tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Oldest Curse

The Oldest Curse


The high priest, hooded and robed in a cloak made to resemble leaves, stood and chanted in a deep, serious tone, while I listened and looked on as solemnly as I could manage. They had really outdone themselves with the altar. Perfect placement, this time. The holy book was open to the correct page and the ceremonial dagger was gleaming in the dim light. My faithful, a mix of mortals and piru demons, wore less elaborate robes of "leaves" and circled the priest like a grove of trees, chanting back to him a heartbeat later, creating an echo-chamber effect. In the middle was the offering, a pretty, young thing, stripped bare, her eyes shining and her nipples erect, proud and excited to be chosen for such an honor.

And I--dressed in a charcoal coloured suit, seated on a five hundred year-old throne of interwoven pine and spruce--couldn't have cared less about the whole ordeal.

Normally, I really went in for the whole sacrifice thing. Usually I found their dedication to the old ways touching. The whole all-in, secret cult role-play bit was charming, and it played well to my sense of grandeur. They were good kids, and damn if they weren't trying. I just wasn't feeling it that day.

Have you ever been in love? Real love, I mean, not that sterilized flowers-and-a-box-of-chocolate, horseshit, love. I'm talking about the genuine article, that ugly, fucked-up kind of love that they don't sell a Hallmark card for. If they did, it would read:

"I love you and I need you, and I don't know which is stronger. You probably did something little and stupid, like kiss me, or talk to me.

And you're no different from anyone else, not really, but, for some reason, I let my guard down with you. Maybe I was having a good day, or a shitty one, or maybe you just had the softest looking fucking tits I'd ever seen, or a big dick, a look that said you could fuck my brains out, and I needed it hard that day.

Whatever the reason, I let you in, and now, you're inside me, crawling around under my skin, in the recesses of my being, hop-scotching about among my secrets and my dreams. And somehow, even that's not close enough. I need more, and I'm willing to peel my flesh off in ribbons to get it, to get my heart nearer to you.

I used to be normal. Then I met you and you conjured this awful, beautiful obsession in me. Now, I'd disembowel myself, gut myself of everything I am, everything I believe, just to lay a finger on you.

I'm not telling you so you'll help; you can't, even if you wanted to. Knowing you this way, it feeds me, makes me want to shout in joy. But the taste of you only whets my appetite for more. My screams of ecstasy, no matter how loud, eventually grow quiet, and then there is just the echo of you, fleeing from me. It calls to me, maddens me with its lack of proximity. There is no excess of you great enough to satisfy this hunger for closeness that I feel.

This is no cure for this cruel compulsion of love, no substitute, no sweet methadone for my growing addiction. An instant without you sends me into delirium tremens. My devotion is chronic, my affection terminal. I love you. I need you. Finish me."

If that seems extreme to you, like the desperate proclamation of some hopelessly co-dependent nutter then, shame on me, I haven't yet made your acquaintance. I need to get out more, but you know how it is, especially these days with the internet—face-to-face socialization just seems so passé. But if you know firsthand of what I speak, of the exquisite torture of real love, then we've already met.

You see, I'm the god of love—well, one of them-- also evil, confusion, wickedness, cruelty, disease, and a host of other things your kind find generally unsavory. But if I've learned anything over the millennia, it's that a diversified portfolio is an absolute must when dealing with the ever changing winds of civilization. If you think this economy is tough, you should have been there at the end of the Fourth Crusade when Byzantium ran dry. You could have traded an especially fresh loaf of bread for the pope's hat.

But I digress. Love is what I'm really known for. Love gets all the attention. My name is Lempo: The Master of Demons, Dread Lord of the Forest, Frother of Loins, and Sower of Great Discontent. Call me Po.

It's nice to see you again. How's tricks?

For someone with dominion over it, to be frank, I don't tend to give love much thought, at least apart from professional concerns. Personally, I've never gotten what all the hoopla was about. Never felt the tingle myself, but in my line of work, you meet a lot of poets. Yammerers, those poets, long-winded and short-lived. Don't get me started on Plath and Dickenson. One broiled and the other froze. Put 'em together and you might have had a halfway decent piece of pie. Tasted them both. Felt a bit like Goldilocks with her porridge. They were both great with the sales pitches, though. Can't buy that kind of publicity.

"I desire the things that will destroy me in the end." Smart girl, that Sylvia. She really got it. Love is the world's oldest curse, and I am the preeminent hexer. It's a train of the damned on a non-stop trip to Brokenheartsville and Straight-jacket Junction, and I'm shoveling that coal and blowin' that lonesome whistle.

