Dan reaches over to his bag and pulls out his math book. In the front pouch, I notice a small novel with a black cover. “Hey,” I say, nodding my head in the backpack’s direction. “Whatcha reading?”
“Uh, nothing,” he answers, shrugging his shoulders.
I put out my arms and tap my fingers together like a baby grasping at something. “Lemme see it!”
“Nah. It’s really nothing,” he repeats, but he’s unconvincing, and it makes my curiosity burn a hole in my brain.
Kit’s curiosity is piqued as well, so she stands up and moves behind the chair with the backpack. “Now, now,” she sings. “No secrets here, Dan!” She grabs the bag from the chair and pulls out the book. “The Satanic Bible?”
Dan quickly shoots up from the chair, snatches the book away from her, and cradles it to his chest as to hide the cover from us. “Shhhh…” he admonishes as he looks side to side, assessing if my mother was in the vicinity or not.
I hold out my hand again. “What are you reading that for?” I ask. “Give it here.”
Reluctantly, he turns the book over to me, and I examine the cover, the spine, and the back like an investigator studying a piece of crime-scene evidence. Only, I don’t have on rubber gloves. I’ve known about this book. Heard about it. Knew the story of the author, Dr. Anton LaVey, and his Church of Satan. Practically, every youth ministry I had attended had mentioned the evil of this piece of literature at some point in time: If you even look at the book, you can be possessed. Being in its presence alone can have a profound effect on your heavenly soul. Dare not open or read the pages for fear of infiltration by a powerful demonic force. But as I actually hold the book for the first time in my life, I feel … nothing. No fear. No wonder. No spooky taboo. I press the book in my palms trying to feel for any ‘other-worldly’ vibrations or indication that if I open it up I will be damned to hell. But no. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. And more lies and deception from my past teachers come into clear view. “Dude. It’s just a book.”
“Yeah, I know it’s just a book,” he huffs, grabs it from me, and shoves it back into his bag.
The three of us sit back down in silence for a few minutes.
“You okay, man?” Kit asks, concerned.
Clearly, he’s not.
“Where’d you get it?” I ask.
“Why’d you get it?” Kit emphasizes.
Dan looks behind him and scans the kitchen again. Then, he moves his upper body slightly across the table as if to beckon me and Kit to huddle in. We oblige him and he speaks in a soft, hushed tone: “Thomas. This guy from my school. He got the connection with that Ricky kid and the Knights of the Black Circle.”
“The Knights of the Black Circle?” I ask. “What’s that?”
Dan glares at me and holds up his arm revealing the faded black circles drawn up and down his arm, over and over and over. I had thought they were just silly drawings borne out of boredom, but…
“They wanted him to read the book and know some stuff before they accepted him,” he continues. “Thomas said he could probably get me in, too, and told me what passages to study and shit.”
Kit’s pretty eyes widen, and her bangs touch her eyelashes again. “He knows the Acid King?”
A sneer forms on Dan’s lips and he nods. “Uh huh.”
“Wait,” I protest. “What are you talking about? Who are the Knights of the Black Circle?
What’s an Acid King?”
“The Knights…” Dan explains, “they’re a group. Local. They do stuff. They know stuff.”
I didn’t realize how long we had been out in the clearing of the woods until Tansy’s screaming snapped me back into reality. It was almost like a dream—when you fall asleep into that dream world and your story just picks up in the middle of a scene, yet you have all the memory and knowledge of the world your mind has temporarily created for you. One moment we were walking out into the forest in the purest daylight to gather fresh flowers for the chapel, and in the next instance, it was pitch black and Tansy was pulling hard on my pinafore dress and howling at the top of her lungs for us to run.
“Run, Barbara! Run! Go!” she commanded as I twirled at the edge of the clearing, awestruck at the sight that lay before me—strewn in a circle lay twisted animal parts covered in leaves and muck and blood. Symbols arranged neatly with twigs, flower heads drenched in the crimson sticky blood, and black candles burned to their nubs protruded from the ground. Something about it enthralled me, bewitched me, and I stared hard at the tableau—unafraid and somewhat curious at the peculiarity of it all.
