Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Gregory Sole. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
The sounds of a metal bell echoed from the decrepit church tower throughout the old rustic town. “Darn,” the man thought to himself. “Eleven o’clock already. I’ve got to hurry.”
Mud covered his black dress pants and white button-up shirt he had ironed just that morning as he sprinted through the center of town on the previously dirt road. His heavy and clumsy steps made it increasingly difficult for him to move his legs rapidly as he struggled to pry each foot loose while maintaining a consistent stride.
All that could be heard were the sloshing of his boots, his heavy breathing, and his bag that was tied over his shoulder that collided with his side and back. He prayed that the bottles withing that clanged in his bag would not break. The glass was relatively thick but a particularly solid collision would cause them to shatter. Periodically, he checked his vest pocket to ensure the contents within remained in place.
An owl was heard somewhere in the distance but his hoots faded quickly as the man continued his vigilant run.
His legs burned. It wasn’t as if he were in bad shape, quite the contrary. His trips to the gym were a morning ritual. Still, he had several miles to cover in a short amount of time, and even for an Olympic runner, such a feat would have proved daunting. For one who did not quite have that kind of skill, the task was nearly overwhelming. Only his desire to exact justice prevented him from giving up.
Eventually, he arrived at the graveyard. His hands covered his knees as he desperately gasped for breath.
He tried to remember whether he heard the clock strike twelve. He was so focused on the run he could not think of anything else.
Not that allowing his mind to wander would have helped. Had he thought of anything else, had he listened for anything else during the sprint, his mind would have wandered toward the overwhelming odds and at that point, the task would have proved too daunting to attempt. Even then, he might have just missed his appointment.
Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong. Ding dong.
Hearing the clanging bell eased his anxiety. It just turned midnight. He arrived on time. In celebration, he adjusted his Stetson, tucked in his shirt, straightened his vest, and retied the knot of his maroon tie.
The ground suddenly quaked. To the man’s right, just outside the entrance, a grave started to glow with a translucent blue light. It started as a small glimmer but evolved to a solid beam that shot into the sky.
All grass within the vicinity of the grave turned brown. The heat from the light was intense. It caused the man to sweat even more than when he was running.
A transparent white figure emerged from the light.
“Are you here to help me?” the apparition asked.
“No,” the man said as he placed his satchel onto the ground. He stretched a bit before continuing to answer. “I’m here to destroy you.”
She swayed her hips as she walked over to him. The corset and skirt she wore with the color and consistency of a black and white photo accentuated her legs and breast. Her pale hair, wavy and hanging loosely down to her shoulders, was obviously once brown or blonde.
The tangible ghoul plopped her arms onto his shoulders as she rested her head against his. Her hands spread across his chest as her fingers impishly played with his buttons and tie. The spirit lifted her leg dangerously close to his groin.
“Why would you do something like that to poor little ole me?” she whispered in his ear.
“I’m sure I had a reason.” The man took off his glasses and wiped them with a burgundy handkerchief he kept in his shirt pocket.
“Wouldn’t you rather solve the mystery of how I died?” She rubbed her legs against his. “My name was Emma Apate. I was, shall we say, a painted lady, a real long time ago. I’m sure one of my mean old customers killed me.”
He pushed her aside and walked a fair distance away from the flirtatious phantom though she never left his gaze. The man wiped his glasses one more time then calmly placed his handkerchief back in his shirt pocket and placed his glasses on his face with both hands.
“Ah yes, I remember. I am here on behalf of all the people you’ve misguided with your seductive charms.”
The specter placed a finger coyly on the side of her lip. “How could you accuse me of something like that? I just want closure and the ability to move on.”
“I know that is not true. You are not who you claim to be.”
Her lips puckered. She pouted with tears in her eyes. “Whatever do you mean? I am too Emma Apate. My spirit cannot rest until I find out how I died.”
“Please do not mock me with your fabricated persona. I know you are not Emma Apate. She has been put to rest. Her murder was solved over a century ago by a skilled medium. Your caller has perished long ago and the grimoire which called you has been disintegrated into ash.”
