The Sacrifice

Demon Chronicles: The Sacrifice (2012)

Adam was born of the earth, but we were born of fire and of light. Neither Adam nor his descendants could match our beauty, wisdom, or power. The Creator commanded us to bow to Adam. He refused to make us gods over mankind.

We rebelled. Our punishment was swift. Some were bound in chains, and remain imprisoned unto this day. The rest of us were cast to Earth’s realm forced to dwell among the sons and daughters of Adam.

I am the demon, Orezel. I seek the destruction of the human race. These are my chronicles, a testament of the human souls I have destroyed.

For there will be no prospect for the evil man; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Proverbs 24:20

Cat Creek, South Carolina

Summer

I pitied her. Usually I prefer to remain indifferent in my dealings with humans, but I chose to help this one, knowing the power I gave her would create an endless cycle of destruction and bloodshed.

I have existed in this realm since the beginning of time, and inhabited the region in which she lived for many human generations. I watched her throughout her life, her death, and the cursed existence which followed.

Dinah was beautiful by human standards. Men sought to possess her body as I sought to possess her soul. Women hated her. Hated her exotic beauty, hated her mocha skin, hated the way their men lusted for her. Her presence not only exuded its own energy but unleashed an energy in those around her which provided me with an abundance of chaos.

I craved it. I needed it. It sustained me.

Sammy cleared the dishes from the last customer and wiped the counter. The flames of the tabletop candles danced to the jazz blaring from the overhead speaker. The piquant aroma of spices, red rice, and gumbo saturated the air and would soon blend with the heady scent of jasmine. Sammy mentally checked off the list of closing chores. Mopping. Done. Dishes. Done. Prep for tomorrow. Done.

All was restored to order. Satisfied, he sighed, stretching his back, massaging his muscles. He was exhausted. Alone at last, Sammy could finish the work he began Sunday night. His riverside restaurant boasted the finest Gullah cuisine in the South Carolina low country, but the locals knew Sammy for more than étouffée and Frogmore stew. He was a bokur.

Sammy switched off the music, preferring instead to hear the violent cacophony composed by the raging storm outside. Today marked the third day of rain which began the night she died. Dinah’s murder culminated in an ominous darkness, unleashing a tempest in Cat Creek as her spirit remained trapped in the realm of the living. The storm echoed a malicious refrain of the rage she’d felt in death.

Sammy expected business to be slow with this weather. He was wrong. Storm notwithstanding, his restaurant had been crowded with people during the last two days. Nosy people. He listened as search volunteers reported on details in the missing woman’s case. One group drew a timeline on a napkin, noting her last known whereabouts: here, at Sammy’s, talking with him. Sammy caught the suspicious gazes of his customers, but gave no outward indication he knew they suspected him. After tonight it wouldn’t matter what anyone thought.

Sammy opened the worn, black leather cover of the book lying on the bar. A handwritten volume of voodoo practices and spells handed down in his family for generations. He opened the book, turning each brittle page with care. He found the spell and studied the words. An unnecessary waste of precious time, he’d memorized it the day after her murder. He’d spent the first night weighing the consequences of using such magic. The warning before the spell, scrawled by his great grandfather, glared at him from the yellowed page. This spell was forbidden, but he had no choice. The white had failed him.

His hands were shaking. Sweat soaked his face. He shut off the dining room lights, and lit a few sticks of jasmine incense on the bar. Stalling, Sammy rotated his neck, the resulting pop of joints and ligaments easing the tension in his body. He reached under the bar grabbing more candles and incense and placed them on a serving tray along with the book. He took the items to the kitchen where he placed them on the rolling cart beside the prep table.

He walked to the galvanized steel door of the walk-in cooler. His hands trembled as he lifted the lever to open the door. He paused, sucked in his breath, steeling himself for what lay inside. He opened the door. She stared up at him from the floor exactly as he’d left her. Her once warm jade eyes looked out at him from under the hood of the black cloak, cold and unseeing. He tried to ignore the expression on her face.

“Sorry I kept you in here so long, Dinah. I’m still setting things up. Almost done now. I think this time it’s gonna work.”

