When he awoke, it wasn’t just an arousal from slumber; it was more like an activation. There was no slow stimulation from a night of sleep, there wasn’t a feeling of rejuvenation, and there wasn’t a slow count down from the depths of dormancy on a gradual trek into liveliness. This was an immediate flip of an inner-switch from unconsciousness into immediate cognizance. He didn’t even realize he had been asleep until he rose from his slumber. He had no memory of how he had made it home from his girlfriend’s house in Rachitis, but here he lay, in the same clothing he had left this very room the night before. He picked at the brownish splatters on his shirt that had been ripped to shreds. Upon closer inspection, he saw that the brown splatters had covered what was left of his his shirt almost entirely. He began to remember bits and pieces of last night; a deer, a girl, a lady and his nose was sore. Come to think of it, so was his back.
He looked around in the darkened room to immediately recognize that this was home; home being a farm house on the edge of Bilbor. It wasn’t much of a farm right now since the snow covered the ground. Currently, it was more of a horse, cow and sheep farm. There were a few pigs, but they were mostly for the family so they wouldn’t go hungry during these cold winter nights. He couldn’t hear any of the animals stirring outside of his bedroom window. What he did hear was his family moving about downstairs. Tinkles of dishes being collected from the dinner table to be washed in the kitchen sink. His brothers (two of them, one older and one younger) fighting over something silly, he supposed. And he heard steps making their way from the first floor up to his attic bedroom. He could tell they were on the way to his bedroom because his alarm system was the fourth stair down had a certain creak to it. When someone stepped on that particular stair, they were on the way to pay Stefan a visit, and they were only four stairs away from knocking on the door.
The knock on the door came before he could finish his thoughts. He sat up in his bed in a panic, although, he didn’t know why he was panicking. The door cracked open and the face of his Father filled the space between door and doorjamb.
“Is it okay to come in?” his father asked politely, but he didn’t wait for an invitation. He slid in to Stefan’s room and closed the door behind him.
“Yeah, okay, sure. Come in,” Stefan got that part out after he heard the cylinder of the door knob connect with the door strike. He swung his legs over his bed to get up.
“No, no. Sit. Sit,” commanded his father as he walked over to the simple wooden chair by the sole window in Stefan’s room. He placed his dim candle on the end table beside the chair that was serving as a formidable desk for Stefan’s school work. He picked up the chair to walk it over to Stefan’s bedside. “You missed the handling today,” he said as he tried to narrow in on Stefan’s face in the darkness of the room. Stefan’s body was difficult to find, but the eyes were shining a lavender sparkle. They were easy to find.
“I know, Papa. I’m not exactly sure what happened. One minute I was at Cindi’s and the next minute I am here talking to you. The parts in between are sort of difficult to piece together,” said Stefan.
“I’m going to ask you this only once, it’s important that you’re honest with me,” his father couldn’t look at him directly. He noticed his father was now inspecting his own hands in the dark.
“Okay, Papa. I’m not sure if I have any answers, but I’ll give it a try,” Stefan wasn’t sure what the questions would be, but he was never dishonest with his family.
“Are you on drugs? Are you drinking?” Stefan’s father wasted no breath in getting those questions out into Stefan’s immediate atmosphere.
“No, sir, Papa. I am not. I would have told you if I were,” Stefan didn’t think this was going to be the questions, so he was a bit taken aback. He had never lied to his parent’s about anything. He was a bit offended that his father would ask these sort of questions.
“Then why could we not wake you up this morning to help us with the chores? And why, hours after the first attempt, could we not wake you up to help us with handling of the animals? If that wasn’t enough, we could not even wake you for dinner. It’s as if…as if…I hate to say this Son…it was as if you were dead. We were about to call the grave digger to come for you.” said his father, still looking at his own hands, but now he was wringing them in a clockwise motion.
“I don’t know how to answer that. I don’t even know if I have an answer, Papa. I feel like the last twelve hours have all been a horrible dream,” Stefan was as honest as he could be.
