Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Shakara
You usually said your nightly prayers by your bed, but your brother Devan would recite them in the attic. Something about ‘being closer to god’ up there. Perhaps because he thought, being closer to the sky, his prayers would travel further? Well, he was three years your junior. May as well indulge his childish fantasies for now.
Oddly, your family began seeing better luck. Your older sister, Lucy, graduated to a wonderful university for her Literature and Art studies, mother’s bad eyesight got clearer and even father was able to replace the rickety estate wagon! It seemed like things were finally turning around. Lucy found a good flat to stay in as she moved off to university, and would send letters every week to update how things were on her end.
‘God be praised’, Devan had said. Unsettlingly eloquent for a six-year-old, but, at least he had good faith. And praise him you did. You went to mass and lit candles. Devan wanted to take some candles home to light them in the attic, but mother had told him ‘no’, for it would be a fire hazard. There were a lot of old papers up there, old magazines, sci-fi books and broken toys. So, a set of flameless candles had to do. Smooth, orange plastic, flickering almost like the real wick ones. It was weird to see him so focussed on religion, being so young. Normally, children would become confused or frightened by things such as deities, but not Devan.
Time continued and your luck progressed. You began getting better marks and your blackheads vanished swiftly. Nobody got sick anymore. Lucy sent letters home that she was finding work experience!
‘Too good to be true’, you’d thought. Some days you looked around and asked people if they were joking, but they weren’t. Nobody was tricking you. This was very much real, despite your suspicions.
Devan started spending more and more time in the attic. He even ate his meals up there.
Mother thought it quaint how his imagination ran away with him. She heard he’d made a small play-nest up there, tent and all. Father urged him to be careful, for he’d been hearing scratching- a sign of rats? But Devan was aware of this.
One day, he walked down from the attic, covered in dust and dirt, proclaiming that he’d gotten rid of the rats. He’d carried their limp bodies by their tails to prove it, necks snapped. Mother almost fainted from the shock and father nearly vomited. You asked him why he’d done it. No child should be killing rats! Fear bubbled in your stomach as you wondered if he was sick. Why did he kill them?
Devan just looked confused. He claimed they were… ‘offerings’.
“For what? For who?” You half-screamed, driven hysterical by worry.
Mother began talking about blasphemy and religious madness. Father was fumbling with the phone, trying to call a doctor, or even a priest. Devan didn’t look worried one bit. He just took you by the hand, wanting to show you the attic.
A tent made of bedsheets, surrounded by old teddies and dolls with old outfits. The dark alcove looked cosy, lit by dozens of orange orbs- the flameless candles.
You wished they were regular candles. Fire and wax. Fire, so it would burn that… thing.
In the centre of the room, a pale shape wrapped in long, dusty linens like a chasuble, the noise of soft tearing filling your ears as it bit into the body of a rat.
“I prayed for good things, and my prayers were answered, so long as I gave him the rats. The rats are bad and full of sin, so he eats them. In return, we’re given luck.”
Without another word, Devan pulled another rat out of his pocket. You almost cried as you saw it was faintly twitching, trying to get away. He just walked forward to the being and presented it on a yellow plastic plate, dotted with stickers of stars and glitter.
The being hummed in gratitude and made a strange gesture with its long fingers. Your ears popped and the air felt clearer. This had to be a dream. It had to be. Was it the old attic paint? Maybe you’d breathed in some chemical and were just hallucinating. It must’ve been a costume. Yes. It must’ve been! Perhaps it was Aunt Vienna? She always was a bit strange…
You shuffled forward towards it, never managing to make out the pattern of its body. Shifting endlessly, like a glass chameleon, the surface of a pond in a high wind. You could smell the rat rapidly rotting already, not even a minute dead. Bones clattered on the plate. With a trembling hand outstretched, you tried to feel its skin, to see if it was but canvas and sticks, a fake. It held your hand, long, soft fingers wrapped around yours, long enough to twice ring your palms. Softer than silk.
“Will you pray for something?” Devan asked.
“I…” Your voice dissolved in your throat. All possible vocal communication was lost upon you as you pondered the creature’s dark eyes and long face. You looked at it, pleading that it was all just some horrible nightmare brought on by late-night eating. A high fever. Strong medicine. Stress. All imagined. Make-believe. Pretend. Unreal.
Insanity devoured your senses.
It hummed again and promptly melted into the dark, leaving no trace of its existence.
Devan didn’t speak of the being in the attic again. Neither mother nor father remembered what happened that day. They were calm once again, no longer shaken with horror, no longer wan-faced and wire-haired. They were fine. More than fine, they looked much healthier. More relaxed. They were planning a special weekend dinner to celebrate their luck. would be planning a visit during her summer break. It seemed nobody remembered that day. Nobody remembered.
Neither did you.
Not for a long, long time.
Not until you’d finished secondary school, moved up to university, graduated your studies, lived abroad for a bit in Scotland, then returned. You learned more, advanced your intelligence and made friends. You didn’t encounter any adversity nor trauma. All sadness seemed to leave your life.