Me, I don't take that ride, least not as a passenger. I don't fall prey to cantrips, don't lose money at shell games, and I certainly never fall in love. First rule of dealing--don't sample your own wares. Love is for rubes.

What? Not how you imagined me? You were expecting a chubby guy with a bow and arrow perhaps? Please, I was making dicks hard before he was wearing diapers. Eros is a sell-out, a cheap, deific knock-off. I saw him at the Christmas party last year. He looked fat, even for him. Guess that's what happens when you're more interested in selling boxes of chocolate than being a proper god.

That's the trouble nowadays: everybody's selling something. Athena works for the pentagon, Osiris is pimping Viagra, Ganesha is in the weight-loss racket. Hells, Quetzalcoatl is making a damn fortune working the pro-circuit as a luchador. And Jesus...Fucking Jesus has his hands in everything, done quite well for himself--especially for a half-breed. Still humble, too--wears the same sandals and everything. Though, in fairness, he was a bit of a trust-fund baby, as his dad, He-of-the-missing-vowels, is kind of a heavy-hitter. Never met either of them myself. Different circles and all that. They hang around the mezzanine and I'm a bit of a basement-dweller. I know them from their work, however. Inspired stuff. I particularly liked the water into wine bit from the little guy. And big-G, well he practically invented Stockholm Syndrome with that whole Job business. Real entrepreneurs, those two. Don't care what you want to say about the Jews--they know how to run a business.

Even I'm not immune to the commercial trend. I'm in the nightclub scene. Mostly because it was the closest approximation of a cult I could find that still put me in the right tax bracket. I picked Atlantic City because, like all evil things, I found myself naturally drawn to Jersey. Every club is a religion unto itself. This particular temple (devil-worship during the day, dancing at night, fish-fry on Sunday) was named "The Woods" in homage to my arboreal profile. It never ceased to amaze me how you could give a group of desperate people a building in which to do the same things they could have done at home for free, and they paid and worshipped you for it, offered you all kinds of things.

Like the naked girl in the middle of the circle.

The high priest, whose real name was Herbert but who preferred to be called Dathos "in circle" (Who was I to judge? I had many names. Thankfully none of them as despised as "Herbert". Jutas came close. What's one letter, right, Christians?) picked up the crinkled old book that lay on the altar table before him, opened it to the right page and began reading from it--with gusto. He had a lot of gusto, this particular high priest. I'd seen them come and go, and this one had real panache. Once in a generation sacrificial talent. I don't care how stupid his birth name was.

The Kalevala, which was a kind of folk-tale bible composed of oral tales told by ancient Finns back when they brushed their teeth with sticks and thought flatulence was a significant portent, was mostly nonsense, but it was familiar nonsense, a falsehood that I had heard so often that I had become nostalgic for the lie. Plus, I loved to hear the old Finnish. Something about the "ah" sounds. Like a hot breath on my balls.

"Evil Hisi grasps the hatchet,

Lempo takes the crooked handle,

Turns aside the axe in falling,

Strikes the rocks and breaks to pieces;

From the rocks rebound the fragment"

Dathos, high-priest of the New Jersey sect of Lempo, pulled a strip of fabric from his robe. It was a leathered looking bit of cloth the color of dying grass, tattered and speckled by what appeared lt be old blood, designed to look as ancient as possible, like it had seen a thousand such rituals. In truth, Dathos, in his Herbert form, had bought it from Hobby Lobby (another Christian venture) a couple weeks ago. The man was a wizard at weathering. What he could do with cold tea and a bit of charcoal, almost made up for his shitty Finnish.

With a grim look pasted across his face, he wrapped the faux-ancient rag over her eyes like a blindfold. At one point, years ago, when water had yet to be walked on and Hobby Lobby was just a gleam in the eye of a guy wearing a thorny hat, we just cut the eyes out. Just cut 'em right out. But with the screaming, you could barely hear the the high priest chanting, so next we'd do the tongue, and then, half the time, the high priest would just be standing there holding the tongue, like that was something people did. Or, he'd put it in a jar or a pot or something, usually with the eyes, and let's face it, no one is paying attention to you when you're standing next to a container that is rapidly accumulating organs by the minute. It was like a dark-age medical drama. What are they gonna take out next? That was good entertainment back then. Sure as hells beat sitting around betting on which of your children were going to survive to adulthood.

