Copyright 2001 by Eric J. Juneau. All rights reserved.
This story is in no way intended to infringe on the established copyrights and trademarks of Monolith Productions, Inc. It is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended for sale. It may be freely distributed providing that no alterations to the story are made. The characters and incidents portrayed and the names in this story used herein are fictitious and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental and unintentional.
A Caleb Carol
by Eric J. Juneau
Stave 1: Marley's Ghost
Marley was dead, to begin with.
The cultists had made absolutely sure of that before they signaled the Chosen. With a task as minor as the killing of some mortal citizens who posed a threat to the Cult of Tchernobog in some way or another, only the low-ranked and expendable needed to see to it. Tchernobog cared so deeply for His four esteemed generals He made sure the lower rungs of the Cabal performed any minor or uncomplicated responsibilities. Even though, by the definition of being a general in Tchernobog's army, the four had received such dark powers that cannot be mentioned, the One that Binds would take no unnecessary chances. The four could not disagree.
It didn't matter what this fellow did, whether he owned a steel mill the Cabal could annex, or he led some sort of anti-cult movement or organization of the old religion that hindered their ways and means. It didn't matter. If there was something they had that could serve the Cabal, like a lumber mill or a railroad, of course the Cabal would not have killed him outright. The intentions of the Cult had to be kept secret, away from public's eyes. They wouldn't understand. No, first the Cabal would try to coerce him to join their cause, being sure to highlight the advantages of servitude to the Dark God, the riches, the immortality, the power. Failing that, which most often happened, coercion would change to threat. Failing that, which didn't often happen, there was no longer any other alternative. Not with the knowledge of the Cult and its purposes at the hands of some puny civilian. The Cult of Tchernobog did not care to mince words or waste time.
Caleb liked this philosophy of the Cult best. No one tried to bullshit him with sugary words or false promises. Direct and prompt was the only way to do things and it was the only way the Cult operated. The hand signal the gray-dressed cultist was displaying right now only further proved that point. Why complicate matters with elaborate words or a report when a simple hand signal was all that was needed.
Upon this signal, the four Chosen ones, Caleb, Gabriel, Ishmael, and Ophelia, who were standing a fair distance away from the manor for protection and watching the underlings, began walking towards the homestead and into its doors.
Caleb was the last to make it through the house's archway, getting his leather trench coat caught on a doornail jutting out of the frame. If Caleb were a smarter man, he would have thought it unusual that such a refined home would have a mistake in construction obvious as this. But the fact was Caleb was not a man of great intelligence and he only ripped himself out and cursed the nail in his mind.
Ophelia, Gabriel, and Ishmael had fanned out and were searching through desk drawers and cabinets, under sofas and tables for the object that had been stolen from them. The floor was far from a tidy state, as if the house had been picked up by a child's hand and shaken to hear what was inside, like a Christmas present. The Cabal was looking for an object of great value and power. It had been given to Marley as a demonstration of their power, though he kept it when he denied the Cabal's request. Probably for evidence to show authorities. And there would be no having that.
Caleb stood just inside the door, holding his weapon at present like a walking stick. It was called a life leech and certainly it was as grotesque a weapon as the name would imply. A yellowing bone skull pushed onto a staff of equal hue and securely fastened with rope and two small crossbones made a deceitful and bizarre shaft, the skull being the worst of it. Various teeth in the mandible and upper jaw were left empty and one wide hazel eye left in its socket gazed at nothing, well preserved from the Eldritch Fire magic the weapon possessed. Only those given power in the dark arts, like the Chosen and few higher-ranked cultists, could wield it to its fullest potential. Caleb, for the most part, did not take much from the power of the life leech. For although he had the power of black magic, he did not use it skillfully, and preferred the more tangible bullets and cartridges. But as a walking staff, it filled its role nicely.
"All dead," Caleb said to the fanatic, partially a question, partially a declaration.
"And you still haven't found the object?"
"Where are the bodies?"
"In this room here, sir, the bedroom." The cultist led Caleb down a hallway at the left to a room at the end of the hall. He opened the already partially gapped door a little wider for him.
"Find somewhere to search. I'll look here," Caleb commanded.
"Very well, sir." The cultist left.
Three bodies were lying on the floor at the foot of the double bed. Everything was arranged as a homicide/suicide should law enforcement be able to read through what would soon be the ashes of the house. Marley's wife wore a necklace of blood from her slit throat, no doubt done as the first victim. Their fair-haired son of what could be four years, give or take, held onto a bullet in his forehead that had killed him instantly. It looked like a morose West Indian gem decoration, Caleb thought. Last was Marley, who was slumped on his side. Caleb pulled him over on his back to take a look at him. He kept three bullet wounds in his bosom - two in the abdomen, one just above and right of the left breast. His eyes were still open though. In the Cult, this meant his soul was so reluctant to leave this world the body kept the eyes open to the last. Caleb put up a hand to shut those gazing eyes.
