Blasted Tower

by Brian Boru

 

When Sean was six years old, his parents died and he was foisted upon his only living relative and black sheep of the family, his aunt Carly. She was extremely reluctant to take him in; a young boy had no place in the torrid, chaotic life of a barfly seeking out Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Now. But when she learned of his meager college trust fund, she snatched him right up. The estate lawyer informed her that as legal guardian she could use it sparingly to pay for Sean’s necessities. All she heard was that she’d be getting extra money to help pay some of her outstanding debts and bar tabs. She’d finally have some breathing room even if she’d have to put a little food in the brat’s stomach, and put some second-hand clothes on his back. “If you don’t have family, what do you have,” she chuckled as she signed the adoption papers.

Carly had abandoned Sean in her cold, dank apartment for days, leaving him to fend off a battalion of cockroaches and a few rats that outweighed most cats. When Carly finally stumbled home from her weekend of debauchery, the landlord caught her in the hallway, and threatened to call the police on her if she ever left Sean alone again. He didn’t want to evict her now since she was finally able to pay rent, and the kid didn’t deserve that. Not wanting to risk losing the extra money, she was forced to make a decision. Changing her lifestyle wasn’t an option, so Carly dragged him behind her like a ragdoll from bar to bar in pursuit of chemical-induced happiness and a temporary reprieve from the delirium tremens.

During his first year of captivity, dozens of men drifted in and out of Carly’s life. Thankfully, none stuck around long enough for Sean to learn their names. Some of them were relatively harmless, looking for any port in a storm. Unfortunately, most were garden-variety abusive assholes. They’d shack up with Carly for a few nights and then the yelling and beatings would start. Once they’d tired of using Carly for a punching bag, they’d come looking for him. Over a short period of time, Sean had accumulated a grotesque roadmap of abuse—cuts, bruises, cigarette burns, and broken bones. He’d hide under his bed or in his closet and pray to be rescued from this life of misery, but every morning he awoke in the same situation. Sean wondered, if there really was a compassionate god in the universe, why had he forsaken him?

He spent the next few years in smoky dive bars that reeked of stale vomit and fresh urine. They were the kind of bars where everything goes and the cops looked the other way for a small donation to the police retirement fund. No one batted an eye when an underfed nine-year-old went around collecting empty drinks and overflowing ashtrays. In exchange, the bartenders would buy Sean a cup of soup or a sandwich. One night, Sean felt someone behind him staring a hole through the back of his head. He whirled around to find an elderly woman sitting in a previously empty corner booth. The same empty booth he’d just passed. Cigarette smoke hung around her like a shadow, obfuscating everything but her wraith-like eyes and her gnarled hands shuffling oversized cards. An icy chill ran down his spine as he met her piercing gaze. Sean did his best to avoid that corner like the plague. Every time he glanced in that direction, her eyes were stalking him like a bird of prey. Quietly staring and shuffling. As the night dwindled on, she ran out of patience waiting for him and beckoned him over with a twisted, crooked finger. Sean vehemently shook his head no, and then she croaked out, “Sean. Come here.” Sean hesitated but his feet moved on their own inching toward her. Sean fought with every ounce of his willpower but she drew him like a moth to a flame. She spread the cards face down across the table.

“Hello, Sean,” she rasped. Her ancient face was lined and wrinkled from unknown decades of hard living. Her steel-grey hair was wrapped up in a tight bun atop her head.

“H-how’d you know my name?”

“Sit. I’ve been sent to give you something and I’m running out of time.”

He stared up at her, afraid to get any closer.

“I haven’t come all this way just to hurt you. Now stop this foolishness at once,” she commanded.

Sean meekly climbed up on the chair across from her.

“Sean,” she said and ran her fingers over the cards, “You have great potential.”

He stared at the cards because he couldn’t meet her soulless eyes.

“I can only start you on the path.”

“Path?”

Her gnarled fingers separated three cards from the spread and slid them in front of him.

