ISSUE 21, April 2018



Cover Art by Vonnie Winslow Crist



*Please enjoy our monthly issue for free. Be aware however, that this free version contains some formatting issues such as the abscence of italics. To experience the stories in their properly formatted versions, you can purchase a copy on Kindle or a print edition through Amazon.

Family Tree
By MIke Murphy

All Magdalena could think about was the blood.
Amid the blooming flora and happily singing birds of the forest, the middle-aged, bearded Arkon withdrew the ceremonial knife from its worn sheath. “Are you ready?” he asked the young woman with the long hair beside him. The finely honed blade glittered in the sun.
“Is this part. . . necessary?” she wondered nervously.
“The tree must know of your sincerity,” he told her, indicating the towering elm with the enormous roots before them.
“It’s only that. . .”
“Speak!” he demanded. “I have much to do.”
“The money.”
“Your fifty gold coins?”
“One hundred,” she admitted after a pause, ashamed and blushing slightly.
“Ah, you wish for a child as well.”
“I am but a poor washer woman, sir.”
“I know of your situation.”
“It took me years of scrubbing my fingers to the bone to save up that much money. My meager table has not seen meat in months.”
“Do you wish to withdraw?”
“Oh, no, no!” she answered him quickly.
“Then what?”
“Is there any. . . ‘guarantee’ this will work?”
“I have been the Arkon for nearly six years. I have seen few negative outcomes, but even I cannot predict the tree’s mercies.”
“But the money –”
“We all must make choices in life, my dear,” he preached. “Is filling your belly more important to you than a husband and child?”
“Certainly not!”
“If you could have accomplished either of those things on your own, you would not be here today,” he summed up. “Are you ready?”
“Will it. . . hurt?” the fair-skinned woman asked.
“Only for a moment,” he told her.
Magdalena nervously extended her ring finger. She could not watch as the robed man sliced a small cut into its tip. She pressed her eyes tight against the sting. Crimson began to appear. “Quickly!” the Arkon ordered. “Before the clotting begins.” They hurriedly knelt by the tree. Taking a hold of her finger, the man squeezed one, two, three drops of blood onto the roots. Magdalena moaned quietly each time. “It is done,” the Arkon said seconds later, and they rose together.
“It is?” she asked, not daring to look at her wounded finger for fear of swooning.
He removed a bandage from the pocket of his scarlet robe and handed it to her. “Wrap this about your finger,” he said. “It has medicinal qualities.”
She thanked him and did so. “When will I know?” she asked eagerly.
“Your donation will be used to care for the tree so it grows strong. Hopefully, it will look upon you favorably.”
***
Grinning, the Arkon walked into his well-appointed office. Broog, his dim right-hand man, was seated at a table counting coins and making hasty notes on scrolls. The Arkon tossed the satchel containing Magdalena’s money at him. It landed with a clink on the table. “Another fifty?” Broog asked happily through his broken teeth.
“One hundred,” his boss told him.
Broog giggled. “She must be a real witch.”
“Perhaps acceptable to someone in a lower caste.”
“Will anything happen for her?”
“Who cares? We have her money. Soon, we will leave this village for good and live very comfortably overseas.”
“Does the family tree have any real powers?” Broog inquired.
“None,” the Arkon said after a chuckle.
“But your predecessors –”
“Were fools. None of them saw the tree’s potential to be a gold mine.”
“No woman has ever benefitted from the bleeding ceremony?”
“Of course not!” the bearded man exclaimed. “It’s all for show.”
“Then why –”
“If these simple-minded ladies want to water an ordinary tree with their blood and pay us for the privilege, so be it,” his boss told him. “You don’t really think –”
“Not for a minute,” Broog answered quickly.
“Good. If you did,” the Arkon added, “I’d have to rethink our. . . ‘business arrangement.’”
***
Gray-haired, elderly Tursa, her tattered pink shawl hanging loosely over her shoulders, was standing behind the front desk of The Crescent Inn that early morning when Magdalena entered. They greeted each other, and the younger woman asked, “Any washing for me?”
“No.”
She was surprised. “Have your guests all decided to wear their dirty clothes over and over again?”
“As long as they pay for their lodging,” the elderly proprietor said, “what they do with their clothing is none of my concern.”
“But surely –”
“They all know your services are available. I have a notice posted in each room,” she assured Magdalena. “I can’t make them contact you.”
“Of course not.”
“Perhaps tomorrow.”
The bell over the door rang. Magdalena looked up, and a god entered the inn – the most handsome man she had ever seen, she had ever imagined. He was tall, he was fit, he was strong, and his blue eyes sparkled brilliantly – like twin lakes on a sunny morning. Carrying a sack over one shoulder, he approached Tursa. “May I help you, sir?” she asked.
He replied in a most-pleasing voice, “My name is Klim. I wrote for a reservation.”
“I remember. Two nights. Your room is ready.”
“Excellent!” he exclaimed. “Might you help me with something?”
“What is that?”
“I have a case to argue tomorrow.”
“You are a barrister?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Unfortunately, my court attire became muddied on the way here.”
No sooner had he plopped the bag down on the desk than Magdalena sprung forward saying, “I can help you with that, sir.”
“You. . . can?” he asked, taking in the vision before him.
“Magdalena is the best washer woman for miles around,” Tursa informed him. “If anyone can make your attire sparkle, she can.”
“Magdalena, is it?” Klim asked, turning to her.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“A lovely name,” he told the washer woman. “Will you be able to finish the job for tomorrow morning?”
“May I have a look?”
“Of course,” he said, and he pulled the sack’s drawstring open for her. With her dainty hands, Magdalena rummaged through the soiled items: A shirt, a vest, a pair of trousers, his barrister’s wig. Some hosiery began to fall from the sack. Together, they grabbed for it. Their hands touched. “I’m so sorry!” he told her. “It was accidental.”
“Not a problem, sir.”
“Please, my name is. . . Klim,” he said, longing to hear her utter it.
“Not a problem, Klim.”
“Since it wasn’t a problem. . .”
“Yes?”
“Might I. . . touch it again?”
Magdalena looked at Tursa, who nodded that she should. “Of course,” she replied, putting both her hands in Klim’s.
He touched them tenderly. “So delicate,” he remarked, “and purer than any snowflake that ever fell from the heavens.”
“You flatter me.”
“I speak the truth – always.”
Tursa cleared her throat. “The garments?” she reminded them.
Taken aback by his uncontrolled display of affection, Klim chuckled. “Oh, yes. Could you make these presentable for court tomorrow?” he asked Magdalena.
“Without fail.”
“They will look better than new.” Tursa handed her guest a sheet of paper detailing Magdalena’s fees.
“Very reasonable,” he pronounced after scanning it. “I am indebted to you.”
“The pleasure is mine,” she assured him. “When in the morning will you need your things?”
“Would 7:00 be too early?”
“Not at all. I sometimes hire a boy to run garments to their owners. He can –”
“Could you deliver my things?”
“I. . . suppose I could.”
“If there’s any additional charge for. . .”
“No. I will see you in the morning.”
“I can think of no better way to begin my day.”
***
Magdalena was scrubbing linens against an old washboard leaning in a bucket of soapy water when Klim entered her small home, surprising her. He was still in his court attire, but he held his white barrister’s wig in his left hand.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” he said.
“Not at all,” she told him, removing her hands from the water and wiping them dry on her well-worn apron. “How did you find me?”
“The innkeeper gave me your address. Forgive me for intruding, but I had to share the news with someone.”
“What news?”
“I won my case!”
“Good for you!”
“My superiors have asked me to move permanently to this village. It is near the locations of several pending cases. I’m going to purchase a home soon.”
“It will be good to have you as a neighbor.”
“And the judge – oh, you must hear this! – the judge commented on the immaculate condition of my court attire. He said it showed my sincerity and respect for the law. I gave him your rates. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. The more clients, the better.”
“I cannot thank you enough, Magdalena. Thank you!” Before Klim knew what he was doing, he pressed his lips to hers and held them there for several seconds.
When it was over, she asked, “Did you just. . . kiss me?”
“No,” he lied, ashamed of his uncontrolled behavior. “No, I. . . I didn’t.”
“A shame.”
“Why?”
“I was going to ask you to do it again.”
***
It was on a beautiful, sunny day in the village square that Klim proposed to Magdalena, who eagerly accepted. “Oh, my love, you make my heart sing!” he exclaimed for all the villagers to hear. “I have purchased a home for us on Sunflower Way.”
“The one with the two spiers?” she wondered.
“Yes.”
“That must have been so expensive.”
“Don’t you worry your pretty head about that. My position is secure. We will live there together in harmony for ever. Now let us plan the wedding – the biggest affair this village has ever seen.”
***
Months later, the doctor confirmed Magdalena’s pregnancy. As she was heading home, she saw the Arkon in the village square. She called to him, and he stopped. “I haven’t seen you in months,” he said.
“Eventful, glorious months, sir,” she replied, beaming.
“How so?”
She showed him her wedding band and told him of the child to be. “Such wonderful news! I’m going home to tell Klim.”
“But your house is in the other direction.”
“Not any longer. I live on Sunflower Way now.”
The Arkon was impressed. . . and jealous. “That’s an. . . expensive part of the village.”
