Only moonlight lit the old barn. But I could see. My eyes were sharp as a wolf’s. Every crack in the walls bled electric blue. The night had texture; it had intensity. It smelled sour. It smelled like rust.
Why was I here?
The bottom floor of the barn was empty: no hay covering the dirt, no troughs for pigs or stalls for horses. It was quiet ground, waiting, gestating. A ladder to the loft stood to one side. I climbed, stepped off onto a board floor that creaked under my boots.
What had drawn me here?
The smell changed, grew wet, like paint. The light held a black shine. Two wooden sawhorses rested near the wall with a plank lying across them. A row of small clay vessels stood upon the plank; a set of artist’s paintbrushes waited in one.
Waited for what?
I stuck a finger in one of the clay pots, as if into the smooth, rounded interior of a skull. The bottom was coated with a residue, both sticky and gritty at the same time. I lifted my hand, sniffed the finger. I couldn’t quite identify the scent or the feel.
The light dimmed as a cloud swallowed the moon. I’d come prepared. Taking a votive candle from my pocket, I lit it and held it up. The glow was too bright, like tacks stabbing into my eyes. I pushed the candle out to arm’s length—and saw writing on the wall.
Wild words, sentence fragments, snatches of poetry. Some phrases scrawled; some ran as straight as razors. They extended to my left and right, reached from the top of the wall to the floor. The individual letters were baroque, almost runic, written in crimson-black and adorned with loops and swirls.
Had I been led here to read this message?
Was it meant for me?
With the candle as guide, I edged my way to the beginning. The message began at the top of the wall on the far left. It read:
“I dream in heat, on cracked roads whose fissures you would have smoothed before me. I dream the river where dirty flesh is laundered, where saints wallow in the bile of love, where the flow is dark with the froth from wounds. I am the mire into which the froth flows; I am bittersoul turned amber in the trees. Why hast thou forsaken me? How may I turn your ear once more my way?”
There was more, densely more. It sang, writhed, shrieked, tore, bruised, begged, licked. I followed it line by line by line. The ink with which it was written grew thinner, as if the scribe were running out and striving to make it last to the finish. But when I came to the end, there was no finish. The words just stopped.
“Enslaved to aff…”
Enslaved to what? Affection? Affirmation? Affliction?
Snarling, I kicked the wall. Dust tumbled into the air, danced in the candlelight with Brownian motion. There was meaning here. Such meaning. But who was it for? Why wasn’t it finished?
I turned to look. Dots of black whirled curlicues in the air. Flies. Their wings buzzed. There weren’t many of them. Then I saw the bodies—three—six—nine. They were pale as wax in the candlelight, except for the ruby necklaces that each wore. I understood. Their pallor was partly a coating of lye to keep away the flies and the smell. The necklaces were not made of gems.
I looked back at the wall, knew suddenly what ink this unfinished manuscript had been written in. Three—six—nine….
Three more bodies would provide enough blood to finish this red book.
I knew why I was here.
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Charles Gramlich is the author of the Talera fantasy trilogy, the thriller Cold in the Light, and the SF novel Under the Ember Star. His stories have been collected primarily in three anthologies, Bitter Steel, (fantasy), Midnight in Rosary(Vampires/Werewolves), and In the Language of Scorpions (Horror). His works are available in print and ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Wildside Press. Charles blogs at: http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com/