Gangrene

Ein

“Grand Wizard Zaltua, I fear…that we’ve made a grave mistake.” A stream of white static ran across the laptop screen, distorting the image of a young, raven haired woman.

“Servant of almighty Saturn, what has your mind troubled?” Zaltua inquired as he cautiously leaned forward into his computer screen. “Come share with me what has you wretched in agony, and let us find some sort of understanding.” The feedback in his voice rang through the speakers, filling the man’s office with a mighty echo. Expansive textbooks with enlarged Latin symbols covered the table, black robes were cast along the damp floorboards while empty picture frames hung along the chipped walls. Thirteen thin black candles had been arranged in a near perfect circle; the majority of them had been melted, exposing a charred wick. The room smelled of body odor, rotting fruit, and mercury, a common (but toxic) ingredient in many necromantic rituals.  Zaltua directed himself to the left side of his display and noticed that he was receiving another call.

“Wait. Malach is on the other line, I’m going to transfer him to our call.” The Grand Wizard moved his mouse towards the green camera button and double-tapped his device.

“Malach…he’s calling you?” the woman asked in near disbelief. Her face alone made the Grand Wizard question his previous choice as the video feed from Malach appeared. The normally robust, mid-twenties man was now a skeleton; his fragile frame was beyond anemic and there were mustard yellow patches on his skin.

“Grand Wizard,”the frail man spoke into his microphone.

“Malach, what has happened to you? Why…do you look-”

“Malach! What have you done? The police are out looking for you,” the woman on the opposing screen shouted. The Grand Wizard scratched the arch of his curly eyebrow and waited for her to finish ranting.

“Bezel, was it? We are not personally acquainted, but I am curious as to why you contacted me and not Malach as we intended. I’m hoping that he will be able to dispel this confusion.”

“Grand Wizard, I’m asking you to help us because we’ve gotten ourselves into a dire situation.” The woman’s face was distorted by the fluctuating static. Her features were plain and her cheeks were free from any foundation. Her brown eyes shone like those who still exuded youth, yet they were also darkened and full of impending doom. “Malach…you’ve got to get away”

The enigmatic man spoke into the web camera, his rancid breath fogging the lens. “Nonsense. Grand Wizard, allow me to introduce, septum Bezel. She is somewhat new to our craft, but has shown great potential.”

“Malach, please…” the young woman begged. The Grand Wizard found it difficult to juggle between the two video streams, while he impatiently waited for their intimate conversations to invite him.

“Two completed seances, the conjuring of a familiar, there are even rumors that she summoned a succubus to perform…certain services,” Malach teased, although his sickening frame made the flirtation seem cynical.

“Let’s not forget you Malach. Aren’t you the Midwestern man of Macabre? Your ambition carried our teachings to the internet, now the entire world is able to witness our arts.” Bezel shot her comment back across the screen with elven-like accuracy.

“Your praises are welcomed but thin. I have no need for such titles and trivial matters,” Malach curtly remarked. He adjusted the black device, changing the angle of the webcam. His fingernails were raw and black from being gnawed, and his pale wrist was hairless and thin to the point where the veins were exposed.

“My liege, my teacher, I must confess to you.”

“Malach what troubles you?” Zaltua inquired while he adjusted the brightness on his computer display.

“The truth, how blinding it is. What I have just done will shape the nature of the world, erecting a new pillar of society with necromancy etched at its peak. I have accomplished a feat that none in this age have been able to attempt. I do believe that I have been chosen to usher in a new world. And there is no room for false prophets.”

“Then it was a success…” the young woman quietly muttered into her microphone, but the words  were lost due to the poor connection.

“Malach, what has gotten ahold of you? You’re not making any sense.” The Grand Wizard then turned his attention to Bezel, “and why have you yet to tell me anything?”

“My apologies. I…I am still shaken to see Malach on the other line. He’s jeopardizing his safety. However, I digress. Grand Wizard, have you watched the news at all today?”

“No, I was occupied for most of the day,” he confessed.

“The local news is abuzz with a story, our story; however, they will only present facts that are alternative to my version. It is only by this version will you be able to understand what has befallen us in Lindsborg. Malach…do you wish to share it?” Bezel asked while she positioned herself in her desktop chair.

“No, I will let you speak. I’m going to listen to pass the time,” Malach stated as he devilishly grinned at the video stream belonging to the Grand Wizard. His eyes shone as if he were content to patiently wait while she shared her story.

Bezel exhaled and removed her hands from her desk. “Well, Grand Wizard let me to tell you my truth…”

I, myself am a native of Kansas, however, I hail from the outskirts of Wichita. Being the daughter of farm hands I was blessed with an uncanny strength and vigor, my mother often commended me on the passion of my spirit. The agricultural lifestyle was mentally exhausting, despite what others may say. One must remember everything from the harvest moon to the distance between planted seeds as well as the rain and dry seasons that happen all too often in the Midwest. Although quite handy with the hoe, unfortunately I was not a stellar student. After graduating with one cord (for what, I do not know), I performed various odd jobs and peculiar tasks in order to help my family with their bills; this monotonous routine continued until I met Malach this previous summer.

I’m sure that you are familiar with Malach’s past, but for the sake of this story allow me to grace your ears with his origins. He was conceived to be a drifter; born to a carnival worker who traveled throughout the Midwest. His mother died during childbirth and some blame the doctor who oversaw the delivery (those in poverty usually have poor health-care). This sudden hardship left Jeremy Thomas, Malach’s father, in a tight bind while he raised the boy. Thomas was an entertainer of  little fame in the circus industry; but there are rumors that he included young Malach in his strange performance, which some say included rope bindings, searing fire, and the blood of bats. Whatever account you choose to believe is strictly contingent upon your own desire. As the generations changed and people became socially conscious, less individuals visited the freak-show, leading to the eventual closing of the carnival. Malach and his illiterate father were forced to temporarily settle down in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lacking any real education save for the skills he learned while on the road, his father had a great difficulty finding a stable job, pushing them to the brink of poverty. This streak was broken when one day, by fate or luck (whichever is your preference), his dad was hired. The job? Working as the caretaker of a morgue. Since Malach had grown up around the circus and had no knowledge of public school system, his natural assignment was to aid his single parent. Together, their days were spent embalming the recently deceased, stuffing ashes into elaborate vases, dressing the corpses for the wake, all while maintaining the integrity of the county morgue. Being only a teenager at the time, Malach was not allowed to directly handle the bodies; however, tragedy struck again and his father became ill. The city officials permitted Malach to take over his position since he’d been trained (plus so few were willing to stomach the stench of embalming fluid). Now, exactly when Malach decided to give his soul to the eternal abyss I am not entirely sure, but he has mentioned to me that his choice was based on the failing health of his sole parent. For months, he watched his sickly father toil with the dead; and sure enough, he was buried on the boy’s nineteenth birthday. Since that fateful day, Malach has been a dutiful servant of Saturn, furiously studying the arcane arts in hopes to become a Grand Wizard. It would be another four years before our paths crossed in the most unusual of circumstances.

During the summer, I managed to pick up a new position of employment that seemed to fit my lifestyle. I’d only begun dabbling in dark magic when I was hired at the apothecary. While working as a clerk in the local herbal shop (the only shop for miles), I was tending to some freshly grown rosemary, when he entered the store. Upon first glance, I would have never guessed that he was an apprentice of the arcane for he wore jeans, a plain black t-shirt, and his face was free from any tattoos or piercings; one would even consider him somewhat handsome. We exchanged the usual customer/clerk banter until it came time for him to procure the items on his list. I immediately recognized the peculiarity of the objects requested-for they lacked practical or culinary use. The items included worms wood, frog’s breath, nightshade, a clove of yellow garlic, lamb’s ear, and the petals of a black dahlia. At the time, I myself was still scratching the surface of the powers of Saturn, but I was informed enough to engage him in conversation regarding the black dahlia-it is the ideal vessel for one to use in binding a departed soul to this world. Naturally, my bond to him was solidified; a man who, like me, was no stranger to death, willing to entreat with the dark wonders. I considered him to be the ideal magician, an alchemist unafraid to conjure creations from the netherworld. How refreshing it had been to meet another; for too long I believed myself to be the only seer within one hundred miles. Our companionship was instant, and the two of us spent the entirety of the summer performing rituals and recording them to be broadcasted. And thus began our journey as neo-necromancers.

I’m aware that most tales of the macabre begin in the bellows of a thundering storm; however, this story starts underneath the Midwestern sun in the town of Lindsborg, Kansas. Fall was evident everywhere one turned: the color of the leaves had transformed from green to orange and brown, diesel tractors hummed while lands lay bare from harvested crops, and Main Street was decorated with turkey feathers and images of pilgrims. Thanksgiving was but a week away, and the entire town was preparing for the fellowship and feast. With a population of less than three thousand, this place had all the essentials of a small town. We lived in the Rust Belt and streets were lined with old buildings, the relics of the steel industry. There was only one of each civic institution, one police station, one library, one hospital which only had two floors; we were lucky enough to have a movie theater. Although the majority of Lindsborg foundations were eroding, it was the people that carried the essence of life. Smiles and waves were exchanged upon passing, and the churches were always packed on Sundays. Nearly all the townsfolk were acquainted with each other, although, we were considered outcasts from their sappy society (and for good reason).

After successfully completed the conjuring of a bat familiar on Sunday, Malach and I decided to return back to his residence and recharge our energies. For the past month, we toiled to gather the ingredients and perform the spell; under the waxing moon of the previous night, our combined efforts were rewarded. The fresh remains of the bat reanimated and took flight for a few moments, before plummeting to its grave. Astounded, I watched the impossible become real; however, in my partner I could sense a senseless anxiety plagued him, seeing as the assigned tasks were somewhat simple to his standards. Malach had years of experience over me, yet he was tasked with the apprentice-level spells to perform. For the past month, he’d been wanting to expand his level and begin his Abysmal Trials-our nightmarish ordeal to become a Grand Wizard-but he’s had little chance to practice at that high of a level. Knowing this, I could only stay so excited as the black leathery wings of the bat finally stopped beating against the soaked earth.

When we finally reached his home (which was a studio apartment), there was a young boy sitting at Malach’s doorstep with a stick in hand. To distract himself, the boy was poking at something black and formless that was on the ground. As we approached him, our natural human instincts arose, and I tried to locate a parent in the surrounding area; but, before either of us could address him we were halted what we saw. The object that he’d been toying with was a bloated, dead, black rat. Maggots and gram-negative bacteria had eaten through the creature’s flesh, giving the unsuspecting passersby an uncomfortable view of its spoiled innards. And the boy’s repetitive, and I dare say, joyful tapping of the branch against the deceased beast made the cold run through my bones. Strangely enough, the boy who looked no older than seven wore a magnificent garb; jewels aligned his puffed shoulders, mushroom-colored boots shone in the light, and his pants were neatly tailored to fit his frame. But…what I remember most vividly was the shape of his pupils, they engulfed the entirety of the young boy’s eyes. And how black they were, darker than any new-moon night that I’d witnessed in my twenty-four years of life. There was something…sinister, about the young boy. His presence alone had intensified the pulsing of my veins, and my vision became hypersensitive, turning the sublime sunset into a kaleidoscope of twilight terrors. As we neared him, I caught sight of a strange object sitting next to him. A box, a package roughly the size of a small cabinet drawer. It was made out of cardboard, yet it was soggy and there were also black ten-gallon trash bags tied around it. There were recent reports that orphans had been seeking homes, but judging by his stance I knew the boy had not come to seek refuge. The enigmatic child cocked his head to the side and greeted me with an ivory white smile; how perfectly defined his teeth.

Malach was the first to approach him, for it was his apartment; the child lifted the medium-sized package off of the sidewalk, placing it in his hands. “This is the will of your father,” is all that he said before skipping down the sidewalk, eerily dancing towards the outskirts of town.

As he faded from our sight, the bindings that had been around the base of my jugular were loosened, and my vision returned back to normal; and yet, I’ve been unsuccessful in removing his grin from my memory. The rat lay on the sidewalk still, with the boys stick impaled within the stomach. Upon entering the apartment, the first thing Malach did was unwrap the package; had his father’s will finally been found? Although he’s rarely discussed it, Malach had somewhat of a disagreement with his father before the man’s expected death. I assumed this to be part of his driving force in his journey with the dark arts, as the loss of a family member can make one resort to a new reality. He tore through the cardboard while I contemplated the origins of the delivery boy. His late father had indeed worked in the circus business, and it was true that there were freaks among men (depending on how one defines man); but this boy was no carny, he lacked any desire to entertain. How long had he been waiting here for us anyways? Scraps of the package were thrown across the furnished apartment and Malach beckoned me to join him at the brown dining room table. We pushed the circular placemats to the side, making room for the object that had been gifted to us, and together prepared to uncover this mystery.

A book, or rather a grimoire. The binding was wrapped in a splotchy gray, self-lubricating substance, giving the pale tome the appearance of lungs excised from a chronic smoker, and around the edges were the objects that resembled human incisors. What exactly had Malach’s father given him? A flaccid maggot crawled out from underneath book onto the table and I quickly swatted it away; it was customary for old texts to house insect eggs, especially if they’d been in storage. My insides lurched at the sight; although I dabble in necromancy, I was never a fan of maggots. As Malach opened the cover, a foul stench came out from the pages. Typically, his apartment smelled of fried bacon, scented candles, and herbs; that was all replaced by the putrid odor that resembled what one would experience while trekking through a peat bog. On the inside of the cover were two feathers, bound at the quills, that had a congealed liquid at the tip. Being an expert in alchemical ingredients and apothecaries, I immediately recognized it as the feather belonging to the white vulture; yet, I’d never heard of a single spell that required the use of such a prized item. Some spend their entire life without ever laying eyes upon one, and here we were, with two in our possession. Next to the feathers was a small rectangular container that held a jagged, cast-iron, black needle; there was also a strange ring with a gray jewel in its hilt. While I inspected these peculiar contents, Malach hurriedly flipped through the pages until he momentarily paused with his finger hanging off one of the ‘teeth’.

