To fulfill an ancient rite of vengeance, two druids descend on New York City....
Out for kicks on a dull summer night, a few Puerto Rican boys wander Central Park. Drunk, high, and bored they hack at an old oak tree, and they don’t notice the white-haired couple appear behind them. Murmuring in an ancient tongue, the couple attacks the boys to save the oak. By the time the police arrive, two boys have been slashed to death, and their right hands cut from their bodies.
Rupert and Rowena Comfort are druids, keepers of a religion that is older than civilization itself. For thousands of years they have lived in secret in the wilds of England, until the day that five Americans happen on their village and steal the book of shadows - a witch’s tome passed down by the druids for millennia. Rupert and Rowena will kill to save the book, starting with a spell whose recipe calls for the blood from two severed hands.
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Book of Shadows
By Marc Olden
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1980 Marc Olden
All rights reserved.
Had someone told the three Puerto Rican youths that two of them would die for having mutilated a tree in Central Park, none of them would have believed it.
The three had fought boredom and June heat with cocaine, amphetamines, and cheap wine, and by nightfall they were a wolfpack staring down at Manhattan from the roof of an abandoned brownstone on Columbus Avenue. The wolfpack craved human prey.
Under a white moon they walked to the most beautiful and secluded section of Central Park, a miniature forest called the Ramble. At night the Ramble belonged to homosexuals. Gays cruised its winding, tree-shaded lanes and had sex on stained mattresses hidden in the bushes, on park benches, at the foot of trees, against the brick wall of a rustic underpass.
Night also brought to the Ramble those who preyed on homosexuals.
Crazy Horse led the wolfpack. Cradling a towel-wrapped machete in his thin arms, he stood in darkness cast by a small semicircle of trees, his red-rimmed eyes on a peculiar oak tree in the clearing before him. The oak was dwarfish and ugly, a mutant growing from a crevice in a gray rock outcropping covering most of the clearing like a hard carpet.
Made vicious by drugs and alcohol, Crazy Horse needed only a fraction of a second to decide that the little tree was freaky and didn't deserve to live. He was going to kill it.
Let the faggots wait. First, Crazy Horse was going to waste this fucking little tree.
The stunted oak, living on cramped roots and little moisture, had not been planted by man; an acorn had been buried in the rock by a squirrel, then forgotten. In that instant the little oak began its fierce fight for a crippled existence, a fight that was eventually triumphant.
Crazy Horse spat on the tree and swung the machete like a baseball bat, a red-raw whirlwind born of pills and booze shrieking inside his skull. Leaves and small branches flew from the top of the oak. Crazy Horse whooped, "Oooooweee!" swinging the foot-long blade again and spraying the air with pale green leaves. His swing spun him around on his heels until he lost his balance and fell, landing on his back. He lay on the rock and laughed wildly at the white moon.
His cousin Ivan took out a switchblade and giggled, stepping over Crazy Horse to slice deep into the oak, peeling bark from its trunk and hurling the bark into the darkness around him. Israel, the youngest of the three, swallowed the last of the wine and threw the empty bottle down on the rock, sending bright bits of glass flying around the still laughing Crazy Horse.
Brushing glass from his jeans, Crazy Horse rolled over to face the little oak and began crawling towards it, dragging the machete across the rock with him. In front of the tree he raised himself to his knees and brought the machete down with both hands, slicing off branches and falling forward on his face.
Ivan jammed the knife into the oak and left it there as he stepped back to point at Crazy Horse.
"Man, you givin' spics a bad name," he said. They laughed until the tears came.
Israel and Ivan were helping Crazy Horse to his feet when all three heard footsteps crunching broken glass behind them. They turned to see a man and a woman standing several feet away and staring at the Puerto Ricans. The man was stocky, round faced, and clean shaven, with a full head of white hair. In his unfashionable plain gray suit, he looked like someone's grandfather. The woman was lean, at least a foot taller than the man, and wore thick glasses with wire frames. She was dressed in a dark green tweed jacket with matching skirt and could have been thirty or fifty.
Struggling to his feet, Crazy Horse leered at them. Now the wolf wanted blood. If these two old bastards were dumb enough to come into the park after dark, they deserved to get ripped off. They probably had money. The woman wore a shoulder bag and the old dude should be carrying a wallet, maybe a watch and a ring. Crazy Horse planted his sneakered feet apart and stared at them with open contempt. Fresh meat. And what you did with fresh meat was slice it.
The white haired man raised both arms overhead and began to chant.
The tall woman picked up the chant, drawing out the sound as he'd done.
"Gwynwyd," said the man; and the woman answered softly in an English accent, "Circle of blessedness, circle of blessedness."
Lifting his face to the white moon, the man called on the god he and his people had served for six thousand years.
"Hu Gadarn, Hu Gadarn."
