of the Father
By Paul Lubaczewski
The manse was almost
still in the dead of night; all were in their chambers in accordance with the hour. Except
for the furtive movements of an old man. George
of Esced moved like a thief in the night in his own house as he made his way towards the
lowermost basements of his abode, his stealth belying his advanced years. None of the other
occupants would know what were his reasons for this trip and if he was successful, none
need ever know. His years showed on his face in the dim light as he crept ever downward,
but it was not the palsy of age which caused the guttering of the candles as his hands
shook, it was the knowledge of sin.
He should have handled
this years ago, he knew that. Gods knew he was more than aware of this duty. But George
kept hoping that some solution would present itself, that there would be some easy way
out of it all. Not only was there his shying away, but there was also the reality that
time has the habit of passing through our hands like water in a river. We go from the birthplace
of our sin and our initial guilt to years of blissful forgetfulness as we bury it in the
day-to-day. A place in our head where we could not so much as name our past misdeeds is
created for it to reside in. Suddenly, one day when it can no longer be avoided, all of
that guilt, along with all of that fear of the consequences, comes rushing back to greet
us. Suddenly in our waning hours, we are left with little time to make amends now.
light from his candelabra barely illuminated the area around himself as he stepped into
the Stygian night of this crypt. He took
one of the candles and used it to light one of the torches he had set himself in a sconce
by the door. Once that was done, he began to reach for the door to close it behind himself
before going further to his goal for this night.
“Are these the kind of hours
you normally keep?” a rich baritone called from dark shadows beyond the light that
lay directly behind him.
The candelabra clanged
on the stones of the floor, sending candles rolling away extinguishing themselves as they
went. “Who?” George croaked, his hand clutching at his chest.
“Oh, and who else
could you possibly be expecting?” the voice sounded amused. “Light the torches
please George, so we can talk like men! Not with me sitting in the dark like some godforsaken
not planning on fleeing tonight? If not, by all means, I apologize for this intrusion.
But I thought we should discuss your plans George, and how unwise they are. Now, stop acting
like a little child caught pilfering sweets from your mother's kitchen and light the damned
torches,” the voice demanded.
Composing himself a little George saw no
other option but to do as he was bid. Taking the first torch from its sconce he followed
along the wall lighting additional torches as he went. At no point did he turn back to
look at the intruder, he already knew exactly who it was. Time enough to look upon his
countenance after this task was completed.
Finally, the last torch lit, George turned to
look full upon his “guest.” It was a man of middle years; white and gray hairs
had mixed to the point of almost swirling with the raven’s black his hair must have
been at some earlier time. His eyes were sunk deep, the depth created shadows around them,
yet they twinkled icy blue within the darkness. His lips were full, his cheekbones high,
he would have been quite handsome in a roguish way when he had been a younger man. The
man was seated on a comfortable chair with a wide back, the embroidery on the cloth seemed
to dance and twist in the torchlight, never resolving itself into a clear picture, something
George was grateful for. He suspected what was being depicted in those knots and threads
and his nerves were already stretched to break.
There had been no chair at all in
this crypt when last George had been here.
“Why are you here?” George demanded,
hoping to regain some position as the owner of these grounds.
The man smiled at him, almost indulgently, “Come
now George, I know why you came down here tonight, obviously. You thought that maybe you
could spirit the stone away. I came to remind you, until it is rejuvenated I follow you,
not the stone.”
George looked guiltily to the raised stone platform
that dominated the room. It was of odd design, looking either like a sarcophagus or an
altar, but not fully of either. It had a flat top like it would be an altar, but curved
channels ran all around it, and a figure was etched into the stone, not like the decoration
of a funerary box. The channels led around and then down to a bowl a bit below the top.
Secured in the center of the bowl, seated in a place of honor almost, was a gem of pure
white. Not a milky white of quartz, or a clear of diamond, a pure white that still managed
to gleam in the torchlight.
that the gem is still there,” George declared pointing at it where it sat. “I
have not tampered with it!”
the man replied steepling his fingers and peering at George over them. “Tell me,
George, why have you not replenished it? That is the thing I am most curious about. Here
you are, with lands around you, villages dependent upon you, and yet, here the stone sits.