With one final tug of my dress and a shake to my shoulder, I locked eyes with my sister. Her words finally registered in my head, and her urgency struck deep into my soul: Run. Go. Now. We both took off running, my legs swiftly carrying me to presumed safety, my hands still clutching tightly to the cluster of Bellflowers I had previously picked (with no recollection of doing so).
When we finally made it to the edge of the Black Wood, the both of us slumped forward, hands on knees, panting hard for air to fill our lungs back up.
“Did you see it? Did you see it?” Tansy struggled to force the words out.
“Yes, Tansy, I saw!” I answered.
“I… I… I thought we were done with all of that! I thought that was passed us! I thought…”
“As did I. As did I.”
Tansy’s upper body shot up with a sense of awareness. Her torso tensed and stiffened, and her face drew dark and contemplative. She furrowed her brow as if trying to piece some wild puzzle together or connect the dots to some great revelation. I saw it glittering in her soft hazel eyes, like words and images dancing in her mind, yet they were too fast for her to catch and put together. When it dawned on her, it was like a candle flame flickering to life. “Today’s the 20th, isn’t it?” she asked.
She stepped closer to me and lowered her voice. “It’s been almost three years, Barbara. Almost three years to the day that Martha Corey and the others were hanged in Salem. You know, the last of the trial judgments. Do you think it’s happening again? Do you think what happened over there is now happening here?”
“Hush your mouth, Tansy Wilkins!” I snapped back. “We are God-fearing women of our community. Peace-loving. We reject Satan and all his minions.” I paused after those words. For some reason, it didn’t feel right for me to say them. A creeping feeling of doubt entered my heart, but I pushed it aside. “Don’t you be putting that energy out into the universe,” I continued my admonition. “And for God’s sake, don’t go saying that around anyone else. You know how on edge everyone has been since all that business over there.”
“But Barbara, I’ve heard stories. Been hearing stories…”
“And stories they just are. The same ones I’ve been hearing, too. Nothing but silly ghost tales and monsters under the bed. Now shush, and don’t go putting wood on someone’s fire. Because the last thing we surely need is what happened there to infect us here. It’s still fresh. It’s going to take a little while for that wound to heal.” That much was true! I knew our town of New Haven Harbor would never be able to survive the horrors of Salem.
Her face darkened again at my words. It was obvious she wasn’t fully convinced by what I told her. I knew I wasn’t convinced myself, but I had to say the words to quell my sister’s suspicions. It would be a shame if she had opened herself to the hysteria of our neighboring town. Who knows what influence or bogeymen she might allow in?
Like a pinprick in the back of my mind, I could feel the scene in the clearing calling me—beckoning me to go and investigate. But I ignored it, and instead, I tried to convince my sister nothing nefarious was afoot.
“Winnie Gordon told me that two young children went missing over in Salem just last week.
They were playing at the bottom of the ledge where the witches were hanged, and no one has seen them since. Winnie says those little kids must have awakened something because strange things have been happening since then.”
“You know I can’t stand that Winnie Gordon. Never could,” I barked.
Tansy’s eyes went wild. “Barbara, stop that! How could you say that! Winnie has been my best friend since grammar school!”
“And pray tell, why is it that she needed to repeat her studies multiple times? Winnie Gordon is not the smartest of women, now is she? There are at least four, maybe five children in this town who bear the face of her sweet husband Jedidiah Gordon yet do not belong to Winnie herself…”
With a swift shot to the shoulder, Tansy huffed, “Barbara!”
I smirked from the corner of my mouth. “I speak nothing but truth, dear sister. And as for Winnie Gordon, I don’t think she could recognize truth if it slithered its way from between…”
She gasped again at my seeming vulgarity. “Barbara! Enough!”