“It is a joyous part of the village! And to think that all this happiness came from a mere one hundred gold coins and a few drops of blood. Oh, may the family tree be blessed for always!”
***
“She married Klim,” Broog told him later, “the village’s new barrister.”
“How could I have missed this news?” the Arkon wondered.
“I assumed you heard,” he replied. “She got everything she asked for in the bleeding ceremony, didn’t she?”
“She did,” the Arkon admitted, confused.
“But if there’s no truth to –”
“Are you going to start wondering about that stupid tree again?”
“No, but it certainly is a coincidence that –”
“That’s all it is: A coincidence.” Then he grew unsure. “Even though things were not looking good for her before. . .”
“What are you thinking about?” Broog asked, seeing that his boss was pondering something.
“A way to profit from that woman’s good fortune. We could be overseas in no time.” The Arkon sat at the table and steepled his fingers before his face. “All we need,” he told his employee, “is an angle.”
***
“You are confident in your duties, Hannah?” Klim asked his wife’s nurse.
“Yes, sir,” the young woman replied. “I am to care for the lady and make sure she does not exert herself.”
“Exactly. The doctor says she should rest during the remaining months of her pregnancy. When I must be at the office, I am putting her care in your hands.”
“I. . . I understand.”
“You sound unsure.”
“It’s. . . It’s not that. I have cared for many in the village.”
“Then what?”
“I’m. . . not sure I should say.”
“Please do.”
“Some months ago,” Hannah explained, pausing briefly and then choosing her words carefully, “I cared for the children of the Arkon.”
“And?” Klim prompted her.
“I once heard him talking to his aide, Broog. I. . . I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“Tell me!”
“He was speaking meanly of a woman who had paid him one hundred gold coins for the bleeding ceremony. He said her name was. . . Magdalena.”
“My Magdalena?”
“I believe so. His description of her matches your wife. He was gloating of how he had stolen her money.”
“What is a. . . a bleeding ceremony?” Klim asked.
“At the edge of the woods, there is a large, old elm known to the locals as the family tree. Many believe it has supernatural powers.”
“A tree?”
“I do not share that belief.”
“You said this ceremony involves payment?”
“Yes, sir. A woman gives the Arkon fifty gold coins if she desires a husband; one hundred for a husband and a child. The gold is meant to secure the tree’s blessings.” Hannah found it difficult to utter the next words: “And then there’s. . . the blood.”
“Blood?”
“The woman’s ring finger is cut with a ceremonial blade. A few drops of her blood are applied to the tree’s roots. The blood and the gold, the women believe, will win the tree’s favor and grant their wishes.”
“Barbaric!” Klim exclaimed. “My wife took part in this?”
“From what I heard, yes.”
“The Arkon stole her money!”
“He has done so to many. In public, he speaks of the tree’s powers. In private, it is a windfall for him.”  
“He will pay for this!”
***
In repose on her daybed, Magdalena grew teary eyed. “I did, my sweet,” she admitted.
“You thought that a tree –”
“I did and do,” she told him. “Look at what that investment has wrought: You and, soon, our child.”
“My dear,” Klim explained, starting to pace, “I didn’t come to this village to fulfill the promise of a tree. I came of my own accord. I never heard of this family tree until a short time ago. It has no power over me.”
“Then how did we meet?”
“Chance! Wonderful, blessed chance,” her husband told her, stopping his pacing. “The Arkon stole your money. He will pay for that.”
“Please don’t!” she urged him, rising slightly. “To anger the Arkon is to anger the tree. That will ruin everything we share!”
“Nonsense! Nothing bad will happen to you, me, or our child when I confront him.”
“Back then,” Magdalena said, reclining and remembering her days before Klim arrived in the village, “a hundred gold coins was an incredible amount of money. Does it matter now that we are well off?”
“It is your honor,” Klim told her, cupping her lovely chin and looking deeply into her eyes. “I will not stand for someone treating you so poorly.”
***
“Klim is waiting to see you,” Broog nervously told his boss, who was seated behind his ornate office desk. “He doesn’t look happy.”
“Excellent!” the Arkon exclaimed. “Here I was wondering how to extract some money from him, and he pays me a visit. Show him in.”
Broog opened the door to the outer office and called, “The Arkon will see you now, sir.” Klim stomped in, fuming.
“So good to meet you, barrister,” the Arkon began, rising to his feet. “I usually personally welcome all newcomers to our village, but business has been piling –”
“I’m not here to exchange pleasantries,” a clearly angry Klim announced.
“Have a seat.”
“I prefer to stand.”
“As you wish.” The Arkon sat back down. Broog stayed in the office, expecting trouble.
“You know my wife, Magdalena?” Klim began.
“Of course – a lovely woman. I understand she is expecting. Congratulations!”
“You have cheated her.”
“Me? How?”
“In the bleeding ceremony,” Klim added. “Do you deny she participated in it?”
“No.”
“How could anyone believe in such foolishness? A tree that can grant a woman a husband and family! You don’t believe it yourself, do you?”
“Of course I do. I am the Arkon.”
Klim put his hands on the desk. “You are a thief and a scoundrel!”
“How dare you!” the bearded man angrily replied, rising quickly.
“Sir?” Broog asked anxiously.
“Stand your ground.”
“You stole money from my wife. I demand its return.”
“I stole nothing. Your wife asked for a husband and child. Both wishes have been granted through the good graces of the family tree.”
“Rubbish!”
“You insult my beliefs, sir, and those of many villagers.”
“I want her money returned!” Klim repeated, spacing his words for emphasis.
“It has already been spent on the care of the tree – fertilizer, pruning, watering, and such.”
“I’m sure you have a hundred gold coins lying about here. Give her those!”
“Why should I?” the Arkon asked. “She paid for services rendered and now has what she wished for.”
“I’m not part of a tree’s plan, and neither is our child!” Klim told him, pounding on the desk. “Will you give her the money back?”
“I will not.”
“Then I challenge you to a duel.”
“What?” the Arkon asked, amused.
“I have two pistols at home. They will do nicely.”
“When and where?” the red-robed man inquired, sitting down slowly to look at ease with the challenge.
“Tomorrow at noon. . . and by this supposedly sacred tree. We will invite everyone in the village to witness our battle.”
“Agreed.”
“Tomorrow, then.” Klim hurriedly left the office, slamming the door shut behind him.
“What are you thinking?” Broog asked. “A duel?”
“I am an excellent marksman,” his superior said.
“What if Klim is a better one?”
He rose from behind the desk, looking pleased. “It’s all coming together.”
“What is?”
“How dim can you be? Tomorrow, Klim dies by my hand in a totally legal way. Then, I slowly, but expertly, advance upon the grieving widow and stake my claim to the riches her late husband has no doubt willed her.” He smiled, turning over the thought of a luxurious future in his mind. “It’s all so simple.”
***
Despite protests from several, particularly Magdalena, the time of the duel arrived. Standing in the clearing near the family tree, the village doctor announced to the many onlookers that both parties had asked him to officiate.
“Gentlemen, you definitely wish to go through with this?” he inquired. Both men, pistols in hand, replied with an adamant yes. “Please check your weapons.” As the combatants did so, the doctor continued: “The rules: You will stand back to back. At my say, you will take ten paces – no more, no less – turn and fire. You each have been given one bullet. Are there any requests before we commence?”
“Just one,” the Arkon said.
“Yes?”
“I would like to take my ten paces toward the family tree. It has always given me comfort.”
“Klim?” the doctor inquired.
“I have no problem with that,” his adversary answered.
Magdalena, great with child, left the crowd of villagers and ran to Klim. “Husband!” she pleaded, pulling him close.
“Get with the others, dear,” he told her.
“But –”
“Go. I will see you after the duel.” Magdalena left reluctantly, returning to her place.
“Back to back now,” the doctor went on, positioning the duelists properly. “Remember: Ten paces.” He paused for a moment, hoping the men would come to their senses, but that was not to be. “Go!” he ordered. “One, two. . .”
For Magdalena, Broog, and some other spectators, the ten paces seemed to take an eternity. “Ten!” the doctor finally said.
Both men turned as one. A shot rang out. Klim winced as the fired bullet hit him in the shoulder. Seconds after the Arkon smiled, there was the sound of a loud crack. A heavy limb fell off of the family tree, hitting him in the head. He fell in a heap to the ground.
Magdalena ran to her husband, weeping for his pain. The doctor approached and examined the wound. “Not too serious,” he said. “I can take care of it in my office.”
“Doctor!” Broog called from under the tree. The doctor, Klim, Magdalena, and several of the villagers went to see what had happened. The Arkon lay on his back, unconscious – a jagged tree limb beside him. Blood, the same crimson as his robe, was pooling under his head. “He’s not moving!” Broog nervously pronounced.
The doctor knelt beside the unconscious bearded man and checked his vital signs. “He breathes not,” he announced to many gasps from onlookers. “Klim,” he said, rising, “you are the victor. You have killed the Arkon.”
“No, I haven’t,” Klim disagreed. He opened his weapon to reveal his allotted bullet still in its chamber. “My gun never fired.”
Magdalena looked first at the Arkon’s body and, then, at the broken limb above her head. “Then how. . .” she asked.
“I may have been wrong about the family tree, dearest,” her wounded husband said.
“How so?” she inquired.
“I’d say it just took its revenge on the Arkon.”

