Sulphur Dreams

My dreams smelled of fire—fire and brimstone.

Dreams of tombs, dreams of the dead. The stench of sulphur shrouds me even after death, a constant reminder of the nightmares of every night of my short life. Was I ever truly alive? Or was my life just another nightmare?

Why have you summoned me here, necromancer? Out of boredom? To mock and abuse me, now that I am powerless against pests like you? To put me on a leash, to command me as you feel fit? Well, necromancer, think again. It’s hardly worth the effort.

I am nothing—born nothing, a shade among shadows, a creature unfit of walking among men. Everyone told me so. My mother shrieked this to me, over and over again, supporting her arguments with the back of her hand. My father fled soon after my birth, away from the bad joke that I was. Away from the hysterical whore who had borne me and sought pleasure and refuge in the seductive spice of liquor.

Then the voices came. Whispering in my ears charms, chants and blasphemies, distant voices, angels and demons that danced on and around my head. They spoke my name, luring me to their embrace. To them, I was someone, not the failure of my early life. They soothed me, nurtured me during the dark, forlorn hours of the night. Until they grew, voices no more.

Something malevolent had come to life. I felt them on my heels, following me through the dark, dirty streets, ethereal fingers reaching out to grasp me, to seize me—to possess me. In every step I glanced back, over my shoulder, but on turning around I saw no one; just the memory of a presence and the hint of a ghost. I tried to evade them, but this was a battle I didn’t want to win. Deep inside, I yearned to embrace them, to be one with the voices that had become my kin and brethren. No memory is left of the final merging; only the knife and the blood.

I did not kill my mother. The voices did it, the voices that had grown fangs and claws. How did the blade end up in my hands, this I cannot tell. Nor do I know why I woke up covered in my mother’s blood. Just vague memories of slitting and slashing through skin and flesh and bone, but I did not do it. They did. But I do remember the sound of laughter and the surge of bliss when I saw her bloodied remains on the floor, a pleasure so intense and pure that drove me to my knees. Did she cry out during her moment of absolution, so lost in her absinthe dreams? Did she experience bliss similar to my own?

And so it began.

Everything moved faster. Days turned to nights, and before I could rejoice in darkness, the light would again blind my eyes. I was no longer a nameless man, but no man at all. Something sinister had rooted inside my body, something hungry that drove me to the streets at night. No bread or meat could sate its hunger, no ale could quench the fire within. Even the blood offered little relief.

Fear fuelled it: the glow flashing in their eyes mirroring the blade’s steel, cutting, ripping. The twist of the mouth, lips curling in one perfect curve before all sound died. The heart’s frantic fluttering inside its cage, knowing that there was no escape. And behold, I, the nameless one, had a name. For one bright, crimson heartbeat I was someone. I was everything; I was God.

The night was my friend and the shadows were my allies. I soon became one of them, drifting away into sulphur dreams. I could no longer handle a blade well, my fingers and nerves victims of a slow, sneaky ailment, rotting away under Venus’ curse. One of the whores that my blade had so effortlessly carved had taken her revenge, as her poison softened my muscles and numbed my mind. I tried to feed the beasts within with the vermin that nibbled my broken feet, but it did not suffice. When I finally found the courage to turn the blade on me, I had lost whatever skill I had with it.

They took me away. People who spoke in strange words locked me away, in a place with white walls echoing the cacophony of voices. There were others there, others like me, each one humming and mumbling and screaming to the choir of their minds. In time I could no longer hear them. Had they forsaken me? My nights grew darker and until I finally passed away into the shadows, the nameless corpse of a nameless man.

Have you heard those voices too, necromancer? Have you heard their songs and lullabies as you drift away, lost in the fragile web between sleep and waking?

Is this why you have summoned me here, tonight?

I no longer hear them. I have been alone, wandering aimlessly in pathways of fire and brimstone. No living soul grieved my passing and my mortal remains rotted away in a ditch, a final feast for the vermin. But I can still hear other, softer words, the whispers between the worlds, the endless sigh of the lost souls—and they know me.

I am no longer nameless. The world remembers my name and my blade.

Not the name a pastor once gave me, but the name those voices whispered to my ear night after night.

Yes, they still remember me.

And they call me Jack.

Ω

Christine Lucas  Christine Lucas's website lives in Greece with an assortment of spoiled cats. A retired Air Force officer and self-taught in English, she likes to explore in her writing overlooked parts of fantasy worlds, especially the lives of the animals that dwell in them. Her work has appeared is several print and online magazines, including Renard’s Menagerie, the Aether Age (forthcoming) and Footprints anthologies, Expanded Horizons, Murky Depths and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Her short story “Dominion” appears in Ellen Datlow’s anthology “Tails of Wonder and the Imagination” for Night Shade Books. She is currently working on her first novel.

Other works by Christine Lucas