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Rituals of the Ancients - Chapter One - 5 pages long by Xanthe Anthony

The Vampire Diaries
By Xanthe Anthony

3,001 Words
5 pages long

The seduction of the dark-eyed valkyrie on my second sleepless night ended with an orgasm that bloodied my sheets, but it was the mare of the night before demanding I recant this tale.

* * *

The first night of my new life began by falling asleep at about 9 p.m. and slipping into a dream of skiing down an unknown mountain slope at sunset with the runs partly crowded.
It took only two or three intermediate glides till I found myself looking over a steep berm down towards the unkempt section of the mountain.
I didn't realize it at the time but now it seems as if I was drawn to look over the edge.
Some thirty feet down, in amongst the trees, I could see a crumpled heap of rags vaguely resembling a body wrapped around the base of a trunk. I undid my skis and sifted through the waist deep snow to my mark and as I neared I could tell my initial assumptions were true.
Indeed it was the body of a man frozen in the fetal position, hugging the tree. The snow had partially melted around his face and shoulders revealing jet black hair, a prominent forehead, thickly meshed brows reminding me of a hornet's stinger and skin so white it was difficult to tell where the snow began.
I dug some of the snow away from the rest of his body. He was powerfully built, much too big for me to carry out alone, so I turned and began to climb back to the run, but before I did one of his eyes shot open wide and its impact nearly knocked me on my butt.
I watched for only a second before fleeing. It was like being caught in the grizzly bears den as he awakens from his winter hibernation. There were inhuman yowls and much crackling of the knuckles loud enough to be the felling of small trees. I scurried up to my skis, climbing three feet and losing one to the icy berm I had to clamber over. I had snapped in one boot before I looked back. He stood gazing at me unconcerned about the dampness of his clothes or the snow still frozen in his hair and with a final double DILARANG KERAS of his neck began to saunter up my tracks.
Darkness had set on this world as I clamped my other boot down and pushed off down the slope at my fastest pace.
Seeing was difficult with stadium lights by the phos-flourescent glow allowing for night-skiing but as I approached a black diamond run I turned to look back and saw him floating some hundred yards behind me knocking skiers aside as easily as bowling pins as he pursued.
I thought, "The others behave as if they don't even see him!" I tucked into a deadly crouch and hurled myself over the precipice of the most difficult run of the mountain, well beyond my capabilities. If I still hadn't believed this to be a dream I'm not sure how I could have survived. I feared at any moment I was going to relive the Wide World of Sports Agony of Defeat.
I reached the bottom of the mountain and headed towards the safety of the lodge. There'd be people in there. Safety in numbers.
I looked to the top of the cliff I'd just skied down to see my hunter clearing the ridge and though he was but a shadow in the glow of the lights horizon his eyes were the darkest part.

He looked straight at me.
The door was a heavy wooden antique portal banded in iron and could easily have been stolen from an old castle. It felt good to close behind me casting me in a crowded room dimly lit by the fireplace reflecting off the mirror behind the bar. Every table had a candle on it.
The place was packed yet no one showed concern over my frantic entrance and the bartender only told me not to trouble the patrons. He never even offered me a drink. All the guest behaved with a disturbing nonchalant gaiety that seemed to contradict the encounter which I knew had just occurred. I spun around dizzily asking for help but to no avail. The bartender remanded me again and then the door shattered in an inward burst splintering over those closest to it and the rest of the room didn't even flinch.
My red-rimmed dark-eyed pursuer rushed in my direction, the people in the room wouldn't acknowledge him though those in his path were crushed in his wake.
The room resounded in laughter and his clothes no longer appeared the wet rags of earlier notice. He was finely dressed in an old-fashioned manner of black and purples. I remember his crimson ascot filling my vision just as he grabbed me about the shoulders and dr#g me outside as if I were weightless, screaming.
He placed one hand on my head, peeling it to one side and the other on my clavicle, setting my neck in a defenseless position. He raped my exposed flesh in a savage fit of feasting replete with the tearing of skin and yowls.
My last remembrance was seeing a full moon against a dark blue night sky littered with many stars over a horizon of great tree tops.

* * *

I woke up.
I thrust my hand to my neck and was unsure of soreness.
I used the large wall mirror in my room to glance into the darkness of my window and then immediately looked away. I was much too dark to stare into. I feared what might look back. I was sweating and I was cold and I distrusted the mirror.
The digital alarm clock read 12:08 and I pulled the covers up over my head. I thought there was no way I'd go back to sleep but soon enough fatigue overtook me and my eyes shut.

* * *

I was tromping through the forest in powdered snow which I did not sink into.
The clarity of my vision belied the fact I was no longer the being I once was and I was determined to hunt the vampire who had made me one of his own.
The trees overhead enclosed me in a tunnel of green foliage on a bed of white. The trunks were brown pillars through which I weaved in a hurried fashion. I knew not why I took the course I did; only that it was the correct course.
After covering a great distance in very little time, I came upon a clearing belonging to a decomposing shack of a cabin and I could smell him.
I covered the area from the edge of the clearing to the threshold in a single leap and peered in through the front door which hung on only one hinge. The cabin had no roof inside. I could see the dark-blue sky and its littering of stars. Only the full moon revealed the location of my prey and he was not alone.
He danced a flying waltz with a woman doing slow motion circles in the air.

They were rejoicing and quite full of pink color. Obviously, I had not been their only meal tonight and this angered me further.
They took no notice of me.
My lip pulled back in a snarl and I took 1..., 2 steps and launched myself at them like a cannonball.
Just before impact, he turned at me enraged, she hissed and I rammed him into the last remains of the roof. His strength was immense. If I had not charged I would never had budged him. He laughed at my attempts to hurt him. He let me strike him and then mocked me by making crying sounds and mimicking me.
Finally, with a simple shove he sent me backwards across the cabin till I was stopped by the far wall and one of my arms went through a glass window. Savagely cut, I pulled my arm inside to look at it and was amazed at the speed it healed.
When I looked back at my maker he was still where I'd left, tossing his hair back neatly and smiling with those teeth.
What was wrong?
I felt something about the size of a baseball slam into the side of my head and I remembered his bride as I railed in his direction in an uncontrolled daze. He caught me, held me easily and took a quick taste of my jugular before turning me to see his spouses approach.
Her eyes were wide in anticipation and delirium at the thought of feeding on me. Partly because of the joy of victory in helping defeat me in the little fight I'd given them but mostly at the ecstasy of feeding on one of their own kind. Somehow I could read her thoughts and she seethed, "delicious."
I squirmed to no avail. My tracking them here had only led me into a trap. They had toyed with me as mobster's toy with their hits.
She gleaned a droolish red smile as her head dipped to my neck. I saw this through the corner of my eye.

* * *

I woke up again and turned to look at the alarm clock, 3:43. The night was deep. This time I looked straight out the window into the darkness and the night seemed to laugh at me. I was sure my neck hurt but thought it was only the stress of the nightmare. I hurriedly shut my eyes again. I was going to finish this dream and win.

* * *

I was flying in a great furry over a primeval forest only a little before sunrise. The sky was already beginning to pale behind me although it was black ahead and the stars still showed.
A few houses began to dot the landscape and over the next hill Seattle came into view only it was very quiet and still. The lights were still on in part of the town causing the twinkling of a city in the distance to alert me of its presence but in other parts of the town whole sections were dark making the entire area seem disjointed.
Further on I noticed cars left haphazardly in the roads and some were even wrecked but there were no bodies, no people anywhere. I could hear the sounds of televisions left on and radios and lots of static. My hearing capabilities had accelerated to a heightened level that at times was both exciting and disturbing.
It was due to this exceptionable hearing that I knew there was no one, no one alive, in town.

My eyes could see it and my ears proved it. To my surprise I saw a man sitting on a rooftop far off in the distance. I speeded my flight to get a better look.
He was sitting in a hunch with his knees pulled up to his chest. He appeared to be crying. His hair was a frazzled mess and he kept his eyes face down in his clasped hands around his legs.
I flew down lower for a closer look and hailed him in my friendliest voice as I approached.
He lifted his ragged head and exposed two very deranged bloodshot eyes. His look startled me and I had difficulty adjusting my trajectory. I narrowly missed him and as I neared he unclasped his hands to show me what claws they really were. He swiped at me, scraped my leg and for the first time in my new body I felt pain. It was a rancid sort of pain, almost vile, reminding of the reason we need to get tetanus shots. The man on the roof, who I now knew was no longer a man, yelled and pranced in a sort of victory dance and then screamed for me to return with a sorrowfully lonely tone in his voice. The wound he gave me healed but it took longer than the window cut I experienced earlier in the mare.
I flew on till I came to a school. I could hear a class being taught mathematics and I hoped for the best as I swooped lower to investigate.
I landed on the playground flower bed looking in the wall of windows into the class. The teacher had her back to a class filled with empty desks and was scribbling algebraic equations frantically onto the black board. She was calling out both questions in one voice and answers in another. At times she seemed to be doing different problems with both hands, doubling her frenzy.
I slipped in through the large louvered window and quietly stood at the back of the class. She continued through an entire semesters worth of rhetoric and disciplinary actions in a matter of minutes before I moved in the direction of the front of the room.
I accidentally kicked a chair, skidding for only a few inches, and she paused to take a deep breath and then continued without exhaustion.
That was my cue to speak. "Excuse me. But, there's nobody here and I was looking for help."
She turned towards me and showed the same bleary-eyed expression the man on the rooftop had in his face, all hideous and sad at the same time, and she snapped the chalk in her hands in two. Spit dribbled from the corner of her mouth as her body followed her head around towards me.
I grabbed a desk and hurled it at her, knocking her backwards in the chalk board for a second, but only a second, as if she no longer knew what pain was and lunged at me.
I grabbed a second desk with one hand, surprised at my strength and how easy it was to push her back with it and pinned her to the wall. With my other free hand I reached for a yard stick, pulled it back like a javelin and thrust it into her chest.
She kicked and screamed a very low moan in a fit and a start then went limp and slumped on the floor as a great mucous sludged out of the wound.
Several gasps of surprise split the air around me and I turned to see faces twisted by their desire to eat me and the fear that they may not be able to accomplish this act.

