Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Family, Part Two

Here's part two of my story. I feel like I should have gone over it a bit more to make it better, but I was satisfied enough with the conclusion. As of right now, I'm hard at work on my novel. 12k words in, with hopefully many more to follow. I'll try to keep you guys posted. The dead fell to his knees, silent as he should be. Rafael clenched his fist, feeling the hot blood surging up his arms and down his legs. It was the feeling of invincibility, the allure of the insurmontable. It was the downfall of initiates and veterans of the order. Rafael whispered a prayer as he pushed past the adrenaline. “... heartily sorry for…” murmured Rafael as he knelt beside the corpse. He reached into one jacket pocket, and then the next, searching for any clues as to the monster’s origin. He found nothing. Why would he? Any zoimanta who could craft such refined dead would take care of such basics. All Rafael had were the tracks torn into the winter earth. They would have to do. Rafael draped the jacket back over its owner, the little respect he could give the dead. The man once had a life and family, but here he was, far away from both. Whoever raised him would have much to answer for. Rafael pushed up and on, tracing the spotty trail. In some places it ended before beginning again dozens of yards away. Each step brought him closer to one of the lights in the distance. It had come from a home. His pace quickened, a trot that soon graduated to a dead run. The building was a squat, one-story affair, forged from local stone and little else. It was made by stubborn people who refused to submit to nature, and so tried their hand at mastering it. The thick front door was slightly ajar, and from it the footprints began. Warm light filtered out of the home and onto the yard, warmth in the cold night. There should have been laughter inside, the petty arguments typical of large families, anything but the dead silence that emanated. The structure beckoned to the exorcist, ready to share its secret with him. Rafael wasn’t ready. He had seen his share of horrors for a lifetime. The priest hesitated. His feet carried him forward. He pulled the door open and it groaned. Rafael almost followed suit. Inside sat the family. Their skin was ashen and their eyes dull, each arranged around the den. The children sat by the fire, ignoring their wooden toys and torn necks. The mother was in a chair to the side. She been knitting a red sweater, but her missing fingers suggested she would never add another thread. The father sat at the back of the room, and held a crumpled paper paper in his hands. The hollow sockets of his eyes bored through the print. They were a family, and now they were la fame morti, a mockery of what they had once been. “Where are you?” said Rafael as he pushed into the home. The family’s heads rose, faces flickering with interest. He paid them no heed, stalking through the den and into the kitchen. A man laid spread across the table, red ribs cracked open for the night’s supper. Rafael’s fists clenched as he screamed again. “Where are you?!” He was looking for their maker, for the monster at the center of the abomination. There was a creak to Rafael’s left. The mother approached the traveling priest with eager abandon, her arms outstretched for an embrace. Rafael rejected it with a punch to her jaw. She went flying back into the den as the rest of her family edged forward. There was one last door and the exorcist slammed through it. It was the family’s bedroom. Two small beds occupied the room, neatly made, along with a plain vanity. Most importantly, the man responsible was also there. He was a zoimanta, a perverter of flesh and raiser of the dead. He was a small man for such a large evil, barely above five feet tall. His blonde hair was slicked back, his large brown eyes narrowed. Perhaps his most important feature, however, was the iron in his hand. It was pointed straight at Rafael’s chest. The exorcist twisted to the side as the weapon went off, a rapid succession of gunfire splintering wood and shattering glass. Rafael dived to the floor, a quick tumble that brought him to the zoimanta’s feet. The sinner let out a yelp of surprise before the priest caught him in the gut with a swing. The iron clattered to the floor, followed shortly by its master. Rafael wasn’t done. As the man slumped, the exorcist’s hand was already at the back of his collar pulling him up. Rafael drove his knuckles into the man’s kidneys again and again, making him spasm and dance across the floor. The exorcist felt a thrill at the man’s suffering, a sense of sweet righteousness for every blow he delivered. Rafael’s mind screamed for his body to stop. It took every shred of his will to release the madman. He went tumbling across the floor, landing face first in front of the waiting family. They milled before him like confused children, growls and whimpers rising from their throats. “Why did you do it?” asked Rafael from across the room. “What did they ever do to you? Was