The Conjuror
ABOUT THIS STORY: I wrote this short story back in 1987. Reworking it like I have to add it to this site I've learned how to make changes to something that had potential but terrible form. At least I think I've worked it out so it makes sense. Too many viewings of Dawn of the Dead and Evil Dead, and this is was comes out the other end.


The rain fell in sheets. Chris stood within the flour circle he’d drawn on the floor of the crypt he broke into. The faded yellow light from the candles set around him on the floor was barely enough to read by; it had to do. Thunder rumbled overhead seemingly shaking the damp, flaking cement walls and ceiling. Something drove him to be there. He didn’t know why he needed to finish this ritual but the drive was as intense as the thunderstorm raging outside. The broken lock discarded among the brush next to the outside the dead’s house, the metal door left ajar to help pull the stale air out.
       The storm and night insured no one wandered into the cemetery. Of course, the more Chris thought about it he knew it was pointless to think anyone wanted to come to an abandoned graveyard on a forgotten highway of a little lost town in the middle of nowhere. The sheriff didn’t even visit the place. Why would anyone want to be in a stinking, wet, cold place that you’d only want to be in if you were dead?
       Nevertheless, something pulled on Chris’ meek frame, making him feel powerful and full of something more than his ninety-five pounds could contain. The offering bowl left at the north side of the floor made him take a breath and relax. His reasoning for this was to make a difference. He wanted to show people, as much as he hated them, that he was better than they were. With another breath he looked at the book, he’d memorized since he found the leather bound, hand-inked novelty in the basement of the library where he worked part-time. With the job came the opportunity to devour the knowledge the shred Liberian kept hidden from the general populous because she thought certain information was dangerous in the wrong hands. Bits of the bitter old woman’s philosophy came off her like dandruff, if you stood next to her for too long you were bound to get some of it on you. Chris’s personal collections of books were smuggled from the basement of the turn of the century library in a town he grew up in and everyone else forgot. Most of the books had missing pages, remnants of covers some had tatters of dust jackets. Dust jackets weren't invented before his prize possession came into existence. The book handwritten on dingy pages with small cliff notes and footnotes throughout the spells that gave Chris inspiration to its authenticity, something so insistently used had to be real.
       The inspiration in the book gave him the strength to attempt the taming of the other world that existed outside his own. The book convinced Chris to open the Gate that allowed him passage through to gain more knowledge and admiration of his peers.
       The first of the spells consisted of conjuring of the Watcher, a guardian that protected the wizard from evil at the Gate. The description of the Watcher was of a large dog. The one rule not to break was that of the flour circle, inside which Chris stood. The circle could not be broken or the Watcher would devour the wizard without regard for its maker. This was a lesson Chris took seriously enough to make sure he used several five-pound bags of flour to insure the magic ring wouldn’t collapse.
       When the ceremony began Chris felt the shift in the air. He thought the words he called out in the little stone crypt were heard through the space of eternity and called to the Watcher. When it was over and he felt drowned, Chris thought he felt the presence of an unseen force. He took this for the Watcher. As its maker, he commanded the invisible creature to watch over the monument until needed again. The heavy presence departed the chamber and Chris collected everything he arrived with, minus the heavy bags of unbleached flour still a connected circle on the dusty floor. The lighter load made it easier for Chris to ride his bicycle home. The rain threatened to push him off the mountain bike as he made his way out of the cemetery.
       A week drifted by. The trouble with the spell book Chris found he had to wait so long between spells. The book demanded the time frame to be precise, any various would undo anything he had done. Moreover, could get him devoured by the Watcher.
       Walking through the mall on his days off allowed him the luxury of seeing Cynthia, the attendant at the small ice cream shop in the center of the food court. Cynthia always had a cheerful grin and uplifting presence that made you joyful when around her for very long. Exuberance flowed out of her like the sweetness of her skin. In school, she was popular but Chris never saw her with a steady boyfriend. It was as if she tolerated them but never entertained them for very long. He always wanted to talk to her but never found the courage. Even if she seemed easy to befriend he shied for direct contact, fearing the one time Cynthia lashed out it would be at him.
       At the mall, seated among the other patrons allowed him to gaze at the beauty over the rim of whatever book he carried. It was for Cynthia that he wanted to complete the spells, open the Gate and show the world that he was someone important.
       When he left the mall that night, shortly before closing, it started to rain again. He expected as much. The weather sensed it was time for change and wanted to cleanse itself for the coming. He’d have to wait until midnight to open the Gate; it was a rule he could follow.