The woman repeated the name and when she'd finished, the silence in the clearing served as a signal; the two began slowly walking toward the Puerto Ricans, who watched them with the confidence of practiced predators.
The stocky, round-faced man was incredibly fast. Under the white moon the knife in his left hand appeared to be a sliver of blue light; he brought it from behind him and swiftly slashed Crazy Horse's throat. In his mind Crazy Horse saw himself bringing the machete up to the white-haired man's face, but Crazy Horse was lying on his side, bleeding to death.
The woman used one hand to drive her knife deep into Ivan's stomach. Simultaneously, her other hand had gone to his mouth to stifle his scream. She was very strong.
An unbelieving Israel stood paralyzed by the unexpected horror. His brain had a picture of his brother Ivan and Crazy Horse wasting the white-haired man and the tall lady, because that's how it was supposed to be. What was actually happening was a bad dream.
Israel clawed at the switchblade in his back pocket and rushed forward to help Ivan. He'd taken only two steps when he felt the horrible fire across his chest as the white-haired man slashed him from left shoulder to right nipple. Israel screamed.
He saw the bracelet the man wore, a thick silver bracelet studded with tiny pearls and worn on the left wrist above the hand that held the knife, and he saw the blue light that was the blade, but the man was too fast. Israel leaped backwards. And then his fear was a weight pressing down on him, a stench that threatened to stop his breathing. He turned and ran bleeding from the clearing, a jagged black line of his blood on the moonlit rock behind him.
The white-haired man watched him flee, then looked left and right, seeing no one in the trees around him. Picking up Crazy Horse's machete, he and the woman stared silently at the stunted oak, bowing to it in deep reverence as to a living presence.
Then standing over the dead Crazy Horse, who lay on his side with bright, opened eyes, the man lifted the machete high and brought it down with all his strength. The woman, her back to the man, crouched down beside Ivan and pulled the blood-stained T-shirt away from his stomach. Her knife was in her hand and she made the first incision near the naval, where she knew the intestines would be.
The white moon slid behind smoke-gray clouds, submerging the Ramble in almost total blackness. Not too far away a drag queen shouted, "The nighttime is the right time, babycakes!" Someone replied, "You should know, Auntie!" When the white moon shone down again, the white-haired man and the tall woman had disappeared.
An hour later, a policeman patrolling the area parked his motor scooter on the edge of the clearing, turned off the ignition, and put the key in his breast pocket. He took his small flashlight from his belt and used his other hand to unbutton his holster as he looked around. Keeping his hand on the gun butt he slowly followed the drops of blood from grass to the gray rock. Minutes ago he'd been stopped by three frightened homosexuals who'd told him of the dead man they'd seen at the foot of the dwarfish oak.
None of the homosexuals would return to the clearing with him. What's more, news of what was there had raced through the Ramble and the wooded area had quickly emptied out. Nobody wanted to get involved.
Nobody wanted to be called as a witness. Nobody wanted to be on record as having been in the Ramble.
The cop stopped and listened, but heard nothing. You had to expect that. Count on fags to put a lot of gone between them and trouble, especially if the trouble was a dead fag. It was an old story: Queers came to the Ramble to party and people came to the Ramble to beat up on queers.
The cop, light aimed at the ground, walked beside the trail of blood, careful not to step on it. He was almost on top of the small oak when he saw the corpse. Jeans, sneakers, slim body. Probably some kid who hadn't known what he was getting into when he decided to check out this meat rack. The cop pointed his flashlight at the head and there was no head.
It wasn't there. The cop's mouth went dry and he squeezed his gun butt with all the strength in his hand. And that's when he saw the head at the foot of the tree as though placed there in homage, its eyes bright and open and staring back at him.
It got worse. The flashlight picked up a second body. Jesus. The cop moved closer and what he saw almost made him turn and run. The second body was behind the tree and its intestines had been pulled from the stomach and wrapped around the base of the tree almost like a second skin. The cop spun around and threw up, the hot, sour liquid splashing on the rock and his boots.
Later he would notice that each corpse was missing the right hand. There was no way he could have known that the tall woman had left the Ramble carrying the two severed hands in her shoulder bag, the hands wrapped in a T-shirt taken from one of the dead Puerto Ricans.CHAPTER 2
Rupert comfort was the name on the white-haired man's passport, a name certain to be less noticed than the one given him at birth by the elders of his tribe.
He and the tall woman, his wife, Rowena, were Druids, priests of an ancient and primitive religion. Together they had been charged with recovering the sacred Book of Shadows and killing the five Americans, the three men and two women, who had stolen it from the Druids' village in England.
