The Bornless - Book I by The Bornless | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 9

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CHAPTER 9

A big old oak tree hangs its limbs low down, still clothed in the seasonal leaves, gives some cover for the car. Denzel cuts the lights as he slithers under its branches. Getting out they leave the doors ajar.

No one’s around.

Denzel reaches for his gun. Harry’s got his flashlight. Points it low to the ground after scanning around the parking lot. They wouldn’t see anyone in the bushes if they were there.

They run, guns by their sides. Gripping hard. Ready to shoot, but weary. Time’s gone slow for Denzel; it’s too surreal, can’t be right. He’s spacing out and suddenly leans down, his hands on his knees, bending over. Harry sees; he has eyes in the back of his head. Turns back a couple of paces, just pulls Denzel; he snaps out of it. Running over and round the building there’s nothing to see. No cars parked round the back. Just the sound of their boots. The side door’s locked; they go round the front. Screeching in the woods. Owls. Main door, unlocked. Unusual? Maybe, there’s nothing to steal and it’s the sanctuary for the losers. The hookers use it maybe?

Pushing it open real quiet, they go through it at a run. Nothing different from before.

Behind the altar they both pull at the green curtains, musty, smelling like that guy. They disturb a rat. The curtains, more than decoration, hide a door. Crazed that he didn’t see it before.

The opened door emits that musty smell again, incense, herbs, mold. Piss, there’s a smell of piss, maybe a khazi down there. Not lit, cold air wafts up. Smells like hell. Smells like death.

Harry’s head fucks up. He loses his shit. He and Denzel creep to the bottom of the cold, damp stairway. He sees a low hallway with wooden doors either side. There are two figures.

He holds his gun up, two hands shaking, he looks with dull eyes at them. A tall man at the end in a coat and a woman with shaggy hair are whispering in a foreign tongue to each other. She helps him do up his buttons; he puts his arm around her. She puckers her bright red lips for a kiss. Suddenly he’s got his arm round a mop and his body slithers to the ground, melting into a coat on the floor. Harry doesn’t know this feeling. He shakes it off.

Denzel and Harry take one side of the hallway each. Guns outstretched, eyes on each other too. Denzel thinks they could be near Her. They listen but don’t hear anything.

Harry shines the flashlight on each door. Old signs: Kitchen. Baptistry. Vestry. Scout cupboard. Mother’s union. All old decaying signs, clearly unused for years, certainly not by the current congregation. Then down the end they see a heavy door. Big iron hinges. They look at the sign on the door and each other, fast. They know it’s a fucking sigil. It spells “OROBAS.”

They ready themselves for whatever is next. Time to go to work. They burst in.

Time slows and they survey the room in a flash. A large picture of a horse, a circle on the floor with a pentagon inside. A chalice on a black table contains blood, a dead pig with an ornate gold dagger stuck into its heart. Organs spread over the room. The whole place reeks.

Sickly, smoke and red fumes coming from a cauldron. It’s glowing.

Two men turn to face them, their chins sticky with blood. Flesh and blood. They see Harry and Denzel and with mad eyes throw incense into the cauldron. The men seem to tingle with delight.

They have opened a body and it has nourished them. Their dark benefactor is close. Their demon.

The ritual sacrifice lies on the floor. A man with his limbs removed, butchered clean enough to keep him alive. Then cauterized. Eyes burned out and liquid mercury filling the sockets, dripping into his ears and mouth.

The men lunge toward Harry and Denzel. They’re smiling. In a flash they are riddled with bullets.

On the floor, at the foot of the cauldron, the remains of the man. His head rocking in torment. Denzel crouches down beside him. Harry stands right there, half watching the door, shooter at the ready.

Denzel has had enough blood for a lifetime. He’ll quit the job after this is all over.

“Hey, buddy, can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” murmured the man.

“Don’t you worry. You’re safe now; we’re police. It’s gonna be OK.” Denzel’s voice was cracking some.

“Hey, what’s your name, buddy? Do you know your name?”

“Nick.”

This was the worst thing Denzel had ever seen.

Denzel wanted to soothe the man, to place a hand on him. But there was no part of him that hadn’t endured some form of torture. There was no part of his body left to comfort.

Harry and Denzel may not have believed in heaven, but from this moment they believed in hell. Terror washed over them and tore out whatever was left of their souls. Naked into the void.

Harry searched a body and found a letter.

