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Smoke A Drifter's Heart

by Randall Windle 4 months ago in halloween

Parts I-IV of Ruth/Osiris

Ruth hit her head on the attic beam…again. It left red marks the size of large coins on her forehead. Being used to it, she just gave the beam a death glare, and rolled out of bed. Both boots hit the ground, and she noticed she’d fallen asleep in her clothes again. The bandolier that trailed from shoulder to hip was still snug, the pointed lead pellets it held were present and accounted for. The dream from yesterday hadn’t happened again, but it still hid in her memory.

Staying in one place for months was doing her some good outside of the odd injury here or there. Ruth's broken skylight told her it was early hours, and hurried rain was rushing in. Ready to decide that the rain was what had woke her from a dreamless sleep, Ruth turned back. But the screams outside changed her mind. After taking two steps forward, she diverted from the unmade bed, and took an air rifle from its hiding place behind the headboard. Each day since the world had met underspirits, she’d been getting stronger, but still had to break the barrel over her knee. Ruth bragged she could load it faster than most, but no one else with a gun had crossed her path. It was a high chance that was why she was still on the living side of things. Boots clunked with her strides, and broke the skin of a canvas, Ruth kicked the remains off her ankle. Now a white rabbit had a hole in its painted head. The shrieks worsened. Sticking the barrel outside a front window, Ruth moved from the shadows.

Outside was shit. Blasted stretches of land warped the air into a shimmer, as if the planet was turning into a stove, and the gas had been left on too long. Radios having died weeks ago, with televisions and internet well before that. Information was scarce at the best of times, and those were behind everyone. At the next noise, Ruth snapped her eyes back on the iron sights, looking for the source. Now there were two noises at once.

A pair of cats jumped out from behind a pile of waste and cardboard, a drenched mess of fighting and hissing, Ruth wished she was still asleep. But that was weakness talking, so it went ignored. As a way of letting off steam, she shot at the ground by the cats, and watched them scamper off in opposite directions. “Never thought they’d be so loud.” She gargled through a mouthful of rainwater.

“In that case you’re stupider than you look.” The cracked voice downstairs was in no mood for unnecessary comments. Ruth respected that, but shot another pellet, seeing if it would hit the church spire across town. It fell flat by ten foot, but Ruth was happy it went straight, the thing still had a kick to it.

She clumped down the ladder that lead to the attic, taking care to not let the rifle clip the ceiling or thin walls. In the hallway alone the clingy stench of coffee lurked about the place. If Ruth hadn’t known the layout of the house by heart, all she’d have had to do was follow the coffee. Or the incense. Easing the door open with a push, it creaked, breaking the tension with a laugh from both of them. Ruth and Osiris. The poor soul she’d been co-inhabiting with for all waking memory. Only since I met her have I had those dreams. Graves, robes…flowers?

Osiris (Mother Osiris as a nickname she sniffed at) sat in her high-backed chair. Decked out with DIY witchy symbols and a dash of lilac powder. Osiris was sprinkling some on the table as Ruth slinked into the room. At hearing her, Osiris lifted her gaze and eyes met, the smile hadn't faded. Some of the powder had stuck in her fiery hair.

“Just for luck you know…underspirits hate lilac.” Osiris waved a hand around the room to back up her point. Books written in dead languages lay about in high-stacked piles from wall to wall. Ruth countered with a similar hand flourish.

“These are all good and well, but you shouldn’t take it all as gospel, this supernatural stuff is far from fake, but some of it could be."

Osiris made a noise of disgust, and barrelled over her. “I take nothing as gospel in this stuff, don’t talk rubbish. Anyway…”

The orange haired pagan cleared her throat to keep her upper hand in the conversation, and darted to the closest book cluster, pulling out a dog-eared notebook with butterflies painted on it. “This was outside the front door this morning, I only opened it to check the bloody weather, now we’ve got a nightmare on our hands.”

“Our?” Ruth caught the word.

“Oh Yes.” Osiris made the move of a smoker about to punch a dart, but since Ruth had cleaned out the house a week back, she settled for lighting some more incense. “Once you read it you’ll want to involved with what happens after, what we do.”

