Nightbreed: “Diaspora” by José Leitão [short story]
“We are all wanderers on this earth.
Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are
deep with dreams.” ― Gypsy saying.
Running down the darkened hallway as the alarm bell rang, Kinski held the wrapped statuette tight against his body, before museum security would show up to give chase. Leading the escape was Harimau, sleek and silent as only he could be despite the din, and behind them followed the dark-skinned horned creature known as Lude. As they clambered out through the same window they had broken in, a shadow jumped through the doorway of the office and shouted “Hold it right there!“
Even though Kinski couldn’t see the shadow’s face, he could sense the confusion as the blinding flashlight seemed to waver in front of him and he heard the guard mutter “What the hell’s wrong with you?!..” but Harimau immediately took advantage of this moment to disarm and push the guard out of the room with two silent, fluid movements. His agility did not match his age for sure. Harimau then shut the door and locked it, allowing them the brief moments necessary to escape down the wall and into the garden, just as the flashlight pierced the darkness of the room again. Upon seeing her comrades’ signal, Rachel emerged from the penumbrae of the bushes as they ran past her and let herself grown nebulous, dissolving into a light mist, just as the guard climbed down the wall and prepared to give chase. He never got the chance to see their escape, as he immediately found the garden covered in mist that seemed to whisper at him from several places at once. He had never seen anything like it, no matter where he turned it followed him, clinging to his body. Then just as abruptly as it had appeared, the mist vanished. The darkened car he heard racing in the back street told him this chase was over before it even began.
“That was close.” Lude muttered, as he drove like a maniac.
Kinski patted the wrapped statuette: “Yes… but after all these years, the Abhuva is finally back with the Tribes of the Moon.”
Back at the camp, a few dozen Breed awaited anxiously their return. The Breed were camped in a little known entrance to the Martin Ridge cave system near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Outside, no one would be able to detect the dozens who were hiding there. Inside, a few fires burned here and there and makeshift alcoves housed creatures who were as young as the budding trees outside or as old as the rocks within. The camp was not in plain sight of Naturals, though. One of the last of its Babu family was silently meditating in front of a fire surrounded by bowls of sandalwood incense, his entire will devoted to the rapture which kept the entrance to the cave away from prying eyes.
As Kinski and the party made their way to the camp he was still amazed how the camouflage was so absolute. It wasn’t just an optical illusion, it illuded all the senses. As soon as they crossed the threshold, the heat of the fires greeted them, the smells of smoke, food, spices; the low conversations of his kin as they debated the chores of the day and what they might face tomorrow in their diaspora, as they awaited the call to a new Midian.
A small, rakish boy saw them cross the threshold and ran towards them, followed by two other children who comprised the entirety of that camp’s younger generation.
“Kinski! Kinski!” they cried. “They’re back!”
Other Breed turned and moved towards them, the curiosity in their faces immediately rewarded by the bundle under Kinski’s arm. Somewhere deeper into the cave, a bird‑like call was issued into the shadows as the group of thieves sat near a fire and answered questions.
“So, it’s true?” a man with feathers braided into his hair asked. “You brought it back to us?”
The thieves all nodded affirmatively and Kinski stood up. As he was about to speak, an old raspy voice from the darker spot of the cave seemed to suddenly part the Breed who stood in its way.
“The Abhuva has been lost to us, for far too long. Our own people have been lost for too long…” This was Mater Lacerta. Her puny frame wrapped in layers of old clothes slowly hobbled as she approached, some Breed respectfully giving her tiny bows as she passed. Her scaly greenish skin and yellow reptilian eyes showed wrinkles cracked all over her face and one of the children who stood next to Kinski grabbed his pants and hid behind his legs, looking away from the hag as she continued:
“Ever since the fall of Midian, we’ve been looking for a new home, waiting for the call of Cabal, but the old times are gone, the world is too used up by Naturals. Our home travels with us now. There are many others like us out there, still drawn to the legend of Midian, but now as homeless as we are. Baphomet’s call still echoes in the world, it resonates within the souls of our brothers, but we are too few and too weary after all these years of travelling. Our offspring are few and our numbers fade. Many of us are the last of their kind. Our hope for a future is to reunite with all our brothers and sisters. The recovery of the Abhuva might finally give us some hope.”
