Clive Barker was born in Liverpool in 1952. His earlier books include The Books of Blood, Cabal, and The Hellbound Heart. In addition to his work as a novelist and playwright, he also illustrates, writes, directs and produces for stage and screen. His films include Hellraiser, Hellbound, Nightbreed and Candyman. Clive lives in Beverly Hills, California. Visit his website at http://www.clivebarker.info/
It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek Like a
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
After the long quiet of the grave, Joseph Ragowski gave voice, and it was not pleasant, in either sound or sentiment.
“Look at you all,” he said, scrutinizing the five magicians who’d woken him from his dreamless sleep. “You look ghostly, every one of you.”
“You don’t look so good yourself, Joe,” Lili Saffro said. “Your embalmer was a little too enthusiastic with the rouge and the eyeliner.”
Ragowski snarled, his hand going up to his cheek and wiping off some of the makeup that had been used to conceal the sickening pallor his violent death had left on him. He’d been hastily embalmed, no doubt, and filed away in his ledge within the family mausoleum, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Hamburg.
“I hope you didn’t go to all this trouble just to take cheap shots at me,” Ragowski said, surveying the paraphernalia that littered the floor around him. “Regardless, I’m impressed. Necromantic workings demanded an obsessive’s eye for detail.”
The N’guize Working, which was the one the magicians had used to raise Ragowski, called for the eggs of pure white doves that had been injected with the blood of a girl’s first menstruation, to be cracked into eleven alabaster bowls surrounding the corpse, each of which contained other obscure ingredients. Purity was of the essence of this working. The birds couldn’t be speckled, the blood had to be fresh, and the two thousand, seven hundred, and nine numerals that were inscribed in black chalk starting beneath the ring of bowls and spiraling inward to the spot where the corpse of the resurrectee was laid had to be in precisely the right order, with no erasures, breaks, or corrections.
“This your work, isn’t it, Elizabeth?” Ragowski said.
The oldest of the five magicians, Elizabeth Kottlove, a woman whose skills in some of the most complex and volatile of magical preservations weren’t enough to keep her face from looking like someone who’d lost both her appetite and her ability to sleep decades ago, nodded.
“Yes,” she said. “We need your help, Joey.”
“It’s a long time since you called me that,” Ragowski said. “And it was usually when you were fucking me. Am I being fucked right now?”
Kottlove threw a quick glance at her fellow magicians—Lili Saffro, Yashar Heyadat, Arnold Poltash, and Theodore Felixson—and saw that they were no more amused by Ragowski’s insults than she was.
“I see that death hasn’t robbed you of your bitter tongue,” she said.
“For fuck’s sake,” said Poltash. “This has been the problem all along! Whatever we did or didn’t do, whatever we had or didn’t have, none of it matters.” He shook his head. “The time we wasted fighting to outdo one another—when we could have been working together— it makes me want to weep.”
“You weep,” said Theodore Felixson. “I’ll fight.”
“Yes. Please. Spare us your tears, Arnold,” Lili said. She was the only one of the five summoners sitting, for the simple reason that she was missing her left leg. “We all wish we could change things—”
“Lili, dear,” Ragowski said, “I can’t help but notice that you’re not quite the woman you were. What’s happened to your leg?”
“Actually,” she said, “I got lucky. He nearly had me, Joseph.”
“He . . . ? You mean he hasn’t been stopped?”
“We’re a dying breed, Joseph,” said Poltash. “A veritable endangered species.”
“How many of the Circle are left?” Joseph said, a sudden urgency in his voice.
There was a silence while the five exchanged hesitant looks. It was Kottlove who finally spoke.
“We are all that is left,” she said, staring at one of the alabaster bowls and its bloodstained contents.
“You? Five? No.” All the sarcasm and the petty game playing had gone from Ragowski’s voice and manner. Even the embalmer’s bright paints could not moderate the horror on Ragowski’s face. “How long have I been dead?”
“Three years,” Kottlove said.
“This has to be a joke. How is that possible?” Ragowski said. “There were two hundred and seventy-one in the High Circle alone!”