“There have been murders at the Tree Top Inn in town. Did you have anything to do with them? Brutal murders. Murders that couldn’t have been done by any sane man,” this time, Stefan’s father looked up from his hands to stare into Stefan’s lavender eyes.
“I can honestly tell you that I have no memory even being close to the Inn, Papa. Only the woods between Rachitis and here,” this was Stefan’s honest answer. His father shook his head, Stefan could tell his father had believed him, and in that belief there was relief.
“Then how can you explain the blood all over your clothing? Your shirt, your trousers, your face – they’re smothered in blood,” his Father was looking for an answer that was within Stefan; he was looking into his son’s soul.
There was an odd, awkward silence while Stefan tried to line his story up in just the right way so it’ll actually make sense, and – at the same time – not sound so brutal to his father. He breathed in deeply, smelling the mixture of animals and the soil of the land emanating from his Papa. He also smelled fear, even though his father was trying desperately to hide it. He exhaled and then tried to answer his father the best way he knew how. He answered with honesty. His father deserved no less. “I killed a deer, and then I ate it,” was how he answered.
“You killed a deer,” said his father.
“I did,” answered Stefan.
“And then you ate it,” his father asked.
“I did,” answered Stefan a second time.
“How did you cook it?” His father’s question was accompanied by a twisted face.
“I didn’t cook it, Papa. I ate the deer raw,” Stefan just let the answers roll out without even trying to filter them.
“Raw? You ate the deer without cooking it?” His father seemed to be in a bit of a panic. Not because he thought his son had become a monster, but because he was concerned with the health risk of digesting the raw meat of a wild animal.
“Not the entire deer, no. I only ate the heart,”
There…now it’s out there, thought Stefan, except he didn’t want his new talent to be anywhere near out there, especially to his family. But, out there it was. And it was lingering in the still night air between his father and him. His father continued to stare at him as if willing Stefan to change his answer, or to laugh and tell him, “I’m just joking, Papa,” but there was nothing; just awkward silence.
His father’s face twisted and contorted as the old man was trying to piece words together to form a sentence. He grunted for a second, but the words wouldn’t form correctly. So he waited. Then he tried again, “What has happened to you, Stefan?”
“I’m not sure I can answer that, Papa.”
“Why not give it a try? Start with how you decided eating a raw deer would be an ideal way for you to spend your night,”
This wasn’t working. What little bits and pieces Stefan could remember of the fort-night’s events were vague. He knew if he even began to tell his father of how he came to this very moment, the old man would surely be convinced he had a madman for a son. He didn’t want to talk about this anymore. He just wanted to get out of these clothes that, literally, smelled like a dead carcass, and he wanted to take a long, hot bath. He wanted this conversation to be over with. His father just continued to stare at him.
But then Stefan noticed the room changing. The lighting had been off. Only a candle was illuminating the room. Stefan’s father carried a candle down the dark corridor of the farm house at night ever since Stefan could remember. It was difficult to convince his father, who had been fifty two the year he had been born, that it’s okay to flip on a switch in the corridor to light the path to the bedrooms. His father was old-school. He liked his candles. Stefan found that characteristic about his father rather quaint. The candle’s flame was flickering while his father continued to stare. A black fog of some sort began to cover the floor below the bed. Even though the room was dark as pitch except for the halo of light the candle had offered, a normal man wouldn’t be able to see the black mist, but Stefan could. He could also hear it scraping and caressing the wooden floor. More than that, the fog was talking to him. He couldn’t quite figure out the language because the fog was whispering to him. Couldn’t his father hear this? Why was his father just staring at him like this?
And then he heard her – the woman in the snow. She was filling every crevice in his skull with her voice. He couldn’t get over how amazingly clear she sounded, as if she was sitting right next to him. Truth be told, her voice was compacting his head so entirely that he felt his eyes nudge a little forward from their prospective sockets. If she had kept talking in his head, his eyes would’ve popped right out. But all she kept repeating was, “Come to me…” He couldn’t help but to hear her, but he also heard his Father, “Stefan, are you okay? Stefan, talk to me,” His father had been standing over his prone body on the bed, sternly shaking him by the shoulders.
