The Demonologues - Prologue - Part 4
The book was right where I had left it.
So were the bones.
“I’ll do something about them later,” I thought. “Maybe there’s a shovel or something in the storage room. There had better be, because I’m not spending the next three days digging a grave with a spoon.”
Personally, I wanted to ignore them for as long as I could. I was still feeling spiteful. It wasn’t like there was any danger of them starting to smell bad, and leaving them there a bit longer seemed like a fitting punishment. Also, despite having spent a few minutes as a skeleton, I wasn’t that comfortable touching the leftovers of another person’s body. That led to a few dark thoughts as to where exactly my own parts had come from though, so I grabbed the notebook and left as quickly as possible.
I went back to my own room and lay down on the bed. It was still unmade from that morning, and the pile of clothes and other things from the packages were scattered on the floor at the foot of it. It occurred to me that I might not be the most organized of people, but I had more important things to focus on.
I opened the notebook and began to read it from the beginning. It didn’t give me another immediate headache, but I would probably have one after a while. Already my mind felt the indistinct pressure of being overworked.
Despite my recently discovered prowess at translation, understanding the thing was slow going. Some words would partially translate before ending in nonsense, and other words simply refused to mean anything at all. Even the little notes and reminders scrunched into the margins only gave me a few clues as to the context of the rest.
The surprising part was the spells. I could understand them easily. Mostly. Whenever the text ended, a page or two would be filled with sketches of magic circles, and they all made sense.
“This part of the circle effects that part. These markings control the flow of energy. This one measures the intent of the user, and that one’s a variable that changes meaning based on the others around it.”
I was amazed. This was the last thing I would have expected myself to be able to translate. How was I able to read these, but not the words explaining them? Were the runes and markings expressing ideas that were really so simple, or… I couldn’t even begin to guess why.
The purpose of the individual parts of the spells were clear as day to me, but when I looked at them as a whole, I got nothing. As far as I could tell, they didn’t even seem like complete spells. No matter how many times I traced the lines and tried to think of a purpose for what I was reading, but I couldn’t come up with any. Whatever they did, I could only assume that it would be explained by the rest of the notebook.
After an hour of making no real progress, I surrendered to the headache that had lodged itself firmly between my temples, and closed the book.
Aside from being able to read spells, the only thing I had found that could be considered to be new information was a list of ingredients used in my creation. Fae blood, several different parts of a slime, and silver dust had been just a few of the things used to draw out the circle. The main ingredient for myself was demon bones, and the fact that it didn’t say what kind of demon didn’t make me any less nervous.
“Demon’s bones and witch’s bits, that’s what little monster girls are made of.”
I still liked my horns, but I wasn’t happy to find out that my skeleton had come from a demon. I gave my psyche a quick self-evaluation, and was only slightly relieved when I felt no urge to bathe in the blood of the innocent.
It was all interesting, but not quite what I had been looking for. I wasn’t sure what sort of hodgepodge creation that crazy witch had been making before she decided to shove my soul into it, but it certainly wasn’t some simple homunculus.
“That’s it! A homunculus! That’s what I am!
The homunculi that I knew of from legend were technically artificial people, but in most stories they were usually little more than malformed and half brainless things that were kept in a jar. I ran down the list of artificial creatures I could think of.
“I’m not made of metal or stone, so I’m not a golem, and that also takes android off the list. And I already know I’m not a clone…”
One by one I went through it until homunculus was the only thing left. It wasn’t perfectly accurate, but if I assumed that I was what those failed homunculi was supposed to be like then it wasn’t far off. It wasn’t the most glorious of things I could have been brought back as, but it probably could have been worse. At least I still had all of the body parts that I was familiar with. More or less.
I flexed my fingers, did a few light stretches to loosen up from the time I had spent lying down, and gave myself another quick once-over.
“I suppose that of all the things I could complain about, my body isn’t one of them. Once I get it to a healthy weight, at least.”
Still… when I left this place to find people, explaining what I am could prove difficult. Doable but difficult. The demon bones though, should definitely remain my own little secret.
* * * * *
With my head still pounding, I went downstairs to look for anything interesting in the storage room. On my walk around the house that morning, I had seen that it had a pair of doors leading to it from the outside. I hoped that if I opened them up, there would be enough air flow to let me walk around in there without sneezing myself to death. Most likely it would just make things worse, but at least it would get some of the dust out.
