Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. – Macbeth
It was the middle of the night when the church bells tolled mournfully, heralding the death of a warlock. The heavy rainfall could not drown out the clanging and awoke the villagers from their restless dreaming. Not one of them dared leave their houses and instead held their children close, praying fearfully. They knew what that sound meant, and who was condemned.
Inside the church, candlelight flickered and cast shadows across the grim faces of the accusers. There were thirteen men and women standing in the pews, facing the one who would be burned. He was bound in heavy chain, which had been blessed with holy water, and bolted to the floor to prevent his escape. Behind him a small brazier glowed with cherry red coals.
Head bowed, long black hair obscured the warlock’s face. Slowly he raised his head to see those before him. There was raw hatred in his sunken eyes that unnerved those present. His features were gaunt and skull-like. A cruel smile stretched across his pale face as he saw his jury refuse to meet his gaze.
“Malcolm!” A voice boomed from the pulpit. The warlock slowly turned around with a jangling of chains and spat at the man who addressed him. The village priest loomed above the prisoner, matching his grimace with a hateful glare of his own. “You stand here before us and before God, accused of witchcraft and murder. How do you plea?” Each word was strained with unbridled fury.
The lines on the priest’s weathered face deepened as Malcolm chuckled. “Pray tell, on what grounds do these accusations stand?” His voice was rich and silky. “I am but a simple scholar who has n-” One of the men broke his silence and interrupted. “Do not let him speak lest he lull us to our doom!” “Hold your tongue, Henry Mathers!” The priest barked.
Henry’s face twisted with rage as he gestured at the bound man. “But Father Bernard, I will not let the accursed dog defend himself for killing my son!” “I SAID ENOUGH.” Lightning flashed and a clap of thunder rattled the stained glass windows of the church. One of the women started crying. “How are we to burn him now…” She sobbed as her husband held her silently.
“Malcolm Barnett,” Father Bernard continued. “You are charged with casting spells of misfortune on this village. You have cursed the farm of Abe Handler to be barren, and caused his livestock to give birth to abhorrent creatures and serpents. You have been seen by witnesses to speak with toads and other familiars. On more than one occasion you smell of brimstone and sulfur, after nights when people have seen lights in your window and heard voices uttering words in strange tongues. You made gestures at Roland Eaton, which caused his horse to throw him and break his neck. You were seen digging up bodies of murderers late at night, for vile purposes unknown. Witnesses have seen you performing acts of divination in your mirror. And there is also the sickening murder of William Mathers to account for. A pair of spectacles belonging to your person were discovered nearby.”
Malcolm laughed, the church echoing with his raucous revelry. “Well I suppose that I have been caught. But no matter, I have already seen this transpire and more.” There were a few gasps among the watchers. He turned to face them, grinning. “Oh yes, I have prepared for this day. I will not burn as easily as you might hope.” His accusers were pale with fright, save for Henry Mathers. His face was red and his knuckles were white as he clenched his fists.
“I would not boast so easily, Malcolm.” The warlock turned to see Father Bernard stride down the pulpit, to the small brazier of coals. He reached inside his cassock and pulled out a worn, leather-bound book. “We have your grimoire.” Malcolm lunged forward, but the chains held. “How did you find that?” He hissed, his eyes fixated on his prized possession.
Now was the priest’s turn to laugh, and he waved the book over the coals tantalizingly. “This is but one of the many accursed things we discovered in your filthy hovel. That is the next thing we shall take pleasure in burning. After you, of course.” He casually tossed it into the fire as the warlock screamed. The grimoire burst into blue flame and there was a unearthly wailing as the pages blackened and curled. “NO!” Malcolm shrieked and struggled violently against his bindings.
“Watch carefully, you monster. That will soon be you.” Henry sneered. Malcolm ceased his thrashing and was still. Then his head slowly twisted, features shrouded in shadow. But his eyes gleamed faintly from the darkness and he started whispering under his breath.
Henry Mathers smirked at what he thought was futile attempt to frighten him. Then his brow furrowed. He made a face of discomfort and began to cough. Malcolm continued to whisper and began to sway slightly from side to side. “Stop!” The priest rushed toward the warlock and struck him across the face. But the spell had already been cast.
Henry began to claw at his throat as he continued to cough and choke. His face was starting to turn a tinge of blue. Blood trickled on to his shirt as he scratched at his neck. Screams broke out and the frightened villagers backed away as he collapsed to the ground and started to go into convulsions. There was a visible lump that bulged and twisted in his throat. The blue fire ceased, and so did the choking man.
