The drummer bounced the heads of his sticks off the animal skin of the drum. Not too loud, not too fast, it was not the time for the loudness or the fastness, not yet anyway.
The night swallowed everything, the light, voices and all other things that would signal normality, leaving only the soft booms of the drum and the light of flames on wooden torches that reflected themselves off white-painted faces. Normality was reserved for normal days and normal nights, nights like this caused the spirits and demons to peek at the world of the mortals from the edges of the dark, nights like these foreshadowed the spilling of blood.
If one listened closely, underneath the sounds of the drum echoing through pitchblack, one could hear the spirits whisper in anticipation. One of their own would inhabit the mortal world if only for a little while.
The mortals stood in a circle several rows thick. They stood around a space on the ground, a space consecrated with the blood of men for the summoning of that which was not man. They made no sound or movement, waiting for a sacrifice. After a while, a man stepped into the space and immediately, the boombooming ceased. His chest expanded as he drew breath and his arm arched upwards in swift precision as he drew blood. He clenched his fist and watched the wound he had cut in his wrist bleed onto the cold earth.
For a while, nothing happened. Then the earth beneath him began to move, to pulsate like many snakes writhing just below the surface of the ground.
The edges of the night began to swarm and sway and the secrets they held at bay became filled with restless anticipation. The man in the space dropped to his knees and his body began to move in time to the boombooming. His eyes rolled back into his skull and his mouth hung open but unspeaking. At his feet, a hand erupted from the earth and felt around. It grabbed the man’s ankle so tightly that the sound of its breaking could be heard even with the drumbeat. Another hand emerged from the earth and wrapped around the man’s heart through his chest and pulled. Blood poured in rivulets onto the earth in holy sacrifice.
The night became alive, it warped itself and twisted around the flames, snuffing them out, it went in and out of the mortals’ orifices seeking the irreverent to devour. It slithered around their bodies and filled their minds with morbid temptations. The boombooming did not stop. It was now signaling the merging of both worlds and for as long as it beat, they would stay merged. In the space, the sacrifice had finished being accepted and in its place stood the mercenary servant birthed from Iu, the Earth Mother. She had made this world with blood of her womb and would therefore only be called upon with blood.
The creature stepped out of what had become a chasm in the ground. It stood three times the height of any man who ever lived. It looked loosely human with thin muscled arms like the strongest of ropes, its ribcage stretched impossibly wide so that it’s belly seemed sunken, its back arched outward so that it hunched. In one arm it carried a spear only slightly shorter than it was, on its head was a mask so long that its bottom reached the bottom of its ribcage, a piece of cloth big enough to serve as a man’s bedspread adorned its waist like a loincloth. Mud the color of scarlet dripped like blood down its frame.
The drummer stopped. The mortals held the creature in reverence. They had never seen it before, they would never see it again. They had only heard stories passed down by old men around the waning flames of the midnight pyre. They stared in morbid awe at what they had summoned and then bowed their heads in unison.
But the creature was not concerned with the reverence of mortals. The gods of old, the true gods, are not worshipped with wine and flowers and gold and the trappings of men, true gods are worshipped in blood of disciples and pagans alike, in the deep scarlet of their lifeblood. The night held its silence again, waiting breathlessly for the chaos to begin.
The bodies burned well. Charles was thankful. They would smell god-awful tonight but disease would be staved. The locals would not stop coming, they seemed endless. The crew had spent almost half of the ammunition they came ashore with in the last three days. They had lost many men. Charles himself had lost his junior brother in one of the massacres.
Massacres was what the battles were. The island’s locals would charge headlong towards them and they’d be mowed down by a rain of bullets but they would not stop coming. Hundreds of them lay dead. This was the third fire for the dead in as many days. Charles sighed. This was not the plan, this was very far from the plan.
