Death is Another Life by Robert Morton
Death is another life. We bow our heads
At going out, we think, and enter straight
Another golden chamber of the King’s,
Larger than this we leave, and lovelier.
Festus – P J Bailey (1816-1902)
PROLOGUE: Canker of the soul
A red and white painted eye stared out of a blue background, its black brow arching. It was wide open, an ever alert eye. The eye of Osiris was painted on the prow of three fishing boats that bobbed in the sea as dawn gilded the cliffs of Malta. The eyes on the boats were an old superstition, to ward off evil, and they did not work. Evil was already on the islands.Huge lamps hung over the sterns of the boats; their white glow was now no competition for the dawn spreading its golden light across the Mediterranean.
Seagulls circled, their screeching noise accompanying the muted chugging of the motors and the constant lapping of the sea.
Two fishermen with cigarettes dangling from their mouths struggled to haul in their net. It was just another day; another catch for the restaurants and early-bird wives to buy fresh fruit of the sea at the dockside. Water sluiced off their pungent-smelling harvest and both men suddenly gasped, their cigarettes dropping onto the deck.
A human arm protruded through the net. The two men looked at each other in concern. They realized that they had little choice but to bring in their catch, whatever it contained.
As they swung their haul inboard, they glimpsed bare flesh amidst the glistening fish.
Hastily crossing themselves, the fishermen swung the catch inboard. As the net opened and disgorged the fish, the naked woman slithered out onto the brine-covered deck.
The dead woman’s eyes stared up at the men and the sky.
* * * *
The view of the land from the Air Malta aircraft was stark – parchment coloured, more like jaundiced skin. Bryson Spellman returned his attention to his book, the treasured Malleus Maleficarum, bound in the hide of a martyred witch. The pages were gossamer thin but would not or could not tear. Published in 1486, this handbook became known as the ‘Hammer of Witchcraft’ and received the papal seal, though Spellman was amused to recall that nowadays the Catholic Church disavowed it. It had been written as a direct result of a wave of European paranoia concerning witchcraft, vampirism and werewolvery, and became the justification for crushing evil-doers and heretics. Spellman read it partly for amusement and partly to know the thought processes of his enemies. The book’s two authors had been disturbed individuals who abhorred the entire female sex, laying the blame for all evil on women. Indeed, the ‘Hammer of Witchcraft’ contributed to superstition and was taken up with glee by Grand Inquisitor Torquemada and his blood-thirsty zealots, using it to condemn thousands of innocents to torture and horrific death. The Inquisition cost Satan many true adherents, but far more innocent souls were forever cast into Purgatory, an irony that mightily pleased the horned god. And, Spellman mused, times hadn’t changed all that much in the intervening half-millennium or so. Though, often, the persecutors now were not of the Church but the media, literally hounding people to death.The little old lady sitting next to him continued to snore, as she had done for the last hour. From time to time she broke wind, releasing a cloying smell, not unlike sulphur, which made Spellman feel quite at home.
A young blonde stewardess – or, he allowed in these silly times, cabin-crew member – leaned over, clearly attracted to him. She wrinkled her nose and smiled, too polite to comment. “We’ll be landing in ten minutes, Mr. Spellman.”
“Thank you, my dear.” He waved his hand to fan the air and returned her smile. “Truly, it has been a wonderful flight.”
She beamed, pleased and amused.
As he clicked his belt on again he dropped the book in the aisle and she stooped to retrieve it. He took the opportunity to eye her cleavage, which was tanned and full of promise. She straightened up, flicking through the pages, still smiling. “Your book–” But she lost her smile and the colour drained from her face when she noticed a selection of the graphic illustrations.
“Just a hobby, my dear.” He snatched the book from her and she turned away and hurried down the aisle to another passenger, her tight skirt emphasizing firm buttocks.
Silly ignorant bitch. Nothing could affect his good mood. He was leaving behind yet another new coven, this time in Louisiana – that was the fifth in the southern States alone. The Sicilian convention had proven most useful too: they were very interested in his visit to Malta. Canny witches and warlocks that they were, they’d detected something was in the air. Something pleasurable and profoundly satisfying.
Unbridled pleasure fed the horned god and increased his power. While politics was the ideal soil in which to plant future talent, politics for Spellman lacked true pleasure. He felt it was a meagre substitute, these days: it merely offered a semblance of power. Real power was only savoured by dictators and murderers.
Still, this latest power-takeover would not fail, Magus Spellman vowed, and closed the book as the plane began its descent. The islands may be small in the scheme of things, but they had influence and played host to all kinds of people. Malta could become an important centre of corruption, spreading the horned god’s canker of the soul in all directions. Besides, he had a three years’ old score to settle.
He closed his eyes and hauntingly delicious images passed across his lids, memories of his successes in the African continent. There, he’d been able to take full advantage of the political mess and inter-tribal slaughter. He was biding his time for South Africa to implode. Sombrely, he admitted that he was not always successful – Romania, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan – yes, his power-takeovers had failed in these countries, but the death and destruction, the torture and deceit that caused so much misery had been worth all the effort, as in the final analysis it all fed evil.
The magus felt sure that his master was most pleased. It was only a matter of time before Iran came into the devil’s fold. Axis of Evil? The American president doesn’t know the half of it, Spellman mused with a sanguine smile.
This book is now out of print - until further notice!