There was no sound but the rain pattering against the windows. Malcolm smiled as the cursed man’s mouth moved. Thin black fingers seemed to pour from his lips, and then the bulbous body of a large spider emerged. Its glistening body was dripping with blood and saliva. Shrieks echoed around the church and two women fainted as it moved towards the crowd. A second one emerged, fangs twitching.
“Help me gag him, NOW!” Father Bernard roared and two men overcame their fear to approach the smirking warlock. The second spider skittered towards the priest. He stomped at it but it deftly avoided his boot. Undeterred, he pulled holy water from his robes and poured it over the spider who squealed, curling into a ball. Malcolm hissed and began to chant. His eyes rolled back and he began to sway as the incantation seemed to deepen his voice. “Ego invocaverit daemonium Baphomet…” The two men grabbed at the chanting warlock, but it was then the second arachnid struck.
Leaping from the ground with a sibilant hiss it sank its engorged fangs into the eye of the man nearest it. Yellow pus streamed from the punctured socket and the victim wailed and struck at the black spider clinging to his face. The priest sprayed his holy water at the man in an effort to destroy the foul creature. But the familiar sprang from the wounded face and scrambled towards the other man who was attempting to cease the warlock’s new spell. He whimpered and let go of Malcolm, backing away from the obsidian terror.
Writhing in agony, the one eyed man howled wordlessly as the yellow venom continued to dribble down his face, leaving angry red streaks on his skin. With each word, the warlock’s voice began echo as if there was something speaking in an infernal harmony with him. “…et procedent qui mecum… Redde me penes dominum tenebricosum…”
The priest held a silver crucifix in front of Malcolm and lifted up his other hand in prayer. “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I forbid this unholy union of man and de-” He screamed as the accursed spider bit deep into the hand holding the crucifix aloft. Flinging the arachnid to the floor, he swiftly ended its reign of terror with a crunch of his boot.
Small hairy spiders began to spill from the mouth of the late Henry Mathers. The other unfortunate victim had ceased his throes of anguish, except for his head which shook ever so slightly. Whiskers sprouted out from his eye socket. Then a nose, and the head of a filthy rat squirmed it’s way out from the dead man’s skull. Its beady black eyes gleamed as it looked around, and then it wormed its fat body out with a pulpy squish. The moment that the rodent was free it began feasting on the other eye, yanking the soft orb out with its yellow teeth and licking up the seeping vitreous gel.
The remaining jury began beating at the church doors, in an attempt to escape from the horrors inside. But the exit was barred by some unseen force and the eleven villagers began to panic. One by one, the candles in the church were snuffed out. A deep chuckle reverberated around the church like a small earthquake.
As Father Bernard turned back to continue his litany, his face paled at the scene before him. The warlock was enveloped in an almost tangible shadow. The ethereal darkness had the form of a goat headed man, with two long twisted horns. It leisurely stretched its limbs, flexing its spiritual and physical body as Malcolm mimicked every motion. Iron chains which were wrapped around him snapped and slithered off onto the stone floor. A foul smelling wind gently rustled as the demon sighed deeply.
Flinging the entirety of the holy water at the entity, Father Bernard rushed towards the altar. The windows shattered in a cascade of colored glass as the being shrieked in anguish. He had just reached the first step when his arm was seized in a burning grip.
Now that wasn’t very charitable, Father. The abomination spoke into his head, its voice like a flame crackling. One of the horns on the demon’s head was a smoking stump, and black wisps bled out into the air from its injured face. Darkness slowly rolled into place as its body reformed again. From within the ethereal mass, Malcolm’s thin lips grimaced into his version of a smile.
With his other hand, the priest swung the bronze crucifix at the smirking warlock. The shadow beast caught it in its grasp and made the holy man howl as it began to glow red hot. Flesh sizzled and liquid fire dripped as the unholy heat turned the religious icon into molten metal. A small taste of what’s to come. With that the demon flung him into the altar, smashing the statues and candles that adorned it.
Father Bernard listened as his congregation prayed, screamed and wept simultaneously. Blood trickled from his forehead into his eyes. Looking up, he witnessed the monster turn towards the huddled crowd with its arms outstretched. I am grateful for this banquet of living flesh. I would say grace, but I think most of you already have. The priest began to slowly crawl to the pulpit as the hellish sounds of the dying washed over him. Inch by inch he crept.
The walls were coated crimson as the abomination eviscerated a young man, clawing his organs out from his chest. The rat, finished with his meal, went to feast on the scattered entrails. Father Bernard gritted his teeth and pulled himself closer. The small spiders that the dead Henry Mathers spewed began to swarm one of the women, biting her with needle fangs. Her cries were muffled as the little creatures wrapped her in webbing.