“Whatever do you mean? I no longer will have gentleman callers? Well, what about you, honey? You look like a man who knows how to butter a woman’s biscuits.”
“Spare me that fake southern tripe. You are a demoness masquerading as that kindly departed woman. You do not wish to avenge a misdeed, quite the contrary. You desire to lead men to Hell.”
He reached into the satchel and pulled out a vial. The man threw it at the apparition’s feet. A green smoke emanated and covered the ghost.
Her white complexion turned crimson. Horns emerged from the sides of her head. A spiky tail sprouted and wiggled between her legs. Both her corset and skirt faded. Cloven feet were revealed when her boots disintegrated. The hair atop her head reduced a few inches and turned a red that matched her skin.
Reluctantly, despite the devilish appearance, the man perceived her to be an attractive individual, perhaps even more so than before because of her fit frame, though what that suggested about the man he’d rather not explore. Her nudity only accentuated her allure. He understood why so many men were willing to follow her into the netherworld.
She threw back her head and exhaled a piercing cackle that reverberated across the hills. The noise caused the man’s knees to wobble slightly, the only crack in his otherwise stoic armor.
The demoness clapped her clawed hands together. “Very good. How were you able to figure that out?”
He pushed his glasses further up his face with his index finger and flashed a wry smile.
“My name is Gregory Sole. My great grandmother was Eileen Videre, a woman especially renowned for her abilities as a kishef-mahker. As you can see I have quite the pedigree. Admittedly, I am not as famous of my great grandmother, but I am still well regarded amongst those in my chosen field.”
“So you are the infamous Mr. Sole. I should have known. Who else would confront a demoness in a graveyard alone wearing such a formal outfit?”
“What do you mean? This is casual wear. I am not wearing a coat or a vest and normally I wouldn’t wear such a gaudy tie.”
“Whatever.” She shrugged. The demoness paced around the graveyard with her hands behind her back which accentuated her large breasts. “Believe it or not, I’m glad you’re here. I was getting so bored. So few people visit me these days.”
“I’m not sure what you expected. This place is literally, well, I suppose, almost literally, a ghost town. I imagine it’s been that way for about a hundred years or so, give or take a decade.”
She was but one of many demons that had risen lately. It seemed as though a national epidemic of sorts was brewing and much of it centered in the northeast. He decided to tackle the biggest issue in New Mexico first, though, because as they say, think global, act local.
The demoness grinned. “I didn’t realize it had been that long since I’ve had someone to play with. I suppose I better make the most of it, then.”
She squatted slowly with both arms at her sides. Her palms faced outward. Gradually, she lifted her arms and rose.
Once again the ground shook. Gregory struggled to stay balanced. The dirt and rocks behind him rapidly shifted. Several pairs of decaying hands penetrated the earth from below. Rotted corpses sprung from their graves.
A pair of putrid skeletal claw-like appendages grabbed the man’s arms and shoulders. Another pair clutched his ankles. Two more grabbed his torso. Several more ripped his clothes as they assisted their allies and pulled the man to the ground and piled on top of him.
One of the undeads’ hands covered the man’s mouth. Bits of skin landed on his tongue. The rancid taste nearly made the man vomit, not that the creature’s firm grasp would have allowed it. Its smell assaulted the man’s olfactory nerves and was enough to make him wretch. Gregory did not have the chance to scream.
Not that he would have. It was not his style. Only his dilating pupils belied his expressionless demeanor as those icy fingers squeezed into his flesh and sinew.
Blood trickled from where his skin tore so and stained his clothing with a sickening cerise. The zombies had yet to use their teeth as they preferred to prolong their victim’s suffering.
Contrary to popular belief, scratches and bites do not cause one to become one of the undead, only demonic magic can do that. Should he escape, the gashes, still relatively shallow and merely flesh wounds at this point, would have a chance to heal. His suit, however, was damaged beyond repair.
Gregory gyrated to and fro on his back dozens of times within a minute in a controlled haste. He did not have much room to move but took advantage of the little space that he was given. He still had to act quickly, though, as his window of opportunity rapidly closed with each passing second.