Ruth took the book, so weak that the spine peeled open with no resistance. The words screeched out in the handwriting.

Bad people hurt me when I look at them. I do not know their names. Fingers are dirty with cigarette stuff. Their rings look the same, but they can’t be married. There are loads of them, nine, I think. Not good with numbers yet. Can use this notebook to get better with counting. When they took me, they took this book away from me. After I cried and cried, they gave it back. The meanest one ripped out some pages to upset me first. I have it back now though so that is good I think. He has spiked hair that smells of burnt toast and is so skinny his bones show in his face. Only thing he does most of the time is checked to see what I am writing, but he stopped doing that after the last time we went to the place with dead stones. Five times now we have gone there. It is not called that, but I know the stones are called G – R AVE – S. Think it is done that way.

Oh yeah their rings, not married rings. Shiny silver things with the same star shape. Star made of thin lines and pointy parts. Like small treasure on their hands. A thing like fairies would protect at the bottom of gardens. But they are not real. Oh no I keep using that word. The bad people tell me they aren’t then they laugh. When they take me to the garden, the one with dead stones, not faries, they tell me to look at the oldest stones and watch. While I look all of them dig for long times. “Something important!!” is what is said. I try really hard to be brave. I hate it when my eyes get scratchy and want to close. The baddest one with burnt hair gets angry and wakes me up from my dreams. Time before he did it with a bucket of rain. Said it was a shivered (?) baptttism B – A – P – T – I – S – M. It made me so cold. This time he pressed my face into the mud. It is full of rain and gets everywhere. It smells and the worms get into my mouth. Not friendly like cartoon ones, but fast and horrible. I sick it up and stop crying after a little bit. He tells me he wants me to watch a dead stone one more time. He put me back in the van, that is why I am writing all this now. I hope they let me stay here forever. Or take me home, I miss my friends. It makes me sadder that they are probably dead, I heard the bad people listening to the radio. Bad things are happening across every city. Things are breaking up past the ground.

And hurting people. I heard my hometowns name, and it said the church got broken by the things. It did not sound like they were animals. I can hear the bad people outside, they are all singing together, that is nice, maybe if they sing and be happy they will let me go, close to my twelfth birthday. The words are not in English or any language we learnt about in school. Now it is getting louder. Singing is getting louder and I’m scared now. Burnt hair person is getting angry now so I’m writing quickly. His footsteps scare me. He is arguing with someone. He has opened van door. The star is on his shoes too. He looks different. Still the same person, but something in his eyes. It makes me cold in my stomach. His hair is the same and his clothes are different. A long robe thing with that same star pattern stitched all over. They are silver and gold now. He’s staring at me and I can smell smoke coming from the dead stones. The singing is too loud now. It hurts too much. Makes my eyes water.

Spiky hair is trying to make me hold yellow flowers. I think I am going to listen and look at the grave one more time. I hope I will be back to write more soon. Bye.

“…and that’s all she wrote?”

“Quite so. Presuming it’s a she. But who knows these days.” Osiris coughed.

Ruth looked up from the brittle pages, ink-scrawled lines forced across the margins. Just looking at it made the room go cold. “That’s it then. A dusty diary.” All Ruth knew was that the thing made her uncomfortable.

Osiris made patterns in the lilac dust with a ringed finger. “Better than most get dear. At least the poor sod got to put the last of themselves on paper.”

Ruth sat at the table, feet felt bloodless. “But my dream…”

“Yes your dream was true, and it matches that diary. Entities are rising from the earth, and the last people are dying. Dark magick or not, something is rotten.”

Osiris’ face dropped, and the lines present on it stretched deeper. “Something must be done.” With that she stood and went to the window. Rain hammered the glass. Her reflection had twisted in on itself, a smooth pain-free face. A mirror to a past time. But past the window itself all was gone. Buildings stuck with skeletons of the homeless littered around and fused into the brickwork. A single moody positive being that with all the destruction, the few trees left stood tallest and strongest. Osiris tutted. “Ignore the trees darling. Focus.”

“I am.” Ruth snapped. Then. “I’m going for a walk.”