Mike Murphy

Mike has had over 150 audio plays produced in the U.S. and overseas. He's won five Moondance International Film Festival awards in their TV pilot, audio play, short screenplay, and short story categories.
His prose work has appeared in several magazines and anthologies. In 2015, his script “The Candy Man” was produced as a short film under the title Dark Chocolate. In 2013, he won the inaugural Marion Thauer Brown Audio Drama Scriptwriting Competition.
Mike keeps a blog at audioauthor.blogspot.com.




Loki's Daughter
By Victor H. Rodriguez

 Landstrom sat on a deck bench with his back up against the white superstructure of the research vessel Kalmar. The radar on the roof of the ship’s bridge turned silently against an azure sky barely obscured by the wisps of gossamer cirrus clouds.
He tugged on the plastic brim of his pilot’s cap. “I can’t believe you got caught up in this babysitting adventure, too.”
Kongsli scratched his patchy beard. “Who knows… maybe there’s something down there I can write a decent thesis about.”
“What’s wrong with U-boat hulks?”
Kongsli puffed out his cheeks and exhaled dramatically. “Professor Metelius, my advisor at Stockholm U knows I’m in a cherry position imbedded here with you guys. Two other doctoral candidates did theses this year based on U-boat rusticles – he sent me an e-mail yesterday to make sure I wasn’t working on the same thing. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was. I think I missed my chance, man.”
“Ah, what are you worried about?” Landstrom said. “You in some kind of hurry to find a job in the private sector? What happened to the kid I knew who loved studying mythology? Look around you, man – we’ve got it made!” They were surrounded by the glittering sapphire-colored waves of the Atlantic for miles.
A Nordic wind chilled the men and unfurled the blue-and-yellow flag that jutted at an angle from the top of the bridge. Kongsli shoved his hands deeper into his navy-blue pea coat, and knotted his brow. “I think I got lucky, Landstrom. It’s not like I’m the most brilliant student at SU or anything… I got this gig because I was Metelius’s TA and I happened to speak Swedish and English.”
“Don’t worry, man – there’s always something interesting going on past the Skagerrak. Something will come up. You’ll get your degree.” He leaned forward, whispering, “Today we take them down past the cold seep into the breach.”
Kongsli raised an eyebrow. “You want to go that deep for the first time with guests aboard? What if the methane in the water messes up the sub’s systems?”
“Do you want something original for your thesis or not? You’ve seen what the Lidar picked up through the crevasse. Tell me: do you think it’s man-made or natural?”
“That ‘step-pyramid’ thing? Who knows? Probably an unusual rock formation. Then again… it could be the top of a sunken city. The Geats never recorded anything about an offshore island way out here, though they weren’t even around prior to 200 A.D. This could be the remains of some other, older Proto-Nordic civilization we don’t know about yet.”
“Exactly! How many times have we taken the Ingvar down to look at those U-boat wrecks? You can’t say we haven’t navigated our share of cold seeps.”
“Not fresh ones like this,” Kongsli said.
Landstrom dismissed Kongsli’s concern with the wave of his hand. “You and the Ingvar can handle it. If anything starts not running right, you know… adapt, adopt and improve! Worst case scenario, we ditch the lighting rig and radio the Skipper to pull us back to the surface.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’m bringing my phone to take pictures, you know… in case.”
The pilot threw back his head and laughed out loud. “That’s the spirit! Seriously, man – don’t sell yourself short. You might not have the PhD to prove it, but you’re the best geologist and the best marine biologist I know. This account with the Hollywood guys is important – we could use the money. We have to make sure everything goes right, and in uncharted waters, there’s no one I’d rather have with us.”
“Thanks, man, I appreciate that.” Kongsli craned his head and looked up and down the ship’s deck. “Where are those guys, anyway? What company did you say they worked for again?”
“Film Farmhouse.”
“Film Farmhouse? That’s a studio?”
“Not really. I mean, yes, technically they have offices in Hollywood. They’re some kind of high-end stock footage film library. You know, real studios license footage of exotic places from them for their adventure film or whatever.”
“Hm.” Kongsli buttoned his coat to the top and frowned out over the ocean’s horizon. The engines of the Kalmar idled reliably underneath, sending a steady vibration up through the deck.
One of the steel doors clanked open and out stepped their guests. At first glance, they reminded Kongsli of Laurel and Hardy – one thin, the other fat – both dressed in black turtlenecks and blue jeans.
Kongsli tasted the salt from sea-spray on his lips and waved.
The thin one spoke up. “Morning!” The middle-aged man was lean and clean-shaven with a close-cut head of gray hair. To complete the look of a wannabe mogul, he sported gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses. He was fitter than Kongsli, truth be told, who was half the man’s age. He grinned and shook Kongsli’s hand warmly. “I’m Marc Wilder – the producer.”
“You ready to go underwater today, Mr. Wilder?”
“Call my father ‘Mr. Wilder.’ You can call me Marc!”
“Ok, Marc.” Age is a state of mind, I guess, thought Kongsli. Hollywood – all about appearances.
The argument against was personified in the woman by his side. She wore no sunglasses and was young and heavy, with a pretty, round face. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun. She raised her small hand to her brow and squinted at Kongsli and Landstrom who had the sun behind them. She waved a silent hello.
Kongsli said, “You must be Kathe, right? The sound engineer?”
“Guilty as charged,” Wilder answered for her. “And you must be Tobias Kongsli, our marine biologist! You’re… not what I expected.” He grinned again, showing off his perfectly straight, white teeth.
“What did you expect?” asked Kongsli.
Wilder chuckled to himself. “A white nerd.” He drew out the word ‘nerd’ in a humorous way, like he was not accustomed to saying it.
“Well, you got the nerd part right. My mom is from Ghana.”
“Were you born there?”
“In Ghana? No, in the U.S. Stamford, Connecticut.”
“Really? East Coast? My family’s from Boston.”
“Oh, yeah? I did my first four years of school there, then transferred to Stockholm to work on graduate studies.”
“No kidding.” Wilder’s grin faded. “Wait… work on graduate studies? I was told we’d have a real scientist with us.”
“All done… except the thesis.”
“OK, so you do know what you’re doing.”
“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. By the way, this is our pilot, Tomas Landstrom.”
Landstrom took off his hat, yet Wilder only gave him the faintest nod of recognition, then turned his attention to the stern of the ship, where the sub was suspended by white security scaffolding and the folded hydraulic crane arm. “So, Kongsli… what can you tell us about what’s down there?”
“Well, the crevasse is barely large enough to drive the sub through. Nobody’s been down there yet. Lidar picked up some kind of structure beyond the breach, within the bathypelagic zone… around 2000 meters down.”
“The bathy-what?”
“Uh… the deeper part of the ocean.”
“OK, good,” Wilder said. “And your name’s Landstrom, right?”
Landstrom nodded.
After waiting a beat, Wilder turned back to Kongsli and gestured with his thumb at Landstrom. “Doesn’t say much, does he?”
Kongsli grimaced, said, “We’ve got the sub loaded with external cameras, a lighting rig and a hydrophone array to pick up ambiences. Let’s climb aboard... Landstrom will crane us in.”
