Barry? Barry, don’t be frightened. I’m not here to hurt you. Are you okay? Barry, you called me. I know my appearance can be a little scary at first. Barry, breathe. Look at me…
Or don’t, maybe. Barry, I’m Ephraim. Yes, that Ephraim. Yes, nice to meet you as well.
I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances. You know, when your cousin Cassandra told me about you, she said she wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear from you.
She never told you? She said she was going to…
Well, how the Hells did you know how to call me?
Oh, her journal. How about we keep that to ourselves?
Sure…sure, I can tell you about me. I’ve gotten used to this part. It’s like orientation. Sit down. You’ve inherited quite a legacy. I mean, it’s kind of a gnarly story, really. You sure you’re up for it after…this?
I guess that makes sense. Take your mind off your troubles. Okay, where to start?
It began with Zachariah. He was born on March 1, 1843, in Boston.
He’d been a quiet kid growing up. Kept to himself. Read a lot. You know the type. He wasn’t a troublemaker, but he wasn’t your typical young man. His dad was one of those fathers who loved typical. He thrived on it.
He was determined to make Zachariah fit the mold.
Anyway, if you know anything about U.S. history, you’ll know that Zachariah had just turned eighteen when the Civil War was revving up. He wanted to finish college, but his father, Jacob, wouldn’t hear of it.
Jacob was an officer in the army, and he made sure that Zachariah was uniformed in his regimen within a couple of months. As it turned out, Zach—sorry, Zachariah is just a mouthful—was a pretty good soldier.
So, he’s doing the best he can, but he also started noticing this other soldier. His name was Ephraim. Well, one thing led to another, and late one night, they stopped being friends and started being lovers. They were good at hiding what they were doing, or so they thought.
Turns out maybe Ephraim was a louder moaner than either of them realized.
Still, no one said anything right away. The soldier who discovered them never let on he knew anything. He was afraid of what Zach’s dad would do to him if he told. The soldier also figured if he discovered the two lovebirds, someone else was bound to do the same. It could be their problem.
He was right.
It was Jacob who found them late one night in the trees beyond the firelight. He had gone out into the dark to relieve himself.
Jacob heard the young men before he saw them. His eyes widened at the sounds of their grunts, moans, the way they whispered each other’s names. He was on them before either realized he was there. He slit Ephraim’s throat. Zach cried out as his lover’s blood covered his body, mixing with their mingled sweat.
He shouted again when his father grabbed his hair, pulling him back toward camp.
“Let me go! Father, please!”
Jacob slapped his face and pushed him toward the fire. Soldiers emerged from tents and ran toward the commotion to discover Zach lying naked on the ground. Tears ran muddy tracks through the dirt on his face.
Jacob was enraged. Looking up, Zach hardly recognized the man that stared down at him. His eyes were wide. His teeth bared.
“Grab him,” the man said, looking to a couple of older soldiers standing nearby. “Hold him.”
Zach clamped down on his cries as his father reached for his belt. He knew what was coming, but it was so much worse than ever before. He was naked. There were other men here.
He cast his eyes about, looking for an escape. The two soldiers grabbed his arms, maneuvering him around so that he was on his knees with his bare back exposed to his father, who was wrapping his thick leather belt around his fist.
“Help me!” Zach cried, looking at the others in the circle of firelight. “Please!”
Tears ran down his face. He couldn’t tell what the other soldiers thought of him naked and covered in Ephraim’s blood.
The word became a chant in his mind. He infused it with an unexpected power even as he cried out again and again for mercy from his fellows.
He felt his father jerk his head back. Jacob was on a knee next to him. His father’s lips pressed against his ear, and his words made him want to vomit.
“I knew. I’ve known your whole filthy life. The devil somehow got his hands on you before I could teach you better. I thought you at least had the decency to put it away, to hide it. But no…there you were. Rutting in the field like a bitch in heat. If you were anyone other than my son, you’d be dead right alongside Ephraim. I’m going to redeem you, boy. I’m going to make you clean and whole again. Scream all you want, now. Nobody that cares will hear you.”
He could hear the grin in his father’s voice.
“Weakness,” Jacob said as he stood and walked around the fire, looking each soldier in the face, “will not be tolerated in this regimen. Weakness of body will be worked out of you. Weakness of soul? That must be purged through other methods! If we allow the devil to take root in our midst, we are deserving of the damnation that follows.”
Jacob’s words fell away as Zach looked out into the woods. No matter how little he thought it might help, he still struggled to free himself. He looked out into the darkness with Ephraim’s name in his heart and a cry for help on his tongue.
And in that moment, I was born from the shadows, forged in the fire that raged through Zachariah’s belly. It was a beautiful thing.
I stepped out from the trees as my body formed. I looked down at myself and grinned at muscled legs. My hands were strong and clawed. I ran them over a muscled chest and stomach. My shoulders were broad, and I could tell that I was tall, looking out at the humans.