“The pages, they’re blank. All of them.”

At first, I didn’t believe him, maybe he’d not gone far enough, but for the next two minutes we combed through thousand-page volume and found not a visible trace of ink. Upon this realization, my head spun and frustration overtook me; were we being had by someone? Why, four years after his father’s death, had this strange object suddenly appeared; and more importantly, who had possessed it until this point? Fatigued from the day, and wanting to celebrate the completion of our hexing ritual I called for Malach to close the book, and we returned back to the couch to watch the local eight o’clock news-before we watched Chicago P.D. However, as we caught wind of the daily musings, I noticed the restlessness in my partner’s countenance, his stress was beginning to overtake him. The morgue was set to receive an upgrade and Malach had been stuck with the majority of the planning procedure, now, we’d been played fools by receiving this useless book. All of these worries quickly dissipated when I directed my attention to the breaking news notification, a flashing bright red in the darkened apartment.

When I was younger I was quite the athlete, and my mom says that’s because the strongest women are made with soil. While I still lived in Wichita, I played on the softball team in high school and was quite the player. Being the small town it is, Lindsborg only had one high school, and during my earlier years, my team would often play against them. We always challenged same girls as we grew up, establishing somewhat of a friendly rivalry with the semi-skilled players. Their soccer and basketball teams were sub-par; however, when it came to softball they were undefeated, and it was thanks to one girl: Miranda Marshalls. At fifteen, she was the star pitcher of the varsity team, and even threw her first no-hit game (of three that season alone); it was due to her intense concentration, and massive size that the team won states twice. Large bodied with the eyes of a Viking, Miranda was the closest thing to a professional athlete any resident of Kansas had seen for the last four years. But her life off the field was equally impressive; weekends were spent at the soup kitchen, and after practice, she tutored the middle-schoolers in arithmetic. Although she was quite the student on paper and a star athlete, Miranda was a repulsive sight. Her size made her tower over most of the football team, and her skin was constantly shedding and flaky. Situated on her asymmetrical face was a bulbous nose, flaked and chapped lips, and her upper maxilla contained an extra snaggletooth.

The last time we met had been five years ago on the softball field, and I distinctly this moment. Does one ever reminisce on the rudeness of youth, because there is an inherent evil within it?  It began with some of their teammates teasing Marshalls about prom. One girl, I believe her name was Nancy Cotten, went as far as to play a prank upon the unsuspecting victim earlier at their school. Rumors had reached our locker room before we readied to play: Apparently, Nancy had one of the basketball players pretend to ask Miranda out (a common farce). It had ended with Miranda running out of her math classroom, with tears in her swollen eyes, and Nancy sitting back in her chair with a devious smile. However, now, we were in the seventh inning of our game when Miranda suddenly shifted on the pitcher’s mound, and threw the ball towards the bully guarding second base, with such devilish fury that it cracked two of her ribs upon impact. I still remember the sound of the bones being snapped, a fist tightening, spine-tingling noise that one rarely forgets. The poor girl was escorted off the field, and Miranda was benched for the entire game. Witnessing such an act frightened me, and somehow, set me on my path to owning my self. A young girl, unafraid to resort to violence to protect herself; you must realize that this was unheard of in Kansas. And now, on my television screen was her portrait, plastered with the word Dead, typed directly below a grisly image of her remains.

“Shit. That’s crazy, I knew her,” I uttered loud enough for Malach to break out of his shell. He stayed silent but continued to focus in on the information as the anchor recited the lines. There was sweat rolling down his salt-white skin as if he’d been wrestling with a bout of hysteria and yet, there was no apparent cause. I went back to the report with even more inquisitiveness. Death has a strange way of making us remember, and suddenly I wanted to know more about Miranda, who’d I’d only known through our rival games.

After the young woman failed to show and help set up the community center for bingo, a few dutiful citizens became worried. It was highly unlike Miranda to skip out on a shift, and the times she did not show she always called beforehand with a viable explanation. To go missing in a small town will always cause a stir, and collective distrust of each other, but the town’s worries were just the beginning. Horace Martin, a retired Vietnam vet who tends the grounds of the old Kanerbort Steel Mill, was cutting the grass around the tool shed when he noticed one of the doors leading to the main warehouse was cracked. Holding this position for nearly thirty years, the elephant-skinned man decided to check out the occurrence; convinced that he’d properly locked up the last time he entered the mill, which was nearly three weeks before. While inspecting the inside of the expansive, bleak warehouse, he came across two sets of footprints in the dust below, and a few of the instruments were out of position; most notably, a hammer was missing from the rack of tools. Utilizing his experience, Horace tracked the set of footprints to a rusted standalone locker, entered the combination, and swung open the door.

“Violent death,” Malach stated. “Hammer to the back of the head, body found in a locker, clothes still worn.”

“Her spirit may never leave that mill,” I exhaled.

After listening to the entry, we decided to turn off the television and instead tried to enjoy the bottle of whiskey we’d purchased on the way home. The celebration had been postponed long enough. What were we celebrating again? A successful calling of a bat spirit from beyond the void. Now, to one who is unacquainted with conjuration of familiars, they may not understand the difficulty of this act; our image has been poorly represented by modern media. To make contact with a being beyond the threshold of life is no easy feat, even a creature as feeble as the bat expends energy and time. There is the preparation of ingredients, much to which we have easy access thanks to my employment; a series of conditions must be fulfilled, precisely I might add; and, an ideal location that can channel energies must be secured and set up. All this must be done before the actual ritual can begin, which by itself is an arduous process. If only it were as simple as they made in the movies, maybe then, we neo-necromancers would sit atop this wretched earth. Being an apprentice still, I marveled at this dark magic, and could hardly believe that my hands had partaken in reanimation of the bat corpse we had procured from the taxidermist. Malach’s cup, however, had yet to leave the surface of the dining room table. As the warm liquor stung the involuntary muscles in my pharynx, I perched up, attempting to console my reclusive partner.

“Dark liquor for dark nights, isn’t that what you told me?”

“Indeed, but I don’t care for it, at least not right now.”

I turned back to the table with the scent of whiskey on my breath, “the book?” He nodded and pressed his hands against his temples. “It is odd; why would your father have an empty book?”

“He wouldn’t. My father had a fourth grade education. Our home hadn’t contained a single text. Certainly not something like…this.” Malach was inspecting the bindings once more, however, the way his hand rubbed against the surface seemed sensual. He was beginning to accept this book, or rather the book was beginning to accept him.

“If not from your father, then who?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I bet that child has something to do with it though. Did you see his eyes?” I nodded, and brought them to memory, the two voids situated on his face. Malach shot from his chair and started to distressingly pace around the room . At the time, I could tell something had stricken him, yet I was unaware of how severe it would eventually turn out. If I knew what I did now, I would have stopped this here; maybe things would have turned out different. “But…nevermind,” Malach stated.

The whiskey settled my nerves as I leaned forward to console my suffering friend, “tell me.”

“Does that…sound ring in your ears as well?”

“The television static? No, that doesn’t phase me,” I confessed while looking at the gray static cross the screen.

“No, another, like a far off drone. It sounds like…whispers.”

“Whispers? Maybe the neighbors have their radio too loud?”

“No, I’m sure. Its faint but I can hear a voice. It…it sounds like…my father’s voice,” he stated.  Maybe, his father was a man of mystery like his son, and it was finally time for Malach to put to rest his pain.

“When did it start?” I curiously asked as I tilted the bottle on the table.

“It hasn’t stopped since my hand touched the page.”

“Malach, do you feel something from the book?”

He nodded, and finally placed the cup to his lips. He downed the first glass as one does after committing a horrid crime, and quickly poured himself another. With the television now on mute, the apartment was bathed by the constantly revolving images of news reports; a cotton-haired teacher was awarded the “Lifetime Leader Award” for thirty years of work, a supporter of the current tyrant of a president chimed in on his claims of fraud, the high-school (Lindsborg Lions)  softball team was traveling to the state championships for the second year in a row.

“I’ve never felt such malevolence in my life. This desire for evil, it’s intoxicating. This book…I don’t think it was made by man. The whispers…they started when I touched it,” Malach said while pointing to the book. His arm was wrapped around his chest as if he were on the verge of a heart attack.

“We should ask the Grand Wizard about it,” I offered. Plus, I was curious to discover what malady had my partner gripped, for I’d not heard whispering or any bizarre noises. My fingers traced the outer lining of the book, running across the edges of teeth, hopping over a small gap that seemed to have enough space to fill with an incisor. Even as I flipped through the thick pages my sanity remained wholly intact; but each page turn sent violent shudders through my partner.

“I will inform him of this tomorrow.” Malach paused and shivered. His hands were jittering, and there was a strange look upon his face, his eyes seemed to drift, rather than directly latching onto any visual details. “But, Bezel, can you honestly not hear them? They are so loud in my ear.” I disappointingly shook my head. Blaming my immaturity of the dark arts, I assumed that I was not yet sensitive enough to indirectly experience the power of Saturn. “They’re so loud. Louder, LOUDER!” In a primal rage, Malach smashed the glass that had been in his hands, and sent all the objects on the dining room table, including the book, flying to the wooded floor. He then tore through the apartment, clawing at phantoms in the air, howling madly, contorting his spine in a shape that made me gag. “I feel the talon of the black-winged one on my spine, caustic acid coursing through my nerves, the screeching of marrow being rubbed against the base of my skull.” Of course, I tried to potentially settle him down, but my efforts were to no avail; I, instead, retreated to safety for he was beyond unpredictable. The sleeves from his robe were torn, and froth built up at his mouth; I’d wondered if he’d contracted a strain of rabies while we dissected the remains of that bat. Suddenly, he stopped, and all that could be heard was the exhalation of noxious air. Leaking from the the corners of his thin lips was a trail of darkened blood that oozed on the floor below. I shouted at him to dislodge his jaw, but it seemed that his joints had stiffened, experiencing a temporary bout of rigor mortis.  “Was this how The Betrayer felt upon receiving his thirty pieces of silver?” he gurgled. A few droplets splattered as his base of his leather boots, exploding upon impact, like a time-lapse of blooming flowers. His frame whipped back into shape and I realized whatever entity that had been in the room was now absent, for Malach finally spoke.

“What shall we say to Grand Wizard?”

“Grand Wizard? Malach, what about you?” I medically inspected him while he stared at me with blank confusion. In the brown of his irises, I could tell he thought I was the one being irrational. “How are you feeling? What was that?!”

“What…do you mean?”

“The cursing, the scratching…you don’t remember any of that?” By this time, he’d swirled enough blood throughout his mouth to know that it was his tongue he’d bit. His apprehension triggered a bout of anxiety, but this onset was a pale comparison to what I’d previously witnessed. “What do you remember? Did you lose consciousness?”

“Bezel, what are you talking about? Everything in my head is the exact same.”

Astonished, I spent the next several minutes describing to him, in great deal, his previous erratic actions; although shocked by this, not for one second did he flinch as unbelievers do. Silently, he cleaned up the apartment, placing the mats upon the table, drying the whisky that had spilled, and removing the tatters hanging off of his robe. Lastly, he raised the book from the base of the table, except this time he lifted it as if it weighed as much as a gray cinderblock. Placing it on the table, I removed the paper towel that had been used to wipe away the whisky and set it against his cheeks. While I tended to his face, Malach remained steady, his attention caught by, what I foolishly assumed to be, the empty sheets. His cheeks retained a shade of redness but overall his appearance was calm. I opened my mouth to ask him about the whispers, but I was interrupted before I could even articulate the words.

“Can you…see that?” he hesitated. The onset of the strange sounds had rattled Malach, and that same apprehension made him almost reconsider asking.

“See what?”

“This…” his slender finger pointed directly towards the page. Looking past the torn black nail, my eyes registered what appeared to be unidentifiable words, strange letters, and textual symbols that I’d only seen on the internet while researching the first spells of the druids. On the upper left corner, near the edge of the page, was a splotch of his blood; it looked as if it’d been…absorbed by the tome.

“One must give, to receive,” Malach recited. It was one of the many rules that applied to any arcane magic (and life, now that I think about it). We both leaned into the book and examined, with bursting curiosity, the symbols that had appeared. They sparsely resembled Gaelic lettering, but were written in a way that made it seem more artificial than ancient.

“I can’t decipher any of this,” I confessed after trying for several minutes. My fingers rummaged through the volumes of sheets, but eerily enough they were still blank. “And this is the only page that is visible. Maybe it’s a trade off. One drop for one spell,” I spoke as if I were introducing a new subject into conversation, but Malach was preoccupied with mumbling while his fingers traced below the text.

“aluh, mgonka, tlues, gheszv, pralit, bhendt.”

“Aluh, what? More importantly, you can read that?” I questioned.  “What does it mean?”

