undead

Tales from the Raven’s Loft Inn: Part 2–A selection from the rough draft

Here’s the second half of the selection from my novel-in-progress. I picked these selections because I enjoyed them. As I said before, I’ve had people asking me what I’ve been working on for the past two-and-a-half years, and so I’m trying to share a little (I’ve already shared somewhat from my other novel-in-progress). This is really rough, and already the shape it’s taking in the rewrite has a faint resemble to what you’ve read–and will read–here. Much like a tadpole to a frog, or cake batter to a baked and frosted cake, so to my novel-in-progress to the completed manuscript.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!

They entered the tomb and found it meticulously kept: unlike the others they had been in, this tomb had been freshly dusted, and only one spider’s web—a tangled net draped across a crack in a corner of the ceiling—could be seen. The fresh smell of thyme and pine resin, tansy and other wildflowers perfumed the air. Greg flashed Alec a grin—there in front of them were two rows of stone coffins, all undisturbed.

“Lucky for us someone forgot to lock the door.” Greg said. He tugged a couple of torches from his satchel and tossed one to Alec. “Here, get this lit, if you can remember the spell.”

Alec grumbled to himself, and cast a Minor Flame onto the torch. It flared up as if he had doused the torch in charcoal lighter fluid. He yelled, nearly dropping the torch. The flame subsided, and glowed softly in the settling dark.

“Good one,” Greg said. He lit his torch without all of the fanfare and they set the torches in the brackets on the wall. They walked over to the nearest coffin. “We’ve got to begin somewhere.” Alec felt uneasy, for someone kept the tomb as clean as his mom kept their home in case visitors dropped by. It felt sacrilegious and wrong, an invasion of someone’s private space.

“They may be coming back soon,” he suggested, leaving the so maybe we should go, dangling unsaid in the hopes that Greg would reach that conclusion and they could try another, less well-kept, tomb.

“Dude, it’s nightfall, who’s going to come to the visit their dead family now. Now, wedge your fingers under the slab and lift.”

Alec hesitated, but did indeed slide his fingers and, with palms wet with sweat and arms shaking—not from the heaviness of the marble slab but from nervousness—he helped Greg reveal the contents of the coffin. There, lying with arms at his sides and his hair shorn short, was a man. A dead man and, from his condition, was probably laid to rest a day or two ago. His eyes were closed, and his mouth hung slightly open, as if he died while taking a breath which he would never exhale. He was not much older than them, and from what they could tell of his short-cropped coal-colored head of hair he had a long way to go before he went grey. His skin was soft and unwrinkled, and his hands thin and willowy.

With his jewelry and clothing, they guessed him to be a man of importance, a merchant nobleman. He had a ring on each hand, both set with lime-green gems that captured and spun the firelight into a dazzling display. The green complemented the violet velvet of his tunic. The craftsmanship of his boots made theirs look like beggar’s rags.

This is how I will be buried, Greg thought. Fine clothes and rings, smelling fresh, preserved in pine resin to slow the decaying process. In death, this man had more than Greg’s family had in life. Jealously, he wanted to steal the man’s rings and burn his clothes, but respect made him straighten out the hem of the dead man’s tunic where it had pulled up. I will have this. . . No, I will exceed this—like the Egyptians and their monuments, I will be remembered after my death.

Alec stumbled back in shock at seeing the body, and bumped into the coffin directly behind him, startling a squeak out of him. Greg stood over the body, wearing a solemn and pensive look, as if he was about to eulogize the man, or give a sermon about the transience of life. He watched Greg reach down and stroke out his tunic and tug down the bottom, like a lover straightening her beloved’s collar.

Greg took the book and placed it on the cover of a nearby coffin. He pulled things out of his satchel for the spell: a small bloodstone, a sprig of hemlock, a small vial of yellow, viscous liquid. He glanced up as he pulled stuff out. “Go out and gather some Corpse Fingers for additional lighting, while I prepare the spell. Hurry, it’s getting dark, Septimus will be expecting us soon.”

Something about the spell made Alec uneasy, and the corpse really unsettled him, so when Greg directed him to go out and gather Corpse Fingers he went gladly. He walked down the rows of gravestones, plucking the biggest of the mushrooms. They felt eerily warm in his hands, radiating heat like a rat or hamster. He wanted to end this now and leave, but he knew he was in too deep at this point, just like when they went to steal the street sign, and he had misgivings as they climbed onto the hood of his car to better reach the bolts. He glanced back at the tomb—under the grey clouds, with the wind wet and the night blotting out the light, and the Corpse Fingers stretching and waving out of the ground like real fingers, the tomb with its soft torchlight looked positively inviting. He heard something scrape against stone on the far side of the graveyard, and saw something scurry on all fours by the wall there. A hysterical chuffing sound akin to laughter accompanied the scurrying. His blood ran cold at the sound, and all of the hair on his body puffed out. He straightened up and hurried back to the tomb, one arm wrapped tightly around the mushrooms, his free hand gripping the hilt of his sword.

