Burn The Bones At Midnight

Black and white graveyard, illustration for short horror story

A Short Horror Story

I’m going to wake you tonight. I have everything I need packed in a laundry bag. If anyone sees me out walking in the dark, they’ll just think I’m headed to the laundry service down the road. I’m not up to anything funny, officer, just dropping off some shirts to be washed. Please ignore the red drops trailing on the road behind me. I have no idea why my laundry bag is bleeding.

I needn’t have worried. Other than some leaves tumbling in the wind, the streets are practically empty. Must be the cold. It’s mid-November, but it feels more like winter. I wish I had worn a heavier coat. Or brought a flask. Or just had you here with me. Nothing keeps me warm the way you used to do.

A few blocks past the laundry service begins the cemetery’s black iron fence. Spade-shaped finials on top could make it painful to climb. Hopefully I won’t need to. I duck behind the bushes and wait. The crickets are singing. I wonder if the insects have gotten to you yet.

At last, the groundskeeper’s truck appears at the gate. He pulls through and parks in the street. Before he can step out of the truck and lock the gate for the night, I’ve already slipped inside and hidden myself in the shadows. Soon I will see you again.

Just past the gate is a gravel drive. The drive snakes through the cemetery grounds, winding around stone angels and spired monuments, finally disappearing behind distant trees. Small footpaths split off every few feet, like distributaries from a river. I take the third path on the right and follow it to your door. With a quick twist of a tire iron, the lock snaps open and clatters to the ground. My shoulders tense as I pull open the mausoleum door, half expecting it to moan like the entrance to a haunted house, but the door is silent.

I light a candle and explore your new home, finding my way to your coffin. I slide off the stone lid and place it on the ground, too afraid to look at you. It’s still six hours until I can wake you, six hours until I can beg your forgiveness for putting you in this place.

I never should have called upon Oriens. He gave me wealth, a hill of gold large enough to build a house upon it. It should have been a blessing, but the wealth lead to hedonism and drugs, rotting you from the inside out. Forgive me, Mercy, but I miss you too much. I have to beg Oriens for his help once more.

But first, sleep.

When my eyes open again, it’s almost midnight. The candle has melted, leaving a stub in the middle of a pool of wax on the floor. I light another candle and set up my tools, using your grandfather’s coffin as a table. It’s disrespectful to the dead, but the old man hated me when he was alive, and somehow I doubt he can get any angrier at me now.

Pile some wood in the corner, and then it’s time to skin the lamb. I toss the animal on a large tray and cut it open. I’ve never done this before, but it isn’t too difficult. I don’t have to worry about saving the meat or properly removing its innards. All I need are the bones.

Soak the wood in oils. Light a pack of matches. Once the fire is roaring, place the bones in the fire and begin the ritual. Mark out a protective circle with the wand. Copy the magic squares to the parchment. Take the tin of powder, grab a handful, and throw it into the flames –

An ear-splitting crack and a flash of white, like a gun going off in my face. Sharp, stabbing pain. I must have fallen backwards and hit my head. My hair feels sticky with blood.

Why can’t I see? My vision should have cleared by now, but my eyes are still burning, like staring into the sun. My ears are still ringing, too. Did I use too much powder, or did something else go wrong?

Worry about it later! Have to put out the fire before someone notices the smoke and comes to investigate. But how can I do that if I can’t see? Maybe you already have. You should be awake by now.

“Mercy, are you awake? Mercy?” Ringing’s too loud. I can’t hear my voice! At least my sense of touch still works. I can feel the blood on the cold floor. I feel embossed tin, torn paper label on top. Must be the powder box. Try banging the box on the floor. No, still no sound. Oh, Mercy, what have I done to myself?

The top of the box must have come open. Powder all over the ground. Have to get away before the spill catches fire. Get up, get up, get up!

My hand finds the stone coffin I used as a table, probably where I hit my head when the fire erupted. Rolling over, I pull myself to my feet. I can feel the top of the coffin now. There’s the cold brass of the nameplate. Barnabus Longstreet, Mercy’s paternal grandfather. There’s the wand. There is the parchment of magic squares. I shouldn’t be touching it. My hands probably have blood on them. Where is the tray with the remains of the lamb? Did I knock it to the floor when I fell? Or did… something… carry it off?

No, I followed the book so carefully! Oriens was bound. I lured him with the sacrifice, trapped him in a ring of salt. Even if one of his demon princes came with him, they would never disturb a sacrifice made to their infernal king. Not even Az would do that. But perhaps the sacrifice opened a door to something even darker.

Mercy should be awake. Why hasn’t she come to me? Why hasn’t she touched me, made sure I’m okay? Perhaps whatever happened to the lamb happened to her, too.

Pick up the wand, just in case. Have to find Mercy… I can’t risk stepping into the fire. I can’t see it or hear it crackle. I have to find the next coffin, and the next, feel my way in a wide circle around the flames. Perhaps I can guide myself by smell. The mausoleum reeks of dank and mold, but I can still make out the smell of smoke. Smoke and rot. Something is in here with me. Oriens doesn’t smell like that. It’s putrescent, like the grinning maw of Az.

I need your eyes to guide me from this place. Where are you? If I remember correctly, the next coffin should be about three feet to the left. Abigail Longstreet, the grandmother. Three feet, stop. Three feet, stop. Three feet…

What is that? A hand swiping at my chest! The demon! Get away from it, move back! Coffins behind me, in front of me, everywhere I move. Damn my eyes. Still can’t see!

Have to find my way back towards the fire. Pray the light keeps the demon away. I’m too turned around. Can’t remember which way to go! Can’t sniff out the fire. The stench of rot too strong.
Something touching my back! Keep moving. Don’t worry about the direction, just stay out of its grasp! Another coffin in the way. It’s open. This one must be yours. “Are you here, Mercy? You must be awake. Take my hand. We need to go, quickly!”

Something grabbing my shoulders, pushing me down. I land hard, the wind knocked out of me. Low walls on either side. The demon forced me into your coffin! Got to get out, before it puts the stone lid back in place! Use the wand. Make the sign of the star. Send him back to the beyond!

But wait, your body should be here with me. Where are you? Hands above me, grabbing at my chest, ripping open my shirt, fingertips stroking me – This is no demon. It’s you!

“Oh, Mercy, I was afraid the spell went wrong! The blast from the anastasis powder blinded me, deafened me. I’m sure I am badly singed as well, but I’m alive, you’re alive, we are together again! We shall have seven more glorious years together!”

I reach out for you, searching for your face. “Mercy, please, guide my fingers to your lips. I can’t hear your voice, but I need to feel you speak.” My hand brushes your hair, finds your ear, your cheek. Your skin is cold.

No! The blasted parchment! My blood ruined the magic squares before the spell’s effects were complete. You’re no longer dead, but not really alive. I’ve trapped you in the twilight forever. I feel your hands wrap around my neck. I reach out for you and pull you into the coffin with me. Kill me if you must, but let us be together again.

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