Authors: Marc Olden
Book of Shadows
Open Road Integrated Media
The human sacrifice called the Wickerwork Man was found among the ancient Celtic tribes of Britain, Ireland, France, and Germany. Druids, or priests, conducted this sacrifice, which was a plea that the gods protect the all-important harvest against such destructive forces as bad weather, pillage, and witches.
Using twigs, branches, and straw, a huge wicker-work cage was fashioned in the shape of a man and filled with humans
prisoners of war, criminals, or young men and women especially chosen for this ceremony. The Wickerwork Man was than set on fire and the screams and doomed efforts to escape of those inside gave the fiery idol a brief, horrifying life of its own.
Druids were a religious power in western Europe for a thousand years, defying even the mighty Roman Empire, which engaged in a brutal campaign of repression against the priesthood, considering it a dangerous and implacable enemy. Druids, however, survived the Romans, who succeeded only in driving the priesthood underground. And though finally yielding to Christianity and a more stable political structure, the Druids have never completely disappeared.
They exist in twentieth-century England, clinging to total secrecy and, as always, conducting rites outdoors in forests, particularly near oak trees and water. Druids believe that all of the universe is God’s temple and indoor worship, therefore, is nothing more than a pitiful attempt to limit God.
In a decaying and dreary section of modern London a huge warehouse has been turned into an off-beat tourist attraction, a horror museum called the London Dungeon. It is, perhaps, the only place where the general public can view a Wickerwork Man, albeit a mere simulation.
In a musty darkness filled with dozens of wax exhibits depicting centuries of torture, plague, and violent death throughout the British Isles, the Wickerwork Man, with its “flames” and lifesized “victims” consistently draws large crowds.
New York City
AD SOMEONE TOLD THE
three Puerto Rican youths that two of them would die for having mutilated a tree in Central Park, none of them would have believed it.
The three had fought boredom and June heat with cocaine, amphetamines, and cheap wine, and by nightfall they were a wolfpack staring down at Manhattan from the roof of an abandoned brownstone on Columbus Avenue. The wolfpack craved human prey.
Under a white moon they walked to the most beautiful and secluded section of Central Park, a miniature forest called the Ramble. At night the Ramble belonged to homosexuals. Gays cruised its winding, tree-shaded lanes and had sex on stained mattresses hidden in the bushes, on park benches, at the foot of trees, against the brick wall of a rustic underpass.
Night also brought to the Ramble those who preyed on homosexuals.
Crazy Horse led the wolfpack. Cradling a towel-wrapped machete in his thin arms, he stood in darkness cast by a small semicircle of trees, his red-rimmed eyes on a peculiar oak tree in the clearing before him. The oak was dwarfish and ugly, a mutant growing from a crevice in a gray rock outcropping covering most of the clearing like a hard carpet.
Made vicious by drugs and alcohol, Crazy Horse needed only a fraction of a second to decide that the little tree was freaky and didn’t deserve to live. He was going to kill it.
Let the faggots wait. First, Crazy Horse was going to waste this fucking little tree.
The stunted oak, living on cramped roots and little moisture, had not been planted by man; an acorn had been buried in the rock by a squirrel, then forgotten. In that instant the little oak began its fierce fight for a crippled existence, a fight that was eventually triumphant.
Crazy Horse spat on the tree and swung the machete like a baseball bat, a red-raw whirlwind born of pills and booze shrieking inside his skull. Leaves and small branches flew from the top of the oak. Crazy Horse whooped, “Oooooweee!” swinging the foot-long blade again and spraying the air with pale green leaves. His swing spun him around on his heels until he lost his balance and fell, landing on his back. He lay on the rock and laughed wildly at the white moon.
His cousin Ivan took out a switchblade and giggled, stepping over Crazy Horse to slice deep into the oak, peeling bark from its trunk and hurling the bark into the darkness around him. Israel, the youngest of the three, swallowed the last of the wine and threw the empty bottle down on the rock, sending bright bits of glass flying around the still laughing Crazy Horse.
Brushing glass from his jeans, Crazy Horse rolled over to face the little oak and began crawling towards it, dragging the machete across the rock with him. In front of the tree he raised himself to his knees and brought the machete down with both hands, slicing off branches and falling forward on his face.
Ivan jammed the knife into the oak and left it there as he stepped back to point at Crazy Horse.
“Man, you givin’ spics a bad name,” he said. They laughed until the tears came.
Israel and Ivan were helping Crazy Horse to his feet when all three heard footsteps crunching broken glass behind them. They turned to see a man and a woman standing several feet away and staring at the Puerto Ricans. The man was stocky, round faced, and clean shaven, with a full head of white hair. In his unfashionable plain gray suit, he looked like someone’s grandfather. The woman was lean, at least a foot taller than the man, and wore thick glasses with wire frames. She was dressed in a dark green tweed jacket with matching skirt and could have been thirty or fifty.
Struggling to his feet, Crazy Horse leered at them. Now the wolf wanted blood. If these two old bastards were dumb enough to come into the park after dark, they deserved to get ripped off. They probably had money. The woman wore a shoulder bag and the old dude should be carrying a wallet, maybe a watch and a ring. Crazy Horse planted his sneakered feet apart and stared at them with open contempt. Fresh meat. And what you did with fresh meat was slice it.
The white haired man raised both arms overhead and began to chant.