Greg stood over the dead man, his back to the door. A small globe of light hovered over the man’s face. When he heard Alec come in he called over his shoulder, “Great, arrange those around the coffin so we have sufficient light.”

“Greg,” Alec began, but Greg cut him off.

“We’re going through with this—we’ve gone too far to go back now.” He turned to face Alec, a dagger in his hand. Alec backed away, his hand loosening his sword from its scabbard.

Greg laughed at the sight. “I just need a little blood, that’s all.”

‘Fuck that. You want blood, you’d better be ready to shed it if you think you’re getting it from me.”

“Chill, dude.” Greg took the tip of the dagger, and made a small cut on the inside of his forearm. “I’m not gonna ask anything of you that I can’t do myself.” Alec sighed, relieved. Greg sheathed the dagger in his belt and then smeared the bloodstone with his blood. He took the vial, and poured it over the stone and smeared it, so blood and liquid coated the stone.

“Alright, here we go.” Alec crept close to stand on the other side of the coffin. The pine resin coating the dead man’s skin made him look encased in amber, his features so peaceful it seemed a shame to disturb him. They looked at each other, and Greg knew how the Wright Brothers must have felt with their first flight, or Nikola Tesla and Kolman Czito felt working on experiments together, here they were about to have a breakthrough that would change their lives and Taleth henceforth.

“Hold open his mouth.” Greg said.

“What?” Alec balked at touching the dead man—who knew what diseases crawled his festering skin.

“Unless you want to stuff the hemlock and the stone down his throat.” Alec shook his head and placed his fingers on the dead man’s jaw and gingerly pushed. He did it as if afraid to wake the man, but when it wouldn’t move he pushed hard until they heard a crack it hinged open like a jammed door. Resin flaked from his skin.

Greg took the sprig of hemlock and placed it in the dead man’s mouth, and then with the greased and bloody bloodstone shoved it down his throat. He reached as far into the man’s mouth as he could, pushing the stone down until he couldn’t reach it anymore. Alec watched, horrified.

“You’re stuffing hemlock down his throat and chasing it with a bloody rock? We’re going to bring him back to life only to poison and suffocate him?”

“That’s what the spell says to do. Maybe it absorbs his death and then he coughs it back up, or it shrinks down and he pisses it out like a kidney stone.”

“So what now?” Alec felt a little disappointed. He half-expected the man to jump out of the coffin, but he lay there the same, except his mouth hung open like he was waiting for someone to throw popcorn or candy into it.

“I finish the spell. These were the material components. Damn, dude, really, how much magic have you studied?” Alec’s face reddened. Greg picked up the book and leaned over the corpse. He recited the spell, whispering into its ear. Alec noticed the torchlight flicker, and then the Corpse Fingers extinguish, their soft blue light evacuated the room, fleeing as if they knew what was to come. The air filled with electricity and grew cold. Suddenly, what seemed like an electric burst emanated from the dead man that sent chills through them and shoved them back—Greg flew back into the tomb wall, knocking a torch loose from its wall sconce so that it clattered to the floor, sparks scuttling like insects over the stone; Alec fell back against the coffin behind him, the wind knocked out of him as he slid to the floor. They both laid where they had been thrown staring at the open coffin. The tomb was still and silent.

“This had better have worked.” Alec grumbled. He and Greg both rose. Their eyes met when they stood, and they held their gaze before both looking down into the coffin. There was the dead man, his mouth still slack, his eyes still closed. Only his tunic ruffled. They stepped to the coffin.

Well?” Alec asked.

“Hold on.” He clutched the side of the coffin and leaned in to put his ear near the dead man’s mouth. “I don’t hear anything.”

Was it his imagination, or did the dead man’s fingers twitch? “Ummm . . . Greg?”

Before he could respond, before he could stand full upright, the dead man’s hands shot up and seized Greg’s forearm. Greg screamed and tried to pull away, but the dead man hung on with the grip of rigor mortis and brought his forearm up to its mouth. With its eyes closed, it lapped at the cut Greg had made to draw blood, licking it like a half-dozing baby licked at its mother’s nipple after eating.

Alec screamed, and backed away, banging into the coffin behind him again. Greg twisted and yanked to free his arm, but the reanimated corpse hung on and began sucking on it.

“Fuck fuck fuck” Alec chanted as he watched.

“Help me. Do something,” Greg barked. He drew the dagger from his belt, and as he lifted it to stab the revenant, it bit down into the flesh of his arm. It wrenched its head to and fro, tearing a chunk from his arm. He drove the dagger into the revenant’s forehead with enough force to knock it back and make it release his arm. He drew his wounded arm to chest and recoiled from the coffin to lean against the wall.

The moment it bit down on Greg’s arm, Alec unsheathed his sword and stood waiting for a chance to attack—he daren’t swing while it clung to Greg, for fear of slashing and killing him. Now, he thought, I might have to. Don’t people bit by zombies become zombies?

