“Has that always been there?”
“You’re asking me if a specific tree has always been there? Teddy we are in the middle of the woods. All these trees have always been here since always,” Daisy swept the frizzy strands of hair from her forehead in a futile attempt to keep it from blocking her eyes.
“Dunno,” Teddy said, a dry smile momentarily flickering across his freckled face, “That tree seems dodgy – out of place even.”
Daisy rolled her lilac eyes as dismissively as she could muster and playfully nudged Teddy’s shoulder.
It was the summer after sophomore year. Daisy, academically, athletically and socially superior had gone off to a private out-of-state college many states away, leaving her childhood best friend – and social outcast – back home.
Teddy always referred to her college friends as her ‘new’ friends, even though Daisy tried her best not to consider Teddy an ‘old’ friend – like he was a relic that was best left to rot in the attic. Instead, she had invited him out on several occasions the past year to visit. He had declined every time.
Now, the two were back in perhaps the most familiar location of their childhood friendship. But perhaps Teddy was right – Drapewood Motte was different now than it had been when they were teenagers.
“I can’t believe we are doing this, you know?” she said, re-kindling casual conversation, “It’s a ridiculous idea.”
“Old Daisy wouldn’t have thought that,” Ted jabbed.
“All Daisy’s – past and present – think Luka De Geyndt’s is ridiculous.”
“More so now that he is with Theodora,” Teddy over-enunciated the girls name and this produced a genuine laugh out of Daisy.
She felt her cheeks flush. That felt good. That felt natural she thought.
“I don’t really see much of Luka anymore,” Ted broke the silence, “Not just because he is dating Thea, but just because he is different now. Slyer. Astute. Like he knows a secret that no one else does.”
Daisy shrugged, “He has always been a bit Machiavellian. Our losers club in high school needed someone no one wanted to fuck with so that others would stop fucking with us.”
Teddy twisted his lips at the words ‘losers club’, looked briefly at Daisy and then shrugged back, “Yeah, true.”
Daisy could read that look with ease. She wasn’t foolish or naïve. In high school, her, Teddy, Luka and the rest of their awkward social clique had been outsiders and unpopular. Looking at Teddy, he still very much was the mousy, freckled kid. He still looked like a ‘loser’, but Daisy had blossomed both inwardly and outwardly. The look Teddy had given had said it all. She would no longer have been a part of the ‘losers club’.
The air felt cold between them again. The woods were once like a warm blanket that wrapped around their platonic friendship and kept it thriving. Now, it felt desolate.
“We’re almost there,” Teddy spoke flatly.
The Old Church served as a beacon in Drapewood Motte. None of them were really sure why it was here, who built it, or how old it really was. The wood structure was desolate and crumbling, most of the roof was missing and moss stuck to the outside in large patchy groves.
This had been their ‘secret’ hideout and standing at its entrance with a grin as wide as the Cheshire cat was Luka. His face was the same. His matted black hair and skylight blue eyes were the same. He was no taller, fatter, thinner or bulkier, but he resonated a distinct energy. It made Daisy unsettled.
Beside Luka was his girlfriend, Thea. She had an almost ethereal presence about her, like she was an angelic creature cosplaying as a human woman. Her hair was light and blonde, her skin white as snow, but she seemed to glow magnificently in the grey light of the forest.
“Hello,” she said pleasantly, nodding her head slightly downward, “It is nice to finally meet both of you. Luka never stops talking about you.”
Ted grunted at the remark. Daisy seemed surprise. She would have thought Luka rarely spoke of her if ever.
“Howdy,” Luka jibbed, “Welcome home, Kass.”
Now Daisy grunted – she hated when Luka used her surname. Daisy Kiss-ass. Daisy Kiss-ass. Every time someone said it out loud it brought her back to middle school when Todd Jaye and his band of plump and merry bullies would ridicule her for being good at math. Something they were perilously bad at.