“Yes,” said Heyadat. “And that’s only those who chose to be counted among us. There’s no telling how many he took from outside the Circles. Hundreds? Thousands?”
“And no telling what they owned either,” Lili Saffro said. “We had a reasonably thorough list—”
“Ah . . . too true,” Felixson said.
“Five . . .” Ragowski said, shaking his head. “Why couldn’t you put your heads together and work out some way to stop him?”
“That’s why we went to all the trouble of bringing you back,” Heyadat said, “Believe me, none of us did it happily. You think we didn’t try to catch the bastard? We fucking tried. But the demon is goddamn clever—”
“And getting cleverer all the time,” Kottlove said. “In a way, you should be flattered. He took you early because he’d done his homework. He knew you were the only one who could unite us all against him.”
“And when you died, we argued and pointed fingers like squabbling schoolchildren,” Poltash sighed. “He picked us off, one by one, moving all over the globe so we never knew where he was going to strike next. A lot of people got taken without anybody knowing a thing about it. We’d hear about it later, usually after a few months. Sometimes even a year. Just by chance. You’d try to make contact with someone and find their house had been sold, or burned to the ground, or simply left to rot. I visited a couple of places like that. Remember Brander’s house in Bali? I went there. And Doctor Biganzoli’s place outside Rome? I went there, too. There was no sign of any looting. The locals were far too afraid of what they’d heard about the occupants to take a step inside either house, even despite the fact that it was very obvious nobody was home.”
“What did you find?” Ragowski said.
Poltash took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one as he went on. His hands were trembling, and it took some help from Kottlove to steady the hand that held his lighter.
“Everything of any magical value had vanished. Brander’s urtexts, Biganzoli’s collection of Vatican Apocrypha. Everything down to the most trivial blasphemous pamphlet was gone. The shelves were bare. It was obvious that Brander had put up a struggle; there was a lot of blood in the kitchen, of all places—”
“Do we really have to go back over all this?” Heyadat said. “We all know how these stories end.”
“You dragged me out of a very welcome death to help save your souls,” Ragoswki said. “The least you can do is let me hear the facts. Arnold, continue.”
“Well, the blood was old. There was a lot of it, but it had dried many months before.”
“Was it the same with Biganzoli?” Ragowski said.
“Biganzoli’s place was still sealed up when I visited. Shutters closed and doors locked as if he’d gone on a long vacation, but he was still inside. I found him in his study. He—Christ, Joseph, he was hanging from the ceiling by chains. They were attached to hooks which had been put through his flesh. And it was so hot in there. My guess is he’d been dead in that dry heat for at least six months. His body was completely withered up. But the expression on his face it could have just been the way the flesh had retreated from around his mouth as it dried up, but by God he looked as though he’d died screaming.”
Ragowski studied the faces before him. “So, while you were having your private wars over mistresses and boys, this demon ended the lives and pillaged the minds of the most sophisticated magicians on the planet?”
“In sum?” Poltash said. “Yes.”
“Why? What is his intention? Have you at least discovered that?”
“The same as ours, we think,” Felixson said. “The getting and keeping of power. He hasn’t just taken our treaties, scrolls, and grimoires. He’s cleared out all the vestments, all the talismans, all the amulets—”
“Hush,” Ragowski said suddenly. “Listen.”
There was a silence among them for a moment, and then a funereal bell chimed softly in the distance.
“Oh Christ,” Lili said. “It’s his bell.”
The dead man laughed.
“He’s found you.”
The assembled company, excepting the once-deceased Ragowski, instantly loosed a flood of prayers, protestations, and entreaties, no two of which were in the same language.
“Thank you for the gift of second life, old friends,” Ragowski said. “Few people get the pleasure of dying twice, especially by the same executioner.”
Ragowski stepped out of his coffin, kicked over the first of the alabaster bowls, and began working his way around the necromantic circle in a counterclockwise direction. The broken eggs and the menstrual blood, along with the other ingredients of the bowls, each one different but all a vital part of the N’guize Working, were spilled across the floor. One bowl rolled off on its rim, weaving wildly before hitting one of the mausoleum walls.