I must admit, I too was taken aback by the images in my mind and the words that formed on my lips. It was no secret that Winnie’s husband was a fine catch for her. A brokered deal among their families to afford the best financial possible outcome for all parties involved. And it was no secret that Jedidiah Gordon was the desire of many of the women in New Haven Harbor, to which he heartily obliged. I envisioned all types of women in our town lying on their backs, receiving the full weight and girth of Jedidiah at once in a passionate ceremony, as if he were shapeshifter who could penetrate them at the very same time, all at once, thrusting and pulsating and rising and… I shook my head to rid myself of the thought, but the pinprick sensation was still needling its edge in the back of my head, sending electric waves down my spine.
I gave Tansy the bouquet of bluebells and instructed her: “Take these back to the chapel.
Someone will probably be wondering where we are and why we’re taking so long. Not a word of this, though. To anyone. Not even Winnie Gordon, you understand me. Someone is clearly playing a cruel joke, trying to get everyone excited and spooked for the upcoming anniversary. I’m going to go back to the clearing to tidy up so no one else sees it. I’ll be quick and come back with more flowers. Say I was unhappy with what was out there and wanted prettier ones.”
Tansy gave a quick nod and went on her way. I turned on my heels and headed straight for the clearing—straight back to the scene of grisly ritualistic murder, straight back to the scene that seemed to call to me, that drew me in. On closer inspection, I realized the twigs were arranged in the shape of a makeshift circle with the five-pointed star in the center. At each point of the star, a black melted candle was stuck into the earth. The waxy pools at their bases held them in place. A squirrel’s severed head was in the center of the star and there was blood—so much blood— adorning the center and outside of the circle.
But the blood sings.
I knelt at the end of the ground altar, entranced with the precision at which it was constructed and thought: Who could have done this? Why did they do this? What is the meaning behind it all? But my internal questions were drowned out by the song of the blood and replaced with the only thing I could describe the feeling as—knowing. The scene was suddenly beautiful to me, and a wave of guilt tumbled into my soul. I should not feel this way. I should not feel this way…
Yet something in me did.
Three moon tides had passed, and Runa remained in our care. A subject? A prisoner? I could not truly tell the difference. Sten had returned to the cave that first night with the supplies Aizel told him to procure—supplies that were just a diversion so that she could make her final judgment on what was to be done with the girl. Aizel told Sten to set up camp in our village and wait for us to call for him. He knew she was well respected and that our people would take care of him if need be, so he left our cave to go into town and patiently waited until his child was delivered from the evil that took hold of her hugr and fylgja—in essence, her soul.
Sten was obedient and did as he was told—partly because he was a doting father who wanted to see his daughter healed, and partly, because at his core, he was a weak man who fell easily under Aizel’s spell. She promised him she would do whatever she could to help Runa, and if that meant Sten had to run into a pack of snarling wolves, he would have complied. But I knew the truth. There was no intention of expelling the draugr from the girl. Aizel was stalling for time as the demon inside Runa slowly festered and consumed her bit by bit.
And as the days passed, I purposefully and consciously locked my mind like a steel cage against Aizel so she couldn’t go digging around. I hadn’t told her what I had heard Runa say—how she had called out the sacred nickname my sister had bestowed upon me, for I knew she would have forbidden me to even go near the girl after that. Nevertheless, I was intrigued. How would she have known that name unless by some divine intervention? I was certainly convinced that this was more than just the average possession we were used to dealing with, and I was determined to find out more. What was this demon, and why had it made itself known to me the night of the full moon, and more specifically during a time of my great despondency?
So, without Aizel’s knowledge of my actions, I stole away into the storage alcove where Runa had been tied up for the last three nights in hopes of getting as much information from the creature as I could. I brought my canteen of water under the assumption that maybe a drink would satisfy it and give it reason to open up. When I reached the room, the air was thick with an unnatural heat and a steamy sheen blanketed the space around us, much like the steam from the hot springs a bit south of us.
I stood in the opening and watched as Runa’s slumped body breathed in and out with those frenzied pants. Her head tilted to one side as if the weight of her long, silky black hair was pulling her down in her slumber. She looked peaceful, even with her chest heaving up and down as frantically as it was. I wondered what type of frenetic dream she must be having. Was she running in a field? Were the wolves chasing her? Was a hoard of marauders ravaging her fragile body?
