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Friday, April 15, 2016

"The Art of Death": Yet Another Chapter!

Just a couple of days away from The Art of Death being published ...

Quick synopsis: evil museum curator uses ancient Babylonian ceremony to sacrifice hundreds for eternal life.  He raises spirits and creatures from artifacts gathered from around the world to do his bidding.

Want even more concise?  Monsters on the loose in a museum.

Read another chapter after the JUMP.


Karlow's secretary, Stacy Descheeny, slowly entered the exhibit hall, clutching her small purse.  "Hello?"

"This way, Stacy," Abigail said from around the corner.

She smiled and walked between the exhibits and found Dr. Karlow standing before a large display, leaning forward onto his cane.  "Good evening, Miss Descheeny.  Have you had a good time thus far?"

She nodded.  "Very much, sir."  Her hair was sprayed into place and she wore a nice but plain red dress. 

Mason scanned her from head to toe and then stared directly into her eyes.  "I've asked you to come down here for a very important purpose."

"OK."  She walked forward and Abigail moved behind her to close the exhibit's steel shutters. 
"You've been with me for about eight years now, yes?"

She nodded.  "That's right."

"Yes.  I have kept you with me for a couple of reasons."  Using his cane as a prop, he stepped over the exhibit's barriers and walked onto the plaster display.  It was made up to look like a lake bed and a body, swathed in cloth and weighed down with stones and logs sat in the center.  "First and foremost, you have been excellent in all that you do for me."

"Thank you, Dr. Karlow."

He looked up from the body and said, "No.  Thank you."  Stacy smiled and lowered her head meekly.  He straddled the wrapped corpse and produced a small utility knife from his waist.  "There is another reason, however."

Descheeny moved forward and narrowed her eyes.  She looked at the exhibit and watched as Mason sliced through the ropes binding the centuries-old body.  She didn't respond to him and, instead, debated whether she should speak up against such a desecration.

"Do you know what this is?"  Stacy didn't answer.  Karlow lifted the knife and motioned at the surrounding plaster display and said, "It's made up to resemble a lake bed.  You see, the Goshute tribe were one of the few aboriginal American peoples who undertook aquatic burials."  He leaned over and sliced open the cloth.  Descheeny craned her neck to see and she spied a gray bit of bone within.  "Do you know who the Goshutes' primary enemy was?"

Stacy looked away from the body and into the piercing gaze of her employer.  She shook her head slowly and said, softly, "No."

"The Navajo."  Descheeny blinked rapidly and took a step back.  She found that Abigail was right behind her.  Mason turned back toward the corpse and reached within the wrappings.  "They were constantly attacked and their people enslaved by Navajos." 

Stacy looked back at Frye and the taller, larger woman shook her head slowly.  Descheeny said, "I don't understand."

Karlow stood and he held a bone.  Its end was jagged and he slowly stepped over the remains and away from the plaster display.  With a gesture toward the pseudo-aquatic burial site, he said, "This person wasn't Goshute.  She was Navajo.  You see …"  He moved closer to Stacy and Abigail gripped her shoulders tightly.  "There are still Goshute natives who hate the Navajo.  Who hate you."  He lightly touched her cheek and smiled.  His eyes softened and he looked upon her with something approaching sympathy.  "If one were to pay them enough money, they could find the specific burial site of one of their hated enemies.  Even desecrate their own burial grounds to conceal the body of an anti'ihni.  One of the 'Witchery Way.'"

Descheeny struggled and tried to pull away, but Frye's grip tightened and she was forced to face Karlow again.  He inhaled deeply and said, "It took quite a bit of work to find your great-great-great-great grandmother."  He lifted the rib up to eye level and said, "Especially since she was cursed."  She opened her mouth to speak, but as soon as she did, Mason's hand flew to her throat and clenched around it.  Her trachea was pressed and her jaw struggled to open against his power.  His expression hardened and then he drove the point of the rib into her carotid artery.  "I am sorry, Miss Descheeny."

He stepped back and let the first spurt of blood arc onto the ground.  Then he produced a large emesis basin and caught the rest of it.  Abigail didn't loosen her hold while the victim shuddered.  After about thirty seconds of gasping and wet eye rolling, she slumped and Frye let her fall to her knees.  Karlow set one full basin aside and lifted another.  He pressed it against her throat and caught more redness with it.  At last, Stacy fell forward and Abigail released her entirely.

Mason sighed and held the blood-filled container aloft.  "Get the soil."

Frye opened her satchel and brought out a metal Thermos.  She unscrewed the top, stepped over the display barrier, and stood above the decayed body of the Navajo woman, dressed in the burial trappings of a Goshute.  After a moment, Karlow joined her and he leaned over the bones with the basin of blood.

He held his medallion up and pointed the red stone at the skeleton's head.  Speaking in Akkadian, he said, "Father Nanna, dark Su'en.  I bear the symbol of your temple and hold it.  I dwell within the temple and hold spirits to your bidding.  Grant me sway over this being.  You shine anew and I with you.  You live again and I continue." 

