|To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.
By Christopher Fulbright
Kerrick stood in front of the fireplace, face close to the mantle, looking at the
It was encased in a solid glass orb and resembled a dragon with dangling
tentacles and a serpentine neck. The long jaws were open in a silent roar,
miniature fangs like tiny slivers. Foreclaws were upraised as if to attack.
Kerrick sometimes thought he could see movement inside the orb, which
rested atop a gold talon on the mantle. It almost seemed as if the glass of
the witchball was really just a thin bubble, the tiny creature in its center really
alive, suspended in aether. Or perhaps it was an illusion created by the
strain of staring into the glass for hours.
Weeks now, perhaps.
When he and his wife Athena had moved into Uncle Jacobi's betrothed castle
two months ago, they had succumbed to their mutual curiosity and explored
for the first week. But through all of their wanderings, he loved this room--the
witchball sitting here on the mantle--most of all.
Kerrick vaguely recalled the argument with Athena over the carpeting in
here. The stuff she had wanted was blue, and Kerrick wanted to leave it the
bare stone that it was. They "agreed" on red. The agreement had lacked
the underpinnings of compromise. He hated even the red, but it was more
tolerable than blue, somehow. The red was ablaze against the stone gray
walls, the late eighteenth century furniture, the tapestries depicting gruesome
Middle Age battlefields. The tapestries lacked any significant identifying
qualities, just generic, medieval scenes of death. But he liked them, liked the
whole room just the way it was. The carpeted floor would be Athena's only
concession here. The furnishings had belonged to late Uncle Jacobi, who
insisted on the conditional bequest; everything should remain essentially as it
Including the witchball.
How old must it be? When and where did the bizarre ornament come from?
Just what was that thing inside? A demon?
Athena was talking to him from the doorway. He noticed her as she came into
She stood there and waited for a response, but he hadn't heard her
question, so they just stared at each other. She was a horrifying contrast to
the cool, melancholy atmosphere. She wore a pink bikini bathing suit,
greased down with baby oil, a 1992 summer Olympics towel and a Barbara
Michaels novel under one arm. "Well," she said. "Are you coming?"
He gaped at her. "You're wearing that to bed?"
"Bed?" Her eyes filled with tears. "Kerry ... it's midafternoon."
Athena cried. She'd been doing that a lot lately. She probably hoped for
sympathy, but by now it just pissed him off. At least this time she had the
decency to run upstairs and leave him alone while she did it.
In the glass, the beast floated. It silently roared.
Athena started crying again when Kerrick brought the witchball to bed with
him. "What?" He snapped, brusquely pulling off his clothes. "What are you
bawling about this time?"
"I want a caaaaaaaaaaar " she let loose and started sobbing. "I want out
of here. I want radio, I want TV, I want my friends--civilization." Athena's hair
glimmered midnight blue by the lantern's light. She buried her head in the
pillow and her hair spilled like liquid darkness over the lace white pillowcase.
Another of her ideas, of course. He hated lace. She had always gotten what
she wanted, and yet there she was, weeping like a beaten child. The book
she'd been reading tumbled off her lap into the middle of the bed, losing her
She reached up to extinguish the lantern, and cried herself to sleep.
Kerrick lay awake in the darkness, staring at the witchball. Where the demon
lived in the heart of the orb was a faint blue glow.
Black rain soared from the heavens and fell against the battlements with a
low constant roar that could be heard within the fortress walls. He was an
archmage, and he was at the window of the watchtower, thinking of things
immortal: thinking of Telal. He pulled a tattered gray robe tighter around his
twisted frame, and moved across the room to peruse shelves of ancient
Choosing the Lathen de Malficarium he went back to the lectern, feeling the
hunger in his bones. He had fasted in preparation for five days, and a
roasted bird awaited him downstairs, no doubt expertly prepared by his
apprentice. Tonight's culmination of the ritual would be welcome. Tonight
the demon Telal would appear to him, would emerge through eons and
aether to come and do his will.
As he scanned the pages, his sorcerer's eyes glowed deep red from the
darkness of his cowl, casting a feral glow. He found the spell. The shadows
tensed around him as he began to chant:
"Lvar ... neveth ... khalar ... oggoth ... turn'neth "
He cupped his gnarled hands, forming a circle above the tome. On its
pages, the symbols he translated glowed in the sequence they were spoken.
As he progressed through the incantation, a phantom-blue glow filled his
hands. He watched and chanted as the demon formed from darkness.
Seeping between his fingers, the creature writhed and snarled as it emerged
from its own dimension into the dank room. He shaped the light emitting from
his palms into a ball like a meticulous sculptor, surrounding the beast,
creating a subdimensional prison.
The conjuration took four hours. Hollow weariness tore at the mage. Bereft
of strength, he was drained to a point beyond emotion, eager only to
alleviate the debilitating hunger.
Lightning flashed against the window and thunder roared. As the flash
subsided, he was bathed in shadow. The demon hissed at him, hovering in
its prison above the lectern as the mage turned and heaved to open the door.
He left the watchtower library for the first time in what felt like a very long time
indeed. Torches flickered along the walls as he descended. Many had
The roasted bird teased his senses as he entered the dining hall. He
salivated as he bit into it, gorging himself. Not even the pain from his flaccid,
neglected muscles could detract from the pleasure of devouring this
succulent flesh ...
Kerrick awoke in semi-darkness. Moonbeams of silver seeped in between
the shutters. He looked over at the witchball. Only the talon base remained,
as if a golden hawk had clawed through the top of the nightstand.
He sat up, propping himself with his hands, instantly noticing the bed was
Blood. All over the white lace, black and wet in the scant light. The blood
covered Athena. He looked at her as if viewing a vaguely familiar
photograph. She lay naked atop the soaked bed sheets, her skin flecked
and smeared. Her stomach was a wet cave with the top eaten away.
Intestines hung over the edges of the hole in her torso, gray and tom.
Severed veins protruded from bite marks that oozed greasy cellulite from the
insides of her thighs.
Kerrick touched his mouth. He was drooling. There was blood crusted over
his face like a congealing mudmask.
He looked dully at Athena's half-eaten corpse and felt the influence tugging
from within. Incarnate... he heard the thought as if across a vast distance ...
incarnate again. after so many years. What had joined him? he wondered.
Man or beast, it was difficult to tell. Perhaps both. Perhaps they had all
become one for some purpose as yet unknown to him....
Kerrick climbed from bed and made his way down the dark corridor to the
spiral of crumbling stairs. His hunger was deep, insatiable. But the flesh
would sustain, if only for a while.
He climbed, and scarcely noticed the gathering shadows.