Dear neighbor,

My wife and I live locally and we volunteer to help you find out about the angels. Have you ever wondered about your guardian angel’s purpose for the earth? Why does the Lord of all angels allow suffering? To allow your free will and raise you up.

Is your family life happy? Are you lonely? We can help you learn these things for free with the love of the Lord, the Lord of our understanding, our Lord, as we know him. Our Lord and Master wants you to enjoy life forever, with us, the chosen few.

“Nick … I’m Harry. My wife Mary, she’s gone missing. Have you seen her?”

“Mary …”

“Have you seen my Mary, Nick?” Harry choked.

The man’s head flops to one side. Denzel’s trying to keep him lucid. Soothing him like a mother with a dying child. Wants to stop him from fading into unconsciousness.

“I want my mom,” Nick cries.

“She’s on her way, don’t you fret, Nick,” Denzel said gently.

“‘Kindness is the most important thing,’ she’d say. ‘If you do everything from a kind thought then the world will be kind to you. Never hurt nobody and your guardian angel will look down on you.’”

Thank God Nick’s mother was dead or she’d have wept herself into an asylum.

“So sorry, ’bout Mary.”

“It’s gonna be OK, man,” Denzel repeated, softly.

“Took Mary. The other ones took her.”

Harry mists over with cold, freezing cold fear. His neck feels pinned to the air behind him like he’s being tied with a rope to this moment. This awful moment. He doesn’t compute it in his head but feels it in his throat, blocking his air. His mouth has gone hard and set. He wants to open it wide to breathe in; he needs air, even in this stagnant stinking chamber.

“Took Mary, still talking …” He’s getting weaker. Denzel and Harry look at each other, both crazed with urgency and shock. They just need a place.

Out the corner of his eye Harry sees a cat move in his peripheral vision. A freakish cat with a horse’s head. It was laughing. He blinks. Nothing. Calls it “monster” in his mind, a fleeting word, not a tangible thought.

Somehow these folk had no feelings about what they did. They all seemed to have hollow eyes. Didn’t like sunshine and fresh air. Just kept in the bedrooms, dens and sheds and thought about filth and dreamed about filth and licked their thin lips about filth. Then some creep would surprise you, be loved by the community, smile and be bonny-faced. Then you’d find out he’d tied his kid to the bed with a chain and made him beg for bread every day just like his pa had done to him. They loved a mask they did. Made ’em feel clever.

“Taken her to the woods,” Nick whispers. Harry gets his ear close. In a labored voice Nick says, “She was here earlier, I heard her.”

Harry pukes. The wretched alcohol burns his throat and nose. He failed her.

Harry imagines how Mary must have been down here, in all this evil. She’d have had high hopes from a nice letter like that. Joining a church, making friends and doing good. Maybe she’d hoped Harry would come quick. His guts were twisting. In his heart he believed that they’d got her; he couldn’t bear to think anymore.

Would she give up hope that he’d find her? He would never stop trying. Never.

Nick began murmuring again. Harry was hoping beyond hope that he could say where she was then they could belt off and save her. Too serious now. Too dangerous. One woman in hell.

Denzel was going through the pockets of the dead. Not much, he grabbed a few things, perhaps he could make sense of them later. He found a bag of this red incense. Glowing.

Nick was murmuring into Harry’s ear. He was trying to use what was left of his mind.

Harry was motionless. He held his breath, didn’t want to disturb Nick as he struggled for words.

“Down to the end of there, across there, after that, round that rotten old gate post, then the big oak, massive, ancient, then down to the far side. Four …”

Denzel couldn’t make it all out but Harry’s ear was right by Nick’s horrific face.

Harry was logging every damn word. He pictured every landmark as clearly as he could and named them in his head. He could walk right back round that mind map when he got outta there.

The last words came out of Nick’s mouth. A whimper, like a child woken from a nightmare.

“Kill me.”

Denzel stood and raised his gun.

“Thank you, Nick.”

Feet going fast back in the car. Harry is reciting the directions perfectly. He remembers everything. He always remembers.

Out of the church clearing they get back onto the road. They’re staring ahead. The fog is coming in.

Denzel’s sweating. He’s on the trail now and knows he’s got to get to Mary fast. His mind is alert enough to know that they may be too late. Wishes the damn car would go faster, metal to the floor. Big boot on the gas.

Harry’s still calling out directions. Denzel’s concentrating hard.

Out of fucking nowhere a plane flies low over the trees. Out of the ordinary.