Marley shot out his hand suddenly and clutched onto Caleb's trench coat. "Why?" he whispered hoarsely. "Why?"
Though Caleb was reflexively startled, he held no fear. With a quick twist he freed himself of Marley's weak grip, took up his life leech, and plunged the blunt end into the body's chest. Marley grunted once as he curled up from the blow, then rested limp, never moving again. Caleb yanked the stick out of the fresh corpse's stomach, which now glistened dull red at the end.
"That'll teach ya."
Ophelia poked her bright red head through the door. "Is there a problem?"
"Not anymore," Caleb replied and rested the life leech on his shoulder.
"Good. We're leaving."
"You found it?"
"Gabriel found it!" Gabriel shouted from the house's foyer. "You owe me twenty bucks, Ish."
"I found it first, I found it first," he danced around in a sing-song voice.
"Yes, yes, very amusing," Ishmael said seriously.
"Enough!" Caleb shouted. "Stop acting like children. I just had to finish off that guy in there. He was still alive."
"Well, that's not our f-"
"I don't care. If you weren't acting like such dimwits these sorts of things wouldn't happen. Now get your act together," he shouted angrily.
"Now where is this thing that was so damn precious?"
A nearby cultist held out a neatly folded black sheet. Caleb picked it up and let it drop unfolded. It resembled a cloak, made of a shimmering material.
"What is this?"
"It's a Shadow Cloak, sir."
"We already have that - the Cloak of Invisibility."
"No sir, it's not like a Cloak of Invisibility."
"Then what does it do?"
"Well?" Caleb said, growing impatient.
"Well, we don't really know. We have people looking into it though. It's an experimental object."
"So we came to all this trouble just for a freakin' bed sheet?" Caleb threw the cloak back on the cultist. "Did you think Marley would be impressed by something that wouldn't even work? I can't take this incompetence anymore. How are we supposed to spread our influence with you bumbling idiots."
Gabriel started laughing in the background.
"And you can shut the hell up, Gabe. I am especially close to pounding you."
Gabriel shut up, with a serious and mournful puppy dog face on.
"What's your problem?" Ophelia asked.
"Nothing. Let's go," he put his arm around Ophelia's waist and the two went to the door. The four exited the house, with Caleb giving the standing guard zealot one final order.
"Burn this place to the ground."
"Aye, sir," he said and immediately went to retrieve the others to assist with this order.
Caleb took the life leech off his shoulder and turned it so it would serve as a walking stick once again. As he shifted its position, he thought he caught a glimpse of the staff's one eye flick towards him, taking a quick glance at his vicious countenance.
Startled, he turned the skull to face him and scrutinized it carefully. It stayed as dead as it always was, eye forever set in a lifeless gaze. Caleb dismissed the apparition and kept walking.
The tavern was busy this evening, and Caleb didn't much like that. He consumed his usual midnight snack of peanuts the bar provided. And with peanuts there was always plenty of liquor to wash them down, tonight's drink being a bottle of cheap scotch whiskey. It was a good place for Caleb to sneak out to whenever the pressures of the demands of the Cult bore down on him too hard. More and more he was coming here, though he didn't notice it, nor would admit it if he did. The Cult forbade its members to leave the earthly premises of the Cult's sanctum. But he was a general. And he was the damned best general that anybody'd ever seen. No one was gonna kick him out. No one would dare try.
If he had bothered to look behind him when the door to the pub suddenly burst open wide, slamming against the wall it was fastened to, he would have seen one of the most delighted individuals the bar had seen for a long time.
"Mack, drinks for everybody," he said with his arms raised.
The bartender looked up from his conversation with another patron. "What's the occasion?"
"I'm getting married!"
The bar quietly erupted with congratulations and mazel tovs. Familiar folks and friends of the bar patted him on the back and shook his hand. Caleb did his best to ignore them.
"Who is it?"
"Sylvia Kettle, Dr. Kettle's daughter."
"Oh, that's fantastic."
"I didn't even know you two were courting."
"I never thought you'd settle down, you old rascal you."
"When's the wedding?"
"Two months from now, on the fifteenth."
"I hope we're invited."
"Of course you are. Everyone here is. Hey Mack, where are those drinks?"