They peered cautiously through the windows, hiding behind the cross supports, into the class room only letting half their heads and only one eye to be seen at a time. There were at least five of them and I, as well as them, knew I could most likely defeat them.
The door leading in from the hall slammed open, shattering the frosted glass that filled its upper half, and in the doorway stood the biggest blackest vampire-zombie I could imagine. His eyes rolled back in his head turning from red to white at the sight of me and he smiled baring the largest and longest set of choppers I ever care to come across. He took a step in my direction and the watchers at the windows began to rustle and show the rest of themselves. They were mostly disfigured, as if in becoming what they were now someone had disassembled them and put them back together again badly and they were grumbling in hunger.
I took to flight and they were both amazed and disappointed as I crashed through the uppermost height of the windows into the sky.
It was full daylight now and the brightness hurt me although it did not kill me and...

* * *

I woke up and turned to the clock, 6:18 and the sun was fully up. It's brightness made my eyes wince and I slumped off into the bathroom to shower and think about my nights adventure. I never turned on the lights.
The drive to work was difficult even with my sunglasses on and the other drivers irritated me. I don't remember eating the whole day and I got a lot done.
Last night when I got home I couldn't wait for the night to come and when the sun finally set I went to my room where I opened the window before I lay myself down to sleep.
Three beauties of darkness visited me. Their arrival seemed to be a dream I welcomed. They took me, all of me and all my parts into their mouths over and over and I never woke till the sun was creeping over the horizon trying to rise.
I was an early riser.
The sheets were bloody in all the areas I remembered them kissing me; at the neck, the wrists and the groin, especially the groin. But there was only the remnants of blood and the sun and I were no longer friends.
That was today and I felt going to work again was impossible. I spent the entire day in my closet with the door shut until somehow I knew the sun was setting and I could come out.
My mind seems entirely different with only shreds of the thoughts that filled it two days ago. In the closet was an old typewriter and enough paper for me to write this story down.
The window is still open out there and my friends will be by soon.
I'm so very hungry and I miss my parents a lot. I only hope that I can refrain from going to visit them. Somehow we don't seem to belong to the same species anymore and I fear for their survival.
Soon I'll have to go out and although I want to ask God to help me I don't thnk he'll listen anymore and after tonight I may never ask again.
I've got to go.
There's someone or something in my room.
I'm so hungry.
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Ghost story by Martin Austwick

The wind howls outside, tearing at the boards I'd nailed across the broken window. The lights flicker in sympathy. I hold my breath desperately hoping the generator won't fail again. However much I tell myself there is no one left but me I can't ignore my terror at the prospect of being outside in the dark alone, with the storm raging around me.

The last time had been two nights ago. I'd sat in the darkness for a full hour hoping for a miracle, praying that the generator would somehow start by itself. It never did though. I'd picked up my knife and unbarred the door. The wind tried to tear it from my grasp and the rain soaked me in an instant. I'd made it about halfway when lightening burst across the sky, from the corner of my eye I saw a man standing calmly, his coat flapping in the wind. I screamed. My hand clutched at the knife as I stood waiting for the man I knew couldn't exist. The flash of lightening came again. There was no one. There couldn't have been anyone. They were all dead. Everyone except me.

I re-started the generator and spent the night nailing boards across the windows.

Tonight however it doesn't stop. The lights carry on burning, offering their meagre comfort. I open another bottle of whisky and sit in the corner of the room to pass another night in a drunken stupor.

Something wakes me. The storm has calmed and the silence is worse. My heart pounds in my chest and I take a deep breath. It must have been a rat; it can't have been anything else. My hand shakes as I reach for the bottle one more time.

The doorbell rings.
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Help is not always wanted. by Billy Barnes

You are walking down the hall and you see a little boy sitting in a corner crying. You go to him to see if he is ok but you decide not to. You turn to walk away,but after a few steps the boy starts to scream. You turn to look at him and you see that half of his face is torn off and the other half is only hanging on by a cupple of neves. His screaming gets louder and louder. Your ears start to ring. The glass around you shaters as the boy rips the remaning part of his face off. Blood is going everywhere. The floor around you is coverd. You start to run away but slip on the blood. Causing your head to smash into the floor below. You scole is cracked, blood is spewing out. You passout. Ther is a bright light. You reach out for it and bump your head on you brothers bunk and realize it was just a dream.
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Makes you want to go swiming by Billy Barnes

You wake up one morning and you think that you need to catch up on your swimming. You go to the local pool and jump in. Every thing is going good. You swim five laps around and take a brake. Suddenly something graves your leg. It is trying to pull you under. You start to grave for the edge of the pool. It is too late. It has already got you in the middle of the pool. There is a searing pain in your leg. The water around you starts to turn dark red. You are now free. You try to swim away but something starts to rip at your legs. Climbing your body. You look down to see a creature so ugly, you start to scream. It drags you under. You start to loose breath. You want to breathe. There is a pain in your chest like you are about to explode. Something graves your arm. It's something soft now. You look to see what it is, you see a man pulling you in. You can't hold on any longer. Let all your air out. You pass out right before the man gets you out. You wake up in the hospital with bandages all over you. You start to cry because you are ALIVE.
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Dog & Humans by Billy Barnes

You are driving down the road about Sixty. Listening to the radio too. You come around a corner and Smash. You hit somthing in the road. You stop and get out to see what it is and you see a big dog laying in the road. You can see blood dripping from its ears. You decide that it is dead so you go back to your car. As you start your car you look back and see the dog trying to get up. You shut your car off and go back to look at the dog. As you aproch you can hear it crying. You can tell that it is in so much pain. You decide to just let it die. You are heading back to your car now. Your mind is wondering wether you are doing the right thing or not. SLASH. Something rips into your back. BAM. You fall to the ground the thing on top of you is riping at your skin. You are in so much pain. You fill it diging a hole in the middle of you back. You are trying to get away but it drags you back. You look to see what it is but all you see is black. Suddenly you fell no pain. You cant move your legs. You hear a loud noice. The sound of a gun shot. The thing on top of you falls to the ground. You wakeup in the hospital a week later, paralized. You realize that your life is over.
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The Streets by Billy Barnes

You are walking down the street with your best friend. Suddenly yall get draged into a alley. There are people all around you. Someone hits you on the back of the head with something hard. You drop to your nees. You look next to you and see you frind with a gun pointed at his head. BANG. You see your friend fall over. Blood is all over you. You start to scream and pray for your life. BAM. You get smashed in the head. You fall over. Everyone around starts to kick you. The pain so bad you cant stand it. You are trying to fight back but there is nothing that you can do. You black out. There is silance. You can hear voices now. You reconize them. It is your mom and dad. And another that you dont know. Saying that someone is lucky to be alive. You realize it is you. You try to speak but it just sends a searing pain threw your body. You cant stand it any more. You try to scream. You can hear it in your head. The ringing is geting louder. Then ther is silance. You see a light. You ask to your self am I DEAD.
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A Zombie Love Story by R. Scott Barnes

Sometimes we go on picnics in the graveyard where we met. We sit in the shade under the big oak tree at the back, where the heat from the sun won't draw files, eating pickles or melon balls -- whatever fits into the hole where her mouth used to be. She smiles once in a while, I think. It's hard to tell. You know how women are sometimes.
I remember when I first saw her. She was clawing her way out of a hole, barely three weeks after she got there. I had on my suit -- the one I wear to weddings and funerals -- and she was wearing the dress she was buried in -- white lace. The witch doctor was chanting a hauntingly beautiful spell, sprinkling her grave with powders and chicken blood. I told him to be careful not to get any on her beautiful dress. He just hissed, but I think he understood that I wanted this to be perfect -- and perfect means no chicken blood on her dress. Witch doctors.
We went swimming today. She turned all gray and bloated up like a sponge. She didn't mind, though -- she never complains. She just moaned and floated on her back. I floated next to her as the fish nibbled on her arms, and we held hands and stared up into the big blue sky until the sun went down, and she started to sink.
I know it doesn't seem normal, me and her, but what we have goes beyond all that. What we have is special.
Sometimes, though, I think I see her staring off with her good eye at the other zombie guys. When they lumber over and I have to smash their heads with sticks, she doesn't say anything, but I think deep down, where her heart used to be, she wishes I was a zombie too.
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The Hourglass by Leigh Blackmore

"The figure of Time, with an hourglass in one hand
and a Scythe in the other" Addison.

We were at Rob's because there was nowhere else to go. I mean Honey and me. We had to be together, no matter what it took, and what it took was getting out from where we were leaving friends and family and taking off into unknown territory, just the two of us. It would be frightening, but at least we would be together. I could hardly wait.

Now here was Rob, my old school friend, looking pleased to see us though we had turned up on his doorstep with hardly any notice. No doubt, it wasn't terribly convenient, but he'd sounded eager to see us when I'd phoned to say we were on the way through his town en route to Longreach. He had been the only person I could think of that would still offer us any sort of a welcome; with everyone else, I'd burned my boats. Doubtless, he could tell from my strained expression that this wasn't a routine visit; but he was good at smoothing over awkward situations.

"David ...and Honey! Come in, come in... How are you?"

He shook my hand vigorously. He was as darkly handsome as ever. Dressed in neatly pressed jeans and shirt, he looked healthy and energetic. I, by contrast, was pale and enervated. The last few months had not treated me well. I had to put the best face on things.

"Good mate", I said. Even so, I hesitated something about his appearance had changed but I couldn't put my finger on it. "You look different".

