A bit of dark fantasy with a pinch of Halloween.
My story begins a long time ago in the outskirts of a small New England town. It was All Hallows’ Eve and the children of the town were preparing to go out guising and to eat some scrumptious sweets. Little did they know that a trap had been prepared for them and the fate of the entire world would hang in the balance.
In an old Victorian styled house, its paint faded and peeling, its grounds overgrown and unkempt, a black cylindrical record spun on a Victrola, lofting a soprano’s tender voice into the room like a fluttering butterfly. “Pure Goddess, whose silver covers these sacred ancient plants, we turn to your lovely face unclouded and without veil,” she sang, albeit in Italian. Bellini always made the old mage a bit weepy.
Beauty is lost to this world, he thought, but I have the cure. The wizard’s melancholy musings were interrupted as the door to his chamber opened with a crash. In through the door limped his hunchbacked assistant, sweaty and panting.
“I have it, math-tah,” he said, dragging a filthy scarecrow in behind him and tossing it at the wizard’s feet. “Juth like you told me. I took it from the farmer’th field.” He grinned wide with pride at his accomplishment.
“Don't bring it in here you fool!” snapped the wizard. “I want it by the front door. It’s just for decoration. Have you made the lemon cakes?"
“Yeth, math-tah.” The grin on the little man’s face faded, taking on an ere more akin to a frightened dog. He'd heard that tone of voice many times and it scared him.
“What about the honeyed apples?” asked the wizard. The dwarf could only hang his head low in answer. “You idiot,” the wizard said. “Tell me that you have at least carved the jack-o-lantern.”
The dwarf’s grin returned with a vigorous nod of his bald head. "Yeth math-tah."
“Well, don’t just stand there like a fence post, even if you are its intellectual equal. We need to be ready by sundown. I want the scarecrow and the jack-o-lantern by the front door, and set the food near them on a tray. Here,” he said, tossing a small bag of coins at him. “Put these out there and place this note with them. I want it to look festive and inviting. It’s imperative that we attract some children. Do you understand me, Virgil?”
“Yeth, math-tah,” the impish little man said, as he trudged back to the door, pulling the scarecrow behind him. The wizard flicked a little finger towards him, sending a small wave of energy in his direction. It wasn't enough to cause any real destruction but it put Virgil off balance, and he crashed hard, face first, onto the floor boards.
“Hurry up, damn you!” cried the wizard. Virgil crawled on all fours the rest of the way out of the chamber. With another flick of the finger the door slammed shut. This is what I am reduced to, thought the old wizard, working with incompetent dregs. A crescendo of stringed instruments brought his thoughts back to the task at hand; unleashing the Dalkhu upon the world.
The wizard hated the world and all of its pathetic inhabitants. He’d seen many kingdoms rise and fall, being quite old, many thousands of years in fact. He wasn't exactly sure himself. Technology had changed some things, and the social order in America developed a tad different than the societies that had come before, yet throughout the eons mankind at its base essentially remained unchanged. Greed, lust and envy controlled man’s actions, making him lower than an insect.
You would think there would be some sort of evolution, he thought, where love, mercy and kindness would rise to prominence and consume the depravity. As you can see, our sorcerer is a bit of a hypocrite, being most unmerciful and mean to his unfortunate assistant while judging the world thus.
Large bookcases stuffed with dusty old volumes and scrolls lined the walls of the room. The wizard went over to his bureau Mazarin and pulled a high-backed, Louis XIV chair to it. He grabbed a decanter of brandy and poured it into a crystal goblet. Reaching into a small drawer, he retrieved a tiny envelope and a spoon. He scooped a bit of the opium from the envelope and stirred it into his drink. He typically would have added a smidgen of cinnamon to the mixture, but the stress of this particular night engulfed him as he downed the concoction with a single swallow. It was bitter to the taste, but the wizard no longer noticed, having become quite used to it over the years.
He then turned his attention to his antique bible box. Made from the wood of an almond tree, the large box was inlaid with rosewood and satinwood. He ran his fingers across the intricately carved images of cherubim and seraphim. He thought it fitting that something of such elegance be used to purge the world of its evils.
Opening the lid he pulled out a large book. No, not a bible as you would think would come from such a repository, but a religious manual all the same; his spell book. The pages were of papyrus and vellum, and even some thin strips of bamboo could be found mixed in, all bound together between two planks of ebony and wrapped in purple silk. He'd created this codex himself, adding to it and perfecting its contents as the centuries rolled on.