The revenant popped up from the coffin, gore running down its face from the wound in its forehead. Its eyes open now, it peered around the room. The eyes were glassy and cold—all warmth of life had left them. It glanced from Greg to Alec and back to Greg as if making a decision on whom to attack. Rising up on one arm, it catapulted from the coffin to land on its feet in front of Greg. Greg stood against the wall, hunch over his wounded arm, the gory dagger in his hand. It leapt at him. Greg slashed out, but the revenant seized his hand and cracked it against the wall, forcing him to drop the dagger. Holding his good hand, it grabbed his face with its free hand. He felt the cool gold of the ring against his cheek, the fingers tightening, digging into his eyesockets, pushing in his eyes as it pressed his head against the wall. He hit its stomach and tried to push it away with his free hand, but it hurt too much for him to put much strength in it. Suddenly, a huffing sound, air being forced out of a bellows, came from it. It pulled him back from the wall and cast him to the back of the tomb, where he hit the wall and fell to the stone floor.

Alec saw the revenant spring from the coffin and pounce upon Greg the way his cocker spaniel Pinochle pounced on a doggie treat. We created a fucking Juju zombie, Alec thought. He raced around the coffin, watching Greg attempt to fight it. The revenant toyed with him as if he was a toddler. Please don’t kill him, please let me make it in time, God. Please. He’s my best friend, Alec prayed. He grew up Catholic, but never bothered with the Bible or Church, now he would do anything if God granted this prayer. The revenant held Greg up by the face, squeezing his head, its thumb and middle finger digging into Greg’s eyes. Afraid if he stabbed him he would stab Greg, he swung up, slashing the revenant’s back. He cut the velvet tunic and shaved the back of its scalp off. It jostled forward from the blow, threw Greg to the back of the room, and turned to face him.

He expected his battles to be full of witty one-liners as he cut through enemy after enemy, but the only thing he could think of, now that the glassy-eyed creature faced him, the gore glistening on its face and clotting on its tunic, was survival. He wanted to live, and he wanted Greg to live.

The revenant stood before him. It didn’t move; it just stood there, glistening in the light of the torches, silent. Alec bounced on his knees, waiting. It glanced towards Greg, then to the door, and then back to Alec. It isn’t very smart, is it—it plans on running. He waited for it to run, but instead it lunged at him, just as it had at Greg.

Alec screamed, and slashed wildly at the revenant—his first swing slashing up the front of its body, slicing open its tunic and stomach, so that its entrails spilled over his pants and boots. His second swing saved him, for the revenant grabbed his throat just as Alec’s sword went through its neck and its head tumbled backwards to the floor. The hand squeezed, choking him, and he realized that, though he cut off its head, it still wasn’t dead.

“Fuck,” he cried and, out of desperation. The revenant grabbed him with its other hand and squeezed tighter. As the world spun and his vision grew fuzzy, he cast his Minor flame spell upon the revenant’s body. In an instant, the hands grew slack as the flames engulfed the body. The air filled with stench of burning flesh and resin. Alec stumbled away from it, sucking in deep breaths, and bumped into the same stone coffin. He hollered and kicked at it until it felt like he broke his toe, and then he turned and sat down on the floor. Leaning against it, through tears, he watched the fire consume the body.

Alec and Greg sat on the beach next to a driftwood fire. They left the tomb in silence, letting the corpse burn. Untethering their horses, they rode back to the keep, veering off the trail and through the woods to the beach to clean up before they went all the way back. The sea welcomed them with rolling, clapping waves, and they returned the greeting by stripping down—though Alec only to his underwear, he refused to be naked in front of anyone if he could help it—and throwing themselves into its embrace. The saltwater stung his wounds, but Greg welcomed the pain, for it cleansed and healed him. They delighted in the roiling and turbulent water, rolling around in it like otters. Swimming against the waves, fighting the ebb and flow of the currents, gave them a catharsis—the sea took all of their fear and anger and pain, allowed them to kick and slash and punch it until they had enough, and it set them ashore wet and shivering but joyful to be alive.

Alec soaked his pants in a tidepool, hoping to get most of the gore off of them, and then—after wiping his boots off with a handful of seaweed—he sat by the fire and scrubbed of the bits that clung to them with a shell.

Greg cut strips from the end of his cloak and wrapped them around the bite wound. It stung, but felt much better after being washed out in the sea. He gazed blankly out at the ocean and rolled the ring around on his finger. He fished it out of the fire as they left, knocking it loose of the corpse’s charred fingers and wrapping it up in a corner of his cloak. He saved it as a reminder of this evening. I was careless, he thought. I should’ve been more careful and precise. I thought I knew what the spell said, but I didn’t read it carefully enough, and that nearly cost us our lives. Too, too fragile things, they are, and too easily extinguished in this world. I’ve gotta study harder and practice more, we weren’t brought up with this, as the generations before us had been, and so we’ve got a lot of catching up and learning to do. Maybe Septimus has taken us as far as he can, maybe it’s time for us to start teaching ourselves. This wouldn’t have happened if he taught us everything there was to know about magic, instead of what he thinks we should know. His limitations are dangerous, and set us back.

“Are you hungry at all? Any sudden cravings come over you?” Alec asked. Greg snapped out of his thoughts and laughed.