their living so terrible? Was their happiness such an affront?” Silence was the only reply aside from the man’s trembling. Rafael felt the rage boil in his chest. “Answer me!” The little man quaked, but craned his neck. He didn’t look to Rafael though, but at the father, the mother, at each of his creations so docile and patient. The zoimanta’s voice was soft, as if he was afraid to break the silence. “It wasn’t because I hated it. Who would hate such a thing, exorcist? No, this…” His gaze was enraptured by those before him, his hands raised in awe. “...I wanted this so badly!” He stood slowly, his hand brushing the face of a little brown-haired boy. “They’re my family now, exorcist. They’re mine and neither you, nor the Papa, nor even God Himself can take that away from me.” A long silence passed through the room. The words reeked of such madness, how could the priest respond? He found his retort lying on the floor. The priest picked up the iron. “You are wrong about that, amico. They are not yours. They were never yours to begin with.” What that the gun roared to life. The father collapsed, a clean shot through a sightless socket. The mother fell next, her serene face marred by a bullet. One of the children followed. The little man gasped and spun, a scream on his lips while his hands waved in the air. “What are you doing?!” he asked, “What are you doing to my family?!” Rafael trained the barrel on the brown-haired boy’s face, the last of the abomination. “Granting them mercy,” he said simply. Before the exorcist could pull the trigger, the little man leapt across the room, slamming his shoulder into the priest’s stomach. The two toppled to the ground, the little man swinging with mad panic more than any real strength or skill. Rafael’s skin bruised and blood rolled from his freshly busted lip. It still wasn’t enough to stop him. With a swat of his hand, the little man hit the ground. Only to be replaced by the boy. He lunged forward, his tiny hands wrapping around Rafael’s throat. He couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve, but his grip was like a vice. The exorcist grabbed the ghoul by the head, slamming an elbow into it once, twice, but with no success. He might as well have been punching a wall. The monster was indefatigable while Rafael certainly wasn’t -- the spots swimming in front of his vision were proof enough of that. The exorcist again reached for his knife, hand fumbling for salvation. He found it as the cold steel reopened his palm. The tattoos pulsated, over his scalp and along his cheeks. Power surged through the exorcist’s arms as his hands clapped on either side of the boy’s head. The room filled with red. The fingers loosened and the body fell, leaving Rafael gasping on the floor. His chest burned and the room swam. The exorcist barely had time to process the black barrel pointed at him. “You killed them all!” shrieked the zoimanta. He had to have grabbed the weapon in the scuffle, the man forgotten in lieu of something far more dangerous. Now here Rafael was, back against the floor while the hysterical man had the advantage. “Put down the gun or you’re next--” The zoimanta didn’t wait for Rafael to finish. His finger tugged the trigger. The exorcist flinched for a bullet that never came. The chamber was empty. The little man stared at the gun in horror, pulling the trigger again and again. All he received for his efforts was the repeated click of an empty cartridge. Rafael stood, beginning his slow approach toward the beast, a greater monster than any roving dead or whispering devil. “Stay away from me!” howled the little man, but Rafael was deaf to his words. Rafael was a man of his word. The warrior raised his hand a final time. Flames licked at the wooden interior of the stone house. The fire was slow to start, but was ravenous once begun. What had really happened at that home was best left a mystery. The madman of local legend had arrived at the house, murdered its occupants, and set flame to the evidence. As he escaped, he met a fateful end in a field not far from his crime. There was no undead, no zoimanta or deformed corpses. There was nothing but a simple narrative that would stick. In the end, people always went with the simple solution. It would be easier for the sanity of everyone involved. It was a lie Rafael wished he could believe. The priest knelt in the field as he watched flames lick the sky. Lanterns danced on the horizon as neighbors rushed to combat a threat that was already finished. Rafael closed his eyes, drawing out his prayer medallion. Christ might be omnipotent, omniscient, but He was certainly not omnipresent. There had been none of God’s love in that home, none of His authority but what the exorcist could feebly introduce. There had only been blood and madness, the former he carried on his coat, the latter in his soul. He could still see the boy’s hungry eyes just before he died. Hopefully Saint Drogo would intercede on his behalf once more. if God was even there.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Family Part One

