the master’s posthumous sermon
by Richard Gavin
Each of us was required to perform three sacrifices. Myself, Rainey, and, of course, the good Dr. Valzer. Three apiece. Nine bloody tasks in all.
At midnight we were to meet at an abandoned quarry on the wooded outskirts of the city, a place whose precise geography and alignments met favourably with certain stellar machinations. The distant thrum of traffic and faint sodium glare seemed a world away, almost lost in the darkness.
Rainey, pale and shivering, was already there by the time I arrived, a little before twelve. He clutched a small parcel tightly to his chest, staring vacantly into the pines. I nodded at him; he exhaled what may have been a murmured greeting. I joined him on the outcrop where he sat. We were not ourselves. Wordlessly we waited. An irrational, primeval fear began to unsettle me. The indigenous people had ill-regarded these woodlands for time immemorial, believing them to be the haunt of the Wendigo — an irony not lost upon me, when I consider who the real monsters are.
Drawn by the compulsion that had also claimed Rainey, I attempted to satisfy my agitation by fastidiously checking my pocket watch and adjusting the straps of the small knapsack I had brought. At one point I removed it and noticed that the some of the contents had begun to seep darkly through the canvas. Taking my handkerchief from my waistcoat pocket, I absently wiped away the fluid as discreetly as possible.
Our mentor was late, which surprised neither Rainey nor myself. It was twenty minutes past midnight before he finally appeared at the top of the moonlit path. A large bundle was slung over his left shoulder. When he saw us, the doctor offered a single wave of his hand, then peered to his left, to his right. Perhaps he was checking for anyone that may have been foolish enough to follow us down into this derelict crevice littered with so many misshapen stones.
The crunching sound of his footsteps grew louder. He walked past and carefully placed the bundle upon the large granite slab that the three of us had strategically positioned earlier that afternoon. The symbols we had chiselled into the stone appeared translucent under the milk-light of the moon. They resembled a mass of otherworldly insects, the characters of this strange alphabet Rainey and I had been taught.
“Were you successful?” Valzer asked. His hands trembled in anticipation.
“Let me see them.”
I removed the knapsack and handed it over. He fumbled with the clasps until he managed to pull it open and examine its contents.
“Lovely,” he gasped. “Lovely. Now yours.”
Rainey was reluctant to hand his sacrifices over, but eventually did.
“Good. These should do nicely,” the doctor said. He raised his bespectacled face to the night sky, which was now frothing with black clouds. I heard the fluttering of wings somewhere behind me.
I have only the vaguest memories of when Valzer first ingratiated himself into our little circle of intellectuals and esoteric dabblers. Artefacts, forbidden texts and mysticism seemed to initially provide meaning for those of us who had experienced the horror of the trenches in Northern France. Spiritually and ideologically abandoned, we sought answers in the more obscure philosophies of the Orient, the truth and beauty opiates that promised enlightenment. Rainey and I became the perfect material, the living clay that Valzer would subtly influence and mould to his own ends. Slowly he guided us away from the others, with promises of revelation and practices of mesmerism and narcotic transcendence that finally led to deliberate addiction. Through the administration of a synthesised compound of opiates and hallucinogens, we became mindless acolytes, obedient servants to the good doctor — and the one whom he served.
Internment had not been kind to our Master. Though his physical vessel was always somewhat tiny, death had reduced it to a desiccated parody. The bones seemed to bulge within the flaking, ash-like hide. Scraps of the Black Messiah’s flesh were plucked free by the chill night wind. His body shreds flitted in the air like moths. I looked down, perversely relishing the fact that even in death the Master’s eyes had maintained their dark intensity. The blasphemous truths he’d observed with those black orbs had not dissolved as his flesh had. They merely slumbered — waiting for his resurrection, lusting for posthumous sight.
Valzer unrolled a small bundle of black fabric, revealing a set of thin white needles. I could only assume that these were the ones he frequently boasted about — splints of an Aztec prince’s skeleton which ancient artisans had lovingly whittled and carved.
The thread he offered up next was equally spectacular. It was composed of a gleaming silver material.
But more wondrous than all of this was the obsidian dagger Valzer then extracted from a greasy sheath of poorly cured skin. He claimed to have stolen the relic from an archaeologist called Webb who had found it in a large red chamber somewhere in the Mexican desert. According to Webb’s notes, it had been lying on the top of a large stone altar amidst a plethora of skeletal remains. For months he’d studied the symbols that had been etched along the shimmering blade and had determined that it was to serve as the tongue for an Aztec blood god. Some awful entity with two dozen vowels in its name. The doctor had used a far less ostentatious implement upon Webb.