“Is there a time when you aren’t hungry? Nah, but I’ll sure eat somethin’ when we get back. Scrounge up some black bread and finish off whatever’s left of Gareth’s stew.”

Alec raised his eyebrows. “What about . . . meat. Do you have a craving for meat? Any meat in particular?”

“What are you hinting at? Wait, are you worried that I’m a zombie, because I was bitten? Dude, that only happens in movies. And that wasn’t a zombie—”

“It acted like a zombie—it bit your arm. It fought like a juju zombie. That thing had a ‘Bad Motherfucker’ wallet in its back pocket.”

Greg laughed. “Dude, you fought like a juju zombie. I’m glad you cast your Minor Flame spell, or we’d both be zombie chow right now. I’d hate to see your Dragon’s Breath—you’d’ve probably burned up the whole graveyard.”

Alec guffawed. He didn’t mention that he still struggled with Dragon’s Breath, his spell creating nothing more than a flash of blue and green embers.

“Hey, I’m sorry about tonight,” Greg fumbled with the apology, half-shouting the first half and then half-muttering the latter. “I should’ve been more careful. I thought I knew the dialect well enough to read and understand the spell.”

Alec smiled and held back a snarky retort—it was hard for him to not attack Greg at such a vulnerable moment. “Well, we got some great combat practice in. . . and I see that when you don’t cheat, you don’t fight so well.” He punctuated his jab with a burst of maniacal laughter. “Next time you want to try something like that. . . Do it without me.” He got up and picked his way across the sand to the tidepool where he left his pants.

Damnit. Fucking nature. Fucking animals,” he cried. Greg hurried over and found Alec batting at his pants with a stick. The gore that clung to them drew a horde of crabs. They wriggled over his pants, little Rorschach inkblots in the moonlight. He had put the cuffs and lower legs into the pool, but the crabs, in their greedy orgy, had pulled most of his pants in, soaking them all the way to the upper thighs. “What are you doing just standing there, help me.”

Greg laughed, reached down, grabbed his pants by the waist and gave it a few vigorous shakes. Crabs flew into the tidepool and across the sand like bits of shrapnel. A few clung desperately, hoping to get the last bits. Greg pinched these ones and pitched them across the sand. Greg handed Alec the pants free of crabs and gore, but soaked. “They might be a little damp.”

They waited another hour before heading back, to give Alec’s pants a chance to dry out by the fire. They joked more about the revenant, finding ways to talk around their fear, rather than to expose it and expose themselves as cowards. Greg brought the conversation around to Septimus, and he outlined his main concern about studying under Septimus: his hesitation at teaching them forbidden magic.

“After tonight’s demonstration, I can see why he doesn’t teach us. It’s dangerous, that’s why it’s forbidden.”

“That’s exactly why he should be teaching us—so that we can learn it in a safe environment. We need to know this magic if we plan on ruling Taleth.”

“What do you suggest then, that we go off and find another wizard to study under? Or head off ourselves and have more shenanigans like tonight that will eventually lead to one or both of us being killed.”

Greg swatted the flames of the fire with a stick he used to poke the coals. “No, I don’t think we’re going to find another wizard like Septimus. I don’t think it’d be that easy to find another wizard. What I think we need to do is learn what we can from Septimus, and teach ourselves, but—”Alec began to speak, but Greg squinted at Alec and held up his hand, “let me finish. We need to teach ourselves, but on a smaller scale than tonight, and in a controlled environment. I was thinking that we need to look at setting up our own magical study. I mean, face it, Septimus’s mind isn’t all there. He’s got one foot in the grave and when he croaks, who’s taking over the keep? Umbriel. And is she gonna let us stick around? Hell, no. So we need to be prepared. There will come a point when we’re kicked out and have nothing to show for it because we’ve been relying on Septimus this whole time. If we plan on taking back our kingdom, we need to start preparing now.”

Alec began listening with skepticism, but as Greg continued, he got more and more excited, until he was pacing back and forth next to the fire. In the firelight, with his ear-to-ear grin and the flames reflecting in his eyes, Alec resembled a devil, he completed the image by wringing his hands, one of his hyperactive tics.

“I like it. I like it. That’s brilliant.” He laughed, assaulting the silence of the beach with a staccato burst.

Greg nodded in agreement. Yes, he could see a plan coming together now. He could see . . . the cuffs of Alec’s pants singed by the fire. “Hey, grab your pants, they’re starting to burn.”

“Ah, jeez,” Alec tossed his pants out of the fire and batted the cuffs with a rock.