It’d been, what, 11 years? 13? Quite a long time. It's funny how many things can be forgotten with time.
Devan had found employment as a priest. Appropriate, given his fascination with faith. A very good one, too. Always with the choirs and songs. Donating to charity. Very respectful, very helpful.
You and he had returned to your childhood home. Lucy lived there now, with mother and father out in the country for their retirement. She was busying herself with writing.
Lucy had decorated the house, as shown by her favoured colour scheme of reds and purples.
Devan and you talked at length at what you both experienced. You were looking into mapping the seabed and coral habitats with new sonar equipment. He was moving up to becoming head of the parish. Perhaps even bishop?
He’d donated a good bit of money to charities, earning the trust and love of the whole town.
Many times, he’d been asked how he had such good luck, and his answer was always the same. Dedication to hard work and trusting in his faith. Trusting in God.
You had no idea why you started shaking. The groundless fear that overtook you was simply unable to be explained. You weren’t aware of it, but you’d begun to panic, even to hyperventilate. Why? Why were you so terrified? Why?
“I knew you’d feel this way. It has been a very long time since you’ve been here. I prayed for good luck for myself, for the family, and for my flock. To God. … Lucy doesn’t live here all the time, she only stays in the living room when she’s writing. Sometimes in the kitchen. Honestly, I think she prefers that apartment in London. … I redecorated the attic. Do you want to see?”
Not that it was a question. Before long, he took your hand and led you up there, every muscle in your body screaming in protest, your mind flaying itself in the throes of madness.
The attic was much cleaner, with all the old papers and toys thrown out. It smelt like frankincense. The old wooden floor had been replaced with strong boards, carpeted over. There was a skylight window, allowing sunlight to stream through. The walls were white, with paintings hanging.
The Farmer and The Seeds. Jesus at the Wedding, turning water to wine. The Fish and Loaves. The Last Supper. Some kind of makeshift chapel?
And at the front of the room, a tall chair and dais- a kind of throne. Of which sat on the throne, something pale and clad in a long, red robe with gold trim, holding a wooden goblet. A crown.
Your breath became trapped in your chest and your eyes froze as you pondered the figure. No longer the gaunt and dusty creature, but a majestic being. It had grown taller and stronger since your last meeting with it, its skin clearer and with a ruddy tint to it.
Devan was busying about the attic-chapel, ensuring everything was in place as the being looked on.
“It has been quite a long time. You know, all these years, I wondered what you had prayed for. And I realised it! It wasn’t luck, it wasn’t money. Not strength. Not even glory, luck or love, no. You prayed to forget. I must say, it was a rather strange choice.”
“How…?” Your voice, barely a whisper, but deafening in the quiet attic.
“He told me.” A swish of fabric as the being adjusted its robe. “God told me.”
Again, that melodic hum. Like singing crystal, the edge of a glass gently caressed with fingers.
“Ah. Seems a payment is to be made. All the years of forgetting, there is a price. Out of everything he has blessed upon us, it seems that keeping someone without memory is rather difficult. Come here.”
Almost swallowing your own tongue, he brought out a knife and held out your hand.
“All the rats are gone. But don’t worry, you can pay in blood.”
Your palm was opened, and it filled the goblet. You looked on in confused awe as it filled the vessel, shining red.
“It helps that you’re here. My hands were starting to hurt. I thought I was going to have to start hunting for rats, foxes and squirrels. I mean, I’m close to a forest, but I’d look suspicious and I’d be reported for ecoterrorism. I don’t want that.”
The creature hummed as it looked at the filling goblet, satisfied in the same way one would look at an efficient spring cleaning.
And I wasn’t about to pick people off the streets, no, no! Certainly not! People can have dark hearts, but there’s better ways to repent.”
Another hum, deeper this time.
“Aye, they’ll receive penance in due time. Just keep still! A blood donation and it’ll be better. Drain that sin right out of you. There we go. You’re doing very well.”
Your thoughts didn’t collect themselves. They couldn’t. Things didn’t make sense anymore. You were just eyes looking out at the world, as the pale creature drank from the ruby liquid, looking at you appreciatively, eyes like endless pools of agate.
It wiped its white face clean and your wound closed like a zipper. You stared at your palm, tingling, the blood rushing back into your fingers as if the blade had never pierced you. You looked back to the being. Too many fingers waved and folded, like the hand of benediction. Devan looked proud. The being looked joyful.
The majesty spoke in a deep, endless voice, like a thunderclap through a cave. A voice of unfathomable wisdom, patience, diligence and… kindness.
It smiled an ivory smile, rows upon rows of teeth like diamonds.
… What did you go back there for? Oh, yes, you’d been speaking with Devan. He had his own church in the town. It’d been built from the ground up. So full of life and joy. They were having a bake sale, but you weren’t interested. You just talked with Devan. Something to do with redecorating the house. He had a chapel in the attic and some… statue of a saint. White, very white. Marble?
Nobody you recognised. Just a pale statue. Perhaps saint Paul? But which saint held a goblet? Or was it Mary? Whatever. You wouldn’t worry over the small things.
Nothing important to remember.