An Offering for Crocodiles
He drew unnaturally even circles in the coarse, wet sand at midnight as the moon shone full and white-as-silver down on both he and the death-silent river that slept nearby, its ancient shores blanketed by reeds and rushes.
It was dangerous to be here at night alone, not just because of the lurking crocodiles that hunted from the dark foliage, who thought less-than-nothing of snacking upon a man’s flesh, but because of the need for solitary seclusion to do the work he was about, lest it fail utterly…worse than fail.
A set of careful sidelong glances up-and-down the lunar-limned shadows of the shoreline, as far as eyes could see in the moon’s pale light, revealed nothing and no one to interrupt or view the black-and-secret rites of his need–rites first performed by antediluvian man to leering shadows stretching across cavern walls.
He took the kidnapped child, a white blanket over her face and eyes, and lay her quickly inside one of the circles drawn in the night-chill sand, where she squalled and howled in an infant voice that tore at his nerves, and at his conscience.
Then from within his own circle, his own voice wrapped around her cries like a serpent and hissed across the still river where it wound about the rushes, a litany of chanted blasphemies outlawed by the true gods, and that ended with a simple call, “I have lain your feast before you, Ma-lin and Chaku, you twin demonesses, come forth claim your blood prize.”
He waited the proscribed time and then called again–there was a quiet splash as if something slipped into the river–and once more he called the same. Then there was movement and he tensed, waiting to see what it was but fearing any response, be it man or beast…or those unto whom he had called.
They came crawling from the shadows, slinking on hands and knees, barren of clothing, flesh white as corpses and fresh-spun silk, their dark, wicked eyes glinting with cruel, close-mouthed smiles upon perfect faces that hid snake’s fangs-and-tongues beneath blue lips.
They circled round him in his circle and the child in hers, sensuously crawling on hands and knees, breasts dragging in the wet, gritty sand, their tongues running over their lips as they stared up at him with coquettish, narrowed eyes.
“Your circles annoy us, sorcerer,” the demoness Ma-lin hissed and swayed on all fours, “let us have the treat that we may serve you.”
“Let us tear the flesh and rend the skin,” her sister Chaku snarled, curling her long-nailed fingers and undulating on the wet ground.
“Silence,” he growled, the command echoing back to him from the stillness and quiet on the river’s further shore, and the twin demons stopped their writhing, “You daughters of dark Lilith will have nothing you do not trade honestly for. The location of your sister, that thieving bitch Ka-lipu, give it to me now.”
Ma-lin snarled–face beastial and darkly-scaled for a sudden, fleeting moment, her appearance wavering as does the air around a desert mirage–and Chaku laughed with the voice of crocodiles and hyenas.
Their serpentine voices mocked him in unison as they crawled slowly around, testing his circles again, their taunts smoothly turning sweet, coy, seductive whispers whose words were of a long-dead language mortals had never known. They offered their supple forms up to him with gyrations and gestures more lewd than those known by any whore in Babylon, if he would just let them through the circle.
He allowed all this for a moment, then commanded and cajoled, saying some of the forty secret names that held power over them. And now they snarled and clawed, threatening, black fingernails never passing over the edge of the circle drawn around him in the sand, their sharpened fangs now revealed.
In moments more the deal was struck, and the demons had eagerly whispered their secrets and given up their sister to him as they drooled and stared at the squalling child in the dark, wet sand, waiting for their feast. They howled and begged for the child, but their cries turned to angry threats and promises of vile retributions when he stated the child was only theirs when he found their sister, and only if he found her where they claimed.
Above the wails of the kidnapped child, Ma-lin promised succor and Chaku promised blood. He believed only the latter. And when this did not draw him out or frighten him to action, the demons cast off their forms and showed their blasphemies–all scale and teeth and claws-like-knives, with yellow eyes and yellowed fangs, wrapped around forms mistaken for feminine only in the darkest shadows–hissing and sliding around the circles as though they were stone walls.
He sat still within his, trying not to shake at what he had barely glimpsed before he shut his eyes, the demons tormenting him with their foul voices until the morning sun rose and they slunk away hissing and fading into the reeds upon the riverbank. There were no footprints, nor tracks, nor any sign the two had been more than phantasm.
When the sun had risen full, he stood and picked up the child, slipping around the child’s neck an amulet of glazed clay from the riverbank, fired-and-hardened in a furnace lit with four sacred woods. And whispered, “You must wear this all your life, child, lest those two find and devour you, or worse.”
He left her sobbing in the dusty shadow of her parents’ doorway and slipped away into the coming day.
Copyright (c)2011 Raven Daegmorgan