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Tales from the Raven’s Loft Inn: Part 1–a selection from the rough draft

I’ve begun revising the rough draft for my novel (the completed one, I’m still at least a hundred pages from completing the new one), and thought I might share a little bit of it now (especially since I’ve had a few people asking me about it). The premise of the novel is simple: four friends go out to the woods for a bachelor party and they never come back . . . Well, that’s the simple answer I’ve been giving people when they ask me about the rough draft. It’s a little more complicated. They set up camp in the woods, go to sleep, and wake up in another world. The first to wake up, Jack, wanders off to explore, while his friends are taken on by a wizard as his apprentices. Well, that gets complicated too, for they’re also attacked by a roving band of mercenaries, with one of them being shot through with an arrow and left to die in the woods. So: two of them, Alec and Greg, survive the attack and go on to become apprentices—of a sort—to the wizard, Gary (the one shot through with the arrow, and whose bachelor party it was) is left for dead in the woods, and clueless Jack is wandering around the woods. That’s the gist of my novel—obviously, there’s a lot more to it. I hope that makes some sense. Maybe.

What I’m posting is to sate curiosity, nothing more. It’s still in the rough draft stage—I’ve gone through and corrected spelling, but other than that, much of it will be getting rewritten. Heavily rewritten. The section I’m posting to the blog centers around Alec and Greg. They’ve lived with the Septimus, the wizard, for some time now, and have begun to chafe at the limited exposure he has given them to magic. They long to try out more esoteric spells and have gone out on their own to try something a bit different . . . .

Enjoy.

 

They rode for a couple of hours, through the forest and then on to a wide meadow. Greg stopped here, consulted a map—which Alec tried to peek at, but Greg kept riding his horse away so that Alec couldn’t see—and then they veered south. The rain stopped and sky purpled above them, the clouds the color of fresh bruises, as the sun set. Ahead of them, Alec could see a stone wall a few feet high, crumbling in places. Stones dotted the ground, and there were a number of small stone buildings—abandoned hovels, he guessed. A few trees loitered awkwardly, out of place amongst the stones and buildings. Ruins, possibly? Have we come in search of treasure? He fidgeted on his horse, anxious to see what kind of treasure hunt Greg had brought them on. He imagined all the possibilities—magical weapons, invisibility boots, piles of gold like the kind Scrooge McDuck would swim in. The stones took shape as they grew closer, and his excitement fled d he wanted to join it as he realized where Greg had brought them—a graveyard. They had come in the rain, as night fell, to a graveyard.

He stopped his horse. A graveyard—that’s what Greg’s brought me to see. Well, maybe there are ruins underneath, Alec thought, returning to his fantasies of untold wealth and fame—so far, being a displaced descendent of royalty returned home had yielded him nothing but bruises, bad food and mental anguish. Perhaps, he thought, my life is taking a turn for the better. Greg’s been consulting a lot of maps lately, maybe he stumbled upon treasure in the catacombs here, and some classic D&D style dungeon-crawling. Gold and goblins, sounds like a nice way to spend the evening. He pined for the nights when the Mountain Dew flowed, and they couldn’t microwave enough chicken nuggets and taquitos while trouncing trolls and rummaging through the remains of previous adventurers in search of money and magical items. Wouldn’t he have told me to bring more though? I’m not equipped for any kind of adventures. . . Real life in a fantasy world lacked the luster and glamour of role-playing. He dreamt of this happening, and now it seemed so ordinary and mundane.

“I’m not going in there.” he called out decisively. Greg had dismounted his horse and was tying it up to the neck of a statue at the graveyard gates. A breeze blew and whipped up Greg’s cloak as he turned to face Alec. Damn, that’s dramatic, Alec thought. I wonder if he’s doing that intentionally. He loved using his magic for to create an aura of power around him, and would whip up small gusts to rustle his cloak as he descended the stairs for breakfast or brighten the sunlight behind him so that he appeared to have a halo.

“What are you afraid of—there’s nothing here but dead bodies, dust and bones. C’mon, I’ve got somethin’ to show you.”

Something in the tone of his voice raised Alec’s hackles. His instincts want him to turn back, apprehensive of what was to come, but his curiosity and faithfulness to his friend compelled him across the meadow and through the crumbling gates of the graveyard.

The clouds unraveled enough that the last bits of days flaked through, spotlighting sections of the graveyard. Corpse Fingers, pale blue club-shaped mushrooms that rose from the ground like fingers, glowed with an eerie luminescence. A light wind blew, whipping up the smell of salt and rain and the loamy ground. They picked their way through the graveyard, Greg scanning the ground, but heading towards the western end where crypts buttressed each other like a row of brownstone tenements. Alec followed after tentatively, his anxiety rising so that he tittered with his maniacal laugh.

Greg glanced back. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing. We’re just wandering through a desolate graveyard in the middle of nowhere at sunset. What are you looking for?”

“Fresh graves,” Greg replied. “But I want to check out the tombs first.”

Alec stopped in a patch of sunlight. “Wait. What?” he glared at Greg’s back.

As if he felt Alec’s glare tugging at his ponytail, Greg turned around. “We’re looking for graves. Fresh bodies. What did you think we were doing here, picking tulips?”

The weight of Greg’s words struck Alec as he realized what he said. He stepped back from Greg. “Bodies? What are we doing with a body, hunh, Dr. Frankenstein? And look around you, this is an old graveyard. This freshest body you’ll find here has got to be half the age of Septimus.”