"Must be the moustache," he said, smiling broadly, his green eyes flashing. Sure enough, a dapper moustache lent a new maturity to his always boyish good looks. I wasn't convinced that was the difference I noticed, but what the hell, now wasn't the time to pursue it.

Honey kissed Rob affectionately on the cheek. "Good to see you", she smiled. We went through to sit in the loungeroom, our first chance to relax since leaving Sydney.

Most of my friends hadn't liked it when I took up with Honey. She was fiercely outspoken, and that antagonised some people who evidently thought women should be less vocal. She was free and wild, and there were friends who seemed threatened by her refusal to adhere to what they considered 'proper' behaviour. That was their problem: Honey didn't give a hang what other people thought of her. She said what came into her mind, and she did what moved her. I guess that's what attracted me to her. She was a catalyst love her or hate her, you couldn't ignore her.

Of course, I was attracted to her for other reasons. That she was beautiful goes without saying. The mischievous light of her brown eyes, and the gentle laughter of her voice, had me under their sway; and I was (I don't hesitate to admit it) powerless to resist her curvaceous figure, and (trite as it may seem) lips that I thought tasted sweet as her name. She was also a bright student, studying social work, and I didn't see how she could be any more desirable.

My friends worried that she had too much influence over me.

In hindsight, maybe they were right. I treated her with an almost religious devotion, a sort of awed wonder at her beauty - the kind of sensibility that led the pre Raphaelites to paint iconic images of their women - radiant, yet distant and almost holy creatures, not to be merely loved, but to be worshipped.

But then I wasn't capable of seeing how unrealistic my image of her was. She was the first girl I had made love to, and I had fallen for her hook, line and sinker, as they say. Right then, Honey was all I wanted and I was prepared to go to the ends of the earth to be with her a wild, romantic notion to be sure, but I was full of those; and if that's what it took....

"Come through, make yourselves at home. Tea? I have a special Nepalese brew that you might like. I prepare it with salt and yak butter in the Tibetan way". Rob moved to the kitchen and started the kettle.

Rob's place wasn't really the ends of the earth, but it was halfway there, or so it seemed to me. Longreach, the hometown of Honey's childhood, was our planned destination; but when I realised Rob's was on the way we had decided to see him. Three hours' driving took us to his house, via the freeway from Sydney and up through Newcastle to the North Coast. I had spent years in the inner city, hardly moving beyond the tight cluster of suburbs comprising Sydney's grimy, congested heart, and this move to Longreach amounted to an epic journey.

In previous years, we'd visited Rob in Sydney at his inner-city terrace several times. That had been before he'd been away to Nepal; but when he had returned to Australia, he'd bought this house on the coast. It was a beautiful spot, rather lonely and relatively isolated (but I only thought that because I was used to having hundreds of people around me all the time in the city). The house itself was only minutes from a long beach with white sand.

During previous visits with Rob, I had been proud to be with Honey and glad that he liked her. She always seemed intrigued because he was handsome and intelligent, but I never considered Rob my sexual rival. He knew how I felt about her.

I was confident about that, particularly because of one night when we'd all gone out on the town. Funnily enough, it had been earlier that same afternoon that Honey had spotted an old hourglass in the dusty, crowded window of an antique shop on Oxford Street, and impulsively bought it.

I gaze deeply into the hourglass; or does it gaze into me? Within it, I see all sorts of things as the sands shift; different things some good, some bad. Today I had a glimpse in it (or was it a waking nightmare?) of an alternate world. It was a world where Honey had left me, had abandoned her ideals, had settled into hideous domestication with another man. Is that as horrible as the way it really ended or is it more so? I can't decide; any world where she's not present is one that must be endured rather than lived to the full.

The doctor they send to my cell to 'observe' me, makes notes, tapping at his computer keyboard.

For the most part, I ignore him. He wears a white coat, and I imagine that, framed in dark wood on his white office wall is a degree from some prestigious psychiatric school, but that doesn't impress me. He can't see through my eyes. His notion of reality, the template through which he restricts his view of the universe, is different from mine. His vision is closed, both to what I see in the hourglass, and even to what I saw on the beach. I don't blame him for his limited imagination, but I get irritated when he questions the validity of my reality just because it's different from his. He terms my constant fixation with the hourglass 'obsessive'. I don't care; there's a secret to which it holds the clue: "As above, so below". As sand trickles down from the top chamber of the hourglass to the bottom one, memories trickle through my consciousness. I turn the hourglass in my hands, as I turn the facts in my head. Bits of the past, of the events that led me here, pass through my mind in flurries and occasionally in floods...

She had whispered hotly in my ear. "Wouldn't it be fun to make love for a whole hour and have that tell us the time you know, how long we've got to go before we come?"

Her little joke was typical of her frank speech; as I've said, it was one of the qualities in her that turned me on. Before I could protest, she had rushed in and bought the thing, presenting it to me. The hourglass was made of silver, beautifully turned and filigreed; she was certainly, I thought, a woman of good taste in such things. I wondered whether we'd use it as she had suggested. The idea gave the rest of the afternoon a subtle undercurrent of pleasurable anticipation.

Later, Rob had taken us to a pub off Taylor Square. He was keen for us all to have a good time. Well, we'd been drinking heavily and Honey had gotten very drunk, which she was prone to do. If she was uninhibited sober, the sorts of things she did when she was drunk sometimes were too much even for me. She ended up lying in the road giggling, and it was all we could do to get her to her feet and struggle back towards Rob's nearby flat.

She had hung on Rob's shoulder all the way back, laughing, babbling. To be honest, it had begun to annoy me. Honey lived only in the moment, but I thought I could see the evening unfolding in my mind's eye and I didn't like what I foresaw. The alcohol was allowing her obvious attraction to Rob to show itself. I thought it odd and I was annoyed, even a little jealous I suppose, because while outwardly everything was fine, I felt insecure. You never knew quite where you were with an impulsive woman like that.

With some difficulty, we had gotten Honey up into the upstairs bedroom in Rob's small terrace and laid her out on the bed, assuming she would pass out. A few minutes later, I was talking with Rob downstairs; actually I had told him that I thought I loved Honey; when suddenly she had stumbled out at the top of the stairs, almost entirely naked, mumbling to herself and trying to remove the last shred of clothing.

She was apparently oblivious to her surroundings; there might have been strangers in the room other friends of Rob's, for instance but luckily, it was only Rob and me. Even so...

Well, I trusted Rob. Looking at Honey's voluptuous body being paraded in front of his eyes, another man might have turned the situation to his advantage, might have taken Honey up on what appeared to be a slap in the face to me. Not Rob. Not then. He was great. He had helped me to get her back to bed his bed in fact and because of the situation, he had offered to sleep on the couch downstairs.

Next morning when we awoke, Honey made love to me. No, I didn't initiate it; she seemed eager to use the hourglass as she had suggested. I guess it became our fetish, contributing an indefinable 'something extra'. I can remember as though it were only last night the softness of Rob's bed, the morning sun hot on my back as we pleasured each other. I can still see her long dark hair spread out on the pillow, the whiteness of her skin; can still feel her full breasts beneath my hands, as we timed our mutual orgasm to the rhythm of the last sands running through the glass at the end of the hour. The delicious satisfaction of lying back with her when it was over, sharing the bed as if it were our own, Honey telling me how good a lover I was. I had thought I'd always be grateful to Rob for that.

We had used the hourglass many times since that night at Rob's. I often found that in sex, time seemed to expand. Although the hourglass told us that it was only an hour, a similar span of minutes each time, sometimes when Honey and I made love it had seemed to last for days. Using the hourglass was a game we both enjoyed; as time went on, it had become almost an essential element in our lovemaking ritual, and eventually we would no more think of fucking without it in the room than of doing it with our clothes on.

We played other little sexual games there's nothing like variety but because the hourglass had been a gift from her to me, its use had always lent a special aspect to our lovemaking. We hadn't always been able to correspond precisely to the hour; in fact being rigid about it would have spoiled our enjoyment; but when we did manage, sweating and moaning in mutual ecstasy, to climax at close to the instant the sand ran out, it had been a thrill difficult to surpass.

My mind was racing with these thoughts, but Rob pouring the tea brought me back to the present. This was the first time we had seen his home since his return from Nepal, and the lounge was decorated with artefacts that bespoke his deep interest in the culture.

"What brings you?" Rob said, proffering two steaming mugs full of dark liquid.

I needed a caffeine hit, more so than usual; my nerves were pretty much on edge, and I was grateful for the jolt drinking the strong beverage imparted. There was a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach part excitement at the prospect of starting a new life, and part shock at the magnitude of the step I'd taken in leaving everything else behind.

"We're going to Longreach. I've quit my job. I've quit the band. Honey's got a place there." I was blurting out everything without any logical sequence.

Rob looked concerned. I could tell he thought I'd acted hastily but he took it in his stride. "What about your flat? The people you were living with?"

"I've given my notice. We've got all our things in the back of the car."

"Hmmm. Longreach? It sounds totally inaccessible".

"That's the general idea. Honey grew up around there. I just couldn't handle it anymore the way it was". My arm was around her.

She laughed, tossing her head back. "You're looking well, Rob."

"Thanks." He sat beside us. Being at Rob's was a relief. It gave me time to think. As for Honey, I sensed that for her this was another in a perpetual series of adventures. She was not out on a limb like I was. I'd given up everything to be with her, closed things off with my friends. To a lesser extent, she'd done the same, but I knew that if we should split, she could carry on. Whereas by effectively making her my world, I had gone out on a limb. Honey was the limb I was clinging to, and if anything should separate us, there was nothing between me and a long hard fall.

"By all means stay take the spare room. Stay as long as you need to".

It was what I'd hoped he'd say." Shouldn't be more than a few days, mate."

