-whipped night in the Rio Grande.

Later that night the de Smets returned to the hollow, cold mansion off the Tanglin Road lapped by moonlight and the choking humidity of Singapore.   The only houses close by were the towering ‘black and whites’ colonials of the bygone days and the inscrutable embassy buildings, grey and uncompromising like Eastern Bloc tenements.

The De Smets had jointly rejected the idea of a honeymoon; faced with an extended time tougher under the auspices of ‘love’ was just too much for them.

Once the driver had dropped the couple at the towering, stone door, Simon didn’t even wait for the car to turn the corner, taking Rosa roughly under a crimson frangipani tree, grunting and sweating with hate and drink. When he was finished he pushed Rosa casually onto the brittle emerald grass, her ivory dress rucked up to her hips, rich, green smudges ruining the delicate fabric.

The bride of ten hours was so full of white-hot anger; so molten with humiliation that she stumbled when she got to her feet. She wanted to do was hurt something and she found her way to Dumadora’s room where a faint glow from underneath the door indicated that her maid was still awake, not that her sleeping would have made any difference.

Rosa kicked the door and stood barefoot, expensive high heels in hand waiting for the maid to start violently and then kneel quickly, head bowed.

But Dumadora was deeply asleep on her scratchy bed mat, exhausted by her eighteen-hour day and the absence of her children. So exhausted that she had forgotten to push the treasured photograph back in its hiding place.

The first thing Rosa did was batter Dumadora awake with the heel of her shoe. Blood welled quickly from the puncture wounds on her face and neck and Dumadora woke quickly, shock and pain reducing her to quiet sobs.

The second thing the enraged woman did was to snatch the photograph from her maid’s hand. Five botched abortions at the brothel had rendered Rosa barren and she particularly hated loving mothers, her own having sold her into the sex trade at 11.

Very deliberately Rosa watched her maid’s face as she tore the photograph in half, then half again and continued until tiny, indecipherable pieces littered the floor.

Her rage spent and immediately bored and thirsty, she left as quickly as she had come in search of water and a cigar.

Dumadora stared at the ruined picture in disbelief and shock and only then did she indeed fall to her knees in prayer. And there she stayed until dawn, her lips barely moving as she asked for the pain to stop and to find forgiveness in her heart.

After drinking a glass of water, frosted by cold and a half Cohiba, smoked leisurely by the pool, her bronzed legs rippling in the water’s shadows, Rosa went to bed.   She gave no further thought to Dumadora’s pain or her husband of only twelve hours.

She slept the sleep of innocents until the clock in the cool marble hallway ticked past midnight and then she woke gently to a very faint clack clack. The noise was so quiet that Rosa thought it was the slap of Simon’s bare feet on the marble as he made his way to the bathroom so she slipped back into a drowsy sleep.

When Rosa woke again, the sound was nearer, louder and she sat up, eyes searching the room. clack clack. Whatever was making the noise was now in the bedroom and when Rosa fumbled for the light switch, something bit her fingers, hard. She yelped and scrabbled backwards towards the headboard but the clack clack, clack clack marched onwards towards her. When the night clouds parted and the moon was allowed to briefly shine, Rosa was given enough light to see the five *Calaveras that floated grotesquely at the bottom of the bed and the one, with a bloody mouth, by her ear. The clack clack sound resonated as they bounced their teeth together in unison.

The sugar skulls’ faces were tattooed with intricate, black markings and engraved with vibrant flowers, beautiful on any other night but not on this one and after they were done, Rosa had lost all her finger tips, the tops of her ears and her nose to the hunger of the Calaveras.

Afterwards, the bedclothes were burnt, the blood and other stains too deep and Dumadora sighed as she tossed them into the fire because they were such good quality.

You might think that Dumadora would relish the downfall of Rosa Maria Martinez, her tormentor, but quite the opposite was true.   Dumadora’s devout nature and gentle spirit lent itself to caring for the traumatised Rosa. Washing her gently when she soiled herself, adjusting the nose mask to hide the deep scarring and helping eat and drink because both those things are surprisingly difficult without fingers.

Rosa never spoke again and died weeks later in her sleep. She had too many pieces missing to ever be enjoyed again and Simon had tired of her quickly as men like that are prone to do of broken things.

Dumadora left shortly afterwards for home, for the cool touch of the Amihan wind on her skin and for the soft arms of her children. Money always turned up when she needed it, the family was never short of food again and luck seemed to have landed permanently at their door.