He smiled at her, but her beautiful face remained twisted in rage. Sammy grabbed her torso, and dragged her to the prep table. His muscles flexed as he lifted the cumbersome load, and pulled until her body lay recumbent on the table.

Sammy gagged on the scent of decay. He arranged the candles and incense around Dinah’s body, holding his breath as he lit them. He hoped they would mask the odor of her rotting flesh or at least make it tolerable. He unfastened the clasp of her cloak and inspected her body.

Even in the clutch of death she was still beautiful. He had bathed her body Sunday night, shortly after the murder before rigor could set in. He’d drained a portion of blood from her body, using it to make the special brew of wine, essential for the sacrifice’s completion. This he stored in a glass bottle under the bar, to be used in the event the white failed, which it had. He reattached the torn nipple on her right breast. He cleansed the seed spilled inside her. He washed and combed her matted sable hair, removing the twigs and leaves wrapped around her long curls. He shook his head as if the motion could purge the memory from his tormented mind.

Sammy noticed her delicate neck was now adorned with the imprint of purple thumbs, the contusions unnoticeable until now. He couldn’t look at them. He moved a section of her long tresses over the bruising. He didn’t want any more reminders of what happened Sunday night. He inhaled deep, exhaling slowly. He was ready.

He glanced at the spell, repeating the ingredients in his mind as he walked to the dry storage shelves. He pulled several jars placing them on the smaller side table with the book, grabbed a bowl, and began mixing the various ingredients. The potent stench of the concoction coalesced with the odor of decomposing flesh, and clung to his nostrils. He massaged the mixture into her skin while murmuring the forbidden incantation aloud.

Sammy dumped the bowls in the sink, washed his hands, and patted them dry on his pants. He recited the second stanza of the incantation, refastening her cloak when he finished. He closed his eyes, indulging in the warmth of the candles on his skin. He depended on a higher power now. Meditating, he focused his energy on the demon whose power would make the sacrifice possible. Sammy envisioned the being drawing near. He called louder in his mind, sensed the being’s approach. The demon never feared the storm as it moved through the woods surrounding the restaurant. It crossed the river traversing the bridge like a hunter, stealthy and confident.

The back door handle clicked. The door opened slowly, hinges moaning in protest. A chilling draft moved through the kitchen suffocating the warm glow of the candles, cutting through Sammy’s skin, making his bones ache. Sammy dared not open his eyes. He could sense the presence of the demon crossing the threshold.

Thunder exploded in the distance. Sammy remained entranced repeating the incantation over and over. He fought the urge to look upon the demon he summoned. The demon that now stood before him. Sammy’s face tightened as the demon’s breath seared his skin. The demon laughed. The cruel sound resonated in Sammy’s chest. Sammy continued with the incantation, undeterred. He refused to succumb to the demon’s attempt to unnerve him.

The demon spoke, voice growling and harsh, “Why do you summon me, conjurer?”

“I summon you to give life to the dead one before us,” Sammy delivered the memorized lines of the spell with precision. “I offer my soul as payment.”

There was a pause before the demon responded, “You know not what you ask of me, conjurer. She will not be the person you knew. She will be born again, the spawn of evil and darkness. Is this truly what you desire?”

“It is.”

“Very well. I am bound by the ancient law governing my kind. I cannot impose my will or the will of another on a human. The choice to live again must be hers.”

Sammy nodded. He continued reciting the spell. He felt the demon move away from him, knowing it stood before her. He still did not open his eyes. He listened as the demon spoke the language of its kind, a tongue unknown to mortals. Thunder exploded outside though Sammy couldn’t tell whether it was from the dark magic he wrought or the wrath of Dinah’s spirit. He stood in the dark, waiting. The thunder abated. Sammy felt the demon approach him. He finished the incantation, and waited for the demon to signal the spell’s end.

“It is done. You have until dawn. Drink it all. She will kiss you, and the sacrifice will be complete.” The demon’s voice became distant as he moved away from Sammy. “The process has begun,” he warned. “You cannot undo this now conjurer. A death must be paid for the life given. She’ll wake soon. She knows what she must do.”

The back door slammed shut. The candles burned once again, warming Sammy’s chilled skin. He kept his eyes closed a moment longer. The deal was made. Nothing to do now but wait.

