The Baron's Ceremony
Something borrowed, something cold, someone old
The first drop of blood came after the third heap of soil. Erin grumbled. That number was for the night, but in truth it was around the hundredth of the farmer’s lifetime. Anxious grey hair flanked down his back, becoming tangled against the ugly green flannel shirt, and his worn-down jeans were frozen in place by the cold wind. Next to his right hip Yen pattered along the grass. She was a young cat, but her old soul was felt whenever she yelped with the intensity of an untuned violin. More blood spilled from his hand onto the metal edge of the spade, he grunted and continued to dig.
Erin read once in a dream, that before everything had either been burnt away or turned twisted and rotten, even before the ships of endless power ruled the skies, monks used to focus on their tasks by manipulating the environment to suit their ears. Simple monotonous tasks birthed a stillness for the brain to expand its usual capabilities. Some saw god after sitting by a waterfall for seventy years, others delved down a rabbit hole of supposed spell craft. He’d decided on digging. How long has it been since that dream? When did I-
A sharp thunderclap broke his thought process, a cosmic reminder to not think of such things. Or a warning.
But he was old, and death was familiar with him. So he ignored the wary weather. With that defiance his blue eyes seized up in pain, as if a nuclear strike had been set off with that neural pattern as the codeword. His brain fuzzed and boiled like the skull surrounding it was a stove. If the top half of Erin’s head was removed, then it would have the same effect as taking off the lid from an in-progress stew, all odd smells and steam.
Colours blurred as stars crept higher into the sky, each one amplified the brightness of another, forming a tapestry of orbit patterns and astrology webs. A few blinks later and the experience was dead. He crippled all his inner dialogue, letting it crawl to a stop, then went back to digging. Both hands were roughened with callouses, those that had burst added to the grim aesthetic. His wedding ring remained intact and glimmering in the pale light of night.
In another blink he was finished. He sat on the edge of what was in essence an excavation, arms resting on the spade, feeling his age more than ever.
One of the resources used for the thoughts of monks and madmen, were dreams. Similar but never identical, they all followed three themes.
Death. Discovery. Tools.
Yet true sleep was so rare that the entities in his dreams and the silence of waking life blended together to a mess of noise and paranoia. Any difference between the two was unseen. But Erin, who was approaching his tenth decade on that earth, saw now.
Down beyond the grass and filth lay something that shimmered.
The skeletal framework of a bird, huge and ghastly, lay deep in the ground. With the little flesh that remained still rotting off the bones, the diamonds and emeralds encrusted underneath weren’t fully available to Erin’s eyes. The bird’s own sockets were hauntingly empty.
Erin crouched to get a closer look, but a violin screech broke past his attention threshold. Erin looked to Yen, the feline was near rabid, cursing at something in its own language, eyes ablaze with wild fear. Erin followed Yen’s path of vision. Something was with them. Someone.
Erin turned and saw a tall gaunt man. His eyes were small and dotted in their sockets. Mist-shaded in an uncomfortable sense. The guy wore an ash-stained suit, with the lapels suffering from strands of dead hair, singed from an odd-shaped head. Erin gripped the spade, increasing the blood flow from his hands. In this situation it was a weapon, and he raised it as such, breaking into a run.
With a whoosh of air the metal bit into the gaunt man’s shoulder, past the clothes and right into the clammy flesh, and while Erin’s hands were at this point doused in crimson, not a drop came from his attack. “You don’t bleed.” Erin found himself saying.
Erin dropped the tool to the ground with shock, it was so useless it might as well have been weightless too. Now Erin swayed in his boots, mind becoming adrift.
Barely heard footsteps marched on as Erin’s attention waned, and his gaze drifted up to the farmhouse window. The only room with a light on. As he stared more, the gaunt man sidled up to him. A vapid bone-thin hand settled itself on Erin’s shoulder.
“Baron Von Horus here, pleased to meet you Erin.”
Past the grey temples and withered frown lines, Erin saw inside.
A double bed slick with blood, the slender body on the floor was wrapped in a blanket and tightened off at the neck via a coat-hanger. Erin’s view of it all was ever shifting, never constant. Like when Vaseline was smeared on the lens of an old film camera.
Then he was at the bedside table. A cold unfinished cigarette sat there with a framed photograph. It showed a bride holding the gilded cage of a pet bird. Above her veiled face was a circlet of diamonds. Happiness radiated from them, even within a monochrome image. Erin felt guilt under the surface of something. Your soul? Erin couldn’t tell who was saying that. Himself or the…Baron. At that thought, it ended, and his field of view went back to normal. Erin’s confusion slid into anger. He thought of ordering Yen to attack but lost his voice, the heart thumping too fast to think. Baron circled him with a pocket watch in hand. Bronze reflected in his heartless eyes. “Shall we get to the point?” He asked, before strolling on.
There was no attempt to feign expectation of a reply. The watch was snapped shut.
“Tell me, when did you start digging?” Baron asked. Another question.
“Not that long, twenty minutes or so.” Erin’s voice wavered thinly.
“Wrong.” Baron’s tone had flattened.
“Those arms were tired well before that earth was broken. Think again. Look again.”
By their feet, another wedding ring glinted. Then Erin saw. The tattered remains of silk around the dead flesh. Worms basking all over. And her face. Her face. She was dressed in her wedding gown from the best day of her life. Now it was a signpost for the last day. Erin spied Yen licking her nose morosely. After that he dropped to the beaten earth.
Baron expected, and was proven right, to hear the usual cries of God! or NO!! He let them happen, happy to see them lost in the storm overhead. Leaves and mounds of dirt were driven onto the corpse, he even spied a tear in the old man’s eyes. Baron sat beside the insane man.
“God has nothing to do with it, I can promise you that.” He told the farmer.
Then Baron smirked, and leaned in.
“I can make all this go away, the tears, washed-out funeral…eventual electric chair.”
He let the hopeful offer settle into Erin’s mind. It was a done deal when the older man shuffled. Raising his own knee to the bottom of his chin.
“But there is something you’ll need to do for me first.” Baron said with dry humour.
He flourished, and from his sleeve brandished a knife. Sleek and sharp, with most of the grip burnt to its bare minimum. “Well used.” Baron said slyly.
When the metal cut into Erin, pain was supressed like a silent gunshot. With each twist of the blade Erin was drained literally and figuratively. Their eye contact shuddered and became weaker by the second, Erin himself was looking more harrowed than Baron. A pale mask of his former vibrancy. It took a noise of satisfaction from Baron, for Erin to look at the wound.
A pentagram of six was freshly carved deep into his palm.
“Shake my hand. Or die by a court’s rope.”
A plain offer, clear and full. Erin shook his hand, unsure if was from the simple chemical process of adrenaline, or blood loss. Baron Von Horus grinned down at him, and a flash of scarlet lingered in his pupils.
Erin passed out, and Yen cried, but it didn’t matter. The old farmer was in the ground with his bride, grey hair mingling with her fractured skull. Sirens sounded off in the distance, but for the moment, all was bliss.
When the police shone their torches down into the pit, it was empty of all life.
The only thing left behind was a circlet of diamonds.
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