A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
13 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 17 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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17

I pulled up to the warehouse but left the engine running while I thoroughly checked my surroundings. It looked as abandoned as always. Still, I didn’t want to run the risk of someone happening upon Suzie while I was inside, so I drove around the back of the warehouse and parked there, well out of sight. I killed the engine and got out.

Before going in, I checked on Suzie. Her condition seemed unchanged. She was still unconscious. She mumbled and made small movements, but she showed no signs of waking up further. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think she was just taking a nap.

I walked around the building and up to the main door. The new lock I had put into place looked untouched. I unhooked the lock, undid the chain, and slid the heavy door open. It resisted a little, groaning and creaking with age.

Last week, I had spent a gruelling day here. First, I’d cleared out a big space in the middle of the floor, moving crates and boxes out of the way. Then, I spent hours crawling around on my knees, drawing a big rune-filled circle on the ground in red paint.

I’d posted snapshots of the circle itself in the chatroom to make sure I got it right, but I’d made sure to keep any distinguishable landmarks out of the picture. I’d set up candles all around the circle, and all the required ingredients were in neatly labelled jars in the middle. Right next to it was the old cast iron pot I was supposed to burn them in.

Everything was still where I left it. All that was missing were the final two ingredients. One of them was now in my car, but it didn’t feel right to simply dump Suzie here on the hard concrete floor while I went to collect the bones. She probably wouldn’t feel it, but still. I looked around for something I could use to make her a bit more comfortable. Maybe, if I folded some of the boxes flat, I could improvise something like a bed for her.

There was a huge stack of boxes near a back wall, and they didn’t look to be in too bad a shape. They were a little musty, but beggars can’t be choosers. I walked over and started looking for the least mouldy ones. Suddenly, a sound startled me. The door.

I quickly hid behind the stack of boxes. I forgot to move the lock and chain to the inside. I silently cursed myself for not thinking of that earlier.

Voices sounded.

“Yeah, this is the place, alright. See that circle?”

A familiar voice grunted assent. Geoff.

“Goddamn asshole. The fucker attacked me out of nowhere. One minute he’s standing there the next he goes crazy. What the fuck was RuneMaster thinking, inducting that nutcase?”

“Watch your tongue, or you might lose it. It’s not up to us to question RuneMaster. Just be happy the idiot forgot to turn off the geotags on those pics he posted. Looks like we beat him here.”

I peeked out from behind the boxes, my heart hammering in my throat. There were three of them. Geoff, sporting a T-shirt wrapped around his head as a make-shift bandage, and two guys I hadn’t seen before. One of them looked to be in his 20s, while the other was much older. Grizzled, probably late 50s. He was obviously the one in charge. His bearing had something vaguely military about it, and I caught myself mentally naming him Sarge. I guess that would make the younger guy… Grunt? Yeah, I liked that. It sounded fitting.

Grunt carried in a heavy looking toolbox and a large coil of rope. As he put it on the floor, he spoke up.

“So, is this for real? We’re really doing the whole balls-cut-off and stuffed-in-mouth thing? I always thought that was just a bunch of bullshit to keep everybody in line.”

Sarge scoffed at him.

“Oh, it’s real, alright. We don’t get renegades often, but it does happen. When I was your age, we caught one, and I had the honour of being the one to pull out his tongue. It was my first step towards being where I am today. Prove yourselves well today, and Wodan will smile upon your future.”

“Yeah, but aren’t we supposed to be hanging him from a high tree or something?”

“The tree is metaphorical. It’s the hanging part that’s important. Those ceiling beams will do just fine.”

I tried to be as still as I could, while they tied a noose in the rope and then proceeded to swing it over one of the steel beams that held up the ceiling.

When I looked again, I had to blink my eyes to make sure they weren’t deceiving me. A moment ago, there had been three people there, but now there were suddenly four. Then, recognition set in and it all made sense. John.

He was just standing there, watching them work. He looked appreciatively up at the noose and then straight at me in my hiding place. He pointed up at the noose and nodded at me. Then he was gone, as suddenly as he had appeared.

