“Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900
“Mr. Walter Abrams, I am placing you under arrest for the illegal and immoral use of malefic magic which has led to the death of at least one individual, the zombification of at least four others, kidnapping, torture and extortion. And anything else I can find after you’re in a cell block someplace.”
He laughed. A truly scary sound, part bark, part howl, a sound of pure sinister glee. It went on for a quite a while and even after he stopped the echo seem to continue mockingly. Granted, I was still being held by his zombie minions, without a gun or any other of my tools, but there was no reason to be disrespectful.
“Mr. Engram, may I call you Clifford? I think you are confused as to ‘whose on top’ at the moment. To be fair, my knowledge of your history indicates you don’t take well to authority figures.” He was looking at my amulet, touching the Phoenix stone with slow caressing motions.
Expelled from the military, kicked out of Blackwater XE, and from what I can tell always skating on thin ice with the Bureau of Paranormal Affairs. So much so, you are only called in on certain kinds of assignments. You, sir are not a model citizen.”
“What can I say, people in authority who abuse their power, take their people for granted rub me the wrong way. Sorta like you do right now. Did you really need to kill that poor bastard?”
“Yes. Yes, I did. I had to have him prove his devotion to the Dark Gods of the Sigil. Ah. Here it is.”
“What did you find?”
“This.” He turns the amulet in a circle as if he were tuning and old-fashioned radio dial. Yes, I still have one, electronics are vastly over-rated. As he reaches a certain position, a seven pointed star appears, both in the Phoenix amulet and in his now-glowing lava lamp of life-sucking.
He looked up at me, and the rest of his group turned my way as well. Then they began to walk toward the boy. “You wanted to know what the boy was for. He will be the body for our new god.”
Figured as much. His unique heritage will make him prey for god-seeking nutjobs for the rest of his life. That’s a problem for another time. Have to get out of here first.
“So you understand what I will need from you next, don’t you Clifford?” He reaches behind his back and brings out a ceremonial dagger. He gestures to one of his other robed figures, this one with a giant hart on his robes to take his place at the dais holding the amulet. The room was growing warmer as the orb continued to glow. I was starting to sweat uncomfortably as I suspected what the next step in this unfortunate ritual was going to be.
His pace toward me reminded me of a cat stalking a mouse. Not too quick, a sensual slink as his eyes lit up with madness. His zombies pulled my arms wide open and the two others ripped open my shirt. The clatter of the buttons bouncing everywhere echo around the chamber. Ach. No understanding of good fashion.
I strain myself trying to pull away from the undead duo. I am not weak. Okay, I am bit shorter than most agents at five feet ten, but I am strong for my size. These guys were probably out of my weight class when they were alive, but dead, they are in a whole other league. I might as well be trying to move a semi.
Why is it in all of those pulp novels I read as a kid, the hero always has bulging muscles which save the day just as the villain is about to start his final gambit. That’s it, starting tomorrow I am going to spend more time in the gym. This sleek and sexy look may go over well with the women, but does nothing for my work life.
Okay, plan B. “Walt, can I call you Walt? You know there is more to my amulet than being a lens for your god blob, right?”
He stopped. Good. Nothing like a lust for power to make a megalomaniac pause. “Do tell, Clifford.”
“It’s a Phoenix stone.”
“With an honest to Goddess, Phoenix within. Using the Phoenix you would be able to channel the power of the God into yourself and control it. As long as you held the necklace.” Sincerity sells it. If he knew the right incantations he truly could bind the power of the god.
“Well, wouldn’t that be better than trying to raise some snotty nosed kid until he would be old enough to tap the power of the god himself. Right now, all the god can do in him is sleep until he reaches physical and magical maturity. In the meantime, you’ll have to cater to him, teach him, listen to him tell you what to do. Walt, does that sound like a job you really want to be bothered with?”
He gives me a curious look and then stops to ponder it for a moment. “As far as the raising, I would not have to be bothered. The woman, she is a governess, once properly conditioned… would have those responsibilities. The Guild would train him in the ways of magic. But what you say is true. I could harness the power of the god myself.”
Then he turns to me and gives me a look, you know the one. The ‘I want this but I can’t trust you look’. His next query seals the deal. “Why didn’t you do this yourself? You could have been a god and you choose to hunt for charlatans for a living, under the heel of petty bureaucrats, no less? I find it a little difficult to believe.”
Look convincing…”Yes, I could have done this myself, but I am already cursed. I am fated to be forsaken by all gods and when I die, I will find myself consigned to Tartarus for crimes committed by my parents. No god would have me. So the necklace, a gift from an aunt is just a tool to find magical artifacts, similar to what you did earlier, nothing more. Look at me through the device, you will see my death-shroud around me.”
