[AC] Wayward Son: "Memento Mori" By Matthew J. Pierce [reissue]
artificecomics at yahoo.co.uk
Thu May 6 17:18:42 PDT 2004
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Welcome to, or back to as the case maybe, Wayward Son.
In preparation for the release of this story's continuation, Artifice
is re-releasing part one of this story to reintroduce the character
and his mission in a rather prolonged life. Caleb Wayward is the son
of Johann Faust, conceived at a time when the alchemist was exploring
the gifts given to him after striking a deal with the infernal,
Mephistopheles. Never knowing his father but very familiar with the
contract that bound his fate, Caleb began a life mission to eradicate
the demons on Earth and to bring an end to their machinations.
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the infernal's corruption of the
Faustian bloodline affected Caleb too. Condemned to eternally battle
the forces of Hell on Earth, Caleb cannot die until the last devil is
banished, even though he is weakened with each passing victory.
"Tell me a story, Caleb." Though my eyes searched through the dark,
as if to catch sight of a drifting memory or hint of fairy tale, I
could still very much feel the weight of her body against mine.
"What kind of story would you like to hear?" Kate pressed against me
in the dark and lifted her face from my bare chest. She rested her
head on a delicate hand and her auburn locks flowed over her pale
Her light skin was a beacon in the otherwise dark room and her eyes,
brilliant blue gems, seemed forever wild with life and sexual energy.
When she looked at me I could see only those eyes and had I the kink,
I'm afraid I would certainly pluck them from her sockets like prized
ancient relics. They would form the centerpiece of a beautiful
necklace and I would wear them for all to see but for me alone to
worship. I fucked Kate for her flesh but I loved the dear girl for
"Oh, I don't know..."
"Goldilocks and the Three Bears, maybe?"
She laughed and it forced me to do the same. "Coming from you, Mr.
Wayward, that sounds more like the title of a porno than a bedtime
"Fair enough. How about--"
"How about something from your life? Your past." She smiled at me
but the way the smile looked, was different somehow. Teasing but not
seductive. Like she knew it would cause me discomfort even though it
was something she wanted very much.
"Ah, well I suppose I could tell you about a time when I was in
pursuit of a demonic entity made of gingerbread, who taunted me while
repeating: 'Run, run as fast as you can--'"
"Caleb!" Kate punished my sarcasm with a pinch of my nipple. While
playful, she succeeded in forcing me to take her request a bit more
I knew Kate. She'd start with the nipple and end with the heavenly
dragon pillar, so I had to concede once more.
"Okay, okay. You have to realize, Kate, that none of my experiences
make very interesting bed time stories."
"Who said I wanted a bed time story?" She winked at me and bit at her
bottom lip, pulling at the supple flesh only briefly. "I'm just
passing time until you catch your breath, old man."
I opened my mouth to return a quip; something that would be witty and
accomplish the feat of getting out of having to recite a piece of my
past to a Hollywood actress I managed to lay three or four times a
year. Unfortunately, she didn't want to hear any more witty
"Tell me... tell me why Caleb Wayward doesn't love."
"Oh but I do love, Kate. I love you, in fact."
"You love me, Caleb, but you're not in love with me."
She was right, of course. My affection for her wouldn't last another
two years; when her natural life would reach a cusp, a time when she'd
realize that there was no future with a man who had no need for
marriage or children or picket white fences. Chances were, I'd more
than likely outlive the paint on those fences anyway.
"Alright," I acquiesced, "A story it is..."
Grimoire de Artifice Presents...
By Matthew J. Pierce
It is important that you remember my lot in life. It calls for
travel, it calls for the freedom of being able to leave any given
place often without notice, remaining for undefined periods of time.
It may surprise you that certain locales require my attention more
often than others, and for extended periods of time. Very precise
points throughout Europe, for instance, are often visited and I have
almost never been to locales throughout Africa.
It was late, or early depending where you are on the Optimism in a
Glass spectrum, and the phone's ring was an annoying reminder that I
had been fast asleep. I remember that I had slammed my hand into the
wall along the left side of the bed, fully expecting the phone on the
night stand to be there; after all, that's where I would have found it
in my loft in London. I remember this because for a few days
afterward I would be inundated with jokes about my being
'weak-wristed' as well as less than sincere suggestions on how best to
rectify the problem.
