Thomas Sniegoski: In the House of the Wicked

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Thomas Sniegoski In the House of the Wicked
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    In the House of the Wicked
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    sf_fantasy_city / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Thomas E. Sniegoski


In the House of the Wicked

PROLOGUE

Occupied Poland, Dachau 1943

It was cold in the interrogation hut, and Konrad Deacon wondered how much longer it would be.

For a moment he considered that the man he wished to speak with had already met his fate in the chambers, that the invaluable information he held in his mind was lost to the ages as suffocating gas filled his lungs, and all that he had been was turned to smoke and ash within the fires of the crematorium.

It was a disturbing thought, and one that Deacon did not wish to dwell upon as he sat in the wooden chair behind the simple desk, clutching his leather satchel to his chest, waiting for the man promised by Reichsfuhrer Himmler himself.

The information Deacon hoped to receive from this man was priceless, and should be more than enough to finally allow him membership in the cabal. He’d been trying to gain a seat for years, but now he believed he had found something that would finally force the gathering of the world’s most powerful sorcerers to recognize him.

He squirmed impatiently in the chair, then pulled up the edge of his purple leather glove to check the time. He’d been waiting twenty minutes, but it might as well have been twenty hours, as far as he was concerned.

Konrad Deacon was not accustomed to waiting, and contemplated voicing his displeasure to der Fuhrer when next they met to review Adolf Hitler’s astrological chart.

Yes, Hitler was indeed a madman, but even madmen were useful. Let him have the world if it would reveal to Konrad the mysteries of the universe beyond the pale.

The sudden sound of heavy-booted feet made him gasp, and Deacon looked toward the door in anticipation. He stood, satchel still clutched to his chest, watching as the door swung open and armed soldiers roughly pushed a tattered old man inside.

Deacon studied the hunched figure. He was clothed only in the filthy, shapeless, striped uniform of the concentration camp; worn leather shoes missing their laces were on his feet. His hair had been shorn to the skull, his once-impressive beard cut away. But even in this desolate state the old man radiated something special.

It was a power passed down from the ages, a power that would be no more once this vessel met its inevitable end. Which was why Deacon had come to this godforsaken place, to speak with this godforsaken man.

The old man shivered as he gazed about the interrogation shed, his dark, sunken eyes clearly wondering why he had been brought here, what new horrors awaited him.

“Rabbi Eshed,” Deacon acknowledged the man, unable to suppress a smile.

Eshed stumbled back, as if repelled by Deacon’s joy in such a loathsome environment. The holy man turned his gaze toward the guards who still waited at the door, then back to Deacon.

“You may wait outside,” Deacon told the pair.

They hesitated, giving each other a worried look.

“I take full responsibility for the prisoner,” Deacon reassured them. “And I will be sure that Reichsfuhrer Himmler hears of your excellent service.” He lifted a gloved hand and motioned them out.

“Much better,” Deacon said, as the guards stepped outside and closed the door. Then he gestured at the chair positioned directly in front of the desk. “Please sit,” he said to Eshed, and he sat again, the wooden chair creaking under his weight.

Eshed didn’t move.

“Sit,” Deacon repeated, an edge to his voice. “I insist.”

“Why have I been brought here?” Eshed asked, moving slowly toward the chair.

Deacon did not answer, silently watching the old rabbi as he carefully lowered himself into the chair.

“Thank you,” Deacon finally said. He placed his leather satchel down upon the desk and reached inside to remove a leather-bound journal. “You wouldn’t believe the pest I made of myself trying to locate you, Rabbi.”

“Locate me?” the old man asked. He sat stiffly, eyes darting warily about. “For what reason?”

Deacon placed the satchel on the floor against the chair leg, then centered the journal on the table in front of him. He removed his gloves and put them in the pockets of his coat. Then he opened the journal to where a pen had marked his place.

“At first I believed the stories to be nonsense,” Deacon said as he removed the pen’s cover and placed it on the table beside the book. “But then I continued to hear them, and I began to wonder if they might, after all, be true.”

Deacon looked up, running his bare hand over the creamy white surface of the blank page.

“Stories,” the old man repeated. “What stories have you heard?”

Deacon smiled again.

“One about a battalion of fine German soldiers assigned to purge a tiny Polish village of its Jewish influence, only to be ruthlessly killed by a monster.”

He watched the old man’s eyes, searching for a hint.

“A monster made of clay.”

Still the old Jew showed nothing.

“A monster brought to life using ancient magicks long believed lost with the passage of time,” Deacon continued.

“Fairy tales,” Eshed grunted.

“Excuse me?”

“You have brought me here to discuss fanciful tales told to children to make them behave-to eat their vegetables and to go to sleep when they are told. Yes, of course I know these stories well. I heard them from my own parents and told them to my-”

“You misunderstand me, Rabbi,” Deacon interrupted, feeling his ire begin to rise. “I talk not of fairy tales, but of actual eyewitness reports that-”

“Drunks and fools,” Rabbi Eshed spat. He managed what appeared to be a smile, though it could very well have been a grimace of pain.

“Let me be certain that I understand. You are calling soldiers of the Third Reich drunks and fools?”

“Perhaps they concoct such fantastic stories to deflect the truth that a village of farmers and craftsmen were able to defeat so many of their number. Of course it was a golem that stopped them… What else could possibly have stopped the fuhrer’s expert soldiers?”

The old Jew actually laughed then, a horrible sound that said so much of how the holy man felt about his captors.

“I said nothing about a golem, Rabbi Eshed,” Deacon said.

“Everyone knows the tales,” the rabbi countered. “A man of clay brought to life by supernatural means to avenge the offended.”

Deacon slowly nodded. “Of course, of course,” he murmured, running the smooth part of his thumb up and down the shaft of his pen. “But what of those from your village? Those who, to spare their own lives, swore that the golem was indeed real and that it was you who brought it to life.”

“Many would swear to almost anything if they believed it would grant them another few moments of life,” Eshed said.

“Do you honestly believe that’s true, Rabbi?” Deacon asked, feigning a sad smile. “That your people would swear to a lie before meeting their maker?”

“We believe in the afterlife, but doubt of its existence is never stronger than when we are faced with death. Some cling desperately to what they already know rather than face the uncertainty of the unknown.”

“How about you?” Deacon asked. “Do you fear the unknown?”

The old Jew shook his shaggy head. “I do not,” he said. “For I know that Paradise is waiting.”

“Then all of this”-Deacon lifted his hand, gesturing to indicate the world outside the shack, the concentration camp-“it means nothing.”

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