Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rite of the Revenant, Part One

The dull throbbing deep in my chest is what first makes me realize I’m awake. A thick, wet thumping against my sternum, shaking my entire frame, rouses me from what must have been the most relaxing nap I’ve ever taken. Stretching out, I blink slowly, trying to determine where I am. Reaching up, my hands bump into a hard, but cushioned, wall.

Odd.
I try and roll to the side and bump into a similar wall, on both sides. This is strange… the last thing I remember was walking with my little brother down Hollow Street, making certain the idiot stayed on the sidewalk while he went from house to house, grungy disguise making him appear to be a shuffling corpse. That would have been odd if it weren’t Halloween, which was always Jake’s favorite time of year.
Which made me wonder what the in the Hell had happened to have me pass out and wake up in a padded box?
Looking down at my body, I could see I was in my Sunday best, the clothes I go to church in. A dark blue button up shirt with tan slacks, along with black shoes. My eyes widen at the glimmer of gold coming from my right hand, my middle finger to be precise. My father’s Masonic Ring, handed down from his father to him, and was sitting on my hand. That was odd as he grew absolutely furious if Jake or I even touched it during the few times that it wasn’t adorning my father’s ring finger.
Why did I have it?
The thumping of my heart was growing louder, beating heavily in my ears like a torrent of water. Clutching at the side of my head, I let out a startled howl as the case trapping me shifted, tossing me about like some unbound parcel in a mailman’s truck. I could hear what sounded like gravel grinding around the outside… of whatever I was in, along with the distant calls of three or four voices.
Every second they grew clearer, though for the life of me I couldn’t make out what they were saying! It was as if they were speaking a different language; the pounding of my heart didn’t help matters any as I was barely able to make out their voices beyond the sifting noises scraping the outer casing of my prison. Eventually it got so horrible I could only hear the rushing of water in my ears, my heart pounding so hard I could feel it leaping up my throat with every beat.
The cage stops moving, the grinding of gravel falling away to the sound of cracking voices, high and reedy like the whistling of high winds through a grove of brittle trees. The sound of rushing water is now drowning out my mind, the only thoughts entering my mind being the sudden thirst. I smack my lips together, wincing as my lips peel apart like partially-melted gummy worms.
A third of the cage is whipped open above my head, revealing a low moon and a cloudless sky, countless stars twinkling in the sky like a cache of diamonds spread over a black sheet. The cracking voices are now speaking lower, a low whine behind a young man’s voice as he hisses to what can only be a woman, judging by the overwhelming scent of her perfume.
An upper torso blocks my view of the moon, filling it instead with a thin young man with dirty blonde hair, glasses nestled on the end of his nose. His arms are covered in fishnet, with a number of cheap looking rings adorning his fingers, all in the shapes of skulls. A single childish drawing of a skull rests in the middle of his black shirt. He’s breathing raggedly, clouds of his breath wafting out into the cold night air.
His face breaks into a wide, crooked smile as he looks into my eyes. “God… dear god, we did it!” He seems excited, turning around to look at what must be his compatriots. “Guys, we did it!”
“No way!” A girl exclaims, her voice shrill.
“How else do you explain the coffin rising from the ground like this Stephanie?” Another voice sneered; this girl seemingly annoyed by the others existence. “The book said it would work so long as we followed the instructions.”
I blink my eyes slowly before reaching a hand up woodenly to the edge of the opening, my muscles screaming at the sudden movement. I ignore them and pull myself partially out of my cage, which is apparently a birch coffin. Looking around, I can see I’m in a graveyard covered in a thin layer of frost. Around me are five young men and women, all dressed in black. I can smell their various perfumes and colognes, a nasty collage that wrinkles my nose. One of the men, standing by a worn headstone in front of the coffin. In his hands is a book bound in leather that seems to move beneath my gaze, shifting and pulling against its stitching. The only light comes from three lanterns, though they burn far brighter than any lantern I’ve ever seen before. The man standing next to me, his breath settling on my cheek, whispers slowly.
