Great-grandmother Rhonna was a necromancer. She didn’t actually die from the bout with cancer, as she’d led the family to believe. She lived a good life but long enough to suffice, she lasted to be one-hundred thirteen. Life had grown banal by then, so she concluded it should finally end, but not before taking me in as her dark inductee. Nobody knew the plan of her death…that is, nobody but me. It was a curious thing that she was dead a bit earlier than she’d planned to be, for she hadn’t finished passing down everything she’d agreed.
I suspected murder, but she was protected against death and that conclusion made little sense.
The family knew the old book was important. It came from the “old country.” It was written in runes very few could read. They disposed of it in the way her Last-Will-And-Testament decreed: “With a bolt of fine silk it must be bound and carefully wrapped, buried with me in the ground–placed within my grasp.”
Bullshit. She had said it was meant for me.
“NO! I demand I will have it!” I argued as the lawyer read the words she’d supposedly written for him to read. No one else who’d come for the reading within his office agreed.
The pages were bound in curious skin and the dark secrets hidden within should be passed down, allowed to live, to be shelved in a cherished-one’s library! My library! I was in her apprenticeship! The one who inherited the same dark gifts!
I wanted to shout incantations and melt them to the floor, but the gift she’d passed was a secret, so I simply stormed towards the door. “She hated all of you!” I spat in my hasty departure. “The one she loved best was me!”
As I strode to the elevator, the echo of my retreat resounded through the hall. I realized as I descended down and out into the street that the document that was read was not her Will nor Testament at all. She knew the power I held. It defied logic that she had not left the thing to me. It had to be a forgery. Uncle Gregory was sure to be the culprit behind this scheme… But did he know what the book was? What power it held? I had seen him on television and all over Facebook as well. He condemned the world to damnation, incorrectly declaring numerous dates as the Date of Revelations preaching fire and brimstone and hell. Gregory was a reborn pastor who had evangelized until he’d amassed a great deal of wealth.
He feared the end of everything and seemed the likeliest to gain by hiding the dark thing where it never again could be seen.
At the funeral, it was with great self-control that I didn’t fling open the lid as they lowered her into that hole and snatch away what, by rights, should be mine…but the many descendants who were there in attendance, would have stopped me before I might try. No. I could not take the book from her there. There were too many eyes to see the deed.
I watched the crank as it turned and she was lowered by degrees. It clanked like a noisy arrhythmic clock. Handspun, the gearworks sank great-grandmother and my book in that box. In that moment, I longed to believe that the gear’s mechanical clicking sound was actually that of a thousand nails at the end of a thousand hands rapping and tapping the sides and pulling her down from beneath. I wished the thousand grips that dragged the box away would rise up once the task was complete and eviscerate Gregory. I would revel in the triumph of his exsanguination as he died before my feet. The smug bastard had been, during this whole event, eying me warily. I made the mental note to pay him a visit first, as the box fell away from sight in the slowly faltering glow of the chilly autumn light.
I returned at night. A fog swept across the graves causing the shadows to misbehave and a chill had found a way to work its way through the seams of the long cloak that I had made for just such an occasion as today. It was sewn from scraps of curious leather I’d collected, enchanted and saved. Leather that drew a striking similarity to the cover from which my book was made. The tanned and dyed corpse-skin of a hundred preserved visages, every inch of the cloak held another face, stitched together with thick woolen thread, they gazed eyelessly outward with their eyelids pulled open, forever frozen in place. The enchantment placed on each leather face magically forbade any prying eye to recognize my tresspassive after-midnight presence as I crept among the broken, crooked graves.
A cloud covered the moon in the sky. I greeted the mist as it continued to rise with a pause and long-drawn pensive sigh. Conducting then in my halted steps an obsessive compulsive compulsory check of the tools I’d stratified would be the best to reach that cursed book before the light of daylight fell. Pick-axe: check. Shovel: check. And prying-bar as well. I thought quietly to myself, This night, I will send Gregory straight to fucking hell.