I looked around Rob's living room. There were more artefacts than I had remembered from his old place, testimony to his delvings in strange places. Numerous mandala paintings hung on the walls. In one corner was an ugly statue, which I recognised to be of the god Samvara, with his writhing snake and crown of five skulls. Here and there, yellowing yak skulls reposed on other pieces of furniture.

"What's that one, Rob?" I queried. Over the couch, a carving showed a god and goddess engaged in sexual intercourse of a yogic nature.

"Yab yum icon" he said offhandedly. Rob had a way of always seeming knowledgeable both in book learning and practical things. The artefacts were physical proof of his advance over me in terms of exploring other cultures. I had trailed in his wake in many of my interests. He would enthuse about something, which I would take up and pursue in depth; meanwhile, he had moved on. After taking his anthropology degree, he had taught in Japan for a year, and since we had last seen him had delved extensively into some of the darker Asian religions. His postcards came often at first, but then for a while less regularly. It seemed that from the non dogmatic style of Buddhism and Zen, he had moved on in his personal explorations through Indian tantrism (hence Samvara) and now had become interested in the Bon Po people of Kagbeni.

We didn't have to sit for long before Rob had us both helping with a brilliant meal he had been preparing before we came. He was great at cooking; I had always sworn I must learn to cook when I saw the enjoyment he got from it, but somehow I never did. I guess my head was too much in the clouds. Honey took to it with a will, since she loved cooking as well, although she hadn't made this meal before.

Rob showed us how to combine fish, beef and kidney beans, which he had already left soaking in wine.

"Matsya, mamsa, and madya", he explained. He served up the food on shallow bone dishes. 'Made from the brainpans of human skulls" he said.

"Oh really? How er unusual" I commented, hoping that was noncommittal enough. Truth to tell, I didn't want to appear unsophisticated. I looked askance at the dishes. Their age was indeterminate, but I couldn't help but wonder how recently they had been made. Was he gauging my reaction?

Rob delighted in preparing this kind of an unusual feast, but this surpassed anything he had done in the past. Over the excellent meal, Rob held forth on his recent travels, and was especially expansive on the subject of Nepal.

"It's a great part of the world - Kathmandu has got to be seen to be believed. But I spent more time in the small towns

Jogbani, Dharan, Dhaunkuta, Tesinga and some even smaller settlements along the Sun Kosi River. And the mountains - Kangtega, Tamserku, Amadamblam - spectacular! There's not much access to safe drinking water, in some regions there's a very low quality of life, and some extreme human suffering; more than one in ten children die before their first birthday."

"Oh, that's horrible". Honey had a soft hearted approach when it came to the realities of world poverty. It was going to be an obstacle to her in social work.

"Well, it's a tough place; many's the time I had to suffer monsoonal rain and blood-hungry leeches. Also, the state discourages deviation from social norms; there's rigid state censorship; but it's surprising what you can get way with if you're determined".

I pressed him on this point but he wouldn't elaborate. He waved his fork, continuing with his lecturing.

"The good thing is the population is about half that of Australia, which is unusually low for that region of Asia. There are no current border disputes, low army numbers, no open wars. The people have quite high purchasing power compared to their income, and low foreign debt. They use traditional fuels like wood and animal wastes to provide more than half their domestic energy use, so they're a low contributor to global warming."

I couldn't help feeling these facts and figures he was reeling off were pretty superficial, not much related to his real interests. I was interested, but I sensed that he was glossing over his real purpose of his living there.

"Will you go back?" asked Honey, her brown eyes wide. I knew she was interested in travelling to exotic places herself.

"My main interest was in the religion of the Bon Po" said Rob, "and I've learned nearly all about that I can."

"So what did you learn there Rob?", I probed.

He smiled suddenly a rather frightening smile that didn't seem to be like him well not as I remembered him. But gradually it began to dawn on me that there were many things about him that were not as I remembered. "Oh, many things. The Sherpas showed me the yeti scalp in the Khumjung Monastery, and the bony hand of a yeti at Thyangboche - for a sordid chinking of rupees, of course.

I was able to greatly expand my knowledge of tantra. I participated as a masked dancer in the Mani Rimdu ceremonies - and in others less - wholesome. Have you have you read Conrad's Heart of Darkness?"

"I'm afraid not". I felt stupid, uncultured.

"Ah. Well let's just say that I have a great admiration for Conrad's Mr Kurtz. It's just as difficult to explore unknown territory these days as it was then. "

Did he mean unknown territory, as in Himalayas, the Roof of the World? Or did he mean it in some more metaphoric sense? I didn't pursue it, but I made a mental note to read the novel when possible. It was often that way with Rob catching up on his knowledge, realising months later what some fleeting reference in his conversation had really portended.

"Tell you more tomorrow it's late, you two should get some sleep. The room's already prepared".

And with that, the meal over, Rob dismissed us. We didn't mind. We made love again that night, the hourglass on the table beside us, within easy sight. The hiss of the night ocean's waves on the nearby beach, and the smell of spray, mingled with the sounds and scents of our lovemaking. Honey was proud of her small waist, which I could almost encircle with my hands. When my hands were on her body, I thought I was in heaven. For her part she would compliment me on the things she could I was by no means good looking but she liked my strong arms and the way I kissed her all over. I felt cut off from the outside world; vulnerable, fragile; but I trusted Honey. I fell asleep with my arm around her, breathing the smell of her hair and her skin. Even then I had no idea what Rob had planned.

I gaze into the hourglass and I see a vision of eyes, a giant pair of green eyes in the bed with us, looking up out of the mattress. They are wide open, they don't blink. Eyes the colour of Rob's. I blink my own eyes and when I open them again the vision is gone.
That afternoon, I go around behind the doctor, who is working with his laptop, in his long white coat. He is tapping, always tapping. There are symbols and pictures on the screen. One of them is shaped like my hourglass; I point at it and ask him what it's called. He says "It's called an eye con". He speaks very slowly and clearly, as though to an idiot. He thinks I am one, because I so rarely speak. Let him think that; it suits me fine, puts me at an advantage. Can he see the world in a grain of sand?
I say nothing, but my eyes widen. I watch the symbol. He clicks something under his hand, and the icon spins around. Watching it makes me dizzy. My head feels as though it's falling through a black hole. I go back to my table and pick up my hourglass, which is lying on its side. I run my hands over its smooth curved figure-eight surfaces, which remind me of Honey's body. The memories keep coming back...

No matter how well you know someone, you can't see into their mind. I see now that I was too trusting, but how do you know that in advance? You can only learn it the hard way, and that's what happened to me.

At lunch next day, Rob spoke more of the Nepalis. Now he was thinking of writing a thesis on their fetishes and their primitive rites. Honey asked him a lot of questions.

"Got some great hash here, mate". We all smoked while we talked. This and the liberal amounts of beer he served up went to my head. I thought that I should have begun to feel relaxed, but in fact, I felt tense.

Rob gestured towards my glass. "Have some more madya - actually this variety is called 'chung'. This is a really special experience; the goblet is made of a man's brain pan".

"What is it with this guy and skulls?" I thought, then quickly silenced my misgivings. He was definitely weirder than last time I'd seen him; but I suppose prolonged exposure to another culture would do that to anyone.

He poured the beer into the bone goblet, passed it to Honey. She was normally queasy about things like that, and I expected her to refuse it, but to my surprise, she took the goblet and quaffed deeply, then passed it to me. The thing was cold and hard, an inverted skull whose black eye sockets gazed blankly. I held it by its stem and decided, well, if they can drink out of this, so can I. I drained the beer, and it was surprisingly good. I immediately felt my limbs suffused with the alcohol, which I suspected was not some local variety but a powerful brew Rob had brought back with him.

Next, he held up a carved mask, black with silver studded eyes and nose. Several long pointed polished sticks stuck out of it at odd angles. All in all, it was pretty hideous, I thought.

"One of their fetishes. It's an icon worshipped by the Bon Po. The face of a nameless god in their culture; I believe him to be one of the Sri, the demonic vampiric beings of Bon culture in Tibet; but I believe he has actually had many names throughout history he has affinities with the Greek Chronos, the Indian Kala, the Roman Saturnus Africanus. And he shares qualities with other gods too - the Iranian Zervan, the Indian Rudra, and especially Oya, who's mother/storm goddess of the Yoruba people.

He leaned across the table and picked up a couple more items, which he held up with what seemed a flourish. "Paraphernalia of the rites... a rosary made of human teeth. Wonder about that chair you're sitting on?" He was looking at me. " It's made of the skin of an adept"

Indeed, the seat, made of what looked like tanned leather bound across a wooden supporting frame, had a texture that was unpleasantly like that of human skin; but this seemed a little farfetched to me. I honestly didn't know how seriously to take Rob on this point. For a start, how had he managed to get all this stuff into Australia? Nevertheless, I was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. These Bon Po people sounded damned primitive to me.

Honey seemed to be lapping it all up. Every time I would try to change the subject, she would bring it back. Now they were on about tantra.

"Tantra teaches that the hunger for orgasm defeats the possibility of real orgasm," Rob was saying. "There is a greater orgasm.

The obsession with physical orgasm precludes having sex for hours instead of minutes. It's possible to become drunk on the energy of life itself..."

My attention began to drift. This was fascinating but I began to wonder what it all meant. Siouxsie and the Banshees were blasting away from the stereo, "Entranced" from the Juju album. Honey was looking at Rob; she seemed almost entranced herself...The evening ended once again as Rob went to his room, and Honey and me to ours.

The following morning Honey seemed preoccupied.

"What's wrong?"

She frowned. "Robert came into the room last night"

"What, in here?"

"He was naked. He asked me if I'd go with him to his room"

I was incredulous. "You're joking! What did you tell him?"

"I said no, of course".

"DILARANG KERAS, I don't believe it". But I could hardly blame him for finding her attractive or her for being so. Thank God, she didn't take him up on it. As it was, I felt like punching him out. How could I have slept through it, anyway?