The shaking proved effective. He freed his right arm, not much, but enough. Gregory reached into his vest and pulled out his good luck charm. It was the only thing that could bail him out of this dire situation.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Four shots rang through the air. The bullets had gone through several of the creatures already putrefying flesh like a hot knife through butter.
Two pairs of zombies peeled from the man like layers from an onion. The deafening sound made the others pause.
Gregory emerged from the pile with the COP derringer in his right hand. He pulled and ripped off a zombified hand that remained stuck in his shoulder. Blood spurted from the wound. A swift kick removed the hand that remained clutched to his ankle.
He placed his gun back into his vest. It only had four bullets. Gregory never carried extra as it was only intended for use in desperate situations like the one he had been in only moments ago, though admittedly, he currently wished he brought some additional ammunition as it would have certainly helped.
However, unlike what the movies purport, a bullet to the head with a firearm, even with a shotgun, would have only served as a momentary reprieve. Their bodies would reform shortly afterward regardless due to the demonic spell which regenerated lost appendages, as a few of the creatures eagerly realized.
Adding to this danger was that the summoning demoness continued to beckon zombies to join her until she was defeated or had succeeded in her endeavor and dragged the man to hell.
Only powerful magic could dispel his foes but the man came prepared.
Gregory dashed toward the entrance. His hat flew from his head but he had more pressing concerns than a barren head. He searched frantically for his satchel. It was nowhere to be found.
His head darted rapidly looking for where it might have gone.
More undead emerged from their graves. They knocked over tombstones and toppled over altars as they dragged their feet toward him. The demoness silently stalked behind.
He had no idea where his equipment lied and had no means for defense. His odds of surviving the next few minutes were looking rather bleak.
Gregory searched. Toward the east was the remnants of a rotted fence that was once white now green covered as it was with sickly moss. He ran toward it. An undead creature stepped in front of him. Gregory narrowly avoided his attack with a deft dodge to his right, though his shirt was torn further as a single finger was able to reach its mark.
The man pushed aside several posts and boards as he searched desperately for something he could use as a makeshift club. Age and decomposition made it difficult to find an appropriate weapon. Most of the pieces felt like wet cardboard.
He grabbed the least rotted post. A zombie howled and pounced. Before his teeth found their mark, something smashed against his head.
The undead creature’s jaw and teeth went flying. He crumpled to the ground. It appeared that the post passed its first test.
Gregory’s eyes darted somewhere beyond the crowd. He recognized the noise to his left. It was the sounds of bottles clanging together. The satchel must have been close.
His eyes peered through the sea of walkers but the mass made it difficult for him to find the object of his search. Using the fencepost in his hands as a club, he bludgeoned the walking dead to in his effort to make his way toward the source of the sound.
Scores of zombies fell to his swings. Half a dozen, a full dozen, two or three or four dozen all fell. His foes didn’t stay down for long, though, as their bodies rapidly repaired themselves but it did provide Gregory with the opportunity to move his way through the crowd.
Yet, not all good things are meant to last especially when they are incredibly old and covered with a decade’s worth of moss.
The post shattered after its fiftieth test. Gregory tossed aside the splinters. He estimated that he was about halfway toward his satchel but needed to think of another way to reach his destination.
He invoked his halcyon days when he played fullback for the local high school football team, not to mention his professional experience as a fighter, and propelled himself through the crowd toward the source of the sound.
Long nails ripped his clothes and tore his flesh. He ignored the pain and pressed forward. One of the creatures snatched one of his feet. A strong kick removed him but his boot was seized in the process. Gregory ignored the cold and heavy sock that grew increasingly damp and dauntlessly pushed his way through.
He lifted his arms and hammered one zombie with both fists. A succession of punches to a rotted face allowed him to escape another’s grip. Arms extended, he pushed several backward as his legs continued to grind onward.
The pain was starting to take its toll. Blood started to stream down his back and chest and the admittedly few lacerations to the head were especially draining. Blood trickled and covered one of his eyes.