Too much has happened tonight for the men to even blink. Onward for a few hundred yards. The next another but more rough kind of crossroads. Then a right-hand bend. Mud splashing up over the running boards. Tank full enough.

Harry’s gripping the dashboard, toying with the bullet hole. He remembers the body of the man in the back seat and laughs.

“You’re a real friend, Denzel. Ain’t never had anyone got my back like you before.”

Denzel doesn’t say a thing, just drives, like a mad man.

Harry holding the strap, trying to stay in his seat, bracing his legs on the floor.

“I guess you care a real lot for Mary too, eh? We’ve been buddies along time.”

Denzel doesn’t like the way this conversation’s going and he can hardly think of the road, being lit with silver one minute and black as hell the next.

“Eh?” says Harry, a bit pushy like.

“We’re in this together, all the way.”

That’s all Harry gets out of Denzel. God knows what he was thinking. Been fucking thinking mad thoughts for days now. Not forty-eight hours anymore. Forty-eight hours is gone. Long gone.

Straight, then a left bend then the clearing they’re looking for. Would have been easy to miss. A line of trees just hides it from the road. But this is it.

The brake cranks on. They aren’t the only ones pulled up here. They’re not alone.

Denzel lowers the lights, and grinds to a halt by a black car that’s ditched in a bank. Doors open.

“Close,” thinks Harry. He’s mad now. He’s so close to her. He feels he’s close enough to touch her. Ready to kill anybody.

The strange sounds of the wood at night allow his mind to repeat the horrors that it stores there. The track weaves its way here and there, some narrower than others. Some forks in the track and decisions to be made on instinct. One such fork comes into view … Unexpected people. Naked. Dead.

The autopsies in his mind come to life. A line of blue-bodied dead naked women are walking toward him. Young women, raped, strangled with barbed wire. Age four, knifed and thrown in a ditch down at Skeller’s Farm. Age sixteen, drugged, raped, left to die on High Fell mountain. Age thirty, drugged, raped, fetus cut out, burned in a car at the quarry. Age forty, beaten to death with a chain, thrown in the river. Lastly a little boy, a little boy with no blood in him, dead as all the others, walking toward him. Jones had done that autopsy; he remembered that one vividly, to see a kid treated like that.

The line of the dead kept right on walking toward him then disappeared into nothing.

“Mind playing tricks!” Harry said to himself and wished he had a drink. Mustn’t stop now, so close. Could he trust anyone? Sure he could.

“At least I’ve got Denzel,” Harry had thrown suspicion to the wind. Denzel was his partner for fuck sake. And Mary was true to him. He was sure of that. He was sure.

Harry hears a crack, a branch. Stops dead still and holds his hand up to Denzel to stop. They quickly get behind a tree for cover and flashlight out as they look around. Hard to tell where sounds come from in woods, always is. He would have preferred a cacophony of noise. This quiet was chilling. Silence was too much trouble. He had crazy radios playing in his head now that he couldn’t switch off. Voices of so many people. George, Annie, the storekeeper in town, the old gal at the gas station, the whining of the guy he’d choked to death and lastly the dying murmurings of Nick and trying to hold those directions in his head.

Harry points to the woodland floor, clear as day someone’s been dragged along here. They know the signs. Flattened undergrowth and scrape marks, several pairs of boots and thin dragging lines. They speed up with no breath in their lungs, pain screams out of every muscle. But nothing stops them; they are relentless.

Harry dreaded that these drag marks were from his Mary’s feet. Her size fours, even in her boots.

“No,” screamed his heart.

Nature could feel distress in its veins. The ferns, the fungi, the brambles; they had stopped to listen.

Harry and Denzel noticed that the drag marks were deeper, boot prints more spread across the path. Some kind of struggle had gone on at this place. More undergrowth was disturbed, the drag marks, deep now and splayed, not footfall anymore, more like a body being dragged along. Harry’s guts wanted him to shout really loud to tell her that he was coming. Mary hated it when he shouted. When his voice got strong. She didn’t want him to shout when the baby came.

Then there it was, right at this point in the track. The entrance to a tunnel.

Dimly the duo enter the tunnel. No sounds. The rock walls suck the noise out; they can hardly hear each other breathe. They’re running, alert. Thinking any minute they’ll see someone. Weapons at the ready. They feel the air at first then it gets stuffy, stale air. Alone in this dark hole they feel themselves getting deeper. It’s wide. Ancient, these tunnels were hewn from rock hundreds of years ago. Who knows what for.