"Don't tell him I told you, David, I'm sure it won't happen again".

"Not bloody likely. I'll see to that".

"It's okay, David it's just something that happened".

Not to me it wasn't. Had they slept together? Surely if they had, she wouldn't be naive enough to volunteer anything that would make me suspicious. But something about the way she said it planted a seed of doubt in my mind.

"We'll leave tonight. No sense hanging around here if he's going to behave like that. Let's get up to Longreach".

It took me a few hours to unwind. Honey persuaded me to say nothing to Rob, but now I was looking at him through new eyes. At lunch together, I was decidedly cool towards them both.
Afterwards Honey drew me aside. "You're the one I want. I hope you know that." She kissed me. I returned the depth of her kiss, and she yielded languorously as usual; I felt a stirring in my loins.

"Let's go down to the beach," I suggested.

It was twilight, the beach deserted. We made love unconvincingly on the damp sand and afterwards trudged the beach's length. Honey tried to get me to swim, but my reluctance was as strong as usual. Besides, it had begun to get cold.

"Come on, why won't you take a dip?" she teased. She went in, splashing about, waving and although it was the end of a bright hot day, I felt a sense of impending what? She looked so small in all that water, for all her vibrant life and vitality; the ocean's immensity scared me. I was glad when she came out, dripping, and asked me to towel her dry. We walked back to the house.

That night, Rob cooked for us again. Once again, he prepared the fish, beef and parched beans, and we all indulged in huge quantities of dope and of a Nepali firewater, Rob called rakshi.

I drank it against my better judgement. I was making plans for us to be leaving, getting on to Longreach so we could get properly set up. I tried to tell Rob we had imposed on his hospitality enough, but he wouldn't hear of it. I began to fear he was angling for Honey. If he tried anything...My fears were not allayed by his continual conversation about the spiritual qualities of sex, interspersed with dark hints about the rituals in which he had participated in Kagbeni.

As the evening wore on, Rob talked further of "the tantric texts...the supreme religious observance of Durga...the Initiation of Death, following which the adept gains magical powers speedily in this Kali Yuga...the left hand path."

My head began to swim. I disliked the mental sensation as much as I did the physical one. I liked to feel on dry land, and now I felt all at sea. The smoke of the hash hung heavily in the room. Honey was sitting right next to Rob, her eyes lit up bright, hanging on his every word. Did she follow what he was saying? Maybe not all the ins and outs of the philosophy he was expounding, but whereas I was lost, Rob seemed to be getting through to her on a more basic level. There was a look in her eyes that she normally reserved for her hornier moments with me. DILARANG KERAS, I thought, is he trying to get her into the sack? He's really serious about all this sexual magic bullshit. Through the dope induced lethargy, I couldn't quite summon the energy to change the course of the conversation.

Rob was trying to convince Honey to cut some of her hair off. They were both stoned, and she did it. Rob began to weave a bracelet out of the shortish locks she had removed with a pair of scissors. His intentions were becoming plainer by the minute. He was overstepping the bounds of friendship. I could have handled that if Honey had resisted, but she was going along with it.

Then the room was swaying, and I must have passed out, because when I came to, with a mouth so dry I could barely swallow, I was alone in the loungeroom. I faintly heard sounds coming from Rob's bedroom. For some reason my head was full of the word maithuna. Memories of what Rob had been saying welled up in my mind. The five sacraments partaken of by the practitioners of tantric rites, are usually known as 'the Five M's', he had been saying. We had partaken of four of them; maithuna was the fifth 'M'.

Raising myself on one elbow, I racked my mind to remember what Rob had said maithuna meant. But suddenly I realised - the sounds from the bedroom were unmistakably sounds of passion, and in Honey's voice. My chest tightened with an uncontrollable feeling of jealousy and rage. What the hell was going on? I asked myself rhetorically, because it only meant one thing.

I strode to the bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. Beyond the door, the room was more or less in darkness, but there was a faint, flickering glow. I pushed the door open.

The illumination from the candles was faint, but it was enough to show me that Honey and Rob were on the bed, fucking. Honey was sitting astride him, bucking furiously, her breasts bobbing, a look of unnatural ecstasy on her face. Rob was prone, almost motionless beneath her. His face was turned away from the door so I couldn't see his expression but I was sure it was one of victory. He hadn't seduced her by halves; she seemed totally abandoned. She panted heavily as she thrust, seeming desperate to reach orgasm. Entwined around her wrist was the bracelet woven from her hair, and on her breast was that damned rosary of human teeth.

"Jesus!" There was something savage and totally outside my experience here. It wasn't just the betrayal - there was something that scared and angered me, and sickened me much worse than that concept. "You bastard Rob, what the hell are you doing to her!" Although he wasn't moving, and she was, I sensed that she was in his power, hypnotised, drugged, God knows what...

I rushed forward, jerking his shoulder. His head rolled towards me and I drew back sharply; there was something wrong with his face. The eyes were too small and beady, the mouth was a silver slit in the black head, and long pointed sticks rattled as I turned him towards me. My God, I thought. He's wearing the mask! He's raping Honey and wearing the Bon Po mask...I felt sick to my stomach.

He said nothing, but his hand came up and caught my wrist in a grip that threatened to snap the bone if I should persist. I cried out in pain, dropping to my knees.

Above me, Honey was screaming in short bursts that seemed to wrest themselves from her innermost being. Tears filled my eyes as I realised I couldn't stop what was happening. Rob's grip tightened on my wrist and Honey's gasps came closer together, louder, until they culminated in a cry commingling pain and pleasure such as I'd never heard. Rob pushed me away with his fist and I fell backwards, awkwardly, smashing my hip on some hard piece of furniture as I fell.

Honey fell too, panting, spent, her orgasm past, forward onto Rob's body. I tried to get up on one elbow, ignoring the pain in my hip. Rob was withdrawing from Honey's body, calmly, slowly. I gazed with horror as he stood, picking up one of those shallow bone dishes from his bedside table, and holding it beneath his p#nis, allowed his semen to spurt into the dish. From another dish on the table, he pinched up what looked like some sort of herbs and sprinkled them on the sperm, using his finger to mix them together with the sticky fluid.

Christ! I'm going to kill him! was the only thought in my head. I crawled across the floor trying to get up.

He turned back to the bed, and grabbed Honey's hair, pulling her head up, so she was in a kneeling position. He moved the dish in his other hand towards her mouth.

"No!" I screamed. I was on my feet, about to lash out and knock the obscene bowl from his hand. Too late. Honey's eyes were glassy. She received the edge of the dish between her lips,
, And then the fluid was in her mouth, a little trickling from one corner, which she licked away. Rob laughed, a harsh alien sound; he'd been hiding the person he'd become ever since we had arrived.

I hit him then, a savage blow that carried all my bewildered anger. It caught him in the chest and sent him sprawling. He kept laughing, infuriating me, though he sounded winded, as he lay on the floor, the dish knocked from his hand.

I was enraged. I wanted to kill him, to smash his brains out. But I was more concerned with Honey. I turned to her. She was half way out the door, still naked.

'Wait!" I ran after her. Rob's laughter, dark, sardonic, rang after me as I went.

Then he stopped laughing and began a rhythmic chanting. He must have started to beat on that ritual drum, for its pounding echoed in my head as I fled the house in search of Honey.

He was insane. I couldn't fix that. I had to stop Honey. Surely she couldn't run far in that semi drugged state? I heard the front door slam. Outside it would be dark; I had to find her quickly or she might wander in front of traffic. I was panicking. Ignoring the pain in my hip, which made me limp and slowed me down, I made it to the front porch. I couldn't see her; all I could hear was the wind and the pounding of breakers. I limped towards the street.

She must be heading for the beach. Maybe that would be OK, I would catch up with her there as long as she didn't go near the water. It seemed to take me an eternity to make my way down the street and cross the road to the beach.

My heart pounding, I staggered on to the sand, climbing over the stubby fence that separated the sand from the rough grass that edged the road. She hadn't been gone more than a few minutes, I would catch her but I was afraid of what had happened, afraid of what I might find. I had to trust that she had been in Rob's power; the thought that she might have betrayed our relationship consciously was shoved somewhere I wouldn't have to think about it. If I could just catch her, get her away from here...It had all been a mistake...

The sky loured overhead and the beach felt lonely and empty and huge and the smell of ozone was in my nostrils. Waves crashed on the shore. An irregular line of black seaweed glistened beneath the froth of the surf's edge. I sensed that overarching the sky above the beach was a force, some tremendous supernal evil.

Had Rob called it here? Could he possibly have any power over anything that felt so powerful itself for I could feel its might in the shades of the dark sky, in the pounding surf, in the black clouds that swelled ominously above. Something or someone was going to hurt Honey. I ran, and ran. I had to save her.

There was a dark shape up ahead on the sand. A tremendous feeling of relief welled up in me as I recognised Honey. The sand was dragging at my feet as though trying to hold me back from the sight; I felt like a foolish marionette at the command of a puppet master infinitely vast and cruel. As I moved closer, the dark shape resolved itself and the relief was replaced anew by rage. .

Honey's body was lying across the slight rise of a dune. She must have passed out. Her head was thrown back, her eyes closed, her arms outflung. Grains of sand trickled down between her fingers, joining with the myriad of grains that formed the dune. A slow, steady trickle of grains, moving with infinite slowness, one by one.

Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I wondered how many grains remained in her hand, and how many were already on the beach, and how long it would take for each and every grain she clutched in her outflung hand to make its way down onto the sand beneath her. I seemed to be looking at the stars too, and it was as though Honey held all the stars of the firmament and was allowing them to gradually twinkle out as they joined the universe of grains that formed the beach.

Holding infinity in the palm of her hand. I lowered my head to kiss her beautiful throat. .