At last, he reached the pulpit. Cradling his ruined hand, the holy man grabbed a small cloth bag with his left. Inside was a small silver bell, a leather bound book and a white candle, etched with Latin inscriptions. “And so it ends…” He muttered. The brazier was struck by a headless torso, sending cherry coals flying in a shower of sparks. A few embers rolled onto a pile of altar linen and set them aflame. Wind blew in from the broken windows, fanning the fire until it licked at the wall.
An old woman gasped hoarsely as she was strangled, her rosary beads turning into a red snake that licked at her purple face. One by one each of the accusers was judged by the hand of the one that they condemned. Death, was the unanimous decision. But they had never imagined they would be facing it as it strode among the pews, claws dripping with the scarlet fluid of life.
The orange flames crept up to the beams above, feeding off the dust and cobwebs that had accumulated there.
Of the thirteen, there now remained a single frightened girl. Huddled in the corner, she clutched at the silver cross that hung around her neck. Long hair, yellow as sunflowers shook as she shuddered at her slowly approaching doom. The rat sat on its haunches to her left, whiskers twitching. Its long teeth were stained bright red and its eyes glittered as it watched her. The vermillion snake coiled up by the girl’s right, sticking out its forked tongue as if it was trying to taste her. Hearing a skittering sound she looked up and began to wail. The little black spiders gathered on the wall above her head and stopped, hundreds of tiny eyes reflecting the flames above.
And through the smoke came the demon. The horns had grown, the goat head grew dark fur and the transparent ether was now a solid ebony. The warlock was no longer discernible from within, for he had either fused with the spirit or was consumed by a power greater than his own. It stopped at the girl’s feet and crouched down to look in her face. She covered her face with her hair and shook as she wept silently, unable to make even a sound. Have no fear, child. The voice was like coals, snapping and breaking in powerful heat. It was warmth that could sear flesh, or soothe you to sleep on a cold night.
Seeing the girl surrounded, Father Bernard quietly cursed and opened the book. With a burning ember that fell from the roof, he had managed to light the candle and had placed the bell by it, taking care not to ring it.
Using a claw, the now corporeal spirit brushed the hair from the girl’s face. She closed her eyes, tears squeezing out from tightly shut lids. Come with me. Serve me and sorrow will be but a distant memory. Shaking her head, she gripped the necklace until her knuckles turned white. The demon gently brushed a tear from her pale cheek, leaving a streak of blood. I can grant your heart’s desire. Then the calming tone vanished, replaced with malice. Or I can peel the flesh from your bones. It grabbed her jaw and yanked her face closer to its beastly visage. Look at me.
She tried to pull away but its grip was like a vise. LOOK AT ME. Slowly, her eyes opened and met the burning gaze. The terror drained out of her face and her features betrayed no emotion. Say my name.
At first, there was confusion. But as the girl stared at the demon, a single word sprang to her lips. It was a terrible name that meant darkness and chaos, hate and destruction. Hoarsely, it was spoke out loud.
The priest whispered the sacred words inside the tome, his charred and twisted hand keeping the yellowed pages in place as gusts of wind whistled in. Ash and smoke spun in the air, dancing over the corpses strewn below. Eyes wide open, yet seeing nothing. Mouths lay agape in silent screams. From above, a wooden beam cracked and sent down a fiery rain of coals and sparks.
Baphomet’s head swiveled to regard the falling debris and spotted Father Bernard making the sign of the cross with his good hand, his lips moving silently. Dropping the girl, it stood swiftly. The familiars scattered, rushing towards the wounded man. Calmly, he picked up the small silver bell and rang it.
The clear sound carried through the air, quieting the wind and bringing silence in its wake. “…tradentes eum satanae in interitum carnis, ut spiritus ejus salvus fiat in die judicii.” Now speaking out loud, the priest’s voice was stern and commanding. The accursed familiars had frozen in place and were now writhing in pain as he continued.
“Demones effugite! Repere et ad ima perenni cremer igne. Et cogitationibus vestris pessimis et in nomine Domini nostri Iesu Christi repellat.”
(Demons, flee! Crawl back to the depths and burn in the eternal fires. I repel your evil in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.)
Baphomet roared, saliva flying from its fetid maw. Without flinching, Father Bernard made the sign of the cross with the bell. Squeals of anguish came from the little creatures with each toll. On the final chime, the sound did not fade but only swelled until the sweet tone became like a gong. The church shook with the reverberation and spidery cracks began to creep along the stone floor. Baphomet fell to its knees and wailed, holding his ears. “FLEE CHILD!” The priest managed to shout over the cacophony.