“This…this means we will no longer be bound to the primitive laws of nature.” Suddenly, he took a huge swig of the whiskey and bolstered his shoulders. His stature resembled that of a grand leader who was about to address his loyal troops for their final conflict. And my loyalty lied with him, throughout anything. “With this, we will usher in the neverending Inferno, and finally show this world our power. Grand Wizard, Septum, Servant, these empty titles will matter not. No more will we stand idle and let false prophets of Saturn spread an incomplete gospel, we must purge them. Once this is complete, we will be able to write our names into the famed Necronomicon. Upon these pages, I will strike a deal, a bargain, a plea; transforming myself into a pure vessel for our lords…”

Malach continued to speak, however, I’d taken a few steps away from him. His eyes were widened, and they glowed in the bleakness of the apartment. The tome was still upon the table, and to the side was the container of objects that had been bound to the lining of the front cover. Removing the white feather, he dabbed at the blood leaking from the corner of his lips, and placed his palm against the page. Within seconds his serpentine signature was upon the sheet, and yet nothing happened.

“Malach! What does any of this mean?” I finally shouted.

His ranting abruptly stopped and the flashes from the television screen cast a sinister glow on his face. Malach pressed of his both hands against table’s surface and exhaled, “the dead, Bezel. We can raise the dead.”

Zwei

“This tome that you speak of, what is it called? I have never heard of such a book,” Grand Wizard Zaltua’s voice resonated with the stillness of Malach’s apartment. The young necromancer brought himself closer to the camera; his disheveled face filled their computer screens. Zaltua moved back slightly in his chair while he gazed deeply into the eyes of Malach’s image. There was a hint of malice and rage, but it was being overshadowed by an emotion that dwarfs both of them in terms of human suffering.

“I am unable to show you the book at this time, for it was last in Malach’s possession.” Bezel toyed with her mouse while the conversation continued.

Malach returned back to his seat with a snicker, “the book chooses who to reveal its true nature to.”

“Then, there is no reason it shouldn’t have come to me, I am the most skilled. Being a Grand Wizard means that I am gifted.”

The young necromancer’s dried lips formed a tasteless smirk. “I believe you have been chosen, but not by the book…” but he was interrupted by the sound of an ad popping up on Zaltua’s screen.

“Malach, do not forget who noticed your potential. It was I who brought you to this point. I am your master, you are but the apprentice.”

“I will not deny you that claim, however, there always comes a day when the apprentice decides to act while the master continues to remain the same. By the end of that day, their roles will be reversed; for it is the duty of the apprentice become better than his master. Grand Wizard, that day is today.”

“Malach! Stop this useless banter. We have more important issues to discuss with the Grand Wizard. You said you wanted help, so let u-”

“I never requested any assistance,” Malach coldly replied to Bezel. The frame that carried her image momentarily glitched. “You assumed that I required aid, yet, I have everything under control. But I digress. All will be revealed soon, one merely needs the will to wait.” Malach’s leaned back in his desk chair as if he exhausted all the sentiments he wanted to express. His face was sickly pale there was blood smeared upon his wrist and neck. From his lips escaped a hacking cough and an eerily congealed, violet glob of viscera came crashing against the “S” key on his keyboard.

“And why is this the first time I’ve heard of such a spell book? Why was I not informed when it was first retrieved?” The Grand Wizard’s tone dramatically shifted from sympathetic to borderline threatening. Malach’s presence in the digital chat room enticed the man.

“Grand Wizard, I was unaware that you have not heard of it.” Bezel finally chimed. She attempted to soothe the fierce spirit of the 10+ year necromancer; however, her astonishment was authentic. According to her information, Malach had relayed knowledge of the book to their master the day after it arrived. Then, why was he claiming to be in the dark?

“How many times must I say it? You were not chosen. I was,” Malach stated. “This book is not meant for you.”

“Insolence is forgivable only by one’s changed actions.”

“Then, allow me to show you the power that I now possess, and I will let you see my changes.” Malach’s position in his chair changed to aggressive and he furrowed his brow. “Grand Wizard, why is it that you have never documented any of your demonic feats? I’m quite curious to know which hexes and spells you have completed, or did you purposely avoid broadcasting them? Bezel and I have worked diligently to record our rituals; I’m afraid I have yet to view any of your work. One would go as far to say…you’re only a man with a title.”

“That is not your concern at this moment,” Zaltua nervously stated.

“To me, it is. For three years I have followed your instructions, and have only stayed at the surface of the dark world. But now, with this book, I will transcend the realms of reality and become all-knowing. How pitiful, you are still unaware of the truth. Bezel, would you please continue?” Dumbfounded, Zaltua tried to formulate a response but he realized that the more information he held, the better he could assess the situation; and Malach, who’s state was gradually deteriorating. A bead of condensed sweat leaked out of his salty pores and the Grand Wizard returned his undivided attention elsewhere.

“Bezel, deepest apologies, please continue.” It was also in his interest to settle Malach for the young man had caught wind of his fraudulence. In the last eight years, Zaltua had only successfully completed two spells, and yet remained a Grand Wizard, even going as far as to string the two necromancers along as a dutiful instructor. He tried to hone in on Bezel who was about to speak, but a particular phrase infected his imagination. False Prophet.

Three days passed, and yet each of them felt like a lifetime. I continued my normal routine at the herb shop, while I procured the ingredients from Malach’s list. Since he was the only one able to understand the strange language, he translated the words for me so I could assist him with the ritual. I’d easily managed to score a few of the vegetative items: camphor root, crushed garlic, a vial of poisonous lobelia, and the petals of our black dahlia. Each of these items alone had their uses in certain spells, but I questioned whether they would be effective in raising the dead? They were common, so common that I started to doubt Malach; were his translations correct, or had he given me a fools’ errand to run while he toiled with the book? There was also the matter of finding a vessel to reanimate.

A few customers came by that week, most of them were of the gossiping variety, which is expected in a town of less than 3,000. The story circulating through everybody’s tongues was that of Miranda’s mysterious murder. On Monday, Mrs. Janice , who was a regular attendee of bingo, claimed that she overheard from one of her church members that Miranda was “bumpin biscuits” with the current coach of the softball team. Apparently,  jealousy was the M.O. She ended up purchasing a handful of ginko for her dementia so I chose not to trust her information. The man who had found her, Horace, also came by the store to purchase some lavender for his room. He claimed that the sight shook him so much, that he’s had trouble sleeping for the last few nights (and the bottle ain’t strong enough to remove the sight). Naturally, I inquired about intimate details and information was traded for a discount on the lavender, which is quite expensive during the cold season (longer nights, less light). Withholding nothing from me, Horace expressed in his Midwestern drawl the facts of the murder. At first, I was engrossed in his story, believing that I was the sole holder of some sort of secret information; but halfway through, I realized that he was reiterating the same story he told the news anchor. It was dramaticized to the point that I could no longer tell the fiction from the fact, and poor Horace was mixing up his memories from ‘nam with this murder.

I was about to write him off and continue tending to the potted plants until the old man made a cryptic statement. “No hammer was able to destroy her face as it had done. She ain’t even have a face. All I seen was the stuff that sits in the skull, and that ain’t supposed to be seen by no man. But I done seen that twice tho, here and back in ‘nam.”

The shivers that were once rolling through his wrinkled cheeks were transferred to mine after he left. His closing statement lingered on my brain throughout the entire shift. I’d not known Miranda personally, but for someone to have their ‘face destroyed’ was a horrible fate, and yet, I was instinctively drawn to the misfortune surrounding her murder. I figured that I’d have to scour the internet for the information I desired. Charged with discomfort and curiosity, I hastily went to the library after closing for the day.

I’m ashamed to even categorize this low-budget, community college-sized classroom a library, but it is the only location in Lindsborg where individuals have access to public computers. When it comes to my studies regarding the dark magic, I prefer to do them in the public domain rather than my personal laptop. My initial objective was to uncover more details regarding Miranda, in both her life and death. It’s amazing what life one can discover on the Facebook of the deceased. I learned that Miranda was born with a hormonal disease, which accounted for her hulking frame and social awkwardness; she’d also been a recurrent patient at the hospital. At the time of her death, she’d been ‘close’ to the softball coach of the Lindsborg Lions, who appeared in several pictures with the girl. There were plenty of puppy love poses: sharing ice cream cones on a bench, two bats and a softball, movie ticket stubs. For a moment, I envied her; even she had found someone who managed to love her, despite her flaws…until I remembered her fate. My research regarding Miranda’s death was, however, less rewarding. The only news outlet that had any coverage of her murder was the same station that broadcasted all throughout Lindsborg. Even the police had yet to release a statement or a list of suspects, holding off an official investigation to hopefully wait for more evidence or a potential tip. Realizing that this was a dead end, I decided to switch the subject of my inquiry to something that may have brought even less answers.

Although title-less, the physical appearance was so bizarre that at least one other individual had to know something related to the book; naturally, I resorted to Google for any clues. I spent nearly two hours seeking any information on the tome, however, I reached a dead end with every clicked link. By this time, only a few individuals were left in the library; just a couple of high school students working on a project, a construction worker who was surprisingly quiet, and the clerk who’s turkey sweater had enough Thanksgiving paraphernalia to decorate the town. The walls were an ugly shade of cream and lacked any decorative work, except for one painting. It was of a distant sea caught in a tumultuous and gray storm. Impressionistic in style, the artwork was well-crafted but sorely out of place. It only escalated my restlessness as my searches remained fruitless.

There were few books lining the shelves of the library; so few that one could peer right through the manuscripts and spy on another. Every once in awhile, during my browsing, I glanced back and noticed the two high school boys staring at me. Nearly twenty-four, I suppose I’d say I’m somewhat attractive, and a few brave individuals have dared to attempt a relationship with me. The last boyfriend I had was a local grown farmer who said very little, but there was a hope in his eyes whenever he stared at me. I share this personal information to you because for a second I was able to see this same glimmer in the gaze of the two high school boys. The students became increasingly similar in appearance as I occasionally checked back; after all, one can not gather the physical information of a person by only glancing once. I thought to humor the two by purposefully showing more skin with hopes of getting a rise out of them, seeing as my search was a failure and I desired a pick-me-up. But as I pulled my maroon sweater over my head, the two boys vanished, leaving me back in the dull library with nothing but the keyboard below my finger-pads. The turkey-faced librarian quietly informed me that the building would be closing in the next fifteen minutes, and somehow I quietly convinced myself to attempt one last sweep of the internet.

The digital world is full of laws, most of which we believe we understand, but new technology is greater than our current comprehension. There are places that one is not supposed to venture unless they desire the truth. Utilizing a specific link in Reddit, my screen was directed to the Glass Dungeon (we refer to it as GD), a site quite similar to that of Google, except it pertains to dark magic. Most modern necromancers are aware of the Glass Dungeon, and it has been a vault of information that has aided in nearly all aspects of the occult. Here, one can find evidence of disappearances, which cults are accepting members, government conspiracies and a host of other off-beat knowledge. Many “normal” citizens believe this to be impractical information, but it is vital to be aware that fact and fiction are indeed more similar than different. However, in all its wisdom on the occult, it seemed even the GD had little to report in regards to this tome. My palms ran hot as I furiously typed my keys, had truly no man heard of this book? Maybe, just maybe, my partner…no, he wouldn’t do that. After all, I trusted Malach like no other, even the members of my family (although my mom is a close second). He’d been the one to grant my wishes and ushered me to the gates of the dark world; without him, I can say, wholeheartedly, my being would have never been fully defined.

Suddenly, my computer screen froze, leaving me even more irate until the display popped back up with a low-quality picture of the grimoire. Finally, an anchor to bind me on this endless digital sea. As I was about to click on the link, out of the corner of my peripheral I saw a hand tapping as if it were mimicking the motions of an amateur pianist. Swiftly turning, I came face to face with one of the teenage boys who’d disappeared from the computer stands. His grin stretched from ear to ear, as if he were enthusiastic, for me to discover what secrets laid on the page. Such pearly enamel he had, and his eyes…until I realized I was enthralled by a reflection. The students were nowhere to be found, and unconsciously, I  continued scrolled through the page. It seemed that this was not a site of answers, but of questions regarding the nature of this book. There was a submission tab where few names were placed, but each of them had a full story dedicated to them. Seeing as there were roughly two minutes left before the librarian ordered me to leave (when it’s closing time, it’s closing time), I decided to focus on the short sentences and italicized words.

“I’ve heard that this is called the Raloevla, the grimorie that the druids used to bring back Lancelot.”

“Arthishia, the destroyer of worlds.”

“Who are they??”

“We enthralled the entire village with one page.”

“This book has the power to summon the most torturous of demons. But, I haven’t been able to stop the whispers”

“Teeth are the key.”

“Murder is mundane with this tome. There are acts of suffering that the human mind cannot wrap itself around, and this book holds the answers to that. Each page seems to correspond to something different, but I’ve yet to unlock the second spell.”

Anxiety pulsed through my elastic arteries, why were there no definite answers? This forced me to solely base my opinion on the book on the testimony of others, and I could not find a common ground within any story. Utilizing the last moments of public internet access, I constructed a message asking for any information, yet carried little hope that it would work. It seemed that others had relayed a similar SOS as well but had not gotten a response. Dissatisfied with my detective skills, I left the library sulking, with an ardent restlessness in my heart. Not only had I failed myself, but I’d failed Malach, who was in desperate need of answers. His previous state of mind had left me with maternal concern for him; ever since the arrival of the book his demeanor had been erratic and unpredictable. And yet, I was unable to bring him any conclusive evidence to, hopefully, relieve him of this mental malady.