“That was just childish,” Kottlove said.
“Sweet Jesus,” Poltash said. “The bell is getting louder.”
“We made our peace with one another to get your help and protect ourselves,” Felixson shouted, “Surrender can’t be our only option! I won’t accept it.”
“You made your peace too late,” Ragowski said, bringing his foot down and grinding the broken bowls into a powder. “Maybe if there’d been fifty of you, all sharing your knowledge, you might have had a hope. But, as it stands, you’re outnumbered.”
“Outnumbered? You mean he has functionaries?” Heyadat said.
“Good God. Is it the fog of death, or the years that have passed? I honestly don’t remember you people being this stupid. The demon has imbibed the knowledge of countless minds. He doesn’t need backup. There’s not an incantation in existence that can stop him.”
“It can’t be true!” screamed Felixson.
“I’m sure I would have said the same hopeless thing three years ago, but that was before my untimely demise, Brother Theodore.”
“We should disperse!” Heyadat said. “All in different directions. I’ll head to Paris—”
“You’re not listening, Yashar. It’s too late,” Ragowski said. “You can’t hide from him. I am proof.”
“You’re right,” said Heyadat. “Paris is too obvious. Somewhere more remote, then—”
While Heyadat laid his panicked plans Elizabeth Kottlove, apparently resigned to the reality of her circumstances, took the time to speak conversationally with Ragowski.
“They said they found your body in the Temple of Phemestrion. It seemed an odd place for you to be, Joseph. Did he bring you there?”
Ragowski stopped and looked at her for a moment before saying, “No. It was my own hiding place, actually. There was a room behind the altar. Tiny. Dark. I . . . I thought I was safe.”
“And he found you anyway.”
Ragowski nodded. Then, trying to keep his tone offhand and failing, he said, “How did I look?”
“I wasn’t there, but by all accounts appalling. He’d left you in your little hidey-hole with his hooks still in you.”
“Did you tell him where all your manuscripts were?” Poltash asked.
“With a hook and chain up through my asshole pulling my stomach down into my bowels, yes, Arnold, I did. I squealed like a rat in a trap. And then he left me there, with that chain slowly disemboweling me, until he’d gone to my house and brought back everything I’d hidden. I wanted so badly to die by that time I remember that I literally begged him to kill me. I gave him information he didn’t even ask for. All I wanted was death. Which I got, finally. And I was never more grateful for anything in my life.”
“Jesus wept!” Felixson yelled. “Look at you all, listening to his babble! We raised the sonofabitch to get some answers, not recount his fucking horror stories.”
“You want answers!” Ragowski snapped. “Here then. Get yourself some paper, and write down the whereabouts of every last grimoire, pamphlet, and article of power you own. Everything. He’s going to get the information anyway, sooner or later. You, Lili—you have the only known copy of Sanderegger’s Cruelties, yes?”
“For fuck’s sake woman!” Poltash said. “He’s trying to help.”
“Yes. I own it,” Lili Saffro said. “It’s in a safe buried below my mother’s coffin.”
“Write it down. The address of the cemetery. The position of the plot. Draw a goddamn blueprint, if you have to. Just make it easy for him. Hopefully he’ll return the favor.”
“I have no paper,” Heyadat said, his voice suddenly shrill and boyish with fear. “Somebody give me a piece of paper!”
“Here,” said Elizabeth, tearing a sheet from an address book she pulled out of her pocket.
Poltash was writing on an envelope, which he had pressed up against the marble wall of the mausoleum. “I don’t see how this saves us from his tampering with our brains,” he said, scribbling furiously.
“It doesn’t, Arnold. It’s merely a gesture of humility. Something none of us have been very familiar with in our lives. But it may—and I make no guarantees—it may hold sway.”
“Oh Christ!” said Heyadat. “I see light between the cracks.”
The magicians glanced up from their scrawling to see what he was talking about.
At the far end of the mausoleum, a cold blue light was piercing the fine cracks between the marble blocks.
“Our visitor is imminent,” said Ragowski. “Elizabeth, dear?”
“Joseph?” she said, failing to glance up from her fevered scribbling.
