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The First of the Three

For William, it all started out as nothing more than a strange way of impressing a pretty girl, and he certainly wouldn’t have been the first in the long history of men who defied all semblance of logic in the name of simple courtship. Jen was not the sort of a girl who responded to fast cars and big muscles, but like any woman, she was genetically predisposed when it came to good old fashioned gumption. Balls. Cojones. And that was why William had skinned a stray cat and bled it out in the middle of a circle of salt in a graveyard on Halloween. It was why he left a video camera on a tripod in a different room of his house every night, and tied fishing lines to cabinets and drawers and water faucets, always moving things or editing the video afterwards to make it SEEM like something was after him, when in reality, he was a simply a teenage boy who was suffering from a vicious case of unrequited love.

A few times in the past week, he’d already caught Jennifer stealing glances at him when she had never given him the time of day before. His fearless facade was definitely working, but he couldn’t continue to rely on fake manufactured videos of a ghost in his house, or preying on small animals, or sharing random facts from one of his many books about serial killers and witchcraft and the occult.

No, tonight was the ultimate gambit, something that Ryan or Andrew would NEVER be able to trump. Jennifer talked about the house constantly. She was fascinated by it, but she never had the courage to go in. As he scaled the ladder over the manor’s iron property fence with Jen and his other friends goading him below, his heart began to pound in his chest. He’d been waiting for this night for a long time. When he dropped to the lawn on the other side and made his way to the gated entrance, Ryan wrapped a twenty foot length of chain around the rusting handles and secured it with a master lock, grinning at him through the gate under the light of the full moon.

“Wow,” William scoffed. “Really, bro? You really think I’m going to try to sneak out in the middle of the night, and even if I did, you think I would use the front gate? Give me a little more credit than that, sheesh.”

“You know, you can still back out, Billy boy. No one will think less of you for it,” Andrew teased, wrapping his arm around Jen’s shoulders at the same time.

You bastard, William thought to himself. After I make tonight’s video, she won’t even let you touch her. She’ll be mine.

“I’ll be fine. I doubt anything will even happen,” William said cooly. “Things didn’t even start happening in my house until we started messing around in the graveyard, and there are hundreds of dead spirits there. Only a dozen died in this house. It’s simple math, really. But if anything does happen, I’ll be sure to get it on tape for you guys.”

“You’re crazy dude,” Caitlyn said. “I found some of the leaked photos on the internet from the guy’s attic when the cops got here. There’s a reason this place has been for sale for ten years. Make sure you draw the protection circle as soon as you get in there.”

“Circle schmircle, he’ll be alright,” Ryan snapped. “This is easier than what he did on Halloween, in my opinion. I don’t know why you girls are so worked up over this. Heck, if it had been MY idea and I had thought of it first…”

“Haha! Sure, buddy. When I brought this idea up and Billy agreed to go for it, just talking about it had you shaking in your pants.” Jen laughed. “You keep saying you’ll be the next one, and then I throw something at you, and you suddenly back out two hours before midnight every single time! Remember the burned down school building? Or the burial mound outside of town?”

“I can’t help it if my little sister needs a babysitter, my parents go out a lot on the weekend.” Ryan retorted as he hung his head lamely.

“Last time I drove by your house and all the cars were in the driveway, and your mom told me your sister goes to bed at nine, but sure, whatever you say Ryan.” William smirked. “Go ahead and leave. I’ve got this. We’ll watch the footage in the morning.”
“Hey, wait, I forgot, let me get the extra two cameras out of the car.” Andrew hustled back to the sidewalk and spent a few minutes foraging through the mess of dirty clothes and soda cans in the back floorboards of his rickety Honda before he returned, handing William the equipment through the gaps in the fence’s bars.

“I ‘borrowed’ these from my older brother, he’s on spring break from film school. Be super careful, these are way more sensitive and expensive than your shitty camera, Billy. This way you can mount one in the attic, one in the foyer, and one in the living room, and have all three floors covered. I don’t have extra tripods, though. You’ll have to tie them to the chandelier or put them on a bookshelf or something.”

“No sweat. Set your alarm for five thirty. I’ll see you at six, right when the sun comes up.” William said. “I’ve got to go around back. There’s a broken window that leads in to the kitchen over the flower garden. Sweet dreams, kids.”

“Be careful, Willy,” Jen said. His cheeks flushed hard and he was grateful for the darkness. It always gave him butterflies when she called him that. “Don’t stir up anything. There’s already something after you. You don’t need two stalkers from the other side.”