The sun was drowsily setting over the oat fields, an autumn light being cast across. I stared over the grainy sea, the amorphous insects fluttering through the leaves resembling puff balls being blown by wishful lips. Sights like these reminded me of childhood days spent with my brother, Victor. He was older be five years and had shaped his character in the likeness of James Dean: dangerously roguish and yet sensitive to worlds cries. To say I admired him is an understatement, I genuinely loved my brother; however, it was challenging for him to receive my affection. Victor was cursed with a terrible case of depression, making his existence one full of anguish and guilt. He’d spend most afternoons lost in his bed sheets, and we’d occasionally hear his screams; but, the nights he dared to venture out of his haven were unforgettable. It was in these moments that my admiration was at an all time high, he’d stare his fears directly in the face with a devious smirk and challenge them all without any regard for his safety. What courage, on top of the brevity he expressed by choosing to live with his demons.  However, his departure came so swift that I was unable to process it for nearly a week. I was only twelve when Victor committed suicide, leaving me to juggle between puberty and immense grief. The sights of the Thanksgiving decorations tore at my spirit, had thirteen years truly passed since that fateful day?

Suddenly, on both sides of me I heard boyish giggling and I turned to find both of the high school students once again. Or at least, what I thought them to be. The first thing I noticed was their eyes, both were solid black; but as I examined them in a flash (a retail skill), I was unable to find any difference between the two. Had they been twins? There was only one pair of twins in Linbsborg and they were Dan and Dave Hamilton, and these two children did not resemble them in the slightest. Their attire also raised multiple questions, both were wearing identical outfits (cliché’ twin behavior, I know); but as I registered the colors and strange placement of the jewels, I immediately recognized them. The garments matched that of the young boy who’d delivered the book.

“Do you have two smokes?”

“Are you afraid of death?” the two spoke almost simultaneously, yet somehow I was able to register both of their questions.

“How do you know I smoke? And no, I’m not afraid,” I proudly stated.

“The stains on your teeth.” They both said in an eerie unison. Embarrassed, I removed the crumpled pack from my back pocket and handed each of them one. Oddly enough, they both took a cigarette with the opposing hand.

“Are you two old enough to be smoking? I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Indeed I am.”

“Nobody can see me but you, anyways.”

“What do you mean?” In perfect sync, the two boys turned their heads to peer into each other’s eyes before returning their sight to me, who was becoming increasingly nervous. Not because I believed my life to be in danger, but because I felt that questions were about to be answered.

“How is the book?”

“What book?” I stupidly inquired.

“You know what book.”

At this time, I believed them to be working with the young boy; maybe they were part of a cult and me and Malach were being recruited. I’d heard of certain underground guilds that were strictly for necromancers.

“I will give you two questions, in exchange for the two smokes. Use them wisely.”

I paused for naturally it was my intention to consider that this was merely a ruse being pulled by bored high schoolers. Youth are notorious for being mischievous, and will often carry a prank to the point of endangering the victim. That’d been the case with Miranda during the softball game (and the last time I saw her alive), but, I feared I would be able to undertake a similar course of action as her.

“One must give…”

“…in order to receive.” The two boys wildly danced around the sidewalk like warlocks around a foxfire, accessories jingled like wind chimes made out of nobles metals. They acted like any pubescent teenagers but the entire conversation felt as if they were dumbing themselves down for her comfort.

While I searched my mind for adequate questions, a recent memory swiftly replayed through my head. “Who are they?” Even now, I do not understand why that graced my imagination. There could be no possible way that this “they”, was the same as the one mentioned by the internet stranger; and yet, the consistently occurring chilling opportunities that had been happening, led me to consider believing this normally impossible tale.

“Malach, this ritual. Are you sure you want to go through with it?” I said as I entered his apartment. The place still carried scars from his previous ransacking, and it seemed as if more chaos had ensued over the three days. I placed my basket of the ingredients on his kitchen table, and strolled through the complex, unable to locate him. Taking care not to tread upon any fragments, my feet carefully glided across the floor until I came to his bedroom. Normally, the room smelled of hard earned sweat and lingering formaldehyde from the morgue, but today it had a sweet scent, like honey. Peering through the opened doorway, my eyes glanced around, identifying certain objects: the owl bust he’d purchased on our trip to the taxidermist, blue crystals used for soothsaying, and the camera we’d purchased to document our spell-casting (it was also his unofficial birthday gift). Noticing that he was also missing from his room, I rationalized that he was either in the bathroom, or away from his residence; I quickly dispelled the bathroom possibly when I saw the light off. With the agility of a thief, I slipped through the crack in the doorway and entered the room, curiosity called me to the camera.

It had been the device that we used to record and broadcast our practices of the dark arts. Malach’ goal was to spread the name of Saturn throughout the earth, and this he accomplished by a website. My fingers ran across the power switch. Greeted with the faint glow of the LED screen I decided to take a glance at the saved pictures. Scrolling through I saw familiar shots, each transporting me to a specific moment shared with Malach. Even in the desolate town of Lindsborg, we were able to genuinely express our love for the dark lord; Malach had given me courage, the same way my brother had instilled his fearlessness into me. As the screen flashed and the images changed I, once again, thought of Victor. How good of friends he and Malach would have been if they’d met. Both were so true to their will, equipped with unwavering faith, ready to tackle even the most unknowns of the unknown. Or…maybe they would have been at each other’s throat for men of extreme virtue are, by nature, solitary creatures. My eyes registered a new sight on the small rectangular screen, an unfamiliar scene that jogged no memory; the date read today.

With apprehension breathing down my neck, I clicked the button marked PLAY and brought the device to my face. At first glance I had trouble pinpointing the location (it was out of focus), but then I immediately recognized the rings of Saturn poster; it extensively resembled the one that hung along Malach’s living room wall. A few quiet seconds passed and then a ghastly pale figure appeared to the left side of the screen. Coming closer towards the chair in the center, the silhouette of Malach finally came into the image. The hood of his robe enshrouded his face, but underneath the darkness I could see a steeled resolve in his pupils. Our camera’s speaker had been damaged during a botched recording of a hexing, rendering the sound useless; this made it difficult for me to listen to the words Malach was chanting. It seemed to be English and for a second I could understand him; but suddenly a twitch happened in the screen and his lips contorted in a unholy way. He rose from the chair, first lurching forward with his chest then snapping his spine back like a thorny whip. On the table, next to a misplaced hardware tool was the book that seemed to have restored an unknown quantity of color to its cover.

The lubricating solution that had been oozing from its textured spine seemed more viscous, and the teeth were…whiter. He removed the text from the table we’d regularly ate at, and placed it upon his lap. Opening to a page, I’d wager that it was the same sheet the otherworldly language had appeared on. His attention was upon the lettering for a uncomfortably long time, glaring as if he were an ancient sage deciphering this immortal message. The book was set back upon the table and Malach removed his hood. How sickly he looked, like his soul was living in a constant miasma. Crusted lips, and his eyes were swollen and bloodshot to the point where he looked like a cinema zombie. Sluggishly Malach proceeded to undress himself, losing his robe and undershirt in the process.

Gripping the camera, I realized this was the first time I’d seen his underbody, but what it revealed was more than my prolonged desires. Fresh red whelps ran parallel across his chest and strange jagged patterns had been deeply etched into his pectoral muscles. The sight was truly horrifying in detail, but upon focusing I realized that he’d inscribed “symbols” upon his body. As you know, runes are required in many rituals for it gives definite reasoning to the spell; however, they are typically inscribed in specialized ore. During the primitive and violent early years of necromancy, bodies were occasionally used (for the vilest of spells), yet they were often corpses; necromancers were never the conduit for the channeling. Raising his head, Malach uttered another impossible to interpret phrase while his hand lay pressed against the page. When his lips finally stopped moving, his gaze turned towards the camera. Watching the screen from the comfort of his desk, I peered out of Malach’s bedroom into the living room. An arachnid shutter crawled up my spine; had all of this transpired within these four walls?

When my attention returned back to the camera, I immediately locked onto Malach’s eyes. The more I deeply stared into his gaze, the more I felt as if he knew I’d be watching this recording. His left hand reached back across the table and removed the tool, which appeared to be a pair of rusted pliers. He briefly examined them, noting the bright blue rubber handle before bringing the metallic clamps to his mouth. With some demonic force, Malach violently yanked at his tooth and suddenly the camera shrieked. Somehow, the unwanted sound returned and startled me into a minor panic. What anguish there was in my partner’s voice, a horrific scream that erupted from the space between the bone and the being. And the ripping noise from the tooth, the awful tearing of roots, snapping like stumps being exhumed from dry soil. The sound abruptly disappeared, leaving me with a gruesome visual; he’d dropped to his knees by this point, but the tooth was hanging out of his bloody mouth by a single tendon. Suddenly, the screen went black, and a white dead battery graphic started pulsing.

Astonished and still trying to mentally drown the sound of Malach’s screams, I left the camera on the desk and slowly exited the room. Was there a point to search for the charger, or had I witnessed enough brutality and self-mutilation to appease my wonder? Walking back into the living room, I searched the scene where the snuff film had been shot, seeing the stained pliers with a new light. Droplets of blood were still somewhat fresh, the iron smell able to blow in the poorly circulating air condition. A makeshift trail of hemoglobin led my sights to the tome, which had its cover closed. The gap that had once been in the incisors was now filled, with…a reddened tooth. Horrified, I turned back to the vacant apartment until my eyes laid upon the source of all this suffering. Sitting on the couch, obscured by darkness, was Malach, who seemed to have been present all along.

The first thing that I noticed about my friend was that he seemed to be in particularly high spirits, which was rare. He’d never been a depressive or melancholy figure, but he hardly focused on portraying vibrant emotions. Jeremy Thomas had raised his son to be the resolute observer rather than the vocal leader. But the man standing in front of me was grinning with joyful malice that made me quite unsteady. Was this the same person who had committed that that atrocious self-mutilation or the man who’d taught me about Saturn’s secrets? I had witnessed this act, unbeknownst to him, but the way he shifted in his chair made me consider otherwise. He was the first to break the agonizing silence. “Did you get all of the ingredients?” I pointed to the basket I had brought from my store. “Good, The hour of our ascension approaches.” To my astonishment, I gazed at the gap between his smile, and I nearly gagged.

“Malach, are you…” I stuttered. If I accused him, then who would I have left? Was I willing to break that trust?

“I…I trust you. I don’t necessarily know what’s going on, but I trust that you will do what’s right. I won’t ask any more questions.” What was the point? What I could see in his eyes rivaled that of Homer’s characters, immortal legends and heroes of the greatest myths. There was no amount of words that I could spew to alter his mind; and being the woman that I am, I chose to support him. However, the boy’s’ words echoed in my heart, and I found myself bound to inquire about our ritual.

“What else…do you need for the spell?”

“I am in the process of finalizing everything. My dear Bezel, have you considered what we will do, as masters of this new world?”

“I haven’t. I don’t…well I don’t mind what we do, if we’re together.” Would emotions be able to pierce this veil that shrouded Malach eyes? I don’t know, but suddenly I found my heart rapidly beating as he embraced me. His arms felt like fragile bones, and the pallor in his skin made him seem more akin to a decaying body, than human being.

“There will be no force known to man that will separate us. Once we complete our ritual, then we will have dominion over death itself.” His hands stroked the cover of the book as if it were a newborn babe whom he’d brought into the world. “Before we continue, you must immortalize your conviction.” Malach removed the container from the cover of the tome and placed it on the table. Knowing what I did about the book, which was very little, I still chose emotion over logic, and drew the black needle and feather from the container.

“If I…if we do this, can we take a break afterwards? I’ve always wanted to leave Kansas, and I’ve almost saved up enough money. We can buy a train ticket to anywhere.” A wave of dissatisfaction washed across Malach’s face, it seemed that his ambition was to blame for his intolerance. He remained motionless for the next few seconds, and I accepted his silence as his response.

The prick of a needle is a different type of pain, a precise attack that causes the nerves to violently react, a scraping that one feels between their toes. A bead of venous blood-venous has a darker hue-leaked out of the invisible hole between my epidermal cells. Taking hold of the white vulture feather, I was amazed not by its lustrous color, but rather its weight. In my hand it felt as if I were holding a mechanical pencil, significantly heavier than any quill I’d ever used before. My mother always brags about my signature whenever we go shopping, she says I have the “Best Handcock on the Northern Hemisphere” (a horrid title). As I was about to make my first loop, Malach suddenly snatched my arm.

“What are you doing?” I shouted.

“Don’t…don’t give them your name.”

“But Malach, you told me to sign.”

“No…this book, it’s these damn whispers. They keep telling me to do things!” It seemed the voices had intensified, which was horrifying for I’d yet to witness any abnormal noises for the last few days. My fears grew for Malach, his foundation was failing and there was nothing I could do to help. His struggle with this raging tremor of terror was coming to a dramatic finish, with him on the losing end of the conflict. Whatever otherworldly force that was plaguing him had enough power to have him scratch at the table, ripping his fingernails from their beds.

“Just, don’t sign it. Please Natalie, don’t sign.”

“Na…you called me Natalie…” He lost consciousness immediately after that. I thought about moving him to a more comfortable position, but the fear of that possessive being coming to life and assaulting me proved too powerful. In a desperate rage, I snapped the feather in my hand and slammed the book shut. If Malach had been more affluent and could have purchased a better apartment, possibly one with a fireplace, I would have tossed this infernal tome into the furnace. How different things were after the delivery of this book. The occasional séance, experimenting with conjuration spells during the witching hour, oh how majestic the dead branches looked in the dark. But this book had suddenly sent us on a downward spiral to the lake of fire, which only fueled my thirst for knowledge and understanding.  Ultimately, my resolve boiled down to one fundamental truth, he’d remembered my name, and that was enough for me to want to save Malach.

“Unfortunately, my thoughts had not turned to you or I would have reached out earlier.”

“That is okay septum Bezel, you have done well to share this much with me.” Grand Wizard Zaltua stated. There was a frightening degree of anger building up within him, yet he was able to conceal the majority of it with his stone face. “Malach, why did you not share this information? You chose to undertake a master ritual at the apprentice level? What made you believe you could handle it?”