“What was it like?” He asks reverently, prompting me to look at him curiously. “Y’know, in Hell?”
“Hell?” I rasp, surprised at how raw my voice sounds, thin and crinkly. “I haven’t an idea of what ye speak of sir. It is as if I merely went to sleep.”
“You didn’t go to Hell?” The man holding the book asks, sounding a little disappointed. “The book says that the Revenant we call back would be a being from the bowels of Hell…”
I shake my head wanly, doing my best not to move too much. I feel weaker than I’ve ever felt before, as if my body were held together by sheer force of will alone. A memory flits behind my eyelids, of the soft glow of torches carried by screaming men. I close my eyes and let out a low, shuddering moan as I relive the memory, the thoughts pouring over me like a bucket of ice-filled water.
A mob had cornered me, pushed me into this accursed graveyard of the damned. Criminals, suicides, the unbaptized… this is where the leftovers of society were put to rest. I couldn’t turn my head, but I knew that up on a hill in the graveyard was a tree where criminals, like me, were dragged to.
I remember it vividly, the taste of the air that night, hot and stuffy. The wildflowers were in full bloom, and between the countless torches and the oppressive heat of summer one could barely choke down a breath of fresh air without being crushed by the thick humidity. I’d been grabbed by five stout men, farmers by trade, and wrestled to the front of the crowd, up the hill, to where the town preacher waited.
I can still remember the look of sheer disappointment etched into his lined face, heavy glasses resting on his long crooked nose. Dressed in his finest robes of white and gold, he’d begun reading from the bible as the crowd descended upon me, beating me with blunt instruments. Cracks to the skull and kicks to the ribs, my right arm being yanked so hard it was pulled out of socket. I’d screamed. I’d begged. I’d called out for help from anyone that could hear me. One person, a merchant by the name of Zacharias Fox, had spit on me before telling me how my wife had begged for mercy before she’d been burned in the village square, alongside my two young sons.
One was hardly over a month old…
I open my eyes with a snap, looking at the teenager standing over me. I could smell, beneath his cologne, sweat and grime.
As well as blood. It surged in his body as it had once surged in mine. Staring at him, I could see the veins making up his body as clear as a candle in the darkness; I licked my lips, a smile breaking my chapped lips as the boy backed away from me when he saw me do this.
“You have the book,” I spat, each word harder to utter than the last. My throat felt as if it were made from burlap, closed in on itself from lack of water and sustenance for who knew how long. “I know the ritual you used to revive me.”
“You do?” The boy said, somewhat surprised as he looked down at the tome, flipping through a page before looking back up at me.
“Yes…” I hissed, my teeth clacking against each other as I spoke. “The Rite of the Revenant is a ritual not to be taken lightly. Pulling the dead back from the afterlife requires a great sacrifice, something that I know would still linger… however crippled… bring it to me.”
“What…? I mean, why?” One of the girls asked, the one that smelled of strawberries with straight black hair and a necklace with red skulls.
“Just do as I say!” I hoarsely commanded, my voice not able to rise above an angry whisper, the sound of which was reminiscent of parchment being crumpled up into a tiny ball. I smiled once again as the young man who’d been standing over me walked back, out into the shadows where three figures lay in chains, the heady stench of blood rising from them. I suppressed a shudder as the clinking of chains pulled a young girl, perhaps ten years of age, up to her feet.
She was dirty, her fingers slightly blue from the cold and her lack of proper attire. Her hair was blonde, pulled into two pigtails. She was sobbing, digging her heels into the loose earth as the man drug her over into the light bathing my coffin in a revealing glow. I smiled as I noted that her left eye socket was empty, a ragged slash above leading down into the baby fat of her cheek, where blood flowed like molasses. The empty socket was hauntingly dark, with a tinge of red on the visible bone.
“She’ll do,” I croaked. I looked back at the man with the book, addressing him. “What is it you want from me?”
“We want you to kill some people,” the man said after a moment, earning a new round of choking sobs from the child. I stare dispassionately at the speaker, waiting for some sort of elaboration. When none came, I heaved a sigh.