“Sure I do. The first one is boring. All it ever does is yank the cabinets open or turn the shower on.” Billy chuckled. “I’ll be alright. See you later, Jen. You owe me pancakes at IHOP in the morning, if I survive.”

“It’s a date.”

Yes! William thought to himself. Let her see you go away, before they leave.

He turned on his heel and sprinted around the back of the house. He waited until the headlights were gone, and he shivered as a gust of cold air attacked the back of his neck. He crushed dead leaves and the remains of what used to be the garden under his shoes as he approached the window.

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In earnest, he knew he and his friends were considered the freaky clique among others their own age, always talking about the supernatural, in search of all things unexplainable, unconcerned with the ordinary riffraff that was the teenage social scene. But they had a craving, a void on the inside that could only be filled with an affirmation that spirits were real. That rituals could work, if you performed them correctly. That certain locations in the world were portals to something else.

After everything they’d tried, after all the solo missions William had undertaken to prove that he was somehow even more obsessed than the rest of them, he always found himself empty handed, which was why he’d started fabricating fake events to keep them all hooked. He was afraid Jen would lose interest and become normal, like all the other annoying girls.

In reality, he’d lost his own faith of ever coming across something from the other side. He was jaded, and no matter how many haunted places he visited, or how many other videos he saw that claimed to be genuine, or any number of “psychics” that he tracked down, each venture only proved fruitless, leaving him faithless and more skeptical than before.

But William would be damned if he was going to lose the girl he loved. So he kicked out the remaining left half of the fractured glass, and went inside the house where twelve people had been supposedly murdered by a crazy rich guy, including his own wife, before vanishing without a trace. It had been ten years, and no one had lived in the manor since then.

William had spent the last two weeks casing the place out, doing his research. He knew that the manhunt had eventually escalated to the state police, and then to the FBI, but somehow, the guy was still at large, possibly hiding out in a foreign country with a new identity, because he was loaded and you could accomplish anything if you had money. Two of the victims had been the man’s boss at work, whom he had apparently hated since she was his old business partner’s daughter and had hijacked ownership of the company out from under him after his partner had died, and his spouse, who had been twenty years younger and absolutely gorgeous, definitely a trophy wife. Most of the others had been random homeless vagrants from the streets who would not be missed, and he had saved his wife and boss for last, so by the time the damage was done and the authorities found traces of blood from a dozen different people in the attic, the killer was long gone, having left his three million dollar house and everything in it behind.
There had been no clues, no notes or taunts for the detectives, and nothing in the man’s past to indicate that he was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. He’d had a psychiatrist and was on antidepressants, so he’d apparently been unhappy with the way his life had turned out, and had some rage to dispense before he left it all behind in pursuit of something else. A late life crisis, albeit a very violent and disturbing one.

Even in its dilapidated state, the manor was beautiful. The molding was intricate enough to be custom designed and carved by hand, one of a kind. The floors were thick hardwood or solid marble tiling depending on which room you were in, shining and reflective under the moonlight that crept in through various windows, even though it was coated in dirt and dust. William killed an hour just wandering from room to room before he finally found himself staring at the pullcord for the attic stairs. There had been plenty of times in his previous endeavors in which he had been scared, particularly in the graveyard when he’d offered an animal sacrifice to the spirits in an effort to entice them, but when nothing had come of it, the only thing he had left was his affection for Jennifer, because everything about ghosts and “creepy places” was just straight bullshit.

He turned on his flashlight and ascended.

Another letdown. There were no blood spatters or chalk pentagrams. No candles. No apparitions, begging for assistance to ensure that their deaths were avenged. It was just an empty room, but of course, William had prepared for that. He set up his camera in the corner, with no intention of placing the other two that he had been given anywhere in the house. Nothing was going to happen of its own accord, but he was going to create something. After he’d put all his stock footage together, he would simply tell Andrew that he had erased the tapes from the other two cameras, because nothing happened except for in the attic where the murders took place. Simple enough, and less work for him in the long run.

He mounted the camera and began the first part of his video, pushing the record button.


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He sat with his legs folded and began speaking with the flashlight shining on his face, campfire style.

“Well, guys, it’s currently 1:21 in the morning, and here I am, still alive. No spirits or anything out of the ordinary yet, but I came prepared. Of course, we know this was a major crime scene and has been cleaned up since the murders took place, but I have a feeling if I spray this room with luminol and use my blacklight, we’ll definitely see just how much blood there really was. Signing off for now, but we’ll see what we can find!”

