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The Heretical Nine — Chapter 1

Present day

“Open the windows. This heat is almost as unbearable as the stench.”

On the cracked rotting wooden floor in the center of the mansion’s entrance hall were seven mutilated human bodies. The room was an ancient canvas with dried globs of black-red paint rotting on the surface.

The bodies were arranged as a star, and a pentagram had been painted with their remains. There was a body for each point of the star, and one last body in the center. A circle, painted with blood, enclosed them and marked the outside vertices of the five points.

Federal Agent Jack Clarence took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. The heat of the mansion caused his ash blond hair to stick to his forehead. Jack Clarence was distinctly average in height and build. He had a thin face with a pronounced jawline and a twelve-day beard. The natural shape of his lips, slightly obscured by his mustache and beard, gave him a natural pout. Despite that look, however, Jack genuinely frowned now as he observed the grotesque room.

“Did the heat cause the bodies to rot as they have?” he said. “Or have the rotting bodies turned this place into a sauna?”

“I’m sure neither helped,” Trista Black replied. Trista worked as a consulting parapsychologist for the FBI. “Nor did the flame that torched them to obscurity.”

Jack thought the department wasn’t taking this case seriously when she’d been assigned as his partner. On top of that, Jack didn’t trust a person who wouldn’t look him in the eye, and she’d been avoiding his gaze since they first met. She was, however, beautiful, with jet-black hair, pale skin, and bright blue eyes. But her looks didn’t reconcile her haughty attitude. The journey to this little island south in Jewfish Basin of the Florida Keys had been a nightmare.

Not as bad as they nightmare they were in currently, but all things considered, Jack Clarence just wanted to awaken.

One-Week Prior

Pastor Joseph Charlemagne awoke with a splitting headache on the cracked wooden floor of an unknown place. Beside him were six others, each stranger than the last.

Sprawled on the floor next to him was an older woman—slightly overweight, with a white cloud of hair and two strands on either side of her head that were wrapped in beads and small bones. She sat up quickly, the wrinkles of her skin following a second slower. She looked at Joseph, then looked to her left.

Next to her was a tall diamond-cut black man with long braided black hair. He was still asleep. He wore a strange cowl around his upper body. His stomach was barren, and his defined abdominal muscles expanded and contracted as he slept. High on his waist was some sort of animal skin skirt, and on his body rested a thin green snake. It lifted its head and tongued the air. Joseph watched as it then slithered into the man’s mouth and then, a moment later, out of his left nostril.

Sitting up and staring at Joseph with one eye was a sagging, thin, and bloodshot man. His skin looked as if it had been stitched together onto his body, and black wire stuck out at random intervals on his arms and legs. His right eye was missing, and in its place was a large black button. The bloodshot man smiled, but the corners of his mouth sagged and the excess skin covered his teeth, and a blood-spit concoction ran from his cheeks. He wore a white dress draped in a pattern of red roses.

Next, a gorgeous blonde woman with bright grey eyes blinked as if awakening from a peaceful night’s sleep. She wore a red corset with black lace that accentuated her thin but voluptuous figure, and on her head she wore a diadem with two large goat horns on either side. She had red bruising around her neck, as if she’d recently been strangled. As she sat up, Joseph noticed the scar of a pentagram that had been branded into the pale skin of her sternum.

A third woman sat up and let loose a blood-curling scream. Joseph and the others jumped as she broke the silence. Her oily black hair hung over her face, and she wore a rotting wedding dress. She began mumbling to herself. “My love? No. No my sweet, I know. How could I forget the sequins? Of course, you’ve passed on. I know my sweet. My sweet, I know. Of course I know.”

She kept repeating, “Of course I know, of course I remember, how could I forget?”

The black man with snakes around his body, with in an inhumanely deep voice, said, “Be silent.”

His words echoed around the room and carried an authority that silenced the voices in Joseph’s head.

The woman’s scream awakened the seventh and final member of their party, who looked relatively normal compared to the others. He had a brown mullet, gages in both ears, and hanging from them were two stones. The left stone was dark gray and the right was bright yellow. Both were polished. He wore a short-sleeved button down maroon shirt and frayed jean shorts. He was pudgy, and had a glossed over empty gaze as he and Joseph made eye contact.

A maniacal disembodied voice erupted from all around them. “So I see my contestants are finally coming to!”

The voice deepened. “Welcome to my home, and moreover—welcome to a brand new reality television show hosted by your very own Claude Van Drike!”

An applause sound effect reverberated around the room.

“Don’t fret. That was just studio sound. This isn’t live. Not this season, anyway.”

Claude Van Drike paused, then continued. “Your compatriots, numbering eight, are several of the most weird and prominent magic and occult figures of our time. And yet, a majority of the planet would argue that the magic isn’t real. Well, I’ve invented a game show to solve this conundrum once and for all.”

Joseph looked around at the others. They certainly didn’t look like typical game show contestants.

“The rules are simple,” Van Drike continued. “Kill the other seven! Whomever survives is the winner!” He laughed again. “But it’s not that simple—oh no! In this mansion you will find everything you need to survive but weapons! There are no guns, no knives, no maces, no pikes, no cannons, no rope. My candlesticks are made from lightweight plastic and all other Clue inspired weapons have been eliminated. To kill each other, you must rely solely on your magic. Prove that your magic is real, and live. Hide it and die. Do not expect the others to hide their magic as you’ve been conditioned to hide yours.”

Applause sounded once again. “Now, to meet the contestants… First we have the rootworker, the tall, black, snake adorned Dr. Damballah Wedo. Give it up for Damballah, the master of the rootworking arts!”

Damballah sat in silence, stroking the head of a snake wrapped around his wrist. On Van Drike’s cue, applause sounded once again. Two of their group also clapped—the beautiful woman in the corset and the strange stitched together man drooling blood.