The desperate search for the book meant the Comforts had to leave the safety of the Druid stronghold, isolated and hidden in the English countryside, and step into the outside world, a world which had always brutally suppressed their faith. Julius Caesar had ordered the slaughter of all Druids because they had opposed him; since then the priests had lived underground, believing that survival meant keeping sacred things secret. Except for the occasional stranger who came upon the village accidentally, Rupert Comfort's tribe of pure-blooded Celts had lived undisturbed for the past two thousand years.
Away from their village the Comforts had been forced to call upon those who were living normal lives in the outside world but secretly shared the Druids' belief. With help from these particular outsiders, the search for the stolen Book of Shadows had started in England and then spread to Europe, North Africa, Canada, and finally America. It was an outsider who had learned that the book was in New York and then contacted the Comforts—who had rushed to the city and begun stalking the five who'd taken the book.
In addition to the Druids and their tribe, there were others who wanted its immediate recovery and the destruction of the nonbelievers who had seen it.
East Anglia, England. 1646. The beauty and peace of this rich land was shattered by a reign of terror launched by Matthew Hopkins, a self-appointed "Witchfinder General." Claiming a commission from Parliament, which later turned out to be false, Hopkins traveled throughout the region witchhunting, and in a two-year period caused the deaths of four hundred people. While some of his victims confessed to being witches, others were innocents who ended up strangled, drowned, burned, or hanged along with them. To escape Hopkins, those who served the craft of the wise—they would always call it that in preference to "witchcraft"—fled East Anglia.
Some found their way to the Druids' village and were taken in. It was their descendants who wanted the Book of Shadows returned at all costs. For it was they who had recorded the spells, rituals, and incantations passed from believer to believer over many years and which now formed a collection of the most powerful knowledge in the occult.
But one reason above all drove the Comforts to exert every effort to get the book back into the hands of Druids: Its possession by unbelievers threatened the very life of the Druids' village. The Book of Shadows revealed in coded detail the plan devised by the tribe to guarantee its continued and secret existence. If this code were ever broken, the outside world would have no choice but to destroy every member of the tribe.
Not only would the villages location be known, but the unique precautions it had taken to protect itself against the outside world would also be exposed. The lives of many depended on getting the book back and eliminating the five Americans who had seen it.
Wyrd, the tribe's goddess of destiny, had dealt the Druids a bitter blow by bringing the five to the village. The Americans had come to England on holiday, rented a houseboat and sailed north on the canal leading from Oxford to Manchester. An important feast day had found the village deserted for a ceremony taking place in the fields and on that day the Americans had left their houseboat to stroll through the protecting woods in the surrounding and lovely countryside. There they had come upon the old man and the boy guarding him.
And the Americans had accidentally found the Book of Shadows. Perhaps it was Wyrd who until now had prevented the Americans from discovering the book's true value. But how long would the goddess of destiny withhold that knowledge? How long?
In similar fashion Rupert and Rowena Comfort had accidentally come upon the Puerto Ricans in Central Park and been forced to kill two of them.
Before man had visualized a god in his own likeness, there had been other gods to bow down to. Man had worshiped out of fear and nothing frightened him more than the awesome power of nature. And so he had bowed down to stones, rivers, birds, beasts. He had especially worshiped trees, the oldest living thing in the world.
No tree was more revered than the oak, the tree dedicated to the god of thunder and lightning, for it was this god who sent the rain needed for a successful harvest. And since the oak god fertilized the earth, it was natural to believe that he fertilized women, that it was he who made them able to bear children.
The oak's long life also proved it was the god of youth; those who wanted to live long not only worshiped the great tree but also carried an acorn in their pocket.
New York. In this crowded, filthy, and ugly city, Rupert and Rowena Comfort had gained strength and soothed their fears by bowing down to the oak god as they had done all of their lives, as their ancestors had done for five thousand years. On the night the two Druids had come to Central Park to worship, they'd seen the three Puerto Ricans brutalizing the tiny oak tree—and stopped it the only way possible. The encounter in the park hadn't been planned, but it had been necessary. No priest of the Celt tribe could witness the desecration of an oak and let it go unpunished.
After the killings, Rupert and Rowena returned to their hotel with the severed hands, both of which were to play a role in the five killings. In the bathroom Rowena held the hands over the toilet and used her great strength to squeeze all of the blood from each one. Then working in the bathtub she rubbed salt, niter, long peppers, and a special powder into the flesh of the fingers, backs, and palms.
To hasten the drying process, she wound a coat hanger around the wrist and stood patiently holding each hand over a hot plate until the flesh was tanned and stiff. Behind her, Rupert Comfort sat on the bed and carefully cleaned their ritual knives, removing all traces of blood from the blade and polishing the black handles. As they worked they spoke in Shelta Thari, the language of the Celtic Druids, a language thought to have disappeared from Britain.
They talked of the man they would kill tomorrow, the antique dealer who was the first of the five threatening the tribe's life.
Excerpted from Book of Shadows by Marc Olden. Copyright © 1980 Marc Olden. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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