excerpt from Martuk … The Holy
I looked so small.
The Dead Boy, his golden corpse fixed in the far corner, approached cautiously and gazed with me at my body on the altar.
I thought I was more. Bigger. Stronger. More powerful.
Torn, filthy cloth sticking to my sweaty skin. The Elder only now removing the golden cup from my dead lips as the guards approached. The black form an ethereal vapor slithering from my neck to slide its way down my throat, red drool sliding from my mouth and running down my cheek.
To see my life reduced to a pliant bag of bones being pulled and dragged from the stone, my skull smacking the bloody altar with a crack, was sickening. My dreams, my hopes, my plans … done.
Will they come?
The Dead Boy watched me expectantly. As if I, being older and therefore somehow wiser, had the answer.
Those in the fog. There. Will they come?
I glanced up and, yes, there was the Veil, a low murmur emanating from its murky depths, shadowy figures wandering aimlessly. Or waiting.
There were no claws reaching to grab us. No malice. No anger. No vengeful spirits hungry for our souls. The figures who lingered were kind. Gentle.
You must go to them, I answered, wordlessly.
The Dead Boy’s eyes grew wide, the finality of this task overwhelming him. Frightening him.
Go to them? he repeated.
Yes, you must take the first steps.
So young he was, this tiny ghost whose hand would easily be lost in mine.
He had seen perhaps five, maybe six summers by the time they covered him in gold.
Five, maybe six summers before he drank the brew which deadened his senses, the poisonous concoction hidden within muting but not erasing the agony of the hardening metal suffocating him.
Five, maybe six summers before the gold peeled the skin from his flesh with each breath, the inside of this sarcophagus of skin and bones stained red with his seeping blood, the syrupy liquid running to pool around his delicate toes.
Yes, I answered. Your hand. Reach out. Go to them. Those who love you will come. Guide you. You’ll be safe.
He came, suddenly, the Priest. His presence interrupting my sight.
Although he towered above me, my gaze the height of one who’d seen perhaps five, maybe six summers, the hooded eyes, the smooth, dark skin beaded with sweat, the pink tongue darting behind a quick smile were all unmistakably clear.
And so close, he was. So close I could smell the skin and see the lashes ringing the eyes. Lap up the salty drops sliding down the bronzed skin of his long neck with my own tongue.
“You’ll be safe,” the Priest had said as he bundled the boy in his arms.
“You’ll be safe” he had whispered as he snuggled him close while walking him away from all he knew.
“Safe,” he had promised as he offered him to those who would feed him the wine, paint him in gold, stain his lips red, and create the golden corpse he would soon become.
“You’ll be safe” had been the lie which had ended his life.
The Dead Boy backed away from me, fear in his eyes.
I reached my hand toward him, but he ignored me, slipping back into the sarcophagus. Back into the security of his dead body.
He was lost to me.