"Mrrello?" I felt numbed over, as if nothing were working right,
including my mouth and jaw. I was probably griping to myself about
the morning taste in my mouth and the whereabouts of the cat that had
apparently shit in it, when the caller replied.
"Uh...excuse me...Mr. Wayward?" The voice had a thick German accent,
most likely the caller's first language, English being a second.
"This is he."
"Ah! Herr Wayward!" Delighted, the caller immediately fell back into
a more comfortable tongue. "This is Gerhard Kepler."
Of course I heard the name but it fell against my sense of the
familiar like a singular speckle of dust, settling upon a list of
names, some of them of certain consequence. This name was not easily
dismissed but it would take me a moment to realize it.
I blinked over and over, my vision still blurred with sleep, and my
eyes, I'm sure, widened each time. Before me was a dimly lit room,
modestly furnished with the essentials and only a few token pieces
specific to the region of the world I was in.
But in my mind's eye I saw a tucked away cemetery, small and far
removed from the notice of historical societies and curious
passers-by. The grounds had been in the family for centuries and
though no new burials were advertised, there were some empty plots set
aside for the more...discreet of patrons.
Emden was the home of das Mausoleum tiefes Geheimnis, and I know each
of its occupants, personally. I had put them there. That meant that
when Herr Kepler rang, it wasn't a matter of 'what for' but 'who
about.' Even knowing that, I still chose to question his reasons for
"My apologies, have I forgotten a payment, Herr Kepler? I've been so
busy of late, I suppose it's possible that I haven't kept the account
"No, no sir. I'm afraid this isn't something so simple." In the long
pause following Kepler's response, I heard a haggard breath. "In
truth, Herr Wayward, I wish this were a matter of payment. I'd be
relieved in calling you, had that been the case."
That cinched it then. In the three hundred some years that I had been
dealing with the Kepler and Schmidt families and their ownership of
the mausoleum, I had never been called. Upon the death of one
caretaker, I would personally visit Emden and meet the son, or
daughter in one case, that would inherit it. In that brief encounter
I would leave precise instructions, an international number that would
forward their calls to me, and a substantial stipend for the care and
maintenance of das Mausoleum tiefes Geheimnis. Always, I would leave
enough excess in the stipend to make sure they knew how important a
station they had inherited.
"I see." I swung my legs around to the cool wooden floor. The
apartment below was empty; no one running the heat below and that
meant no freeloaded warmed floors for me. Bare feet padded along the
floor as I made my way to the bathroom, luckily recalling that much
about the place. "Presuming this is the type of emergency I spoke
about in my instructions to you, Gerhard, what has happened...in
"Oh, Herr Wayward I am sorry. To think I failed where so many in my
family have not before..."
"The mausoleum, Herr Kepler. Tell me about the mausoleum."
"The door, sir. It's open. Smashed, broken right off its hinges."
"And its contents?"
"I dared not enter; your instructions were clear enough. But it is
obvious, sir, the outer door remains ajar and its contents certainly
"I'll be on the very next plan to Frankfurt, Herr Kepler. In the
meantime let no one, and I mean no one go near the mausoleum."
* * * *
United Airlines flight 940 flew nonstop, which meant I got to avoid
London and its Cockney legion of the damned whom always seemed to know
when I was near. Eight hours and twenty three minutes later, I was in
Frankfurt. Frankfurt came easy enough but getting to Emden would
prove to be a bit more difficult. A two day layover gave me plenty
enough time to make more phone calls and coordination; looking out for
the toes I'd certainly be stepping on and calling on those whom I knew
to have long whiskers, the kind that felt the twitch of trouble on the
To that point, surprisingly enough, news of the break in hadn't gone
anywhere. That was a mixed blessing. Rogue scholars, amateuristic
dabblers and relic hunters alike would have loved the revelation that
many of the world's "lost" arcane treasurers as well as the bodies of
self-proclaimed masters and mistresses of the mystic arts, were all
huddled together in a non assuming German monastery. I had time to
make sure the news never got out but I also had no leads as to who was
responsible, which meant I was going in blind. I hated surprises,
hated when someone else knew the punch line and I had to wait forever
to get through the rest of the joke.