“Because I’d rather not waste my words on the worthless. Grand Wizard, you are no necromancer. You have the funds to dress the part, and even the education to speak eloquently, but you are not one of Saturn’s servants. But, thankfully, I have been chosen to purge the world of false prophets. Ah, and it seems that it is almost time,”  With his bloodshot eyes glaring into the camera, Malach rose from the chair in his apartment and walked away from the webcam’s field of vision. Shocked, Bezel and the Grand Wizard both watched their screens while everything remained still on Malach’s angle. Yet there were sounds to be heard, the opening of a drawer, the zipping of his only black jacket, and the jingling of apartment keys with the black rabbit’s foot.

“Malach, why are you leaving the safety of your house? Why!? The town is hunting you,” Bezel shouted to her screen. Her voice echoed through her bedroom as she scanned the room for her jacket. “If you’re leaving, I’m…I’m going too,” she whispered in the camera.

“Septum Bezel, wait! You have not yet finished explaining what transpired. If you want my help, then I must know exactly what happened. You leave now, then I withdraw.”

Gradually, Bezel came back into focus at her camera screen and sighed; Malach had left his device running even though he was absent. A static screen remained, giving Bezel and the Grand Wizard a cryptic view of the disheveled apartment.

“My apologies, I will hasten my story, so we can act.”

Black Friday approached, as well as the intended day of the ritual, if it were still to be done. I’d not seen Malach over the last two days, for Thanksgiving kept me preoccupied. I won’t mention much regarding this holiday for it was quite somber. Not only were we eating dinner, but  my family and I were also mourning my brother, Victor; he’d taken his life on Black Friday.

This lingering grief kept me bedridden for much of the morning, and I, unfortunately, was late for my shift at the store. It is one thing to be a late employee, and another to be a late key holder. On the slim occasions that I’ve arrived five minutes (maybe seven) late to the store, there have been a few customers tapping their feet against the sidewalk. However, today there were no patrons, only two men dressed in uniforms. Their badges came into focus as I approached the entrance. What were the police doing at my store? Apprehension slowed my progress but I hastened my step when one of the officer’s caught sight of me. He tapped his partner on the shoulder and nodded his head in my direction.

“Morning gentlemen, you two here to buy some honey for your donuts?”

“Not today, ma’am. Although that does sound tempting.”

“Did something happen to the store, Officer Manget?” I questioned while reading his badge. He tipped his hat forward and glanced at the store’s façade. Manget had shimmering eyes and a large body that likened him to a gentle giant. Being such a small town, Lindsborg rarely dealt in serious crimes and most of the police force is “green behind the ears “; Manget was the sole exception. He’d previously worked with the missing persons department at the Kansas State Bureau of Investigation and moved to Lindsborg after completing a five-year cold case. Although the air was breezy, the sun light was dangerously intense and I nervously climbed into the shade.

“Nope, store’s fine. We got a few questions for ya, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem at all.” At this time, I was unaware if I stuttered or not; but the second deputy stepped forward with a notebook that had been purchased at a convenience store. He was definitely one of the green officers, the crumbs on his uniform gave him away.

“Are you associated with a Mr. Thomas?”

“Mr. Thomas? Who is he?”

Dumbfounded the officer looked at me as if I’d made some poor joke. “Mr. Thomas, he works at the morgue. The townspeople claim that you two are…inseparable.”

“Right. Mr. Thomas, slipped my mind. Why, did something happen to him?” Had Malach’s fate come sooner than expected? He’d been alone on Thanksgiving, and in a state so vulnerable that I would not be surprised if he’d inflicted some mortal wound upon himself.

The second detective spat his glob of dip into a small patch of grass, “well, he’s missing.”

“And so is the coroner…” Officer Manget stated. His broad shoulders shifted, now assuming a more assertive pose. Why was the coroner missing? And how were these two random occurrences related, if they were at all?

“Have you been in contact with Mr. Thomas?”

“Not since this earlier this week, Officer. I’d seen him maybe Monday or Tuesday, but haven’t heard from him since then. My family’s kept me pretty occupied for Thanksgiving” The pen in the deputy’s hand scribbled furiously on the pad.

“How did he seem last time you talked to him?”

“Mostly tired. Work had been taking a toll on him recently. He was in the process of sketching out upgrades for the morgue.”

“I see, so work kept him pretty occupied?”

“I’d say so. He’s the only one down there, you know. It’s not easy to work with the dead.”

“Working with the dead,” the officer repeated.

The other deputy flipped through a page and took a step closer to me, I could smell his cheap shaving gel.

“Did Mr. Thomas, ever…do anything, to any bodies? He ever tell you any stories? Maybe poor jokes.”

“No, he took his job very seriously. Why would you make that accusation?”

Both officers awkwardly shuffled around in their respective spaces, and an unsettling tingle coated my appendages. Officer Manget rubbed his face twice and tapped his walkie-talkie before speaking. “The body of…Miranda Marshalls is…missing.”

Horrified I stepped back from the gentlemen, not out astonishment, but that my fears had been true. Malach had committed himself to continuing this ritual, even at the expense of exposure and unspeakable acts.“How do you know?”

“We…we found its toetag at the scene.”

“Do you think Ma… Mr. Thomas had anything to do with this?”

“We aren’t sure yet ma’am, just trying to gather evidence. The coroner was helping us work the Marshalls case, and he was scheduled to view the body on Wednesday to gather forensics. He failed to return to the office that evening. His wife also reported that he hadn’t come home for Thanksgiving.” My stomach churned at the mention of his wife. A few townsfolk had gathered on the opposing side of the street; it was customary for eavesdropping to be a public spectacle in Lindsborg. Both officers waved to the citizens in an effort to move them along, but the gossipers held their ground.

“When we arrived at the morgue, it looked as if some altercation had happened. Maybe a break in, or scuffle, we’re not sure. But Mr. Thomas was unable to be found as well.”

“There’s speculation that this could be related to the Marshalls case, maybe the suspect is trying to cover their tracks. Not sure,” the second deputy spat his dip onto the concrete. A gust of wind blew through the dead oats, filling the street with an eerie crackling sound.

“We won’t hold you up much longer, but if you think of something. Give us a call, we’d appreciate it.” The dip-spitting deputy placed his flimsy business card in my hand.

“Thank you again, ma’am. I’ll be back to get some of that honey for ma donuts,” Officer Manget winked. I faked a smile and wished the officers well before casually turning towards my store; the eyes of the townsfolk were still upon me. As I entered, my back immediately flew to the door and anxiety overtook me. What had Malach done? The body was missing, and the coroner. How could he have done any of this in the state he was last in? This ritual had escalated into a treacherous ordeal, and necromancers know their power only works over the dead, not the living. I made it my sole mission to visit Malach after work, I had to stop him from completing this dark sacrament.

I returned to active consciousness during the last seven minutes of my shift (seven because my mom says I never do things halfway). By this time, I’d finished tidying up around some of the shelves and attending to the herbs. I mentally prepared myself for this walk, but made very little progress; however, the sublime view of the sun casting through the afternoon haze gave me enough inspiration to continue. There were very few townsfolk populating the streets this evening, most had created a personal curfew for themselves after word of the crime spread. Their absence I welcomed openly; however, my heart felt nothing but sheer pity for the Marshalls family.

Although I had not known them in my youth, they must have populated the same games that my parents did. How different could they be, and now they’re forced to deal with the grief of an empty grave. It was a sufferable tragedy, a dismantling of any post-mortem comfort. Underneath my confliction, there was a deeper agony lying within the bowels of my spirit; Malach was to blame. But, could I fault him if this were for the advancement of necromancy? If tasked with robbing a grave, I dare say I could undertake it, with proper preparation. His active mind was working; instead of waiting for the body to be buried, he made a swift steal from the morgue itself. I wonder if the coroner got in his way during his escape, or maybe he’s…I’d rather not speak on that further.

Either way, the town’s stereo speaker began to ring throughout the streets, signaling the end of the work day. A guitar strummed while a set of drums clapped. With haste, I closed the shop and hurried along to Malach’s home, hoping that the police weren’t already there. As I jogged through main street to my car, the community stereo speaker screeched and the country melody was replaced with a low shrill. The noise wasn’t jarring or earsplitting as one would imagine, rather an ever-present whine that unknowingly dug itself into the cells of one’s cochlea. Electrified ice ran through my skin and ignited my pores as sweat leaked out during my trek to my car. Hopping into the car I could still hear the sound even as I turned up the radio. Music wasn’t in my interest, but this shriek was maddening and my spirit longed for any relief. Finally, Mr. Weston, who runs the radio broadcast, came on the speaker and publically apologized for the technical difficulty. His confession was to my relief; I hadn’t known if the sound was external…or internal. It sounded like a distant cry from another dimension whose lyrics can’t be comprehended by my immature ears. However, shock lingered in the abysmal pit of my gut; during the continuous shrill, I briefly thought that I heard the voice of my brother, Victor.

I arrived at Malach’s complex with no delay, and was relieved to find that there were no police vehicles in the vicinity. Parking my mother’s car in the lot I reached his room in an instant (being on the first floor was an advantage). The door was locked, but I didn’t even consider knocking; instead, I slipped the key out from under the mat and invited myself into his home. The place was bleak save for a glowing yellow light pulsing from Malach’s room. As I fumbled through the dark towards the bedroom, my hand caught a splinter in it. Some jagged piece of wood was sticking up in the middle of the kitchen. Leading with my good hand, I leapt towards the wall and found the light switch next to the microwave. Flipping it on, I was shocked at what my eyes witnessed.  Furniture everywhere had been destroyed. Smashed to pieces, probably by some blunt force object, a large hammer perhaps. I desperately called out for Malach, but my voice echoed like it would in a crypt. Nothing. The air conditioner had been stopped, leaving the apartment slightly chilly.

Creeping into his room once more, I noticed that his computer monitor was the source of the yellow light. As I approached, I recognized the image that he used as a screensaver; a photograph from our first successful alchemical experiment. We’d brewed a potion that made one remain conscious during their dreams. However, the rest of the room was torn to pieces just like the previous. After finding no visible sign of Malach I realized that I could not remain here any longer; if the officers happened to unexpectedly arrive then I’d be viewed as an accomplice. There was no time to deal with law enforcement; they have no understanding of what powers are in play, and yet, neither do I. The spare key was placed back under the mat, and I hurried to the car before anybody noticed. Not only had I been unsuccessful at finding Malach, but I was unable to locate the book either.

With nowhere else to turn, I chose to regroup at my home, and that is when I planned to call you. However, moments before I was able to make contact, I received an eerie email from Malach. There were no words in this message, solely an attached video file labeled “Ralom”. How had he been able to make contact with me (unless he’d returned back to his apartment after I’d left)? My curiosity compelled me to open the e-mail and watch the video which was dated on Thursday. Thanksgiving Day. The display blinked twice and the movie player appeared on my computer monitor. I took a deep breath and tightened my back, bracing for whatever sight I, alone, was about to witness. The first image that graced my eyes was Malach’s face; whatever disease that had his body decomposing seemed to be cured, and there was even a hit of redness in his cheeks. Had he come to his senses? I am aware that was a foolish thought to think, but one must have hope at a time like this. He backed away from the camera, establishing his location, which was the cool, basement of the morgue. I recognized it by the steel drawers that were used to house bodies, I often met Malach down there to discuss our upcoming rituals. Bound and gagged on this floor was a mid-fifties gentleman with severe balding. Blood trickled from his head, and even though his chest was slowly rising and falling, I knew that death was imminent.

“Father, it is time,” were the only words Malach said throughout the entirety of the video. The sights I forced myself to witness were horrific beyond imagination. Miranda’s body, the level of destruction to her face haunts me; it seemed as if a necrotizing bacteria had been released into the bloodstream of Marshall’s corpse, tearing through the cellular matrix and connective membranes. The fate of the coroner was equally horrid. True to my assumption, his life was extinguished, taken by Malach as he used one of the scalpels to slit the wrists.  Any person who dabbles in any forces understands that to receive, one must first equally give; to create life, death must be offered. Guilt rendered me defenseless as I watched Malach prepare the ritual. That was beyond my consideration. No matter how tied I am to the dark arts, I find myself helplessly unable to trade the life of a human for power. I wish the same could have been said for my dear friend. Malach moved with precision as he sliced into the base of the coroner’s skull. His practice with the bodies at the morgue was evident, he had the steady hands of any general surgeon. I could not bear to stomach all of it, and yet my mouse remained away from the fast forward button. An emotion, an unknown force had my spirit gripped and I was fully attentive while the gruesome footage played (what is our fascination with the anatomy of the human body, and the occasional dismemberment of it?). Eventually, after minutes of meticulous slicing and sawing through skull bones, Malach removed the hippocampus from the coroner’s brain and placed it on the floor, lined up in front of the ingredients I had previously purchased. There I was, playing a part in this unholy rite; I’m not sure if this comforted or chilled me. With all the ingredients prepped, Malach was ready to undertake the second phase of spellcasting; fulfilling the conditions. Usually, one must mutter a specific set of words or perform a distinct action; however, this spell was far from common. There were no chants, no excessive shouts or even deliberate movements for that matter. Malach remained perfectly still, eyes locked on the disfigured face of Miranda while his hand was pressed against the book. This deadlock continued for another minute or so, and I feared that Malach’s soul may have been taken instead of the coroner’s. Sitting on his ring finger was the peculiar ring that had been in the container with the feather and needle. Suddenly, the luster of the amethyst changed from gray to purple and a wide grin appeared upon Malach’s face; however, the corpse remained unchanged.