Wilder clapped his hands together. “All right, let’s do it!”
The Ingvar was a thirty-foot-long cigar-shaped submersible colored orange on top and crimson from the waterline down. The top had two flat-black strips down its length that were textured, like sandpaper, to make topside access to the hatch easier. The woman and two men climbed in, fitting themselves into the sub’s claustrophobic interior. They were so close together any one of them could reach out and touch any of the others.
The sound engineer bit at her fingertips nervously. The nails on her stubby fingers had been bitten down to little crescent moon-shapes.
Kongsli texted Landstrom that they were ready. The dull metallic clank of the safeties fired in rapid succession, then there was a sudden feeling of weightlessness when the sub swung free of its cradle.
The hydraulic arm whined, lifting the sub over the side of the Kalmar and lowered it gingerly into the water. When the crane disengaged, the sub bobbed like a cork on the roiling surface. Landstrom donned his wetsuit, climbed into the water, and swam over. The top hatch of the sub was open to the sky and the ocean sloshed a little into Kongsli’s lap.
Footsteps on top of the sub’s metal skin heralded Landstrom’s arrival. He climbed in, dripping wet, steadied himself, and sealed the hatch. “Don’t worry,” he said, “once we’re underwater, we won’t be affected by the surface chop.”
Kathe appeared paler than usual and looked relieved. The sub’s interior was black or brushed steel everywhere, with gauges, displays and controls over every square inch except the windows and floor. A soft hum came from the instrument panels. Everything looked important. She glanced around, wide-eyed, until she focused on the large oxygen gauge. She glanced from the gauge to Kongsli and chomped on the tip of her finger.
“Twenty-one is good,” he said quietly. “We’re fine until that thing goes into the red, way down here at five.” He tapped it with his index finger.
“Oh,” she said meekly. “Is that minutes?”
“Density. The batteries can keep cycling clean air into the Ingvar for hours… more than enough time to grab all the footage and ambient sounds you need.”
“Hours…?” She sounded surprised.
Kongsli said, “Well, it’ll take us about an hour to reach the site and an hour to get back. That’ll leave us about an hour down there to… you know… explore. You’ll be back in time for lunch.”
Kathe put down her hand.
Kongsli nodded to Landstrom. “Don’t worry – the Ingvar is pressurized, so we’ll be immune to decompression sickness. If anything happens to us down there, we can always ditch the equipment and the tether can pull us back up to the Kalmar in a few minutes.”
Landstrom settled into his chair and turned his cap around so he could glance up into the multi-colored sonar display without tilting back his head. His seat at the sub’s nose had the best view. The other three had to make do glancing over Landstrom’s broad shoulders, or else use the small, round portholes on either side of the vehicle.
The sub’s engines whirred, angled gently downward, and drove, quiet and serene, into the depths.
***
The ghost-light of the sun was the faintest shimmer upon the surface now. The deep was clear enough that the sub’s running lights illuminated life busily darting around them. Hundreds of tiny fish – an undulating school of gleaming silver favorites, and a few solitary brightly-colored denizens – stood out. One box-shaped fish, bright yellow with black polka dots, stared back at Kathe with over-protuberant eyes.
She happily tapped on the glass and glanced back at Kongsli.
“I know,” he said. “They think it’s weird that we’re down here with them. Humans are tourists under the sea. I guess if you do it often enough, you get used to it.”
Landstrom radioed up to the Kalmar giving the go-ahead that all systems looked good. They started a more rapid descent. The sub’s engines whirred louder and there was a muted sliding along the sub’s metallic roof when they dipped below the weight of the tether’s coils. Deeper into the abyss they went.
They sighted a few larger silver-and-pink-colored fish. Kathe pointed to one that swam past. “What are they?”
“Atlantic Tuna,” said Kongsli. “Good fishing around here. There’s an old Swedish saying: big fish are worth fishing even if you don’t catch one.”
“Oh,” she said. “What’s the largest fish you’ve ever seen?”
“The largest fish would have to be a whale shark I spied off the coast of Portsmouth; a forty-footer. Once I sighted a pod of Blue whales not too far from here, though – some of them must have been around a hundred feet long… the kings of the sea.”
“Oh. Have you ever heard of the Bloop?”
“The Bloop? What’s that?” asked Wilder.
Kathe grew excited and talked more rapidly. “It’s a really loud sound some NOAA scientists recorded back in 1997. They still don’t know if it was ice calving in Antarctica or a really big animal.”
“Whales are the loudest animals I’ve heard of,” said Kongsli. “Their calls can be up to ninety-five decibels, about the volume of a Springsteen concert.”
“The Bloop was 180 decibels, I think.”
Kongsli scoffed. “180? That’s like…”
“Yeah… the volume of a Saturn V rocket taking off. If it were outside the water, it could kill a man.”
“Impressive,” said Kongsli. “If it was an animal, and not a piece of a continent falling into the sea, it would have to be….”
Wilder grinned. “Huge.”
“Either way, you can blame global warming,” said Kongsli.
“How do you mean?” Wilder said.
“Either a huge piece of Antarctica melted, cracked and fell off into the sea… or something at least twice the size of a blue whale that’s been accustomed to living below the midnight zone was forced to come up higher, looking for food.”
“It had to have been an icequake, or a chunk of Antarctica falling into the sea… ice calving? Is that what it’s called?” said Wilder. “How else can you explain they never heard the sound again?”
Kongsli scratched his beard. He exchanged a silent glance with Landstrom. “Loki’s daughter.”
“Eh?”
“It’s an old Norse legend,” said Kongsli. “With the frost giantess Angrboda, the god Loki sired three children. One was Jörmungand, the serpent that encircles the earth, who dwells in the deep. She’s said to usher in Ragnarök, the twilight of humanity and the gods… the end times.”
Wilder shook his head and continued, “Mythology aside, science might be running out of things to discover here on Earth, but there have been plenty of advances in film lately. It’s the one industry where America is still on top of the world,” said Wilder. “Go ahead – tell me the latest scientific discovery that was newsworthy.”
“Well, they recently performed a head transplant in China.”
“In China. My point exactly.”
The sub’s interior was plunged into silence for a few seconds. Landstrom broke the tension by saying, “They found a fish without a face off the Australian coast.”
“Fish without a face?” asked Wilder. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Landstrom shrugged. “Some weird fish they never recorded. Vestigial eyes. The mouth was underneath instead of in front of it. Every few years, they find something different in the sea.”
“Right,” said Kongsli. “The coelacanth was thought extinct until they found one near Cape Town in 1935. With today’s equipment, there aren’t too many mysteries left, I suppose… except whatever lives near the bottom… and the places we haven’t explored yet.”
Wilder laughed out loud. “What, like those evil-looking fish with the teeth and lights on their foreheads? Can you imagine going fishing and catching one of those by accident? Ugh!” He chortled. The man amused himself to no end.
The sea around them was black now. They were nearing the spot. Landstrom lit up the powerful LED lights. They made their way through uneven valley terrain on the ocean’s floor. Wilder started filming.