Under her feet any ground was ruined, blasted by energy attacks to mindless gravel. Burnt stone with the crunched texture of ice cubes. Ruth half-ignored the skeletons along the roads. Still used to mourning them as if they were flesh and blood people to her, but that needed to stop.

The end times really have swept over us all. Saying it again and again made the reality more real. After the fifth corpse pile she reached the church. Its door sat broken and lazy over a shattered bicycle. Some of the walls leant inward, twisted at the foundation. The church was worse on the inside, guts of stained glass all over the place. She placed the diary on the podium, and began to plan.

“How can I save a dead soul?”

Osiris watched with mild fascination as clouds loitered in the sky. The window view helped in brightening her house. Her house. It was like an alien phrase now to Osiris, since Ruth had taken residence in that mould-chewed attic. Bloody nightmare. Both eyebrows slumped as she recognised her crabbiness.

“Nicotine withdrawal.” She said to the lilac dust that greedily took up table space. Osiris considered over a sip of tea, that Ruth’s patience, even with all that grit and stubbornness, was built on sand rather than stone. She’d never get along with the process of consulting lilac. The girl’s mind is important though...he said so-

Osiris cut her silent thought off.

“Have I gone wrong?” Osiris asked the lilac dust. This time a response came. Not with sound, instead the small rickety table shook as the dust formed words in an untraceable language. Despite it not even being twelve in the afternoon, the room darkened slightly, walls pressing in gently. Osiris looked at the response. Filtered past her strained and scrambled brain it read clearly.

DEPENDSONHERNEXTMOVE

“Quite so.” Osiris soothed the mild panic in her heart by scratching a thin wrist. All of a sudden she felt fifteen again, abashed at a grave mistake. Then tea was drank too quickly. It burned the roof of her mouth.

“I’ve pushed the boat out too far, she’s running blind with that book.” After more shaking, faster than last time, the table said:

TRUSTTHEPROCESS

SHEWILLFINDHERROLE

Osiris gave a reassuring nod, all the while studying her reflection in the window. Shadows hit her hair when Osiris drew forgotten curtains shut. Sat among books and powder, two of her eyes were shut to the world. Let it happen. Osiris thought. The house got quieter and colder as hours swept past.

Ruth pushed some broken glass across the stone floor after she walked another lap of the fallen church, rifle slung across an aching back. Her boots weighed heavy, worn so long that inside the feet wrapped in socks were lifeless and grey. Dying leaves covered a good chunk of floor space.

Night was tuning itself into the sky’s wavelength, while the moon glistened an ugly yellow shade. Full and bare among the stars.

She was irritated that the butterfly diary had provided her no insight, whatever she needed to know, Ruth felt, was staring her in the face plain as day. With a final comforting kick at the glass, she moved back to the diary. Some of the roof was caved in so rain had started moving in on the pages, raising a protective arm Ruth salvaged it. Her hair became twisted in thin clumps. "Some things never change."

Only the part her and Osiris had read was in the book, albeit with some later pages having been ripped out. Faint markings of sketches bled past the tattered scraps. Not worth mentioning to me then? Ruth pondered. After all, Osiris had read the book before letting Ruth know about it. Who’s to say she didn’t rip those pages out? Why would she? But this was all a rush to judgement…maybe. Looking at the front cover of the book, she saw more clearly under the paint. The paint itself was a mismatch of layered thickness.

The notebook was black underneath it all, how Ruth hadn’t realised that was a big question mark in her brain. Maybe worth giving some thought. Ruth nervously ran a hand through her hair, unsure why she did so. Phrases from the pages jumped out to her on rereads.

"B – A – P – T – I – S – M… Things are breaking up past the ground." In that case the book must have been written recently. At the very most about a year ago. Ruth looked at the church floor, legs like stale jelly.

“Things breaking past the ground is both old news and fucking mental. Weird must be the new normal?"

No one answered, nothing answered.

But yellow flowers, what was it about yellow flowers? She traced a thumb along the damp words, trying not to smudge the ink. As a precaution Ruth wiped her hand dry on a jean leg.