The straw haired girl tried to gain her footing as the ground quaked, and stumbled to the church doors. The unseen presence that had once trapped the congregation was no longer there, and the doors swung open into the pouring rain. She looked back at the tormented demon who grabbed its twisted horns, bellowing at the sky. A smoking rafter fell, the sound of its collapse lost in the deafening resonance. Smoldering splinters stung her face and she flinched. Locking eyes with Father Bernard, she paused for a long moment until he faintly smiled and nodded. Then she vanished into the storm.
The church began to disintegrate as the dull tone grew until it was nearly beyond hearing. Pews shifted and began to slide as the vibrations permeated every surface. Smoke curled and parted as pieces of the beams above shook loose and hurtled below. The walls were glowing coals that sparks drifted from, like little fireflies. Baphomet’s minions had ceased their thrashing but their master was still very much alive.
Blood dripping from his ears, Father Bernard watched as his nemesis yanked at its horns. The beast’s mouth gaped in a soundless roar, pulling its head backwards. Sinews in its black neck were stretched taut, and muscles swelled under its rough skin. With an audible crack, Baphomet’s head flew forward as its long warped horns snapped in its claws. The sound of the horns breaking brought sudden silence.
All was still.
There was only the sigh of rain, crackling of the fire and the panting of the demon.
Glowering at the priest it spoke, chest heaving. That was a nice trick, Father. But I’m afraid that bell was tolled for you. The goat head was seeping from its injured stubs, but it was far from a mortal wound. Holding the horns like daggers, Baphomet rose to its feet. This one for you, that one for the girl. It made a throaty gurgling sound, and Father Bernard realized that it was laughter.
White ash floated by like ghosts as the devil ascended the stone steps. The church was illuminated hellishly by the red glow of ember and flame. Rain whispered in hushed tones from outside and the cold breeze swelled as doom approached the fallen priest. He watched his death take each step deliberately, as if savoring the moment. The holy man regarded his instruments of war.
The candle still had its flame, doggedly winking despite the wind. The book lay open before him. But the silver bell lay cracked in half, spent, for it had faithfully done its duty.
Baphomet took another step.
Father Bernard closed his eyes. It was many years ago that he had first arrived in this town to preach the word of God. He could almost see the bright faces that eagerly listened to his carefully written sermons, souls that he vowed to guide to heaven like a captain guiding a vessel to safe land.
He opened his eyes, for it was time.
The demon was almost upon him, grinning wickedly as it held the sharp horns in its claws. Outside, the storm shrieked a funeral dirge. Lighting flashed. The priest struck. He blew out the candle and slammed the book shut. “Fiat! Fiat! FIAT!”
The smoldering flames now burst forth in an white hot inferno, wreathing the house of worship in holy conflagration. But the burst of heat did nothing to faze the foul monster. It plunged one makeshift blade deep into the man’s chest, and twisted it with glee as Father Bernard gasped. Where is your god now? It gurgled in its throat as it chuckled in vicious triumph. Dropping him, it turned on its heel and strode down the stairs with a swagger in its step.
The demon froze.
Coughing up blood, Father Bernard tried to wipe his mouth with his good hand, but it sank to the ground limply. “Ask…” He wheezed. Baphomet watched as the life began to fade from his latest victim’s eyes. “… and…” The dying man used the last of his strength to point toward the sky. “… ye shall… receive.” His arm fell as he breathed his last.
The fiend turned his head to see what the dead man meant. It hissed as it realized its predicament. The church ceiling was a living blanket of white flame, and was visibly buckling. Baphomet ran toward the doors, which lay open and inviting. It had almost reached them when a beam crashed to the floor, blocking the exit and showering the being with flame. The monster snarled as the white fire seared its unholy flesh, and leapt back.
With a dull crack, the roof sagged further inward. Baphomet looked towards the windows longingly, but knew it was far too late to escape from its fate. Facing the heavens it roared defiantly as the church collapsed inward, burying the demon and its victims in cleansing fire and mortar.
The village awoke the next morning to a smoking ruin. The girl was hysterical but managed to speak of a man who summoned the devil, and the savior who defeated him.
The elders condemned the burned church as cursed ground and forbade any to trespass lest they awaken any unholy spirits and bring ruin upon them all. The old women told stories of the wicked warlock who stole children to the young, and soon the truth became fiction and fiction became legend.
Years passed and the story changed many hands, but there were still those that remembered it to be true.
And they kept watch.
Waiting for the day that Malcolm would return again, for he had promised that he was not easily burned. Everyone knew him to be many things, but he was never known to be a liar.