My mouth went bone dry, and fear settled deep in my stomach. John had done way worse to me than just look, but that gesture was still unsettling as fuck. None of the others had seen John, but that was no surprise. They had secured the rope to a hook and were now busy laying out a grisly array of tools, using one of the crates as a makeshift table.

Once they were done with their preparations, they made themselves comfortable, clearly settling in for a long wait. Grunt pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. Before he got a chance to light it, Sarge had walked up and snatched it from his mouth. He slapped him the way you’d slap a disobedient child.

“Are you fucking blind? This place is a tinderbox! If you want to smoke, do it outside. And keep an eye out for our renegade while you’re out there.”

Even from this distance, I could see the anger in Grunt’s eyes. With visible effort, he kept his mouth shut and stomped out. He pulled the door closed behind him, probably not wanting to run the risk of pissing off his boss even more with smoke drifting in.

I was so focused on watching them that I didn’t watch out for John, and he took advantage of that. Suddenly, right next to my ear, I heard him whisper. Just a single word.

“Boo.”

I fucking jumped, all stealth forgotten for a moment. In that uncoordinated movement, I knocked over the pile of boxes I’d been hiding behind. Both the men jumped up and were looking around for the source of the noise.

Sarge silently gestured for Geoff to go investigate. They hadn’t seen me yet, but they were taking no chances. Geoff walked past the tray of tools and picked up a weapon. Cautiously, he started moving in my direction. Meanwhile, Sarge drew a knife from a sheath at his back and started coming my way too. He was hanging back, letting Geoff take point and run the most risk. Definitely military.

With all the noise from the boxes falling over, I expected to hear the door at any second, but it stayed quiet. Somehow, Grunt seemed to have missed all the commotion so far. I’d worry about that later. I looked at my options and realised I had very few. Geoff was approaching me, but since the warehouse was pretty much a maze of crates, he couldn’t move in a straight line.

They were both moving in from the left, so I went to the right. I did my best to stay low and move quietly. I desperately tried to remember a path through these crates, but my mind came up blank. I could hear their footsteps behind me, closing in. I randomly turned left and found myself at the edge of the open space, with the circle between me and the door.

I looked over my shoulder to see how close they were, and that moment my foot hit something round. It rolled away under me, and pain shot up my leg as I felt the bones in my foot grind together, where they’d been broken and healed. My leg gave out under me, and I lost my balance. I fell flat on my face, managing to break the fall somewhat with my hands. The rough concrete floor tore my palms open. I tried to stifle the shout that wanted to escape from my mouth. I mostly kept it in, but I didn’t manage to keep completely quiet.

I heard Geoff shouting behind me.

“It’s him! He’s here!”

I rolled onto my back, terrified and near paralysed. This was it. There was no way I could outrun them. Even if I got away, Grunt was still outside. Seeing that I had nowhere to run, Geoff slowed his steps and let Sarge catch up with him. He stood over me, glaring down at me.

“You dumb fucking cunt. We took you in, and this is how you repay us? I fucking helped you, and you turn on me the first chance you get? You call yourself my Brother?”

With a look of deep disgust, he hawked up a big blob of phlegm and spit it into my face.

Rage filled me. Fucking high and mighty assholes. As if they wouldn’t have dropped me at the first chance they got. They didn’t even give me a chance to explain that it had all been John’s doing. They’d just immediately sent the hounds after me. Vilified me. Made me the bad guy.

I wiped the spit off my face and tried to push myself up to a sitting position. As I put my hand on the floor, it closed on something round. A plastic bottle. Of course! It was the bottle of white spirits I’d used to clean up little mistakes while painting the circle! I’d left it at the edge of the circle after I finished, and it must have fallen over and rolled into my path.

When Geoff turned his head for a second to check where Sarge was, I acted mostly on instinct. I grabbed the bottle and twisted the cap off. When he looked back in my direction, I threw the contents in his face.

He screamed as the spirits burned his eyes, temporarily blinded. His hands shot up to cover his face, dropping the hammer he’d been holding.