Valzer was the first to make his incisions in the Master’s body. Then he passed the blade to me. I was reluctant to accept it, but he forced the cold, smooth hilt into my palm. It suddenly felt incredibly natural, a deadly new appendage to my body. Valzer had sliced the flesh of the Master’s throat, and above his heart, and had splayed his dried lips wide open.
These were the mouths of the sacred. The cradle of human voice, of human passion and of sacred language.
I made the next three openings by tearing gashes in the three cradles of bestial appetites — his stomach, the base of his spine and, of course, his groin. The penis, a mere husk, was cut loose the instant the blade’s edge slid across it.
Rainey was eager to perform his three gashes, which were the palms of the Master’s hands and his left side. They were mystical spots on the body; something reserved only for messiahs.
Each of us then took one of the needles, which Valzer had now threaded. Then, one by one, the nine tongues we had acquired (mine hadn’t made a sound as I went through the farmhouse, their eyes glazed by the pendulum swing of the Salesman’s pretty watch as the splashing blood mixed with the kerosene) were stitched into the makeshift mouths.
The tongue muscle was slippery, making the task of sewing a difficult one.
Eventually all nine tongues were affixed. Valzer moved to the head of the altar and shouted some guttural incantation into the night. Unseen wings flitted in the air around us. The good doctor then raised the black dagger once more and plunged it deep into the Master’s skull. The bone crunched and a shriek of unspeakable anguish blasted out from the Master’s body, which was now taut upon the altar. His back arched, his fingers curled into fists of rage. I watched in disbelief as the mouldering body writhed and looked about with those dark, bulging eyes. The nine tongues flapped wildly. The edges of the wounds rippled and moved as living lips do. There were so many words in so many different languages that my brain was incapable of comprehension. I staggered back as the Master’s body shouted out, in chorus, all the knowledge it had amassed while in the grave. It must have spoken of the lusts of the groin and the labours of the hands. I’m sure the body shared all the dreams its brain had conjured as it lay rotting inside that cage of bone. The agonies of the heart were certainly believable by the tormented nature of its pounding voice. But no specific knowledge came to me, nor did I want it.
I could see Valzer bent over the Master’s body, drinking in as much as his mortal senses would allow. Rainey just stood and stared, shaking at the miracle we’d created. I don’t know whether he was even aware of the words that were being spoken.
I backed away and began scrabbling up the quarry wall. I staggered up the unstable rock pile, losing my footing several times. A shower of stone tumbled down behind me.
I reached the top of the quarry and pulled myself back onto firm ground. I continued to flee, dodging in and out of the pines, not stopping until I found myself at the dirt track where I’d parked my dented Packard.
I leapt into the vehicle and turned the ignition. As the engine caught, a strange sense of guilt overwhelmed me. Again, I felt the sway of the compulsion. I thought of poor Rainey. I thought of Valzer and the monster that he served.
I switched off the engine and stepped out of the car.
I Retraced my steps back to the quarry and when the pit came into view I paused to listen.
The voices had grown silent.
I moved closer to the mouth and again stopped to listen.
There were no sounds of movement.
Peering over the edge I saw the Master’s cadaver splayed over the altar stone, motionless once more. I also saw Rainey and the good doctor Valzer perched upon large stones at the far end. I descended as quickly as I could. I went to Rainey first.
His body was slumped against a mound of jagged stones. I would be surprised if even one bone remained unbroken. His eyes were smoking faintly and his mouth hung open slackly.
Valzer’s body had been equally abused, but unlike Rainey, he showed signs of life. As I approached I could barely discern the wet sounds of Valzer’s tongue as it flailed wildly within the gaping mouth. Life was ebbing from him, so the good doctor, my corruptor’s confession was spoken in a scarce whisper. He was straining to communicate all the blasphemies he’d learned from the Master.
The obsidian dagger lay beside the base of the altar stone.
I picked it up. It felt unusually heavy.
” . . . I . . . have . . . learned . . . the . . . Secret . . .”
I lifted the blade and cut along the inside of his mouth. Valzer’s eyes widened. He tried to cry out, but what escaped was something more akin to a sigh. The severed tongue slapped down upon the stones.
Later, I buried the three corpses as best I could within the gravel mounds. They will no doubt be discovered, but hiding them will at least buy me some time before someone, or something, comes for me. Something that will no doubt make me pay dearly for my part in this abominable ritual.
Before leaving the quarry I once again felt the insistence of the compulsion. I retrieved Valzer’s tongue from the ground and wrapped in one of the swatches of black fabric.
I smile, reassured with the knowledge that no matter what agencies — whether human or not — are sent in my pursuit, I’m confident that the good doctor’s testimony will corroborate my story.