Marked by a thin cord of twine, the book easily opened to the sought after page titled simply – Clavem, meaning The Key. He skimmed through the page, judging each word for its correctness. There could be no error. Each line of the incantation needed to be exact, and he must execute its timing perfectly.Sometimes the old mage would spend weeks at a time finding just the right word for a particular verse. He would practice his inflections over and over, learning to emphasize the right syllable in the most optimal way.
A page fell to the floor and the wizard quickly snatched it up. He gazed longingly at it, the sketch he had made of her. How beautiful she was, he thought.
As he liked to remember it, when he first came to America, his feet landed on Massachusetts Bay and then his eyes landed on her. He could still see her milky white skin and rose-colored lips, her auburn hair peeking out of her white bonnet. Sweetness and purity wrapped in a golden heart.
He pursued her of course and was quite amazed when he discovered her Wiccan ways. Later he would tell himself that he shouldn't have been. She was what he had been seeking you see, and the cosmos has a way of putting sought after things into the seekers path. After all the endless centuries of searching for beauty on Earth – searching for her - right at the end of a gangplank she stood. Kismet, he thought he heard it called once.
Tears spilled out of his eyes and onto the sketch. In a rage he crumpled it and launched it into the brazier. He pounded his fist against his breast and bellowed a cry of agony. The Victrola flipped onto the floor, the record breaking into pieces. Immediately regretting such a foolish emotional display, he reached out his arm, and recalled the sketch. The paper lifted into the air and floated into his hand. He quickly snuffed out the flames with his fingers. Only slight damage to the edges, he observed with a sigh. She didn't deserve what they did to her, he thought, and they will all pay for it.
The wizard wasn’t always mean and ill-tempered. Make no mistake, he always had a darkness inside him, but Luna had changed him a great deal. She filled that tormented and hollow place inside with love. She ended his search and gave him hope and happiness. For a time, that is to say. He hadn’t been there for her when she needed him most. ‘Itchy feet’ she called it. He always had to go off and scratch them for awhile. In his mind, his so called ‘itchy feet’ contributed in her demise.
When he closed his eyes at night, he could still see her charred husk fused to the post. The bastards burned her alive for the crime of witchcraft. Luna the tender-hearted, the lovely innocent of the wood, who danced for him with stems of morning-glory in her hair. They murdered her with utter disregard to the beauty she brought life.
The wizard could have easily wiped out the village, killing all the inhabitants and just as easily gotten away with it. That wouldn’t have been enough. Her blood was too precious to be purchased by so little a price. In that one act of barbarism they had proven to the wizard what he’d always believed. Humanity existed solely as a plague upon the Earth and it must be purged with fire, just as they destroyed his beloved.
For hundreds of years since that terrible day he had been preparing his revenge, and he would exact it. He would unleash the Dalkhu upon the land and would laugh as it set the world ablaze and feasted on their souls. The incantation was ready, he was ready. He only needed the blood of an innocent to release the demon from its astral prison.
The wizard didn't believe there were any innocents in the world, but a child should suffice. What better night than All Hallows’ Eve to catch one. He didn’t even have to search them out. They would come to him.
“The time,” he blurted. Pulling a brass pocket watch from his trousers, he saw that time was quickly running out. “Virgil!” he bellowed. A few moments later the hunched dwarf entered the chamber. “Well?”
“Ith ready math-tah,” he managed to say between breaths.
The little runt always seems to be winded, the mage thought. “Good. Now hurry along and get into position behind the shrubbery near the porch. Wait for my signal. When I give it, I want you to throw the sack over them and carry them into the house. You must be quick about it. Do you understand?”
“I swear, if you mess this up I’ll turn you into a piglet and roast you over a spit.” said the wizard.
With a nod, Virgil set off to do as his master bid him.
The wizard lit the jack-o-lantern with a snap of his fingers and peaked out through the curtains. It wasn’t long before a large group of boys came into the yard, their faces painted like devils, or skeletons, or completely blackened. One boy walked onto the porch and looked around. The wizard could see Virgil peering up from behind the bush. He shook his head, and Virgil slumped back down. There were too many of them, and some were bound to get away and bring help. With a shrug, the boy grabbed a cake and an apple. Spotting the coins, he started to pocket them all but saw the note left on the plate which read:
Take one and thee will have a good night.
Take two and thee will have a great fright.
Take three and thee will die tonight.