When Rob found me, I was still supine on the sand, my hands encircling Honey's waist. I was still counting the grains. The trickle had slowed, but every now and then it might have been once a minute or once an hour another grain would dislodge itself from the palm of her hand and tumble towards the beach, sometimes taking a few of its fellows with it. When I had counted all the grains that dropped from her hand, I would count all the grains on the beach, I was telling myself.

I saw his feet but continued to stare idiotically at Honey's body. Her torn throat filled my field of vision, and the darkened patch where her blood had run down into the sand.

Rob was standing there, looking down. From one hand dangled the vicious mask with its slit eyes and clattering sticks. He said tonelessly "Do you know what you've done?"

I didn't know what he meant. I couldn't read his expression; it might have been victory, or pity, or despair. I was incapable of judging. The world reeled around me as I tottered to my feet. The hissing of the breakers was in my ears, but above it I swear I could still hear those grains trickling, the susurrus of them, from Honey's hand. Rob's face loomed in front of me, and the susurrus became a roaring of blood in my ears. At my back, I could feel the overtowering shadow of the force that filled the sky, seething with a malevolence I couldn't comprehend.

The police found Rob on the beach, his body not far from Honey's. His skull had been smashed open. Gritty sand was sticking to the bits of grey matter that poked out through his bloody scalp.

The police think I killed them both. They say I had their blood on my mouth, on my hands. The court believed them. My friends testified against me; I had been acting strangely before I ran off with Honey, they said. No one listened to what I said about Rob's Initiation of Death or his evocation of a brutal, timeless god. Now I'm in this barred cell at Goulburn, and every day I have to listen to the doctor prate of 'emotional storms'.

Now I sit here, staring at the hourglass. They found it at Rob's place, next to the bed that I shared with Honey. They gave it to me when I asked. How did she die? Why? Why? Each time I turn it I hope to know the answer to those questions by the time the grains run out. But I never know. And I turn it over again, inverting it, starting again. I loved Honey. I would never have hurt her, but no one else could be allowed to have her. All I can think of is the sand and of Honey. When the grains run out, I turn the hourglass; although I know she's dead, there's a sense in which I'm keeping her alive.

The sand at the top gets concave like a little pit. The sand makes little flurries at the bottom as it trickles through, piles up, fills the lower chamber. The grains begin to pile up at the bottom, slithering over each other. I watch fascinated, unable to draw my eyes from the unpredictable movements. Worlds form and reform in front of my eyes, shapes and figures dancing in the restless shift of the sands.

They tell me it still only takes an hour for the top chamber to empty into the bottom. I don't believe them, for the things I see last sometimes for days. Whole chains of events, strange visions. When the bottom chamber is full, I turn the hourglass and the process starts again. If I ever stop turning it, Honey's life will have run out. The grains flow down, incessantly, from top to bottom, from Heaven to Hell. I turn it over. And over. And over...
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By Their Fruits by Leigh Blackmore


"I need a lover like any other, what do I get?"
- The Buzzcocks

When it seemed to be over, Fowler made himself change his clothes. He unpacked the clean suit and blue tie and the fresh white shirt from his overnight case, replacing them with his soiled clothing, which he wrapped in a plastic bag lest it stain the case's lining. Carefully, he wrapped the messy hatchet in a piece of towel, then hefted it in on top of the bulky plastic bag and snapped the overnight case shut.
He dressed in the bedroom's en suite - washed his hands, shaved, brushed his teeth, adjusted his tie, fought down the urge to be sick. He'd done what had to be done; he hadn't flinched from the task at hand; surely the worst was behind him. He wished it had gone more cleanly, but he could hardly have wished it to go more quietly. She hadn't cried out at all - had hardly had time - only fought him (despite the terror in her dark eyes) with more strength than he had thought she possessed. Nonetheless, a curse, not vocalised, had seemed to invade his mind from hers, an impalpable threat whose words had thankfully not fully taken shape. He was glad that he hadn't quite caught the phrase - had it been "You'll regret this"? He couldn't be sure - that seemed weakly inappropriate. In any case, he was prepared to put it down to imagination, or stress.
He deliberately didn't look back as he walked out of the front door of the flat, the overnight case clasped in one hand, which trembled only slightly. His mind had already begun to block out the events that had taken place inside. He would not acknowledge the act, even to himself, except insofar as it meant he was rid of her influence. He began to feel safe when he pulled the door shut behind him. He heard the hum of the lift down the hall, the reassuring throb of road traffic outside. He tried to exclude from his mind the murkily lighted bedroom, where what was left of Marion was still writhed feebly.
In the car, heading back for the city, he forced himself to remain calm. Blobs of light from shops and houses seemed dissolved by the darkness which welled up outside the windows.
Despite himself, Fowler began to nod. A sound - gentle, yet disturbing, impinged on his hearing. Splat...splat...
The man next to him, nearer the window, drew back alarmed as large drops of blood spattered against the window.
Fowler had opened his eyes. Now he closed them again and drew his hand over his brow, which was damp with sweat. He looked almost fearfully at the window as passengers began to mutter nervously amongst themselves. But it wasn't blood that they'd seen, only rain - fat, heavy drops of rain, each impacting softly. splat...splat...splat...Fowler's reflection in the window seemed awash with subdued panic. He tried not to think of Marion, for the passengers might sense his thoughts.
He tried not to think of all that blood - her blood, of the soft 'splat' each time a drop fell to the bare floorboards. Already he was succeeding in feeling distanced from that scene, as though the person who had entered her flat to bring their affair to its bloody culmination was not himself but someone else, someone he'd known a long time ago.

Now he was - he had to be - Fowler, the happily married businessman. He had to prevent himself from thinking about Marion's curse, the one that filled his ears mere seconds before the final blow of the hatchet severed her throat; had to prevent himself from understanding what she meant by it. .
It became easier as the bus approached his home. He almost felt what he'd hoped - that because he'd destroyed her body, her words could no longer touch him. He jostled his way off the bus when it lurched around his corner, and splashed his way through the dim pool of light at the bus stop toward his house. He fought to keep out the memories, which threatened to flood over him. The fat drops of rain had turned to drenching downpour. By the time he had made his way with laborious strides to his front door, he was soaked.
Janet hadn't yet returned from dinner with her client. That was good. He shrugged out of his heavy coat, leaving it dripping limply in the hall, a cast-off sagging figure. In the comfortably furnished living room, he crossed to the fireplace, whose hearth was encrusted with soot. He put the overnight bag down and lit the fire, coaxing it into life. Anything that could remind him of Marion had to be destroyed. He tried to think logically. He mustn't give in to the half-formed fear that now he'd let himself go he would never regain control.
First to go was the plastic bag of soiled clothing. It caught alight almost immediately, hissing and smoking. He prodded it, making sure the fire consumed everything. When it was ash, he unwrapped the bloodstained towel from the hatchet and threw it into the flames, which surged eagerly around and through it. Hatchet in hand, he climbed the stairs to the spare room.
Inside, he strode to the bulging drawer of the old dressing table where he'd hidden Marion's letters and cards and photos so that Janet wouldn't find them. He bundled them up, replacing them with the hatchet, which he closed into the drawer and locked. The memorabilia of his times with Marion, good and bad, must be consigned to the flames.
As he tore them to shreds and flung them on the blaze, he tried to avoid looking at them, to avoid the pain of confronting the past; but the flames caught one shred of photograph and whisked it right side up. Out of the smouldering ash, Marion's face gazed up at him for an instant, all her contradictory charms displayed - that look of bruised innocence, the pouting lips and dark, sullen eyes that had simultaneously enticed and frustrated him. Then, a quivering tongue of flame obliterated her features, and in a few more moments the only tangible evidence that connected him with Marion was gone.
He didn't know how soon her body would be found. He tried not to care. The next day he studiously avoided reading the papers. Instead, he lounged around the house, conversing desultorily with Janet, involving himself in pressing household chores. By the day after that, whatever tenseness or apprehension he felt had begun to fade away. The police had nothing whatsoever to connect him to her murder.

He himself began almost to believe that on the night of her death he had been here at home, warming himself in front of the fire because of the rain and cold - which was what he'd planned to say should he be questioned. But when several days had passed without any official knock at the door, although one part of his mind assumed that her mutilated body must have been found and buried, at the surface of his mind he was innocent and blameless.
A week after the killing, he awoke suddenly with a premonition of doom. The room was steeped in dimness; shadows pooled in the corners, dissipated only slightly by a watery shaft of light which struggled through the window, Janet lay huddled in the blankets beside him, her face obscured. Fowler sat up uneasily, eyes glued together, hair rumpled, the images of a half-remembered dream fading rapidly in his still-sluggish mind. He rubbed his eyes, peering around the room. There was a vague sucking noise, which might have been the drains, but sounded more like something licking its chops. The noise ceased so quickly that Fowler was immediately unsure he had heard it at all.
There seemed to be a dark stain on the floor. Dark red blood fell in slow motion with a quiet 'splat' in his mind. He stilled the thought, yet the stain did not go away. It spread liquescently, moving ominously towards the bed, to lap around its feet. Fowler hurriedly disentangled himself from the clinging sheets, but by the time he had put one foot on the floor he realised that the sun had gone behind a cloud; the stain was shadow.
He felt sick, and barely managed to down the scrambled eggs and soggy bacon that Janet dished up for his breakfast. He was not looking forward to going to the office this morning; his mind wandered as he trudged the concrete paths that led to the office block which housed the legal firm where he worked. He passed a disused theatre; one wall was plastered with peeling posters which flapped, or clung desperately to the wall like reluctant suicides.
As he turned to enter the corridor which led to his offices, he glimpsed someone he thought he recognised in the distance. His heart leapt. Then, it started to pound, for at the same time that he realised the girl with the dark hair worked in his own office building, he was dismayed by the realisation that he'd mistaken her for Marion.
At the office, nothing seemed to go right. His bleary eyes gave his workmates an excuse to rib him.
"Had a big night of it last night, eh?" grinned Robert. "Janet been giving you a bit of a workout, eh mate?"
Fowler could only groan and bury his head in his paperwork, which lay about his desk in drifts. There was a slimy taste in his mouth, and his stomach refused to quieten; it kept growling at him.
"Leave him alone, Bob, he's just under the weather this morning", said Margaret in his defence, flashing a sympathetic look at Fowler.
He returned the look, thankfully. Her raised eyebrow seemed to indicate that there might be better ways of showing his gratitude, but surely she couldn't be implying that he should ask her out? After all, she couldn't know what a joke his marriage was.