I'm currently writing a book. One that'll hopefully not fall apart, this go. I'm currently posting a backlog of content that I have built up. I'll probably eat through it eventually with updates becoming sporadic at best.

Until then, enjoy what I've got. This is part one of a short story I wrote.

Rafael Ignacio prayed. It wasn’t an unusual action for the exorcist. Christ was omnipotent, omniscient, and best of all, omnipresent. Wherever Ignacio was, he could call on the Son for His incomparable strength. It was a great comfort for a simple man.

 Not that Rafael did not have strength of his own. It was power that had been conditioned from childhood. His muscles had been forged to physical perfection. His rough hands could incapacitate, wound, or even kill. Pain no longer troubled him, and even hunger was the merest of inconveniences. Rafael was a force to be reckoned with, an instrument of God Almighty.

 But even he was still human. Rafael squeezed his prayer medallion as he opened his eyes. It was etched with the image of Drogo del Sebourg shepherding his flock. He was a righteous saint, and had served Rafael as a faithful intercessory all these years. Rafael’s thumb smoothed over the worn image before the exorcist stood. Perhaps it was because the deformed had to stick together.

Hopefully Saint Drogo would serve once more. Rafael stepped into the night air. It had to be below freezing, but Rafael only felt the first few pinpricks of the Italian winter before warmth enveloped his body. Some called it the Flame of God, others the Love of Christ, but it was nothing nearly so impressive. It was a simple trick taught to all I Penitenti del Sebourg, hard earned but oft-used. Rafael shoved tattooed hands into his coat pockets, pushing against the north wind.

 The hilly countryside twinkled with occasional light. A farm here, a home there, each resident setting down for their evening meal. A good end to a long day. The only sign that there was something more sinister in the countryside was the full moon. It grimaced down at the world, as if cringing at what it saw. Rafael couldn’t blame it.

 La fame morti were on the move. The hungry dead. Three men had disappeared in as many days. When they were found, the farmers didn’t even resemble men. They were stripped head to toe of muscle and flesh, only the barest remnants clinging to the bone. Some cried “wolves,” others murmured a mad man. Rafael was one of the few who knew the truth.

It was best that it stayed that way. These simple people knew only of tilling fields and raising children. They could understand wolves or violent men, but the dead were outside of their scope. They were afraid now, but the truth would only bring panic. It was best to let them contend against the enemies they understood. Rafael would take care of the things that went bump in the night.

 As Rafael came to the top of a hill, something stirred in the fields to his left. A lone figure stood, silhouetted by the cloudless moon. His head was slumped and his arms hung limp, as if the life had gone out of him. Rafael tensed and his heart quickened, but the only figure only stirred with the wind. A minute passed, then two, and only then did the exorcist dare approach the creature.

 Each step was a little piece of eternity. Usually the dead groaned and howled, hands stretched to rend anything showing a shred of life. The silence was worse. It contained uncertainty for an already terrible foe. Still, Rafael approached. It wasn’t bravery that guided his feet but training, years of experience ingrained into his very being. The exorcist was afraid, but he was unable to heed fear anymore. Rafael took another step and saw the monster’s face.

 Its skin was a light brown, worn by the weather, while its eyes were beady and black. The mouth was a slit, torn and terrible, always parted in a scream. As far as scarecrows went, it was quite fearsome. Rafael slumped forward, hands on his knees, before finally taking a breath. A soft laugh followed, powered by relief as much as the absurdity of it all. Rafael raised a hand, slapping the shoulder of his adversary.

 “I believe you won this one, amico,” said the exorcist. Rafael gave the sentinel’s shoulder one last pat before he turned to go. A footstep came from behind, a boot crunching against the hard enough. It was enough to freeze Rafael in place. The dead exhibited a low cunning, to be sure, but never anything quite like moving silently across frozen earth. Of course, it could just be a frightened farmer, eager to end a madman who had plagued his community. Rafael tested his luck.

 “How can I help you, senore?” asked the exorcist.

“Grhhhnnn,” hissed the damned.

 Rafael’s luck was holding. As la fame morte charged at his back, the exorcist snatched at the knife at his side. His fingers dug into the exposed blade, sending blood rolling down his palm and dripping to the earth. It was his salvation. The tattoos that ran up his hands and across his face rippled and glowed in the moonlight.

 One second he was standing on the ground. The next he was sailing through the sky, over the monster’s head and then to the earth below. The dead swung its head around, blue lips curled in rage. The ghoul spun and charged the exorcist with hungry abandon.

Rafael met the dead man with a swing of his fist. The blow was a blur of motion, faster than man’s mere limits. Some would call it a magic, men of faith might suggest a miracle. It was far too commonplace to be either. I Penitenti del Sebourg had many skills, and this was just another. The dead man’s fingers brushed at Rafael’s shirt -- that was as far as they got. The crunch of bone filled the air just as the deadman’s skull caved underneath the exorcist’s knuckles.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


“I’m hungry,” she said. I ignored her. She was a creature of complaint, a woman of the whine. It spoke of her skill that my considerable patience was already fraying after my third glass. Her voice piped up again, this time taking on the nasally intonation that was my weakness.

