The Sign of the Curse (Part 2)

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I wander out into the night and move as though afraid I may fall apart at any moment. Mine is a life of measured movements, all calculated to maintain the guise of, if not sickness, then humanity. What I would give for privacy that I might fly across the desert, the wind of my passage flowing all around me. But the paradox of my existence is that I must remain near humans or… well, not die, for even without blood I live on, shriveled and helpless, as I learned when I first attempted to resist the hideous hunger. I was saved only by happenstance and desperate strength, the poor woman who walked over to examine my lifeless-looking form becoming my first victim. Though I attempt to feed upon the condemned or dying, I have murdered the healthy and innocent many times over out of necessity, and it is these times that have most commonly forced me into exodus in the past. I am haunted by their faces even now, but the memory of their blood serves to soften the anguish, invigorating as it was. As it is, I have been living with these lepers for almost a year now, and the nearby town sends a steady supply my way, and thus the relationship flourishes. And of course I must thank the Romans for their contributions to my well-being as well. We shall shortly see if they have left me a suitable offering in town.

This recent decrease of their numbers has me suspicious, however. Lepers are not typically a very ambulatory lot, venturing only so far as the town and then coming back to this “haven.” Ah, but here is Bidkar. It will be a sad day when I must drain his life away, entertaining companion that he has been.

“Hail, Bidkar! I thought we might cross paths.” The sores on his face contort as he smiles at my appearance.

“Ah, Nabal. Will you be joining me in my harvest tonight? You always seem to know which houses are ripe with the unobservant. Never have I met one with a greater sense for the task. Not to mention, I am now one less finger for the plucking of goods from the privileged’s bowers.” He waggles a stump where once was a crusty finger.

“I am sorry to hear that. I give thanks to God that my hands and feet are unaffected by our curse, but when it comes to other areas… well, let us cease talking about such things. I would be glad to point you in the right direction if you can point me in the right direction as well. Where is Lucas? Where is Maadai? And many others, as well. Have so many gone to be with the Lord as of late?”

“Some might say so. There is rumor of a healer traveling the land, though the rumors may dry up if the pharisees have any word in the matter. And especially,” he lowers his voice, “now that some are saying he is the Messiah.”

“Ha! Perhaps it is the same old man who told me to sleep in box of olive wood and dirt, much good as it has done me. He always was a persuasive one.”

“No, no, this man is young, thirty years or so. I may go look for him myself.”

“Do what you will.”

“I tell you, Nabal, it is not healthy to put faith in only iniquity and evil spirits.”

“I concede that God exists, but it is an evil god that created this world. I will change my beliefs when experience proves otherwise. As of yet I have seen only evil and experienced only hardship, so my beliefs stand. Now let us move on so that we might secure our welfare through evil.”

~

Once within the town, I experience the familiar and nearly overpowering sensation as all around me beat the hearts of the living, pumping blood, and with each pulse I am able to infer its owner’s state of mind. Many dreamers, a few nightmares, and the occasional late nighter, perhaps writing or working upon some urgent task, or maybe simply worthlessly worrying about life. I point out the house of a particularly deep sleeper and then lie, saying that I will look for another mark while Bidkar ransacks the first. As soon as I’m sure he’s completely preoccupied by his thievery I make haste toward the hill on the other side of town, and soon I can see the familiar shapes of the crosses, and my mouth begins to water. My hope is that some hearty criminal still clings to life while hanging upon the inhuman tool of torture that is the cross, and that the Roman soldiers were too lazy to finish the job as they are wont to do. Again I wonder that it is I who am cursed and not those endlessly creative Romans. Perhaps God has not thought of a suitable punishment yet. As I move closer to the line of monuments to cruelty, I expand my senses. In the past, my culling of the condemned was caught by a lingering relative of the crucified, her shrieks tearing through the night and cutting short my consumption. If starvation is the worst sensation, then interruption of an imminent meal is second. Thankfully there is no sign of any such inconsiderate person this time.

And yes, it is faint, but the thud of life can be heard from the third in line of the crucifixions. Thank you, oh strong soul, for your perseverance. Know that the end of suffering, whether deserved or undeserved, is close at hand. As I approach, his shallow breathing rattles around me. I won’t waste time; he could die any second. The blood of the dead cools quickly, becoming unpalatable and, if left long enough, downright poisonous. Leaping on top the horizontal beam, my robe flaps about me, a blob of shadow perched upon this grisly mockery of a fruit-bearing tree, its bounty death instead of life. I lower my face toward his neck, the large vein easy to find thanks to emaciation and the strain of living after such a marathon of torture. And then he speaks.

“Our time is at hand, brother.”

I am frozen where I crouch. The voice that comes from the bowed head is at once hoarse and hollow, as though it echoes within the body from which it came. And it is altogether much too strong to have come from a dying man. I open my mouth to speak, but for once I have no words, and the anticipatory saliva has gone the way of the desert. It is all I can do to keep from falling to the ground.

“Why are you silent? Perhaps you have not heard? Yahweh, curse the name, has foolishly taken a human form, and even now our lord sets in motion the means to kill him. Creation will be ours, and eternal night, and you shall not be reduced to feeding upon dregs such as this nearly-dead slave. I will leave you now to your meal, but take hope – our time is at hand.” The voice stops but the mouth still hangs open, and a rivulet of blood leaks from the corner. And then comes the moaning noise, and this finally frees me from my stupefaction: the man is screaming. This man, who has gone through torture, crucifixion, and the slow death that follows, is screaming. I plunge my fangs into his neck and drain the blood from him until the noise stops, but still I can hear it.


( ©2018 Sean Dorsey )

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The Sign of the Curse (Part 1)

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 )