Malach approached the camera once more, lifting it into his hands and manually recording. He focused in on what remained of the corpse’s left eye-the right one had been completely annihilated. An immense terror gripped me as I watched the eyelid wiggle and writhe from the shifting pupils, it was in some REM-like state of dreaming. The camera was cut off shortly after capturing the sight; and once again, I was left with a black screen and unanswered questions. I immediately contacted you…and thus, this is the end of my tale.

“My apologies if I had seen shaken at the beginning of our conversation, I had only witnessed this minutes before,” Bezel apologized. The Grand Wizard tapped his index finger upon his sweating temple. After hearing the entirety of her tale, the middle-aged man was wary about his initial decision to help. Malach had seen right through his ruse and was bent on exposing him.

“Was the ritual…a success?”

“I don’t know. That’s all I was able to see. And I can’t find the file on my computer anymore, or I’d send it to you.”

“There is no need, I trust your word.”

“Grand Wizard, what shall we do?” He said not a word, but continued to rub the side of his forehead. Somehow, Malach had been able to intercept and join their web chat, but he was currently absent; yet, his screen was still visible.

“We must meet in person.”

“But where?”

“I am in Wichita.”

“That’s only two hours, I can get there.”

“Tonight?” He asked. Bezel nodded in agreement, and the Grand Wizard leaned back in his chair. The silver-eyed man closed his eyes and exhaled a deep breath. On the other line, Bezel relaxed in her chair herself, accepting that help had finally been found. In all the commotion, she hadn’t even had spent time reminiscing about her brother. With the Grand Wizard’s assistance, there was no doubt in her mind that Malach could be swayed, after all, the Grand Wizard isn’t a title many have.

Suddenly, a loud bang was heard through the computer speakers and Bezel dropped out of her desk chair. Malach’s screen had flashed bright red and cut off immediately afterwards. Bezel regained her senses and adjusted her microphone. “What just happened!?”

“Something happened with his screen. An explosion, I think.”

“You don’t think Malach intentionally…?”

“Probably.” Outside of her window, Bezel listened to the faint sirens of the Lindsborg Fire station. “The fastest way to destroy evidence is to burn it,” Grand Wizard stated.

As Bezel stared at her computer display, she noticed something off about the Grand Wizard’s feed. There was a slight glitch that cause a dissonance between his lips and the audio. It’d been that way since the explosion happened, but scientifically there was no way for that to have had an effect on his modem. In the background something shifted out of focus. Bezel’s eyes barely registered it, for she was more concerned with fixing the footage. But when it moved a second time she accepted it to be physical and not a figment of her imagination. The Grand Wizard seemed to have company; however, whoever just arrived had not yet alerted him of their presence. This sent a malevolent shiver through Bezel’s ganglia and axons. There was no way Malach could have reached Wichita that quick, or could he?

The Grand Wizard finally noticed his uninvited guest and spun around in his chair. Within a darting second, the office chair was on the ground, and the older gentleman had backed himself up into the camera. “Grand Wizard! Grand Wizard, what’s happening?”

“By the…what is this infernal…”

“Grand Wizard, answer me!”

“No…stay away…stay away!” The Grand Wizard reached for the keyboard and slammed it against the intruder, and Bezel was finally able to see something on screen besides the back of his shirt. She caught a glimpse of a shuffling figure, but the phantom seemed to have a disfigured form. A fetid hand suddenly appeared in front of the camera, for it had caught hold of the Grand Wizard’s arm during the scuffle. Within seconds an ear piercing scream echoed from Zaltua’s microphone as the reanimated remains of Miranda Marshall’s snapped his arm like a dried twig. The bone shattered and pierced his skin, revealing bloody marrow and a jagged fracture that made Bezel vomit in her trashcan. It then proceeded to repeatedly beat the man with it’s bare fist, the pounding never relenting for this thing had no notion of fatigue. Blood splattered across the Grand Wizard’s desk as he fell to the floor, but that did not prevent the corpse from continuing its assault. With no end of the torture in sight, Bezel exited out of her web camera and powered down her monitor. Tears streamed down her face as she cried in desperation. Malach had fled and the Grand Wizard, her only possible ally, was now dead. Beaten by the same body that Malach had stolen, and the one she had helped to bring back to life. Had he sent the creature over to the Grand Wizard’s home? That was the only logical explanation for the corpse appearing in Wichita; or did it contain some arcane ability to travel through shadows at will? With no other leads to pursue, Bezel crawled into her bed and sobbed throughout the entire night; although she was unable to shed any tears for her brother, Victor.

Drei

What is this book?” The question pulsed through Bezel’s mind over the following week, and yet the answer provided by the enigmatic high school boys had shaken her rationality. The book itself was nameless and there was no information regarding the author. It’s origins are antediluvian, a relic from a world that was purged by flooding water. Tales of its immense power have been recorded throughout man’s brief stint of eternity, being a source of history’s most severe catastrophes. Its most recent owner, a high-ranking SS official, had used the book to extract the essence of countless victims. The pages themselves were indeed blank and, as she had deduced, blood was instrumental in understanding the text. However, a small physical sacrifice was also required to undertake rituals. A tooth. The incisors that lined the edge of the cover were indeed real dentition that had been traded by those who dared to use its boundless power for personal gain. “Man is so affixed by his own mortality that he’d run to death itself if it meant gaining answers,” one of the high school students had stated while answering her question. All this information proved useless because the book was nowhere to be found, Malach was missing, and the corpse of Miranda Marshall was still reanimated.

Awaking in the middle of the night from an owl’s coo, Bezel blindly reached for a sweater to wear as she crept towards the bathroom. Built in the mid-1950’s, her house was susceptible to all manner of creaks and groans especially during the summer season (spicy days, shivering nights her mother used to say). As she made her way down the stairs, she passed by a window that gave her an optimal view of her backyard. The darkness made it impossible to detect anything, however, the way the wheat moved in the wind made it seem like that earth was breathing. Being daughter to farmers, Bezel naturally gravitated towards the outdoors and was keenly aware of nature. This sensitivity had aided her in landing the job at the herb shop, but it had also served as a defense from the book. It was so bizarre that there was no way it existed within man’s laws of nature. Bezel was about to reach the bathroom when she peered out of the kitchen window and noticed that there was a light on in the shed. Faint and barely visible even amidst the darkness, the luminance passed underneath the entrance onto the wooden steps. As children, this was the place where Victor and she would escape to while playing out in the fields. Jokingly, her brother had called it a “safe house for sinners”. Her initial thought was that her father had mistakenly forgot to turn off the lights when he left the shed, but she remembered that he’d been bedridden with the seasonal stomach bug.

Wearing her father’s boots (they were the closest pair to the back door), Bezel stepped out into the chilly night air. The gust coming from the west was bearable but it did make her hair stand on edge as she approached the lit shed. Before opening the door, Bezel reached around the side and gripped the three-foot wooden stick. Mainly used for keeping critters at bay, she figured that it was a more suitable weapon compared to her fists. Chippings from the previous paint coat were visible on the top portion of the shed door and there was a small hole in the bottom right corner, large enough for a mouse to crawl through.

As her hand pressed against the shivering wood, Bezel felt a terrorizing dread halt her progress and nearly expelled all the air in her lungs during a momentary panic attack. Flashes of the Grand Wizard’s murder passed through her memory, and the image of Miranda’s shifting eye remained burned into her imagination. If her fate was to die at the hands of this aberration then she wished that she’d chosen a better outfit. The door lurched open with no noise and the light suddenly flickered in Bezel’s face. It’d been a few months since she’d stepped foot into the shed so the surroundings were a bit unfamiliar. On her left was the shelf for farming instruments, wide-head shovels, and shears for the hedges; the right contained the majority of the power tools including her father’s rusted chainsaw. Bezel rubbed her finger against the oiled machine and pictured herself hacking through creatures as if she Ash from “Evil Dead”. Suddenly, a bag of nails in the back left corner of the shed fell spilling its contents onto the floor. Bezel jumped in response and nearly knocked the chainsaw off of its post; but, what she saw next had siphoned all of her attention.

“Malach,” she cried.  Laying underneath a greased towel was Malach. It was too dark for her to accurately recognize his features, but being in his presence long enough had conditioned Bezel to know when he was near. At first she thought the young man dead as he remained motionless and mute while she checked him. An agonizing wheeze escaped from his lips that were caked with dried blood and a sickly white pus continuously oozed from the wounds. Upon her touch, Malach furiously twitched and curled himself into a makeshift fetal position. At this sight, Bezel dropped to his side and held him, rocking to and fro as a grandmother would to put a crying child to sleep. Low sobs and heart-aching gasps escaped from Malach’s mouth as he cradled in Bezel’s bosom.

After bringing the disheveled Malach into her bedroom, Bezel was able to examine her spell casting partner with great detail. His pallor was pale like moonlight, pulsing red sores covered his arms and his finger that carried the ring had mysteriously blackened, most likely some form of gangrene; but most noticeably was the look in his eyes. When opened, which was increasingly difficult for the drained man to do, they shined brightly as if the fluorescence from a bug zapper was being reflected by his retinas. She’d gently placed him on her bed, his body sprawled across her indigo comforter. “The first time I get you in my bed, and you’re like this,” Bezel nervously joked. Raising his head to sip the water that she’d poured in a tall glass, Malach forced a faint smile to appear on his sullen cheeks.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” she whispered. Her emotions were flaring through her cheeks and any notion of returning to sleep was long removed.

“No, I must. Thank you.”

“Enough, words like thank you don’t fit you.”

“Fine,” Malach coughed. “What words do suit me?”

“Idiot for starters. But I won’t beat a dead horse.”

“Natalie…”

“It’s got a nice ring to it right?”

“It sure does. I never knew how graceful it sounds. But, I confess, I do believe you to be Bezel as well. Your name, it has so much force behind it.”

“And Malach doesn’t?”

“It’s better than…Jeremy.”

“Ah, so that’s your name.” Natalie clicked her heels in response. Although the two had been near inseparable, Malach had never revealed his birth name to her. Even during their introduction, he’d led with his necromantic name rather than the one given to him by his father, who was also Jeremy.

“I’m sorry I never shared it before. I…I don’t know if that is me anymore,” Jeremy regretfully expressed. A low groan escaped from the roof of her room, and Natalie noticed the darkness slowly being driven out by the incoming dawn.

“Of course it is you. You are both Malach, and Jeremy.” Malach shook his head in response but the action prompted him to cough up blood. A few droplets landed on the comforter and she immediately shot to clean it up.

“Sorry.”

“No more apologies either. In fact, no manners please.”

“Sure. But Bez- Natalie, my fear is that I am neither. I…I don’t know who I am. Or if there is anybody left. The things that I’ve done…”

“Stop.”

“The Grand Wizard…my jealousy and rage.”

“Jeremy, rest.”

“ALL FOR WHAT? FOR THE BANISHMENT OF MY SOUL!” His temperament elevated to heights that Bezel had yet to witness, leaving her startled and fearful that his shouting had awoken her parents.

“Jeremy, your voice.”

“I’d say sorry, but apparently that doesn’t fit.” Natalie couldn’t tell if he was teasing or terrorizing.

“This is an exception, idiot.” Natalie tossed the eraser on her desk at Jeremy, the thud connected and they both shared a brief laugh before it turned into a deafening silence.

This uncomfortable stillness lasted for a few moments until Natalie toggled with the mouse on her desk. The display illuminated a shining blue light that forced her to squint. Resuming her internet browsing, Natalie played with the keyboard while Jeremy laid with his back against the bed, his eyes concentrated on the lustrous glow of the amethyst. It seemed the richness of the gem’s color had increased since the last time Natalie had seen it; or maybe the camera made its appearance less than real, due to the pixelated recording. With his remaining strength Jeremy tried to twist the ring off, but his swollen and blackened finger prevented him from successfully removing it. A gross pop was heard and Jeremy brought his hands back down to his chest.“What was that noise?” Natalie inquired, turning away from her screen.

“I…nevermind. What are you searching?”

“I don’t even know anymore. I’ve been trying to find anything or anyone to help us.”

“There is no help. Whatever this thing is, it can’t be stopped.”

“How do you know?”

“Being a vessel for its will, I thought I’d retain some sort of knowledge or understanding, but…I haven’t learned anything new.”Natalie’s thin shoulders tensed as she listened to her partner’s confession. He had no greater understanding than she, even after completing a spell from its pages.

“Do you still hear the whispers, what do they sound like?”

“They’re gone. They left when I awoke last Friday before…”

“You don’t have to say anymore, I know.”

“But…they sounded comforting and familiar, also there was some agitation. I dare say it but it resembled the voice of my father, as if he were shouting from a deep well and I could only hear the whine in his echo.” Jeremy’s breathing was louder than normal, it seemed conversation was depleting his energy faster than expected.

“Oh shit,” Bezel muttered.

Malach tried to raise his body up off the bed to view the screen, but his back had given out on him, rendering any substantial movements an arduous task. “What is it?”

“Miranda’s body…it’s back here in Lindsborg.”

“How do you know?”

“Someone…recorded it. There’s footage on the news.” The morning six-o’clock banner flashed on the screen, reminding her that the shroud of night could cover them no longer.

“A teenage couple found what appears to be the body of the recently deceased local woman, Miranda Marshalls. The body has been missing from the Lindsborg morgue for the past week. This footage was received earlier tonight,” Bezel recited.