“Jimmy, I’m huuunn-GRRREEEEE! 

My fists slammed down on the desk, bringing an end to her incessant cry. The objects on my desk jiggled and jarred, with the ink jar taking a swan dive over the edge. It ended its long service with a crash and slow leak, blackness soaking into the oak floor. I tried to reign myself in, but it was far too late -- my temper was as hot as the room’s roaring fire. “ You’re not hungry! You’re not cold! You’re not bored, and you’re certainly not lonely! You’re not any of those damned things because you’re dead!

The ghoul blinked her single eye before edging a finger through the hole the other once occupied. “Huh, so I am,” she said before flashing me a smile. It was crooked and cruel, the signal for cutting words and painful jabs. “I wonder whose fault that is?” The one sentence was enough to end my anger. I clenched my fists and closed my eyes. I had brought it on myself. I felt her hands ease over my shoulders, delicate fingers that plucked at my shirt.

“Tell me, James, who was it that killed me?” She damn well knew the answer. I pushed up from the chair and paced across the room, away from her, away from her incriminations. “I’ve explained myself already to you, woman! A hundred times, a thousand! How many more times must I before you’re satisfied?”

“Long hours, marital strain, a terrible thirst,” she recited boredly, “The same old excuses, Jimmy. They rang hollow the first time. Do you think repetition will make them sound better?” A man could hope. I had certainly tried.

“Who could have saved you?” I whispered, staring out the window. The streets were orange and empty, influenced by lamplight and the night sky. Those images were soon replaced by another, of an empty socket and a single wild eye. She was laid out on the table, bleeding through the linens. There were shouts and orders filling the room. They were all coming from me.

It was a scene I could never forget. “You had been shot through the eye, right into your posterior cerebral artery! If you hadn’t bled to death, you would have been an invalid, a shell of yourself!” I whipped around, pointing a finger at the ghoul, accusing her, beseeching her. “I tried my best to save you, dammit! My hands didn’t shake, my mind was clear, I never lost focus! I couldn’t have done more!”

She laughed, a long, sinuous sound that slithered through the room and ‘round my heart. My finger drooped and the righteous red of my cheeks faded. Her blue eye watched me as red lips twisted into a smile. “Now we get to the truth of it, Jimmy. No matter what you did, no matter what you attempted, you couldn’t save me. It wasn’t spurned wives or fourteen-hour shifts:

“You just weren’t good enough.”

She shimmered, form blurring as tears filled my eyes. She was right. It was a fact I had been avoiding for weeks, months. My knees sank to the floor and my hands covered my face, banishing the terrible spectre for even a moment. “You were so young, so full of promise. You had the world ahead of you!”

“It never turned out how you wanted, did it?” she whispered in my ear. She was behind me again, my tormentor, my judge, with fingers stroking through my hair. “The big, empty house, the string of wives, the long hours… It was never the fairy tale ending you were looking for.” Her voice was soft, even sympathetic. I shuddered, waiting for the taunts or jabs that always followed.

They never came. She continued to soothe my hair and hold me close. My throat ached and my chest clenched as I wept. It was the first bit of understanding since the Incident. My body shook as I clung to her. “If I had been able to save you,” I whispered, “Maybe, maybe I could have saved myself. I could have lived a life that I didn’t regret. Maybe I could change.” I drew back from her, searching that pale face.

“You were right. Saving you was impossible from the start.”

She laughed again, this time a sweet sound. It was the voice of a girl rather than a ghost. Her hands were cool as they pressed against my cheeks, lifting my head up. “I’m not your salvation, Jimmy. I never was. Whether you keep on this track or get off, it isn’t because of me. It’s all you. It has been the whole time.”

The girl leaned in and gave me a whisper of a kiss. It was tender, gentle, and all-too-brief. When she pulled back I shuddered, fingers squeezing at her cool flesh. “Something sweet to remember me by, Jimmy.” Her single blue eye gave a wink. “Maybe it’ll help you move on.” Then the girl began to fade, her colors becoming dull before transparent. Soon she was gone, leaving only the memory.

I was left alone with a growing headache, which neither the bottle of whiskey at my side or the sunlight slipping over the windowsill helped. I stared at the amber bottle, fingers clutching at its glass surface. Today I could choose. Stop or continue. Live or keep dying. All it would take was one choice. My hand trembled.

I let the light liquid spill over the black ink.