“Doesn’t he know the Tsothua spell will open the gate to Flaying Demons if he doesn’t mark the ground with the bones of a newly dead child?”
The next time Dylan woke, it was light outside. Sunlight peeked from the edges of the blinds and he could hear Gary barking at cats. His bedside clock said it was almost midday.
Groggy and weak, he got up and checked his phone. There were sixteen missed calls. All from Wilfred Waite. He smiled. The old man was rude, self-important, loud and demanding, but he wore his narcissism like a cape and essentially told the rest of the world (Dylan included) that if they didn’t like it, they could go to hell. Dylan respected him for that.
He rang Wilfred back.
“Get over here,” were the old man’s first words. “Why didn’t you ring me back? There’s work to be done. I haven’t spent all these years in preparation, only to have some snivelling milksop come along and ruin everything. If you want to slouch around like a rubber-boned layabout with too much time on your hands and no more sense than a three-toed turkey, I can easily find another brainless dolt to train.”
Dylan opened his mouth to apologise, but Wilfred had already hung up. He smiled and returned the phone to the bedside table. “Crazy,” he said, shaking his head.
Though he could laugh at Wilfred behind his back, he knew better than to test the man’s patience. For the next few days he arrived at the farmhouse on time and did everything he was asked. Initially he baulked at some of the darker rites, the ones involving human bones, animal blood and ancient words he discovered later were the names of demons – but as Wilfred explained: “How do you expect to summon the dead without entering their darkness? The important thing,” he added, “is knowing how to find your way back.”
According to Wilfred, all these rites were to prepare Dylan for his role as necromancer’s assistant. The underworld wouldn’t accept any old upstart who came along and whaled on their door demanding entry. You had to prove yourself worthy. Dylan was desperate to be found worthy. For the first time in his life he had a purpose, a role in life he was sure would lead to something, and if he failed at this … well, that didn’t bear thinking.
He could tell from listening in on Wilfred’s phone calls that the wizard was searching for a book, one so rare and powerful that the only known copy was sealed away, accessible only by a small circle of trusted scholars. Wilfred was convinced a second copy of the book had come into the possession of one of his enemies in New England.
“Fool!” he heard Wilfred cry one night. “Doesn’t he know the Tsothua spell will open the gate to Flaying Demons if he doesn’t mark the ground with the bones of a newly dead child?” He lowered his voice. “Is he dead? – Damnation! Why do the lamebrains have all the luck?”
After a few days of gathering his nerve, Dylan asked him about the book. He steeled himself for an explosion of abuse, and was surprised when Wilfred responded with a rare smile.
“The Necromonicon is not just a book,” he explained, waving a jaw bone at him. “It’s a repository of power that men have sought and died for for a thousand years. I’ve uncovered a lost copy through my brilliant detective work, and now our real work begins.”
“Is it a spell book?” asked Dylan, at which Wilfred’s face collapsed into its usual look of disapproval. “I’m surrounded by imbeciles,” he muttered, tottering off.
But he was only going to retrieve his laptop computer. “There,” he said, shoving it into Dylan’s hands. “You may as well further your education, for what it’s worth.”
On the screen was a black-and-white photo of a large book, resting on a lectern surrounded by bearded men dressed in button-up overcoats with high collars. The book looked to be bound in thick leather, which was warped and cracked with age. The photo wasn’t particularly clear, but Dylan could make out in bas-relief in the centre of the book cover what appeared to be a horned devil. He zoomed in. The devil seemed more alien than the goat- or jackal-based devils he was used to seeing. The caption stated, ‘Necromonicon. Arkham University. 1908.’
He clicked on a link and a picture appeared of a lumpy, spherical monster with fat tentacles and a dozen eyes of differing sizes and locations on its body. It reminded him of the nightmare he had earlier that week, the one he guessed was sparked by the statue of Kragn he’d been playing with in Wilfred’s shop. He scrolled down to more images: goat-faced devils, human sacrifices, artists’ impressions of other-worldly beings flying down from an angry sky. “Is any of this real?” he asked Wilfred. But his mentor had gone back to packing animal bones into a leather bag.
The next day, when Dylan arrived at the farmhouse, there was no one home. His knock echoed through the empty building. Wilfred didn’t answer his phone calls. This was the first time in a week he hadn’t seen the wizard and he had a sudden fear his mentor had died or lost interest in him and his adventure was over.
He went to the farmhouse the following day, and the day after that, and still no one answered the door. Wilfred’s dogs continued patrolling the grounds and he presumed the creepy housekeeper was inside; but for whatever reason, no one would respond to his knocks or answer his phone calls.
His worry deepened. He fell into a depression. His own life crowded in on him and reality stabbed at him like a sadist with a pointed stick. Kane, who had just returned from a five-day training camp, told him the bank was putting pressure on him to put the house on the market, and as far as he could tell there were no alternatives. Joel Standish had rung to say there would be no concessions or extensions to the payment date and he wanted to make sure the brothers understood that and had somewhere to go once the bank foreclosed. Besides that, Kane was caught up with his job and his ongoing problems with his ex-girlfriend, and Dylan knew that without Wilfred Waite, he had no future.
When Wilfred finally rang, his heart almost burst in his chest. Putting the phone to his ear, he opened his mouth to speak.
Wilfred beat him to it. “It’s mine!” he cried.
Dylan knew what he was talking about. “Have you got it?”
“Didn’t I say it was mine?”
“Yeah, but …” He sighed. “Don’t worry.”
“Snyder has secured a vessel.”
It was Wilfred’s turn to sigh. “A vessel for the first spell.”
“Cool!” breathed Dylan, not really understanding. “Does that mean you need me to come over?”
“Why are you not here now?”
The phone went dead. Dylan tossed it into the air and watched it land on the bed at his feet. He smiled at his laptop, at the picture he’d been creating, a picture of a fat, gorilla-like ogre emerging from a demolished mausoleum.
“Now,” he said, hitting the back of his head against the wall, “the fun begins.”