“You’ve looked better,” Teddy said, ignoring Luka’s outstretched hand, “You seemed to have traded devil-may-care for gothic Muppet.”
“Blow me,” Luka quipped, “You all ready to play a game?”
Luka had lightning in his eyes, but Daisy felt the thunder in her head. A game. Luka never meant a simple, normal game. Playing a game always meant trouble.
“I thought we were just catching up at our old haunt,” Daisy said, “You never mentioned a game.”
“It’s quite simple,” Luka said a foxlike grin, “In fact, Kass, all you have to do is watch.”
This did little to calm the ever-advancing tide of anxiety inside Daisy.
To her surprise, Ted interjected, “Yeah, why don’t we just hang out and catch up. We haven’t all been together in months – years it feels like.”
“Boring,” Luka snarled, more aggressively than necessary, “Don’t be pissants. We have all summer to talk about your D&D campaigns or who Daisy’s fucking now.”
“Hey!” Daisy felt her voice shoot out of her before her brain could even think the words, “Don’t be such a piece of shit, Luka. Can’t we all just be normal,” Daisy felt her eyes drift quickly towards Teddy, “And for the record I am not fuc—sleeping with---anyone.”
Luka smiled wide, displaying his teeth before cackling almost cartoonishly, “I am just messing with you guys. Lighten up. But seriously, come on – one game. Then we can all make nice and talk about our favorite T.V. show.”
Daisy crossed her arms as Luka stood in front of her, now looking almost pleading. She stole another quick glance at Teddy. He seemed indifferent, like he wasn’t sure how he even got to the Old Church in Drapewood Motte. Theodora was as effervescent as can be in the dark woods.
“Fine,” Daisy growled, “What is this game?”
Luka looked upon Daisy like a fly stuck in his web, “We are going to summon Fingerbones.”
There was an icy silence for several seconds, like they had all been frozen in time by Luka’s words. Again, it was Teddy who broke the stalemate.
“Fingerbones? Are you shitting me? We are twenty-years old, Luka. Not nine.”
“Then you are saying you aren’t scared?” Luka counted, wryly, “Indulge me, old friend.”
Daisy shifted her weight from one leg to another, opened her mouth and then closed it just as quickly. In all her time she had spent with Luka, Teddy and all the rest, she had never felt uncomfortable. Now, it seemed like she only felt uncomfortable. Luka seemed to feel the unease radiating off of her.
“Kass, you in?”
Daisy said nothing, her lips scrunched into a tight ball. You only have to hang out with Luka for a few hours. You don’t have to see him the rest of the summer if you don’t want too, she thought. She nodded. Teddy raised his arms, palms up in defeat.
“Excellent!” Luka slunk backwards through the entrance of the Old Church, “Follow me.”
Daisy exchanged a brief look with Teddy. He seemed just as uncomfortable, but was masking it better. He forced a smile upon his freckled face and put his arm around her shoulder as they walked into the decrepit structure.
“It’ll be alright,” he whispered, “I told you he is different now. You want to leave at any time, you just let me know, ok?”
Daisy accepted his comfort with a small smile. It kept baffling her how their relationship kept flickering from warm to dim, like a candle trapped in the windowsill during a storm.
When they were fully inside the church, Luka was already sitting in one of the rotten pews, “Fingerbones, as we all know, is suppose to haunt these woods. Some say he was a crazed lunatic murderer. Some say he was a lonesome hunter. Some say he was a servant of Satan.”
“So, like, a seance?” Teddy asked.
Luka shook his head, “No.”
The former leader of the losers’ club stood from the pew and walked briskly between them to the opposite side of the room. His enigma was confounding. As Luka walked and talked, he seemed to pull all the energy into the room unto himself, like a living black hole.
“Then what?” Daisy asked hesitantly.
“Luka will be the vessel.” It was Thea who spoke. Daisy had almost forgotten about her, but once she spoke the aura shifted to her. It was like Luka and her were a Ying and yang of darkness and light.
