A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
5 min read

Categories

  • Fiction

Tags

  • Ghost story
  • Horror
Content warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Self-harm, Death, Rape, Suicide Attempts, Alcohol Abuse/Alcoholism, Trauma

This is a ghost story. This means it’s a story about bitterness, regret and loss. A story about how sometimes our mistakes come back to haunt us.

This is chapter 13 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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Previous Chapter


13

I spent several days in the hospital, and then it took months of physical therapy before I was able to walk again. The doctors told me that eventually, I’d no longer need the cane, but I should forget about ever running again.

I hadn’t actually seen John yet, but this accident had his marks all over it. I was absolutely sure it had been him.

When I tried to find the Pagans again, their chatroom had moved. Panic gripped me. I needed to talk to RuneMaster. He was the only one who had been able to help me last time. I wasn’t sure what John was up to, why he hadn’t gotten me while I was incapacitated, but I didn’t intend to wait for him to change his mind.

I was getting close to just starting to ask people on the street if they’d heard of the Sons of Wodan when I had a random stroke of luck. I was walking down the street, and I spotted a faded sticker on a lamppost. It was an advertisement for a bar called “Wednesdays”. The way in which the “W” was styled was exactly how the Sons had used it.

I went to the address printed on the sticker and saw a faded sign with the same stylized “W”. It was around 4 in the afternoon. By the looks of it, they had just opened.

The place itself didn’t look like much, just another grungy hole-in-the-wall dive bar. Faded beer advertisements, furniture that had seen better days, and a pervasive smell of stale beer.

It was pretty empty except for a hipster-looking guy in his 20s working on a laptop and two men in high-viz gear enjoying a beer. Probably road workers who’d just gotten off their shift.

I sat down on a stool. I hadn’t been to a bar since I’d stopped drinking, so this felt both familiar and weird at the same time. I ordered a black coffee. The guy at the bar gave me a weird look but didn’t say anything. He disappeared to the back for a minute and came back with a cup of… something. I took a sniff. Instant. I should have known.

It tasted exactly as vile as you would expect, but I wasn’t here for the menu. How the hell did I go about finding the Sons? I was trying to think of something clever when the bartender noticed my missing pinky.

“So, what happened? Work accident?”

“Garden shears.”

He raised his eyebrows at that but didn’t comment.

That gave me an idea. I unbuttoned my shirt a little, just enough for him to see the pouch and the rune on my chest.

His eyes went wide, and he hissed at me:

“Put that away, you idiot!”

He grabbed my wrist and leaned close.

“Not here.”

He gestured for me to come around the bar, and I followed him into the little back room he had disappeared to earlier.

There was an ancient PC there, the kind with the big old-fashioned monitor. It had probably been grey at some point, but age and nicotine fumes had stained it a deep, dirty brown. I could see a chat room on the screen.

I spotted the account name: RuneMaster. It was him. I had pictured some big grey-bearded guy, like if Santa Clause had been a biker with Viking heritage. This guy was nothing like what I’d pictured. Slim, clean shaven, and a bald head. There was a pronounced stoop to his back, but his arms showed dry, corded muscle. His fingers had the yellow tint of a heavy smoker, and his skin had a leathery quality that made it impossible to guess his age. He wasn’t young or big, but something made me suspect that fucking with this guy would be a very, very bad idea.

He gave me a pointed look.

“So, I’m guessing you’re the ghost-guy. What happened?”

I told him the whole story. The runes, the way John had tried to stop me, how I’d barely managed to pull through.

RuneMaster nodded at me.

“I have to say, brother, I didn’t think you’d have the balls for it. I’m actually a bit impressed. Unfortunately, that won’t help you much.

You were careless. You’ve lost the protection you were granted, and it will not be given again. Tîw is of a vengeful mind and never forgets a slight.”

Well fuck. I had been hoping that I could just re-do the rite, say the words, and be protected again.

“You could probably sacrifice another nail and bone to rebind Algiz and Eihaz. Both the Elk and the Tree carry no grudges. However, it won’t do you any good without the foundational rune. That was Tîw’s rune, and you have lost his favour by your carelessness. Tîw is just, but he is also harsh and unforgiving. A single mistake in battle is enough to invite death, so Tîw does not tolerate failure. He gave you his protection, and you lost it through lack of vigilance. He will not bestow it again.

The only alternative I can think of is to seek Wodan’s favour. It was the Allfather who discovered the runes originally, and he alone holds mastery over all of them.

He might be persuaded to grant you a new foundational rune, but it will not come cheap. He himself sacrificed his eye to gain knowledge. If you want to beseech him, you will need to offer up one of your eyes.”

That was too much for me to bear.

“Take my fucking eye? Are you kidding me? I am so done with this shit! They have already taken so much from me, I’m not losing anything else.

I lost her, I lost him, I lost my fucking finger and I’m close to losing my goddamned sanity. I’m done sacrificing, I’m done bleeding. I’m fucking done!”

“Her? You didn’t tell us there was a woman involved. You can’t expect us to help you if you’re keeping things from us. You’re among brothers, tell me what really happened.”

So I did. I spilled the whole thing. How I’d come close to raping Suzie, how I’d beaten John to death and dumped his body. How he’d haunted me ever since. The whole ugly truth.

I waited for him to respond. To kick me out.

“It’s always such a shame when a friendship between men gets fucked up by some bitch. I hear you, brother. This does, however, change things.”

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