The screen door of the dining room banged open. Sammy smiled. Right on time. He rushed to the dining room leaving Dinah alone on the table.

“I can’t see a thing in this storm!” The man stood in the doorway, water and clay pooling on freshly mopped floorboards. He left his poncho on, shaking off the excess water as he walked across the diner. He made no apology for his rudeness, but sat down on a stool at the bar.

“Why is it so dark in here, Sammy? Your power go out?” The preacher looked around the bar, squinting his eyes at Sammy, “Or are you doing some kind of voodoo nonsense?”

Sammy’s pulse quickened.

The preacher laughed, “I’m messing with you son. What you got back there to eat? I’m starved to death. We held a vigil down at the church for the missing woman tonight and I ain’t had time for dinner. Thought I’d be able to grab something right quick while I picked up the food for tomorrow.”

“Only thing left is gumbo.”

“I’ll take it. I sure do appreciate the food you’ve been giving to the church for the volunteers.”

“It ain’t much, but I’m glad I could help out. I hope they find her soon,” Sammy said.

The demon’s warning stuck in Sammy’s mind. She would wake soon. Sammy grabbed the leftover gumbo from the cooler, filled a bowl, and warmed it in the microwave. He watched the preacher as he waited for the seconds to pass. Never had three minutes felt so long. The preacher looked at the candles and incense on the bar, a dubious expression on his face. He coughed as a swirl of smoke wafted past his face. He rubbed a hand through his thinning, wet hair. He shook his head spraying water over the bar. The flames of the candles hissed, hesitated, then resumed burning.

Though the diner was dim, Sammy had no trouble making out the wounds on the preacher’s hands and head. Fresh, only slightly scabbed over, the lacerations stretched across the preacher’s fat knuckles before disappearing beneath the sleeves of his poncho. A deep gash showed on his head. The preacher looked at Sammy and folded his hands under his arms. The microwave beeped. Sammy took the bowl out carefully avoiding the steam, and placed the gumbo before the preacher.

“Thanks, Sammy. Been crazy all week. Cops running around everywhere at the church. I know they need a base to work from, but it’s so hectic. I guess you been pretty busy yourself?”

Sammy nodded as he handed the man a napkin, spoon, and the last of the sweet iced tea.

“Lunch and dinner were busier than usual.” Sammy picked up a towel and began wiping the bar.

“You knew the woman?” the preacher asked, stuffing a large spoonful of gumbo in his mouth.

“Everybody knows everybody in Cat Creek, preacher, and they business. You know we was dating. Dinah ordered gumbo Sunday night, her favorite. She said nothing went better after one of your sermons of hellfire and brimstone than the heat of my gumbo. You had the oysters and okra stew, and left before the storm hit. I done went over the details of that night a hundred times.”

The preacher laughed, “Now don’t go taking me the wrong way. I know the cops came in here asking you questions. They done questioned everybody this side of the river. They have to rule out foul play.” The preacher took a sip of tea, ice clattering against the glass when he set it down. He smothered his gumbo with Tabasco sauce before stuffing another spoonful in his mouth.

Sammy stopped wiping the bar, “The cops think she’s dead?”

“They’re quiet on the investigation, but the silence is what’s important,” the preacher said chewing. “It’s been three days, and they ain’t found a trace of her. No evidence in her house. No body. I’m thinking she slipped on the bridge walking home Sunday night, and fell in the river. If I were a cop I’d look—”

Crashing thunder interrupted the preacher. He jumped on his stool, flinging gumbo from his spoon. Sammy grinned as he wiped the splattered gumbo from the counter.

“Scared of the storm, preacher? How would you like a nightcap? You shouldn’t be driving in this weather anyway. You may as well keep me company. Maybe the rain will lighten up while you wait.”

The preacher hesitated, a spoonful of gumbo resting midair, “I don’t know if I should tonight, Sammy. I still have to drive back to the church before I head home.”

“Your order for tomorrow’s volunteers is sitting in the back cooler, and it’ll be just fine sitting there until morning. There’s no sense driving all the way back to the church in this weather. I can run it by tomorrow before I open, save you a trip. We don’t need anyone else going missing, do we?”