"Spiky hair is trying to make me hold yellow flowers. I think I am going to listen and look at the grave one more time."

What was the significance of yellow flowers? Ruth had never seen the topic anywhere. When she and Osiris had first met, after a heated night of introductions, Osiris had been gracious enough to let her read some of the sorcery books. Not all of course. There were a hundred at minimum.

“Never enough time in the day for that.” Osiris had said. Ruth smirked when remembering her past self’s comeback. “Or night for that matter.”

That night had snuck its way to the grasp of morning light, Osiris patient enough to read with her before letting Ruth go it alone after falling asleep in an armchair. In those occult books sat information Ruth had been forced to translate with a letter guide. Ruth had, to her self-imposed horror, learnt the core pillars of some magickal ceremonies. Masons, Skull and Bones, and The Golden Dawn with their loosely termed battle of Blythe Road. In all their differing yet similar rituals there was no mention of what the child's diary described.

But a vision smacked Ruth’s imagination in that moment. Fire. The leaves.

She gathered them all up into a pile between the pew benches, knowing in her heart that what was forming in her mind’s eye would take a while.

“Comes with the territory, rituals take time.” Ruth said to the diary, like there was any chance someone beyond the book could see her.

Fucking hell I AM going mad.

Ruth hoped Osiris didn’t come looking for her, solitude and focus was crucial.

Osiris opened her eyes, unsurprised that guilt still sat with her.

Not that she'd ever tell anyone, but Osiris had known about the underspirits for years. Predicted in pulpy magazines and their digital cousins, her mentor had called it modern astrology. She remembered his words from only eighteen months ago, and the smell of burnt spiked hair that always shadowed him.

“When we had candles instead of lightbulbs and ink rather than keyboards, we could only read the cosmic writing on the wall by looking in old libraries. Now we just need to look around us. Soul-trapped rats bleed their spirits dry. All we have to do is point them to the open doors. Bring them the divine from earth’s core.”

“Yes Baron.” She’d said meekly. He’d had a way with words, a snake with gilded fangs. The Baron had then given her the book of children's writing.

“A girl will cross your path soon. Older than our pet in those pages. She’ll have no memory of herself. Too much interference with her...aura. That book you’re holding.” He had prodded at the black book. “Was hers until very recently. Her astral abilities are linked to it somehow. She’s very likely another string to our bow, if we join her with the rest…”

He’d started to leave, but Osiris remembered pulling him back. “What’s the new girl’s name?”

“It was Mara Gemme, but when she lands on your doorstep, drooling and babbling, you’re free to christen her however you wish…”

Then he had left, tailcoat midnight blue in the shadows, his hands leaving a paint set behind.

Osiris shuddered, both then in the moment, and at the memory of it.

“Should I tell her?”

Lilac dust stirred, and Osiris looked to the table for its response.

Ruth finished structuring her giant hexagon of leaves, after some heavy lifting of benches and getting her hands dirty. She looked at the book, double checked it was on the right page, and waited.

Silence faded away to loud noises in the sky, and Ruth let the incantations lodged in her memory from that night of study seep out into the chilled air. Her arms crossed in the style of Pharaohs.

Lightning struck the leaves. Flames grew to a roaring fire, the heat surrounded Ruth. Her forehead drifted to a light and buzzed feeling, and she imagined a graveyard of yellow flowers. For the first time since the world ended, there was life behind the church walls. The town's ground shook.

Ruth’s eyes saw a million miles into the book, and her determination strengthened. She knew what to do.

The house walls shook as dust dropped past ceiling cracks. Osiris stopped meditating abruptly as underground shakes grumbled through town. In Los Angeles tremors were known to have been common before the Underspirits.

“But we ain’t in L.A. honey” Osiris laughed to herself. Or Kansas at that…

When the tremors eventually stopped, Osiris was reeling uneasily. Similar to when a professional hygienist flosses a set of teeth, the patient is left feeling vulnerable at just how delicate their foundation is. Her house had that same feeling of vulnerability now. Book piles were a sea on the floor, and lilac dust was still scattered on the skirting boards. That is my fault though, I have to cop to that.

