Tuesday, January 25, 2011

As this seems to be more effective, I am going to contue posting writing samples. This falls into the category of "things that gave people at my writer's club nightmares", and is a good example of a throwaway universe. This story is slated for the as-yet unreleased The Inclination to Destiny, so take it as a nice sneak-peek.

Late afternoon sun swept over the sleepy town of Haverbrook, then continued westward to meet its appointments.
With the light now fading, Dirk Macalister closed his textbook and sighed heavily. High school chemistry wasn’t a picnic any day, and today he just didn’t feel like reading.
He glanced down from the porch swing where he used to sit with May, and looked only on his rodent-nosed friend Russo. Russo was a man truly misplaced in time. In an up and coming world of science and technology, he studied black magic. Even now he sat in the middle of a pentagram surrounded by thick yellow candles.
Russo and Dirk had been friends since childhood, but now were a most mismatched pair. Dirk played on the football team, and had plans of studying computer sciences in college. He was as normal and average and fitting a young man as the world could ask for. He was tall, muscular, broad-shouldered, and tanned. Russo, on the other hand was not. Russo had a long rat-like nose, and since hitting puberty, rat like whiskers. He dressed in tattered black and brown robes he’d made himself, and was always hunched over and had a secretive look about him. He spent enough time in the sun to not be horribly pale, but a dark wizard was still not a site one expected to find in a suburban neighborhood.
Ironically sitting in his pentagram Russo was scrawling through a chemistry book preparing for the next day’s exam. The whole ‘wizard’ thing was more a front than anything else, Russo’s way of rebelling against society in general. Not unlike the weemos and punks of the school, who had their own culture of rebellion. But Russo had gone a step further, he didn’t merely pretend.
He practiced actual magic.
“I’ve been thinking,” Russo snapped his book shut. “I think there might be a way for you to get your girlfriend back.”
Dirk and May had broken up a few weeks ago. They’d been dating for two years, and Dirk always thought they’d be together forever. If only she hadn’t found out about his tryst with her younger sister, everything would still be great. She’d forgiven him for worse indiscretions, why not this time?
Dirk blinked at him for a few moments, then crossed the porch and stood beside Russo’s satanic symbol. He folded his arms, glared at his old friend, and spoke.
Russo smiled and snuffed out his candles. He didn’t blow on them, just scraped some grease out of his hair and pinched the burning wicks with his fingers.
“Yeah, I know a way you can make May love you again,” Russo explained. “But you may have to ‘metaphorically’ ‘make a deal with the devil’.”
Dirk snorted and stifled a laugh. When Russo’s fingers came out from under his long sleeves his untrimmed nails looked uncannily like a rat’s claws.
“Of course, by ‘devil’,” Russo continued. “I mean Dark Lords. And by ‘metaphorically’, I mean get your jacket.”
Dirk shrugged and headed inside to grab his coat. It was autumn now and a chill was in the night air. He didn’t really expect Russo’s spell to work, but it would at least be good for a laugh, and the mage was probably just trying to cheer him up. Like that time Russo tried to turn himself into a rat for the school talent show; he got a face full of smoke and lost two perfectly good eyebrows, but he didn’t turn into a rat. He did present an unusual pension for cheese over the next few weeks, though.
Dirk followed Russo to the park a few blocks from the quiet suburban street, where the wizard carefully scrawled a much larger pentagram in the center of the baseball field. It was especially dark here; the park had lights on the basketball court and the bathrooms, but nobody wanted to play baseball at night.
It was the night of the new moon, and clouds had begun to roll in, further deepening the pitch around them. Despite his coat, Dirk shivered.
“Ok,” Russo began as he set candles at all five points of the pentagram. “First, we need the elements. He took another candle and placed it in one of the five triangles created by the circle. “That’s fire. Now water, wind, and earth.”
He placed a bottle of water in another triangle, an inflatable balloon in another, and finally a rock. Then he turned to the one empty triangle and pulled something slimy out of a Tupperware from his backpack, and plopped it in the space.
“What the hell is that?!” Dirk demanded, pinching his nose against the stench.
“It’s a sacrifice,” Russo explained. “A burnt offering to the heathen gods.”
“But what IS it?” Dirk moaned.
Russo glanced down at his burnt offering, then looked back up at Dirk and shrugged.
“And how long ago did you burn it?” Dirk suppressed a gag.
“Six weeks, give or take,” Russo waved. “This would work better if we had a virgin, though.”
“Yeah good luck finding one of those around here,” Dirk spat. “All right, so how’s this work?”
“It’s simple,” Russo gestured. “I call upon the Dark Lords and offer them this sacrifice, if they accept, I then ask them for power, which I will use to make May love you.”
“You can do that?” Dirk blinked.
“Sure,” Russo dismissed. “This crap’s easier than people think, watch.”
He sat cross-legged in the middle of the circle and began making complex spell forms with his fingers while chanting in some language that sounded suspiciously he was making it up as he went along.
Make no mistake, Russo was a real wizard. On the handful of occasions Dirk had seen him summon actual magic; he didn’t do it with candles and rotting spam. He simply acted, and the magic came.
“By the way, if you start any chant with ‘by the power of Grayskull’, I’m leaving,” Dirk pointed out.
“Oh, great spirits of darkness,” Russo called. “We pray to Shabringdigo, Nightmares, and Nu, beseech us and grant us an audience!”
Russo paused dramatically and a lightning bolt split the sky, followed by a dramatic clap of thunder.
Dirk jumped and took a few steps back. There had been no rain in the forecast, but thunderstorms were not uncommon this time of year.
The chanting continued for a while, with Russo apparently making up choruses and pleas as he went. Dirk was sure that more than once he heard the hapless wizard resort to ‘arise, chicken, arise!’