"Coming right up," Mack replied, busily fixing up pitchers of beer. Caleb couldn't help overhearing them, try as he might. The noise was clamorous enough to wake the dead. He just filled up another shot's worth and downed it in a gulp.
"Oh, it's going to be wonderful. It'll be so elegant. Ah, I tell you boys, I ain't never felt this way. Every day the birds are singing, the sun is out, the food I eat never tasted so good."
Fellows at the table laughed with him.
"Laugh if you want, it's true, I tell you. It's true as God as my witness."
"Hey, Ben, drinks are ready." The bartender put two pitchers of golden ale in the space next to Caleb. Ben stood from the table to grab the pitchers and looked at Caleb.
"Come stranger. You look lonely. Join us at our table. Take part in our merriment."
"Get outta here," was Caleb's quiet reply.
"Oh, come now. Don't be so glum. This is a happy occasion. Lighten up. Every once in a while, even when we trudge through our darkest times we must stop and remind ourselves how lucky we are to be alive."
"I'm not paid enough to be nice to you."
"Join us please. Here, I'll even buy you a drink. Mack," he said to the bartender. "Get this man a glass of wine. A white zinfandel. You're a zinfandel man, I'll wager."
"If I throw a stick, will you leave?" Caleb muttered, not even looking at the guy.
"Here you go," Mack set a glass of white wine before Caleb.
He ignored it.
Ignorant of the comment, "Come on, everyone else is having fun. Why not join us in it?"
Caleb picked up the glass of wine and dumped it on Ben's head. Others in the bar were flabbergasted. "You're right. Now I'm having fun."
"Now there's no need for that, friend," Ben said, a little stunned but otherwise undaunted. He grasped Caleb about the shoulder, which was the final straw. Caleb threw back his arm and punched him square in the face. Stunned eyes looked up from tables. Joyous faces turned to surprise. Ben touched his lip to confirm the blood beginning to dribble down his chin.
"I don't drink wine. I don't 'take part in merriment'. And I sure as hell ain't your friend." Caleb stood menacingly over Ben's body. "How did you ever get married."
Ben looked back with a quizzical expression. "Because I fell in love," he said partially garbled from his half-filled and half-open mouth.
Caleb gave a small groan of disgust as he looked away. "You give a nice contrast to the real world."
"You get outta here," Mack said. "You don't come in here no more, you hear?"
He left Ben on the floor and exited the tavern, not wanting to spend any more time in the company of such ridiculous individuals. Every pair of eyes followed him as he walked through the exit without another word.
Sleep was a beauteous, dreamless void for Caleb. He always fell asleep in less than five minutes after he was done with sex. It was a traditional event - Caleb would lurch in once he was ready for bed, Ophelia would sit there waiting. There was usually arguing about some menial thing Caleb had done during the day, in tonight's case, his conduct this morning. Caleb let her fuss because he knew that turned her on. A short time later, they were both dozing. Ophelia rested beside him under the satin sheets, curled up in a little ball like a dozing cat, completely nude from the night's traditional act, her long red hair swung from the breeze coming in from the open window.
Caleb slept on his back, perfectly prone and snoring loudly. Usually he slept like a log every night, aided by the alcohol in his system, but tonight, some mysterious force lifted him out of the submergence of sleep, just to the edge of the waters. Just enough to rouse Caleb up to where he peeked his eyes from under their heavy lids to make sure where he was. A brief glimpse reminded him he was in his quarters, sleeping in his luxurious four-poster double bed. The only thing out of place was that strange shadowed object at the far end of the room. A squint of eyes reminded him that the shape was that of the life leech. The fact it was standing up on its own scarcely fazed him. It was natural for the staff to do that due to its magic power. Maybe he put it there and just forgot about it. He turned over on his side and tried returning to slumber.
Five minutes later, Caleb was still not asleep yet. Trying to get comfortable he turned over to his other side. As he did he caught a glimpse of the wall and the life leech. He did a double take though. The rod looked like it was placed closer to the bed. "Nah," he muttered and tried going back to a relaxed state. Though, just to check, he looked at it again.
Now it was definitely closer. Definitely. Almost definitely.
Caleb turned over again, leaning over the edge of the bed and looked down at the foot of the nightstand. The bottle of tequila down there still had the worm in it. In fact it wasn't even half-empty yet. That wasn't the cause. Caleb rolled back and closed his eyes again, trying to shake off this strange hallucination, trying to shut the intrusive thoughts out of his mind. Just one final time though, just to make sure he was only dreaming, he looked again.
The skull was staring into him with its one good eye at the side of his bed.