Sammy retrieved the glass bottle from under the bar. There was no visible brand. Elaborate designs encircled a sword pierced heart barely discernible under the heavy patina. Sammy swirled the thick, crimson liquid inside.

“I was saving this for the right moment. She’s full bodied with exquisite mocha flavor. A vintage worthy of worship.” Sammy unstopped the cork. He closed his eyes, breathing in the aroma before exhaling, savoring the scent. He filled a wineglass, placing it before the preacher, and raised the bottle in toast.

“I don’t know, Sammy,” the preacher lifted the glass to his nose, and sniffed.

“Come on preacher, one drink. It would be a sin to waste such a rare spirit.”

“All right, but just one.” He lifted his glass, “What should we drink to?”

“To life.”

“To life,” the preacher repeated. He drank the contents down in one gulp, and poured a second glass without asking. Sammy didn’t protest, and each time the preacher downed a glass he pushed the bottle closer urging him on.

Sammy filled the bar’s condiments while waiting for the preacher to consume the wine.

At last, the preacher burped, sliding his glass down the bar to Sammy.

“A fine brew, Sammy, very smooth. You make this yourself?”

“I did. Made it special . . . just for you.” He cleared his throat, and murmured, “I have a confession to make, preacher.”

The preacher reeled on the stool, eyes squinting as he tried to focus on Sammy’s face.

“I went by Dinah’s house Sunday night after I closed up.” Sammy’s voice remained quiet. He didn’t look at the preacher as he spoke, but stared into the empty bottle reliving the horror of Sunday night in his mind.

“The cops didn’t find any evidence at her place because I cleaned it.” Sammy corked the bottle placing it back under the bar.

The preacher paled. His body swayed. He grabbed the bar for balance.

Sammy sneered at the preacher, “You don’t look so good.”

A noise sounded from the kitchen. Sammy could make out the shuffle of feet dragging across the floor as if they’d forgotten the proper motion. The sound grew louder, closer. He knew he shouldn’t be afraid, but the hairs still stood out on his neck.

Sammy glanced over his shoulder. Dinah limped back bent, to the entrance of the dining room, the hood of the cloak veiling her face. She raised her head searching for the one whose life would soon be hers. She lifted her hand pushing back her hood turning her lifeless, black eyes first to Sammy, then the preacher. She stood taller, straightening her back with an audible crunch as her bones cracked under the cloak. She began limping toward the bar, feet still uncertain after her interlude with death.

“No, it can’t be,” the preacher whispered, swaying on the barstool.

“Something wrong, preacher?” Sammy asked.

The preacher clambered off the stool, losing his footing. He grabbed the bar for support regaining his balance. He gripped the bar’s edge, staring open-mouthed as Dinah continued limping toward them. The skin around her eyes was bruised and the prints around her neck stood out. Her lower lip was cut and swollen. She opened her mouth to speak, but all she could manage was a hoarse, rasping sound. She grasped at the deep purple lines on her neck, ripping them with her fingernails, trying to remove the grip from her throat.

“She’s . . . no. This can’t be. I saw her. She was . . . dead. How—?” The preacher stammered. He rubbed his eyes trying to make sense of the sight before him. “How is this possible?”

“Just some voodoo nonsense,” Sammy murmured.

The preacher stared at Dinah in shock and horror. She stared back, a frenzied look on her face.

Good, Sammy thought. She remembered her murderer. Let her have her vengeance.

“I figured Dinah’s killer was someone who ate here Sunday night. Whoever killed Dinah vomited on her living room floor before they left. Oysters and okra stew. You were the only person who ordered oysters Sunday night.” Sammy shrugged, “They’re out of season. The vomit was so fresh I could smell the stew as if I had just served it. I knew it was mine.”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was an accident,” the preacher began backing to the door never taking his eyes from Dinah.

“Didn’t look like an accident. You nearly bit her nipple clean off.” Sammy’s jaw tightened.

Dinah staggered past the bar, her movements awkward. The sound of her feet scraping on the wood floor sent shivers down Sammy’s back. His body tingled with the anticipation of her vengeance. The preacher took one backwards step to the door with each step Dinah took forward.