Help me…please, help me…
The voice was barely a whisper, but it was everything to me. It was life and being and knowing and purpose. I looked toward the fire, and there he was—beautiful, naked, covered in his lover’s blood. Jacob stood behind him, raising his hand, preparing to deal his first blow.
A roar bloomed in my throat. I would protect him. I would do anything for him.
The cry burst from my lips as I stepped from the trees, and the soldiers fell back, panicked, except for Zachariah. He smiled up at me as if he had conjured and created me with intention.
Intention is super important when summoning one of my kin, but it takes great purpose to create one of us anew. Bloody Hells did Zach have a purpose that night.
I barely heard the first soldier who ran into my path, but I will never forget the way his flesh parted around my claws as I dragged them from his groin to his throat. No one forgets their first time, but fuck, this was special. I licked the blood from my hand as I turned to another man next to me.
He turned and ran, screaming, from the circle.
I could almost feel Zach in my mind as I got closer to him. The same words repeated over and over and over again.
Protect, save, destroy, Father…
I could taste Jacob’s fear in the air, even as I forced my fists through the chests of two more soldiers. Another managed to get his rifle loaded, but all he could do was gasp for air like a fish caught on land who can see the water but has no way to reach it.
I yanked him from the ground and sank my teeth into his throat, relishing the taste of his blood as it burst forth, running down my chin.
I roared into the night sky, and the rest of the soldiers fled into the dark save for Jacob, who seemed frozen in place, unable to move. I looked down at this pathetic man, and he, in turn, looked down at his son on the ground.
Zach no longer wept. He looked up to me with eyes filled with gratitude that radiated to every corner of the clearing.
Jacob’s blade was mere inches from his son’s throat when I ripped his arm from his body. Blood sizzled in flames, filling the air with a coppery scent that I would come to love. His lifeless hand still clung to the knife as I flipped the arm to my other hand and swung hard in the older man’s direction, burying the blade in his throat.
He croaked, and I cocked my head to the side, watching him die. I kicked his body back toward the fire and waited until his soul was released, at which point, I took it, devouring the evil inside him.
It was bitter.
I wanted more.
Zach moaned from where he still knelt on the ground. I was on my knees in a flash, cradling him to me.
“You are safe now.”
They were the first words I ever spoke aloud. Zach wept against me for a long time in the darkness, and I held him in my arms, shielding him against anyone who might try to harm him again.
When his tears began to dry, I picked him up, and he laid against my chest as I walked to a nearby creek. He washed the blood and dirt from his skin. I returned to the camp, sniffing around until I found clothing that smelled like him.
He was sitting by the creek, shivering, when I returned. I passed the clothing to him, and after a while, he stood and dressed. He sat again and stared at me for a while. I stood tall before my creator, and unfurled wings I did not know even existed before that moment.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“I do not know. You have not given it to me.”
He looked at me funny, then turned away.
“Your name’s Ephraim.”
My chest swelled again. I had a name.
“Can you bring him==?” he looked back toward the woods, and after a moment, I understood.
“I do not—cannot…”
He just nodded to me and held out a hand. I sat next to him, wrapping an arm protectively around him.
We sat in silence until morning. He stood then.
“Where will you go?”
I had not considered this, but as I looked into the forest, I could feel the pull of shadows.
“To the dark,” I answered.
My voice was deep, smooth, not so rough as it had been the night before.
“Will you come if I call you again?”
“Before the name has fully left your lips.”
He leaned down and kissed me sweetly on the mouth. If I had been capable, I would have blushed.
From time to time, he did call me in the years that followed when he found himself in trouble he could not handle on his own. He never married, of course, but he had nieces and nephews. One of them was like him. He summoned me when the girl was still young and showed her to me.
“The protection that you’ve given me, would you offer it to her, as well?”
“If that is your desire, then I will do it. I would do anything for you, Zachariah.”
And so, I did. I watched and waited and listened. I knew that he had told her the story of Ephraim, both human and demon, but I did not know if she genuinely believed until late one night, a year or two before Zachariah died. She called me, and I came to her, and the taste of the men’s blood who wanted to “fix” her was fresh on my lips and rich in my nostrils as I carried her back to her home.
Eventually, she, too, called me and named someone precious to her. Someone she would have protected.
And then another, and another.
Down Zachariah’s family line to you, Barry, I have loved them all. I love you.
Sorry, I get a little dramatic telling my origin story. Come along, now. I can carry you if you like.
Yes, I can wash the blood off first. Of course, how rude of me. Don’t worry. No one will trace this back to you. I’ve learned a thing or two over the last century and a half.
There, now. Better?
Yes, there was a piece of ear on my shoulder. I’m sorry about that.
Come along. I’ll have you home in no time at all. Yes, if you want, I’ll tell you more stories about all of your special relatives.
Barry, please don’t kick the bodies. I understand your aggression, but the more you spread the parts around, the harder it is for me to clean up later.
All right, then? Let’s go…
©W. Dale Jordan 2021