The tombstone, partially covered by overgrown weeds, bore the name of David’s grandfather. The earth around the site was soft and yielding, as if it were muddy beneath the grass. With the starlight shining down, David could almost make out a birth and death date for on the grave marker. Opal’s hands, gaunt and luminescent, swept low so David could read aloud. Lee stood off to the side, apparently annoyed at the whole proceedings.
“Born March tenth Nineteen Forty-Five, died August third Nineteen seventy five,” David whispered, looking up into Opal’s mad eyes. “Did you know him?”
“Yes…” she whispered, caressing the stone. “But only the living version of me. I am but an echo of what I once was, a mere shade of the past. He never saw me as I am, as I was sacrificed by your Grandmother to be her Bound Spirit. We had to keep the family trade going, you see.”
“Why?” David asked, mind blank. “Why keep up this horrible practice at all? Why not just end it right now and be done with it all?”
“Because of the ritual that was started long before I was born,” Opal growled. “A ritual that each generation slowly begins to finish. It’ll only be a few more generations before it is complete, and our ultimate goal will be achieved.”
“Which is?” David asked.
Opal smiled, wide and fierce. “That would be telling. Just prepare yourself for your bonding with Lee. Over there should be a creek that runs to the pond; wash the ritual blade thoroughly in its clean waters, then come back. Lee, stay here.”
Lee grumbled and crossed his dirt-smudged arms, but obeyed. David walked with wooden limbs towards the creek his great-grandmother had indicated, the water sparkling in the shining starlight. He knelt down on a flat rock and pulled the blade from his sweater, looking it over once more before doing anything else. The wailing humans that made up the bone handle now made sense, the black gem glinting in a malicious fashion the more David peered into it. As if by chance, he stared at it long enough to notice it.
There were figures writhing in the facets of the gem, naked men and women lashed together with rusty wire. Black blood flowed freely over their pearly white skin while their mouths were opened in silent screams, their eyes mere pools of darkness that never seemed to end. He recognized one of the figures writhing before him in the gem.
Her spirit was floating some fifteen feet behind him.
As suddenly as he noticed the figures they faded away, the gem washing itself in a satin sheet of darkness that made David cold just by looking at it. He shook his head before plunging the steel blade into the water, allowing the ice-cold creek to wash away any imagined slights on the tool. After scrubbing at spots he knew weren’t there, David stood up and turned, only to stare in shock at what was before him.
Hovering over the grave of his grandfather like a roiling black cloud, Opal was directing Lee to light candles that had gone unnoticed by the young teen. Thick red wax candles, thirteen in all, were aligned atop the tombstone, casting a palpable aura of warmth and safety that David desperately clung to. Opal drifted down next to David while Lee walked over to his side, where the ritual dagger hung loosely from his hand.
“So that’s it, huh?” Lee asked, eyes darting down to the knife.
“Yes,” Opal hissed with a contented sigh, “passed down through the family for generations, it was gifted to us by our benefactor long ago during much darker times.”
“When the ritual started?” David ventured.
Opal nodded. “So my mother told me, as hers told her. We’ve been slowly gathering power for our benefactor, while using a trifling amount for ourselves to make life all the easier.”
“So… this benefactor… who is he?” David asked, mind drifting to the unholy book tied shut in his room, of the bloody pentagram that had been scrawled on his desk. He knew without being told that whoever it was, he wasn’t a very nice person.
Opal clucked her tongue. “I cannot speak his name to you until you embrace your destiny and join us in our cause dear grandson. The secrets of our family are guarded most diligently.”
David thought back on how evasive his Grandma had been when he asked her about the ritual and what it would entail. All she seemed concerned with was preparing for it with herbs and spices; she’d never mentioned having to use the ritual knife at all, and been very upset when she found his room in shambles this morning. To say her behavior was strange was an understatement to say the least; if David didn’t know any better, he’d say Opal was right about the ritual being a family secret.
A thought occurred to David. “Why,” David asked, pointing at Lee with the knife, “are we letting him in on family secrets? I understand why you were the Bound Spirit, you’re family, but he’s just some… some kid!”
“Pfft!” Lee snorted, arms crossed. “What, you can’t piece it together yet Einstein?”
“Lee, hush,” Opal said, casting a sidelong glance at the boy. She turned her head back to David slowly. “The truth of the matter is that Lee should be the one where you’re standing, back when he was alive.”
“What?” David exclaimed.
“It’s true,” Lee said with a smirk, “you really are my brother’s son; sharp as a sack of wet mice…”
“Wait, do you mean Lee is related to me? How? I’ve never heard of him!” David cried, looking Lee over with a scrutineer’s eye now. The boy was dirty, hair wet and skin pale. His clothes seemed soaked and muddy and he was barefoot. Not a lot to go on…
“Yes, Lee is blood-kin to you and I David darling,” Opal said her tone almost sorrowful. “He is by all accounts your uncle, though your grandmother saw to that many years ago.”
“Wait, you mean…?” David asked, looking at Lee with widening eyes.
“Yeah,” Lee said, crossing his arms over his chest once more. “Dear old Mom saw fit to do me in.”