“I’ll need names,” I looked around the loose circle that had formed around me. “The sacrifice you offered was enough to bring life to my stiff bones. I can hunt on my own for food to regain strength enough to slay those that have wronged you, or you can feed me.”
“We have two more kids, Brad’s bratty brothers and sister…” The raven-locked girl said before I pinned her with my gaze.
I held up my arms, raising them high despite the pain that shook through my body. “Look at me as you have made me, Child of God. I am but a shadow of what I was in life, a mere reflection of my former self. I require blood and bile, flesh and bone, to overcome the great gap between life and death. The three calves’ you’ve brought to me will be a start.”
“So what, you need us to bring you more victims?” One boy asked, the first time I’d heard his voice.
“No,” I grated out. “I merely need more names added to the list of those that have wronged you. Tell me who I can feed upon, and your friends and families will be safe.” I whispered, my voice carrying on a cold wind blowing over us. The girl whimpered as the icy knives of winter tore into her exposed arms and legs.
The five teenagers spoke all at once, all trying to come up with names, or asking why I needed extra names. The one holding the book, Chris if what I’d heard was correct, finally silenced them all with a wave of his hand before looking at me. “The sacrifice called for the mixture of blood from a child with herbs gathered beneath the full moon. Why should we allow you to kill more of our townspeople?”
I barked out a dry laugh. “You haven’t read the ritual, have you child? What you all were chanting, dragging my soul from the Great Beyond into this pitiful vessel and bringing my coffin up out of the frozen ground, that just animated me. You each gave a portion of your soul to serve as anchors for what remains of mine, all in order to get the knowledge and abilities of a skilled witch.”
“We what?” A tall boy exclaimed, his long sleeved black shirt bearing a red pentagram on it.
“Didn’t realize Black Magic came with such costs did you child?” I would cackle, but that would cause even further damage to my already weak body. Instead I wave over at the little girl, Jasmine, who is being held by her big brother Brad, the one who’d asked me of Hell. I can already glean from their quick glances their surface thoughts, memories of their lives slowly sinking into my own being as their severed portions of soul slowly bonded to mine.
It would be a few days before the bond was permanent, but I see no reason to tell them that.
Jasmine is standing next to me now, staring into my eyes with a combination of fear and fascination. I reach out a hand, papery skin crinkling as I push back a stray lock of hair from her face. My grey pallor and blackened nails, not to mention open sores and visible decay, will do little to help me hide while I perform my duties as this Coven (and I use the term loosely) desires.
I whisper words long forgotten, hymns sung in caves by priests of gods long forgotten, slowly sealing Jasmine’s mind away from her body. A few muttered words, the power of the ancient cantrips rippling over my fingers and rocking my decrepit frame for all it is worth, forcing her mind and soul to drift down into her heart, which began to beat faster.
I can feel eyes upon me, watching in horror and fascination as I reduce a blubbering one-eyed child into a mute in a matter of seconds. I smile widely as I pull back my right arm and, with a snap of the wrist, punch Jasmine in the chest.
Her body rocks back but her feet stay rooted to the ground; her muscle and bone tear and snap beneath my sharpened claws, peeling back layers of fat and blood red tissue to reveal her heart. My grip on it brings warmth into my frame, warmth that slowly reverses the ravages of time. I can feel old wounds brought on by decay closing, my muscles strengthening beyond their withered state. I rip the heart free from the chest, my arm up to my elbow covered in steaming blood which, after a matter of seconds, seeps into my skin leaving not a trace. I bring the heart up to my mouth and bite into it like a ripe apple, juices dribbling down my cheek as I slowly devour the organ housing the little girls soul.
Letting out a shuddering sigh, I look up at Brad, reveling in the fear in his eyes. “Bring me your other sister,” I said clearly, my throat no longer dry and raspy. My voice is rich and mellow. Reclining in my coffin, I stare up at the moon as I listen to Brad drag away Jasmine’s corpse. I can hear Stephanie (a flautist with a penchant for what she determined were the classics of literature) whispering to Megan (a weak-willed girl who was afraid of the dark despite her apparent age). I listened as they spoke of having second thoughts, of trying to convince Chris to send me back to Hell.