Zombies continued to emerge from their graves. Their numbers increased such that they nearly covered every inch of the graveyard.
The task seemed impossible. Despite his best efforts, there were too many to move through and the wounds had become intense. There was only so much pain a man could take.
He fell to his knees. Though he continued to push, it was futile. No force was being generated. It was time to surrender.
“My husband’s death ruined my family, ruined our children, and ruined our lives.”
“He only wanted to help but wound up paying the ultimate price.”
“He was my only son. Death provided me no reprieve. Only vengeance will allow my soul to rest.”
Centuries-old voices echoed in his head though he never truly heard them. They had departed from the mortal plane over a century ago. Just distant memories at this point. Most would believe the injustices their family members had suffered that were by now long forgotten hardly warranted a thought. Time made it so nobody cared that good men were betrayed.
Except for one. Only one man could make sure that these men received some facsimile of retribution. There was only one man who could put those souls to rest.
He only knew of these stories because of what he read in books and grimoires. They still spoke to him as if he had heard them just the day before. Their injustices still resonated as if they had been committed against a family member.
Gregory found the strength to rise to his feet. He exerted an anguished and primal shriek as he rammed his body forward with the recklessness of a battering ram and head-butted his way through.
His glasses shattered. Ribbons were all that remained of his fancy pants. The remnants of his shirt fell to shreds along with his vest and tie. This revealed a surprisingly muscular body that even the demoness had to internally admit impressed her. Perhaps even aroused her, a little bit.
Several zombies were flung aside. Others were punched away. A small path was formed toward the center of the cemetery. There still was barely enough room to move but it was enough for him to find a path.
He reached his destination.
Gregory’s satchel was being dragged by one of the zombie’s feet.
He punched the zombie across the face with a night’s worth of rage behind it. The decomposing creature hit the ground with a resounding slosh against the muddy surface. Though the creature was able to near-instantly lift himself back to his feet, the blow removed him from the satchel.
Gregory frantically opened the satchel and grabbed some vials. He randomly slammed them against the ground. There was no time for a meticulous search. Losing his glasses made reading the labels impossible anyway.
The entire yard became a hazy fog of Technicolor smoke. None of the initial bottles he slammed down were the containers he desperately sought.
Ten were destroyed but none of them were the ones he needed. Fifteen more were smashed, then twenty. He regretted lazily taking his satchel with him with everything in it as opposed to carrying only what he required.
He often carried every vial and ward he owned with him in case he encountered other supernatural forces but most served no purpose in this specific circumstance and the odds of meeting another paranormal foe were considerably low. There is such a thing as being too prepared, Gregory was discovering. At least they were harmless for him to breathe in, though that was also true for the zombies.
The mass of rotted bodies closed in on him. Everything he endured would be in vain if he did not find it soon.
There was only one thing left to do, the only logical thing to do in this situation. He didn’t want to because the potions were such a pain to create.
Naturally, the desire to live should have taken precedence, and at some level, it was why he eventually resorted to it. Yet it would be more accurate to say it was done out of frustration than because of survival instinct.
He moved his satchel upside down and dropped every vial to the ground. Twenty vials hit nearly simultaneously.
The world went silent.
Gregory’s legs shook as the ground trembled. A small cloud emerged from his feet forming into a miasma as thick as pea soup. It started small but quickly spread outward and rose to the sky forming a giant mushroom cloud. Soon the entire graveyard was covered by the smoke. The ground shook violently. For a moment, the world went white.
Sound returned. The creatures shrieked in agony.
Their flesh dissolved and their skeletal remains went aflame.
They burned until they were nothing left but dust.
Their remains blew away in a passing wind.
Eventually, the smoke cleared. The world went back to normal, or at least, such as it was before.
All the zombies were dispelled. Gregory limped to where his vest lied. He reached in and pulled out a glass flask that was thicker and of better quality than the ones in his satchel. It possessed the most important fluid so it was only natural it got the best container.