A smile spread across my lips, and warm elation rose as I began again to slowly trudge once more, through the forlorn veil of fog, between the headstone rows. The cloud that blocked the light above slowly moved away and the bleary light began to paint the world in hues of violet and gray as I came upon the grave.
But someone was already there. Digging.
I ducked behind a monumental monolithic tribute to a soul. The worn-by-weather likeness of an angel carved from stone. I watched.
Who could this be? He’d already made it down through several soiled feet. A man dressed in a coat of faces, like the one I wore on me. The faces on his watched me eyeless through empty lids pinned open by design. Extra savagery applied to the faces from which he’d sewn his cloak than what I’d done to mine: they were, smiling wide. Extra wide, from cheek to cheek with gouges carved, elongating each.
I watched for a bit longer. A plan slowly began to grow. I’d wait until he’d done all the work, removed every shovelful, before I made my bold approach to bury this unwitting thief in his own fucking hole.
Then I heard it. The concussive sound of his shovel as it found something hard within the ground, and I slowly moved closer, wielding my own shovel like a weapon.
As I neared the hole, the book was casually lobbed up and out. It landed at my feet with a soft thud upon the ground. Whoever this was was making it too easy. I was sure I knew exactly who it was most likely to be. And so I was unsurprised to see the hypocritical charlatan who gazed up with narrowed eyes at me from his place in the ground beneath. Dear Uncle, Pastor Gregory.
“You!” He said. His face twisted a sneer. The faces on his coat twisted as well, drawn into scowls from ear to ear. So compelled by eldritch puppetry, emotionally connected to the man who brought them here.
The faces that I wore did not scowl, but began an uproarious howl of laughter at my growing delight.
“Me? You! I’d planned to send you to hell this very night,” I said, “and you’re already so nearly there.” A face sewn under my arm guffawed a muffled laugh and a few others began to cheer. “I did not expect to find you, of all people, here.”
“You don’t know what that thing is.” He demanded. “You don’t deserve it.”
“Have you read it?” I asked.
“Some of it.”
“Well I’ve read it all.” I told him with a laugh, “you changed Rhonna’s last request?”
“I did.” It was just as I had grown to suspect. “It should be mine. You haven’t earned it.”
“If I might be so direct, you dick, the book is not a thing you gain by deed. You earn it by taking it.” I sighed then. “Alright, Greg. I’m done with this.”
“What do you mean you’re–”
I had the book, so I was in control. I removed a dagger from my waistband and, tracing a gouge across my hand, I coaxed a rain of red from my palm down onto him in the hole. He went to speak again, but grew quiet as my eyes grew red and my feet rose and left the ground to hover just above his head. His quiet fear was short lived, it seemed. His coat began to scream.
Amid the shrieks of terror I could hear his quiet words as he began to recite some verse no doubt recalled from my book.
“Non loqui.” I said and every mouth was sealed and their skins began to stitch. Greg fearfully pawed at his face…at his lips…but they were gone. The only sound that remained was the quiet of the dead. When I spoke again, I spoke with another’s voice instead. A presence the book evoked from someplace dark and eternal spoke, wearing me as I had worn the faces I’d hewn into my coat.
“Did you kill her before the lessons were complete?” The voice growled.
Greg produced his own knife and parted the skin that bound his jaw into a crooked scowl.
“Yes.” He said coldly. His ragged lips slurred the words as he said, “She was leaving you the book, so I used her own book to strike her dead. And now I plan to take it back and bring about the end.”
The presence and I had heard enough. As Greg began again his woefully mispronounced incantation, the presence called forth his punishment instead:
“Obsecro manus humanitatis inimicos. Et ego tu iubes. Trahe eum ad infernum.”
I watched a thousand hands burst forth, and blindly reach until he’d been found. Clutching every angle they sliced him apart from all around. Their razored fingers opened a hundred silent screaming mouths that bled and filled the hole with red ’til every face was drowned. When the hands had finally finished they retreated then, back to the place that Gregory was bound. And I smiled.
I gave a word of thanks and made a warm departing wave to the hands within the grave; to the hands that came to take; to the hands that breached the ground; to the hands that dragged him down.