As pure and white as when I left you. I am curious to know, why?”
“What? And be locked up in my own tower like the others? Or burned
at the stake? Or maybe even worse? You can never tell with the church what they'll think
of next. No thank you!” George looked indignant at the suggestion.
“So, you are quite
prepared? The agreement is, either I take the stone replenished and full, or I take you.
The stone, in many ways, is but a symbol of our agreement.”
in every way!” George declared, “No Old Scratch, you get your own out of it!”
I not?” the man in the chair feigned surprise at the very suggestion, tilting his
head as he did. “Why? Did you not get what was promised you? Were you not an old
man, much like you are now? But yet, with my aid you got to live the full vigorous length
from a young man to an old one all over again! With all the wisdom retained, but none of
the infirmities of age upon you! No, George, you got yours already. And soon
enough, I will get mine as well as is the nature of any bargain. The only thing that is
left to decide is what mine will be. Fair is fair, and a deal is a deal.”
wish I had never found that book,” the old man moaned, broken and shaking at the
truth of it.
“Oh, come now
George, I'm sure that's not true at all. All the women you bedded, before and after your
marriage. The battles you fought, the drinking you've done. You've gained more knowledge
yet, surely all of that is worth something?”
find any wisdom or learning that would let me get rid of you, so what good is it?”
George muttered in disgust.
“You still have a day! Maybe the risk of
tower confinement is worth being able to avoid coming away with me to my own domain?”
the man in the chair raised his eyebrow as he suggested the question.
“I'm not strong enough now!” George
protested petulantly. “Don’t you think I've not considered that in these waning
days? I'm as strong as any man in short bursts, but to ride all the way to the nearest
village and capture a girl unaware by myself, preposterous! A servant will almost certainly
talk if I use one.”
“And yet, you've
had all this time George. Is it that you lacked the impetus? The courage to do something
without the clock ticking in your ears, and the fears of your damnation upon you?”
George slumped at that,
it was too close to the bone, “Lucifer, you knew me for a coward the day that I signed
your red book. I can fight and brawl with any man, I can go to war easily enough with my
troops around me, but to face the dark, alone surrounded by my own infirmities… I
am as frightened as the merest squalling whelp of a boy.”
“And that is why you signed George. But,
if it worries at you too much, most men would have done the same in the shoes you wore.
When the price to be paid is later, and the reward to be had is now, most men are willing
to take that chance if given the choice. I quite count on it frankly. But maybe all is
not lost, maybe time will not run out on you yet. The house sits not empty, someone could
be found closer to home, surely,” Satan smiled wickedly, for that was indeed who
George had made his bargain with, and who sat before him..
shall see, but if you do... Think of the lifetime you'll have to make it up to the world
in good deeds. I've taken steps to help you.” the Devil winked.
George gasped in horror, “Haven't you helped me enough?”
called a voice from the doorway.
“Elizabeth! What are you doing here?”
George whirled shocked at the intrusion.
heard voices, but most importantly, your voice. I came to check on you father,” Elizabeth
said with a worried expression, moving like a dream in her white gown through the door
towards the men.
“And who is this?”
she turned her head to indicate the still seated man.
“An old friend...of
your father's. And we see George, not all hope is lost for you after all,” Satan
you say!” George exclaimed automatically ignoring Satan's snort of laughter. To his
daughter, George turned back, his mind and his heart racing, “Please! Elizabeth come
sit with me for a spell. To calm your nerves.”
He drew Elizabeth over to sit with
him on the stone altar, the only available seating. He could feel the Devil's
influence here, the master of deceit had provided for him indeed. He would be young again
if he bowed to his master here. If he bowed to the situation now, he could have other daughters,
other children, his mind raced at the very thought. But would they have her pale skin?