“Release me, will you, please?”
“In a minute. Let me finish writing.”
“Release me, god damn you!” he said. “I don’t want to be here when he comes. I don’t ever want to see that horrible face of his again!”
“Patience, Joseph,” Poltash said. “We’re only heeding your advice.”
“Someone give me back my death! I can’t go through this again! Nobody should have to!”
The swelling light from beyond the mausoleum wall was now accompanied by a grinding sound as one of the enormous marble blocks, at about head height, slowly pushed itself out of the wall. When it was roughly ten inches clear of the wall, a second block, below and to the left of the first one, began to move. Seconds later a third, this time to the right and above the first, also began shifting. The glittering silver-blue shafts of light that had begun this unknitting came in wherever there was a crack for them to steal through.
Ragowski, enraged at the indifference of his resurrectors, resumed the destruction of Kottlove’s necromantic labors where he’d left off. He grabbed the alabaster bowls and hurled them against the moving wall. Then, pulling off the jacket he’d been buried in, he got down on his knees and used it to scrub out the numbers Kottlove had scrawled in the immaculate spiral. Dead though he was, beads of fluid appeared on his brow as he scrubbed. It was a dark, thick liquid that collected at his forehead and finally fell from his face and spattered on the ground, a mingling of embalming fluid and some remnants of his own corrupted juices. But his effort to undo the resurrection began to pay off. A welcome numbness started spreading from his fingers and toes up into his limbs, and a lolling weight gathered behind his eyes and sinuses, as the semi-liquefied contents of his skull responded to the demands of gravity.
Glancing up from his work, he saw the five magicians scrawling madly like students racing to finish a vital examination paper before the tolling of the bell. Except, of course, the price of failure was rather worse than a bad mark. Ragowski’s gaze went from their toil to the wall, where six blocks were now on the move. The first of the six marble blocks that had responded to the pressure from the other side finally slid clear of the wall and dropped to the ground. A shaft of frigid light, lent solidity by the marble cement dust that hung in the air from the unseated block, spilled from the hole and crossed the length of the mausoleum, striking the opposite wall. The second block dropped only moments later.
Theodore Felixson began to pray aloud as he wrote, the divinity at his prayer’s destination usefully ambiguous:
“Honey- breasted art thou, Neetha,
while Felixson continued the thread of his own prayer:
“Save me, Lord,
Heyadat interrupted this battle of supplications with a bellow that only a man of his considerable proportions could have unleashed.
“I never heard such naked hypocrisy in my life. When did you two ever have faith in anything besides your own covetousness? If the demon can hear you, he’s laughing.”
“You are wrong,” said a voice from the place out of which the cold light came. The words, though in themselves unremarkable, seemed to escalate the wall’s capitulation. Three more blocks began to grind their way forward while another two dropped out of the wall and joined the debris accruing on the mausoleum floor.
The unseen speaker continued to address the magicians. His voice, with its glacial severity, made the harsh light seem tropical by contrast.
“I smell decaying flesh,” the demon said. “But with a quickening perfume. Someone has been raising the dead.”
Yet more of the blocks toppled to the ground, so that now there would have been a hole in the wall large enough to allow the entrance of a man of some stature, except for the fact that rubble blocked the lower third of the space. For the entity about to make its entrance, however, such matters were easily resolved.
“Ovat Porak,” it said. The order was obeyed instantly. The rubble, listening intently, divided in a heartbeat. Even the air itself was cleansed for him, for as he spoke every particle of cement dust was snatched from his path.
And thus, his way unhindered, the Cenobite entered into the presence of the six magicians. He was tall, looking very much as he did in those volumes of notable demons that the magicians had pored over in recent months and weeks, vainly looking for some hint of frailty in the creature. They had found none, of course. But now, as he appeared in the flesh, there was a distinct sense of humanity in his being, of the man he had been once, before the monstrous labors of his Order had been performed. His flesh was virtually white, his hairless head ritualistically scarred with deep grooves that ran both horizontally and vertically, at every intersection of which a nail had been hammered through the bloodless flesh and into his bone. Perhaps, at one time, the nails had gleamed, but the years had tarnished them. No matter, for the nails possessed a certain elegance, enhanced by the way the demon held his head, as though regarding the world with an air of weary condescension. Whatever torments he had planned for these last victims—and his knowledge of pain and its mechanisms would have made the Inquisitors look like school-yard bullies—it would be worsened by orders of magnitude if any one of them dared utter that irreverent nickname Pinhead, the origins of which were long lost in claim and counterclaim.
