© Linux87 | Dreamstime.com – Cemetery Night Photo
By Christopher Opyr
Kyle motioned threateningly with the knife, or, at least, he attempted to do so. His movements came across hesitant, and with that hesitance he might as well have shouted his utter inability to make good on his threats.
“No, I won’t,” Anita said responding to Kyle’s insistence that she would return his daughter to him. Anita stepped towards him, while Jonesy rooted through the cushions of the therapy couch behind her. “I will do no such thing. Your daughter has passed, and I ain’t piercing the veil for you anymore than I would for myself when my own Charlie died. It’s high time we end this farce.”
She held out her open hand and waited. At last, Kyle sighed, handed her the knife, and fell into a nearby armchair. He didn’t weep or apologize, nor did he hint at any emotion beyond resignation.
Anita returned to the couch with Jonesy. Only ten feet separated her and Kyle, and yet a gulf existed between them, a great chasm of unease and distrust. Kyle had shattered the harmony of their relationship, leaving in his wake a great discord.
Kyle cast his gaze about, avoiding eye contact with Anita, settling at last upon his own clasped hands resting upon his belly. He fidgeted idly with his thumbs, one pressed to the other, then glanced away looking over the empty couches. A lonely pallor hung over the room, settling upon it like dust with the ages.
He wanted to speak. The words welled up in his throat and caught, burning, an acidic reflux, and he swallowed them back each time. Anita provided him no further respite from the silence, no proffered olive branch to bridge the rift that had formed. Whether she sat in silent judgement, simply grieved for the loss between them, or pondered some other course entirely, Kyle did not know. What he did know is that she had made no move to call for help, though by all rights she could have him arrested.
“Why…” he started.
“… don’t I call the police?” she finished.
“Should, I s’pose. Might. But would you have done it, really?”
“Of course not.”
“But,” he started, “how… how can one…” He paused, his mind swirling in the eddies of possibility – the infinite might-have-beens that lay now just out of reach. His daughter, his Charlotte, was no longer a period full-stop, but a simmering question mark imbued with the potential of actuality, an existence beyond death.
“How,” he continued, “can we know that death lacks finality and not seek to overturn it?”
“Laws of nature, Kyle, and of something more. Life doesn’t come from nothing. You read the records. You know about the Mackies. You found Rose Newsom in the adoption files, but did you see her mother in the paperwork? Did you find any record of Christy Newsom?”
“A death certificate.”
“There you have it. A barter, not a gift. Christy hadn’t been long gone even. Your daughter, three times longer. What price must be paid? Would you have that on my conscience? On yours?”
Yes, Kyle thought, but he did not reply. He had failed to face death in that morgue, and he knew that here too he would fail. His daughter should be returned. Order should be set right, and his life was a trifle to pay, but he could see the anguish in Anita’s weathered features and her half glances. She had lived with the guilt of that woman’s death for decades, had abandoned the use of her gifts because of it, and he had no right to force her to walk that path yet again. The damage this time could be irrevocable.
“No,” he said, swallowing back his words once more.
“Good.” Anita nodded at him, then rose, tapping her leg and sending Jonesy bounding to her side. “Well then, it’s been a long night. Kindly show yourself out.”
Kyle rose, but before he reached the door, Anita stopped him once more.
“I’ll see you on Thursday.”
How she had the capacity to forgive him Kyle could not fathom. He faltered there in the light of that kindness.
“After everything that I did?”
“You’re a pacifist,” she replied. “It makes your threats idle at best. Bless you child, but you don’t have the heart to kill.”
He slashed quick and deep, slitting the rabbit’s throat. The blood sprayed frantically and he lowered the dying creature swiftly to the urn, not expecting the arterial gush to send the blood so far. They needed as much of the blood as possible.
The rabbit twitched struggling with its dying breaths, and bobbing as he held it by its ears and tail just above the urn collecting as much of its blood as he could. Inside himself he felt something tear with each diminishing shudder. He could see the confusion in the animal’s eyes as the vibrancy faded from them, slipping away into the nightlands beyond life.
Anita had been right about him. Kyle Ingham lacked the capacity to kill. At least, he had lacked the capacity to kill. Something had changed since their conversation that night, and with this act, with his final commitment to action and his stand against death (with death?), Kyle felt his own sense of right and wrong dying within him, an internal parasite in its last throes.
Anita reached into the urn, bathing her fingertips in the rabbit’s blood and running a streak in a line down her forehead and along the bridge of her nose. As she lifted her finger away the blood trickled in tiny rivulets, some concluding at the tip of her nose and dripping through the air, while other streams converged and pooled in the dip of the philtrum just above her lip. So adorned, she rose from her place by the urn and began to chant.
“Vi supplico spiriti,” she began, “ascolta la mia chiamata.”
