Welcome to 2018. It’s going to be a big year. Where have I been for the past couple months, you ask? Ha! Who am I kidding, no one is asking any questions. Nevertheless, I shall provide some answers – answers to boredom, to stagnation of the brain, to the question of “what story should I read next?” The answers are within this tome, one which you may not have opened in some time, or perhaps have yet to open. So, my hostag- I mean, guests, read on, and may you be thrilled, intrigued, and perhaps delighted with fright.
I awake among the lepers, the moonlight peering in through the cave opening as though curious of our sequester. Gripping the lips of my box, I pull myself up and out, hands that could crush the wood to dust feigning feebleness so as not to alert my neighbors, most of whom are sleeping, wet noises of respiration and the occasional moan breaking the silence of the night. The coarse brown rags of my attire conceal the lack of blemish upon my pale brown skin, curly black locks and and beard serving the same deceptive purpose. Questions are always answered the same.
“Believe me, brothers, below these robes I am ravaged by the same damnable affliction as you. I was told by a wise man that the olive wood and soil I sleep in would hold back the decay but… it is best you stay away from me, Adonai has cursed me so.” The soil of course is from my original grave, clawed away with desperate, gouging hands that did not yet know their newfound strength in death, knowing only that I had awakened in absolute darkness, walled in on all sides, less than an inch in each direction in which to move. I do not know how it is I was dragged into the ranks of the lilit, the night creatures, the blood drinkers – perhaps I was one all along, though I doubt this. By all appearances my family was composed entirely of humans, with nary a strange relative of which to speak. Then again, given how successful I’ve been in concealing my atrocious actions… who knows. It doesn’t matter. My existence now is a perplexing mixture of pleasure and pariah; if discovered, I become more reviled than the lepers, and both the sun and the holy men curse me and attempt to destroy me, the sun protected by its lofty position and the holy men protected by their sickening faith. Am I not even now a tool of that very same faith? Is not my weakness to their prayers and talismans not proof of the veracity of their cause? Is it not proof of its truth every time I am repulsed by their cries of Adonai, Elohim, Yahweh? Even thinking the names makes my skin crawl and tingle as though a flame runs over it. I did not ask for this curse, and though I was not a pious man in life, I was neither a particularly iniquitous one either, at least by my measure. Again, it matters not now. All that I can do is prey upon the vulnerable and pray that my actions do not invoke suspicion. I nod at my fellow night-risers, their purpose somewhat similar to mine. There is a peace in the darkness, and one might wander about the nearby town in near impunity, and stealing food is more direct than begging alms – they are already cursed by God, the stain on their souls reflected upon their skin – what do they have to lose from further sin? My theft is from the dying, a simple extension of the cycle that begins when they steal from the citizenry.
Bare feet make no noise in the cave as I move from one huddled mass to the next, peering down at them in the gloom to ascertain the extent of their decay. Their blood is weak and sour to the taste, but no one misses a dead leper, not even their fellows. It is such a common occurrence out here that I am more often praised for hauling out the dead bodies than questioned for how often I am the first to “discover” the remains. And there is no outcry and accusation against the shrouded, bell-ringing thieves that plague those fortunate enough to have their health.
I do not say a word to my prey, nor do I look at his face. The sound of his shallow, haggard breathing is enough to tell me it is time. It is over quickly, and I cough and gag upon the accursed blood, though one curse seems the maximum, as I have never shown any signs of leprosy upon my person, nor any other affliction for that matter since my rebirth as a lilit. As I have said, there is some enjoyment to my existence, if only the glee derived from others’ suffering while my own body remains strong and perfect. And fresh, untainted blood… well, we all have a favorite food which brings us pleasure, yes? The irony is that the majority of my companions, thievery aside, have no justification to be called impure, and do not deserve any sort of curse. In fact, they are more open and accepting of others than many a proclaimed ‘holy man.’ What god would do such a thing, bestowing such blights without reason or discrimination?
Musing aside, the same hands that once disinterred my lifeless body from its own grave now tear at the corpse of my erstwhile neighbor. There must be no pattern of punctured necks to be found. Gently shredded flesh, on the other hand, is much more common among the people of the tzaraath, the impure. Once my victim is sufficiently “decayed” I wipe a rag across my mouth, a useless gesture of paranoia, for I am not a messy eater. A quick glance around satisfies me that no one noticed my actions, being either too deeply asleep or too sickly to be wakened by such things. I count them, and the unasked for image of a fisherman counting fish in his net comes to mind. There are less than there should be, even discounting my unfortunate supper and those who, like me, prefer the night. I must find Bidkar and inquire about this worrisome dwindling.
( ©2018 Sean Dorsey )