Dripping from the ceiling cold water, and cave spiders. Bats rush out; Harry and Denzel cradle their head as a screeching exodus occurs, hundreds of them, disturbed, again.

Denzel’s got the fear. The awful thought that Harry’s lost it. There are no choices tonight. It's a straight line.

Harry finds an old lantern. Striking his lighter to life once more, he somehow feels safer within its glow. Looking over at Denzel as he scrambles over the endless rock, he can see him thinking.

He can see him thinking about Mary’s secret visits. Men get powerfully jealous, like heat-seeking missiles, fucking destructive. Best left well alone. Mary wasn’t interested really; she was crazy about Harry. She’d just popped round like, something ordinary. He’d looked at her. What he really wanted to do was waltz in the middle of the room with her. Harry had given him that look. You may lie, and I may sigh, but I know, and you know I do. He should have shut the fuck up. It was dumb to say stuff. But Harry wasn’t right anymore. He was all riled up. The night had spread into a blanket of madness and Denzel thought they’d never come right, so they just ran on.

The lamp swung wildly as they ran. Smelled of paraffin. The walls were annotated with markings of Orobas. The prince of hell, Orobas seemed to be calling them like magnets. The faster they ran, the harder it pulled. Pains in their chests when they passed some of them. Going down, down into the cold tunnels, these markings seemed to hold a power all of their own.

Harry took in some of the bigger symbols. He would recall them later. Cauldrons, fires, upside down angels, pentagons, crosses. Debauched pictures of people in the fires of hell. A pillar of red light with Orobas at its head. A prince of darkness and his unholy legions.

Very occasionally there were little cells, like monks’ cells off to the sides. Fuck knows what they were for. Nothing was going to surprise him now.

Getting closer.

The wick of the lantern was sputtering. Flickering weak light along the irregular walls of the stone passages.

Harry’s cold, wet shirt stuck to his body. After the running stopped he was freezing. No warmth now. A type of cold in those tunnels he hadn’t felt before. He’d been in caves up by the river, the one where he’d caught that salmon. Those caves only went so far. You’d see bracken and gorse, a patch on a hill, you’d think nothing was there. Then pulling the undergrowth aside you’d see the wooden struts of an old working. They weren’t safe, he’d told Mary so. They weren’t safe from those old mines, but this place was different in a grim way.

These caves were made for secrets. Far out of the way, in the middle of these ancient woods. Been there for hundreds of years. No one ever came here; young men sometimes dared each other to spend the night there, but they never made it through the door. Haunted, they said. The ancient trees had thinning canopies, deadwood everywhere.

This cult was making its marks on the walls. Bringing the name of the dark prince into modern times. Men had brought their god to these caves. Caves that had seen black deeds down the ages. They’d seen revelry, folks playing with magic, murder, debauchery, burial and death. These chambers emitted evil.

Dark matter hung in every dripping pool on the rock floor; shadows drifted into shapes of cowled monks, beaked masqueraders, bund, naked men and women, chalices and swords. Pain. When Harry was a kid he was afraid of the bedroom door, the robe hung on the back of the bedroom door. The curtains made faces at him as the landing light broke into the total blackness. His mom left it on for him. He’d lie there and try not to call her when she sat by the radio knitting in the evening. He wanted to be tough for her. Be the man of the house. Then he’d see a witch’s nose come round the door and he’d try and call her, but his voice just wouldn’t work and he’d make the slightest shout ever. He’d try real hard and eventually get it out …

“Ma!”

He’d hear her slippers on the stairs and straight away he’d hear her soft, low voice.

“Hey, honey, mom’s coming. I’m coming.”

She would sit on his bed and stoke his forehead and soothe him. She took all his fear away.

Harry and Denzel started to smell it.

Harder to breathe the deeper they got. Air was coming in from somewhere. Something would appear, they were sure. A secret chamber was surely going to be round the next fork. Driving Harry mad having to choose which fork every time he approached one. Every morsel of Mary’s being was held in the balance depending on which fork he took. Denzel kept on coming, right behind him. They’d been alert for so long, hypervigilant, their nerves frayed.

How the fuck did anyone ever find the way out of these caverns? What monsters had made dying slaves carve and chisel and blast these rocks out, carrying tons of it miles along the caves to the exit? Men had died doing this. Scratchings marked the walls in odd places, not the pentacles of Orobas but the marks made by the tunnels makers.