I dipped my foot gingerly across the imaginary threshold of the room, and suddenly she stopped, shot up, and opened her eyes wide. “All three,” she cooed with a smirk.
I froze for a moment, surprised by her abrupt actions, then continued my way inside.
Runa smiled wide, and the evidence of the draugr’s hold on her was blatantly clear. The soft pink tissue of her gums was coated with a dark black substance giving her mouth the appearance of a gaping void.
A void to swallow me whole and transport me to another dimension…
“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” she blurted.
“You know I’m not afraid of you, right?” I said. “I’ve seen the likes of you before.”
She giggled. “Oh, have you?” she responded. Her voice was low and gravelly, and it echoed in the cave as if there were more than one being speaking simultaneously. I couldn’t tell if it was the acoustics or if she actually represented the power of the many. And the voice, that guttural, grinding tone was so familiar to me, yet I could not place where I’d heard it before.
I approached her in the chair and held my canteen to her face. She eyed me coolly. “No,” she
said. “It would just prolong the process.”
“Oh? And what process is this you speak of?”
“I know your plans. The girl is gone. There’s no use in saving her now.”
I pursed my lips together and nodded. “True. True.” I agreed. “But that doesn’t mean you still can’t serve a purpose for us.”
The draugr laughed aloud. Its voice pierced the inside of my eardrums so sharply that I winced.
“Untie me, and I’ll show you what purpose I can serve,” she said with a sly hint of seduction.
I looked down upon her and scoffed. Up close I could see the demon had begun to transform her. Runa’s visage had begun to crack. The pale skin of her once soft face had turned gray, and the dark green veins from beneath her skin pressed up close to the surface and pulsated as if they were their own living, breathing entities. Her cheeks had further sunken in, giving the sharp angles of her face an even more inhuman appearance. She grazed her thick black tongue across the surface of her dry lips. “I won’t bite,” she cooed.
I huffed and took a step back. “Do you think that’s what it would take to tempt me? I told you, I’ve done this before. You’re not the first draugr to grace this cavern. Do you even know how old I am?”
“Do you even know how old I am?” she shot back.
I knelt next to her and decided to seize the opportunity. Demons are all-knowing, or at least they think they are. And they like to talk, mainly about themselves and their powers. And it’s often their narcissism that contributes to their downfall. I remembered that from Blodwyn’s teachings. Long ago, she had guided me through my first expulsion of a draugr. I had watched her perform the ritual flawlessly on many occasions, and when it came time for me to go out on my own, it was less than a stellar effort. “Don’t worry,” Blodwyn had said, “your strengths lie elsewhere. We each have our own gifts and talents. Don’t let this one failure discourage you. And I wouldn’t even call it a failure…”
“The boy would have died anyway,” the draugr said, finishing my memory.
I pulled back a bit. “Oh. So, you’re in here?” I said, pointing to my temple.
“Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. It comes and goes like flashes of light, like a gust of icy wind, like the paper-thin cry of the locust swelling to a crescendo then leveling off.”
My face twisted in confusion for a second. “How did you know that name?”
She closed her eyes and bowed her head forward. “I know not of what you speak,” she said with an agitated tone.
I placed my hand on her knee, and she quickly opened her eyes again. “Yes, you do. You said a name the first night you were here. You called out to me.”
She laughed again. A low and menacing rumble from her chest. “Pink Silver,” she grimaced, and her chest heaved up giving way to a wretched cough. She turned her head to the opposite side of where I knelt, spit out a gob of inky black substance, cleared her throat, and looked back at me.
“Tell me your name,” I commanded.
The draugr ‘tsked’ her thick black tongue against the back of her teeth.
“You told Aizel! Why won’t you tell me? You know my name, Trond. And you know my secret name, Ruz. It’s only fair if we’re going to continue this relationship, don’t you think?”
The draugr’s voice lowered, “I told that witch nothing!” it spat. “She stole that from me.
The girl was fighting hard, and there was a moment of weakness. I’m better now.” It smiled again, and for a split second. There were maggots weaving in and out of its teeth. I blinked rapidly, hoping it would go away. The draugr laughed.
Link Tree: https://linktr.ee/mariadevivo