One thing was for certain. When I finally got to Emden, I was going
to be a cranky son of a bitch.
To make matters worse, I picked up something else in Frankfurt, beyond
the connecting flight to Emden. Polizeikommissar Edda Schlosser. That
would be Polizeidirektor Fleischer's doing; partnering me up with one
of his junior detectives, just to annoy me. And why not? I had stuck
Armin with enough dead corpses over the years so I suppose I deserved
a good turnabout. Armin was somewhat in the know, part of the
network of 'friends' I had gathered around the world, people who knew
when to call me and when to forget they ever saw me. Making one phone
call to Armin to let him know I was in the neighborhood had earned me
a new annoyance.
We arrived at das Mausoleum tiefes Geheimnis to a noticeably worried
Gerhard Kepler, who met us on the path in front of his home.
"I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am that you are finally here,
Herr Wayward." Kepler grabbed both of my hands in his and it seemed
for a moment that he might drag me along the path.
"I would have come sooner had I the chance, Herr Kepler." I stopped
Kepler's long enough to announce the presence of another, despite my
wanting to hurry on and find out what had happened. "This is Fraulein
Schlosser; the Polizei's example of a good idea."
"Detective Schlosser," she corrected, nodding to Kepler. She was
obviously put off at my dismissal but as she would soon find out, I
obviously didn't care. "And I'm here to investigate a possible
crime." I waved my hand and nodded, hopefully placating the good
Detective as Kepler pointed out the direction of the mausoleum.
The cemetery itself was vast, tightly occupied with cracked stones
weathered bare from centuries of exposure. Every now and then we'd
pass the cracked visage of an angel or of the Virgin Mother, or the
occasional Saint. Sculptures of Christ, oddly enough, were as lacking
as the names on the more recent head stones; markers placed in the
ground just over the last hundred years.
"Soldiers," Kepler explained as we walked past.
"Nazis," I added. I was a right bastard for doing so; these people
weren't interested in recalling those times any more than I was the
days I spent burying society's dirty little secrets.
Near the back end of the park was a narrow path, brush overgrown on
either side and blades of grass sprouting through cracks in the red
brick like patches of hair on a cadaver's head; uneven and slick,
sharply grown life on otherwise dead flesh. I knew what lie in those
crypts, I'd seen them before and I had little desire to see them
"My night watchman makes a point to walk this side of the grounds at
"The dead don't bother him, Herr Wayward, it's the living that keeps
him up at night. The things people meet here to do, it's not right."
Kepler's eyes seemed sad and his head slumped over as if his very soul
had just taken for a stroll. Surrounded by the dead, I felt that
maybe I should jar the man's shoulder to check for life. "They keep
away from the mausoleum so there's been no need for him to check here
"So you don't know exactly when the mausoleum was broken into,"
concluded our detective friend.
"No, I'm afraid not. He tells me it's been about four days since his
last check of the gate. It could have been broken into anytime since
"Semantics," I grumbled. "I'm more interested in what happened
inside, not when or how." I split off from the other two, pushing the
arched gate open with a rusty creak. Vines coiled around the gate's
thin metal rungs and the latch hung loosely, brittle with age, easy to
defeat. I stepped through the decayed maw and instantly felt as if it
were devouring me; the rotted jaw and its black, broken teeth
adorned with remnants of coffee brown ribbon flesh.
The mausoleum was box shaped, cold gray and featureless, a hut of
concrete set amidst lush green, a tranquil surface layer strewn over
the scavenged husks beneath our feet, orderly rows and columns of the
deceased. Every step against the ground thudded and echoed in the
honeycomb caverns dug below us. It was a wonder the surface didn't
cave in and take us with it, the top given over to the below, the live
to the dead.
"Herr Wayward?" Our lady friend brought my attention back to the task
and I pushed open the solid doors before she had the opportunity to
ask me what was wrong. The creak of the damaged door sent echoes of
rustling somewhere behind us as we took our first step inside.