They glided over a landscape of colored coral, then the surface paled and became brown, then gray-brown. A cliff resembling a giant beehive loomed on their left, perforated with holes large enough for a diver to thrust in an arm. The valley floor was a stretch of featureless muck, yet upon closer inspection, they could see furtive sea-life moving around in the silt, startled towards either side by the sub’s bright approach.
“Well,” Landstrom said, “We’re at 2000 meters. The crevasse has to be around here somewhere…”
“Over there,” said Wilder. The camera slowly zoomed in to a jagged fissure near the sea bottom. “Kathe, get that hydrophone hot.”
“You’ve got sharp eyes,” said Landstrom. He slowly spun the sub in place, then moved them toward the fissure. He glanced to Kongsli. “How are we doing on methane readings?”
“Cold, but nothing’s freezing. I compensated. You know, seventy years ago, the seep would have made the water around here too cold for the Ingvar’s systems to handle. There’s the positive side to climate change, though – we’re now able to explore all the dark corners of the Earth that were once inaccessible.”
The sub’s lights played over the massive crack in the ground. The breach stretched into the cliffs beyond what they could see. The widest point was near the bottom, perhaps seven or eight meters across. Landstrom hovered in front of it, carefully gauging the dimensions of the opening with the external cameras.
“Here we go,” he said, and gingerly edged the sub through.
The Ingvar’s lights could only see so far into the chasm. This world-beneath-the-world underneath what they had previously thought was the ocean floor was vast, extending out in all directions except down – the bottom was not far below.
The sea in here was unusually serene. They had visibility out to fifty meters. When they moved forward, soon came the vague outline of an impressive-looking structure that gained clarity and dimension when they approached. Unlike the rest of the formations on the sea floor, it was made up of right angles. Although asymmetrical, it suggested human construction.
“Oh my…” Wilder said. “We’re here.”
Kathe focused her hydrophone on the structure, keeping an ear on wherever Wilder aimed the high-powered camera. The structure was in full view now – several step-formations unevenly surrounded a central plateau twenty-five meters across.
Wilder stared at the screen, laughing out loud. “Man, oh, man! Topolsky is going to get a kick out of this. It’s perfect! Let’s see him fire me after I bring him today’s footage. Hoo-boy! That crazy son-of-a-bitch is going to kiss me! Yessir, he’s going to ram his tongue right down my throat, bend me over….”
“Marc, stop.” Kathe said. “That’s not nice.”
Wilder glanced over at her. “Oh, come on, don’t make such a big deal out of it.”
“It is a big deal,” said Kathe, raising her voice. “You have no filter! We’re not two random guys having beers in a local bar. We’re at work. You’re my boss. Topolsky is your boss.” She shifted uncomfortably in her station.
“Okay, okay,” said Wilder, exasperated. “Sorry.”
The sub maneuvered toward one of the corners and the rig lit it up. The sea-life down here was bizarre-looking. An eel-shape, slightly darker than the surrounding water, swam away. A few greenish bioluminescent fish darted around the sub.
Kathe pointed at the fish. “They’re scared of us,” Kathe said.
“Not us,” said Kongsli. “Look!” He pointed out of the porthole on the other side.
Something gigantic jetted past them in the dark like a speeding train. All four of them froze at the sight of it. Kongsli stared with index finger rigid; Landstrom yanked the control stick reflexively in the opposite direction; Kathe stared, wide-eyed and breathless; Wilder opened his mouth to say something and found – for once in his life – that he was unable to speak.
Kongsli said, “Landstrom, did you see that!? Something’s down here!”
Landstrom’s voice went up an octave. “Yeah… it’s showing up on sonar. It’s huge!”
“See if you can turn around to face it,” Wilder said. He was already panning the camera in that direction. Landstrom edged the craft backward, pivoted left.
The four faces craned toward the pilot’s window.
Wilder scanned the area with the camera. Kongsli had his smartphone out, ready in photo mode. The purple-and-pink sonar image showed the massive, serpentine shape shared their position, perhaps lurking above or below. It could be a giant eel or oarfish; its sheer size was disorienting.
Whatever it was rose up from underneath and loomed so close to the sub that Kongsli moved his head back reflexively. The monstrous form rolled by – subtle patterns of color playing across the surface of its skin. Iridescent blue, deep violet, forest green… other colors that defied description.
The creature slowed, and a great eye the size of a truck tire peered at them through the porthole. It was utterly inhuman, yet Kongsli thought there was intelligence in the giant serpent’s stare. He clicked away with the smartphone camera. He and the others held their breath.
The sub lurched. The thing curled part of its enormous tail around the camera rig and tugged. Kongsli was practically jolted out of his seat and steadied himself with an arm to stop himself from landing on top of Wilder. The thing yanked at the rig again, this time more forcefully, and they screamed. There was a horrible sound of twisting metal and a sudden jolt – the camera rig coming loose.
Wilder and Kongsli stared out at the thing. It curled back on itself, holding the rig in its tail – a 500-pound bit of steel scaffolding with several shoebox-sized cameras attached – and held it up to an eye, examining it.
Wilder’s monitor was dead. The monster released the rig and it sank to the murky bottom. “There goes my structure footage!”
Kongsli glanced over at Kathe. “Loki’s daughter. Is it… the Bloop?”
“I’m not sure. It isn’t making any noise.”
“I’m getting us out of here,” Landstrom said. “We’ll refund your money, Wilder.”
“Wait… we still have the internal cameras on the sub, right? Let’s use those.”
“To hell with that,” said Landstrom. “Crew safety comes first. That thing could eat us!”
“What about my footage? I could lose my job!”
Landstrom stared back at Wilder angrily. “Too bad! That thing tore the battery loose when it stole the camera rig, so there’s no new air being filtered in to the sub. We don’t have much time.” He found the crevasse, aimed at it, then cranked up the engines to full power. The giant sea creature closed in behind them, its volume saturating the sonar display. They could only see part of it through a porthole at any one time.
They reached the breach and everyone braced for impact. There was a faint scraping when they brushed the rocky edge. Landstrom cleared it!
The sonar image of the thing lingered behind until the Ingvar was through the narrow passage and back into the ocean they knew. Landstrom radioed the Skipper and their tether-assisted emergency climb back to the Kalmar was underway.
Landstrom was breathing heavily. “We’re gonna make it.”
“Is it following…?” Kathe asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Kongsli, eyeing the sonar. “Nice work, Landstrom!” He relaxed, scratched his beard. “I think I know what my thesis is going to be about….”
Wilder frowned. “I can’t go back with only a few minutes of footage! That’ll be the end of my career!”
“At least you’ll live,” Landstrom called back.
Wilder shut his eyes, silently mouthing the words to a stress-management mantra. He let out a resigned exhale, glanced around. “Ah, well. I guess we can put this on a blooper reel.” He chortled, yet the joke hung awkwardly in the sub’s interior. No one made a sound until they could make out the flicker of daylight dancing on the surface above them, and the reassuring shape of the Kalmar’s silhouette.