Osiris recalled the question she’d asked (Should I tell her?) simple, even including the guilt it was weighed down with.

But after its pointless response of forming to the shape of a damn question mark, Osiris had gotten angry and swept the whole pile of lilac powder from her table. Frustration having turned hollow a few hours afterward. Hollow, the word was one she rarely used. It struck the mystic as familiar somehow, like it had belonged to someone.

Obsidian crystal candles burned at the window, and on the curtains she’d crudely scrawled a pentagram in ball-point pen. She’d only ever rejected the lilac once before, and in possible retaliation Osiris had been cursed with sleepless nights. Studies of even more gross rituals, and seeing dead bodies fall from the sky. Only to find nothing on the ground the next day. Whatever happened to her was fine, all part of the grand cosmic plan after all. That being the hope anyway.

Ruth had been gone with the book for a night and day now, Osiris had worried to a peak, crashed from fatigue, before reaching a new peak and starting up the cycle again. Paranoia normally reserved for the Belushis of the old world, had been implanted in her by Ruth unintentionally. Or even worse, all this could be worrying traps in her mind set long ago by the Baron, springing free at last.

One. By. One.

It had been a terrible mistake to let Osiris go off with that book on her own, more than a mistake. Fucking stupid.

Osiris had avoided leaving the house for fear of never being able to come back again. But procrastination was overgrown and stale. Osiris went to her closet, grabbing the coolest most bad-ass armour-ish clothing she had. As she tightened the straps on her combat vest, she looked in the mirror. “I hope if I die wearing this it’s covered in blood, spare the shame at least.”

Shutting the door behind her and wearing a rucksack at breaking point with weapons and magical tools, her head felt lightly buzzed. Osiris ran to the smoking husk of a church and did not look back. In her window, obsidian candles stood burning still.

As Ruth looked into the book, it expanded. The original arrangement of words on paper, charcoal-black lettering awkwardly spaced on yellowing paper, dissolved and warped. Its paper deteriorated faster and faster into atoms. Like it was aging faster than her dimensionally-limited brain could process. Beneath her body the ground was shaking. It was the work of Underspirits. The church walls, already on their last legs, gave up completely to them. The book shook violently on the podium. Ruth realised the Underspirits’ plan.

“Trying to distract me.” She spoke it in her brain and aloud, both at once.

Despite the attempted distraction, Ruth forced focus back on the book, scrunching her brow as she did so. She didn’t let herself pay attention to them.

As before, the diary’s words disappeared, stretching into bloated lines and separating at the middle. Half of the split pile fell downward and the rest elevated. Both vanished in a blink and Ruth was left with the paper. Blank, yellowed and drying fast thanks to the fire. Whatever searing pain it gave Ruth just made her focus burn white-hot on the paper. She leaned in, the church was gone, the fire scorching her arms and shoulders forgotten. With that Ruth closed both eyes, and went in.

There was a flash of colours, bright white, green, purple and orange. Ruth was falling, her body pulsed in an empty void while all four limbs and torso glowed with energy. A silver cord fused to her navel yanked down hard, and Ruth fell to earth.

Noises of birds chirping and a slight breeze reached her eardrums. Ruth opened her eyes. Pain throbbed in the sockets, she soothed them with a comforting rub. Her fingers had no ash stains. Raising herself to stand, a vibrant field swayed back and forth. Long grass reacted to her gentle touch. Newfound sun pierced at her and Ruth raised a forearm. “Am I at…” She was. The graveyard from the diary. Before the creepy ritual it seemed.

“What the girl wrote about wasn’t this…nice.” Where the diary entry had talked of an area cold wet and muddy, the place Ruth stood, or at least her mind projection stood, teemed with life. Heat here affected her greater than the fire somehow, when she’d gone into the book the fire had been an afterthought cooked up to jumpstart the magick. The same way Crowley used a house or altar. But this sun’s touch ran sweat down her arms. Metal from the air rifle’s barrel poked against her right shoulder blade.

“Gross.” Ruth muttered. Panic snapped at her senses, and Ruth looked up sharply. Fuck, who can hear me?