Greg sighed. “I’ve examined some maps, and this is one of the original necropolises. There are bound to be a few semi-fresh bodies here.”

“Necropolis? I hate to tell you, but this area isn’t a bustling suburb. I don’t think that people are lining up to get buried here. Look at the state of the place?” Alec waved his arm to emphasize his point: the walls surrounding the graveyard were overgrown, as was the graveyard itself. The forest slowly took back the land.

“Dude, didn’t you keep up with your history? Corpse-drivers. The dead-bound. They drive the dead to their family graveyards, these necropolises. It’s an old tradition, and most people abandoned it during the Necromantic plague. When necromancy was at its peak, they were often getting assaulted—like getting carjacked, but instead corpse-jacked. There was even that infamous scene where it turned out a couple of necromancers had brought back a dead nobleman to life and were using him as a puppet to rule his lands. Fucked-up shit. People mostly burn their dead now, to prevent their loved ones from being used. Not that there are any necromancers anymore.”

“Wait, are you saying that I’m about to participate in highway robbery, and you plan on stealing a corpse?”

“Not exactly. We’re not holding anyone up. There’s nobody alive around here for miles. Just c’mon.”

Alec refused to move. “No. I want to know what we’re—you’re—doing here. Why do you want a body?”

Greg gritted his teeth and glared at Alec as he reached into his satchel and withdrew a thin manuscript bound in tan leather. He held up the manuscript. “This is why we’re here. If we want to be true wizards . . . If we want to rule this land, we need to know as much magic as possible, and we cannot be held back. This is a manuscript in the Old Emerath dialect, and it has a few of the forbidden spells—necromancy. I brought us out here to try and cast one, but it requires a body. Now, I need your help, and you can either help me or hold us back. You decide.”

“Where did you find this book?” Alec couldn’t hide his horror . . . and awe. The book contained forbidden magic, magic outlawed not just by law but by magicians as well. No wizard would ever practice necromancy, and few ever studied it. That Greg had read it and obviously planned to do something with it excited and terrified Alec. If they were caught, the punishment would be awful, but the power of the magic and its infamy—and that the greatest of D&D campaigns featured the vampiric necromancer, Count Strahd—drew him to it like a moth to a flame. Secretly, he had perused the shelves of the Septimus’s library for just such a book, but found nothing.

“It was stuffed inside another book. A cookbook.”

Alec laughed. “A cookbook?”

“Yeah. I was looking for a cookbook because I was so sick of eating Gareth’s shitty cooking. It’s disgusting. Obviously, no one has tried to cook anything for years, for this was tucked inside. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but I recognized the dialect, and after reading through it I found out it was a spellbook—like the ones Septimus keeps under protection. But he missed this one, and now it’s ours.”

The squeamishness and horror he felt about finding a fresh corpse evaporated as he gazed upon the book in Greg’s hands and thought of the power they could gain—he could become an even greater wizard-warrior, mastering magic known to only a few. Perhaps there might be a spell there to help him master his condition. “Alright,” he walked up to Greg. “I’ll help, but don’t expect me to touch the body in any way. What’s the spell we’re casting?”

Greg had the pages marked with seagull feathers he found on the beach while studying the book. He showed it to Alec, who looked over the passages, the notations in various hands and dialects, and the diagrams. The ink had faded in spots, stains threatened to obliterate words, but even if the text had been in the cleanest handwriting, or typed, he had no idea what it said. He struggled—no, he resisted—his language lessons, for those he took with Umbriel, and would’ve preferred cooking lessons from Gareth. Now, he regretted those wasted afternoons, as he sheepishly asked, “So what is this spell?”

Damn, fool. . .” Greg shook his head. “From what I understand, it says ‘A Spell for Bringing Back the Dead.’”

“So we’re going to bring back some random guy from the dead? What about his family, and what are we going to do, bring him back with us—‘hey Septimus, look what we found in the woods. Can we keep him?’”

Greg stopped in his tracks, an incredulous look on his face. “We’ve got the ability to resurrect the dead here,” He waved the book inches from Alec’s nose, “and you’re worried about what to do with the guy after we’ve brought him back to life. From the dead. Dude, it’s not like we’re going to wake some guy up, we’re giving him life. Do you understand? Back. From. The. Dead.”

Alec stood speechless, mortified. Chastened by Greg’s rant. What greater inconvenience is there than death? So what if the man had to travel hundreds of miles to get home, at least he could make that journey—if not for their intervention, he’d be here fruiting and rotting. “In a way, we’re like Jesus resurrecting Lazenby.”

“Lazarus. Lazenby played Bond.”

“Yeah, Lazarus. Lazenby was an underrated Bond.”

They began walking again, the Corpse Fingers ushering them through the graveyard, their luminescent glow providing enough light to make up for the cloudy sky—the sun hid behind the clouds, and no stars or the moon broke through the shroud overhead. Tombs littered the sprawling graveyard, but a row of them lined the western wall. They began with these, starting at the very first and moving their way down. The first few they found locked, and went through great efforts to break into them, but each one only provided them with dust and rags, bones and sore shoulders from forcing the wooden doors open. In the third one, they found bats hibernating, and the floor carpeted with guano. Alec swung around and nearly retched from the sight, covering his mouth with his hand and hunching over.