Sunlight, yes it was almost all too easy to forget that it was day,
preceded us into the room, moving in an ever widening arc, laying a
warm hand over the cool stone crypts chambered inside.
"Hello, boys. I'm home."
* * * *
"Herr Wayward, I won't ask you again. Please step aside and let me do
what I'm here for." Fraulein Detective Schlosser's cheeks flushed
red, her tightly pulled pony-tail creating harsh lines on her face.
Her complaining was like a banshee's howl. A transparent, ghost-white
specter with dirty mop-head locks and cavernous hollows for eyes
passed through my heart and gave my body a tremble.
"Ah, fuck, I don't need this right now..." Even though I turned away,
clawing at the sides of the stone sarcophagus centered on the
mausoleum's floor, the banshee's cry went on. It wouldn't be denied,
it wouldn't stop its nerve corrupting shrieking until it was heard and
heeded. It wouldn't stop tormenting me until I feared it. But Caleb
Wayward wouldn't give it the time of day, no sir.
"...is a crime scene and if you need the reminder, I am the
investigative authority here, not--"
I stood and stabbed at the wispy ghost like thing with my finger,
perforating its ethereal sheath, laughing inside as it bled puffs of
white smoke into the stale air of decay. "You're being here,
detective, is a joke. Literally. Your boss is having a laugh at the
both of us, right this very minute!" I laughed more for the effect
than anything. There was nothing funny about the mist-rot of a
bleeding banshee. "At you for being partnered with an ages old,
stubborn son of a bitch who hates graveyards but is on a mission
that's more sci-fi than anything and me for getting stuck with the a
blonde haired, blue eyed cop who's dying for a chance to make her mark
in a life so abbreviated and trifle that her ambition is like a sad,
old English punch line!"
The banshee withered and died and my ears were free of her cursed
cries. Silence was like a healing kiss, pressing its lips gently on
my face. I felt waterfalls and cool meadow breezes. It wouldn't
I wasn't particularly thrilled with my response, but it served its
purpose and I was back to the seam of the casket's lid. Powder white
cement dust fell from my fingers like ashen bones and I was suddenly
reminded of the pain in my wrist. I called for Kepler, whom to this
point was marveling over the collection of sarcophagus' set within the
In between our groans and forced rushes of air through clenched teeth,
Schlosser made her late retort. "Hazel."
"What?" I grunted, half interested. I was old and feeling older every
minute, almost Cro-Magnon now with my managed vocabulary.
"My eyes are hazel, not blue." Her hands joined ours, pushing against
the slow moving lid. She turned her head to the side, not because she
feared the sight of 17th century death, but to avoid airborne flecks
of carrion . When the lid cleared the body of the sarcophagus, it
fell to the ground and Schlosser felt she had to justify herself some
more. "Gag between friends or not, Herr Wayward, I at least have to
ensure there's no danger to Herr Kepler or his family."
"Right," I agreed, surprising her from the look on her face. "And
you're here to verify that whatever crime happened here, it's nothing
requiring an immediate response from the Polizei. You'll check for
valuables, if they're not stolen, and make your report to
Polizeidirektor Fleischer that nothing here is worth ruffling his gold
plated feathers. I'm sure they he and the locals have larger crimes
to worry about."
Her mouth opened but closed right away. I wouldn't have any more
difficulty with Polizeikommissar Edda Schlosser but I wouldn't be
receiving any Christmas cards from either. Those were the breaks, as
the Americans liked to say.
"Why did you start with this one?"
"Because, detective, this is the crypt that worries me the most.
Because of this gentleman right here." I placed my hands on the edges
of the crypt and stared down at the corpse tight leather, stretched
around bone features that failed to look like anyone I ever knew. In
my mind's eye, though, I added the features; the light, oyster pink
tone of skin, the cropped hair colored like early autumn and the wild
eyes filled with excitement and wonder, sparkling when he sounded that
giddy schoolboy laugh.
"That and there are no signs of the dust being disturbed on the other
caskets?" She asked, flashing her light against the walls. She looked
over her shoulder to find me smiling. The question didn't need
answering. "So who is he?" That one, as it happened, did.