“Vessel?” Teddy exclaimed, but it fell on deaf ears.
Luka removed the black cloth jacket he had been wearing and tossed it flippantly onto the pew nearest him.
“Relax, Teddy. This isn’t my first rodeo,” Luka’s blue eyes swam towards Thea.
A wave of uncertainty washed over Daisy when she saw the look between Luka and Thea. It was like witnessing a solar eclipse from only meters away. Her skin began to itch and the flesh on her arms pulsed with goosepimples. Epinephrine flooded from her brain as her consciousness begged her to get out of the situation, but her feet were cemented in panic.
“Thea, my quill.”
Theodora produced a jet-black needle-like quill with the feather of a raven at its barb. Luka took it into his left hand – his non-dominant hand, Daisy noticed – as if he had been gifted Excalibur. The couple kissed. Something about it was uncanny and unnatural. The more Daisy inhaled Thea’s company the less she seemed ethereal. Daisy reminded herself that no matter how angelic she seemed – some angels fell.
“What are you going to do?” Ted asked.
Luka strode away from Thea and the rest until he was at least twenty feet from them. He closed his eyes, taking long deep breaths.
“The sacred hand that reaches from the grave – I call to you,” Luka’s face seemed to drain of color until it was porcelain, “Knock, knock. Will you answer?”
Daisy felt pressure in her lungs from holding her breath. She hesitantly took a shallow breath, afraid that the slightest noise may somehow cause irrevocable doom.
Luka cracked his neck, seemingly frustrated and repeated the phrase, “Knock, knock. Will you answer?”
The pins and needles atmosphere remained calm. Quiet. Still. Daisy finally took a full breath.
Luka’s eyes flashed at Thea. They seemed wicked for a brief moment before softening, “This has never happened before.”
Theodora looked equally as baffled. She scratched her head with a single finger and then walked over to her boyfriend. She took Luka’s hands into her own, clasping the raven-feather quill between each of their fingers.
They each touched foreheads and began murmuring incoherently. Daisy squeezed her hands into fists. Teddy looked on quizzically.
“Knock, knock, will you answer?” Luka and Thea said in unison.
Wind suddenly bashed the Old Church and caused the ancient wood to creak and rattle. Daisy let out a yelp and felt a wave of lightheadedness pass over her. Still, Luka continued his mantra.
“Knock, Knock - Knock, Knock.”
“Enough,” Daisy pleaded, “This was stupid. Teddy, let’s go.”
Daisy instinctively reached for Teddy beside her. The freckled, scrawny boy looked back at her, fear emanating from his dark blue eyes. Teddy opened his mouth to speak but his voice was caught in his throat. He looked down at his own arms and Daisy noticed what was wrong.
Blood trickled from his forearms and dripped onto the ground. Teddy held his arms out in disbelief, unsure what had cause it. Daisy felt the pang of horror in her chest as she realized what had happened. He had scratched at his own skin with his fingernails, carving through the flesh until he had cut out a clear, distinct message.
Teddy remained panic-stricken, his fight or flight response decisively choosing a third option – freeze.
Unbeknownst to Daisy, Luka had made his way back over to them. He looked at Teddy with a wild, passionate face that almost seemed like jealousy. He casually brushed the quill against his nose, sniffing it briefly and then tenderly extended his arm out to Ted.
In a whiplash motion, Teddy snatched the quill from Luka and turned the razor-edged point onto his non-bleeding arm and began scribbling manically. Ted’s hand twitched with rapid, reckless motion as he scrawled and scrawled against his will. Daisy motioned to interfere but Luka stepped between them, unkindly shouldering Daisy off to the side.
As Teddy scribed he seemed to enter an almost trance-like state. His eyes were fixated on his arm as he wrote line after line. As quickly as the writing had begun, he suddenly stopped, terror flooding back into his pupils.