He pretended not to have noticed Margaret's come-on, and bent his head back to his legal briefs. It dawned on him that this was the third time his mind had strayed to Marion that morning. Apathetically, he allowed his thoughts to drift back over episodes in their relationship.
Fowler had first seen her playing guitar in a small club, the sort he had rarely (if ever) ventured into. That night he was in search of adventure, however, feeling jaded in his relationship with Janet. Marion had struck him instantly as the embodiment of his deepest desires. She had been dressed simply, her long dark hair falling over one shoulder. As she played, she seemed childishly unaware of the provocative nature of her own body. Other men were drawn to her too; he could tell from the way they watched her. He wanted her immediately, but before he had even spoken to her, he swore a silent oath that he would protect her from the depredations of other men. She seemed the sort that men use for their own ends, and whenever he was away from her, the inevitable image of her that sprang to mind was of a dark, lustrous fruit that had been roughly handled.
It had been a passionate affair, one that left both of them breathless. No sooner had Fowler approached her, it seemed, that they were in her room. She was pouring out her story of her love for the last man who had betrayed her. Fowler ached for her. For some reason she seemed to trust him. She and her music were full of idealistic notions about people and society. He, though less naive, thought her soul as impossibly beautiful as her body, and when he was with her, he was able to forget the drabness of his life with Janet. His half-hearted protestations that he was married and that they couldn't embark on a full-scale affair died on his lips as she kissed him. He was hopelessly in love with her.
After that first tempestuous encounter, Fowler gave himself wholly to Marion. He thought they were giving themselves wholly to each other. Their sex together was like an explosion of love and tenderness and violence that until now had been repressed in both of them. He was blinded by her, almost worshipping her, seeing everything through her eyes - or so he thought. It was a short step for him to excuse her willfulness because of her beauty, her selfishness because of her intelligence.
Yet Fowler wanted to possess her, and he couldn't. The more he tried to pin her down, the more she withdrew. He suffered humiliations just to be near her. Eventually it became apparent to him that for all her platitudes about caring, she was concerned at heart only with herself and with what she could squeeze out of the moment. Yet he could not confront her with it. Once he tried to accuse her in a jealous rage of flirting outrageously with another man. But when he saw the mixture of hurt and contempt in her eyes, he felt as though he had kicked a small puppy, and hated himself for it though he knew he wasn't to blame.
His lust for her had been uncontainable. When he had felt her slipping from his grasp something began to snap.

One night, nearly a year after they first met, she confessed the reason she no longer let him touch her. She had only used him to let her get over the man before, the one she had really loved. Fowler went to pieces. He raged, knowing he was destroying the relationship. She refused to see him.
He moped around, trying to take solace with Janet, while simultaneously disguising his adulterous relationship. Janet, full of herself, of her own life and pursuits, had apparently noticed none of it. He raked over the embers of his affair with Marion until his brain felt as if it would burst. He began to see that if the moment offered comfort, Marion would take it. If the moment threatened her - or if she did not get what she sought from a situation - she would turn away from it. Now, she had turned away from him. Yet even now he tried to justify her actions to himself. He told himself that she did this blindly, as a moth seeks the light, or as a leech sucks its fill and then moves on to another host - unpleasant behaviour certainly, but one cannot blame the moth or the leech, he thought, for acting according to its nature. It knows no better.
The mistake had been his - to have envisaged her as a butterfly, or as the Rose without a Thorn; to have created her in his image of what he wanted her to be. Incurable romanticism which he hadn't realised was in him, had led him astray, making him think her infallible. In one of his love letters he had compared her to a rough gemstone, and secretly thought that he could polish her to perfection, faceting the gem to bring out the inner brilliance. It had been childishly, presumptuously arrogant of him. He came to the agonising conclusion that she was an altogether cheaper sort of jewel, a gaudy specimen that sparkles when it catches the light, but which has no true heart and in the darkness is lost, reflecting only upon itself.
Finally, these justifications extinguished themselves from his thoughts about her. The verse he'd written her seemed hollow, a record of his own self-deception. The lovemaking and the times they'd treasured together now came back to mock him, making his relationship with Janet more stifling than ever. He grew distraught and depressed by turns. Marion remained as she had always been - alluring, yet ever more unreachable. His love for her turned in on itself, became morbid. The exotic fruit, for him, had become rotten deep within, as though infested with worms.
He wandered the streets, contemplating suicide, or worse.
His sleep began to be racked with twisted memories and dreams, which haunted his waking hours. One night he dreamed he was weeping, pouring out a guilt-wracked confession of - something - to friends, to former employers, to everyone who ever knew him. Faces leered at him. There was one face more sensual, more attractive than the rest - a face with dark, sullen eyes and a kind of hurt, childish expression of sadness. He moved towards her, engulfed in a rush of torrid eroticism as he kissed her. She was his perfect vision of womanhood, his bride to be.

Then, he was carrying her down an aisle of white fungi, which wavered and pulsed. Before he reached the altar, she had slipped out of his grasp. Had he dropped her? He wasn't sure, but suddenly the ground beneath his feet was wrenching itself apart, and her recumbent form was receding, falling away...
When daylight roused him from his restless sleep, his jealousy was at fever pitch. He planned everything in a fury of dejection - bought the hatchet, the overnight case, the extra clothes - and the very same night travelled to her flat. He knew that if he could kill her, he would not have to suffer anymore. He couldn't have her; therefore it had to be as though she had never been. He felt like a pawn in the hands of his own uncontrollable passions.
Marion hadn't even questioned his motive for returning. She was, incredibly, naive enough not to realise the extent of the impact her rejection had made on him, and invited him in with his overnight case. They found their way to the bedroom more through habit than desire.
When she turned away, he was on her from behind with the hatchet in hand. The first blow laid her head open like a split melon. He closed his eyes as he landed the next blow between her neck and shoulder, and had to tug to get the blade out of her body. She fell across the bed, twisting face upwards as she fell. Blood gushed thickly from the wounds, which gaped like slack red mouths. Her eyes flickered dreamily, reminding him of how she'd looked when he made love to her.
He was suddenly possessed by an overwhelming hatred for her. He hacked, and hacked, and hacked, destroying and rending her beautiful limbs. The place became a charnel house, the bed soggy with blood. She lost so much that before his fury was spent, the blood flow was slowing.
Time lost its meaning for him. All he could hear was the slow 'splat'....'splat'... as the blood dripped from the bed to the floorboards. He was suddenly afraid she was still capable of screaming, and he ensured his last blow severed her throat. It was then that her curse blossomed like an evilly spotted fungus in his head. He staggered from the room. His ragged breathing was immediately calmer, and he began to change his clothes in the bathroom. From rage, he had cooled rapidly to calculation.
Fowler grimly left his workplace, his skull pounding. He remembered up until entering the flat, but he had repressed the memory of what happened thereafter.
He felt stalked by something as he stumped home, but he was too tense to look around to see who it might be. Perhaps that girl from the office who looked like Marion. He wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of turning around. Flesh rubbed against flesh, but perhaps it was only in his thoughts. God. He almost wanted her back - but it was way too late for that, and he instinctively felt it fatal to pursue that train of thought. Yet life without Marion was inconceivable - a tabula rasa blanker than before they'd met.
Unexpectedly, for a brief while his life seemed to run normally again. Since the affair with Marion had reached the intolerable level whose only solution was her annihilation, he was almost glad to be alone again with Janet, and she none the wiser about his passionate and violent life outside their marriage.
For some months he pursued the usual round of engagements - the dinners full of innocuous small talk with mutual friends, the occasional tennis match at which Janet never failed to thrash him, the fundraising activities for the Arts Centre where Janet worked three days a week as public relations officer.

He even managed to make love to her a few times, taking refuge in his masculine ability to achieve erection and copulate while remaining emotionally uninvolved in the act. If Janet had noticed any change in him during or since the affair with Marion, she had done nothing to indicate it. Sometimes he was surprised at her unquestioning faith in his fidelity. He assumed, trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she was so tied up in her work that it gave her all the stimulation she needed, and that his indifferent lovemaking did not deprive her of much. She was, to all appearances, happy with her life. He tried to be the same.
But it wasn't long before Fowler grew to feel again that his marriage to Janet was a mere shell, shallower now than it had been before he sought comfort in Marion's arms. Janet began to seem even more colourless, even more complacent and dispassionate than ever. He experienced a mounting dissatisfaction that parallelled that of the year before he had met Marion, when his boredom and restlessness had drawn him to Marion like a thirsty man in the desert would be drawn to the cool of an oasis. Now again, he contemplated his hobbies with renewed boredom. He felt sick of the dull routine, and his intentions of injecting a new vigour into his relationship with Janet were thin and getting thinner.
He felt that way even more so when he arrived home one evening to discover that Janet had arranged a party at their place, evidently another of the endless fundraising functions for her Arts Centre.
Some of the artists whose work was funded by the Arts Centre had come along. They were mostly a scruffy lot - many looked nothing but skin and bone, most dressed in black or what appeared to rags. Fowler thought that anything would be better than to be caught here, chatting idly about the latest exhibition, or last week's Art Centre politics. He would have preferred to be alone with his thoughts - there was a nagging uncomfortable sense that he wanted or needed to remember something - instead of having to act the faithful supporting husband.
He forced a smile while a particularly boorish middle-aged woman with a plummy accent droned on about her new fashion store. Over her shoulder, past the crush of guests, he glimpsed Janet going to and fro in the kitchen, and emerging to refill glasses and pass around hors d'oeuvres.
"I didn't know they still called them boutiques" he forced out, hardly bothering to disguise his impatience.
"Oh yes, well the whole sixties revival is in full swing you know" she said, with a look that told Fowler she faintly suspected deliberate sarcasm on his part. "The Arts Centre people seem to feel that it's a viable proposition. We're going to call it Granny Gets Hip - a direct ripoff of the whole Haight-Ashbury scene of 1965, of course, but then the idea is to make money. We're reviving the sixties feel, but only in terms of fashion, not politics, of course; the whole peace-love thing was so naive, you know".
"Well, I'm sure you have the right formula for success" grimaced Fowler, tightening his grip on his glass.

