Saturday, October 31, 2009

KZ's Halloweenies & Whorrors, 6

Those of you who've read InDescent can just skip this post. Sorry, but the horror maven in me loves this scene! (I just watched the incomparable Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes today -- love it! -- and a sequence in that movie reminded me a little of the following scene.)

* * * * *

When a breach in the Prism of Nezrabi frees creatures from another plane, a troubled wizard learns there are things more terrifying than the bogeymen of our nightmares. Like inner demons…and love.

Being a powerful, sexually magnetic wizard has its disadvantages. Like inviting the attention of bumbling but persistent rivals. And seductive women. And otherworldly beings.

For Jackson Spey, that isn’t the worst of it. His lover-of-choice is a man with a disturbing past. And a girlfriend. And feelings Jackson is reluctant to return.

The legendary Prism of Nezrabi brings all these elements together when it falls into the hands of Spey’s number-one enemy. No ordinary crystal, the Prism is an intricate microcosm wherein all time, space, and dimensions exist in delicate balance. Humans who’ve been pulled into it have gone mad . . . or simply never returned.

Through inept or malicious magic, the structure’s integrity has been compromised. A breach has freed creatures thought only to exist in Slavic myth. Nobody but the most qualified Adept can repair the split. If Jackson descends into this mystical world, he may have to face something more dreadful than a seemingly impossible task and its potential consequences.

* * * * *

Fog Cliff Cemetery, Ivan thought, was even creepier than the portraits of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky painted on Roland Dancy’s scrotum. And they were pretty damned creepy—especially when Rollie squeezed the top of his sac and made those faces pop in all their chicken-skinned, wire-haired glory.

The sun would soon be setting. Already, shadows cast by lines of gravestones had begun to stretch out on the grass like reclining ghosts. It didn’t help the atmosphere any to have Bothu loping along at his side like some oily mortician. It didn’t help, either, that Bothu carried an old, black doctor’s satchel, and whatever was stashed within kept making its presence known through muffled thumps and knocks.

Shielding his eyes with one hand, Ivan glanced up the narrow asphalt drive. There, toward the north, loomed the jagged rock formation that apparently gave the cemetery its name. No fog swaddled the cliff today, but thickening shade and almost palpable stillness provided more than enough atmosphere. The dead place was dead-quiet. Aside from whatever wildlife populated the surrounding woods, no other living creatures were around. This was a rural boneyard, and "visiting hours" appeared to be over.

"Where’s the grave?" Ivan asked, winded. The drive went uphill.

They’d parked their vehicles in a neighboring yard, which Bothu had assured him was safe. Maybe the property was abandoned. Maybe Bothu knew the owners. Ivan hadn’t bothered to inquire.

"We’re not going to a grave," the necromancer said.

"Then how the hell--?"

"It’s a mausoleum, and it’s behind the cliff."

Ivan stopped. He put up his hands. "Whoa, hold on there, bucko. You’re not shutting me up in some suffocating, vermin-infested—"

Bothu, too, paused. His dark gaze landed on Ivan like a wasting disease. "Then go home and figure things out on your own. I’m not the one who needs to be here, Ivan. I’m not the one intent on luring Jackson Spey into the Prism."

"Yeah, but you’re the one who likes being here." Ivan tried to give him a playful swat on the arm, but he couldn’t bring himself to make contact with the ghoulish figure. His hand fell limply to his side. "Wouldn’t you rather do this on your own? Kind of like, you know...masturbating."

Bothu’s narrow eyes narrowed further. "Actually, I would prefer being alone. But to achieve the results you’re after, you have to be present." He nodded toward Ivan’s neck. "While I’m thinking of it, you need to ditch the jewelry."

"What jewelry?" Ivan touched the spot Bothu seemed to be looking at. "You mean my amulets and talismans?"

"You’ll have to take them off and leave them outside the mansion."

"The mansion?" Ivan bugged his eyes in disbelief. Then, resigned, he sighed. He’d given up trying to understand this goof a long time ago. "Listen, I wear these pieces for a reason. Let me explain it in simple terms. The talismans attract the shit I want. The amulets repel the shit I don’t want. Considering where we are"—dramatically, he waved his arms to indicate the setting—"I’d say a little protection is warranted."

"And I’d say, get rid of them." Bothu resumed walking. "Things will be a lot uglier for you if you keep them on."


"Never mind."

"Well that’s just fucking great," Ivan muttered.

Trudging on, they soon circled the western side of the cliff. Behind it, nearly butting up against the rock’s northern face, was a gnomish stone structure patterned with lichens and engulfed in shade. The mausoleum looked like a rotten tooth. Ivan shivered as his gut clenched.

"How are we supposed to get in?" he whispered, hoping they couldn’t. He eyed the sturdy double doors deeply recessed beneath a Gothic arch. They appeared to be bronze, and decorated all over with demons writhing and cavorting within a cage of thorny branches. Flanking this dreary portal, gargoyles glowered from atop a pair of Corinthian columns.

It was hardly an inviting entrance. A plaque set beneath the roof’s low gable identified the lord of the mansion—one James Newman, who drew his last breath in 1928.

Much to Ivan’s surprise, Bothu simply walked up to one door and pulled it open. The hinges didn’t even squeal in complaint. Stiff-lover must keep them lubricated, Ivan thought. A puff of stale air wafted past his face.