“Our next contestant is the speaker of the dead, the séance queen, the witch of many worlds. Still mourning the death of her fiancé and wearing the wedding dress she was to be wed in years after her beloved’s tragic suicide, meet Ms. Persephone Stone, the channeler!”

The woman with the long black oily hair obscuring her face began mumbling again. “No my love. The flowers are still at the baker’s for the cake.”

“Moving on.” Van Drike said, maintaining his game show host persona. “Next we have the sadistic healer, the manipulator of poison and health. The alchemist of living-drought. He’ll wade into the pools of death and drag the lost back to life, and just as simply send the perfectly healthy to their painful doom with a quick concoction and spell, meet Mr. Joseph Charlemagne, the witchdoctor!”

Joseph shook his head. “What?” He looked at the others. “Forgive me. You are mistaken.”

“You can’t fool me with your tricks, doctor.” Van Drike said. “I’ve seen more than your kind would have me believe.”

“I am a pastor.”

“He said unconvincingly…” Van Drike said. “Next we have Ms. Sally Samuels, the…”

There was a long pause. No one spoke.

Then, Van Drike spoke again. “Next we have the conjurer of demons and the devils. Murder is just the beginning for her. Lucifer himself has been summoned by her kind from time to time when things get a little too boring. Her medium is blood and her canvas is the Earth—she summons the darkest beasts of hell to do her bidding, meet Sally Samuels, the diabolist!”

Sally flashed the rest of them a brilliant smile. The bruises on her neck were obvious, but she acted as if it were nothing.

“Next we have the man of the stars,” Van Drike said. “His magic doesn’t derive from within but from the universe—”

“Excuse me!” the man with the mullet shouted. “If you’re introducing me you’re mistaken. It’s about using the power of the aliens to unlock our cerebral potential.”

“Meet Mr. Elron Ronnie Chesterton,” Van Drike continued over him.

“Excuse me again!” shouted the man with the mullet again. “My middle name isn’t Ronnie. Elron is my actual first name, but I go by Ronnie.”

Van Drike didn’t respond for a few seconds, and the group was left in a long silence again. Finally, Van Drike spoke. “No,” he said.

“You didn’t say what I am!” Ronnie said.

“Shut up,” Sally Samuels said. “Who cares?”

“I care,” Ronnie said.

“Elron is a ufologist,” Van Drike said. “For the sake of viewers everywhere, we can only hope that he is the first to die.”

“I really loved that show you hosted back a few years ago,” Ronnie said.

“Which one?”

“Facts of Love.”

“Oh yes, that show was wonderful. The producers were amazing. I don’t want to talk about that. They were my friends. I owe them everything. I’ll never forgive myself.”

“Didn’t you kill them?” Ronnie said.

Joseph waited for Van Drike’s reply. He was familiar with the story of the game show host that went insane and killed his producers. It was a big story fifteen years prior. The other’s waited for a reply as well. It was a good question. But Van Drike let the silence linger. Sally Samuels stared daggers at Ronnie.

Finally, Van Drike responded. “Yes.”

Joseph looked at the front door. They were in a mansion with a murderous psychopath. Maybe even trapped. But then Joseph looked at the others. It was unlikely that, among this party, Van Drike was the only murderous psychopath.

“Moving on!” Van Drike shouted, his voice now maniacally high-pitched. “Next we have the spell caster. With an arsenal of arts deriving from the middle ages, this character can cause you to vomit your very own heart with a few incantations and a piece of your hair. Better watch out for Mr. Quail Hex!”

Quail Hex, the stitched together man with a button for an eye, gave no sign that Van Drike referred to him. He was the last man of their group, which was how Joseph and the others identified him. A pool of blood and spit dripped down his chin. Joseph noticed that his left index finger was disproportionally small compared to his other fingers, and the nail on the disproportionally small finger was the only one painted. Black nail polish. The others looked at Quail Hex as well.

“He’s disgusting,” Sally Samuels said.

“That he is,” Van Drike said. “Next we have the seer of the future, the soothsayer of nightmares. Perhaps she is immortal because she already knows the future? Perhaps she has looked beyond and knows how to kill each and every one of you! The old crone, the clairvoyant, give it up for Mrs. Olga Morgan!”

The woman with the white cloud of hair had already withdrawn several small bones from her purse and was focusing intently onto them. She didn’t hear a word Van Drike said.

“And last but not least,” Van Drike said. “The beautiful monstrosity, the puppet master and the manipulator of flesh, with a warm round of applause we welcome the final contestant of our program, the most evil, the most ruthless, the voodooist—Skye!”

Joseph looked around along with a few of the others.

He counted and recounted, but his math remained correct. There were only seven in their party, and as Joseph looked from one member to the next he realized that Van Drike had already introduced everyone.

Van Drike noticed as well, because he spoke in a less excited voice. “We seem to be missing a member. I’ll browse the different cameras. Give me a moment.”

The pause extended for so long this time that a few of the group began chatting. Ronnie stood up to leave.

“Wait,” Van Drike said. “There’s a catch. You only have forty-eight hours to kill the others with your magic. If not all of you but one is dead by the time forty-eight hours is up, I will release poison gas and everyone will suffocate. You are all trapped inside. Kill each other with magic or die.”

“What happened to Skye?” Ronnie asked.

Van Drike continued. “Well it seems as if we are on our way, sooner than expected. In the floor level bathroom there is a mutilated corpse we can only assume must be Skye, the voodooist! Skye, ladies and gentlemen, is dead. One down and, for the rest of you, six to go. And one of you is without a doubt a killer. Forty-eight hours, contestants and occultists, begins now.”
Published inThe Heretical Nine
Copyright 2016 Zachary Adams | All Rights Reserved
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