Victor H. Rodriguez

Victor H. Rodriguez is a talent manager, novelist and short story writer. He’s been a scriptwriter for HBO and published short fiction with Murder of Storytellers, Jaded Books and White Wolf. He also has short stories in the upcoming anthologies Tales of the Once and Future King from Superversive SF, and Hyperion and Theia from Radiant Crown.





Lover's Quarrel
By Macy Concepcion

          


Eddie D. Moore

Eddie D. Moore’s job requires extensive traveling, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Magazine, and the Centum Press. Find out more on his blog at: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.





Call of the Tetromet
By Ezekiel Kincaid

Darkness. We all have it in us. Running through our veins, crouching behind the façade of moral stoutness. It is ever present, living with every beat of our hearts, and hiding in those dark dungeons of the subconscious that we keep locked away and far from reality.
Darkness. It is Pandora’s box that we refuse to open. It is the Kraken we fear will arise. It is the creature we keep in chains. We somehow convince ourselves that by ignoring it, maybe it will just go away. But it doesn’t. It is the elephant in the room of our nature that we dare not acknowledge. We dare not stare it in the eyes. We dare not give it too much attention. Why? Because the darkness is powerful. And if it is let out, the effects are dangerous.
This darkness. It is strong. It is subversive. It carries with it all sorts of abominations. You, me, and everyone else- we fear it. We are afraid to give it a nod, because acknowledging it gives it power. The darkness longs to be brought into the light. Not so that it can die, but so that it can conquer.     
What is your darkness? Have you ever had the courage to look at it? Maybe you’ve glanced here and there but became frightened because it surged through your beating heart with unnerving force. Maybe you looked for a mere moment and became fearful of its strength. Again, I ask, do you know what your darkness is?  
Me? I know what mine is. I see it flickering behind my eyes every time I stare at myself in the mirror. I look at myself, then lean in close; so close my eyes are almost pressed up against the glass.
First, I admire the entirety of my eyes. Did you ever notice that the pupil looks like a black hole? A black hole sitting in the center of the galaxy that is your iris. Speaking of the iris, it’s the part I look at next. It looks like the explosion of a supernova. One of the most beautiful parts of the human anatomy. It’s only fitting that the darkness of the pupil be surrounded by such exquisiteness. And the pupil is where I then turn. I stare hard into the two black holes that decorate the center of my eyes.
The pupil and the iris. Nothing more than two biological functions that control and react to the environment of light around them. So says nature, anyway.  Ah, but those black holes. Those windows to the soul. If you could travel down them, you would find the entryway to the dark. The entryway to the darkness that bubbles inside all of us, longing to be set free.
Come with me, and I’ll show you mine.
I am the Man in Black, and this is my story.
***
The Demon
The wooden antique rocking chair groaned as the Pastor sat down. His curly blonde hair waved back and forth as he began to rock. He loosened his navy-blue tie and unbuttoned the top button of his white collared shirt.   He and I were seated in the basement of my mountain home in Old Fort, North Carolina. I had just moved in a few weeks before. That was when the darkness began to come out.
I sat just a few feet away from the Pastor in a metal folding chair. The stairs of the cellar to my right, an abyss of darkness to my left. I reached up and pulled the string that hung from the basement light. It swung back and forth wildly, illuminating random spots in the cellar. An antique piano, hid in the back-left corner. Layers of dust rested upon it, giving it a gray tint.
A bookshelf directly behind me caught the Pastor’s eye. He squinted into shifting light to see the rows of books, leather bound and old. He then looked over his right shoulder, his eyes catching hold of a painting; a felt painting. The background was dark green, and the only other thing in it was the bust of a woman wearing a black dress. Her hair flowed an auburn color, and she had no face.
The Pastor turned his attention back towards me. “Where shall we begin?”
I reached up and settled the swinging light. As it steadied, I folded my hands, placed my forearms on my knees, and leaned towards him. I stared deep into his blue eyes and spoke.
“I could feel the bedsheets sinking in on me. They were pulling me into the mattress, but it wasn’t a mattress. It was a pool of soil, warm and soggy. Earthing its way through it were snakes, worms, and scorpions.
I could feel the worms burrowing in my ears. Their cold, gooey bodies nestling and nudging their way in. The snakes were slithering and wrapping themselves around my legs and arms, and the scorpions were grazing on my chest. My bed posts changed to femur bones, with skulls mounted on top. My headboard was a tombstone.
Then there he was. Sitting near the edge of my bed. He was seated in the chair you are sitting in now. Rocking back and forth; back and forth; back and forth.”
“What did he look like?” The Pastor asked.
My gaze left his, and I stared at the piano in the back corner. “His body was a charcoal color. His skin was thick and leathery. And he had no eyes. Instead, out of his eye sockets were horns. They curved around his head and sat above his bat-like ears. And his teeth. Rows of jagged teeth, like glass. Opaque in appearance. It looked like they were just crammed in his mouth.”
“Did he say anything?”
“He pointed at the window. His right hand ascended from the armrest, and his bony finger, with his knife-like fingernails, just pointed at my window.”
“What was there?” The Pastor stopped rocking.
“Nothing. Moonlight. He just kept rocking and pointing…and smiling. Then he started to hum.”
“Hum?”
I nodded. “Yes. He was humming some song. Sounded like a lullaby. Then he spoke one word to me, and one word only.”
“What was it?” The Pastor had now scooched to the edge of his seat.
“Theodosia.”
“Theodosia?”
I nodded again. “Yes. Then he got up out of the chair and walked out of my room. That’s when the soil and everything vanished, and it was just me in my bedsheets again. This has happened every night since I’ve moved in, and I’ve seen that creature in every room. Except down here. That’s why I wanted us to meet in the cellar. Every night I have moved that rocking chair down here. Every night when I awake, it is back in my room, with that creature rocking in it.”
The Pastor sat back in the chair and rocked. His eyes glazed over as he processed everything I told him.
“Pastor, the word, Theodosia. Do you know what it means? It sounds Greek to me. Like it has something to do with God. That’s why I asked you here. I thought maybe you could help me figure out what this thing is wanting to communicate.”
His gaze still rested on the bookshelf. “It is Greek. It’s a name. Specifically, a female name. It means given by God.”
I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair. “But what could that mean? Why would an evil entity want to point out something that was from God?”
The Pastor’s eyes fell back on me. “I don’t know if he is trying to point out something… or someone.”
I sat motionless for a few moments, meditating on his words. He then stood up from the chair. “I’m going to go think on this and see what I can find. I’ll be in touch.”
I followed his lead and got up from my chair as well. “Pastor. Before you go, what are those stone ruins in the field just in front of my house?”
“From an old library. Burned down about a hundred years ago.”
“Oh. OK. Interesting.”
The Pastor nodded, then we walked up the stairs and I saw him out.
***
The Ruins
The following morning was Saturday, so I decided the first thing I would do was visit the stone ruins. I can’t explain it, but I felt an irresistible draw to them.  I got dressed, and then stepped out onto the wraparound porch of my white farmhouse. When I walked down the steps, I turned and studied my home. It needed a lot of work. The paint on the green window panes was chipping. In fact, the entire house needed painting, and several boards on the porch needed replacing. I shook the thoughts from my mind and headed towards the ruins.
After about five minutes of trekking the hilly terrain, I arrived. The stone ruins sat in a rectangular shape, around forty feet by sixty feet. As I studied them, a cold October breeze rushed through the ruins. I heard the rustling of the leaves and the shaking of the branches as the trees around me bent to the mercy of the wind.
The stones of the ruins extended as high as three feet in some places, and as low as a few inches in others. I walked around the outside of it, running my hands over it in places, while contemplating the nighttime events that occurred in my home. I soon approached what seemed to be the back right corner of the library. It was one of the taller spots of the ruins. I stepped over, then knelt by the corner.
I examined each stone with scrutiny, working my way up in a slow, methodical fashion. As I rubbed my hand over each one, I noticed a carving in the second to last stone from the top. I moved in to get a better look. It seemed to be some sort of a symbol or marking. I spat on it, then cleaned the dirt and dust from it with my fingers. Indeed, it was a symbol:
    