“The Blasted Tower.” She flipped the first one over to reveal a picture of a crumbling medieval castle. “The Devil,” she flipped the next, showing a picture of a large dancing goat. “The Magician,” she flipped the last card to reveal a young man kneeling at the edge of a big circle with a star inside. Inside the star was a tongue of flame. He stared at the tarot cards in awe, “What does this mean?” When he looked up, she was gone. The only thing left were the three cards and a haze of smoke.

“Sean!” Carly screeched from across the bar. “We’re leaving,” she slurred and stumbled out into the night, hugging onto Mr. Right Now. Sean hesitated then snatched the cards off the sticky table and chased after his aunt.

Sean managed to get through the next few years reasonably unscathed. He attributed his newfound good fortune to those three tarot cards, which he kept in a zip lock bag to protect them from the elements. Just as they had protected him. Sean would keep them in his pocket whenever he left the confines of the apartment. When Carly drank herself into a coma, which was every weekend she could, Sean would sneak off to the library. He read every book he could find on the subject of tarot and the occult. Although, it had a sparse selection, he was able to gain rudimentary education on the esoteric arts.

By his freshmen year of high school, he’d scrounged up enough money to buy a tarot deck and a few books on witchcraft. During his sophomore year, he did everything he could to fit in to the cutthroat world of high school popularity, for he had fallen for Mandy, the head cheerleader. But, no matter what he did, he couldn’t break out of the poverty stricken, geek caste he was forced into. Sean performed several tarot divinations for guidance on this matter and they all told him that it was not the right time to act. Over the next few weeks, Sean ran out of patience and took matters into his own hands. He delved into his books and put together an attraction spell from a mish-mash of sources. He’d never done one before so he employed the three cards for extra luck. He did everything right, so he thought. The spell was done outside in the day and hour of Venus using three green candles. Then he waited and dreamed of and lusted after her from afar.

The morning of Halloween, he awoke and felt that the day had finally come. So he decided to divine for guidance to make sure. Instead of his normal tarot spread, he shuffled in the original cards and drew only three cards face down. He closed his eyes and turned each one over, and then hoping with every fiber of being, he slowly opened his eyes. Sean’s heart stopped when he saw the original cards laid out before him—the Blasted Tower, The Devil, and The Magician. Tears of joy rolled down his emaciated cheeks and he said a heartfelt prayer of gratitude. He put on his favorite black shirt and well-worn corduroys and slipped the cards in his pocket.

When he arrived at school, the student body was buzzing with news that Mandy and her boyfriend, Zach, the captain of the football team, had broken up. “Gods be praised,” Sean whispered. He’d planned and rehearsed what he was going to say to her at least a hundred times in his head. But when he saw her standing at her locker, his mind froze. He took several deep breaths to ease the anxiety, and rubbed his sweaty hands on his cords. Sean pushed out his scrawny chest the best he could and approached her with the swagger and coolness of a dead fish. When he was close enough to smell her perfume, he tripped over his own feet and spilled out across the hall behind her. Sean scrambled back to his feet as she looked at him with those beautiful hazel eyes. “Mandy?” He could feel and hear his blood pumping. Panic set in and he blurted out, “Will you go to the prom with me?” Time stopped and he forgot how to breathe. Mandy turned her nose up at him. “Eeww! No! You are so gross! Get away from me!” She turned and walked away laughing at his expense.

Crestfallen and heartbroken, he slumped against the lockers and went over everything in his head, trying to figure out what went wrong. Then Zach turned the corner and punched him in the stomach. Sean doubled up, fell to his knees, and was thankful for not having money for breakfast. “I’m going to beat the shit out of you after school, dork!”

All throughout the day, he tried to discern what went wrong but couldn’t figure it out. So he plotted out a different way home to avoid running into Zach. Then he skipped his last class and snuck out early to prevent getting his brains beaten in. The new route was longer, but well off the beaten path. He zigzagged through burned out and dilapidated buildings to arrive at the halfway point, the abandoned train station. He stopped for a minute to catch his breath and take in the unfamiliar surroundings.