“I was going to ask her to marry me.” Sammy said. “I know you didn’t approve of us being together. Dinah told me how you said I was a follower of Satan, how my sorcery would corrupt her. You said I’d drag her to hell with my devilry. Interesting choice of words preacher. I wonder if they echoed in her mind when you dragged her through her yard.”

“Please,” the preacher begged, his eyes round with fear, “Please, Sammy! I swear . . . I didn’t mean for this to happen. I don’t know what came over me.”

The preacher backed into a chair, stumbled, and fell on the floor. He began backing away, shuffling on his hands and feet.

Sammy’s hands clenched, anger surging through him. He feared he would lose control. He longed to quench his thirst for revenge but he couldn’t. She must do this on her own or he would lose her forever. The preacher cursed as he slid across the floor while Dinah continued to stalk him across the diner.

“Sammy, undo this witchcraft now. Please, I’ll make it right. I beg you.”

Sammy moved down the bar keeping Dinah and the preacher in sight. He wouldn’t miss this.

“You don’t have a choice. Same as you never gave her a choice. She never did anything to you. She was a good woman. A God fearin’ woman.”

“God fearing,” the preacher hissed the words. “She was a whore, opening her legs for your voodoo loving ass every night. She didn’t fear God,” the preacher said, saliva spewing from his mouth as he spoke. “She sat in church, wearing them tight dresses, tits poking out on Sunday mornings.” The preacher’s normally jovial countenance twisted, eyes menacing, teeth barred like a wild animal, lips snarled, wet with spit. “She liked soaking in the bath. You could see everything through them sheer curtains. She never saw me all the times I watched her before. I heard her scream . . . saw her looking at me. She took off running outside. I tried to stop her.” The preacher held onto a nearby table, and pulled himself from the floor. “She fought me at first, but she wanted me, Sammy. She screamed my name. She wanted it.”

The preacher’s back was to the screen door now, two steps away from Dinah. He winked at her, and flicked his tongue in a lewd gesture before stepping back into the door, pushing it open. Dinah lunged for the preacher and pulled him to the floor. He struggled, crying out for Sammy’s help.

Sammy watched in silence. Satisfied.

The preacher kicked his legs, punching out the screen on the door. Thunder roared outside. A blaze of light lit the bar followed by a crash, as lightening connected with a nearby tree. The storm intensified now, giving Dinah’s revenge a voice, replacing the one stolen by the preacher’s murderous grip.

He tried to fight her off. He screamed, but the noise died on his lips as Dinah’s mouth closed around his. She growled and hissed, releasing the preacher for a moment. Sammy shuddered at the sight of blood dripping from her lips and pooling between her teeth.

She cocked her head at her victim, wailing and thrashing on the floor. She lunged at him again. His muffled screams faded as her head twisted back and forth over his. Sammy tried to quell his nausea as he listened to the savagery of Dinah’s fatal kiss, a wet, slurping sound intermittent between her inhuman growling. She drained the preacher, edging away from him when she finished. His body jerked on the floor as the last vestiges of life left his limbs.

The bar was silent now, save the sound of soft rain falling on the tin roof. The storm’s fury was spent at last. Sammy walked around the bar, cautiously approaching Dinah. She rose from the floor, her bloody lips twisting into a smile. The crimson wine seeped from her mouth and down her chin. Her eyes remained black and wild. The sight unnerved him.

Sammy waited for color to show in her skin. Waited for her eyes to assume their brilliant hue of jade, but the changes never came. The demon had warned him she would not be the same, but Sammy hadn’t believed him. Tears rimmed Sammy’s eyes. He embraced her, his shoulders shaking as he cried silently into her hair. She did not return his embrace. Sammy felt her distance and released her. She stared at him, face void of emotion, voice still incapable of speech.

She would be alright in time, after she healed, he thought. They would move on with their lives. Sammy would help her forget this nightmare. He would take care of her. She would have anything she desired.

He loved her.

I won three souls that stormy summer night. Ah, but there is a love story for the hopeless romantics of the world. A man who gave his soul for the woman he loved. Dinah was never the same. She was cursed, forced to feed on the living to maintain her existence. Sammy lured the victims to the bridge behind his restaurant where Dinah would consume them before dumping their empty vessels into the river below.

The preacher, who at one time sought to save souls in the small town of Cat Creek, had damned them all.