Her eyes like gems of green? Her flowing locks? Would they recall her mother to him like
a mirror image?
But think of what
he could do with that time!
George could feel a slight prick at his side
of the blade he had concealed there, there was no doubt the devil knew its presence, maybe
he even nudged it a bit closer as a reminder. He could be
free of all this dread and terror finally. He would find a way to do it better the next
time, it mattered not who lay here to replenish the stone, only that it happened. The world
was replete with beggars for who a good meal followed by drugged wine would be a merciful
All of this was thought in
an instant before Elizabeth asked him with concern as they sat down, “Father, are
you ill? You are so pale, and look your hands, they shake.”
“It is nothing daughter,” he replied gruffly but smiling
as he did. “It is a late hour and I am but an old man who has lived many years. The
man is an old friend to which I owe a debt, he is only here to collect upon it. Mayhap
the surprise of his late arrival rattled my old bones.”
Her eyes were wide for a moment then narrowed
in distaste, “And who conducts such business at such an hour? Keeping you from your
bed and your rest. Which surely you need, I might add.” She turned her head to Satan
where he sat smiling sardonically, “Why, I have half a mind to have words with you
Sir, to use my father this poorly at his age.”
George's hand traced the sharp edges of the blade
in his robe, his mind racing riot at the possibilities open to him now. His eyes were downcast
as they followed the troughs along the edges of the altar. All leading to the stone. The
damnable stone! The cause of all of this! He would have died years ago if not for it, but
if he wanted to fend off the reaper yet again it demanded even more from him than ever
before. An elderly wife who had no love in her had made an ample sacrifice before, but,
this was not before. He would not be here
now, having to choose between his own daughter and damnation if he had never learned
of this! He worked the blade free of its hiding place, the Devil sat there not reacting
to the girl's reprimand at all. Why should he? He only needed to remain still while awaiting
his due. George did not doubt that he would have it tonight, one way or the other. George
grasped the hilt of the blade so tightly now his knuckles were white upon it.
“I, am so sorry Elizabeth,” he croaked to her.
As she turned to ask him why, she saw the lightning-fast movement of her father,
as he plunged the blade directly into his chest!
she screamed leaping to her feet as the old man slumped down onto the altar.
other man was by her side in an instant, but instead of immediately comforting her, he
swung her father's legs more fully onto the altar. She made no move to stop him, thinking
in her shock that the man was trying to save her father as he lay wounded.
It was only when the
air in the crypt echoed with the hideous rattle of his last breath, did she move as if
to go around the man to tend her father herself. The man grabbed her roughly, declaring,
“No! You must not interfere; he has made his choice and you must respect it. Not
what I was expecting, but so be it!”
“What do you even
mean?” she wailed demanding either an answer or to be freed so as to go to the dead
The pair watched
as George's blood flowed down the troughs and filled the basin below. Satan smiled as he
watched the previously white stone turn a dark crimson. Satisfied, he turned back to
the girl he still held in his hands, “One day, young lady, when the men no longer
call, and your teats hang like the leather water sacs the peasants carry, when you can
no longer remember the feel of a man or a woman between your legs because none will have
you, go and look to your father's books and writings. All of the answers as to what occurred
here this evening are there.”
He let her go, and plucked up the now crimson
gem from its socket in the altar, and held it sparkling ruby red in the torchlight, “When
you know what you need, you yourself may call upon me to bring you one of these to make
those long years go away.”
Before deciding to take writing seriously Paul had done many things:
printer, caving, the SCA, Brew-master, punk singer, music critic etc. Since
then, he has appeared in numerous science fiction, and horror magazines and
anthologies. Born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, he moved to Appalachia in his 30s. He
has three children, two who live in his native Pennsylvania, and one at home. Married to
his lovely wife Leslie for twenty years, they live in a fairy tale town in nestled in a
valley by a river. Author of over 50 published stories, his Amazon Best Seller debut novel
“I Never Eat . . . Cheesesteak” is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon,
and fine stores everywhere.