He pulled a gallon jug of distilled water from his pack, tainted heavily with red food coloring, and began splashing it everywhere. On the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling. He flung it from the lid in waves, trying to make the spatters look as random as possible. When his fake blood spatter was thorough enough, he started the camera again, and started combing over the areas he’d splashed with the black light.

“As you can see, it was cleaned up, but the remnants of it are still everywhere. People were definitely killed up here. Just seeing all this gives me the chills. Before I recite the chant for the dead that we learned from the Munich manual, I’m going to make a protection circle, but I’ll film that as well. If we can coax the victims in to visiting me, maybe we can find out why he killed them.”

Of course, William’s video editing skills weren’t solid enough to create the visage of a dead spirit, but just the blood spatter was going to be enough to impress Jen, hook line and sinker. Everything past that was just a bonus. If he could perform a ritual for his friends too, then even if nothing came out of it, they would respect him. No doubt about it.

He drew a large circle in the center of the room with chalk and placed various candles around the circumference, filming himself as he lit them all, one by one. When he was finished, he admired his handiwork for a moment before sitting in the middle of the ring.

“This is William. I am calling out to those whose lives were forfeit in this very room. If you’re still here, give me a sign. Give me anything. We want to know why you were killed.”
Of course, nothing happened.

“Spirits, I am calling out to you. Please. Give me answers. Let me put your souls to rest. Let me bring you justice. Anything. Anything you want to tell me. Is there anyone here?”

Fifteen more minutes of silence later, William left the circle, turned off the camera, and grabbed his tape recorder from his backpack, placing it behind the camera, out of sight. There were four minutes of silence on the tape, and then his voice, altered with a software program that he’d utilized earlier that day, to sound ominous and as creepy as possible. He fired it up, maxing out the volume, before activating the camera again. He returned to the circle to place some finishing touches on his charade.
“This is my final attempt. Anyone. Is there anyone there? This is William. Call out to me. Please. Are you there?”

He waited for his own altered voice on the tape to begin and it was all he could muster to hold back a smile.

“THIS IS MARGERIE!” The tape recorded began. “I WAS HIS WIFE. HE SLIT MY THROAT IN THE THROES OF PASSION. I HAVE ONE FINAL REQUEST.”

William remained silent for a moment, pretending to be awestruck, his eyes wide. He did his best to seem terrified.

“M-M-Margerie? I know who you are. I read about you. What is your request, Margerie?”

The timing was slightly off, but his improvisation was close enough. His altered voice on the tape responded a few moments later.

“DIE!”

William clawed at his throat, as if spectral hands were choking the life from him in a vice grip, coughing violently. He flung himself out of the circle, falling to the floor as painfully as possible.

“N-no! Please, I mean you no harm. I only want to bring you peace….!”

He rose to his feet and flung himself again at the back wall, as if under assault by an invisible attacker.

“Fuck! I’m getting out of here. Leave me be, Margerie! I mean you no harm!”

He returned to the circle in spectacular fashion, waving his hands in random shapes and snuffing out the candles with his fingertips, one by one.

“You can’t harm me in this circle, spirit. Begone! Back to whence you came!”

He began to twitch and shudder. The final part of the tape was coming up. It was the roar of a locomotive engine that he had downloaded from a museum website, modified by his voice-changing software. It was supposedly Margerie’s spirit, fighting to remain and continue its onslaught, roaring with rage.

“Begone! Begone! Begone! In the name of the living, I command you back to the nether!”

When it was finished, he pretended to pass out, lying on the floor for at least thirty minutes, barely breathing, so as not to ruin his performance. Pretending to be dead.

Just when he was about to get on his feet and turn off the camera, he heard something downstairs. It sounded like …. a dog barking?

“Wait, what the fuck….?” He said to himself. Maybe his ears were just playing tricks on him and the dog was outside, or just some random stray in the neighborhood that had seen him enter the house and was now looking for him.
Figures. Well, at least you have enough to convince them.

He unrolled his sleeping bag in the middle of the circle and took a couple of sleeping pills he had brought along for good measure, determined to record himself in slumber until the sun came up and he could meet his friends at the gate as planned.

Again, he heard a dog, but this time it was closer than before, and it wasn’t just barking. It was definitely a low growl, something the animal would do if it felt threatened or its space was being invaded. It was close enough now that it was coming from the room. Impossible.