The plan was to trade. They had come on the expedition looking to establish a trade route, offering things the locals would not have like guns and household utensils and soap, and in return they would take fruits and wood and explore for minerals. It was reasonable to Charles, civilisation in return for resources. The plan was now torn to shit. He looked around the fire, the night seemed to hum in anticipation. There was much evil in this place. He made the sign of the cross and touched his rosary to his lips.
He walked back to the clearing where most of the men sat around a campfire. He did not like these men too much. They were immoral to say the least. Near the darkness just beyond the reaches of the light that the campfire generated, a few of them were having their way with some of the warrior women they had captured in one of the battles with the locals, they would slit her throat when they were done. He knew this but he could do little about it, he was a lone beacon of morality in the blackness of their sin. A part of him wondered about them, in all they were good enough men, they said the grace at eating time and some of them could even recite bits of the rosary. Surely they were better than the heathens on the island. Surely. For the umpteenth time, he missed his brother, the only person he could really talk to. He had been one of the first to die on the first day, Charles had cried all the tears he could. He was all dried up.
He sighed. The rest of the men who were sat around the fire took turns in drinking out of a bottle of rum unafraid of the locals attacking at night. They had been wary on the first night but they’d since noticed how quickly they retreated as soon as darkness began to descend. It didn’t matter whether they were winning or losing, once darkness came, they scampered. Charles fingered at his rosary and crossed himself again.
It was faint, so faint that Charles would have thought himself to be hearing things if one or two of the other men didn’t perk up too.
He was sure now. It was the sound of a drumming. More of the men had had their attentions caught and had started groping around for their guns. It was strange. It couldn’t be the locals, they feared the night.
The night had much to fear about it. It hummed and hissed and shimmered beyond the edge of Charles’s vision, sounds akin to the cacophony of a million whispers.
“STATIONS!” The captain yelled. The sounds of guns being loaded and cocked echoed all around. Charles pulled out the pistols at his hips and hurried to join the battle lines that the men groggily formed.
The perimeter of the camp had been lined with sharpened stakes on the first night to serve as a deterrent to a head-on charge from any local armies. Charles heard the trunk of a tree as thick as his torso snap like a twig.
BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM
A shrill cry tore through the night. It was not human, it sounded like the voices of a thousand screams melded into one disturbing sound. A few shots rang off, bullets aimed at nothing in particular. The night was solid. Only two points of light broke the darkness, the campfire and the pyre of bodies some way off.
Then Charles saw the Devil.
His silhouette blotted out a portion of the pyre’s light. He had two legs and two arms like any man but his head was impossibly long, even for his height. He was at least 20 feet tall with a spear just as long. Fear enveloped the men.
In that moment, Charles felt the wetness of the crotch of his trousers on his skin.
The creature almost laughed. Mortals, always coming up with reasons to exercise their mortality. He raised his spear up and pointed it at the men that stood, petrified at his appearance. He couldn’t resist it, he closed his eyes and arched his head back to drink in their collective terror. In the edges of his vision, he could see his kind; the undead, the unliving, the ghosts and spirits, the gods and the devils, they egged him on, they craved for his offering of death. This was a good reason to suffer damnation, to be summoned, to experience this euphoria, this ecstasy.
He felt the blips off his skin as their feeble weapons threw balls of metal at him and flung his head forward. Of all the weapons the humans had come up with in all the time their species had been put on this earth as an eternal curse on Iu, he by far preferred the spear, it had character, a personality, a violent beauty about it. It would be his tool.
The humans, always desperate to classify things as good or as evil, to love or to hate, to adore or to fear. Their need to categorize, to be in charge of the things around and within them, it was primitive, a core failing and they never learned, at least not yet. It knew the truth, the gods and the nonmortals, they did not love or hate, they were good and evil and neither at the same time, to classify is to limit, to cage. We do not exist like that, It thought as his spear arched through the air on its way to taste blood.
The screams of men adorned the sounds of the night like a cloak, all in time to the drummer’s beat.