I’d never seen anything like it. With curiosity running through my veins like an opiate high, I flung the stone that sat on top of it to the ground. I then grabbed the stone with the marking on it and removed it from its place. The stone was about eight inches thick and square, probably one foot by one foot. The odd thing was that it was uncharacteristically light for a stone that size.
I turned it on its side and heard a noise from inside the stone, like the noise something makes when it slides around in a cardboard box. Surprised, I held the stone out and shook it. My suspicions were confirmed. I raised the stone above my head, and brought it down with all my strength, smashing it on the pile of rocks in front of me. The stone exploded in my hands, sending fragments flying like shrapnel. As it did, an object fell to the ground.
I looked down, and at my feet rested a faded, black, leather bound book. Inked in white across its cover was the same symbol that was on the stone. I stood frozen, gawking at it. Is this what the demon wanted to communicate to me? But he pointed out my window? The ruins aren’t in that direction. No matter. There must be some connection.
I sat down next to the book. I removed it from the ground, brought it close, and blew on the cover. Dust arose like an elegant mist. I sat it in my lap and opened it. It wasn’t a book at all, it was a journal.
And the name on the inside?
Theodosia Whitfield.
I sat there in the ruins for the next few hours and read her journal.
For pages and pages, she wrote about a dark entity called the Tetromet. The first few entries spoke of her curiosity with this creature. Then curiosity turned into obsession. And obsession? It transformed into an all-consuming dark power that settled over her like the morning fog.
Her writings mentioned a pseudepigraphal book entitled The Book of Saul. It was supposedly written by the witch of Endor—the one who conjured up the spirit of Samuel for King Saul. The legend went that she was the first to create a cult around this Tetromet entity.
The Tetromet was originally the cherub that guarded the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. This cherub rebelled once God informed him that He planned on redeeming humanity. News of this angered the cherub, so he took his flaming sword and sliced the tree to ribbons. He then smashed all its fruit.
God cursed him, and he turned into a vile entity, his head that of a black goat skull, his body feline-like, with red and black stripes. His tail a viper, as dark as midnight. His voice was the thing of nightmares, grating and guttural, deep as a canyon and as forceful as the wind. When he spoke, gray tentacles retracting in and out of his mouth hole, the thunder would run and hide.
After he was cursed, the Tetromet wanted revenge. He dug up the body of Abel, took one of the seeds from the fruit of the tree of life, and planted it in Abel’s dead body. From that body, a new tree grew—his tree. Every time a person was sacrificed to him or killed in his name, their soul would descend to the Tetromet, where he’d devour it, causing another branch to grow on his tree. The more souls he’d get, the more branches would bloom. The tree was his life source. When it got enough branches, and when he ate enough souls, he would become strong enough to manifest in physical form and bring retribution to the earth.
The Book of Saul was destroyed when the Babylonians ransacked Jerusalem. The only reason there were still copies was that some were found when the Temple was being rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah. Ezra supposedly ordered the books to be burned, but the foreigners that he kicked out kept the scrolls.
Theodosia also mentioned another book. A Gnostic gospel called the Gospel of Thaddeus. This book mentioned that the Tetromet had the power to turn wandering souls into demons. These demons would aid him in the destruction of humanity. The book also spoke of how the Tetromet would manifest in physical form. Each of his body parts would be birthed through the women of his choosing. The cult would then gather the parts and put them together. Then he would live.
The latter half of her journal was filled with stories of visions she had of the Tetromet, along with the things he had spoken to her and the people she had sacrificed to him. She also mentioned that she feared for her life, because word was spreading through town that she was to blame for the murders.
I shut the journal and hopped to my feet. I needed to talk to the Pastor.
***
Theodosia
When I arrived back at my home, I hurried into my yellow and white ’68 Chevy pickup and sped to the Pastor’s parsonage. His wife said he wasn’t at home. He took Saturday afternoons to go off and put the finishing touches on his sermon. I thanked her for her time and left. I decided to wait until tomorrow after church to talk with him.
That evening, as the sun set, I decided to enjoy some bourbon and beer on the back porch. I sat in a faded blue rocker and gazed out into the back yard. In the middle, stood a large oak tree, with branches so low that they seemed to skim the grass underneath. Thirty yards behind it sat a pond. I stared at the picturesque landscape with admiration. With the setting sun peeking through the leaves and branches of the oak, it looked as if the tree was ablaze.
I finished off my second beer and leaned over, placing the bottle on the ground next to my chair. When I looked up, a woman hung from one of the enormous branches of the oak tree. Her body swayed back and forth with the wind, and I could hear the tree branch creak and the rope crackle as it rubbed against the bark.
The woman. She had no face, like the one in the felt painting. Her auburn hair flowed down her shoulders, and she wore a black silk dress. She extended her right hand, and with her crinkled finger, pointed to her right. Her head, slow and stealth-like, turned that direction as well.
I leaped from my chair. “What! What are you trying to tell me? Who are you? What do you want?”
She cocked her right hand back and pointed again, with a hard, brisk motion. I looked in the direction she pointed. It was only fields and trees.
I asked again, “What are you saying? There’s nothing over there!”
She pointed.
Frustrated, I ran off the porch and got closer, stopping just a few feet from her. I looked up at her swaying body with my hands outstretched. “I don’t understand!”
Her right arm dropped to her side, and she turned her faceless head to me. She held up her pointer finger. I watched as her fingernail extended several inches and gathered in a point at the end. She pierced it through where her right eye should’ve been, and made a circular motion. A piece of flesh plopped to the ground, as blood flowed from the hole. She did the same thing on her left, carving out eye holes.
I stood breathless, watching blood drip down her face and onto her black dress. She then took her pointed fingernail and cut two slits where her nose should be. I could see the skin ripple, as if air was moving through the newly formed nostrils.
Her fingers crept down further, stopping two inches above her chin. She cocked her pointer finger back, then bolted it forwards, piercing her skin. She made a circular motion again, as she cut. She took the disc shape flesh and tossed it to the ground. Blood spewed out of the hole like vomit. She raised her right hand and pointed to the fields again. As blood gushed from the opening, I heard her speak, a high-pitched squeal, but old and shaky. She turned her head towards the fields and said that one word.
“Theodosia.”
I looked to the field where she pointed. “I know, I know! Theodosia! But what? What are you pointing at?”
In a slow, simultaneous motion, her head and arm rotated toward me. I could see the end of her sharp fingernail pointing down at me. She let out the most godawful high-pitched shrill. As she did, blood sprayed out of the openings she’d carved in her face, dousing me like a torrential downpour. I hid my head in my arms. When she finished screaming, I looked back up into the tree, but she was gone, along with all the blood.
As my breathing slowed, my thoughts found their way to the painting. I raced back inside and sprinted to my basement. I ran down the stairs and grabbed the painting from its resting place. As I gazed upon it, the holes she had carved in her face appeared on the painting. I flipped it over and inspected the backside. The name Theodosia Whitfield was written in blue ink in the middle of the white canvas. Cold chills seized my entire body, and I threw the painting across the room, where it landed in a disheveled pile of lawn tools.
I should have walked away then, but my curiosity was turning into an obsession. I had to find the answer. It was then that the darkness first began to overtake me. I could feel its dark claws begin to wrap around my heart.
I found myself thinking about the books Theodosia had mentioned in her journal—The Book of Saul and The Gospel of Thaddeus. I glanced over my shoulder at the antique bookshelf. The deep mahogany was chipped in places, and those old books sat behind glass cabinet doors. I flung open the doors and rummaged through the books. There they were, encased in red, faded leather.