The screen was tilted, giving Malach a poor view of the display, but it was better than relying solely on his auditory senses. From his angle he watched the round circle in the middle of the screen rapidly rotate as the video buffed. Seconds later the footage appeared and Bezel made the player fullscreen. The glitch and subpar cellphone quality combined with the jerking motions of the videographer made the entire experience a headache-inducing experience. However, they were able to capture the visage of the body aimlessly lying on the side of the street. It remained stiff but during the last two seconds of the video, its arm clawed at the sidewalk, dragging the body forward. Being over a week dead, decomposition and the festering of the mortal wound to the front skull made this corpse grotesque beyond words. There are some images that remain eternal; and unfortunately for any informed citizen of Lindsborg (which was the entire town), this was one of them. The video lasted only ten seconds but it was enough to chill the deepest layer of matter in one’s soul.

“Authorities were dispatched to the location, but were unsuccessful in finding any evidence of the remains. Some think this to be a prank or a set of hijinks, but others believe this is a serious case of grave robbing,” Bezel read from the post. The office chair spun and Bezel locked eyes with Malach.

“It’s still alive…”

“I know. I can’t explain it, but I feel it. It’s anguish and suffering. My heart is filled with her cries from the abyss. The body may be dead, but Miranda’s soul is tortured. And I’m the one who’s condemned her to eternal unrest.”

“Do not continue to blame yourself, it solves nothing. Right now, we have to focus on stopping it.” Even though she spoke with authority, Bezel’s vocal cords were ready to fail at any given second. What could they possibly do? The Grand Wizard was dead, Malach lay at the black gates himself, and now the rotting body of Miranda was wandering through the streets of Lindsborg. Bezel noticed Malach’s hand and saw that his ring finger was bent in a way that was impossible, if it were attached to bone and tendon. The nerves in her hands were inflamed as she tried to turn her eyes, but the positioning of the ring made it impossible to look away.

“Malach, where is the book?”

“I…I destroyed it, with my apartment. I thought a fire would purge everything, and maybe, set me free from this curse.” Bezel remained silent. She was unable to decipher her emotions; on one hand the weapon of their destruction was gone, but it may have been the only tool for their salvation as well.

“Let’s kill it. I’m sure if we burn the body or something it will stop. If there’s nothing left to move, then we’re fine.”

“No, we can’t. I don’t know how to put this into words, but it’s like my…my soul and her body are…bound together. Believe me or not, but I think if we kill it, then I’ll…suffer a fate worse than death.” Malach crawled up from the pillow towards the second story window and gazed out at the sunrise.  As she observed at her exhausted friend, a near identical scene filled her head; when she was younger, she’d always be watching Victor’s back as he meticulously defined his world from the window. For a few moments he’d sit absolutely still, concentrate his breathing to where his body barely responded and decipher every sensation. Even the aura surrounding him altered; Bezel believed that she could grasp the secrets of the universe simply by being present. Warming rays of light were cast through the dried blades of grass and a few of the fairy-like insects danced around the in the dawn over the horizon. “But, if we must do it. Then I am…ready.”

Bezel carried herself to the edge of the bed and rested her body against Malach’s leg that looked as if it suffered from an acute form of atrophy. Her hand stroked through his hair and a few strands were removed in the process. Whether or not they could admit it, Malach would come face to face death within the day. “If you’re…bonded to this thing. Does that mean you know where it’s at?”

“Ha, it’s not telepathy. I don’t…think it works like that.”

“Right, clearly I watch too much sci-fi,” Bezel tried to joke but it felt rushed and misplaced. “Where do you think it would go? To your apartment, since that’s where the ritual was done?”

“No…I think. The mill.” Bezel tapped the bed next to her friend, thinking her touch may cause him more calamity than celebration. Logic had prevailed and proven itself a reliable foundation for Malach; even in his horrid state, he was able to think rationally. It was this same thought process that made Bezel hold him to such a high standard, and that helped plant the seeds of her love for him.

“Her spirit may never leave that place,” she repeated to herself in a low voice. “Let’s go now, before the town wakes up. Everybody is going to be playing ‘I, Spy The Corpse’ if we don’t do something soon.” Malach said not a word but gestured for Bezel to lift him to his feet. She momentarily paused and disappeared into her closet. “Let’s put this on first, and then well go.” It’d slipped her mind that she’d only been wearing a sweater and her panties the entire time Malach was on her bed.

As the two pulled into the deserted parking lot of the Kanerbort Steel Mill, Bezel wrestled with her guilt. She was leading a man to, what could be, his eternal doom; not just any man, but the one she’d recently admitted (to herself) that she loved. She hustled from the driver’s seat to the passenger side and opened the back door. Laying in the seat was Malach, who’d drifted to sleep on their relatively smooth drive; things had only become shaky when they drove by the police station. There was talk of roadblocks on the radio, but Bezel couldn’t understand how that would help; only to give the community members a false sense of comfort. Aiding Malach in his walk, the two entered through the main entrance of the mill, which bared evidence that it was forcefully opened. The scent of skunk residue, expired chemicals, and…rotting flesh radiated throughout the abandoned warehouse. Ancient machines and conveyor belts covered the majority of the floor, a set of stairs led to a small office above, and there was a heavy dust that blanketed it all in an antique gray. The windows at the top were boarded, making it difficult for natural light to enter. A trail of heavy footprints led from the front entrance to a section in the back, towards the lockers.

Bezel carried Malach past a rusted construct while he lifted his head, “I wish I would have listened to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“About the book. I wish I would have listened.”

“There is nothing that can be done now. You weren’t yourself.” Malach coughed from the highly contaminated air as the two continued to follow the path.

“No. I was. I…I wanted to gain power.”

“Why? You’ve already got so much, the things you’ve shown me. You’ve always been powerful.”

“I…I wanted to raise…my father. Or at least, communicate with him.” Bezel said not a word as she shuffled through the factory. An occasional bat shriek filled the air but the only sound she could really concentrate on was the faint pulsing coming from Malach’s neck.

“Our last talk…ended bad. I said some things…that I regret. I knew I was in the wrong, the entire time; but…I never apologized. Even when I had the chance…I hesitated.” As the two made a sharp left around the conveyer belt, Bezel’s eyes caught sight of something on the locker. “I just wanted…to tell him that I was sorry, and I…I always loved him. And then, I wanted to…do the same for you…and Victor.” As Malach delivered his address with the somberness of a eulogy, the figure of the corpse came into their view. Bezel stumbled slightly for her eyes were welling with forgotten feelings; however, Malach shuttering was in response to the figure that appeared in front of him.

“It looks dead…”

“It’s not. Put me down here,” Malach wearily commanded.

“But what if it attacks you?” Bezel nervously stated while propping Malach’s back on one of the rusted operating chairs.

Out of curiosity and sadistic fascination, Bezel wanted to take a closer look at the corpse but was afraid of what she might discover; after all, this was still, somehow, Miranda Marshalls. The same girl who’d thrown the best pitches and the same one who’d given Bezel her first and only home-run throughout her athletic career. Bezel had been the sole athlete to score off one of Miranda’s pitches. It’d hadn’t been enough  of an effort to carry her team to win the championship, but the small accomplishment was one of the few memories she cherished from her sporting days. Years had passed since she’d seen the hulking figure, and she dared not to focus too much on it; hopefully allowing Miranda to retain her humanity within Bezel’s memories.

“It won’t attack. This ring, it has some sort of control over it.”

“Okay, I’m going to grab the stuff from the car, I’ll be back.” Inside the trunk was a red tin of gasoline and a box of matches that Bezel had methodically packed before leaving her home. As she was about to leave Bezel noticed the yellow plastic handle of a wrench buried in the dust. She retrieved the object and placed it in Malach’s hand, “a weapon just in case things get dicey.” Moving with decisive swiftness, Bezel hurried to the car, leaving Malach and Miranda’s corpse in a deadlock on opposite ends of the rusted factory.

As she crept out the exit and the warm sunlight hit her face, Bezel immediately caught sight of a person standing next to her car. Was it Horace, the grounds keeper, or had the police followed her? Apprehensively, she approached her mother’s vehicle and tried to gauge who this individual could possibly be. Judging by the lithe figure and the well-placed curves, Bezel assumed it to be a woman but her choice of outfit was eccentric, very different from typical Lindsborg attire (denim, cotton, and khaki make the citizen’s happy her mother joked). The woman was resting against the car and seemed to be adjusting her makeup with a circular handheld mirror. Bezel finally neared the appropriate distance that one needs to engage with strangers. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, you can,” the woman teasingly said while applying a thin coat of black lipstick. In the parking lot there was no sign of any cars, and Bezel hadn’t heard the sound of a motor in the vicinity; yet the woman looked too pampered to have simply walked from town, which was five miles out.

“I’ve got a phone if you need to call someone.”

“I won’t be needing that, although some games to pass the time would be nice.”

“How do you…need my help?” Bezel’s tone changed as she caught a glimpse of the woman’s face in the reflection of the handheld mirror. All black eyes. “You…”

“Yes, it is a pleasure to see you again. Afraid I have no time to chat, I’m here to collect someone.”

The woman finally closed her make up kit and turned towards Bezel. Her jaw line was thin like the legs of a ballerina, and the hazy circles underneath her eyes gave the woman beauty that was not of this world. It was as if Da Vinci had been tasked with a posthumous painting and used her as the model for his final masterpiece. And her smile, so blindingly radiant that Bezel found herself momentarily enthralled. But the woman had the same abysmal eyes, the same black pupils that had haunted her since the arrival of the book.

“Not Malach.”

“No, not Malach or whatever he calls himself. Jeremy.” The woman dusted off her shoulder and approached Bezel.

“Why do you want him?”

“That was part of the deal. A revival spell requires a strong soul, and when his initial sacrifice died on him, Malach chose to put his own inside that…thing. But now that he’s about to die, I need for him to have all of his soul in his possession.”

“His soul…no, you can’t have it,” Bezel defended. By this point she’d reached the trunk of her car but remained at a cautious distance away from the being.

“That’s one of my favorite lines. You humans, always telling others what they can and can’t have as if you have any control over it. Tell me, did you take your soul before you were alive, or was it properly delivered to that body of yours?” Stumped, Bezel chose to ignore her question, mainly because she had no way of answering it. She looked back towards the warehouse and her thoughts turned to Malach; she wondered which one of them was safer.

“That book. You didn’t tell me everything about it last time we spoke.”

“That’s because you didn’t ask for everything. I told you what it was, and that was enough. Be thankful that you’ve received any information. Speaking of,” the woman lifted herself off of Bezel’s car and smiled.

Laying her palms flat against each other, the black-eyed beauty moved her pupils back and forth at an inhuman speed and whispered something in the strange language that Malach had randomly spewed. Bezel still recognized none of the words or even phonetics for that matter; but to her wonder and terror a black void appeared in front of her, and the book suddenly appeared on the floor. It was as if it had fallen from some hidden dimension.  Startled, Bezel stared at the woman who was flashing a devilish smirk. “Now, can you be a dear and collect him for me? I’ve translated the page he’ll need to reverse the spell so he can get his portion back from that grotesque abomination. What will the others think of me if I show up with only half a soul?” the woman tickled as if it were coffeehouse banter. Others…? “I’m always amazed that you humans want to raise the dead. Out of everything in here, they always choose that one spell. It’s definitely the most unpleasant, and slightly inconvenient.”

Bezel watched the woman effortlessly deconstruct all of the unknown factors that had plagued her mind for the past week. Whoever this being was had materialized the truth as fast as she retrieved the book from the black void. How little Bezel truly knew. “Let me inform you that there is no choice. You and I both know that he is dying. I’m giving you the option. You get him to perform the reversal, or I do. And my way is a lot more painful, just saying.” Words were useless at this point and Bezel slowly reached down to retrieve the book off the floor. It too had changed since the last time she’d seen it: the lubricating liquid that had coated the cover was now dried, and instead the book felt like stippled gingival tissue. All of the teeth were rotten and some were even beginning to fall out of its place. Had she been collecting them from her victims? Bezel dared not to count, but she knew that there were at least twenty on each side of the book.

“These will be your last moments with him. Do with them what you want. I’ll be waiting out here while you finish. Those living corpses tend to get…violent when the vessel is removed.” The woman resumed her relaxed stance on the passenger side of Bezel’s car, and she used her hand as a makeshift visor while staring out at the horizon. As Bezel made her way back to the entrance, the woman waved towards her. “Oh yeah, and don’t try and escape or you’ll be dessert for my pets.” The woman pointed towards the top of the warehouse; sitting on the edge was a large bird with a expansive wingspan. It’s translucent feathers cast an ethereal glow across the roof and the crimson from its eyes and neck were startling. A white vulture; there were six in total, each perched on a different steel tower. Their piercing red eyes flashed across the horizon as the stranger blew a kiss into the wind. “Don’t you just love payday?” she joked. At that moment, Bezel realized that her only option was to obey, lest they all be condemned together.

“Malach…” she whispered. The man that she’d left was now moments away from death, made apparent by his slumped body. He no longer moved, his chest was barely rising, and blood had once again started to leak out of his mouth. When she first approached him she thought that he and the corpse of Miranda Marshalls had switched places. “Malach, please answer.” A soft grunt escaped his lips and his eyes rapidly blinked as he returned to consciousness.

“I must have fell asleep…”

“Malach, I…” should she tell him the truth? But he must’ve known that death was coming, right?

“Natalie. After this is done…let’s leave Kansas.”

“Wh…what?”

“You said, you wanted to leave Kansas. When this is done…let’s leave,” he weakly exhaled. The corpse was still motionless, except it expelled the occasional grunt which was new. Its eye was once again flipping back and forth but the sight was too unbearable for Bezel to notice.

“You idiot,” she whispered before her eyes released a stream of tears. The droplets fell to the dusted floor as she explained to him the finality of their situation.