The place was empty, but a few trees stood together. Sighing as a way to combat her confusion more than anything else, Ruth stomped over to the biggest tree with the most shade. Each step became heavier than the last, the muscles in her calves twitched in a slurred manner. Ruth remembered a common problem in video games back before it all ended, it seemed like the same effect. What was the word?

Lag. She remembered. Maybe more like having invisible strings pulling her back, making moving into a chore. Ruth got to the tree after some bursts of digging deep. Sitting down on the roots didn’t bother her, being eager for any kind of rest. She took off her boots and let the sun actually help her. Flexing all ten toes, the blood rushed back to them. A rustle sounded above her, the branches and their leaves were also swaying, brimming with lively shades of green, which broke as two of the gnarliest branches gave way. From between the leaves a hat fell. Wiping away loose dirt and bugs, she looked at it. The hat was Straw and the brim flopped down easily. The sort of hat an alcoholic painter would wear. Ruth put it on, pushing unkempt hair behind her ears. From against her back the butt of the rifle moved, scraping at her spine instead. Ruth unslung the airgun, letting it rest on the ground.

Along the iron-wrapped fence perimeter, flowers that should have gleamed a healthy canary shade in the sun instead sat hunched as a collection of gloomy mustard colours. Ruth didn’t like the look of them. Beyond the cemetery gates there was nothing there. Just a quiet fog and a stretched out road leading to nowhere, it made the place feel like an island of sunshine and skulls.

But the graves were nicely upsetting. Sure there were dead people underneath, but that didn’t matter…right? The child from the diary had called them ‘dead stones’ Ruth remembered. Whoever the kidnappers were, had made the child watch them, but why? Too many questions for her head, and anyone’s head really. A big one being whether Ruth would even get a dead stone in the weird and ruined world outside of the book dimension.

If I can even leave here.

Wind rustled again, and Ruth had the absent wondering of if her mortal non-astral body was just a smouldering wreck of bones and melted skin back in the church. Just another skeleton on the road. Ruth didn’t let herself think of Osiris.

Time didn’t pass here, the sun never dipped or shifted, letting Ruth observe every part of the scenery like it was a painting. So when a van drove up to the gates, she was on the ball. The van stopped just short of the gate, buckling and swaying under the easing pressure of all the people jumping from its doors. It was difficult to see how many there were, but all of them had the look of Francis Bacon paintings, glassy eyes with something not quite right behind them. Can they see me?

The creepy Francis Bacon lackwits parted as a tide, and from the middle strolled a tall thin man. Looked like a man anyway. His hair was spiked and gross smelling even from all that way away. He wore a dark blue robe with a patchy suit underneath. Yet he moved as cool as someone not overdressed in summertime. From his pocket a packet of old-timey cigarettes flapped around loosely. Like they had an attitude of I don’t care so why should you? His left hand fidgeted.

He entered the graveyard alone after few hushed words to the creepy people. They opened the gate for him, and he raised a hand to keep them at bay. While that was being done, Ruth scrambled up the tree, air rifle battering against the bark while she held the strap with a sweaty palm. She got to the highest cluster of branches and crouched, stiller than a stone.

The man with singed hair made it to the fifth row of gravestones and started to do hand signals at each headstone in turn. A Freemason? It seemed a fifty-fifty bet at that point. Ruth pushed that question away too, whatever organisation he belonged to didn’t matter for now. The look of the graveyard told Ruth she had arrived before the girl had been taken there. The diary hasn’t even been written yet. Intuition was the science here, and Ruth felt sure down to her bones.

She spied down the iron sights at him, arms shaking. Nerves and fear were foreign to her body in the material world. Different ways here, intense energy everywhere.

Ruth took aim, finger hugging the trigger, her breaths sharp as a bayonet. The man looked up at her. A sun that never ended sparkled as it bounced from his smug teeth.

“Hi Ruth.”

Ash and the scent of singed hair littered the church’s smoky air. Burnt to a crisp Osiris thought. She stepped over a skeleton, avoiding making eye contact with the skull. More like socket contact really. In front of her face a flaked section of paper flew past, breaking down by the millisecond into tiny grey molecules.