He paused, thought for a moment, and then began to speak in the nearly extinct tongue of the Navajo, "In the house of the Moon, in the story of the Moon, on the trail of the Moon, her body, mind, and spirit restore."  He poured the blood upon the bones and Abigail shook the Thermos, pouring out soil which clung to the thick redness.  "With power before me, held in my hand.  With power above me, held in my hand.  With power below me, held in my hand.  With power behind me, held in my hand.  See my symbol.  Hear my voice.  It is finished."

Karlow dropped the medallion and stood.  Frye backed away from the display and stared at the muddy, bloody clumps that oozed along the sides of the skull and bones.  "When will we know?"

He looked at his watch.  7:22.  Mason leaned onto his silver-headed cane and shook his head.  "When she rises, I suppose."

Nidawi'baa stood and screamed.  It surprised her that her voice was not high-pitched or shrill like she remembered.  Instead, it was deep and it bellowed.  It bounced off the tall walls and echoed.  She stepped forward and saw a small man cower.  She was surprised by his reaction, but she felt something surge within.  It started as nausea and then spread as warmth throughout her torso and into her limbs.  Her limbs … she felt her right arm pull back and then swipe across her front.

A giant claw supported by pink and red sinew moved through her field of vision, knocking the man several yards away.  Blood splattered onto the floor as he flew.  She roared again and looked at her paw.  Her paw … She had no skin.  Muscles covered her body and sharp nails formed deadly weapons on her hands and feet.  Nidawi'baa felt something hit her back.  Like a bee sting accompanied with a loud bang.  She felt it again and turned.  She roared.  Nausea gave way to anger and she smacked at a group of old people.  They were cast about, leaving one person kneeling low and pointing something metal at her.  There was another bang, a flash of fire, and another bee sting.  She roared and stomped forward, crushing the attacker beneath her large foot.

Nidawi'baa wanted to cry out and ask the gods why this was happening, but her body began to itch.  She looked at her sinew and muscles and saw that pale, pink skin was beginning to form.  From it, thick, brown hairs sprouted.  She roared again as the flesh growth changed from itching to fire.  She looked around and saw other people, small compared to her giant frame, run and press against each other in corners and against furniture.  She wanted to lash out and cry for help, but the nausea returned.  She stared at the people nearby and walked toward them.  Her paws thudded on the stone floor and she dropped onto her front limbs.  With a guttural blast from the depths of her being, she moved forward.  Two people fainted and with her substantial teeth, she rent another's midsection from his torso, flinging it across the room.  She stood again and swiped at the victims twice more before she noticed that the nausea had again subsided. 

Nidawi'baa stood.  She understood now.  She tried to think back … she remembered being with her tribe.  She remembered darkness.  She remembered the symbol.  A golden circle with two curves removed from either side and a red stone set in the center.  A high-pitched whine entered her mind and the great she-bear winced.  She looked up toward the dark ceiling and saw a man standing above.  There, glowing about his neck, was the symbol.  It burned her eyes as though she had stared at the sun.  She turned away and grunted.  The nausea returned.

People were running on a level above her.  More were stumbling their way up a staircase.  She looked toward them but then turned back to the center of the atrium.  The bear ran, and as she did, she cast off her flesh.  The hairy brown pelt tore away.  She roared in pain as it left her, and her bellow became a screech.  Her form shrank and revealed sinew.  Her skin toughened and feathers sprouted forth.

The great eagle glided along the floor and then she flapped her wings.  Nidawi'baa neared the other end of the atrium and turned back toward the center.  She climbed higher and higher and then, after another u-turn, she approached the man on the metal walkway in the dome.

She extended her black legs and opened her talons.  The old man was facing the other way.  Nausea ached at her again and she opened her beak in anticipation.  The thrumming of large wing beats drew Karlow's attention and he turned to face the huge bird of prey that approached.  Nidawi'baa screeched and the golden badge seemed to become a beam of light.  It scorched her wings and chest, and the bird spiraled away from the dome.

The old man leaned over the edge and yelled down in Navajo, "Among the alien gods with weapons of magic am I!  Rubbed with the summit of the sky!  Approach no more, beast of old age!"

The eagle listed and wheeled toward the first level.  She saw the people who had been running above her moments ago.  The nausea again gripped her and she aimed for them.  She shrieked, her feathers fell, and her cry became deeper.  Her skin split and her tendon-wrapped bones stretched to meet the floor.  Paws propelled her forward and her beak became a long snout.

The large she-wolf leapt onto the stairs and gripped the throat of a new victim in her jaw.  She shook the person side-to-side, spraying blood all around.  She dropped him and snapped at the legs of a woman who tried to crawl away.  Nidawi'baa tossed her to the floor below.  Again her skin itched and she watched thick gray fur grow. 

With a single leap, the skinwalker found herself standing on the second floor, looking out at the atrium below.  She put her paws on the glass balustrade and stood up.  In the dark sky beyond the ceiling, she saw the Moon.  Nidawi'baa threw her head back and howled.

The whole thing comes out on Wednesday!

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