Doubt plagues him. He walks over to me and slashes my chest with his knife. Three cuts, lacerations which will require stitches and painful as hell, yet not fatal. He is going to complete his own ritual. Damn. I thought I had convinced him. He turns and walks back to the dais. Placing his eye to the stone, he Looks at me. He gasps. “Death walks with you.”
I make my move. “Phoenix, ego dimittam te. Convivium, invaluerit ut nostri pactum demandis.” The amulet glows for a moment as my blood dripping from his hands touches it.
“No! You tricked me.” He throws the amulet back to Brother Hart as it roars to fiery life. Brother Hart is instantly consumed by the red and blue flames, and Walt Abrams falls backward screaming. His robes bursting into flames, the skin on his face catching fire in the deadly light of the Phoenix. The Phoenix looks more like an angel on fire than a bird. Slight of build and rather androgynous in appearance, you wouldn’t look twice at it if it weren’t on fire.
The other brothers turn and begin chanting and incantations. The words die on their lips as each bursts into flame after completing whatever magic they were using. The zombies release me and run to their master who runs during the fight with the Guild of the Sigil. I would chase him but I must maintain control of the Phoenix, lest it burn everyone including the boy, Felix and the woman.
I walk over to the Phoenix, who dims its light as I approach. “As per our pact, I have feasted. Only one of your foes survived because he did not take arms against me. You have kept your agreement.”
“Will you stay?”
“Ours is not a compulsion, but a choice. You met the pact agreements and I have feasted. I am content. What of the god?”
“I’ll handle it.”
“Can you do one more thing for me?”
“For such a repast as this, I am still in your debt.”
“There are still zombies within the hallowed grounds of this cemetery. Can you draw their fire to you, ending their unlife?”
“But, of course. I await our next meal together, Ingram.”
“I told you, I don’t use that name any more.”
“It is the name I am bound to, it is the name I serve. You are Ing. You bring the peace of the grave. I serve. It is our fate.”
“I hate you.”
“As it should be. Farewell, Ingram.”
I turn to the glowing purple orb, its lava swirling around indicating the god’s proximity to the portal.
There is a mummer in the air. A buzzing of flies that grows stronger, the stench of the abattoir fills the room. Soon a scream accompanies this symphony of horror, reaching a crescendo that causes my bones to ache.
“No, your blandishments will not work here. You have nothing to offer me. I am no mere puppet seeking false power. You have one chance to return to your Stygian prison. Take it.”
The room filled with a violent wind, whipping my clothing and the clothing of the still sleeping former victims around like a hurricane. “Do you know me, now? Leave or there will be consequences.” The wind intensifies. The air gains a solidity akin to moving through putty.
So be it. I touch the orb. Death arrives and leaves. The winds are silent. The orb is dark. I fall to the ground, nearly dead. Hours pass.
When I wake up, I can hear the woman talking to the boy, urging him to stay calm. I get up, pick up my Phoenix stone and put the necklace around my neck. I look at the boy and he seems no worse for the wear. Fishing through the charred remains, I find a handcuff key.
“Who are you?” she asks as I release her from the handcuffs.
“At this point, does it matter? Let’s get the hell out of here.”
I walk over to the now dark orb and give it to Felix to carry. To me, it weighs a ton. “Carry this until we get upstairs.”
He looks at me and shakes his head. “Okay, you can stay here and see if anyone else comes from down that dark corridor over there.” He falls in behind me quickly. The lady helps me up the stairs. Oh Goddess, I wish I could still smoke. I need one so bad right now.
We get upstairs, stepping over two dozen fresh zombies on our way out the door. Found my hat. Abrams is long gone. The sun is out blinding all three of us for a second. I find my phone.
“I need a pickup, Penrose Cemetery. I need a containment vehicle and a cleanup team. It needs to look like nothing ever happened here. These people, whoever they were, deserve better. No. He got away. Yes, I have him. I have one passenger who will need a debrief. No. I’ll do paperwork tomorrow. Bye.”
I know my boss wants to debrief me. Carol is such a stickler for details, but right now isn’t a good time. I can feel my curse marks burning up and down my back and right leg, with the imprisoned dead god. It will be weeks before I can walk without a limp. All I want to do now is sleep. You’re next Abrams. Count on it.
I wish the small god had just turned around. Now I’m stuck carrying his dead ass. I warned him. They never listen. Reaching in my jacket, I find my emergency cigar tube with its specialized payload. A hand-rolled tube of tobacco goodness I am supposed to be giving up.
But not today.
Cryptic © Thaddeus Howze 2013. All Rights Reserved
Satisfaction guaranteed, Thaddeus. You delivered a winner-I want a novel out of this story.