“Do you think it’s okay, our bringing this guy back to life,” he said, as he recovered from the sight and stench of the layers of guano. “Is right for us to play God like this? What right do we have to bring him back from the dead?”

Greg had moved on to the next tomb. “We’ve got a spell, and what’s the big deal, this is just going to be some average person—it’s not like we’re bringing back Balaethe.”

“Balaethe?” Alec asked, annoyed at yet another reference he didn’t understand.

“Dude, do you ever pay attention during history lessons . . . Hey—” The door opened on greased hinges. “It’s open.”

 

Snippet from my latest project.

Here’s a snippet from the project that I’ve been working on for the past nine months. It was supposed to be a short piece I thought I’d knock out in a few months–a respite from the rough draft I’d just finished while I took a break before rewrites–but it’s ballooned and I probably will have the rewrites on my novel finished before this “short project.” This scene is simple–two twelve-year olds talking as they plan a horror movie they want to film.

Enjoy.

“How can a cemetery be abandoned? Have the dead left—they’re still here, obviously. Whenever my Aunt Christi describes where our house is located, she always refers people to the abandoned graveyard on the edge of town. I always have to stifle a laugh, because I envision all of the dead leaving in mass exodus. Imagine,” Katie swept her arm across the graveyard. “All of these dead uprooting themselves—skeletons and bodies in varying states of decomposition, I bet some of them are even mummified, and shambling through the gates and down through the city to somewhere else. Some sleek, chic cemetery with laser-engraved headstones and perfectly manicured grass where people will come with fresh-cut flowers. They won’t have to worry about foxes digging their dens into their graves or trees growing out of or upending their headstones or lichen blotting out their names. Though, if I was buried here, I wouldn’t want to leave. It’s got the right feeling for a graveyard—crumbling and mysterious, a gothic aura around it. The perfect place for a movie.” She smiled, her blue eyes agleam with a curious blend of mischief and innocence—just what you’d expect from a twelve-year old trying to keep one foot on the solid banks of childhood while probing the shallows of her approaching teenage years—and the much deeper adult years, out farther, but there, waiting dark and deep like the Mariana trench—with an outstretched toe.

Rusty stared at her, eyes wide and mouth agape. It took enough for him to come to this old graveyard that everyone was sure was haunted, but now, to hear this story about the dead rising and strolling helter-skelter not just past their gravestones and tombs, but through the city—even possibly down his street and past his house—he was already afraid of the nightmares he was going to have. “Girl, what are you tryin’ to do, here? You’re gonna be givin’ my nightmares nightmares, and I don’t wanna know what they’re gonna do to me.”

He saw the graveyard through new eyes: in the late afternoon shadows spooks skulked behind lichen-covered headstones and there in that stand of scrub oak a creature of rags and bones and a whistle where its words had been. He strained his ears to hear the sounds of his mother calling him for dinner, though he knew he couldn’t hear her, and it was still at least an hour away.

He backed up towards the gap in the stone wall through which they entered the graveyard. It was closest to Katie’s house, and easier than going around to the entryway. Leaves crackled underfoot–or were they the dried-up joints of the dead bending and flexing, preparing to extricate themselves from the ground to feast on flesh? Rusty’s imagination, once lit, quickly blazed into a bonfire. “You know, Katie, this was a great idea and all, but—“

Katie laughed, and suddenly the spooks were gone and the sun shone brighter, and the smell of fresh-baked pumpkin pie wafted over from Katie’s house and freshened the smell of leaves and grave dust. “Rusty, c’mon, the dead aren’t going to hurt us. They’re dead. And besides, if we run into anything, I’ll protect you. Now, let’s get to planning this movie.” Katie hopped up onto one of the tombstones, balancing on one foot and then sprang from it to the ground and then rabbited through the gravestones.

He watched her, mesmerized by her smile, her sprightly manner, and the strands of hair that stuck out from her Chicago Cubs baseball cap, and then realized she left him standing alone in the graveyard. He raced after her, ignoring the thought that beneath him, feeling his feet pounding across the earth, were hundreds of dead bodies like desiccated earthworms or cicadas cocooned and waiting for the right time to shed their coffins and burrow up into the air.

Jack’s Dream–an excerpt from a work-in-progress

I’m working on a dream sequence tonight for another rough draft, and it got me thinking about this dream sequence for the novel I just finished. This one is obviously very rough still (the novel it’s come from I’m about to begin rewriting), but something which I enjoyed. I hope you enjoy.

 

The smell of autumn lingered in the air: chaff and rubble burning in farmers’ fields, crumbling, desiccated aspen leaves–the bittersweet smell of rot as life leaves the earth for a season. A Chinook wind sent the leaves dancing over the time-worn stones around him. It was as if the ruins of the castle had sighed—letting loose long-held breath, one of anxiety and worry. He watched the leaves rise upon a rushing gust. They gamboled over the stones and the bodies scattered across the forest floor. The gust died and they stopped dancing and dropped. One settled like a patch over the open eye of the young woman they lay at his feet, more blanketed a great bear slouched under an immense ash tree. Still others came down over the bodies and the earth, a patchwork blanket tucking in the dead.