Osiris coughed, breathing smothered by smog. The rucksack wearing down on her back was not packed properly to distribute the weight it carried. Rushed panic from earlier was catching up to her in the form of blistered red marks.

"No time to stop" was forming as Osiris’ internal mantra. No time to stop.

The very basic framework of the church had been leftover since the fire, loss of looks aside. Osiris stopped in the middle of the structure. Two large vertical clumps of ashy wood to her left and right sides she recognised as church pews. The nerve centre of her childhood faith now faded down to a permanent ghost. More pages of that mystery child’s diary scattered themselves with the rhythm of the wind. It took more time than she wanted but Osiris gathered the remaining pages. Each less delicate than the first. It gave off the vibe of emergency workers shifting through the ruins of a disaster for bodies to identify.

With careful grace Osiris turned the pages from hand to hand. The parts that chilled her at the first read didn’t disappoint.

“Said it was a shivered (?) baptttism B – A – P – T – I – S – M.”

“Things are breaking up past the ground.”

“Spiky hair is trying to make me hold yellow flowers. I think I am going to listen and look at the grave one more time. I hope I will be back to write more soon. Bye.”

Willowed shoulders sagged with an audible pop sound. Osiris shuffled some glass around with her foot, and a page corner dissolved in her hands. Osiris took the rucksack off and unzipped it moodily. Emptying out tumbled crystal stones and brass scales to the floor, all their shine taken off by deep-set runic symbols.

Oh no…Only one person had entered that church before her…and there was only one skeleton…

Osiris stood, easing blood flow in the right leg. Her flame-dyed hair shook off some of its collected dust and ash, as Osiris ran to the skeleton.

“Ruth.”

A pause, rattled inhaling. In her rush to go all guns blazing, she’d made a major fuck-up level mistake. Shining amethyst crystals sat next to quartz pebbles in Osiris’ hand, not spilling out as she practically jumped over to Ruth’s skeleton.

Osiris' gaze trailed off to look at Ruth’s empty eye sockets. Whatever flesh around them had fizzled out from the dead heat. Deciding on a spilling wheel approach, and using her longest fingernail, Osiris made a small nick in her right index finger. The blood dripped in slow small deposits onto the crown of the skull, before trailing to pool at the sockets. Osiris let it settle for a good minute, then picked up a brick and smashed it to bits.

As new puffs of ash and smoke curled into the air, Osiris rooted in the rucksack for her stone mortar and pestle. This ritual is precise…has to be the jawbone. Cringing, Osiris retrieved the split in half section from under the heap of bone. When the pestle broke the jawbone down bit by bit, it sounded like crickets. Osiris’ forearm ached as she twisted whatever was left into a powdered husk. It took up more time than expected considering dusk was settling itself when Osiris put the stone bowl next to the scales.

Osiris pushed a mop of sweat from her brow, slicking back her hair in the process. Its end tips reaching to the back of her neck. Silently thankful there were no mirrors. “Halfway with this thing.” She said absentmindedly.

Scales in one hand and mortar in the other, Osiris stomped over to the podium, surprised at the ache in her calves. Both objects were placed either side of the podium. The brittle pages laid down in sequential order on the flat surface. That old guilt rushed to Osiris like steam from a hot-spring.

In those words were the spirits of Ruth and mystery child. Ruth’s material body was wrecked, more dead than disco. The kid’s was still up in the air in that regard. Being dragged around a graveyard by a cult never leads to something good though. The Baron’s cult. Even if that crazy bunch had decided to kill everyone taken, that didn’t explain why Baron was wiping memories and handing out a psychic diary. Ruth was a brainwashed girl with psychic powers linked to a magick notebook. That somehow ended up transferred to some other soul. Whether she liked it or not (not), Osiris was playing into his hands. Either that or sit in the house scared until the cows come home. Any action was better than inaction. Questions needed answering, so now was the time to leap with faith and hope for feathers. Even if the fall takes a while.