My goal was to find some little baubles or knickknacks that I could trade for food. Or better yet, sell for money that I could use to buy food. Normally I would feel bad about rummaging through a dead woman’s things, looking for something to steal, but these weren’t normal circumstances, and this wasn’t stealing. She had made me, and as far as I was concerned that basically made me next of kin. I could take whatever I wanted from this place and not feel the least bit guilty about it.
Out back, I opened the doors and was greeted by a large cloud of dust before I had even stepped through. There wasn’t much of a breeze, but apparently I had severely underestimated just how much airflow the doors would give. Inside, it looked like the house of someone who was just barely organized enough to not be considered a hoarder.
Most of the things I found were what anyone would expect to find in a dusty old room like this. Namely, junk that the witch had been too lazy to get rid of. There were a few things that might have had value, but I either didn’t know what they were or didn’t know how much they were worth. There were some jars with unknown liquids inside, but their labels were either too faded or covered in grime to be read. There were a few bars of metal, but again, they were either too tarnished or dirty for me to identify, and definitely too heavy to carry around. When I tried to pick up a flower that looked like it was made of cloth it fell apart.
I had to run out and catch my breath several times before I found anything worthwhile. It was a full rack of wine. If I was lucky, some of the bottles would be worth a bit of money, but I left them there, preferring to keep them for myself. A crazy witch she may have been, but she had good taste in wine. I would probably take one or two though, just to see how much they could get me. At the moment, I probably had more wine than I did food.
On my fifth trip in I found the predicted shovel. By then, I figured that dealing with regular dirt was better than fighting with the airborne combat dust of the storage room, so I left the doors open to continue ventilating, and went outside to find a place to bury the witch. I had been planning on putting it off for a little longer, but there wasn’t much else that needed doing. The day before had been a mad rush from one panic attack to another, and compared to that, this one seemed almost slow.
Near the edge of the yard, not quite in the forest itself, I found an apple tree. When I approached it, I could see that it had a few ripe fruit growing on the higher branches. This tree had probably been the source of the ones I had found in the cellar. It seemed like a respectable place for a grave, so I found a soft spot away from the roots, and set to it, venting some of my frustration each time the blade struck the soil.
Today had been slower. And easier. But again, compared to the day before, that wasn’t saying much. I was still feeling high strung, and while my recent self-discoveries weren’t as unpleasant as the earlier ones, it wouldn’t take much for me to reach the breaking point again.
I talked to keep myself distracted, swearing every time the shovel clanged against a rock and sent tremors through my leg.
“How deep do I need to dig this thing,” I wondered. “I know how far down a casket should go, but does that apply to everything? How shallow is a shallow grave? Even if she was a crazy witch, I don’t want animals coming to dig her up.”
My stream of consciousness monologue stopped after a few minutes to save my breath. Aside from a going to get a glass of water now and then, I didn’t take any breaks. By the time I finally finished digging, the hole was nearly up to my head, and it was as deep as I could reasonably go. Judging by the sun, the afternoon was almost over and evening was approaching. I had skipped on lunch, and as tempting as an early dinner sounded, I knew I’d put this whole thing off forever if I didn’t get it done now. And now that I had it started, I wanted it done as soon as possible.
I went inside, and pulled one of the sheets off of the witch’s bed. Then, I went back downstairs, spread it out next to the platform her bones rested on, and carefully began moving them into an organized pile on the cloth.
My feelings during the process were complicated. On one hand, I still resented her for leaving me alone like this. On the other, I remembered the notes she had left behind about how happy she had seemed for me to merely exist, and how sad she had been that she wouldn’t meet me. I knew she hadn’t done anything cruel to me on purpose, but it still made me bitter.
Once all of the witch’s remains had been transferred to the sheet, I gently wrapped it around them so that they wouldn’t be disturbed by the move to the grave. I picked them up and, careful not to sneeze as I made my way through the storage room, went back out to the tree and slowly lowered them into the grave.
At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say something now or after I had filled it in, and after a moment’s awkward hesitation grabbed the shovel and started returning the soil to where it had been.
“Way to go Indigo,” I muttered sarcastically. “It’s your second day of life, and you’re already burying a body in the back yard. That doesn’t at all seem weird without context. Let’s try not to make a habit out of it, shall we?”