       In the cold dark space of the crypt, Chris used a black magic marker to make the sign of the Gate on the floor, inside the circle of flour with him. The book said something about pounding certain flowers to make paint and have a camel hair brush to make the symbol. Chris didn’t have that time to find all the ingredients specific for the spell. He reasoned that since the marker had the word Magic it meant for something. He lit incense. It wasn’t part of the original spell but he considered it should’ve been. The thick musky smoke filled the chamber quickly. It was sickening but Chris forced himself to trudge onward. With the book open to the proper page, he began the chanting to call back the Watcher so he could open the Gate.
       Doubt tugged on Chris like the rain that saturated his clothes, it never left him. The shift in the air he’d felt the week before when the presence of the Watcher came down on him. There was electricity in the air. He began to undress. The book called for the wizard to stand naked within the circle. Carefully he put his clothes in a pile next to him, inside the circle of flour.
       When the ceremony was over Chris stood naked and out of breath, with sweat glistening in the candlelight. The candles were burned down to their bases, wax spilled over the holders. The thunderstorm had moved off, leaving only the slight drizzle and the constant dripping into the tomb at the doorway and crevasses. Chris waited impatiently for something to happen. Something other than the usual and the mundane that made him search for other avenues of entertainment; even if was something older than black magic. The world was the same, no Gate opened before him to give him access to the other dimension. Defeated and tired Chris dressed. He put the remnants of the candles into the backpack. He snuffed out the incense on the dusty floor over the chalk symbols and threw what was left of the stick in the corner. He kicked around the flour so nothing of the protective circle remained. Smudges of the symbols left no hints of the occult, only that someone had been there, no one would know when. He pulled on the backpack and stepped out crypt into the cool night. It was some time after one on a Saturday morning. He’d sleep in after he snuck into the house. As far as his parents knew, he never left his bedroom.
       The cloud dispersed to let stars shine. A sound in the maple tree’s branches hanging over the mausoleum made Chris look up to see something drop out of the shadows to land with a thud on the stone roof and roll to the soft ground. He walked to the side of the crypt and shone his flashlight down on a dead crow. The large black bird with frozen open eyes looked stiff. The sudden appearance of a dead thing made Chris nervous. It could’ve been coincidence he knew crows died. A freak mishap made it happen in his presence. He thought about prodding it with his sneaker, see if it was in shock and still alive but something deep inside him said to leave it be. It looked artificial to Chris. The feet stuck up in the air while it lay on its back. The wings tucked close to its body as it glued there. A chill crawling up Chris’ spine forced him to retrieve his bike from the bushes and head home.
       He dreamed of Cynthia that night. It was a warm dream that ended in wet sheets. Saturday after the library closed at seven Chris wandered the great halls of the mall. Again, it had rained and he was soaked from the bike ride across town. It wasn’t any good to change clothes; on a bicycle, you’re always going to get wet.
       He found a seat on a wooded bench far enough from where Cynthia’s workplace to not look like a stalker and draw attention to himself. He found he could sit there most of the night without disturbance. Cynthia went about her business in the cute paper hat, scooping ice cream and serving it to people. She looked exceptionally beautiful that night. She wore a short white, tight skirt that went as far as the middle of her thighs. White sneakers with thick bottoms were on her feet with white socks. The shirt she had on was a baggy button down with pink stripes. The sleeves rolled up to the elbow so she wouldn't get any ice cream on the shirt. The little black apron went over the majority of the outfit. Her long black hair pulled up at the sides exposed her tiny ears. Chris nibbled his bottom lip as he watched his goddess over the top of his book. He fantasized about putting his hands were his eyes caressed her tight skirt and small breasts.
       A man wandered in front of Chris and caught his attention. The man walked with a slow, almost stumbling gate and wore a black suit. The suit was muddy. Chris never saw the man’s face but he wondered why he wore a dirty suit. The man’s hair had fallen out in patched and grayish white scalp shone slick in the fluorescent lights. The man hobbled on his way looking lost. Chris wondered if he had an accident and was in shock.
       Chris was about to stand and see if he could help. A show of interest for someone else’s welfare was enough to draw attention if he did it right. Cynthia would notice him. A woman stumbled around him when he stood. He turned to look at her face when the fetid stench assaulted his sinuses. His stomach lurched when he saw her face. It was twisted and brownish as if burned. Her jawbone jutted through pruned skin. Repulsed he fell back to the wooden bench. Thunder unlike he’d heard before threatened the foundations of the entire mall. People stopped and looked to the ceiling overhead, their chorus of chatter drowned by the rumbling.