The train station had been a major thoroughfare decades ago when major industry flourished in the city. But when the plants closed and moved away, there was no need to keep this station alive. So it was closed and boarded up. The two-acre plot behind the station held a warehouse and several smaller storage units that were fenced off and falling into decay and disrepair. Sean tried to peek through cracks in the boards to get a glimpse inside the station when the slate-gray October sky unleashed a frigid downpour on him. “Shit!” he exclaimed, and rattled and pounded on the locked doors in vain. Within seconds, he was soaked to the bone. “Dammit!” he screamed out in frustration.

He hung his head and began the second half of his waterlogged, arduous journey home. The rain came down in sheets now. Water squished between his toes with every step. He sloshed through puddles and piles of dead autumnal leaves. The once-proud and majestic oaks looked meek and embarrassed, unable to conceal their naked vulnerability; having shed their once-bright yellow and fiery ochre coats. His teeth chattered and goosebumps rioted along his skin. Sans coat, he empathized with the unprotected trees as the cold October wind buffeted him.

Behind him, Sean heard the squeal of tires braking on wet pavement and whipped around. Zach and three other football players emptied out of a late-model sports car. Each of them easily outweighed Sean by eighty pounds. A lead weight of fear lodged in his belly. “Thought you were going to get away?” Hatred and malice beamed from Zach’s eyes. “Oh shit!” Sean exclaimed and broke pell mell for the fence. He reached the razorwire-topped fence to cries of “You’re dead, geek!” Sean hopelessly searched for a hole in the fence but couldn’t find one. He glanced over his shoulder; they were only a short distance behind him and closing fast. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Sean dug his fingers into the rusted, diamond segments and climbed to the top but hesitated at the razorwire. Then a hand clamped onto his pant leg and Sean envisioned them pulling him down and beating him to death. So he reached into the razorwire coils and pulled himself out of their reach, cutting his hands and arms to ribbons. He flipped over the fence and ran as fast as he could into the heart of the storage area.

Sean heard the rattle of the fence behind him as he snaked through derelict buildings leaving a trail of blood in his wake. His hands were torn wide and deep and a rivulet of blood ran down his left arm. His lungs burned and black spots dotted his peripheral vision. He’d have to stop running soon, but needed somewhere to hide. Then he saw it—the Blasted Tower!

The derelict warehouse had been built with red and brown bricks, opalescent windows and a massive set of steel doors. Through the years, the bricks had accumulated a patina of grime and black mold. Most of the windows had been shattered and the doors were tagged with assorted gang signs. Sean dug into his pocket—wincing as he irritated his wounds—and pulled out the three cards. He extracted the tower card from the bag and held it up for comparison. So, he reasoned, this is where I’m supposed to go.

Strewn about its perimeter was a kaleidoscope of broken bottles; shards of green, brown, and clear glass cracked and echoed from under his feet. He did his best to minimize the noise by not stepping on the larger pieces. A rustle of feathers from above drew his attention. He looked up to see a murder of crows standing sentry along the crenelated rooftop like petite feathered gargoyles. Dozens of bright orange eyes peered down at him with contempt. He put a bloody finger to his lips in hopes of their continued silence, but his luck ran out and in unison they let out a series of “caws.” “Fuck!” Sean whispered, staring daggers at them and silently cursing their existence. “He’s over here!” Zach yelled and spiders of panic pounced into Sean’s brain. Catcalls and high-pitched hyena laughter filled the damp air. Sean scrambled to the steel doors, but his heart sank into his stomach when he saw a rusted and padlocked chain barring his entrance. He slumped against the door and was about to let blood loss and exhaustion take him under when he saw his salvation. One of the ground floor windows was broken, leaving just enough room to crawl inside. The sound of crackling glass announced that he had company, so he quickly darted under the guillotine of broken glass.

The warehouse smelled moldy, of stagnant water, of rot and decay. The sparse illumination came from a single fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. The sickly pale luminescence cast monstrous shadows of broken train engines, axles, and gutted seats onto the walls. Rain cascaded through the gaping holes in the ceiling, creating oily black puddles on the floor. “I think he went in here,” Zach said and kicked out the window Sean used. The icy fingers of death closed in around him as more of his blood escaped from his body. He glanced around and saw his only possible sanctuary—the gaping maw of a stairwell descending into the bowels of hell, probably.