“… Um, good doggie? Come out and have a treat…” William said nervously. He reached in to his belongings and grabbed a pack of snack crackers, trying to entice the unseen animal out of its hiding place. He scanned the entire room with his flashlight. There was nothing.

Then things became weird. No, not weird. Completely unexplainable. Because he heard music.

And this wasn’t just any music. It was the theme song to some show that he had heard before. Wheel of Fortune? Wait. No. Jeopardy. The theme song to Jeopardy was playing as if it were coming from an invisible television with an ethereal set of speakers that he couldn’t see.

I’ll take history of the strange and unusual for 500, Alex.

Then, a woman’s voice. Moaning and groaning. Not in pain, but in pleasure. And the dog was still snarling in the middle of it all. He suddenly regretted swallowing the two Ambien, having Googled the side effects before he’d swiped it from his mother’s medicine cabinet. He was either experiencing auditory hallucinations, or he was already asleep and having a lucid dream about his surroundings.

Yes, that was it. Definitely. He was experiencing some inner guilt about lying to his friends, to impress Jennifer, and his mind was punishing him for it.

But he felt watched. He felt a presence. There was a stifling sort of thickness in the air around him that he couldn’t explain, like there were a pair of invisible eyes upon him.

He unrolled his sleeping bag and stood up, and his legs were wobbly.

“Ugh…. Billy boy, you should have just taken some Nyquil..” He muttered to himself.

Then his flashlight died instantaneously. The bulb didn’t weaken in strength. With no warning, he suddenly felt himself plunged within complete and perfect blackness. The dog, the theme music, and the woman all ceased abruptly, until the only sound was his own rapid breathing.

Get it together, chump. Just lay down and close your eyes. You’ve got four hours left, this will all be over, and Jen will be eating out of the palm of your hand after she sees this video…

Screams from several different and distinct voices erupted all around him, wailing so loud that he had to cover his ears with his palms. Some male, some female, but all of them undoubtedly experiencing some level of pain and torment beyond his ability to comprehend as a seventeen year old boy. His pulse skyrocketed, and there was no question in his mind now that he wasn’t asleep, he wasn’t dreaming, he wasn’t looped out on drugs. No, this was real, and it was happening, and he needed to leave. Right now.

He left everything except for the camera, which he had to blindly feel for in the dark, and he tripped over the legs of the tripod after he swiped it off the stand, slamming in to the floor, chin first. He tasted blood. He spat out a mouth full of it and tried to regain his bearings in the dark based on the position of the camera.

The screams stopped, but they were replaced by something equally horrifying, if not moreso. He heard the unmistakable sound of the attic hatch groaning as it closed a few feet away from him, sealing him in to the void. Someone was down below and they’d trapped him inside.

Unearthly green light erupted from the floor in a perimeter around the circumference of his chalk circle, and then William witnessed the proof he’d been searching for his entire life. In the circle’s center was a man, not much older than himself. bathed in emerald horror, with black and pupiless pits where his eyes should have been. William opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out. The circled figure held a wicked and elongated knife blade in one hand, zig zagging with a serrated edge and dripping with ethereal ichor. In the other was a smooth black stone with pulsating crimson veins wrapped about its spherical diameter, like some archaic mineral infused with the blood of the living to form a still beating stoneheart.
The hot burn of tears birthed from terror formed at the corners of William’s eyes.

“P-Please. Don’t kill me. I won’t tell anyone you’re here. I need to live…” He begged. He felt his pants against his leg, involuntarily soggy with his own piss.

The man’s voice was sonorous and smooth, like a brazen bell, but it resounded with a booming sharp edge to it, fractured at its very core.

“Boy, you have no respect for the dead. I should flay you open where you stand.” A sadistic smirk crept over his face. “I would teach you a fatal lesson, if not for the demands of those whom I serve. You owe them your gratitude.”

His tormentor knelt to the floor, placing the pulsating vein stone against the boards. William saw the trail of his own blood from where he had tripped before, now igniting with red light and crawling like a living puddle, until it absorbed in to the black rock, assimilated in to the flowing luminescence that snaked about.

“In fact, I think you should say thank you. I DEMAND IT!”