The boy took only one and hurried off the porch. His friends followed his lead, each taking only one cake, one apple and one coin. Soon another group came down the road but passed the house by without coming to the door. The wizard's nerves prickled as waves of anxiety began to wash over him. He thought to himself that he hadn’t made his elixir nearly potent enough. Perhaps two spoonfuls would have been better.
Then a boy and a girl came down the road and paused in front of the house. They seemed unsure, but eventually the boy came onto the porch. When he saw the spread before him, he waived eagerly to the girl. She joined him, and they each grabbed a cake and an apple and stood there eating and giggling. Spying the plate of coins the boy went over and grabbed them all, only pausing for a moment to skim over the note. The girl walked over and read it out loud.
“I don’t think you should take more than one, Jacob.” She said to him.
“Don’t be a baby,” he said. “It’s just meant to scare us, is all. No one is going to die.”
“I don’t know…,” she said questioningly, not finishing her sentence.
“Grow up,” he said. Then he spotted a group of children down the street and ran off the porch after them. “Hey wait for me,” he yelled. “Come on,” he called over his shoulder to the girl, and then took off running as fast as he could.
“Wait for me Jacob,” she said running down the steps. She missed the bottom step and tripped onto the ground. Before she could call after the boy, Virgil had gagged her and stuffed her into his sack.
A small flame licked up from the brazier, casting an amber hue about the room. In the center of the room, the girl lay on a table, a makeshift alter actually. Her hands and feet were bound and hitched to the table. Tears streamed off her face as her terrified screams were muffled by the rag stuffed in her mouth. She looked at Virgil with pleading eyes, but all he could do was cower in the corner, paralyzed with his own fright.
The wizard entered the room wearing a white satin robe with the hood pulled over his head. In his hand rested a jewel-encrusted, ceremonial dagger he'd purchased and had been preparing for just this moment, for this particular act. He looked at the girl with empty eyes. He’d prepared his heart as well. He could not let the emotions of the moment hold any sway over what needed to be done. At the very least, he convinced himself, she would be spared a much greater agony. The spell book laid upon a 16th century mahogany pedestal that stood near the altar. He opened it up to Clavem and spoke softly to the girl.
“What is your name child?” he asked. She couldn’t bear to look at him, and averted her gaze. The wizard motioned to his assistant who immediately went to the girl and removed her gag. The girl promptly screamed as loud as she could. “Enough!” bellowed the wizard, placing a bit of magic into his voice. The girl's wailing stopped at once, and she stared at him. “I said, what is your name girl?”
“Charlotte,” she told him. “Charlotte Gribble. My brother is going to come looking for me and when…”
“Silence,” said the wizard, and Charlotte hushed instantly. “Your brother will not find you, I promise you that. I also promise you that it will be over quickly and you will not suffer. I am saving you from a much worse demise. No need for gratitude my dear, the pleasure is all mine.”
The mage reached under his robe and pulled a small purse from his trouser pocket. Walking over to the brazier, he dumped the contents into it. The fire begun to spark with many strange colors, like a kaleidoscope of the arcane. “Some herbs to get things rolling, nothing to fear,” he said. “Just some sage, a bit of ginseng and high-john, and some other things. Oh, and I shan’t forget this.” Reaching into his trouser's other pocket he produced a small vile. A dark reddish substance poured out of it and into the fire. “It’s the powdered resin of the dracaena afromontana, also known as dragon’s blood. I truly love the stuff,” he said, conversing with her as if he'd invited her over for afternoon tea.
The aromas of the smoldering herbs mixed, making quite a pungent smell about the room. Charlotte turned her head and puked off to the side of the table. Virgil promptly wiped it up with a rag that he’d hid up a sleeve. The wizard, ready to begin his incantation, went back to his codex. He knew the verses by heart and didn’t need to actually read them, but he wouldn't dare chance a mistake. He spoke in a voice that could not only be heard by the ears, but felt all the way into the marrow.
Caelestis aperire ianuam,
Ego præcipio tibi ut aperias.
Et aperuerit tibi Dalkhu me traditurus est.
Expectabam eum, qui daemonium Dalkhu,
Liberabit eum vinculis freem…
The wizard went on carefully reciting each stanza, each line, every single syllable with practiced perfection. Like a ballet of limericks, all the pirouettes and the temps de cuisse of the tongue had unique meaning and purpose, and were performed with delicate ease.