With the last of his reserves, he pushed toward the stairwell. Half loping, half running, he slipped and tumbled down the steps, landing in a shallow pool of stagnant, brackish water. The pain was immediate and intense, but thankfully no jagged stabbing pain of a broken bone. A miniscule bulb encased in a wire cage flickered above him casting light onto a steel door beside him. Sean got to his hands and knees when windows shattered and voices echoed through the warehouse. Zach and his crew were relentless. Their riotous laughter and murderous howls further solidified their intentions.

Bleeding, sopping wet and almost dead, Sean threw his body into the door with reckless abandon. Its rusted hinges screeched from ages of disuse, but the door swung open. He winced at the sharp noise and sprawled into the pitch black room. Footsteps slapped the stairs behind him and Sean frantically pushed and leaned into the door. It clanked closed behind him, sealing him in a dark tomb. Sean slumped down against it; hands and feet pummeled it but its thickness buffered their attacks. His short, pain-filled life flashed before him and he wept like never before. The end was near. He took out the tarot cards and ran his diced fingers across them one last time, leaving steaks of blood across each one. He whimpered while tears ran down his face. A merciful darkness washed over him, blotting out his consciousness and stealing his breath.

The blood-soaked cards fell from his hands and fluttered to the floor. When they kissed the floor, a brilliant white spark jumped into the air. Then a pinprick of light sputtered to life in the center of the room. It expanded into a tongue of flame that grew exponentially, until it was a raging column over five feet wide and touched the ceiling. A choir of glossolalia cut the silence and impregnated the room. Sean’s wounds stopped weeping and he felt the icy grip of death release him. His breath returned to him and he gasped and pried open his swollen eyes. He looked down at his hands and arms, which were healed, leaving only a slight scar here and there. “What the fuck?”

The column of fire exploded, sending spurts and gouts of fire across the empty room. Sean shielded his eyes and was assaulted by the stench of offal and burning flesh. It was so potent that his stomach churned and bile caught in his throat. Sean looked up and saw a tall, alabaster Goddess, beautiful beyond comparison standing naked in the center of the pentagram etched into the floor. She was perfect in every way, until she approached and he noticed a pair of small, bone-colored horns poking out from under her silken, white-blond hair. Then he saw her scythe-like claws and cloven hooves. “Magician,” she purred, “what is thy bidding?” Her sensual voice made him weak in the knees and strong elsewhere. Sean stared agape for what seemed like an eternity then managed, “What?” He couldn’t take his eyes off her and ran through hundreds of erotic fantasies.

She strutted closer. The sound of her hooves click clacking on the concrete snapped Sean from his lust-filled trance. She smiled and showed off sharp canine fangs that gave her an otherworldly seductiveness. The sensual heat she produced was stifling. “You called me?”

“Did I? How?” Sean stammered.

“You caught my attention with that attraction spell.”

“But that was for Mandy…”

“Magician, you are more powerful than you realize,” she smiled again. “Would you rather have her or me?” With that she raised an eyebrow and ran a clawed finger between perfect breasts that defied gravity. Sean blushed and averted his eyes, she giggled at his embarrassment. “You are cute,” she said, reaching out to him as a red spark burned her hand. She glared at the lines of the confining pentagram and let out a guttural, demonic growl of frustration that reverberated off the walls.

Sean scrambled back from the pentagram and pressed himself against the door. “I will not hurt you, man-child, unless you want me to.” She smiled again and leaned toward him. Sean stared into her ink black eyes and shook his head “no.” She sighed and strutted around the confines of the pentagram.

“Fate drew you here with those cards,” she pointed to them with a clawed finger. “This pentagram and your…” she hesitated as if tasting the words then purred out, “blood,” and licked her lips.

“Eons ago one of your ancestors bound me into servitude. Every generation of your lineage has had an opportunity to call upon me on All Hallows Eve using those cards.”

“But I didn’t mean to,” Sean argued.

“Yes, well you were about to die and I am bound to protect you until you have made your request of me,” the succubus said matter of factly.