With extreme reluctance, he pulled off his assortment of charms and laid them on a patch of ground rather than the cracked concrete apron that led to the doors. Getting them dirty, he figured, was far better than letting them come into any contact with Newman’s charnel house. Riding a sweaty wave of anxiety, he followed Bothu inside.

The grim, dim space smelled both dank and musty. An open crypt sat in the center, its lid so severely askew it seemed an inch from crashing to the flagstone floor. A hard chill dug into Ivan’s bones. He lingered near the door.

"I’d say it’s twilight. Wouldn’t you?" Bothu murmured, glancing at his companion.

"Sure." Ivan didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted to get this ordeal over with.

"Come here."

Ivan cast a longing look at the door, still ajar. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, you idiot. I didn’t bring you with me because I enjoy your company."

Ivan took a few tentative steps forward. The necromancer reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a key. A hex key. Leaning over the vault, he apparently fit the key into a lock—the lock that secured the lid of the casket nested within. A sharp click made Ivan flinch.

At that very moment, the mausoleum’s door swung shut. Ivan jumped and let out a yelp. The space was instantly packed with woolly blackness.

Now, he did hear a creak. Bothu must be lifting the casket’s lid. Ivan remained frozen in place, aware of the damp cold from the flagstones leeching through the soles of his shoes. He tried mentally cobbling together some protective incantation, but his mind seemed to have shut down. He heard Bothu rummaging through the satchel.

"Come," Bothu said, his voice dusky, "greet your benefactor."

Mewling, Ivan faltered forward in shuffling baby-steps. A match flared then touched the wick of a thick candle. It smelled, jarringly, like Christmas, but with a bitter note. Another burst of small flame, and the cloying scent of jasmine crept into the air. Ivan still hadn’t peered into the relative gloom of the crypt. He watched Bothu remove other things from his black bag—a knife, a glittering chunk of stone, a vial of murky liquid—and array them along the wide edge of the vault.

Holding the candle above what lay within, the necromancer paused as his gaze angled downward. Fondly, he smiled.

Ivan thought he might faint.

As Bothu lowered the candle toward Newman’s remains, he simultaneously curled an arm around Ivan’s rib cage and drew him forward. Candlelight wavered up from the rectangular gulf.

"Isn’t he lovely?" Bothu said. "He was nearly one of the Incorruptibles until fairly recently."

Sheer morbid curiosity made Ivan rise up on the balls of his feet and sneak a glance at the inside of the casket. He wished he hadn’t. Closing his eyes, he swayed backward and swallowed hard.

Newman should have been pure skeleton by now. But he wasn’t. On his hands, neck and head, skin like poorly tanned leather peeled away from teeth and bone. Scalp and hair, gradually disconnecting from his skull, rested like a clump of thatch on a soiled, rotting pillow. His dark clothing was nothing more than dusty scraps. As sunken and shriveled as they were, his eyes appeared to be open.

Even worse, something protruded from his chest. It looked like a partially corroded blade. What the fuck? Ivan kept thinking. What the fuck? Had Newman been a vampire? Ivan tried to calm himself. Maybe not a vampire. Bothu brought a knife with him this time, too, and vampires didn’t need to be killed twice. Besides, Newman looked deader than dead already. So maybe it was just part of the ritual. But why had the damned blade been stuck in the corpse’s heart?

In slow motion, Bothu lifted the vial of liquid.

"Wh-what’s in there?" Ivan whispered, because asking questions helped deflect his attention from every other grisly detail of this situation. Not to mention his billowing panic. He didn’t think he could hold out much longer.

"Milk. Honey." Bothu pulled out the cork stopper. "Blood." Reaching down, he caressed the lipless mouth and drizzled his concoction inside it.

On the verge of retching, Ivan turned away.

"Come, sweet Azrael," Bothu crooned, "and speak through your servant James. Tell me how the man named Jackson Spey can be brought into the powerful crystal once hidden and protected here."

A soft rustling made Ivan hazard a glance at the necromancer. He’d reached inside the casket again. Very gently, he lifted something. One of Newman’s hands. He cradled it.

Azrael, Azrael... Ivan tried to recall the entity identified by that name. Was it demonic? Bothu’s blandishments went on. Ivan knew they were for his sake. It was the only thing that kept him from bolting. Azrael...

Shit. That was the Angel of Death.

A dry rattle came from the casket. Words formed. "C-call. Call him. Open the door."

"Thank you," Bothu breathed out. His tone was rapturous.

Suddenly, Ivan couldn’t breathe. He frantically stumbled away from the crypt, trying to distance himself from the eerie exchange. His shoulder connected with a slimy wall. Half-expecting Newman to rise, he scrabbled toward the doors, their outlines barely visible in candle’s feeble glow.

"We will stay here ‘til the next twilight," Bothu said—to whom, Ivan didn’t know or care. "Still as the dead yet receptive as the living, we will stay."

The fuck we will. Ivan’s quaking hand found a thick metal ring.

"Call. the door."

Damned straight. Ivan grabbed the ring and pulled. Nothing happened. Panic began to overtake him. It opens out, not in! Grateful he hadn’t totally succumbed to hysteria, he threw his considerable weight against the barrier. The bronze plane resisted for a couple of seconds before it swung open.

Ivan pitched himself into the evening, rolled once, and scrambled onto his hands and knees. Without a single glance at the mausoleum, and with greater and speed and agility than he’d possessed since childhood, he scurried toward the blessedly mundane haven of his SUV. Amulets and talismans be damned.

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