The tall woman picked up the chant, drawing out the sound as he’d done.
said the man; and the woman answered softly in an English accent,
“Circle of blessedness, circle of blessedness.”
Lifting his face to the white moon, the man called on the god he and his people had served for six thousand years.
“Hu Gadarn, Hu Gadarn.”
The woman repeated the name and when she’d finished, the silence in the clearing served as a signal; the two began slowly walking toward the Puerto Ricans, who watched them with the confidence of practiced predators.
The stocky, round-faced man was incredibly fast. Under the white moon the knife in his left hand appeared to be a sliver of blue light; he brought it from behind him and swiftly slashed Crazy Horse’s throat. In his mind Crazy Horse saw himself bringing the machete up to the white-haired man’s face, but Crazy Horse was lying on his side, bleeding to death.
The woman used one hand to drive her knife deep into Ivan’s stomach. Simultaneously, her other hand had gone to his mouth to stifle his scream. She was very strong.
An unbelieving Israel stood paralyzed by the unexpected horror. His brain had a picture of his brother Ivan and Crazy Horse wasting the white-haired man and the tall lady, because that’s how it was supposed to be. What was actually happening was a bad dream.
Israel clawed at the switchblade in his back pocket and rushed forward to help Ivan. He’d taken only two steps when he felt the horrible fire across his chest as the white-haired man slashed him from left shoulder to right nipple. Israel screamed.
He saw the bracelet the man wore, a thick silver bracelet studded with tiny pearls and worn on the left wrist above the hand that held the knife, and he saw the blue light that was the blade, but the man was too fast. Israel leaped backwards. And then his fear was a weight pressing down on him, a stench that threatened to stop his breathing. He turned and ran bleeding from the clearing, a jagged black line of his blood on the moonlit rock behind him.
The white-haired man watched him flee, then looked left and right, seeing no one in the trees around him. Picking up Crazy Horse’s machete, he and the woman stared silently at the stunted oak, bowing to it in deep reverence as to a living presence.
Then standing over the dead Crazy Horse, who lay on his side with bright, opened eyes, the man lifted the machete high and brought it down with all his strength. The woman, her back to the man, crouched down beside Ivan and pulled the blood-stained T-shirt away from his stomach. Her knife was in her hand and she made the first incision near the naval, where she knew the intestines would be.
The white moon slid behind smoke-gray clouds, submerging the Ramble in almost total blackness. Not too far away a drag queen shouted, “The nighttime is the right time, babycakes!” Someone replied, “You should know, Auntie!” When the white moon shone down again, the white-haired man and the tall woman had disappeared.
An hour later, a policeman patrolling the area parked his motor scooter on the edge of the clearing, turned off the ignition, and put the key in his breast pocket. He took his small flashlight from his belt and used his other hand to unbutton his holster as he looked around. Keeping his hand on the gun butt he slowly followed the drops of blood from grass to the gray rock. Minutes ago he’d been stopped by three frightened homosexuals who’d told him of the dead man they’d seen at the foot of the dwarfish oak.
None of the homosexuals would return to the clearing with him. What’s more, news of what was there had raced through the Ramble and the wooded area had quickly emptied out. Nobody wanted to get involved.
Nobody wanted to be called as a witness. Nobody wanted to be on record as having been in the Ramble.
The cop stopped and listened, but heard nothing. You had to expect that. Count on fags to put a lot of gone between them and trouble, especially if the trouble was a dead fag. It was an old story: Queers came to the Ramble to party and people came to the Ramble to beat up on queers.
The cop, light aimed at the ground, walked beside the trail of blood, careful not to step on it. He was almost on top of the small oak when he saw the corpse. Jeans, sneakers, slim body. Probably some kid who hadn’t known what he was getting into when he decided to check out this meat rack. The cop pointed his flashlight at the head
and there was no head.
It wasn’t there. The cop’s mouth went dry and he squeezed his gun butt with all the strength in his hand. And that’s when he saw the head at the foot of the tree as though placed there in homage, its eyes bright and open and staring back at him.
It got worse. The flashlight picked up a second body. Jesus. The cop moved closer and what he saw almost made him turn and run. The second body was behind the tree and its intestines had been pulled from the stomach and wrapped around the base of the tree almost like a second skin. The cop spun around and threw up, the hot, sour liquid splashing on the rock and his boots.
Later he would notice that each corpse was missing the right hand. There was no way he could have known that the tall woman had left the Ramble carrying the two severed hands in her shoulder bag, the hands wrapped in a T-shirt taken from one of the dead Puerto Ricans.
UPERT COMFORT WAS THE
name on the white-haired man’s passport, a name certain to be less noticed than the one given him at birth by the elders of his tribe.
He and the tall woman, his wife, Rowena, were Druids, priests of an ancient and primitive religion. Together they had been charged with recovering the sacred
Book of Shadows
and killing the five Americans, the three men and two women, who had stolen it from the Druids’ village in England.
The desperate search for the book meant the Comforts had to leave the safety of the Druid stronghold, isolated and hidden in the English countryside, and step into the outside world, a world which had always brutally suppressed their faith. Julius Caesar had ordered the slaughter of all Druids because they had opposed him; since then the priests had lived underground, believing that survival meant keeping sacred things secret. Except for the occasional stranger who came upon the village accidentally, Rupert Comfort’s tribe of pure-blooded Celts had lived undisturbed for the past two thousand years.