I sit back up, ignoring their hushed conversation as another girl is drug before me, this one with light red hair and freckles. I begin the ritual once more, confident that by the time these petty witches determined I was too dangerous, I would be powerful enough to survive without them.
But for now… crunch! I wriggle my wrist into the girls chest, through her broken sternum, and wrench out another plump heart. As I eat the soul-laden organ, I can feel the brand I had taken so long ago sizzle along my lower back, the spell there rekindling now that it was getting a fresh influx of souls. My master sends a thrum, like a gentle strumming of a lutes string, across our connection, to test if I am once again active. I thrum back, a wide smile breaking across my face.
I can feel his pleasure, his surprise. From the gestalt soul I’m cobbling together I know I’ve been dead of over three hundred years. The land is no longer British, but American. As I rise from my coffin, my legs slightly shaky beneath my lithe frame, I step down to the final child and stare into his lone eye. In it I sense fear, betrayal and hate.
I smile at the. Hate is a strong emotion, one hard to emulate. I clap him on the shoulder and announce that I’ll be taking the boy with me as a treat for later.
“Where are you going?” Chris asks, though his tone makes it more seem like a demand. The magic of the ritual forces me to answer, though I hardly resist.
Turning to him, I smile. “I need a lair, a place where I can hole up and gather my energies. You are the Loremaster of this Coven, are you not?”
Chris remains silent, but the fraction of his soul embedded in me tells me the man has no clue what I’m talking about. I merely press onward, content with his ignorance. It’ll make things easier, in the end.
“Once you have the list of who you wish me to slay from your fellow witches,” I said, waving at the black-garbed teens around us, “summon me by speaking my name into a mirror, or other reflective surface. Do so three times, and I’ll be able to hear you.”
“We can’t leave a list around for anyone to find, especially once the murders start!” One of the witches all but shouts.
“Of course not,” I simper to her, earning a chuckle from the others. “Merely burn the list once it is written out, after you’ve opened a channel to me through a mirror. The names and images of my victims will appear in my mind, as well as the combined knowledge you all have of these people.”
“Is that necessary?” Brian asks, his gangly limbs shoved into his oversized shirt in search of warmth.
“It’s part of what you signed up for when you performed the Rite,” I flippantly reply, turning to stare at the tall teen. “You want certain people dead and gone? I can do that. I can make it to where they will never see the glory of heaven nor taste the fire of Hell, instead trapping them in a never-ending limbo state.”
Chris is flipping through the pages of the book and I have to fight off a growl. I merely stare at him as he tries to read the loopy test written next to diagrams. He looks up at me, and in an instant I can see into his soul as our eyes meet.
He regrets doing this. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, sailing half-blind in a squall without a compass as it were. I’ve made it clear my knowledge of the Occult is far superior to his, and this scares him. I can also tell, by rooting a little deeper, that he hasn’t informed the others about how they all gave a portion of their soul to call me. Even now, with the knowledge that he did that, he doesn’t know what it means.
I break eye contact with Chris, the split second contact that none save for myself and perhaps the keen eye of the boy my hand is resting on. I look at Brad and nod to the child. “Strip the other two so this one will stay nice and warm. After being in the ground so long, hot meals are a blessing.”
He promptly drops to the ground and begins stripping his two sisters of their nights clothes. I look at my captive, his one green eye staring up at me, the bare socket still dribbling fine lines of brown gel. His black hair is unruly and wild, and he appears rakishly thin, even for a child from my time period. He stares at me dispassionately, his thoughts loud and clear to one well versed in the mental arts.
He thinks I’m going to either kill him or have sex with him.
I sneer down at him and tighten my grip on his shoulder. No little one, I think to myself as Brad passes the boy torn clothing that can be used as socks, as well as a light pink jacket. I have grander plans for you.
Next

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