“What?”

She sighed again. “I stopped you from dying from those wounds. Consider yourself extremely lucky. I am bound to grant you one request.”

“You’re like a genie?”

“Do I look like a jinn?” she snapped.

“Well, no. More like a porn star,” Sean replied.

She smiled with otherworldly seductiveness, “Sex?”

Sean shook his head “no” and she pouted at him.

“Can you bring back my parents?” he blurted out.

“No. Their souls have moved on, besides that would be beyond my capabilities.”

Sean sadly exhaled and said, “Ok.”

“So. What will it be? Money? Fame?”

“Gimme a few minutes, ok?”

She rolled her eyes, shook her head, “Whatever.”

Sean contemplated what he’d read about a demon’s abilities.

“I could arrange a night with this… Mandy,” she said while admiring her claws.

“That’s quite alright,” Sean said while looking at his hands. “I almost died from that endeavor.”

“True,” she replied.

Sean thought long and hard, and then it came to him. A wolfish grin crept across his face while he stared at her.

“What?” she asked with a look of surprise.

As Sean informed her of the request, her eyebrow arched. “Man-child,” she said, “I have never received such a request in all my years.”

“So, is it a deal?”

She paused, “Man-child, are you sure?”

He nodded and said “yes” with total confidence.

They discussed the details of his request; when they were done, she called up another column of fire with a series of hand gestures and phrases in some ancient language. She glanced over her shoulder with a smile and said, “I suggest you stay here tonight for your safety. Until then…” Then she stepped into the flame and was gone. In the morning, Sean safely made his way home.

Months later, there was a knock at the apartment door. Carly, half-drunk stumbled to the door, unlocked the puzzle of locks and pried it open. The succubus was wearing a slinky, tight-fitting black evening gown replete with black stiletto heels. All semblance of her demonhood was concealed. “Sean!” Carly screamed, “There’s a very expensive-looking call girl here. Where did you get the money for her?” Sean emerged from the bathroom wearing a rented tuxedo, holding a corsage. He pushed past his aunt, “That’s not a call girl. She’s my prom date.”

 

Hallowed Ground

by Brian Boru

 

“Whatever you do, don’t screw up!” Jon barked, then pressed the wire cutters to my chest.

I fumbled the other tools I’d been carrying and everything fell with a resounding metallic clang that echoed through the night.

“Are you trying to call attention to us?” Jon snapped and shot me an acidic glare.

“No,” I replied sheepishly and avoided eye contact.

“Try not to wake the dead,” he warned and ducked through the newly made hole in the cemetery fence.

I collected the tools and followed.

This would be the last job with my psychotic, dope-fiend brother. Just like in our previous job, we’d met at a dive called Caspar’s. It reeked of stale beer and fresh vomit. We’d picked this place because Jon could score heroin and shoot up in the bathroom. He said it was his pre-job ritual. I’d found him deep in the Land of Nod in the toilet stall with a spike still in his arm. I’d hoped the bastard wasn’t dead yet and kicked his foot. Slowly his jaundiced eyes fluttered open. He cleaned up and I ordered drinks. Then we discussed the specifics about the cemetery we were going to rob.

The cemetery had once been a sacred grove, replete with rolling hills and a small reflection pond. However, economic setbacks in the 1970s caused funding to dry up and the gates to close. Slowly thereafter, it fell into disrepair and decay. Scores of teenagers snuck in over the years and sped its decline along by defacing tombstones, stealing statuary, and breaking into tombs. Years later, local papers had run stories about missing kids, who had last been seen around the cemetery. Soon rumors began to circulate about it being haunted, that malevolent forces were killing kids.

One morning pandemonium erupted when an unidentifiable, mangled body was found at the gates. The words “keep out” were spelled in a gruesome display with its entrails. The police hunted the cemetery for months looking for answers, but found none. As a panacea, they chained up the tombs, welded the gates closed and installed razor wire across the top of the fence. No one had trespassed since. Until now.