After reading over those pages and memorising key parts, location, time, any and all indicators she could extract, Osiris folded the pages carefully and tucked them into a side pocket. The scales replaced them on the podium. As a final touch Osiris removed a large handful of powdered jawbone from the mortar and put it on the empty scale side, setting it against the crystals. The overall weight started up the process of balancing itself, and Osiris repeated keywords in her head, matching them with the runes. She felt drunk, her balance slipping as her brain turned to lazy sludge. The scales dinged but Osiris never saw which won out between the powdered bone and crystals. She was locked in too deep now. Astral tendrils cracked down past the sky, overriding the weather pattern. Osiris left the earth, going between the diary’s words into one of its dimension.

Meanwhile in the diary dimension:

Ruth’s iron sight sparkled, she narrowed her focus. The Baron locked eyes with her. She’d just shot him with a lead pellet at nearly point blank range, and the evil bastard was holding it between his index finger and thumb. Its bright side dappled in the sunlight. The Baron repeated himself. “Hey Ruth.” Time limped as Ruth made her trigger finger a vine to the trigger itself. Then she almost fell from the tree. Leaves fluttered to the ground. Baron watched, an amused cat in an amusing situation. Ruth wobbled again as she shakily tried to load another pellet.

“Bullets would be better you idiot.” Ruth snapped to herself, not caring if Baron heard. Her new lead pellet shook loose from its bandolier, almost falling with the leaves. The Baron made a hand signal, and his followers snaked past the graveyard’s iron bars before sprinting barefoot over long grass, their faces manic with controlled adrenaline.

“Let’s cut all the bullshit Ruth. Get off the tree. We have a mutual friend missing from this, erm…”

The Baron gestured around at the graveyard. “This…gathering.”

Ruth considered, and dropped the rifle. “Where is she?”

Elsewhere at the Underspirit Hive:

It was like the rain would never stop. Either out of stubborn spite or lack of self-control. Ava chided herself. Going crazy for sure.

Sitting still had lead her legs and arms to bored numbness. Ava stood up slowly and stretched. “You’ve gone loopy for sure now Ava. Having a huff the sky is mental…maybe.”

On reflection the idea was not so bizarre. Things had been going in weird directions for a while now. Being dragged to the underworld was the tip of the iceberg to say the least. Ava remembered “talking” with graves and now here she was. Surrounded by Underspirits. Those that’d torn down her -and everyone’s- world to pieces. When growing up in a hippy-dippy household, Ava had been taught that any kind of demon you encountered became fused with your aura.

There sure are a lot of them. Underspirits slept a lot for seemingly undead entities. When Ava was taken – for lack of a better word – one of the first things they’d done rather than eat her soul or whatever, was to sleep. Although when Ava took into account the place they called home it all made a lot more sense. It was a strict geometric structure of a honey type substance. It stuck to you like superpowered superglue. Pods they rested in had the cut-out inlay shape of coffins. Ava counted forty two so far. H.R. Geiger on steroids and mescaline. Talk about a wild trip…

How to describe the Underspirits exactly was pleasantly stressful, like if Ava succeeded it would be a sort of bragging right. Shame there’s no one to brag to anymore. All Ava’s friends were dead thanks to them. Weirdness from an Underspirit began from the crown of their head and continuing downward. Tight sinewy skin pulled tight like a concert drumkit. Gaunt cheekbones connected to a swaying bone structure, with arms crossed at sharp elbows and hands clasping withered deltoids, Underspirits resembled pharaohs. They twitched in unison, dust puffed up in increments from their ribcages.

Ava watched, remembering being dragged along mountains by all the creepy people who’d sent her to the Underspirits. Actual clouds had guided her wandering imagination as the group navigated the terrain. Either lightning or the northern lights had struck behind the clouds. It’d given the illusion that the sky was flicking on and off like an impatient light switch. An easy idea to laugh off in the moment. But all Ava needed to do was look at her surroundings to realise a simple thing.

“Nothing is out of the question, except getting out of here.”

A woman’s voice crept into Ava’s head, drumming up a headache.

“Hi my name’s Ruth. Ava, you need to listen closely...”

halloween

Randall Windle

UK Based Author

Read next: Reed's Literary Horror Review of 'Through The Deep Forest' by Russell C. Connor (2021)

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