       Chris turned in the direction the strange two people had come to see a growing crowd of well-dressed people shuffling their feet toward him. He saw the shriveled faces and hands. He got the impression they’d arrived at the mall fresh from a funeral. The smell that permeated the air didn’t seem fresh at all. It reminded Chris of something dead. He watched two of the mourners bump into each other and continue in opposite directions. The odor worsened. It made him cover his nose as the crowd drew closer in slow movements. The corridor was wall to wall with the motion of the people. Chris glanced to Cynthia as she noticed the stench. They actually made eye contact and he had the nerve to shrug. When he turned back to the mob a woman ran into him. At least he thought it was a woman. Most of her face was eaten away long ago by decay. The woman, pushed off balance, fell to the floor among the others that stepped on or around her.
       “Holy shit,” was all he could say before the screaming started. He could tell the living from the dead because the living moved much faster than their pursuers. The sounds of terror filling the corridors made the dead take notice and groan or moan with old throats. The sound was wet and scratchy.
       A cold wet vice locked on his arm and started pulling him. Chris jerked his head up to see dull-yellowed teeth gnashing before they reached his flesh. Chris blocked the face, feinted the opposite direction, and yanked himself free. The claw hand ripped his shirt. Chris stumbled away from the throng toward Cynthia. She was still inside the counter area of the ice cream stand, protected from the hands that grabbed for her. Chris ran toward her. At the last minute, he dove for the space under the flip top counter to slide into the space next to Cynthia’s feet. He looked up at her pitifully, his view from between her legs.
       “God damn it, Chris,” Cynthia shouted over the screams of the living and moans of the dead. She hoisted him to his feet by his shirt collar. “You idiot, you opened the Gate but you didn’t close it, did you?”
       Chris stared dumbfounded into those hazel eyes of Cynthia’s. “What?”
       She glared at him and drew him close to scold through her clenched teeth. “You opened the Gate but you didn’t close it after the ceremony. I knew you weren’t ready yet.” She threw him back against the supply cabinets. “Do you realize what you’ve done?”
       One of the male dead snagged Cynthia by her shirt and dragged her over the Glass case toward his face. His mouth hung open. Before Chris could move again, Cynthia hauled a gallon bucket of strawberry sherbet out of the freezer and slammed it over the dead man’s head. The man let go of Cynthia and held his arms out before him as he wandered off blinded with the cylinder of sherbet dripping over his shoulders.
       “Come on!” Cynthia screamed at Chris but didn’t wait as she shed the apron and hopped over the glass ice cream case as if not there. She met more of the dead gathering in front of her. Chris watched as she stopped moving long enough to roundhouse kick four of them in the face. All but one fell over, taking out other dead. Chris went over the counter and caught up to Cynthia by the large water fountain that made up the center of the mall. A tremendous sound made them look in the direction of the other end of the mall. The dead moved to the sides of the corridors and huddled together as if afraid of something. At the other end, Chris watched as the double glass doors burst open, spraying shards of broken glass over the dead and living. Cold moist air blew into the corridor dead leaves drifted everywhere. A figure dressed in a long black robe strolled into the mall. The bare feet crunched on the glass bits. The black robed, hooded figure walked with purpose. The thick hood hung over the face. A thick fog followed the figure into the mall, the cloud rolled to cover everything in its path.
       Chris felt Cynthia grab him by the arm. “Run,” she said and tried ushering him with her. Chris’ feet didn’t move and he watched Cynthia disappear into one of the clothing stores. The figure stopped several yards from Chris. He glanced around to see he was the only living person still in view. The other dead watched from their places against the walls. The figure reached up, Chris saw the long white fingers and even longer fingernails. The hood came away from the head showing stark white hair that fell out of the hood and around the beautiful face. The woman looked on Chris with bold black eyes. Her face looked as if made from chiseled white marble. She held her hands out to Chris.
       “Priest,” she said, her voice echoed through the soundless halls. “I’ve come for you.” The robe came open in the front exposing her naked body under it. Chris stared at the pale breasts and white pubic hair. He saw movement from the side. A security guard came into view.
       “Miss!” he shouted to her. “What are you doing?” Chris wondered how the man seemed to ignore the dead people all around but had morals to make sure a naked woman stayed clothed.
       Without warning or looking the woman threw her arm to the side as if discarding something trivial. The security guard hoisted off the floor, flung backward, and shot into one of the store front windows. Blood sprayed everywhere as the man landed in a heap among the broke mannequins. Chris stared at the quivering thing that was once a man.