He staggered toward the demoness who stood once again near the entrance. As he approached, she fell to her back, and then lied on her side. Her hand stretched toward Gregory.
When he got near her feet, Gregory uncorked the vial before he said, “I have no idea why I didn’t just do this from the beginning. I have an exceedingly bad habit of talking when I should be acting.”
“Stay away!” she begged impotently. The demoness then bared a claw and fang. “I’ll scratch your eyes out if you come near!”
“Spare me. I know that as a necromancer demoness your attacks are as feeble as a child’s. It’s why you need the undead’s assistance.”
A lustful expression suddenly replaced her look of terror. “How about I offer you something else, then?”
She stood and sashayed toward him and playfully fingered her general chest area as she moved. The demoness placed her arms around his upper torso and wrapped her tail around his waist. The demoness placed her lips against his ear. “If you let me go, I’ll let you do anything to me.”
“Have you ever been with a demoness?”
Gregory stuttered. “I can’t say I have.”
“Imagine the greatest sexual experience you’ve ever had and multiply it by a hundred. You’ll be a tenth of the way there.”
“Are we even anatomically compatible?” He took a glance and turned red. “Oh, I suppose we are.”
“The Big Man Downstairs knows what men want.”
“And you said you’d be willing to do anything, right?”
He whispered in her ear. “I want you…”
“…to burn in hell.” He poured the holy water over her head.
A white flame engulfed the demoness. The ashen smoke glided toward the heavens.
Her feral pain-ridden screams resonated throughout the night sky. She pushed the man aside and teetered away hoping for some sort of salve that could relieve her pain.
The demoness fell apart in bits and pieces. Her body literally disintegrated. The sky split open and a bright white light descended directly onto the wobbling and suffering creature. It surrounded the being.
Then, in an instance, it disappeared and she was gone.
Gregory stood alone. A slight breeze blew through his hair. Gregory took a deep sigh and fell to the ground. He landed with a loud thud on his derriere.
He looked at his feet and though the image was fuzzy, he made out what he believed to be his broken glasses. He leaned over and grabbed them and placed them on his head. Though he found it awkward to look through those shattered frames, it did provide a slight improvement to his sight.
“I kind of wish someone was around to hear what I just said,” he muttered to himself as he stood.
Gregory shuffled to his vest. It was mostly intact so he was able to put it back on though he had to admit that he didn’t particularly like how it felt against his bare skin and the dozens of cuts.
The remnants of his tie were nearby so he picked it up and wrapped it around his neck. His satchel was placed over his shoulder once more though he had to place it carefully so that his wounds were not irritated too badly and the pain wasn’t too immense. Once he adjusted his equipment accordingly, he headed toward the entrance to leave.
He bumped into his missing boot. Gregory sat in the mud to put it on and did not realize until he had placed it over his foot that it was missing the sole. Apparently, his head was still a bit foggy, which was understandable. It had been a long night. A glance at his other boot suggested that it was not likely to last the trip home. They were expensive too. The walk back certainly wasn’t going to be enjoyable. With yet another heavy sigh, he stood and headed on his way.
Something bumped against his feet when he reached the entrance of the graveyard. He looked down. It was his Stetson. The gentle wind must have brought it back to him. It was still in good condition, almost pristine, except for some mud and dirt. He placed it atop his head and smiled. Back home he had the solvents he needed to make the hat shine once more. At least one thing seemed to be going his way.
The demoness’s offer was tempting, he thought to himself as he walked down the road, but he knew it was just a ploy. He wondered how many men met their end after having accepted her proposition. Perhaps some of these men weren’t as innocent as the stories claimed. They may not have deserved damnation, sure, but they were hardly innocent.
“Besides,” he muttered to himself. “She was no Yvette Grail.”
Romantic pursuits of any kind would have to wait. He needed to get home and patch his wounds. He had many but most were merely surface level so they’d be easy enough to bandage and heal. A shower would also be a good idea. After all of that was completed, he’d perhaps have enough time for a few hours of sleep before he had to meet his parents for brunch, then he’d be off to find the Malphesiaus Librum Citare.
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