Two days after Dumadora had returned to her homeland, Simon De Smet returned home late one evening, after a gorging on fine brandy, goose liver pate and willing women. He fell face down onto his soft bed and was asleep before eleven.

At one stroke past midnight, he woke and blamed the strange noises on his thumping head and by the time he could make out the odd sounds clearly, it was too late.

clack clack , clack clack

       Los Calaveras were hungry and they had come to feast on Simon’s wickedness.


* Calaveras are the colourful and macabre sugar skulls that some Latin countries use to honour their ancestors on the Day of The Dead.

Mother O’ Grady’s Last.

Christmas night was closing in at the Cantrips alehouse in Aberdeen, a firm favourite for riggers and other men and women who lived life close to the horizon. Sometimes, on a Saturday night, things might get a bit rowdy but Mother O’Grady would stand firm and bring out Old Jock, the pocked, brown shotgun that Mr O’ Grady, God! Rest his Soul, used to poach with up at the Big Houses littered on the path to the Cairngorms.

The fire was stacked and burning, the air fuggy with apple wood smoke and men’s dreams. Jingo and Jago, Cornish Piskie twins with not much to say, pulled pints and handed over cigarettes shivering, their odd-shaped hands blue tinged and reproachful of the cold. Straggles of louns and quines huddled in corners, whispering Auld Doric, which is unbreakable code even to Doric speakers.

Mother tolerated everything except for the usual, often getting a decent cut from the blaggers and fences, which, paid for her addiction to magical items. Upstairs, they said, she kept ‘things’ you wouldn’t ever wish to see. Poppets and hemlock wine, a summoning circle from the 15th century and Aleister Crowley’s thumb bone.

Treacle-dark whispers surrounded Mother O’Grady and she was feared and respected like no other dockside matriarch. Rumours of contracts with the devil, witchery, bigamy and bad ways with hemlock swirled about Mother like malicious wasps. Some or none were true, but she encouraged it all to keep her distance and her mystique in red velvet. The Cornish twins knew more than most being her lovers, but they barely spoke English, Piskie being their natural tongue and grew their hair long to cover elven, tri-pointed ears. They had their own secrets to keep in a world that had given up on magic and music. They preferred it here, oil people rarely became intrusive, exhausted from long stints in the cold, black North Sea where everything became confused after time. The grey, chilled blanket of dawn and dusk embracing the rigs with a damp that nipped at the lungs and found courage in man’s labored fear.

And the Piskie twins, for that’s what they were, enjoyed the comforts of Mother’s ill-gotten gains and pillowy bosom safe they thought from the Hunters’ that had pursued them through centuries of veiled land and light. They travelled through every decade or two once their patron had become too old or too much of annoyance to stay with, skirting the edge of consciousness and the fields of golden seed and bloodied plains.

This night, a night of owls and wraiths, of granite buildings that hadn’t felt compassion from the weather since the Summer of ‘79 was closing in at Cantrips. Men and a few hardy women lingered over warms slops of beer, gritting their teeth and clenching frost-nipped fists before leaving.

And so it was that only the Piskie twins and Mother O’ Grady were left in the lounge bar as midnight boomed through the night by way of St. Peter’s and it’s faithful tolling. The clean up took a gentle hour or so, serenity settled over them as they emptied ashtrays full of lung busters and cleaned tables of sticky mats and half drawn smiles.

Mother didn’t believe in Christmas but she was a hedonist and pleasure could be found in many different ways with many different people and she allowed herself a smile at the night to come.

Shea O’Grady had bowed only once in her life to a cock-sure, boy-pimp on Olivia Street. Terrance McDuffie carried a hammer and nails for all occasions, the product of a dock-wifey and a chainsaw he had no expectations other than whiskey and violence. And on Olivia Street Shea bowed to save her life and her face, begging his forgiveness on her knees, in the greasy chip paper and shattered bottles. She remembered only the expensive purple of his trousers and the vicious, animal heat that pulsed in the ice-storm.

But Christmas night is a night when promises are made good and threats made months before end in blood. A ‘sweep up’ night when evil comes to call with impunity. So when Cantrips main door flew open and the wind howled through bringing with it certain death in the guise of three tall Hunters with hack blades and maddened, ebon eyes, Mother O’Grady bowed for the second time in resignation and acceptance.

Death had been coming for so long and now here it was, fabled and brutal. Shea was sliced and salty as oyster meat, brimming with agony until the black faded and she walked the quiet road home to the cherry orchards and unconditional love of someone else’s childhood.





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