Kinski bowed to Mater Lacerta. As a Visi, she had powers beyond the average Breed and was rumored to have been present at the foundation of Midian. If anyone knew how to use the Abhuva to its full potential and unlock its secrets, she did.
“Rachel.” The Visi called. “I will need your assistance to prepare for the ritual.”
“Yes, Mater” she said. She silently accompanied the Visi back into the deeper part of the cave. She had become very close to the Visi, after Babette had grown and found her mate, joining another tribe going east. Kinski could see that had brought a quiet permanent sadness to her beautiful face, maybe a few more creases over the years.
Harimau patted his back. “Come, brother. Let’s find something to drink and rest from our adventure while the ritual is prepared.”
After a brief rest, plagued by repeated questions about the recovery of the statue by his brothers and sisters, Kinski sat in front of a fire with a drink in his hand admiring the idol. The Abhuva was a small statue, centuries-old representing a short stylized upright creature with a snout-like face and made out of a strangely-shaped hollow geode. The statue’s expression was defiant, with a snarling half open mouth. Inside it, little amethyst teeth lined the mouth’s opening. The eyes were also detailed with amethysts, and the tan outer rock layer of the geode had been meticulously sculpted to resemble scales in some areas, feathers in others and even parallel lines of what could be interpreted as fur. It seemed to represent all kinds of possible skins at once, a very protean creature with small polished bumps on its head which would have been horns, had it not been for the countless hand strokes which apparently had rubbed them down to nubs. It had been sitting in the University of Kentucky’s Art Museum apparently for decades, bought as part of a private collection, after being found in a cave just like the one they were camped at, in the seventies. It was of course mislabeled as “Native American Art, Period Unknown – Provenance: The Durham Collection” and placed in a dusty shelf as a curiosity, a mystery too intriguing to solve. However, Mater Lacerta had felt it as they approached the area, and dreamt it throughout a whole week, visiing it perfectly and giving them the clues necessary for them to break into the museum and retrieve it as quickly as they could. As one of the remaining eldest in their camp, she had some idea of its powers and how to use it. Now, as the preparations were set for the ritual, the Abhuva dusted and oiled and gleaming near the fire, it inspired a certain presence, as if its amethyst eyes scanned back at whoever was looking at it. One day, it was rumored the Tribes of the Moon would all be reunited and then Cabal would usher them all into a new city. Maybe this time beyond the grasp of Naturals forever. It was something to hope for.
Harimau, the last of its tribe of Malaysian weretigers, the sleek warrior poets, was gently singing his song, sitting cross-legged near a wall being painted by one of the children. Others sat nearby, enjoying his fine tuned voice. Harimau’s tiger eyes shone like golden discs, in a face framed by wild unkempt brownish locks. Under his feline nose grew long gray whiskers and a beard covered the bottom half of his face. His sitting position didn’t do justice to his six foot tall lanky and wiry muscular frame. He seemed to be always at peace, especially when he was singing. Even in battle, he seemed to dance. Kinski smiled and held the Abhuva as he went deeper into the cave, towards the baptismal chamber which doubled as a makeshift Tabernacle, guarded by two able-bodied Breed. There, enveloped in fine linen reposed the living remains of Baphomet, the stone God, now more silent than ever, his energies dormant as he slept dreaming of a new Midian to make himself — and therefore his Tribes of the Moon — whole again. Lamps, candles, bowls of bubbling fluid and burning resin nuggets of frankincense made for a heavy, almost oppressive atmosphere. Other inner circle Breed finished preparations for the glyph on the floor. Kinski placed the statue at the very center of it. A few others peered from the doorway. Rachel, her veil down over her face, draped an old mantle over Mater Lacerta and helped her into the circle. Holding Rachel’s hand she spoke to her audience:
“Over 120 lunar years ago, when Midian was built by Baphomet, and we lived in peace with the Cree in their territory, the first remnants of the Tribes started making their way to sanctuary, away from the clutches of our enemies. But we were too many, scattered too far. The Cree called us mâmaskâcinâkosiw, which meant “those who look strange”. Then the settlers came, and prospectors looking for gold. Midian wasn’t always underground… that was reserved for the Tabernacle and those who had too much of the night in them to handle the sun. We finally found the perfect way to hide away from the Naturals, by covering ourselves with what they dreaded the most, death. There was no shortage of it in those harsh years. Our tribe grew… but many still remained lost, unable to answer Baphomet’s call. In our old legends, the lore of the Abhuva was passed down among the Visi, an artifact built by primordial tribes and touched by Baphomet Himself, which allowed Him to find and gather all His children in dire times at least once, then passed onto the Visi for safekeeping but lost in the Great Cullings. Now, finally it’s been restored to us, and if we are to fulfill the prophecy, our new home will be found when all the Breed are delivered under Baphomet’s wing and anointed by His baptism. Then will Cabal find our New Midian.”