Kyle could only focus on her words with great difficulty, and even then he did not speak the language, so he found the affair rather futile. Instead he focused on her person, her arms splayed out in supplication, and he did his best to imitate her posture per her instructions. As he attempted this he noticed that she had changed her attire, wearing now a long, thin, gown-like vestment. The material was a transparent black, with a golden trim, revealing her aged body beneath lined with the wrinkles and scars of a life well-lived. The exhibitionary nature of the dress made Kyle blush, and he felt ashamed both for finding any shame in her attire and also for being so easily distracted in the midst of such an arcane and solemn ceremony.
“Ascolta la mia chiamata,” Anita intoned once more, her voice rising. A light breeze began to stir.
Kyle refocused upon her vestment itself. The cloth appeared frayed and moth-ridden, as if stored for decades. Yet it also bore fresh dirt across its entire surface, so thoroughly stained that he couldn’t help but to imagine it as itself recently exhumed.
“Ascolta la mia chiamata!” Her voice cracked, a tone of pleading piercing through the increased pitch. Kyle may not have been able to understand her words, but he knew her tone. Anita was begging. The breeze tickled at Kyle’s arms and he watched in dismay as the salt and ash began to shift ever so slightly.
Anita’s chorus ended and her tone shifted again. A hint of pleading remained, but now her tone demanded obedience, as if chiding a petulant child. “Su questa ora, la sua, i morti, un’ultima stretta alla vita dare. Per lei il cui tempo è finito, lasciare che una volta di più il flusso del fiume del tempo.”
Kyle felt a warmth emanate from the earth, the heat surging through the soles of his feet and up his legs, crisp and dry and pleasant, as if standing upon a furnace grate on a cool winter’s eve. He glanced down, his arms still spread, and his back suppliantly bowed, and noticed a hint of steam rising from the ash and salt runes. The smell of burnt leaves filled his nostrils calling forth images of bonfires spent with his parents as they cleared the first fall of autumn.
Anita resumed her former pleading chorus, her voice beginning to rise to a crescendo. As it peaked, she began to shout into the black of the night.
“Custode dei morti, una miseria offro per voi di sentire il mio appello. Su questa ora, la sua, i morti, un’ultima stretta alla vita dare. Ritorno a Charlotte la scintilla della vita, e di prendere da noi il debito che è dovuto.”
With that she bent down, dumping Charlotte’s remains from their casement in the burlap sack spilling them upon the earth in the center of the pentagram. Kyle jolted at this, unable to look away from the gentle swaying of Charlotte’s cratered skull rocking to a slow stop at Anita’s feet.
The steam turned to smoke, and the ash and salt seemed to boil, as Anita lifted the urn in her arms then emptied it upon Charlotte’s remains. The blood washed over the stained bones and leathered flesh, bathing all in a viscous crimson and Kyle stumbled, his feet hitting upon the inner circle. A shock of pain stole up his leg, buckling his knees and sending him to the earth between two points of the star. He could feel his flesh bubbling where the salt line had burned him even through the soles of his shoes.
Still Anita never wavered. She ploughed on, her incantation still unfinished. As she continued the wind howled and in the distance an outcry of dogs rose to join in the morbid melody birthed of the mingling of the chanting and the wind tearing through the trees.
“Accettare la nostra offerta, miseria prima, e poi con la mano preso in pieno.”
The star and the circle and the runes burned into the grass and dirt, not with flame but with a scorching red-hot heat that branded the ground in its image.
Anita returned to her original chant, this time Kyle joining with her having heard the words enough to stumble his way through the incantation. The summoning? “Ascolta la mia chiamata. Ascolta la mia chiamata.”
Her voice burned at a fever pitch and in her final intonation of the chorus she shifted the language ever so slightly. “Ascoltate la nostra chiamata!”
The wind tore through the cemetery casting aside the ash and the salt, leaving only the brand of their form behind. The baying of the dogs continued, escalating as more joined. At last, Anita knelt before the bloodied remains of Charlotte and ended her pleas with one final utterance, soft, at almost a lover’s whisper.
“Verrà la morte in vita. Death will come alive.”
The wind and the baying and the chanting, all of it, ceased instantly. A calm settled over the cemetery, leaves torn asunder in the previous gusts now falling gently from the sky, catching in Kyle’s hair and Anita’s wispy vestments. Kyle brushed the leaves from his head and shoulders, first with one hand and then the other, keeping the balance, then turned to Anita.
Again he did not speak, the words forming but this time turning to ash in his mouth. Nothing that he could say bore any weight this eve, so he simply waited for the inevitable or for nothing, and unsure now of which he desired, or if the course chosen had even been just. If it worked, and all signs pointed to there being at least some truth to Anita’s talents and the rumors of her past, then Kyle knew that his time would soon be at an end. The exchange would be made. Death would come for him, taking his life for that of his daughter.
Kyle stood, leaning on his right leg as pain surged up his left from his burnt foot. Determined, he hobbled over to Anita, and more importantly to Charlotte. At his feet rested her bloodied bones, yet no life pulsed through them.
“She will come,” Anita said and he did not know if she meant Charlotte or Death.
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