Ankle-deep fog rolled and tumbled over headstones and fallen grave markers. The pale moonlight gave it an eerie, opalescent glow. It ebbed and flowed up to the fence, but didn’t bleed out. Small tendril-like skeletal fingers of fog rose around our legs when we breached the hallowed grounds.

“This is really weird,” I said in a quivering tone. “Do you think those rumors are true?”

“Of course not! We’ve got a job to do so pull it together!” Jon snarled.

“Ok.” I dropped to one knee and made the sign of the cross.

“Lord, please protect me as I–”

Jon interrupted, “No time for that.” He pulled me to my feet and pushed me onward.

A copse of weeping willows had been planted to give the cemetery a sleepy, peaceful vibe. It probably did, decades ago, but without maintenance they had become overgrown monstrosities with massive gnarled roots that burst from the ground. From a distance, they looked like blackened limbs of the dead. The gentle night breeze caused the limbs to sway and creak in a way that made them appear to be beckoning us closer.

Jon moved through the minefield of roots and toppled gravestones with a confidence that belied an extra-sensory perception. I followed him the best I could, but tripped and stumbled trying to keep up. As we progressed deeper into the heart of the cemetery, the scenery changed. We now came across old beer bottles, crushed cigarette packs, and used condoms.

Tombs arose from the ground like rotten teeth in a diseased mouth; once white and pristine, now eroded with chips and cracks. Jon pulled out a crude map drawn on a cocktail napkin from Caspar’s. He shone his flashlight on it briefly and proclaimed, “Just a little bit farther.”

We traversed through rows and columns of tombs and paused every few minutes to check the map. He pointed out the largest one surrounded by a constellation of smaller ones. He illuminated the etching just above the cornerstone that read B7.

“This is it,” Jon said.

He nodded at me and pointed to the thick chain and padlock that ran through the door handles. I snapped the lock with the bolt cutters and removed the chain. Then he pulled out a set of lock picks and went to work on the lock set in the tomb’s steel door. He quickly defeated it and smiled.

“Ready to get paid?” he asked.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” I warned.

He shook his head and wrenched the door open. The earsplitting screech of rusted metal hinges that had lain dormant for ages howled through the night.

“Damn it!” he cursed and a bloodcurdling moan echoed in the distance. I looked at him with terror in my eyes.

“Let’s go,” I begged.

“No! We can’t leave empty handed. He’ll kill us if we do.”

“I can’t do this alone. Please.”

He entered the abyssal darkness and I begrudgingly followed. Jon flicked on his flashlight and dust particles danced and floated in a light they’d been denied for years. The light illuminated a large bronze casket resting on a stone edifice.

“Come on!” he urged and wedged a pry bar in one end of the burial lid. I wedged one in the opposite end and we pried it open. The stench of rot rolled out and hung in the stale air.

“Hold the flashlight,” Jon said and rummaged through the coffin.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

“Don’t know. He told me I’d know when I found it,” he replied.

“Just hurry up so we can get the hell out of here,” I demanded.

Jon rifled through the dead man’s pockets.

“You want to do this?” he snapped.

Just then its’ cold rotting hands shot up and closed around his neck. Jon let out a soul-jarring scream as he futilely tried to break its grip. With a preternatural strength, it pulled Jon to its mouth and tore into his neck. Arterial blood pumped and sprayed across the wall. The cadaver sat up in his coffin with blood and gore dripping from its mouth. I looked on in horror while this monster slaked its thirst on my brother. Jon was dead within seconds. I dropped the flashlight and ran for my life.

Later that night, at Caspar’s, my employer sat across from me.

“I take it everything went well?” he asked.

I stared into the space between us and said, “I didn’t expect it to be so horrific.”

He pushed a fat envelope across the table. Hesitantly, I reached for it and brushed his frigid hand.

“That was my last time,” I told him as I pocketed the money.

He raised an eyebrow and said, “What if I double your fee?”

I sighed, “You could triple it, I’m not–”

“Fine. Triple,” he offered.

I shook my head and rose from the table. He looked up at me and said, “I’ll quadruple your fee.”

I sighed and sat back down.

“I’ve got to eat.”

He smiled. “And so do we.”