Very suddenly Russo went silent, breathing heavily. Dirk had been standing behind him, and very cautiously circled around to see Russo’s eyes.
They were glowing red.
Silently, the wizard began to strip off his outer robes, until he was naked from the waist up. Shadows cast by the flickering candle light undulated across his pale, pasty skin, briefly forming shapes of faces and limbs.
Russo’s head went back and this time when he spoke, the chant echoed with a deep, guttural kind of hollowness.
“Ancient Spirits of the Darkest Tower, grant us power in the Midnight Hour.”
The red glow suddenly turned black, a black somehow darker than the falling night. More thunderbolts came, but these too were completely devoid of light.
This was a darkness so deep it went beyond simply the absence of light, what came out of Russo’s eyes was a sort of anti-light, a power that sucked in all illumination.
“Ancient Spirits of the Darkest Tower, grant us power in the Midnight Hour!”
Bolts of black lightning rained down and into Russo’s eyes, forming a second pentagram around him. The candles were obliterated by the energy that poured around him, a kind of angry, black power so fierce it made Dirk want to turn and run in terror.
But his feet froze in place. Only himself and Russo’s dark light seemed to exist anymore. The baseball field, the park, the trees, all were gone. It was just the three of them. Dirk, Russo, and the darkness.
“Ancient Spirits of the Darkest Tower, grant us power in the Midnight Hour!”
It wasn’t Russo’s voice that spoke. Who’s voice it was, Dirk didn’t know.
It sounded like an entire chorus was chanting.
“Ancient Spirits of the Darkest Tower, grant us power in the Midnight Hour!”
Very suddenly, Russo’s head went back and he screamed.
The scream was definitely his.
It was the loudest, most violent scream Dirk had ever heard. Vocal cords couldn’t make a sound like that, what he was hearing now was Russo’s very soul screaming.
Crimson light raced out of his throat and up into the sky.
It struck the cloud bank and bathed the whole vista and a somber glow. The lightning had stopped, the chanting had stopped, the only sound was the throbbing of Russo’s heart, echoing across the field. The red light strobed and undulated with Russo’s pulse.
Until it stopped.
And there was only red.
The chanting began again, this time as hushed whispers all around. The thousands of voices grew steadily out of sink, until it was nothing but a droning cry.
The whispers finally stopped, and one dark voice like the teeth of shadows emitted a single word:
All at once the skin tore away from Russo’s muscles, revealing the sinew and fat beneath. These unraveled, crawling across the ground away from his body like spiders, leaving only his skeleton and organs. The organs spilled out and melted, the pool of blood and reduced flesh spreading out across the dirt, obliterating Russo’s Pentagram.
Only the skeleton remained, seated cross legged in the center of the pool, with its eerie, hollow black eyes burning darkly.
Out before him the ground sank and formed a series of blood-soaked steps that led down to a doorway. The skeleton, which had not moved since the sky turned red, slowly raised its arm and pointed.
As if drawn by some unseen force, Dirk stepped into the circle of blood and then down the stairs. He slipped once and grabbed the wall for support, then gasped in horror as he touched his friend’s blood.
But he kept walking, down into the passageway.
He went through the door and found himself in a great chamber. Though it was black as pitch, veins of red ran through the stone and he could see a kind of wire-frame of the room.
Points of golden light streamed through the glowing veins, as if leading him, beckoning Dirk to a massive set of granite doors ahead. He approached these, and put his blood-stained hand out to touch them.
What power guided his hand he dared not question, but slowly he drew the symbol, the pentagram Russo always made. The lines of the five-pointed star, the circle, etched out in Russo’s blood.
With a creak and a shattering of bones, the doors opened, revealing a hall littered with skeletons. They were nailed to crucifixes and broken on wheels and stretched into every manner of ghastly position. Some were piles on the floor, laying on a fine yellow dusk of ground meal.
At the end of the long hall was a pedestal which Dirk approached. In the middle sat a shimmering, undulating sphere of darkness about the size of a fist. Something told him to reach out and grasp it, but the same force which had pulled him this far now left his arms and legs.
The meaning was clear. It had brought him here, but the choice to take what was being offered, was his own.
Trembling, trying to convince himself that everything would be ok, that Russo hadn’t died and that all would be undone, Dirk put his hand out and thrust it into the darkness.
He knew what was being offered to him: power. Ultimate power, infinite power, the power to give him anything he desired…
But was it worth it?
May… May, May, May, he would get her back. With this kind of power, how could he not? He would have her and everything else.
All he had to do was grasp it.
The aura concealed something, a facetted gemstone about the size of a large marble. He wrapped his hand around this, and felt it burrow into his palm.
Dirk screamed.
He ripped his hand out of the aura and tried to pry the stone from his flesh, but it was already fused to the bone. Panicking, he turned and ran, back through the hall of bone, through the darkness, and finally up the stairs, collapsing on the grass outside the pool of Russo’s blood.
The red light was gone and the cloud cover had lifted, and by the dim starlight, Dirk could make out the pile of bones sitting in the pool of blood.
The steps were gone.
The bargain was struck.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Rick:

    Decidedly spooky. I wonder how you ended this one;–– did you show the leads throwing Dirk's gem into a star, or did you pass that and go straight to Hunter reading Green Lantern's oath to his daughter, or what? (I prefer the second, myself; having Hunter reading the oath again to Emily, after having thrown the gem and returned home, and having Emily's mother come in and ask what he was doing, same as at the beginning.) What would a 'bright' amateur magician look like?– As far as I know, you haven't any; only professional 'brights' and one amateur 'dark'.

    – Siddharth.


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