He felt nauseous, and a headache was impending.
"You must come to the opening" she gushed. "I imagine it will be much more exciting that going in to your dull office - make a nice change for you".
Fowler mumbled a vague promise to turn up on Monday morning, and abruptly excused himself to rush away to the bathroom. His stomach was fluttering violently, and his skin felt hot and greasy. Perhaps he'd been drinking too heavily? But he'd only had two glasses of wine. He must be ill; he couldn't decide whether the strain of struggling to remember something half-forgotten was making him sick, or whether the sickness was what blocked his memory.
He heard the woman's 'harrumph' behind his back as he stumbled to the bathroom. He hadn't meant to appear rude, but it was hardly his fault. If Janet hadn't expected him to attend this party, he would have been resting up in bed, losing his bruised mind in sleep, instead of attempting to maintain a brave face.
He only just made it to the bathroom in time to abandon his glass on the hand basin, and yank up the lid of the toilet, and then his stomach convulsed and its contents spewed into the bowl. He gasped for breath. When he had finished heaving, he stood and wiped the sweat from his forehead, clearing his throat to rid it of the sour taste of bile; then he gazed into the mirror above the basin while he washed his hands. His face was tired, pasty-looking. The flesh seemed doughy.
As he turned his face away from the mirror, and put out the light, something seemed to move quickly just beyond the range of his vision. He glanced back, but all he could see in the now-dark bathroom was the palely shining mirror, reflecting the doorway where his defeated form slumped.
He returned to the throng to give his excuses, but he wasn't able to interrupt, for the guests were singing now. Was it some special occasion that he didn't know about? Memories stirred like prematurely buried corpses; he was afraid of what would happen if it burst forth to the surface.
Janet looked contained enough, singing away, surrounded by her friends, who were waving champagne glasses and toasting her. 'Oh my God' Fowler thought suddenly, 'it's our wedding anniversary'. No wonder she had chosen tonight. People were looking towards him, grinning. The upraised glasses must be meant for him as well.
Now Janet was disappearing into the kitchen. She reappeared almost immediately with a cake, and cheers went up. Fowler found himself thrust towards the centre of the gathering, and before he could protest, someone put the lights out.
Darkness flooded in, and he heard groping sounds. Then a match flared, and someone held the tiny flame to the candle on the cake. Fowler clutched at his stomach. He felt wretched. The darkness was black mud, oozing about him. The candles gradually lit up, and he became able to see who was lighting them. A face floated above the cake - he thought at first it was Janet's, but it looked more like - It felt as though the walls of his mind were about to give way; he was on the verge of remembering what he'd done, but confusion and panic gripped him.

Why was Marion here? How could she be here? Now there was no mistaking that face, those sullen eyes, that full mouth that had once belonged to him but which was now twisted with hate. "You killed her, Fowler thought. Marion no longer exists. You - you - killed her. You erased her.
He sobbed, finally realising- remembering - what he'd done. In his mind's eye he saw the hatchet coming down, coming down, h#cking Marion's body to bloody pulp. He felt dizzy.
Just before the mouth above the cake blew out the candles, it uttered something that Fowler suspected only he could hear. It was a throaty, betrayed kind of curse, in Marion's voice. "You'll rot for this," it said. Fowler realised that it was the curse he'd tried to avoid remembering properly since the night she died. Then, the flame was snuffed out and amidst the incongruously celebratory cheers, he fell forward across the table.

Later, in bed, Janet was saying that she hadn't realised he was so ill. For once, she was tending to him, caring for him. But he hardly heard her words. He felt feverish. He almost choked when she brought in a bowl of fruit, for the peach she offered him was bruised. He pushed her hand away. Sullen-eyed, she climbed in beside him.
He felt no better, but to avoid talk, he began to read a book, and kept reading until drowsiness overtook him. His eyes began to flicker shut in spite of a growing sexual arousal he felt for Janet. He was reaching out for her, reaching for her soft flesh, her warm embrace. It was like being in the special place he'd shared with Marion. He could feel Janet's naked body yielding to him, pressing close to his. As their bodies joined, her face loomed, filling his vision like a world onto whose surface he was about to plummet. He felt detached and unaccountably sick again; and then her face began to change.
It was not Janet he was making love to, but Marion, her face contorted with lust. As she bucked and thrust against him, her eyes closed, the smell of rotting fruit filled his nostrils, cloying and sickly. Then her lips parted to reveal what could not possibly be what it appeared - a worm fat as a tongue that writhed, white and puffy, between her lips. He jerked awake, dripping with sweat.
But the nightmare seemed not to have ended. He found himself out of bed, at the doorway. All he could think of were Marion's words: "You'll rot for this", the last menacing sibilant protracted, hissed between her teeth with her dying breaths, her body in ruins.
Fowler's flesh felt weak, hung heavily on his bones. He looked around. Janet was sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to him, a robed draped around her shoulders. He stumbled towards her. Perhaps if he confessed everything to her...
But it was too late, he knew, for that. He put his hand on Janet's shoulder, and then almost snatched it away again with a shudder of revulsion. It was spongy and moist to his touch. He had to see her face. When she turned, in response to his hand's anxious pressure, he involuntarily fell back a step. Janet's flesh was peeling away, sagging from her face and upper body in sallow folds and strips.

Her eyes were dead and glazed. Instinctively, with rare tenderness, he clutched her head in both hands. The pulpy mass came away from her body altogether, with a mushy snap like a rotten cabbage being separated from its stalk.

Fowler gazed in blank disbelief at the rotten, maggoty object he was holding, as the rest of Janet's body toppled onto the floor. It wasn't when the mouth dropped open that he began to scream, nor when he saw again that pale, lolling, grub-like tongue writhing obscenely within, nor even when he heard the detached, crumbling head croak in a voice identifiably Marion's, though harsh and hateful: "You'll rot for this".
It was when he looked down at his own body and saw the flesh begin to discolour into ugly bruised tissue, beginning to drop away from his bones like heated wax, and when his nostrils caught the reek of his own decaying flesh.
His screams did not last long. Within moments he hadn't enough flesh to stand, and he fell to the floor, his brain seeming to implode into slime within his skull
as he fell.
The last thing he saw before vision and sanity fled was the mouldy, squirming head that had been Janet's. And from within its sockets, gazing into his with that wounded expression, were Marion's hurt-puppy eyes.
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The Sacrifice by Leigh Blackmore

"That's right, stumble," I thought, "fall to your knees from sheer exhaustion. There is no one to help you now. You are unable to rest until it suits me." They danced before me, their eyes glazed, their peasants' garb tattered and fluttering in the moonlight. At their head danced the piper, his instrument glittering in his hands as he fluted the weird melody I had taught him, his legs moving under the same spell as that which had been cast over the ghastly-faced decadents he led.
The ground raced underfoot and the scenery changed with alarming rapidity; on and on they would dance under my direction, struggling against physical pain but unable to stop, across the countryside's ever-changing face until gasping, trembling from exertion, barely able to continue they arrived at their destination.
"Astaroth will be appeased tonight, but the demand is heavy. I must find a way before the night is out." My cloak wrapped around me, keeping pace with the jerking, melody-enthralled offerings of human flesh ahead of me, I pictured again the isolated hut in the valley which I had visited but an hour before.
It was one of a number of makeshift dwellings which dotted the landscape, inhabited (as they all were) by ignorant and superstitious shepherd folk. None was more than a hovel, as befitted the abysmal poverty of the people, who barely managed to exist in the harsh climate. The dilapidated structure, which I had visited this night, had been one of the only huts left inhabited after the sacrifices which had been made thus far. The piper by my side, I approached the door of the hut, smiling as I heard the foolish muttered prayers of the family within, and carefully inscribed the rough wooden door with a crescent moon, the symbol of my beloved Lady Astaroth. Then stepping back, I waited--and they came. Slowly at first, one by one, they came through the doorway, the piper commencing his playing. There was terror in their eyes then, but I knew that it would be replaced by weariness as they began to stumble after the piper as he strode away across the glen into the darkness. Yes, stumbling they came and stumbling they still were, following blindly the piercing sound of the silvery flute.

But now the line in front of me slowed somewhat as it plunged into the black forest. It was a matter of small concern--we were nearly arrived in any case. Through the trees I followed the straggling line, until it burst out into the moonlit clearing with its improvised rock altar; there I allowed the peasants in their shabby skins and furs to drop like puppets cut loose from their strings. The piper lowered the flute from his lips and helped me raise one of the inert bodies and lay it on the altar. Raising my eyes to the gibbous moon, whose pale beams illuminated the clearing, I recited the ritual invocation and then withdrew a long, curving knife from the folds of my robe. With great care and with a steady hand, I neatly cut the peasant's throat from ear to ear. As the warm blood flowed out onto the stone surface, I noted with irony the shape of the gash--a perfect crescent. The minutes passed quickly as I disposed of the others in a like manner; they went silent and uncomprehending to their deaths.
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