"He was Nikolaus Dietz, a 17th century theologian...and mystic. A
powerful mystic, drunk on alchemy, corrupted by arcane science. He
was quite possibly the most powerful mystic of his time. And the most
selfish. Everything he had, he stole...with the help of the occult."
I must have appeared motionless; staring deep into the dark hollowed
sockets, following the skull caverns through the bonework and down its
spine, through its ribs, half expecting the shine and pulse of a
living soul to jump out at me. But there was nothing aside from the
lattice of skeletal remains, shrink wrapped in cowhide like skin, gift
wrapped in decomposed cotton.
"How can you be sure?" The cylindrical probe of light from the
detective's hand fluttered across the sarcophagus, illuminating random
bits and pieces of the dead man before me. She was looking for a
placard, a brass plate engraved with Nik's name and date of death.
I didn't need a placard. "Because I'm the one who put him here."
"17th century, you say?" I almost forgot Kepler was here and when he
reminded me it was with a question that was all the more intelligent
than the ones our paid detective was asking. "I've never seen one
look so...young. It's not mummified and yet the body's decomposition
is all wrong...there should be complete skeletonization."
"Well versed in stages of decomposition, Herr Kepler?"
I ignored Schlosser and looked from Kepler back to the corpse.
"There's an incantation on the body," I said plainly.
"One spell to be exact, Detective, yes."
"But I thought," Schlosser paused, maybe to collect her thoughts and I
saw her pouty bottom lip more prominently, "...thought the Director
was just having a joke."
"Spells decay, just like flesh, albeit a lot more slowly. Usually a
spell has to be canceled or undone by a subsequent one. This one
stayed with Dietz even after his soul died."
"Why?" Kepler asked. It dawned on me that this curator now knew more
than any of his ancestors, save for the one I first made a bargain
with. I wasn't thinking about the consequences, about damning him;
the pain of seeing Nik again was all I could feel.
"Because it was a spell made against the flesh. To make himself more
appealing, attractive to those around him. When he died, the spell
remained, locked within his flesh regardless of how little of it
remained. It's slowed his decomposition."
Kepler's curiosity wasn't satisfied. "Sometimes, rains will wash out
the more shallow graves; the older ones, the ones gone unmarked. We
see for ourselves how bodies fare in the ground... throughout time,
damaged by weather, fed upon by worms and the like. But I've never
seen makes like these before."
Kepler softly touched rough grooves in the body's face and skull.
"Did something burrow through here?"
"Like...drill holes," I muttered, admitting that I too was confused by
the set of holes in Nik's forehead.
"What are you doing?"
Schlosser had taken to feeling around the corpse, inspecting items
that had been buried with Nik; ornaments and belongings that I felt
belonged to him even in death. "This is gold!"
"Yes it is. A crucifix that was once hung over his desk. Pure gold
if I remember correctly, and solid." She tested the weight, marveling
at its worth and the fact that it wasn't stolen. "They weren't here
At that particular moment I had no idea what they'd come for and I
believe that for an instant, I began to feel relieved; like maybe this
was an adolescent prank or someone lost their courage after going face
to face with a cadaver from the 17th century.
The detective proved me wrong. "What the... hell... are these?!"
Schlosser's hand rose from the sarcophagus, a ten inch item like an
overweight piece of black yarn, dangling from between her forefinger
My skin went cold and I thrust my hand after hers, feeling around the
dark void inside the casket until something damp and slick met my
fingers. Like cold, wet pasta. "I know why they were here...," I
announced, horrified by the realization. My eyes hurt they were
stretched so wide. "I know what they've stolen..."
"Herr Wayward? What have you found?" I heard Kepler's voice but
couldn't tear my eyes away from the black bodied worm coiling around
"What are these things, Caleb?" Schlosser was worried, more from my
reaction than what was between her fingers.
"Cipherids," I muttered. "Bookworms. Whomever broke into the
mausoleum wasn't interested in gold, fraulein. They've stolen the
most valuable thing in here...Niklaus Dietz's brain."
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