"Get up, dumbass," it said.
"What," Caleb mumbled, still groggy from sleep.
"Get up, dumbass. I ain't got time for your two last brain cells to fire up."
Caleb furrowed his brows and reached over to jostle Ophelia awake. "Ophelia, wake up, the life leech is talking to me."
"Forget that. It won't work," the skull-staff interrupted.
"Come on. Ophelia?"
"She can't hear you!" the skull sang impatiently.
"Unh, this has gotta be a dream."
"Dream or not, I told you to get up."
"Never again." Caleb slumped back against the headrest. "No more tequila right before I go to bed."
"You say that every time you get delirium tremens. Sure as hell ain't stopped you."
"Just get the hell out of the bed," the life leech demanded sternly.
Caleb shrugged and pulled off the sheets.
"Eughh... check that. Put some clothes on. Then get the hell out of the bed." The life leech hopped up and down, trying to turn himself away from Caleb's naked body. "God, I wish I had eyelids."
"Who the hell are you anyway?" Caleb asked as he put on the clothes heaped at the bottom of the bed."
"Ask me who I was five years ago."
"All right, who were ya five years ago?"
"I was a frickin' skull on a stick! You moron!" He spun around angrily.
"You got an awful disposition for an inanimate object."
"You keep a stick shoved in your butt. See how you feel. Now follow me."
"Why should I do what a talking skull says?"
The life leech jumped and stomped on Caleb's foot with its blunt end.
"Ow!" Caleb took hold of his foot in pain.
"You know, I don't need to be doing this. I'm doing this for your own benefit."
"Cause your life depends on it." The staff bounced out, heading through the room's open door. Caleb rubbed his temples from his growing headache from last night's liquor and checked on Ophelia. She was sleeping as soundly as ever. Guess the talking life leech was right. All right. Caleb would play along with this. Probably just Ishmael playing some joke on him with his magic skills. He was probably out there now, laughing his ass off.
Dressed in his long-sleeved, white, collared button-up shirt and tan pants, he followed his weapon out the door. It was standing in the middle of the hallway looking out into the inky blackness of the corridor.
Caleb said, "What-"
Caleb looked up and saw the ghastly apparition of a man standing up some yards away, shaded in black and white. The ghost had three bullet wounds in his chest and a large gaping injury to his stomach. Truly, it was the image of Marley. Caleb rubbed his sleep-ridden eyes to clear them up so he could see a better distance.
Now Marley held his arm around his wife, still with a neat incision around her throat line. And in front of them was their four-year old son with a bullet in his brain. They looked like they were posing for a family portrait, but the sorrowful and forlorn look on their faces was far from a pretty picture.
"Oh, this is good. Hey, Ish, where are ya?" he called out.
"Pay attention, son. This is for your own good. See that guy? You killed him today."
The staff sharply turned to Caleb. "Does 'you killed' even mean anything to you anymore? To deprive of life, to slay, murder, execute? You have taken a man's life. You've robbed him of the one thing he truly possessed in this world. You stole his ability to laugh, sing, play, jump, run, love."
"So what? What's he gonna do to me now, stare me to death? Why is this guy so damn great he has to wake me up in the middle of the night?"
"Cause this guy had a special soul. One of those holy souls. Specially favored by God or something. If these souls die by someone's hands... well, something biblical happens, I don't remember, but He'll be pissed and do you know what happens when God gets pissed?"
"He takes it out on some sodommites?"
The leech sighed, down casting his eye. "You're lucky God is forgiving and all that. You're gonna get a chance for redemption."
"Tonight you're going to be visited by three spirits. One from the past, one from the present, one from the future."
"And I'm going to blast their brains out."
"No you aren't," the life leech said, rolling his one eye.
"I'm not gonna lose sleep because of some ghosts who get their jollies from taking me on a time tour."
"Well, too bad," the skull snapped and turned to face him. "You're gonna have to deal with them whether you like it or not. This is your one chance."
"Did you yap this much when you were alive?"
The leech jumped down on Caleb's foot again.
"That's funny. Now get back to bed and remember what I told you."
"All right, that's it." Caleb turned the back of his hand, ready to strike the skull right off his stick. But it had disappeared. "Aw, Christ." The ghost of Marley had disappeared too, and his family. Everything was back to the way should be.
Caleb peeked back into his room. No life leech, no spirits, no ghosts, no apparitions, no nothing but his bed and Ophelia. Caleb let forth a guttural sigh and rubbed his rough worn face. "No more tequila before bed. Not a drop. Just vodka... and maybe some gin."