The room was still blanketed in darkness except for the thin halo of light on the ceiling from his father’s small candle. He could smell the beans and rice that his father had eaten for dinner riding on the old man’s breath as he stood above Stefan’s comatose body. He could also hear the delicious elixir of life flow through his father’s veins like thick sludge navigating its way through a curved straw. He could see his father’s pores pry open to allow drips of sweat to fall from the man’s forehead. All of this was moving in slow motion; it was dream-like. Stefan felt his hunger swell up within him until there was no more room for expansion. He was going to bust. His gums became tender while his teeth were rearranging themselves to produce fangs – the gift from the lady in the snow.
“Come to me…”
She kept repeating this in Stefan’s head; rattling his brain. His passion to feed had taken over his sensible thoughts and reasoning. He wanted to eat his tantalizing father. Yet, she was pulling him. He felt something actually pulling his heart, he wanted to taste blood. Instead, he vomited blood as Sokara kept reciting her request in his secret audience. His canine teeth had been replaced with sharp fangs. His molars and premolars had formed into razor sharp tips. His incisors were also pointed and sharp. He sliced his tongue on them when he vomited the blood, causing even more blood to spew from between his lips. But it wasn’t his own blood he wanted to taste; he wanted the old man’s blood.
His father had watched his only son turn into a monster before his very eyes. Although, it was difficult to see, the old man could plainly see the lavender eyes as Stefan lifted his eyelids. He couldn’t tell what the liquid was being spewed from his son’s mouth onto the battered wooden floor next to the bed. He had just assumed that Stefan had too much to drink and this was the remnants of what had yet to be processed by the stomach and the intestines. What happened next, he didn’t have to see. He just had to feel.
The woman’s voice in Stefan’s head insisted he “Come to me…” over and over, and rather impatiently. The shadows in the room were creeping along the paneled walls to join the duo in the middle of the room where the bed had been placed as twilight was racing into obscurity. The light from the candle had been extinguished in this ballet of mist and shadows. Stefan’s father couldn’t take notice of the shadows surrounding him, but Stefan could. Not only could he see the shadows, he could hear them. Their presence was scraping the paneled walls and the floor boards below the bed. He could feel them softly caress the blankets and sheets on the bed. Their dark shapes began populating Stefan’s father as he hovered above him in the bed awaiting a reply – any reply – from Stefan. Stefan was busy wrestling with his immediate emotions. Should he warn his father about the shadows? Or should he just let the shadows consume the old man? The Shroud was making the decision for him. The ancient whispers were filling the room and consumed the man that Stefan had loved all of his natural life. The silence was broken when Stefan’s father spoke;
“Why must I always be the one to search out the plebes? When I call upon you, you are to seek the heavens for me!”
Stefan stared at his father in disbelief. The words coming out of his mouth weren’t even in his native Romanian tongue. Further…his father now sounded like a very angry woman. The old man, who had been kneeling on the bed over Stefan’s body continued kneeling, but was now in an upright position looking savagely down upon Stefan where he lay.
“I should strike you dead for having to put me through the hunt for you,” continued the old man. As he knelt, he spread his arms out to his sides and tilted his head back. It seemed to Stefan that his father was searching for something on the ceiling of the tiny, dark bedroom. Stefan’s father then began to shake. It was unnoticeable at first, and then began to accelerate like cold water coming to a rolling boil on a stove. Stefan could smell the blood mixed with potatoes and whiskey dripping from the man’s elbows as his arms were ripping on each side from the deltoid to his elbow. In mere seconds, wings had sprung through the leathered skin of the old man’s arms. His head had exploded open like a watermelon being dropped from a three-story building. And then…she rose. With her wings expanded to their fullest extent and still wearing the black dress she was wearing the night that he met her, Stefan stared at the lady in black as she rose from inside his very own father. The old man’s carcass exploded into the air as bits and pieces of him still clung to Sokara as she rose. The ceiling burst into the night air to allow her the room she needed to be released from the human garment she had taken possession of. She rose through the now open roof into the cool night’s sky as Stefan’s father’s obliterated and bloody corpse bits dropped to the bed below. She flapped her wings once, twice, then three times to clear them of the remaining fragments and chunks of what was left of the father Stefan had known. She had let out an audible sigh as she regained her proper form minus the human costume. Then she looked down into the room at Stefan. He was lying on his back on the bed up to the woman who had – in an instant – murdered his father and created a huge skylight in the room he had tenanted since birth.