An electrical charge filled the space, snapping and popping. The air began too swirl creating a breeze in the windowless room. The breeze became a strong wind as clouds formed above Charlotte. The spell of silence had worn off, and she again screamed as loud as she could, in vain though since the noise barely registered over the gushing air and mini-voltaic explosions.
The clouds formed into a cyclone as they whirlpooled to the side of the table and Charlotte. The wizard’s incantation became more of a chant, undulating louder and louder as a tiny eye opened in the heart of the storm. Light pierced through the eye, illuminating the room as it grew larger. Even the wizard’s voice was drowned out as the gate into the astral plane widened.
Here I must tell you a very important fact. The astral plane is not a singular place, but is more like a house with many rooms. Not all creatures living there commingle. If that were the case, it would be a place of constant strife where the forces of good and evil would be in continuous battle for dominance. The Dalkhu existed in the astral plane, yet imprisoned in such a room.
The swirl spread wide to reveal an orange and red sky. Across the expanse a door sprung up, which at first glance looked very much like any terrestrial door, yet not made of wood or iron but of the very substance of the universe itself. A bright light penetrated through it, like an extradimensional dirty window.
A shadow emerged behind it and pressed itself to the door. It was a monstrous thing to witness, even in silhouette. Its outline seemed as a man in many ways, yet most assuredly wasn't. It had six arms all pushing, searching for a way through. Each hand tested the door for some weakness or flaw which would acquiesce to the thumping and prodding. The Dalkhu shrieked and roared in its thirst for freedom.
The wizard was very pleased with himself. After all the centuries of planning and sacrifice, his great work neared its completion. He took his dagger to the brazier and heated the blade over the fire. “Ac justum et animam dimittere Dalkhu,” he said walking over to the girl with the scorched steel.
The gate had opened wide enough that it encompassed the table and Charlotte, leaving the lower half of her body sticking inside, while her upper torso still protruded into the room. She had lost all hope, he could see it in her eyes. Her desperate caterwauling ended and she wept in silence. The wizard gripped the knife in both hands and raised it high over the child’s heart. “Just one last line and it will be finished,” he thought with the thinnest daub of remorse.
Before he could say the verse, an echo rippled across the wasteland and through the astral gate. A very familiar voice, one that had only existed in his memory for several hundred years.
“No, Osiris,” the voice begged. “Do not do this evil thing.”
“Luna, is that you?” The wizard’s jaw dropped in astonishment. Ne’er had he dreamt the possibility of hearing her voice again.
“It is I, my love. You must not do this thing.”
“They took you from me!” he screamed, all the raw emotions of that terrible, long ago day flooding his soul. “I have vowed my vengeance. The world deserves this!”
“No, my sweet, it does not. There is goodness in the world still. You have hardened yourself from it, as you always have done. If you ever loved me you will not do this thing. For my sake please Osiris, cease this insanity.”
The wizard stood there in disbelief, internally struggling to find the correct path. Should he heed her wish and spare the world, only to exist an eternity without his beloved, or should he finish it for all time and punish these sinners in oblivion? For the first time in what seemed forever, he did not know what path he should be taking. His hesitation definitely had a cost though, for the wizard could see that the astral gate began to shrink.
When I began this story, I told you that I knew it because I was there, and so I was. You have already met me in fact. No, I'm not Osiris, I am Virgil.
For the first time in my life, I struck my master. I would never have dared to do so prior to this day because I was a coward and not very bright. My life to that point had conditioned me with meager confidence at best. My physical deformities are only partly to blame, but we will leave that for another story.
As I said, I struck my master. I kicked off the wall and charged at him, smashing into him with my shoulder. Caught off guard and thus unprepared for it, the great wizard Osiris fell through the gate awkwardly and with a completely befuddled look on his face. I didn't see him after that. I was too busy untying the girl and pulling her out of the room. I heard a loud pop and turned to see the gate had vanished and my master was nowhere to be found.
I have told you, and demonstrated to you that I had a very low I.Q. in those days. However, don't assume me to have been altogether stupid. I did learn many things from studying my master and even practiced on occasion when he wasn't watching me. I gave the girl a simple potion to drink which put her to sleep. I then carried her down the street and placed her against a shady oak tree, leaving her with a sack containing all the treats and the coins. When she woke up, her memories of the events were lost to her. It had been quite a mystery as the town searched for her the entire night and had given her up as kidnapped, or worse.
As for myself, let’s just say I had fervor for the written word, and an entire library at my disposal. I've become quite the wizard in my own right. We'll also leave that for another tale.