"Lempo guides the sharpened hatchet,

And the veins fell Hisi severs."

He picked up the knife now and held it aloft. The circle of worshippers gasped and chanted louder, as if they had never seen a fucking knife before. There was just something about holding up a blade during a sacrifice that got people excited. Personally, I was tired of it. I kept hoping for a spoon. Wouldn't that be some shit? A fucking ice cream scoop, maybe? I'd give favor for days to the first bastard that carved someone's heart out with an ice cream scoop. Real hardcore Ben and Jerry's style. Vermont Virgin: sweet cream with organ chunks and a cookie swirl.

I had to admit, it was a nice knife. The blade was gilded with gold and the hilt was studded with rubies. Curved wickedly and horned with a spike. The cultists went ape-shit for the dagger, and for good reason.

That little souvenir was old. It wasn't Finnish, though, it was Persian. I just didn't have the heart to tell them. They got so into it. As the god of love and sickness and all things terrible and evil, I was many things, but a wet-blanket wasn't one of them.

The blade had belonged to Xerxes the first. Xerxes, now that was a guy that really knew how to party. Got a bit of a bum rap because of that whole Thermopylae business. What a bunch of bullshit that was. Three-hundred soldiers my evil, pestilent ass. Nice round number, three-hundred. That legend was like a bar-fight in reverse. Everytime they told it, there were fewer and fewer of them. Have you ever been to a Greek wedding? How many people were there? If that many show up for a party where the only album the DJ has access to is Yanni: Live at the Acropolis, how many do you think show up for a war? It was like a European nude-beach on free-gyro day. Liked the movie, though. Nice abs.

"Quickly gushes forth a blood-stream,

And the stream is crimson-colored."

Taking the very untraditional dagger, Dathos made a real show of following procedure as he blessed it several times before bringing it to bear against the skin of the young maiden. Blinded as she was, the feel of the cold metal against her throat made the girl jump a bit, which caused her breasts to jiggle alluringly.

She was pretty, with a rack that nearly defied gravity. Shapely and free of almost all blemishes and pubic hair, she was a LARPers wet dream standing there offering herself to the Paapiru, "Head of the Demons".

I didn't understand the pretty ones. The ugly ones, sure. Join a cult. Make some friends. The robes were flattering, especially if you were a bit thick in the hips as so many of the "witchy-types" were, and the hors d'oeuvres were free. But the pretty ones didn't need devil-worship (little "d") to make friends, and those tits could have bought her as many bacon-wrapped scallops as she wanted. It had to be daddy issues.

All-in-all, I'm fairly convinced that through the history of mankind, no cause, no religion, no political agenda, has launched more ships heading in the exact wrong direction than daddy issues. Forget a black guy; imagine how mad your old man will be if you sleep with the enemy of light. Doesn't get blacker than that.

You laugh, but that line has worked in the past.

Dathos cut now, just a slow, sensual slice right under her left breast. The girl let out a moan of pleasure as the edge of the dagger crept across her torso. I wondered if she would have been as aroused if we had done it in the old way, where instead of a symbolic little cut, the high priest would have carved her heart out and carried it over to me on a tray made of infant bones held together by pine tar. I doubted it, but you never know. Daddy issues.

Holding the dagger beneath the jut of her swollen breast, the high priest collected blood along the flat of the blade. When it was sufficiently slathered, he balanced it between his hands and carried it over to me, presenting it as an offering.

"Lempo may perchance come hither,

Let him fill this lowly station,

Let him stand between the kettles,

That with soot he may be blackened"

As was customary, I ran my finger along the edge of the blade, gathering the crimson as I went. When I was done, I placed the tip in my mouth and tasted. The entire room grew quiet, and the air became thick with anxiety.

In older days, when worshippers were many and humans responded to fear more readily than social media, it would have been that poor girl's heart. It would have been a village, or a town, making the sacrifice. I would have taken a bite. Tested the quality. If I found it worthy, I would keep the darkness of the forest confined to the trees for another year, convince the demons to laze amongst the boughs, hold sickness and plague clenched tightly in my fist, keep love locked up securely with the chains of rationality. If it displeased me...well, it was a harsher time.

You probably won't understand.