As for the rest of his appearance, it was much as it had been depicted in the etchings and woodcuts of demonic listings for millennia: the black vestments, the hem of which brushed the floor; the patches of skinned flesh exposing blood-beaded muscle; and the skin tightly interwoven with the fabric of his robes. There had always been debates as to whether the damned soul who wore this mask of pain and its accompanying vestments was a single man who’d lived many human lifetimes or whether the Order passed the scars and nails on to another soul after the labors of temptation had exhausted their present possessor. There was certainly evidence for either belief in the state of the demon before them.
He looked like a creature that had lived too long, his eyes set in bruised pools, his gait steady but slow. But the tools that hung from his belt— an amputation saw, a trepanning drill, a small chisel, and three silver syringes—were, like the abattoir worker’s chain-mail apron he wore, wet with blood: confirmation that his weariness did not apparently keep him from taking a personal hand in the practicalities of agony.
He brought flies with him too, fat, blue- black flies in their thousands. Many buzzed around his waist, alighting on the instruments to take their share of wet human meat. They were four or five times the size of terrestrial flies, and their busy noise echoed around the mausoleum.
The demon stopped, regarding Ragowski with something resembling curiosity.
“Joseph Ragowski,” the Cenobite said. “Your suffering was sweet. But you died too soon. It pleases me to see you standing here.”
Ragowski tensed. “Do your worst, demon.”
“I have no need to pillage your mind a second time.” He turned and faced the five quivering magicians. “It’s these five I came to catch, more for closure than the hope of revelation. I’ve been to magic’s length and breadth. I’ve explored its outermost limits, and rarely— very rarely— I’ve mined the thoughts of a truly original thinker. If as Whitehead said, all philosophy is footnotes to Plato, then all magic is footnotes to twelve great texts. Texts I now possess.”
Lili Saffro had started to hyperventilate a little way into the demon’s speech and now reached into her purse, digging frantically through its chaotic contents.
“My pills. Oh Jesus, Jesus—where are my pills?”
In her jittery state she lost her grip on one end of her purse, and its contents fell out, spreading across the floor. She went to her knees, found the bottle, and snatched up her pills, oblivious to everything but getting them into her mouth. She chewed and swallowed the large white tablets like candies, staying on the ground, clutching her chest, and taking deep breaths. Felixson spoke, ignoring her panicked outburst.
“I have four safes,” he told the demon. “I’ve written down their whereabouts and their codes. If that’s too much trouble for you I’ll fetch them myself. Or you could accompany me. It’s a big house. You might like it. Cost me eighteen million dollars. It’s yours. You and your brethren are welcome to it.”
“My brethren?” the Cenobite said.
“Apologies. There are sisters in your Order, too. I was forgetting that. Well, I’m sure I own enough works for you to pass around. I know you said you’ve got all the magic texts. But I do have a few very fine first editions. Nearly perfect, most of them.”
Before the demon could respond to this, Heyadat said, “Your Lordship. Or is it ‘Your Grace’? Your Holiness—”
“Like . . . like a dog?” Heyadat said.
“Surely,” Felixson said, wanting desperately to please the demon. “If he says we’re dogs, then dogs we are.”
“Well stated,” the demon said. “But words are easy. Down, dog.”
Felixson waited for a moment, hoping this had just been a throwaway remark. But it was not.
“I said down,” the Cenobite warned.
Felixson began to kneel. The demon went on.
“And naked. Dogs go naked, surely.”
“Oh . . . yes. Of course. Naked.” Felixson proceeded to undress.