Meanwhile, Sarge had closed the distance, and the look in his eyes spelled cold murder. Dispassionate. He wouldn’t make mistakes or get emotional. He’d just kill me. Strictly business.

He was closing in rapidly. A few more steps, and he’d be on me. Geoff was still furiously rubbing his eyes and cursing at me. Yelling how badly he’d fuck me up. Then I remembered Grunt, wanting to light a cigarette. The cigarette. Tinderbox.

I wasn’t a smoker, but my Dad had been. When he died, one of the few things I had kept was his old zippo lighter. Since the rite required candles, I’d filled it and put it in my pocket, thinking the old man could finally contribute something positive to my life for once.

I got to my feet and fished the lighter of my pocket. With desperate strength, I shoved Geoff. He couldn’t see me coming, so it took him by surprise. He stumbled back a few steps, crashing right into Sarge. That gave me a few seconds to act. I prayed that the lighter would catch. I struck it, and after two heart-stopping attempts, it did. I threw it right into Geoff’s face, and he lit up like a Roman candle. The stink of burning hair mixed with the chemical smell of the white spirits filled the air, making me gag.

Geoff’s screams went from an angry roar to a high-pitched shriek that set my teeth on edge. He thrashed wildly, taking Sarge down to the floor with him. Sarge kicked at him, trying to get Geoff off him.

For a few seconds, I just stood there. Frozen in place. Watching Geoff thrash and scream as the fire burned his skin. Turning it from red to black, consuming his clothes, the fabric burning itself into his skin. His screams were horrific. There was nothing recognizably human left in them, just pure animalistic agony.

Sarge was cursing at him, trying to free himself, but Geoff’s wild thrashing made it near impossible to get a grip on him. He clung to Sarge, as if just holding on tight enough would make the suffering stop.

I shook myself out of my morbid fascination. I needed to get the fuck out of here, now. Grunt could be back any second. There was no way he could have missed that screaming.

I made for the door, only pausing to pick up the hammer that Geoff dropped. Behind me, Sarge had managed to untangle himself. He looked much worse for wear. His clothes were singed, and he had angry red marks all over his face where Geoff’s flaming skin had touched him. Now, there was anger in his eyes, a deep rage that promised a level of violence and torture far beyond strictly business.

Meanwhile, Geoff had rolled into a crate that had caught fire. Smoke started to fill the room. Still, no sign of Grunt.

I reached the door. I pulled it hard, and with a squeal of protest, it opened just far enough for me to slip through. Sarge was closing in fast, and I pulled it closed with all my strength. I managed to slam it shut just before he reached me.

I heard him slam into the door, trying to pull it open. Quickly, I put on the chain and lock. Flames became more and more visible through the windows. I could still hear Geoff’s agonising screams, mixed with Sarge’s angry threats and curses. Violent fits of coughing started to break up the string of oaths as smoke filled the warehouse.

I turned my back on the door, and finally, I understood why Grunt had not shown up. He was standing near the bushes, wearing a pair of Bluetooth headphones, shaking the last drops of urine from his dick before zipping up. His posture was relaxed and bored. He was clearly still unaware of what was going on.

As quietly as I could, I snuck up on him and raised the hammer. I meant to silently knock him out, but I must have made too much noise. At the last second, he turned around. I tried to correct my aim, but I was already mid-swing. I ended up hitting the side of his eye-socket. The hammer connected with a sickening crunch, and his eyeball was forced from the socket amidst a gush of blood.

He dropped to his knees, and I kicked him in the chin. He went down, out cold. The sight of his eye dangling from the optic nerve turned my stomach. I had to turn around to puke on the ground.

Shaking, I got up and wiped my mouth. Then, I limped to my car. The plan was even more fucked than before. Luckily, most of the ingredients were the kind of things you can only buy in bulk. The jars in the warehouse contained the exact amounts needed for the ritual, precisely measured, but the original bags were still in the back of my car. I could still make it work.

I’d find a new spot and redraw the circle. The beach. Yes, that’s where I would do it. End it at the same place where it all started.

Dark clouds gathered as I got behind the wheel. Time to go get John’s bones.

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