Authors: E.M. MacCallum
Copyright © 2015 by E.M. MacCallum
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in Canada
First Printing, May 2015
Edited by Matthew Baugh & Lori Titus
Cover Art: Amygdaladesign.net
To my family and friends. You’re my butt-kickers, shoulders to lean and cry on, as well as my inspiration. I wouldn’t
Each syllable of her practiced incantation was perfect to her ears.
Years she had dedicated herself to those words. Being the only one of the three who could perform it, it was probably the only reason she was still alive.
Kneeling before the giant bonfire in the forest’s clearing, the dark-haired woman tilted her chin up. The blood tickled her cheekbone as her eyes met the gluttonous flames, reflecting their need.
With a slow, careful hand, she wiped the blood free fearing that any sudden movement could shatter the rising power. The little brat had cut into her eyelid but, thankfully, not her eye. The cut didn’t bother her as much as the self-made one in her hand. It stung as she pressed it into the thirsty earth, inviting the otherworldly presence.
Behind her, the incessant protests from the brothers dissolved to silence. They felt it. They must have. The air was heavy, a warning. Something nefarious slithered in the dark, something they couldn’t see.
Suppressing the shudder her voice rose above the popping flames. Her excitement bristled the hairs on her arms, making her insides shiver.
She wasn’t sure if it was the adrenaline or the raw power that made her teeth want to chatter and her bones rattle against muscle and flesh. She wanted to scream, run, fuck, and kill all in the same instant but she had to bottle it up, let it rattle her bones until she passed out. Part of her thought she could pass out in the surge.
A stifling presence swelled. Snuffing out the world’s influences until the night transformed into something frighteningly still.
Even the frogs and crickets ceased. They waited and listened. She could sense the anticipation.
She felt the sacred vibrations all around her. A false move, voice or intention could shatter it. She adored it like a warm bath on a cold day or food on an empty stomach.
It had been years of waiting, yearning, and pleading with the world to see this moment unfold.
The pains her body endured were paltry compared to this—compared to him.
One of the brothers attempted to speak.
Hissing through her teeth, she glared over her shoulder.
With an audible click of teeth, the taller man’s jaw shut. Doubt shadowed his rigid features and he looked to his smaller, more violent brother.
The second man with flaming orange hair clasped his knees to catch his breath and was looking up at the flames, then to her. The Devil lived in that one. He must have felt the earth speak to them. Not at the same level as she, of course, but he must have sensed it.
Remaining quiet, the more ruthless of her two tormenters stayed quiet, knowing what he’d done.
His mistake earlier could have botched the entire ritual. If the ritual had failed she knew he wouldn’t pay for it, she would. She’d waited too long for this moment and suffered too much to allow that now.
Fear got the better of her and she whispered through the silence, quivering the thickened air. “If you screwed this up because you can’t catch a kid, you’ll pay.” The idea spawned a physical pain in her chest. Frustrated with the emotions she twisted the heartache into something she could comprehend: anger.
The redhead smirked as if it were the most amusing thing she’d said all day. She was no match for him physically, he had demonstrated that on more than one occasion, but this time would be different.
Stillness gave way to a chill.
chill…no, his power. Despite being so near the fire, she felt like there was ice in her veins.
He was closer.
Gripping the black, leather-bound book to her chest she felt the power disturbing the air.
She hardly felt the howling wind above; though she could see it twisting the tip of the bonfire in a fiery vortex.
According to her book, the flames acted as a conduit between the two worlds.
Her partners shouted in alarm and she smiled inwardly.
They were fools, always bossing her around, thinking her inferior. The bruises on her arms and legs would fade and so would her memories of them. She doubted she would even think of them after tonight.
“What is this?” A mellifluous voice that might as well have pulled her into an embrace, whispered at her. He asked only her, not them, but
For a split second, she forgot to breathe.
The exhilaration wracking her limbs shuddered through her voice as she gasped. He was here at last, he was with her, he came after all the grueling work and sacrifice. This had been a moment she feared she may only experience in her imagination. She wanted to exclaim,
but knew better. This demon wouldn’t want praise even if she fell to the ground weeping.
Swallowing the nervous bile in the back of her throat she called out. “Do you like her?” The confidence ringing in her voice surprised her. Her insides were a sloshing muck in comparison.
“I wanted the other one,” he answered in obvious displeasure.
Listening to his voice echo in her head, she tried to memorize it, to capture it.
She searched the bonfire wanting to see him.
, she thought.
There were only two. I’d told them which one to sacrifice and what do they do? They could have ruined everything!
Breaking from her composure, she protested. “She couldn’t have gone far. I can find…”
“You’re wasting my time,” his abrupt tone straightened her spine.
For the first time since initiating the ritual she felt a hint of fear. “I did not mean to. Please, what may I…”
“You sacrificed the wrong one.”
“I sacrificed her for
,” she answered, lifting her hands pleadingly. She knew running back to find the other child would take too long. The portal would close in a few minutes.