Saying not a word, he positioned himself inside of a hastily drawn dirt circle and opened the text to the page as instructed by the enigmatic woman. Using the last reserve of his strength, Malach lifted his head up enough to read the book that Bezel had placed in his lap. As the first word of the chant escaped his mouth, the corpse suddenly twitched. The abomination had awakened either due to his voice, or the lyrics (that were impossible to understand). Rising to it’s feet with savage speed, the corpse began to violently tear at it’s surroundings. Its arm smashed against the conveyer belt until the hand decomposed under the repeated force. Slops of its rotted skin fell to the floor and Bezel gagged on sight. However, before she was able to compose herself the corpse began to make its way to her. Grabbing the wrench that she’d given Malach, Bezel braced for the incoming attack.

As it neared her, the light pierced through a tiny hole in the upper left window and Bezel came face to face with the remains of Miranda. The reanimated being had little trace of humanity left in its face, save for the one left eye that was rapidly moving back and forth. Its “skin” was ashen black and there were yellow and red postulations covering specific areas and the bones were barely able to uphold the pieces of loose flesh. Malach’s chanting continued for a few seconds before the creature lunged towards Bezel. Using the wrench, she brought the head of the tool down on the creature’s other arm and nearly shattered the bone. CRACK! The force from the impact was so great that Bezel accidentally fractured her right wrist, but the adrenaline temporarily numbed the pain. However, her well-timed attack had not halted the being’s progress. Using its torso as a battering ram the corpse threw itself into Bezel. BANG! The back of her skull crashed against one of the rusted machines and her vision distorted in response. In the haze, she was able to see the creature approach her with the jagged edge of its fracture pointed at her chest. The monster dove but missed and its bone pierced the steel machine behind Bezel. Before she had time to react, it lunged again, this time its bone stabbed through Bezel’s leg. The gash was deep but hadn’t come close to her femoral artery. Blood spewed out onto the dust and Bezel let out an agonizing  scream that echoed in the abandoned steel mill. During the attack, the creature had also lost its balance and fell atop of Bezel’s legs. The  cerebral ooze, fetid slime, and a dozen of maggots that once sat in the mortal wound spilled out onto her jeans and the stench was so awful that Bezel’s pain dissipated while she fought to remain conscious. Panic settled in as one of the grubs crawled its way into her pants, but Bezel had no time to focus on the harmless insect while her life was at stake. Pushing with her weight, Bezel threw the corpse off of her and tried to stand to her feet, but the injury proved too compound for her to rise without aid. With sadistic fury, Bezel pounded the body of the corpse with the wrench until its motions gradually decreased. A gurgle escaped from the creature’s mouth. Bezel’s mind went blank as she listened to the last soul shattering cry of the reanimated corpse.

Suddenly, she was back on first base with a bat in her hand. The rim of her helmet blocked the beaming sun from blinding her line of sight. Standing nearly twenty meters away was a young woman winding her arm with one foot on the pitcher’s mound. Bezel closed her eyes and swung with all her might. BING! The bat connected with the pitch, and all of Lindsborg watched as the official State Championship game softball flew over the gate. In disbelief, the bases were taken; as she looped around the field the pitcher, Miranda Marshalls, stood on the mound with a wry smile on her face. Home-run.

Malach’s chanting finally stopped, and the creature remained motionless next to her. Using her hands, Bezel crawled over to Malach who was completely slumped. “Please…no. Don’t be…” As she reached out her hand, Malach shot to his feet and started to hyperventilate. His body violently shook as a pus-like froth escaped his mouth. Suddenly, he started gnawing at his wrists, tearing the flesh with his teeth. “I’m so scared. Natalie, I’m so…scared.” Bezel watched in horror as Malach attacked his own body; an incisor was still missing in his upper jaw.  His cries of agony echoed throughout the entire mill, and may have even reached Lindsborg’s Main Street. The self-mutilation lasted only for a few seconds, but it was savage enough to leave Bezel breathless and terrified. At last his wilting body came crashing against the floor and a plume of smoke lifted into the sky. Malach was dead.

Bezel’s tears failed to form this time and she prevented herself from looking at either of the remains. As she tried to piece together her reality, bits of sediments began to move on the floor; the book was sending minute vibrations through the floor. Bezel watched, with blank pupils,  a white vulture descended from the lone open window landing on, what appeared to be, an arm. The arm belonged to the black-eyed beauty she’d met outside. Somehow, during the combat, she’d slipped inside without her knowledge.

“I was expecting something more touching from you two. A confession of undying love, or some witty final remark; but this will do,” she snickered. Suddenly, from behind her, appeared the two high school boys draped in their identical outfits; the delivery boy was kneeling next to Malach’s remains.

“Leave his body alone,” Bezel whispered.

“Oh dear, we don’t want his body. That’s far too heavy for us to carry.” The young boy tweaked with Malach’s hand until he removed the entire finger with the ring attached to it. Numb to any more horrific sights Bezel coldly watched as young boy carried the dislodged finger over to the woman, but one of the teenagers  snatched it out of his hands before it reached its destination. The identical students worked together to successfully remove the ring from the dismembered digit before handing the piece of arcane jewelry to the woman. She gazed at the amethyst, now a shade of purple so vibrant that even her eyes were able to reflect some of its luster.

“We’re done here,” she stated while the boys took turns tossing the finger around.

The netherworldly posse was about to exit before Bezel rose to her feet. “Not yet. I still have one more question,” she exhaled.

Turning with a sly grin, the woman approached Bezel before the young boy motioned for her to stop. He alone approached Bezel, “you may ask.”

“Who…who are you?”

“I am…well that’s an answer you can’t comprehend. But we, I, us, whatever you choose, were all like you once. You could call us…grand wizards, but that title is too defining. We were once known as humans but that was eons ago; now, we simply exist. The only difference between us and you is that our names are in this book.”

The black-eyed beauty tipped her head towards the entrance of the mill and inhaled the noxious air. “Human, I  barely remember what that was like; always longing for instant gratification, without first understanding what it is doing the gratifying.” Bezel felt the searing red eyes of the vultures upon her body.

“But how? ” the injured girl cried.

“Uh-uh. That’s another question. If you wish to know, then you know what you must do.” The woman plucked a feather from the white vulture’s wing and handed it to one of the boys; the other retrieved a rusted nail from one of the surrounding machines. In the hands of the young boy was the tome, its surface had congealed in the slime once again.

“But Ma…Jeremy used the book and got nothing.”

“Because he took no time to understand it. But you…we have watched you. You have inquired in ways that he did not, and the fate he suffered may be avoided, if you dare.

“He who has power may reign as king…”

“…but only those with wisdom will rule as gods.” The two high-school boys spoke simultaneously as they had during Bezel’s first meeting with them.

“The choice is yours,” the young boy whispered while he returned back to the group.

The book, along with the needle and feather, were placed in front of Bezel, who was finally coming out of shock. Before she had any opportunity to react to the proposition, an earsplitting shrill rendered her immobile and forced her back to the ground. From her angle she was able to witness the unreal departure of these necromancers through a black void, similar to the one the woman had formed with materializing the grimoire. Suddenly, the noise was sucked into a vacuum and the lights grew white hot until the portal disappeared. With nowhere to go, Bezel ripped a piece of her shirt and tied it around her leg to prevent any further blood loss. To her left was the remains of Jeremy Thomas, and on the opposing side, Miranda Marshalls. As the chill of December crept into the derelict Kanerbort Steel Mill, Natalie finally accepted that all she had left were icy tears, a spirit crushing suffering that would remain with her throughout her life, and the “gifted” book.

Epilog

A deafening shriek whistled from the locomotive engine as its wheels ground against the steel tracks. The Wichita train station was full of energy as the citizens traveled to their destinations for the incoming New Year celebration. Sitting on a handcrafted bench near the departure display was Natalie. Next to her was a book bag and a medium sized suitcase that had seen better days. While peering at the screen, Natalie read through the various destinations that slowly flashed on the display. The woman who was running the ticket counter took notice of Natalie and greeted her with a genuine Midwestern smile when their eyes locked. Natalie returned the gesture and decided to approach the woman who seemed quite knowledgeable about travel based on the decorations of her dresser.

“Hiya, where you headed for the New Year?”

“I’m actually not sure yet. It’s my first time traveling outside of Kansas and I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she bashfully confessed.

“First timer you say? I remember those days, heading out to some unknown destination with nothing but the things you packed. And that could be a lot or a little depending on how well you manage luggage space,” the woman laughed. Natalie joined in with a soft chuckle and noticed the magnets around the woman’s counter.

“You like magnets?”

“Oh yes, I consider myself a collector of sorts. I used to work the trains before I retired, and we’d have pit stops all across America. My husband who also worked on the train, had a thing about magnets. When he got sick, he couldn’t tag along on my travels so I promised him that I’d always bring back a souvenir.”

“That makes sense.”

“Magnets are perfect. They sit almost anywhere, and are easy to pack.” An announcement rang over the intercom while passengers moved from one side of the station to the next. Most citizens were wearing winter jackets but a couple sitting in the far left corner, near the vending machines, had on their summer clothes. The husband wore a Hawaiian shirt while his wife toyed with the ribbon on her brand new fedora. Three melodic beats rang out in the station and the announcer buzzed onto the line. Judging by the phonetics and the speed at which the words were said, it could be assumed that it was an older woman behind the microphone. Using her well tailored tone the woman relayed the most recent news to the traveling citizens.

“The body of Miranda Marshall was finally cremated and returned to her family, and the original murderer was caught. Horace the groundskeeper was suspected of being a heavy drinker and one night decided to binge after an unsuccessful night of bingo at the community center. Marshalls had been at the bar with her girlfriend, Miss Sylvia Maynard, when the two were verbally assaulted by a few of the citizens for their expressing their “sick love”. Horace was one of the rioters, and after the altercation he chose to follow Marshalls home. It was on this walk back that she was attacked and subsequently murdered. Some blame the veteran’s unchecked PTSD as a motive; court hearings are to begin in the January.”

“Do you mind if I take a look at a few? I think I’m going to decide where to go based on which magnet I like the most.”  The woman lit up like the star on the Christmas tree displayed outside of the station.

“By all means go ahead,” she said as she removed a few. Natalie examined the constructs before pointing towards one that had trees and the image of an airplane. “Here.”

“I love it. Quaint towns, a bustling city not too far south. They have a big acorn drop downtown on New Year’s Eve. You should check it out while there.” The ticket woman tapped on the keyboard and processed Natalie’s payments. Using her left hand the young woman tucked her black hair behind her ears and was about to put her headphones on until the ticket woman motioned towards her.

Three more beep echoed throughout the station. “Lindsborg employees, Jeremy Thomas and the coroner Mike Magus are still considered missing. There was talk that stress from the unchecked workload at the morgue drove Thomas to the edge, and the brutality of the Marshall’s case was a tipping point. Thomas’ apartment was also destroyed in a strange explosion (authorities believe it was foul play). Local police also removed an unidentified body from the wreckage, but no progress has been made in discovering its identity. A tip line has been set up, and there is a cash reward for anybody who provides information regarding the disappearance of these two individuals.”

“One last thing, I must say I love your ring. Is it handcrafted? I’ve been looking for something to buy my daughter for her birthday.”

“Oh this, well it was a gift from a dear friend of mine. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure where he originally got it from.” Natalie stretched out her hand and rolled back the sleeve of her burgundy sweater to give the woman a better view.

“Your friend has great taste. It’s beautiful, what kind of stone is that?”

“An amethyst.”

“I thought so. I’ll have to keep my eyes open then.” The woman removed the receipt from the printer and handed it to Natalie along with a pen. “You know, they say that amethysts have a certain power over the soul, if you believe that sort of thing,” the woman hinted. Natalie responded with a light chuckled and handed the signed document back to the woman at the ticket counter.

“Well Ms. Natalie Carson, your train to Raleigh, North Carolina will be loading at station four. Show this ticket to the conductor and he should let you on with no problems. I hope you enjoy your trip, and Happy New Years!”

“Happy New Year to you as well. Keep an eye out for any amethysts now,” Natalie cheered.

She returned back to her belongings and lifted her book bag in the air to check its contents. She rummaged through the unzipped hole for a few moments until she exhaled a sigh of relief; nobody had tampered with her stuff while away. Reaching for her suitcase, Natalie made her way through the festive station. Around her were bright faces and cheery individuals who were busy posting statuses about their resolutions and taking selfies with family members who recently arrived from faraway places. Natalie looked towards the star on the Christmas tree. During her youth, Victor would help her with decorating their family tree each year; she always had the honor of crowning the tip with the star. After the brief period of reminiscence, Natalie disappeared into the hallway as she made her way to the eastbound train.

Moments passed and travelers continued migrating while one of the custodians was sweeping around the departure display. He noticed a small object resting on the bench. Since he was wearing gloves he decided to pick it up, giving it a thorough examination, as all custodians must do before discarding objects. Above him, the intercom chimed once more and the elderly gentleman raised his head toward the ceiling to listen in on the new announcement. “The Lindsborg Lion’s softball team won the State Championship again, and the team unanimously decided to dedicate the trophy to the family of Miranda Marshall, who was once the star pitcher of the team.” The voice above continued to drone on while the custodian toyed with the object in his hand. While debating to toss it in his trash can, the elderly black man first looked for any children who may have been playing around the area, but soon realized that the item was too big to belong to a child. In the five years that he’d worked at the train station, the custodian had never once seen a missing tooth.

~fin

Note from the Author

Although this may be a conclusion to this particular tale of terror, know that there are countless stories that tackle these same topics. They exist within my mind, as well as yours; it is okay to accept that. It is okay to accept fear into your heart for it is an emotion, just like love and joy. Having a degree of fear will help you follow the path that is right for you; don’t be afraid of the dark that exists within your dreams.

 

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