I sat in the rocking chair and spent the entire night reading each one.
***
The quaint, rustic white church building sat atop a hill not even a half mile from my home. As I approached, the stain glass windows glistened in the sunlight as the rays caused a rainbow color glow to radiate from them.
I walked through the red double doors and sat down on the last pew. When the service ended, I waited around to talk to the Pastor. He came and sat with me.
“Pastor, look what I found.” I handed him the journal and two books.
He looked them over and thumbed through the pages. “What are these?”
“The journal is from Theodosia Whitfield.”
The Pastor stopped, stared at me speechless for a few moments, then looked through the journal again. I relayed to him the events of the day before, and how I’d seen Theodosia’s ghost hanging from a tree in my yard. When I was done, the Pastor spoke.
“I’ve been in this town for less than a year, so I had to do some digging. Theodosia Whitfield was considered a murderer and a witch by the locals because of her rantings about an entity called the Tetromet. They hung her from a tree—the tree that I’m assuming is in your back yard. The house you are in. It was her family’s. No one has lived in it since. The moment she died, lightning struck the library and burned it down. That’s where she used to work.”
I gave the Pastor a solemn glare. “A town full of secrets…”
He nodded. “Yes. And I have a bad feeling about this.”
“As do I.”
The Pastor handed the books back to me, and I returned home.
***
The Tetromet
Around eight o’clock, the Pastor knocked on my door. He said he knew what they were pointing at. He insisted that we go down to the basement, where he sat in the rocking chair, and I in the metal folding one.
“I figured it out before the evening service. I debated whether or not I should tell you…” He rubbed his hands through his wavy hair.
“Oh, but you must! You must tell me!” The darkness in me grew.
He began to rock. “I will tell you, but when I do, you need to walk away. You need to sell this place or burn it to the ground.”
I didn’t respond, but he continued anyway. “As I was walking in to start the evening service, I looked out into the field.  I can see your house from there. I thought about the tree. I thought about your window…there is something in that direction. An old cemetery. Two miles from your home. It hasn’t been used in ages…I checked the town records before I came and…that’s where Theodosia was buried. They placed her in a crypt and pronounced the ground cursed. They refused to bury anyone there again…”
I jumped up out of my chair so fast that I knocked it over. “Then I must go!”
The Pastor stood up. “No! You must not! Do not go to that grave!” He grabbed my shoulders with both hands. “For the love of God and the sake of everything holy, do not go to that grave!”
I threw his hands off me. The darkness stirred behind my eyes. “I’ll go wherever I damn well please! Time for you to go, Pastor.”
His countenance changed from concern to sadness. He knew he couldn’t stop me. “Very well. I’ll see myself out.” The Pastor left, and when he did, I grabbed a flashlight and went outside under the oak tree. I looked in the direction that Theodosia and the demon had been pointing, and I walked.
***
The cemetery hid shrouded by years of thickening foliage. Trees and vines snaked in and out of the wrought iron fence. The red brick columns showed their age, being lacerated with faded and chipped gashes. I followed the fence around to the gate. A rusted lock and chain secured it shut, so I climbed over. The fallen leaves under me crunched as I landed on the ground. The terrain was a mixture of waist high grass and a patchwork of barren places.
I perused my surroundings with the flashlight, turning in a circle. All was still and quiet. It seemed that not even animals and insects would approach this place. The full harvest moon lit the landscape, giving the graveyard a yellow tint. I walked forward, careful not to trip on any tombstones that shrouded themselves by the tall grass. After several minutes of searching, I saw it. In the moonlight, the stone crypt appeared brown and rusty. The grass grew halfway up the stone columns, and vines encased the entire backside.  
When I got close, I shone my light across the top of the entryway. There read her name, etched into the stone. I stepped through the opening of the crypt. The years of cobwebs provided a white lace curtain. I cleared them away and made my descent. The cold air smelled rank, but I found myself pleased with the aroma.
As I took the first stair, the staircase turned to flames. I crept down, intrigued. The darkness—I could feel it devouring more of me. The fear of evil no longer existed, only a desire to surrender to it. The flames from the steps illuminated the dark crypt. I could see the stone casing that held her body. I glanced around. The catacomb where her tomb rested was massive. As I inched forward to touch the slab, it disappeared.
Before me stood a large tree; blackish-gray in color, and dead. I ran my hands along its soft, coarse branches. It reminded me of animal fur. As I examined the branches, a voice thundered from the crypt. It echoed deep. It reverberated with a loathing smoothness. Indeed, it was the thing of nightmares. It was beautiful.
“I haven’t encountered this smell since she was alive.”
I jumped back, startled. I could hear footsteps echoing off the stone floor of the catacomb. They sounded like the clopping of hoof beats. I shined my light in the direction of the noise. Then I saw it.
The black goat skull leered at me. He wore a black robe, but I saw the black and red striped feline hair on his chest and midsection. His legs were catlike, except rather than paws, he had hooves. He spoke again, and the tentacles moved in and out of his mouth hole.
“Listen close and you can hear their torment.”
I grasped my ears. I could hear them. The sounds of thousands upon thousands crying out in pain. The sound hurt my ears, but oh my, how exquisite the music!
The Tetromet stepped towards me. I gazed into those empty eye sockets. Blackness upon blackness drew me in.
“I’ve grown hungry again. I haven’t feasted on the pain of the living in a hundred years. You will change that.”
I found myself talking back to him. “How?”
“The same way Theodosia did. You will kill in my name, and I will eat.”
I looked away. “But I…I…”
He now stood just a few feet from me. His black skull towering over me. “That stir of evil you feel. That call of the wild; the echoing of the voice of darkness resounding in your head. It is me, calling to you, because you were chosen for this. The first day you saw the house, I called your name. And my voice, my power, will swallow all the light and goodness that is left within you.”
Yes! He was right! Oh, how he was right! I felt him do it. I felt him swallow the light.
I smiled at the Tetromet. “I vow myself to your purposes and commit to expend myself for your will.”
“Good. Good. Now help me arise.” The tentacles made a slurping sound.
Something from behind his robe rustled. A giant viper head peeked out the back. It was black in color, and had cold, gray eyes. Before I realized what was going on, the serpent latched onto my shoulder. I screamed in agony and felt something warm fill my body.
The takeover was complete. The darkness now filled all my faculties like a mist.
The Tetromet handed me a black hooded robe and a goat horn. He didn’t have to tell me. I knew what he wanted me to do. I slipped on the robe and held the goat horn like a dagger in my right hand. I heard a voice from behind me calling my name.
“Jack! Jack, dear God, what have you done!”
I could see the moonlight glowing around the Pastor’s silhouette as he stood at the entrance of the crypt. I glanced back over my shoulder. The Tetromet and his tree had vanished.
I held out the horn and made my way towards the Pastor.
And so it began.
The Tetromet had risen.  

Ezekiel Kincaid

Ezekiel Kincaid lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife and four children. Originally from Baton Rouge, Ezekiel has lived all across the south. When he isn't writing horror, he enjoys spending time with his family and training in martial arts. Besides horror, he also enjoy writing theology and philosophy. You can keep up with his upcoming publications here: https://ezekielkincaid.wordpress.com https://www.facebook.com/ezekethefreak


About the Editor:
Amber M. Simpson

Amber M. Simpson is a nighttime fiction writer with a penchant for horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. When she's not editing for Fantasia Divinity Magazine, she divides her creative time between writing short stories and working on the creations of two very different novels; a mystery/horror called Wolves Hollow, and a medieval fantasy she hopes to make into a series, called The First Blood. She has a Bachelor’s degree and lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband and two little boys, who keep her feet on the ground even while her head is in the clouds. To learn more, visit https://ambermsimpson.wordpress.com.