“What the hell? What the fuck? Luka!” Ted pleaded, but Luka brashly ignored him and grabbed his arm, turning it over to read what he had written.
Daisy once against attempted to get in-between but this time she was met with a firm shot to the stomach. The blow knocked her backwards and she looked down in confusion as she realized it had come from Teddy.
He looked down at his own fist as if it were disembodied. His eyes were wide with shock. His arm had taken on a life of its own.
Luka yanked his arm back under his eye and continued reading, “Death walks behind each of us, every day. Nay, don't look back nor try to run—none can outrun his fate. For I am the Lord of Death. The Reaper. Myrkul. And I have been walking steadily behind you for a long, long time.”
“Myrkul?” Thea said, her eyes thinning, “Is that what it calls itself?”
“Is that what, what calls itself?” Teddy stammered.
Luka dismissed him with an arrogant wave of the hand, “This is it, Thea. All our hard work has paid off!”
Daisy watched helplessly as the situation played out in front of her. Her mind raced inefficiently, each thought seemed frayed and snowy, like her own brain had become a static television. She looked at Teddy and could see the fear in his eyes, but also something else. The man she was looking upon wasn’t fully Teddy anymore. There was something else there inside of him.
Teddy collapsed to the ground, the quill dragging him several inches until his possessed arm ripped the fabric of his jeans clean off from the kneecap down in a herculean effort. It slashed at his skin, drawing blood recklessly.
Luka and Thea watched in abject fascination. Daisy surveyed the Old Church, looking for anything to help her stop this madness. She could only think of one feasible solution. She had to separated the quill from Teddy’s hand.
She steadied herself on her feet once more. She could see the blood squirting in small bursts as Teddy tore into his own flesh with the quill. Luka read through the carnage to announce the entity’s message.
“I am the Reaper. I am the Lord of Death. Carve this Earth apart and Myrkul will walk steadily into this realm. Myrkul will walk with you Luka De Geyndt.”
Teddy met Daisy’s gaze. For a mere blink, she could see the childhood friend she had always adored. The person she had once trusted more than anyone else in this world. And he was terrified and powerless.
She swallowed the fear and let the adrenaline electrify her as she bolted towards Teddy. Luka swung around to stop her but he was too slow this time. Daisy side-stepped the larger boy and collided into Teddy, pinning the arm with the quill down in swift display of athleticism.
Daisy pinched at the barb of the quill and tried to pull back Teddy’s fingers one by one as the raven-feather twitched menacingly. Luka had regained his footing and grabbed her from behind by the throat. She felt a choking sensation as he tugged merciless on her neck and for a brief second it felt like her head was going to pop off her body.
Her grip on Teddy’s arm failed and Luka ripped her cleanly from him and tossed her skidding across the dirt. Daisy’s vision swirled and her muscles didn’t respond when she tried to gather herself. She watched in disbelief as Teddy’s hand stabbed at the ground with the quill and a radiance of red light burst from the dirt and illuminated the dank room.
Everything around her suddenly felt humid and thick, like she had fallen into a swamp in the Bayou. She dug into the ground with her nails and tried to pull herself towards Teddy. He was writhing on the ground in pain, blood seeping into a large pool of crimson.
Daisy ‘s stomach turned over. Teddy was clutching the exposed muscle and bone of his shoulder socket. The arm that had the quill had been severed clean off.
The quill stuck in the ground in the center of the line Teddy had drawn that the red light was now bursting through. The ground began to quaked beneath them in a monstrous rumble. Luka and Thea both fell backwards and crashed over the pews, toppling over.
The red light shimmered liked a will-o’-the-wisp. The world grew hotter and hotter. The ground shook more and more violently as Daisy lay broken and helpless in a pool of Teddy’s blood.
As the structure of the Old Church began to crumble around them, Daisy watched as giant, spiked tentacle burst through the ground thirty feet into the air above Drapewood Motte and then the world around her went dark.