I'd send forth the dank hounds, beasts of stale wind, rotten foliage, and sharp, jagged teeth, lead them to the huts and houses of the friends and family of those that had offended me. My piru, demons and spirits of unconscionable malice and mischief would haunt the roads, tormenting any they came across. Opening my hand, I'd let my other children out to play--malaria, influenza, smallpox, puerperal fever. Worse still, I'd unleash love, the awful, crippling, heart-wrenching power of love, on those present at the unworthy offering..

I'd feed them passion, funnel it down their throats until it collected in their bellies, until they were sick with it, a longing without end or reason. When they started to writhe with the fullness of unadulterated need, I'd paint them with lust and unleash them upon each other. Lust in its purest form is a peculiar kind of starvation, a need to push out and pull in simultaneously, to rip and thrust and claw and tear. Starving people have no ethics.

It was not uncommon for them, the older ones, the smaller ones, to be literally fucked to death in the first session, bludgeoned or smothered by someone they once called a neighbor, a friend, a father, a son. When they were raw with it, peeled skin coated with blood and cum and shiny sweat, I'd take it away, let them see, let them remember and think.

They'd kneel, blistered with pain and covered with guilt, and cry and wail over the bodies. Most times they'd beg for death, beech me for the sweet favor of oblivion. I'd listen, to each and every prayer, and nod, run my hands over the broken skin and tell them I understood.

Then I'd fill them up once more, and watch them do the whole thing again. This was a cyclical process. It would often take all night.

Nights, even truly terrible nights, only last so long, however, and when there was only one left, a single witness to the evening, someone who hadn't been trampled or choked, whose heart hadn't exploded from the effort, who had instead outlasted and out-lusted his or her fellows, killing many of them in the process, I'd free them from the madness, this time forever.

I'd make them watch me devour the bodies of the others. Slowly.

I looked differently then, not like a man, like I do now, but I was man-shaped--a gathering of razor-leaf and night soil with dark, endless tunnels for eyes, and a mouth. I had such a mouth! Filled with teeth, so many teeth, beyond counting, all of them sharp, a collection of enamel from different beasts, beyond number, no two alike-- a ring of yellowed hunger, pieced together from the appetites of a thousand creatures.

The lucky survivor would watch me as I used those teeth to grind, and saw, and slice apart people who had once had names and homes and families...and a chance not to disappoint me. I would even eat the bones. Especially the bones. People keep the most succulent parts of them buried as deep as they can. The sweetest marrow tastes of secrets.

I'd let him go after that, let him walk past the husk of his village, let him smell the smoke and hear the awful nothing, the sound of no children playing, no men working, no people living.

He would be his own kind of poet after that, a walking sales pitch. As I said earlier, you can't buy that kind of publicity.

The standards for the sacrifice were once quite rigorous. It had to be a virgin of good breeding, blue of blood and pure of heart. She had to be of exceptional potential, unsullied by temptation and full of possibility. The chosen had to be the best and brightest. It was supposed to hurt. That was the point of sacrifice, what gave it value.

The girl in New Jersey, who stood shivering with anticipation as a thin ribbon of blood trickled down her stomach from the cut under her breast, would have never passed muster a few centuries ago.

She was a drug-user, pot mostly, but I could detect angel dust and oxycontin swimming alongside the iron and the plasma. Not a virgin either. I could taste every sexual experience she'd ever had. Her first orgasm, gained from riding the armrest of the couch while watching a particularly disturbing episode of Law and Order. The way Kevin Johnson's semen had felt squishing in her palm after she'd jerked him off, her hand buried under a coat in his lap as The Hangover played to uproarious laughter in the theater around her. Even feel the first time she'd taken a cock anally, painful at first, scary, too much, too fast, then surrender, a not-unpleasant pressure easing into a glorious fullness.

She'd pulled mostly "B's" in high school. Had gone to nursing school for only two semesters before dropping out to come to New York. The Big Apple proved a little too much of a mouthful and she retreated to the relative obscurity of Jersey. A job as a cocktail waitress at Caesars presented itself by way of a drunk man in a business suit whom she'd blown in the bathroom of an upscale bar after one-and-a-half dirty, desert-dry martinis. He'd cum quickly, and there were bits of olive still in her mouth mixing with the taste of his sweaty cock when she gulped him down. Salt on salt. The olives might have been stuffed. It was hard to tell with just the little bit of blood on the knife. She never received the same treatment. The man was significantly deeper in than one-and-a-half desert-dry martinis, and as a result, his ardor was shaken after just one stir. His business card had been as much an apology as an offer. An awkward call had followed a few days later. Another blowjob and she'd started the next Thursday.

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