“Stop!” says Denzel. Harry spins round. Has he seen something?

Harry can see that Denzel’s freaking out. He’s leaning down, hands on knees, incense squeezed in his palm. He’s white as a ghost.

“Can’t breathe …”

Harry studies him with his black eyes. Quick assessment. Studies Denzel’s body and face. Fear, sucking in air. Denzel leans back against the rocky wall. Presses his hands against it.

“Argh, argh, I can’t go on,” he pants.

Harry recognizes claustrophobia.

“We’re never gonna get out. Are we Harry, are we? It’s too far, too far.” He’s looking faint.

“See here, Denzel, we’re getting somewhere, we’re really getting somewhere. She could be right round the next corner and we’re not gonna stop till we find out, right? However bad it is for us, it could be fucking hell for her. You gotta get up.”

Harry shoves him and makes him go in front, doesn’t want him to go down the wrong fork or something.

“Harry, Harry,” he said as the lantern nearly blew out.

They see something. Can’t process it. Doesn’t make sense. Not real. Time skips.

Staggering jaggedly the duo come out of the tunnels to an opening in the woods. They must have been ascending or the wood must be on a hillside; they were completely disorientated. They had no idea where they were. The night was blacker than ever.

For two seconds, just for two damn seconds they had to stop and get their bearings. They looked around; everything looked the same. No one here in this God-forsaken wood. Truly, God was not in these woods.

They walked around in circles. There must be something, a telltale sign, a broken branch, flattened bracken. Drag marks?

Running faster now, their ears ringing with the thumping pulses in their heads. Adrenaline and fear was leading them on like blazoned spirits in the night. Like unholy knights crusading. Charging, charging. Following the only path that now revealed itself.

Nick had told them right. The poor bastard had got it right. With his dying breath he’d set them on the course. Just him as a guide, no star shining, no silver moon guiding their way, just the breathless sorrow of a tormented man in the depths of hell.

Then they saw it again.

They weren’t sure at first. Could it be something. Their minds had played so many tricks on them. Was it just a mirage of dark topped trees? A patch of pines, disguising themselves. No it was just the forest. They pressed on.

There was a cabin. A cabin presented itself against the dark, spiky backdrop of trees. Harry’s head went into the fastest gear it had ever reached. Denzel just about keeping up, they persevered through the last meters toward the cabin. She was there, she was there. Harry could almost hear her voice.

Looking around, they walk up to the cabin. Safety off.

Mary’s voice. He wanted to hear her voice. He’d thought that this was going to be it.

Then the smack in the face. Cruelty.

No Mary. No Mary. No Mary. No Mary. No Mary. No Mary.

Just the sticking of the needle at the end of an old record. A heavy old record on an old gramophone. Scratching its way around on the rubber turntable mat. A heavy arm with a big needle was making regular rotational clicks, round the very center of the turntable at the end of the record. A mechanical kler-dunk, kler-dunk, kler-dunk, over and over again. Crackling in time with the stuck record.

Harry falls to his knees.

Denzel picks up the arm of the gramophone and places it in the rest. He gently takes the winding arm and winds up the mechanism. They look each other in the eye, despondent now.

Denzel’s hand shakes as he places the needle in the first groove of the record.

Mary’s voice. Her voice. Harry listens like never before. Tears filling his eyes, his boy eyes. He lights up and just stares at the gramophone as if it’s Mary herself. He can’t touch her, he can’t hold her and tell her she’s safe. All this for nothing.

Her little voice, pleading. Yes, that’s what it was, pleading. Harry knew every nuance of her voice. He could picture her mouth forming the words, the dimple in her cheek. She said the words.

This voice was frightened.

Directly intended for him. Her knowing that he would find this recording.

Telling him with all her heart to go back. Go home. Don’t stay. Go home, baby, go back home, Harry. Like she was protecting him. All the love in her heart told him not to follow. End this now said her pleading tones.

So this was it? This was what it had come to?

They listened as her voice drifted to silence. Then a hymn. “Lacrimosa.”

Harry wept into his blooded hands. Denzel just stared at the horn of the gramophone.

A cauldron glows from one side of the cabin.

The incense begins to beat like a heart.

Denzel and Harry approach the cauldron.

A strange voice through a wretched smile.

It speaks.

The ritual begins.

Thee I invoke. The Bornless One.

Hear me, and make all spirits subject unto me.

I invoke thee, the terrible and invisible god.

Who dwellest in the void place of the spirit.

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