My mentor brought the thing in, slung over her shoulder like a sleeping child, and carefully laid it down on the wooden pew. It was wrapped tightly in a sheathing of white samite — I was unaware that people still made that material. So medieval, yet so luxurious. Thin gold threads woven through the thick fabric gleamed in the flickering light of the abandoned chapel. Seemed a shame to wrap that thing up in such rich fabric, then bless, bury or burn it — whatever it was we were here to do. My mentor had not yet fully informed me.
“Why couldn’t they have bundled that thing up in something less spectacular, maybe something old, stained, and in a cotton-poly blend.” I huffed.
“Would. You. Please. Be. Quite!” she hissed.
Geez. Ms. Touchy. She nodded to me impatiently. Oh, yeah. The bag! I scampered off between the pews, to the table at the back of the chapel, where the cracked black leather bag awaited. I picked it up and the contents shifted, clunked together. Noisy metal nudged noisy metal. She lifted her head up and gave me the stink eye.
“Sorry!” I stage-whispered. Wow. Nothing like doing everything wrong in your mentor’s blood-shot eyes. It was going to be a long night.
I tip-toed back to the prone thing on the pew. I gently, quietly, handed the heavy bag over to her. She pulled a small brass key from her raincoat, inside pocket. Clicked open the bag’s scuffed lock. Inside were all manner of knives — mostly dull, chipped, and dirty. Unusually shaped blades, hilts bandaged in sweat-stained leather. She deliberately, delicately laid out the knives, one by one, on the floor beneath the pew.
“Umm, shouldn’t we be doing this on the alter?” I mumbled.
“Watch. And. Learn!” she sputtered.
Who on Earth thought we would make a good team, I don’t know. Underweight and permanently hunched over, my mentor seemed unable to speak in complete sentences, and every word was an angry effort. Mostly she glared at me with those sticky, inflamed eyes, shook her head and grunted. Just what am I supposed to learn from her, from this? I had no idea what we were doing, and she wasn’t telling.
The thing on the pew twitched. My mentor looked at me, raised her shush finger to her chapped lips. I stepped back softly, ready to grab the thing’s bound feet if need be. She leaned over it, ear cocked by its head to listen for breath. Again the thing jerked. She nodded yes to me: the time is now.
Eyes closed, she reached under the pew, chose a knife, the knife. Blade beautifully straight, if a bit too rounded on the tip for my liking, and spiked brass knuckles arching over the hilt. That’s good; it the knife failed, the knuckles wouldn’t.
Again she nodded to me. I gently grasped what I believe are the thing’s ankles, gradually increased my grip until there’s no way the thing could wrest free. Imagine my surprise when my mentor very abruptly, very violently, grabbed the other end with one hand and slit the samite shroud from neck to knee. What. The. Hell.
The ensuing burst of thunder popped my ears, but good. To this day, I still can’t hear anything in my left ear. Light exploded from the slit like my mentor had pricked the balloon of the sun, essentially blinded me for a panicked heartbeat or two. The “ankles” collapsed in my hands — and a great wet wing slapped across my face, as thorny feet punched me in my chest, shoved me to the cold stone floor.
“What… ?” I stammered, wiping warm, gelatinous slime from my face. It smelled strongly of roses. Tasted salty, though.
My mentor spun around and her eyes shot poison-tipped darts my way.
I adeptly ducked those missiles, and picked up the crumpled bundle of samite. Opening the slit wider, I peered inside — nothing but darkness, and occasional tiny sparks, like stars glittering on a frosty, moonless night. Inside, the samite folds resembled dunes, at once windblown and stoic. Inside, it was a serene, if lonely, place. A voice would carry across those desert sands. A body would get restless.
A chill draft from the slit snaked across my face, around my neck, and into my mind: We weren’t here to rid the world of some unearthly, astonishing creature — evil or not — but to help birth it.
I gathered up the knives, wiped down the pew. Folded the samite casing and stored everything back in the black bag. Closed the lock. Lifted the lantern and led the way down the aisle through the echoing darkness to the heavy wooden door, the only exit. My mentor plodded behind me, like a tired old dog finally able to rest, because she had abdicated her place in the pack.
Overhead, roosting on a dusty rafter in a dim corner of this forgotten chapel, something stretched its newborn wings, sighed once, and through sharply glistening teeth, smiled down on us.
©2012 Hillary Lyon
Hillary Lyon is the editor for the small press poetry publisher Subsynchronous Press, home to The Laughing Dog and Veil: Journal of Darker Musings. Though a poet by training, she loves to write dark and spooky short stories. Her works have appeared most recently in The Lorelei Signal, Night to Dawn, and Mass Dissidence (Anthology of Dystopia). For more info, please visit HillaryLyon.Wordpress.com