The perimeter of the circle began to rise, a floating platform of light that coalesced about the killer’s waist, until it rotated and flipped, perpendicular to the floor. Its surface began to sheen, forming a rift as the bloodstone fed it with a current of energy. When the transformation was complete, William could see through it, a planar window, with thousands and thousands of screaming and wilted bodies on the other side. Their eyesockets were hollow, their bodies malnourished husks of dead and rotting flesh, where some areas broke and gave way to the smooth polished ivory of bare bones.

“Here they are. The dead, which you longed for. Tell them how grateful you are, for sparing your life. Tell them THANK YOU!” The killer roared, shuddering violently, as if it required great effort and concentration to hold the portal open.
William yelled at the top of his lungs, with every horrified ounce of energy in his body. “Thank you! THANK YOU!” He dropped to his knees in submission, praying in the back of his mind that this man wouldn’t gut him through the belly with his knife like a helpless fish.

“Masters of the nether, if this boy will not be the thirteenth sacrifice for the sake of the cogath, then what would you have me do? You have called me here. You have called me away from my duty of the aeons, to gather enough souls to fuel our invasion. And for what? For a stupid boy, who defiles the hallowed ground of your resting place for the sake of lust? ANSWER ME.”

“It’s not l-lust…. I love her…” William whispered.

The man brought the knife to his own throat as William tried with all his might to become a part of the wall and merge with it as he backed away, to push himself through it and escape this nightmare.

“You will command me now, or I shall spill my own blood and end my life, and this foolish little boy can be your replacement. I will wait no longer, Spirit.” The man growled.

The voice that filled the attic next was as powerful and omnipresent as the screams that preceded the killer’s presence, all around them and completely absent of a discernible source. But then, William realized it was inside his mind, crashing against the edges of his sanity and threatening to tear it apart, a bomb of otherworldly influence.

FOR YOUR MOCKERY ON HALLOWED GROUND, FOR DISTURBING OUR REST WITH AN INFERIOR SACRIFICE, YOU WILL MAKE ONE OF THREE OFFERINGS. IT IS LEFT TO THE HARBINGER OF THE COGATH TO DECIDE YOUR FATE.

“You will pay dearly for pulling me away from my war with the Chomhairle.” The green-lighted man growled.

“But I can’t. What are the the three offers?” William asked desperately.

“They are not easy to please. Do you know how hard I’ve labored, to keep my place among them? They are increasingly voracious, always hungry for more. Always, for the things we cherish most.”

“Like…..your wife?”

“Ha! My wife. Whose name you mock, in MY house, so that you might reward yourself, through deception and illusion, and gain the affections of a girl that is even more foolish than you.”

Tears of fear mingled with fury in that moment. William couldn’t control himself.

“Don’t you talk about her, you evil piece of shit! She’s more pure and more beautiful than anything you’ve ever seen in your entire…..UGH!”

Spectral green bands of light erupted from the harbinger’s aura, forming a ghoulish skeleton hand that crushed his neck with otherworldly strength, lifting him off the ground.

“You may fear me, boy. You may struggle against the power of death, the power of necropotence, all you wish. It will get you nowhere. I am your only salvation. I am the one who decides your fate. You may have disrespected the spirits, but now, you will atone your wrongdoings in my service. You will be my slave until the dead roam the earth once again.”

The green-lighted man opened his clenched fist and the spectral claw evaporated in to nothingness. William fell to the floor, sobbing, with a growing pit of dread in his stomach. Would he ever get to see Jennifer again?

“Please, just tell me what I can do to make it right. They said one of three offerings. I’ll make three of three offerings. Just don’t kill me! Just tell me what you want!” William cried.

The cacofiend laughed. Any semblance of human emotion, of pity or empathy, had long spilled out of his soul along with Margerie’s blood upon the very floor they stood upon.

“Offering any one of these three things will bring you great sorrow. And in sorrow, in hatred, in loss — these feelings instill a great sense of pleasure within those spirits trapped in the nether. It gives them potency. It gives them SWAY. It brings them one step closer to crossing over. Do not offer what you are not certain that you can deliver, foolish boy.”

“Anything. I’ll do anything. Just let me see her again. Please!”

“Stay within this circle until dawn. The three paths will be revealed to you in a vision. If you have not decided before the sun sets again, I will choose FOR you.”

A wave of invisible concussive force slammed against William’s head and he collapsed. As his surroundings faded out around him, he heard the man laughing.

“How did you put it before you desecrated my temple? Ah, that’s right. Sweet dreams, kid.”