Weary and worn, he took the crown from his head and set it on the stone steps. He sheathed his sword and laid it down on the steps as well. All of this running and hiding and fighting and he couldn’t remember why. So many died. He looked back at the ruined castle, its walls long ago having tumbled to the ground, the stone floor once carpeted by rugs now by wildflowers. All that remained of its former power and glory was the throne, in which sat the old woman. He had dreamt of her before, but she was always swaddled in darkness, laughing. He always imagined that she was sitting in a rocker, but now he could see that she sat upon a throne cackling and staring at him. A tree rose up behind her, towering over her, its branches a sheltering bower. Cawing in the branches were ravens. A murder of ravens, he thought. . . no, an unkindness of ravens. An unkindness of ravens sat brooding over the old woman, ruffling restlessly in the Chinook breeze, cawing lowly to each other, as if they were waiting for something—a signal from the old woman, perhaps.

He walked down the steps to the young woman. Her hair was black as the feathers of the ravens. Her brown eyes twinkled, even in death. He ran his thumb over her lips, to wipe away the crust of blood and dirt, and cradled her freckled cheek. Who was she, he couldn’t remember, but he knew that her death pained him. He rested her head back on the earth and walked through the gloaming studying the bodies. So many friends, their bodies shattered and hacked and pierced. He stopped in front of the bear slumped under the aspen. At the feet of the bear, limbs akimbo more ragdoll than man, was Gary. Arrows pierced his chest and throat—the shaft of the arrow lodged in his throated parted his beard. The golden bower of aspen leaves tinkled like windchimes, underscoring the old woman’s laughter so that she almost sounded heavenly.

He looked around one more time and knew what he had to do. He made his way back to the ruins of the castle. Picking up the sword and crown, he went up the stairs and strode across the ruined courtyard towards the old woman.

The wildflowers rippled as he passed, but not from the breeze. From the shadows on either side of him, figures rose. He could feel them on either side. He daren’t look at them, he knew better; instead, he kept his eyes straight ahead on the old woman. She returned his gaze. He could felt the figures on either side of him watching him as well, and the ravens in the tree.

His path ended in front of her. Her laughter ended, and now she sat smirking. Without waiting, without a word or signal, he placed the crown into her lap. Immediately a sense of relief and regret washed over him. And fear, for the ravens in above him began cawing loudly as they began to move about on the branches of the tree. The old woman made no movements to accept or reject the crown, but continued to smirk at Jack, and he began to almost suspect that she was made of wax or plastic, or that she was dead.

Before he had a chance to learn what she was, he felt a gust rush up his back. A blast like an arctic wind, but drier and colder, and reeking of abandoned basements and attics and older, fouler things, swept over him and drove away the comforting warmth of the Chinook air, souring the smells of autumn. He drew his sword, casting aside the scabbard and spinning around, his blade extended before him. The scabbard scattered fallen leaves as it slid across the crumbling cobblestones of the courtyard, while the blade bit through bone, causing its victim’s head to pop from its body like a champagne cork.

The figures that had flanked the path were now filing in around Jack, their bony fingers more like the barbed talons of an eagle than the fingers of the men. The opals and pearls in their crowns shone with more life than the dusty sockets beneath them. Their velvet and silk rags breathed with life as they billowed with the motion of their wearers. Twelve men, more dead than alive, pressed in upon Jack—they had numbered thirteen, but Jack had destroyed the one closest.

He watched as they continued to shamble closer to him, their skin shimmering like fish scales. Like an undead chorus, their mouths were moving in mock unity, but he could hear nothing. Their arms were outstretched as if to embrace him, and this made it feel almost like a family reunion, like they were a bunch of grandfathers and uncles and great-grandfathers and great-uncles excited to see him after so many years. In the place of death and desiccated flesh he almost expected to smell cheap cologne, cigars and bourbon.

Before they could get any closer, and before he had to behead any more, real talons dug into clothes, pinched at his hair and skin, and soon he was being lifted off the ground by the unkindness of ravens.

The kindness of ravens—for his feelings changed and couldn’t see why they shouldn’t be called a kindness—lifted him into the heavens and away from the clutching hands of the undead. He hung from their many talons like a marionette being picked up and put away. He watched as the castle ruins, the old woman and the squirming dead shriveled with distance till they were just insects scuttling across the ground. The earth spread out beneath him like a patchwork quilt being spread over a bed. The ruins he had just been plucked from swiftly passed away, swallowed by the sprawling forest. Ahead of him, a mountain range brushed against the stars.

He wondered what the ravens were doing with him—obviously they rescued him for a reason, but why, and where they were taking him was beyond him. He was tempted to ask the ravens what their plans were but he knew better—and what answer would they give him, besides their gruff squawks and caws. Instead, he watched the land pass beneath him.