THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF Chapter 9
The irony was not lost on me, how my circumstances presented a perfect metaphor for my life in general. My captors put me to work digging a hole. A well, to be precise. But to find myself standing in one place, digging myself deeper but never going anywhere, filthy, exhausted, muscles aching. My life. If felt as if I were digging my own grave.
Day dragged along after day. Surrounded by people but all alone. I knew the dangers of poisonous gas forming in the bottoms of deep wells. Could such noxious air harm me? I knew it couldn’t kill me. If the walls of the well were to collapse, burying me alive, would that end me? No. The Devil’s Hound would of a certainty dig itself free. I waited for death—but not my own.
The Marmorca had taken me to their village as opposed to putting me to work on one of their ships. I did not know it at the time, but the Marmorca were notorious pirates and proficient sailors, as such would necessitate. I had heard, as had all Greeks, of the savages that inhabited the world surrounding our homeland, but the state of advancement enjoyed by the Marmorca proved many of the prejudices of the Greeks false. The Marmorca lived in houses as sturdy and clean as had the Christians back in Arcadia. Their metallurgy equaled the Greeks’, as did their agriculture and animal husbandry. They also raised chickens and sheep, along with swine and donkeys. They seemed in many ways as cultured as my own people, or any people I had ever encountered.
They were savages not in their quality of life but in their behavior. Violence seemed as much a part of their natures as breathing or eating.
I also must admit that the women of the village were almost as ugly as the men. These were not an attractive people, the Marmorca. Even the half-naked children bore feral, unpleasant expressions on their dirty faces.
Another way in which my captivity served as allegory for my overall existence was this—at night they kept me chained with an iron collar around my neck, like the collar of a dog.
At the edge of the village stood a rough-hewn post, of oak, I believe, as big around as a dinner plate. This the barbarians had sunk into the ground to a depth that a legion of men could not pull it up. It stood straight to a height of ten feet, and to this post they kept me and a few of the other slaves bound at night, staked out—like dogs—with our chains fastened around the post. There were numerous such poles standing throughout the village. The Marmorca, it seemed, took many slaves.
Would my collar and chain prove strong enough to leash the beast, when the change came upon me? I didn’t know. But I knew they would offer no protection to the men chained up next to me. Those men would have no chance at all.
As it turned out, I found myself sharing the same pole with six others, and of the six, two were Christians. I do not count myself among these latter, for I was no Christian in those days.
That first night, chained to the post, I don’t think there was a part of my body that didn’t hurt. After a long day of digging, I wanted nothing except to sleep, a sleep like unto death, free of dreams, and if I should die during the night, ah, but that was too much to hope for. Sleep, then, I would settle for sleep. Except that the praying of the Christians kept me awake.
“Deliver us, your servants, O Lord!” one of them wailed in Greek.
“Yes!” added the second. “Have mercy upon us!”
“Keep it down!” I snapped. “You don’t have to shout for Him to hear you!”
“You speak our language!” the first man said. “Are you a fellow countryman? You have more of the look of a civilized man about you.”
“What does a civilized man look like?” I said. “You?” The speaker, as thin a man as I had ever seen, and as filthy, wearing only a loincloth, balding, with a tangled beard, looked nothing like a cultured Greek or Roman. Then again, I suppose I too looked the part of the barbarian. I had grown a beard, my hair hadn’t seen a comb in longer than I could remember, and my solitary garment consisted of a ragged leather skirt, bound at the waist with a piece of course twine.
“Are you also a Christian?” the man asked.
“I lived among them,” I replied. “They prayed too loud as well.”
“Pray with us, brother! Pray to God for deliverance!”
“You’re wasting your breath,” I said. “He doesn’t care.”
“Do not lose faith, brother,” the second man said, older than the first but just as haggard. “The Lord has not forgotten us.”
“I didn’t say that He has forgotten. Only that He does not care.”
Our supper, some kind of stew, lukewarm, scarce palatable—only the hand that prepared it could have said what went into it—had been served to us in clay bowls, and at this time a slave girl came by to collect them. She looked no older than me, and the ravages of servitude had yet to gnaw away at her natural beauty. I suspected her duties, at least in the physical sense, were less taxing than digging wells. Anyway, I noticed her because she was, or might have been, if cleaned up, pretty, and her prettiness reminded me of Kethryn.
The girl had overheard my conversation with the Christians.
“Will you pray to your god for my friend?” she asked them. “She is to be taken to the altar of the demon.”
“Is she of the Faith?” the first of the Christians replied.
“Then she has no hope.”
“Please!” I could not see the girl well enough in the dim light to say for certain; for we were some distance from the nearest cooking fire, but her eyes seemed to glisten with tears. I know that she spoke with a tremor in her voice. “Please don’t say that!”
After a pause, the second of the Christians announced, “We will pray for her.”
“Thank you,” the girl said. She gathered up our empty bowls and left.
“What demon?” I asked, as tired as ever but curious in spite of it.
“A vrykolakas,” the first man answered me. “These heathens have built an altar to it in the forest.”
“A vrykolakas?” Growing up in Arcadia, I knew well the stories of this bloodsucking fiend, called lamia if female, and sometimes wamphyr.
“Four times a year,” the man said, “they take a maiden and leave her chained to the altar, as we are thus chained, as an offering to the vrykolakas.”
“Not an offering,” said the second man. “A tribute. If they do not have a slave girl of the appropriate age, they will offer up one of their own daughters. I have seen them do it.”
“What’s the difference between a sacrifice and a tribute?” I asked.
“Both are bloody, vile businesses,” the older man said. “But the Marmorca seek only to propitiate the vrykolakas. With their heathen gods there is at least the semblance of hope among them that those gods may grant blessings.”
“We do not believe the heathen gods exist, mind you,” offered the first man.
“The vrykolakas does exist,” said the second, “But all the barbarians hope to attain from it is mercy. A scant mercy, in that they pray it will be satisfied with the tribute and claim no more of their numbers as its victims.”
“Why have they not sought it out and destroyed it, then?” I asked.
“It is too powerful.”
I had been stretched out on the hard earth. Now I sat up.
“Tell me all you know about this fiend,” I said.
“I have been here for five years,” the older slave said. “The vrykolakas came a couple years before that, I have heard. He was in life a savage and brutal man from a neighboring tribe. He was wont to catch and ravage young girls, strangling them after with his hands. A great many died in this way, until a hunting party from this village caught him in the act and killed him. They left his body for the animals of the forest to consume. But the man returned as a vrykolakas and began to terrorize the Marmorca, taking victims from amongst them at random. They sought to appease it, and the vrykolakas told them that if they would offer up to it one young maiden each season, then it would be satisfied and no longer prey on them by night. I have seen many girls taken away to their deaths in my time here and, as I told you, not all of them were slaves.”
“The Marmorca would like to be free of this revenant and its demands, then?” I asked.
“They have abandoned hope,” the first slave said. “They do not understand that only the one true God can deliver them from their misfortune.”
I had trouble falling asleep after that. Too many thoughts swirled in my mind, fanning a strange, half-formed glimmer of hope. For destruction or deliverance, I could not say, but it offered something, and for me at that time something, anything, was enough.
I knew that God would not deliver the Marmorca from this vrykolakas, even as I knew that He would not save me. I would have to do it myself.
Perhaps I would do both.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!