***

He was in the graveyard again, standing on the plot of his father’s final resting place. He could see himself, as if he were an outsider, observing his own actions, but unable to influence them in any manner whatsoever.

Across the path that intersected the mortuary, three robed figures stood motionless, watching him as he watched himself. The one in the center raised his hand with an open palm, and then clenched it in a fist.

Gnarled roots burst through the earth of his father’s grave, wrapping about William’s arms and legs. They continued to expand and stretch outward, until he was bound at the ankles and wrists, contorted painfully in a cradle of oaken upheaval. He struggled to break free, but it was a fruitless battle. The robed men approached him. The leader pulled a long blade from its sheath on his waist and plunged it in to William’s throat, jerking it upward to garrote a gaping hole at the base of his collarbone.

The observer William, the homeless dream spirit, could only witness and do nothing to help himself as the robed man rammed his hand down William’s gullet, feeling around his insides, groping, searching for something. Both of his comrades on either side of him began to chant in a language that seemed similar to some of the incantations William had read in the Munich manual, but also different in certain verbage. Somehow the same, and somehow the opposite.

When they finished their chant, they lowered their hoods. Jennifer and Andrew. How could he have failed to recognize their voices? His assailant remained anonymous and continued to ravage William’s flayed body with the weapon as his friend and his first love clasped hands, and began walking away from the gruesome ritual. They embraced each other in a passionate kiss, and stole one final glance at him before they turned their backs and dissipated in to nothingness.

When the man found what he was searching for, he ripped it upward out of the helpless boy’s innards. It was the stone from the attic, now ignited with a brilliant crimson glow, hardly obsidian at all.

The man placed it on the center of his father’s headstone, and smashed it with the hilt of his blade.

***

The wails of the agony of childbirth plagued William from down the hall as he hid in the bathroom, splashing his face with cold water. The person in the mirror was someone that he barely recognized, for he was much older, with a beard and flecks of salt and pepper at the edges of his sideburns. As he ran his fingers through his hair, he noticed his wedding ring. This dream was far preferred over the previous one, and yet he was still infused with an ominous sense of terror, equal to if not greater than his vision in the graveyard.

He found himself walking back to her hospital room, unable to control his body as before. He felt as if there were invisible puppet strings, guiding him along. He was a prisoner trapped within, but when he saw the mewling baby in Jennifer’s arms, he did experience the happiness, the golden elation, the absolute joy of all his boyhood fantasies culminating to fruition.

The nurse took the baby from her mother, wrapping it in a second layer of extra blankets.

“Would you like to hold your daughter, sir?”

Yes! Oh yes, I would. Please!

William cradled the child and lost himself in her pure and innocent eyes, but there was also an infinite sorrow within the depths of his wretched being. In the back of his observing mind, he knew that this was just another vision, another “choice” from the nether, and nothing good could come from it.

He screamed on the inside as he watched himself run out of the room, fleeing with the newborn, where he frantically pressed the button for the elevator, over and over and over again.

Ding!

The doors retracted, and there was the attic man, the necromancer, waiting for his gift.

No! No! Don’t give her to him! STOP!

But he did.

And he wept.

Ding!

***


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William sat at his desk, watching a particular student in the corner who had always given him trouble, asking the hard questions, always probing for more, more, more.

He had completed his exam five minutes ago, when the others undoubtedly had at least fifteen or thirty more minutes before their tests were ready to turn in.

The kid only stared at him with malice and hate. His eyes —- William had seen those eyes before. Shadowed abyss. Empty and lusting for power. William glanced at his laptop to double check the time, and when he looked up again, everyone had risen from their desks.

The black-eyed young man rushed at him and slammed his fists in to the desk, reaching for William’s throat. Wrapping cold dead fingers around it, squeezing hard, trying to coax and squeeze out a final breath, his classroom began to scream, pointing at him with the anger of doomed accusations.

“Why didn’t you let him pick YOU! I love someone too you know! I had a life! You could have warned me! You could have stopped me!”

“I just wanted them to like me! I was just curious, just like you!”

“You tricked us, professor! You tricked us in to opening that circle for him!”

“Record a ritual for extra credit! Nothing bad will happen! Face your fear! You’re so full of it! You’re such a piece of shit!”

“I hope Jennifer has a miscarriage!”

“I hope he comes back for you anyway!”

“Thirty souls that you don’t give a fuck about, instead of your own! Instead of your daughter’s!”

“MURDERER!”