       “Priest!” the woman shouted. Her voice thundered with unearthly power. “Come to me!” she commanded. Her perfect and naked body inviting Chris to caress the flesh.
       Chris shook his head and started backing away. He was ready to head in the direction Cynthia had gone. The back of his knees hit the fountain and he almost lost his balance.
       “Priest!” The woman’s anger flowed off her. A current caught the fog clouds around her making a ripple. “Come to me.”
       “Go to Hell!” Chris shouted defiantly.
       The woman threw her head back and screamed. The sound turned into something different and deafening. The beautiful body showed more as the robe dropped to the floor. Her hands balled into fists as she continued a sound that pierced Chris eardrums. He held the sides of his head the woman’s body began to tremble. It took on a shadow of a different shape. The woman drew herself up, drawing her arms across her chest as the sound died away when she lowered her head. Then with a grunt she extended her arms out and tossed her head back, the white hair flowed like an angry sea around her head.
       The body split apart. It came away like a shell, pulled away from the new thing that stood before Chris. Its raw brown flesh glistened with moisture. It rose higher and gained mass, towering over Chris with a height of almost fifteen feet. The red eyes glowed as they stared down on Chris with anew anger. White froth dipped out of its snout from ends of sharp dagger-like yellowed teeth. Traces of matted fur covered the chest and groin. The horns jutted from its grotesque skull.
       The creature sucked in a deep breath and bellowed. Putrid air hit Chris with a velocity that knocked him off his feet into the fountain water. All the windows within a thirty-foot radius shattered.
       From inside Chris wondered if this was something, the Watcher he conjured was supposed to protect him. A Watcher he never saw but thought he felt inside the crypt. At the thought, a silent whisper for the Watch to protect him he heard a dog bark. It was a high-pitched bark as if from a tiny dog. From the side of the fountain a toy poodle wobbled up to the large creature. Chris saw the little dog had small black horns poking out of the sides of its head and it barked as fiercely as a three-pound dog could. The little white dog hopped off the ground as it continued barking annoyingly. Chris thought, is this? No! He tried to put it out of his head.
       The beast lifted its leathery hoof in the air and brought it down on the poodle. The dog yipped as it mashed into the floor tile. The creature looked at the pile of white fur and red then looked up at Chris.
       With a voice as deep and dark as a thousand year old night it chuckled then said, “There’s your Watcher, wizard.”
       Chris gaped at the creature.
       Something fleeting and light-footed flew over the fountain that Chris lay on his stomach in, peaking over the edge. He looked up to see Cynthia tuck and roll to land on her feet in a crouch. For a moment, she held it there then stood up straight. She stood akimbo staring boldly up at the beast.
       Chris saw a grimace cross the beast’s face and heard it whisper, “You.”
       Chris saw enough of Cynthia’s face to know she smiled at it.
       The beast lifted its head and howled. All around a simultaneous moan came from dead throats as the zombies moved as one toward Cynthia.
       “Cynthia!” Chris called as he tried to get to his feet and slipped back into the water.
       Cynthia drew her hands together as if in prayer and lowered her head. The dead stopped moving. Together they began to shake violently. With a burst of smoke and foul air most of the ones near to Cynthia exploded, casting fragments of tattered clothing and ancient flesh and bone everywhere. The beast took a step back from her. The robe on the floor was closer to the girl than the beast.
       Cynthia raised her head to look at the creature.
       “You bitch!” The sound erupted from the monster as it lunged at Cynthia.
       Cynthia scooped up black robe and threw it at the rushing beast. The material swallowed the creature, absorbed it like a quick sponge. The beast and robe disappeared. The remaining zombies dropped to the floor in dusty heaps.
       Cynthia strolled up to the fountain and held her hand out to Chris.
       “How? How?” was all he could say as she helped him up.
       Cynthia grinned at him shaking her head. She held his hand as she leaned forward and kissed his lips lightly. Her hazel eyes stared at him.
       “Shouldn’t play with something you don’t understand.” Cynthia let go of Chris’ hand and stepped away. She started walking down the hall as the living came out of hiding. She stopped and turned back to Chris. “Maybe someday you’ll get it.” With the words, she was gone, leaving Chris standing knee deep in the fountain.

Soul Takers available at 1stbooks.com

Short Stories are available for publication on request. Not to be reprinted without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2000/2001 Robert Rootes

E-mail Robert
Return to Robert Rootes Main Page

http://robertrootes.tripod.com/