Shaking dirt off her fingertips she cleared her throat.
This was her last gateway to a better place, she reminded herself. “I want to join you in the Demon’s Grave,” she blurted in painful desperation.
The air was growing thinner, less vibrant, less…magical.
Dread wriggled inside of her as the silence stretched—ached.
On the verge of panic she hoped he hadn’t abandoned her. “You can choose your Neophyte. I asked the Keeper from this realm and he confirmed this rule.” Her heart fluttered like a trapped butterfly. “I wish to leave this world and join you. Choose me!”
She heard her two partners behind her protesting but she couldn’t make out the words. She didn’t care what they had to say, they were dead to her one way or the other.
“Please!” She implored the darkness. He couldn’t be gone already, the heaviness of his power lingered despite the dilution around her. It was like stepping out of a pool. Air wasn’t as thick as water and this was beautiful, a hot spring of power.
“No other could have summoned you,” she spoke so fast words melted together. “Only one with demon’s blood could.” She slapped her bloodied hand against her stomach, attempting to calm the chaos.
“This is true,” the tenebrous tone said, smothering her anxiety. She hadn’t lost him after all. Despite the comfort, she couldn’t stop shaking, her entire body rippled with raw emotion.
She tried to smile, her lips twitching in the effort. “As a gift rather than a sacrifice, I present these two.” She glanced over her shoulder at the brothers.
Standing side by side, several feet back they stared, dumbfounded. She savored the revelation dawning on their faces.
“What?” The taller brother snapped, anger darkening his stubbed face. “You…”
“I accept,” the melodic voice interrupted.
Hearing the demon, the two went rigid.
Flushing with pride, she turned back to the lowering flames. Their time was almost up.
The brothers didn’t scream. A strangled gurgle was all she heard before she knew that
had taken them. He had accepted her gift, heard her plea. The few powers she retained in this world would expand ten-fold within the Demon’s Grave, with him.
A shiver of delight rocked her as she tried to stand before the bonfire. “Take me as your Neophyte,” she demanded, her knees threatening to disobey her body.
Within the darkness on the other side of the blaze, his voice had grown fainter. “No.”
At first she didn’t believe what she’d heard. She hesitated, staring into the flames, masking the confused betrayal as best as she could. “You said, ‘Yes’.”
“I agreed that you had demon blood in you, diluted as it may be.”
Anger scorched her throat and she felt her fingers curling into fists. “I brought you here. I gave you gifts and a sacrifice of equal blood.” At the mention of blood, she wiped the stinging cut in her eyelid again, smearing it across her cheekbone and into her hairline.
“No, your sacrifice was not of equal blood. I didn’t want that child. I made it clear. The other was a better choice.”
She had dedicated the last seven years of her life to this moment. She had endured pain, torture, beatings; she murdered for him and during all of it she had one comfort: that he would take her as his Neophyte.
All the psychic signs, meditations and even the spirits she corralled confessed this to be true.
Shifting her weight, afraid she might collapse, she felt his presence receding. She tasted blood the moment her teeth dislodged from the wet divots left in her lips. The sharp pain was almost a pleasant distraction.
“I killed that child for you,” she called, as if this scratch in her already tarnished soul would make a difference to a demon.
“Thoughtful, but not accurate,” he said, sounding amused at her pain.
Hearing his apathetic tone, her hatred boiled. “What about me?!” Her voice echoed in the clearing.
The gravity of the supernatural magic disappeared. In an instant the flames were extinguished, leaving her cold and alone.
She flexed her fingers in denial, waiting for the presence to return. The pain was nothing compared to the heat that resonated from her chest, the twisted pain that brought tears to her eyes.
The leaves rippled behind her in the wind. The frogs, crickets and any other nocturnal creatures resumed their songs as if nothing had happened.
Mental screams rang in her ears, the words repeating themselves like a broken record.
What about me? What about me? What about me?
Falling to her knees, Nell stared at the smoldering embers and watched smoky tendrils curl toward the moon. She pondered searching through the blackened pile of wood, hay and ingredients for the bones of the dead child. Part of her wanted to try and summon him again, but she couldn’t move and she knew he wouldn’t come again.
The blood from the cut in her eyelid dribbled through her lashes, stinging her eye and still she didn’t move.
I hadn’t written the note, but it was undoubtedly my handwriting.
Spine bowed with the weight of my backpack, I raised the torn, lined paper to my face again. My sweaty fingertips already softening the edges of the note.
The detail was uncanny. The little ‘e’s that looked like ‘c’s and the cursive mixed with print. Hell, I’d know those fat ‘D’s that Read described as ‘butts’ anywhere.
I frowned at the words:
Dismal is the Demon’s Grave.
Dismal and dark…
I thought, unsure why.
The note had been masquerading as a bookmark in my
Writing for the Media
textbook, I knew it couldn’t have been there for more than a day. With finals looming I kept all of my books close.