Refilling the grave went much faster than digging it had, and within a few minutes, the empty hole had become a slight mound. When the last of the dirt had been put into place, I leaned on the shovel and tried to think of what to say. Would I blame her for what she did or would I thank her for it?
I never got the chance to find out.
The sound of snapping twigs and rustling leaves came from the forest, and I looked away from the grave to see what it was.
My instincts told me before my eyes did.
It was a person. A man with clothes so worn and tattered that they hardly stayed on. His skin was the color of a nasty bruise and his left arm ended in a bloodless stump with exposed bone just below the elbow. Pale milky eyes stared straight ahead unblinking as he staggered forwards.
It was a zombie.
I stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over my own feet, and clutched at the shovel desperately.
My fight or flight instinct screamed at me while the zombie moaned, and came closer to the edge of the mist. I chose flight. I knew a zombie when I saw one, but I had no intention of sticking around to find out how accurately my knowledge of them fit into this world.
I ran back into the storage room doors and slammed them shut, heedless of the dust I was kicking up. I fumbled with the lock for a moment, and once it was secure, I ran to the lock the front door, turning lights off as I went. Then I ran up to my room, closed and locked that door, and with the shovel still in hand, hid under the bed.
“That was a zombie! That was a fucking zombie!”
I had been too terrified to make a sound when I first saw it, but now that I was inside I had to cover my mouth so I wouldn’t scream on reflex. My entire body was shaking from the adrenaline now coursing through my system.
“Fuck! And it saw me! It saw me and now that it knows I’m here it’s not going to stop until it gets in.”
I strained my ears, listening for the groans and thumping noises that would signal the beginning of the zombie’s assault on the house. For a minute, the sound of my heartbeat was the only thing I heard. Then two minutes passed, and I still heard nothing from downstairs. Two minutes turned to five, and then to ten, and I couldn’t take it anymore. The zombie was out there somewhere, and I needed to know where.
As quietly as possible, I crawled out from under the bed, and peeked out the window towards the back yard. Evening had begun while I had been shoveling, but it was still several hours before dusk, and in the remaining light I could see it. The zombie stood at the very edge of the forest’s fog, only a few paces from where I had first encountered it.
“Why did it stop? Zombies never just stop.” My thoughts were racing as fast as my heart. “Zombies don’t stop until they’re dead, so why is it just standing there? Is it planning something? No! That’s impossible. Zombies don’t think. That’s what makes them zombies. It’s staring right at the house, so why isn’t it moving?”
I remembered my breakfast on the porch, and thinking that I had seen shapes moving through the trees.
“How long has it been out there? How many are out there? Did they wander past in the morning and then come back when they heard me moving around outside?”
One of my questions was about to get an answer.
The next zombie to come into view was so battered and decayed that I couldn’t tell if it had been a man or a woman. Like the first, its skin was a mix purple and black, yellow and green. Behind it came two more, and then two more, and then more, each as rotten and decayed as the ones that came before them.
I froze, not daring to make the slightest movement that could risk me being seen. My initial panic gave way to numb terror. If it had remained as only a single zombie, I was confident that I could have killed it once I got over the shock of its approach. But this many? I wouldn’t stand a chance. I didn’t know why the first wasn’t attacking, but all it would take would be for just one of the others to notice me, and I would be dead before the sun set.
The new zombie at the head of the pack approached the edge of the trees, but just as it was about to reach the one I had seen first, it turned aside and began to walk away. One by one, as the zombies approached the edge of the forest, they too turned, and continued to walk on as if nothing happened.
Sometimes they came alone. Sometimes they came in pairs. Sometimes they came in groups of ten or more. Zombie after zombie, rotting corpse after rotting corpse continued to walk to the edge of the woods until it seemed like the entire forest was filled with them. For a moment I was afraid that they were going to encircle the building, but when I looked to the side, I could see the zombies in the front of the horde fading back into the tree’s perpetual mists.
It wasn’t until after sunset that the procession of the dead finally ended. Somewhere along the line I lost track of the original zombie. One of the others had bumped into it, and it had started moving again, walking in the same direction as the rest.
When night had fully fallen and I was convinced that the last of the stragglers were gone, I slowly went back downstairs to the storage room. Following the wall in the dark, I made my way to the wine rack and pulled a bottle from the shelf. Even though I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I didn’t hesitate in the slightest to drink myself to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I was still holding the shovel.