The class began to dissolve, their forms going ethereal as they accused him with rage, slowly mingling in to a river of transluscent bloody current. The coagulating mass of fluid bent and undulated like a hemoglobed serpent, absorbing itself through the stone on the floor. The howling and suffering remained, clear as a bell, sharper than before.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry….

***

“Hey, sleeping beauty! Wake up. It’s pancake time, you snooze you lose!” Jennifer teased, kicking him lightly in the side with her foot.

William opened his eyes to the real world, gasping for air as his friends stood over him.

“You jerk. You didn’t even use the extra cameras. I’m pissed. There’d better be some good shit on yours.” Ryan said.

They helped him gather his things and he remained silent as they made their way outside. He wanted to come clean. He wanted to tell Jennifer everything, but who would believe him?

He poked at his food at the restaurant and replied with one word answers as they grilled him for the juicy details. Halfway through the interrogation session, he ran to the bathroom to vomit, walking past their table as he came back out to get some air on the sidewalk.

“Willy? What’s wrong? Did something happen? You know you can talk to me, right?” Jennifer asked as she followed him outside. “We don’t have to watch the video if you don’t want to. I’ll erase it. Just tell me, if that’s what you want to do.”

He kicked a pebble in to the street, unable to look her in the eye, staring at his shoes. Tears began to form in his eyes.

“Jen, I’m sorry. All the videos I made, they’re not real. Everything. It was all bullshit. I just wanted to keep you around. I wanted you to think I was brave.”

“I had a feeling, Bee.” She said, wiping one of his tears away. “I don’t know what told me, I just had this feeling. Did something happen for real last night? You can erase the tape, just tell me.”

“I fucked up, Jen. I disrespected the dead. I mocked them, and it pissed them off. And the one who speaks for them, who defends them, who serves them …. he wants me to pay for it.”

“Wait. What do you mean, pay for it?”

“I have to go away now. He needs a familiar, he needs a newborn child that’s pure of heart, and he needs vessels for the shot callers, for the big boys on the other side, in the nether. I can’t hurt a child, especially not yours and mine, and those other kids don’t deserve to be picked because of me either. I deserve to be his familar. I do.”

“You’re talking crazy, Billy. I’m really worried about you. Just come back inside, your friends will get you through this. Did you sleep at all last night? You’re not being your normal self…”

“I love you, Jen. I just want you to know that. We were supposed to be together, but we can’t be now. I can’t let others pay for my mistakes. Not them, not you, and especially not her.”

“Especially not who?”

“Our daughter. Goodbye, Jen.”

He walked away from her, then, and she surely gave chase: if not to solidify the tugs of affection that only now reciprocated his own, then to save him from himself. But as he turned off the sidewalk and disappeared forever in to an alley, she was met by a vicious dog, if it could even be called that. Its eyes burned with hellish wrath, coarse and singed fur angled on end, poised to strike if she pursued William further. It did not advance, but rather held its ground, determined to seal the fate of its replacement. Jen did not realize it in that very moment, but she had a seen a former and more earthly visage of this shaded monster in the articles she had researched about the manor’s checkered past. With a personal touch, the animal’s owner had engraved its collar ten years ago, with the name of Sasha.

Jennifer did not call it by its name and dispel its protections, being unversed in the powers and lack thereof of a necromancer’s familiar, and William found it somewhat ironic in this fated moment that he had not shared more of the Munich manual’s finer details among his friends. So, Jennifer screamed, and fled in to the restaurant to seek refuge from its burning gaze.

The beast led William to its master around the corner, maw dripping with phantasmal drops of effervescence as it held the stone between jagged rows of gnashing gemmed teeth. The spirit of the necromancer’s first companion had long given way to the taxing attrition of fury that the nether had demanded of her, and yet there was no animal on earth who could withstand the task of channeling the void within for more than a decade. For that, William now knew the truth: that only a willing and subservient soul could perform the task, marked and chosen by the nether and not the necromaster himself.

So the chosen boy abandoned his future with his first love, also becoming the saving grace of many curious others who would never know that their souls had been spared by his actions.

For his entire life, since his father’s death, he had searched for proof of the other side, and despite the weight of tragedy in sealing away his fate, as the hellhound collapsed and the stone fell upon stone, rolling towards his feet for him to bear until the final two pieces of the war’s puzzle were in place, he did discover some limited measure of tranquility in the fact that his search was now over.


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Credit: D.A. Wilcox, Violent Harvest

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by cnkguy
The First of the Three

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