Footsteps…he heard the familiar sound of his family running through the hall to his bedroom. He could only guess they were curious as to what all the commotion was about and were coming to investigate. Once they open the door that was the only barrier between the family housing and his private area of the house, they would look upon a woman with gigantic black wings floating through the roof and unfamiliar fragments of their beloved father and husband scattered about. He didn’t want his family to see any of this. The vision of a dead father lying here and there about the room would be devastating. The entire town would learn about the horror that is unfolding here in a matter of hours. It was imperative that his family did not witness any of this.
In an instant the walls in Stefan’s roof-less bedroom warped in and then out and then in again. Sokara’s wing dance in the space above Stefan’s bed stopped in mid-flap. There was a warping sound; the kind you hear when you wiggle a sheet of very thin tin. The doorknob was slowly turning to allow his family entry into his bedroom – it stopped in mid-turn.
“Now turn it back, Epoch,” was the command that filled his head, leaked out of his ears, and then filled the room. His mind had inhaled for only a moment. The air in the room was energizing his brain by way of his eye sockets. He held the energy for a split second before he forced it back out again the same way it came in. The doorknob on the door turned once again, but this time it turned in the opposite direction; counter-clockwise instead of the usual clockwise direction. The lady in black had been rising through the now opened roof, and now she was lowering herself while the ceiling was repairing itself into its once whole condition. The bits and bloody pieces of what was once his father lifted themselves off of the floor and the bed and from the wall where they had stuck to form a whole man once again. Stefan wasn’t entirely sure whether which was more grotesque…watching his father explode in front of him, or attending the patchwork of a man in the making. He closed his eyes because this was one scene in his life that he did not want to have memory of witnessing.
“I’m going to ask you this only once, it’s important that you’re honest with me,” his father couldn’t look at him directly. He noticed his father was now inspecting his own hands in the dark while he sat in the chair at Stefan’s bedside.
Stefan slowly opened his eyes. It was his father. Except, this time, he was whole and in the same position he was about twenty minutes ago before their entire conversation literally blew up in his face. This time, however, he was quicker to answer.
“I’m fine, Papa. I’ve just had a rough night,” Stefan spat out quickly.
“Rough…how?” asked his father.
“You really wouldn’t understand,” answered Stefan. Then he heard the lady in black once more.
“Come to me…” her command was resonating from ear to ear within his skull. He heeded her command this time. He certainly didn’t want a repeat of what he had just had to repair.
“I must go, Papa. We will talk when I return. I promise you,” said Stefan as he swung his feet to the side of the bed and then stood up in the dark. He added, “I love you so much, Papa. You have no idea,” and with those words still lingering in the night air Stefan left his father sitting on the edge of his bed. He stopped to kiss his mother on the forehead while she was in the kitchen preparing the night’s family feast. He bent down beside his brothers as they sat at the family table awaiting their meal being prepared by their mother. “I love you both,“ he said to them. The pair of them looked at each other with an odd contemplation as to why their brother would say that out of the blue.
Stefan stepped out into the cold, dark night and walked briskly in the direction of the Inn.
“Come to me…” repeated in his head once again.
“I’m coming! Hold on. Geez.” he screamed in the direction of the Inn. He was hoping she had heard him in one form or another. He wasn’t exactly sure how to communicate with the voice in his head just yet. But he was sure she had just gotten his message. He placed his hands in the warm, fur-lined pockets of his outer jacket and raced to meet his maker.