“And you,” the demon said, extending his pale finger toward Kottlove. “Elizabeth Kottlove. Be his bitch. Naked as well, on your hands and knees.” Without further prompting, she started to unbutton her blouse, but he said, “Wait,” and walked toward her, the flies rising up from their blood-clotted dining places as he moved. Elizabeth flinched, but the demon merely reached out and placed his hand on her lower belly.
“How many abortions have you had, woman? I count eleven here.”
“Th-that’s right,” she stuttered.
“Most wombs would not survive such unkindness.” He clenched his fist, and Elizabeth let out a little gasp. “But even at your advanced age I can give your abused womb the capacity to finally do what it was made to do—”
“No,” Elizabeth said, more in disbelief than denial. “You couldn’t.”
“The child will be here soon.”
Elizabeth was out of words. She simply stared at the demon as though she could somehow make him take pity on her.
“Now,” he said, “be a good bitch, and get down on all fours.”
“May I say something?” Poltash said.
“You may try.”
“I . . . I could be very useful to you. I mean, my circle of influence reaches to Washington.”
“What is your offer?”
“I am simply saying, there are a lot of people in high office who owe their positions to me. I could make them report to you with a single phone call. It’s not magical power, I grant you, but you seem to have all you need of that.”
“What are you asking in return?”
“Just my life. Then you name the names in Washington you need at your feet and I’ll make it happen.”
The Cenobite didn’t reply. His attention had been claimed by the sight of Felixson, who was standing in his underwear, with Elizabeth beside him, still preserving her modesty. “I said naked!” the demon snapped. “Both of you. Look at that belly of yours, Elizabeth. How it swells! What about those tired tits? How do they look now?” He pulled off the remains of her blouse and the brassiere beneath. The dry purses of her breasts were indeed growing fuller. “You’ll do for one more breeding. And this time you won’t be scraping it out of your womb.”
“What do you think of my offer?” Poltash asked, vying for the demon’s attention.
But before the demon could respond, Heyadat interrupted. “He’s a liar,” he said. “He’s more of a palm reader than an advisor.”
“Shut your fucking mouth, Heyadat!” Poltash said.
Heyadat continued. “I know for a fact that Washington prefers that woman Sidikaro.”
“Ah. Yes. I have her reminiscences,” the demon said, tapping his temple.
“And you pass it all on to your Order, right?” Heyadat inquired.
“Surely, the other members of your Order—”
“Are not with me.”
Heyadat blanched, suddenly understanding. “You’re acting alone—”
Heyadat’s revelation was interrupted by a moan from Elizabeth Kottlove, who was now on all fours beside the Cenobite’s other dog, Theodore Felixson. Her belly and breasts were now round and ripe, the Cenobite’s influence powerful enough to already have her nipples leaking milk.
“Don’t let that go to waste,” the Cenobite said to Felixson. “Put your face to the floor and lick it up.”
As Felixson too eagerly bent to his task, Poltash, who had apparently lost all confidence in his offer, made a mad dash for the door. He was two strides short of the threshold when the Cenobite threw a look into the passageway from which he’d come. Something glittering and serpentine there sped from the other side of the wall, crossed into the chamber, and caught Poltash in the back of his neck. A beat later three more came after it, chains, all of them ending in what looked like hooks big enough to catch sharks, wrapping themselves around Poltash at the neck, chest, and waist.
Poltash shrieked with pain. The Hell Priest listened to the sound the man made with the attentiveness of a connoisseur.
“Shrill and inexpensive. I expected better from one who lasted this long.”
The chains rent themselves in three different directions, trisecting Poltash in the blink of an eye. For a moment the magician stood there looking dazed, and then his head rolled off his neck and hit the mausoleum floor with a sickening plop. Seconds later, his body followed after, spilling his steaming intestines and stomach, along with their half-digested contents, onto the ground. The demon raised his nose and inhaled, taking in the aroma.
Then, a tiny gesture from the Cenobite and the chains that had ended Poltash’s life snaked across the floor and slithered up the door, wrapping themselves around the handle. Tightening themselves, they pulled the door closed and raised their hooked heads like a trinity of cobras ready to strike, dissuading any further attempts at escape.
(C) Clive Barker 2015
© Paul Kane 2003-2018. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.