Excerpt below is from a Facebook post by Michael Kelly, editor of the Shadows and Tall Trees series, and owner of Undertow Books, its publisher…
‘That night after their rounds they trail back inside the crypt, back to the central round chamber, the widow entering last of all. The young woman lights the arrangement of ledge candles, one after the next, as the temple-like room takes on the eerie half-flame of a winter hearth. The old man clears their last meal’s detritus from the granite slab to help the old woman as she lowers herself down upon the tomb.
The old man and the young woman gather on either side of her prone form, the pair tugging back the old woman’s tatty black shawl. They unbutton her blouse and lower it, unfasten her nude-colored brassiere and shimmy it out from beneath her, peeling off the rest of her mourning attire until she is naked upon the slab. The old woman crosses her arms over her breasts and closes her eyes, as if she herself is laid out in death’s final repose.
All along the woman’s body are painted intricate black circles. Of varying size and shape, the patterns run up and down her sides in erratic intervals, appearing to spot her the way a leopard’s coat is spotted, dark swirls patching her sagging and distended skin.
Mesmerized, the widow steps forward. Inches away now, and she can see at last that they aren’t inked-on designs, but are in fact suppurated wounds, the size of bite marks. Just as soon as she realizes this fact a festering smell hits her, and she staggers back gasping from the slab.
“What is this?” the widow asks, and covers her nose and mouth with a trembling hand.
“This,” the old man says, “is the trick.”
The widow stares at the young woman, who remains silent as ever, only nodding gravely as she lowers herself to her knees beside the older woman’s prostrate form. Without taking her eyes off the widow, the young woman lifts the older woman’s arm, brings it to her mouth, and sinks her teeth into its spongy flesh, the aged brown parchment of skin bruising and blooding a deeper shade of red.
“My God,” the widow whispers. “Why?”
“This is our sacrament,” the old woman says from the slab, eyes still shut though her parted lips quiver as if jolted by an electric current. “This is the holy of holy, the flesh that binds us together.”
“Take of her,” the old man says, so close his rotted breath masks the scent of the old woman’s wounds. “Take of her flesh and blood, so that you may strengthen grief’s resolve. It’s the only way, now.”
“I… can’t. I can’t.” She wipes away tears and retreats for the doors, wedges her chaffed fingers into the narrow space between them and wrenches them open, ready to flee into the darkness. No one tries to stop her.
– “The Cenacle,” by Robert Levy (Shadows and Tall Trees, Vol. 7)
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About the Author
ROBERT LEVY is an author of unsettling stories and plays whose work has been seen Off-Broadway. A Harvard graduate subsequently trained as a forensic psychologist, his work has been called “frank and funny” (Time Magazine), “idiosyncratic and disarming” (The New York Times), “ambitious and clever” (Variety), “smart” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) and “bloody brave” (the UK’s SFX Magazine). His first novel, the contemporary dark fairy tale THE GLITTERING WORLD, was published last year by Gallery/Simon & Schuster and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award as well as the Shirley Jackson Award. He currently lives in his native Brooklyn near a toxic canal, where he is awaiting his mutant powers to develop any day now. (Author’s Website)