Mater Lacerta touched her forehead bowing before Baphomet’s altar and took her position in the circle. Harimau, Kinski and Rachel took their positions and the chanting began. It was a subdued chant that became louder and more complex as it grew, echoing in the stone chamber, reverberating like a living thing. The smoke trembled, and the candles grew dimmer and brighter by turns, as the Visi slipped into a trance, her yellow eyes rolling into their sockets. The frankincense smoke billowed around her body, coiling like a serpent, as she hummed in her low raspy voice. Suddenly, light shot out from the Abhuva, piercing through its amethyst eyes in a focused beam that didn’t stop when it hit Mater Lacerta’s forehead, but seemed to reemerge behind her, resting upon the linen wrapped remains of the god Baphomet. The Visi had entered a different plane. She watched the world around her being folded and unfolded until it disappeared and she found herself falling towards a point of light in the darkness ahead. It grew and expanded as she fell, from a single point into a multitude of lights, as bright as stars, spread out over a surface which at first looked like a giant version of the Abhuva but she soon realized was the Earth. Some of the scaly areas of this sphere slowly became oceans, the feathered areas turned into clouds, and the patches of fur were continents. It was becoming clearer now that it was a roadmap of sorts, etched in light, where every dot was not a city but a living creature, imbued with extraordinary qualities and powers, shinning hard with its own beauty and uniqueness. As she focused on each one, brief glimpses of its nature would flash; a landmark, some features. Then another would follow, a figure writing in a chamber, his bespectacled head sprouting horns; a woman, her belly distended, nursing four yapping babies on her multiple breasts; another naked figure, in a snowy mountain cabin on a cliff edge, preening his feathered wings carefully with a colorful cloth — all these images kept coming as she flew over the lights. There were so many out there still holding hope of making it to Midian, unaware of its destruction years ago. Other lights were painful to look at, because they told her stories of Breed who were prisoners, in chains, on leashes, in work camps or sleeping in crawlspaces. They shivered and looked at the stars, praying for a Savior. There were more than she expected and still the Abhuva kept turning, showing her more and more as she fell towards this Earth. She felt the eyes of the Baptizer upon her, his sliver in the Abhuva a presence of power, almost a voice that spoke without words. Her flying spirit shook with it, and shook harder. The message was clear. Baphomet’s pain would not relent until all the Breed were found and brought together. This was to be their mission now, just as Cabal’s was to find a new Midian. Mater Lacerta was falling faster now and the flashes blinked faster and faster still; the shaking had not subsided and she was being overwhelmed. Somewhere in Germany, a creature on all fours, singing with the voice of a woman; in the heart of Africa, a drummer in a hut with a face so ugly she had to look away; in China, a man with arms as long as his legs, climbed a tree into a giant nest. It was too much. She was too old and tired and found herself colliding with the lights in despair.
Meanwhile, in the circle, the chanting was still going strong, until Mater Lacerta’s body convulsed. The lights glinting off the Abhuva’s eyes cast strange reflections on the walls and a wave like a gust of wind blew the candles and lamps out. The chanting stopped and some of the Breed screamed. Kinski looked to the side and found Rachel grasping for breath and felt himself pushed out of the circle, now broken. But he held on. “Keep the circle going!” he said. “We need to help the Visi!”
Harimau held steadfast, his eyes closed, his cross legged body pushing forward as if against an invisible force, his muscles trembling in a display of effort far beyond the wind whirlpool which had set inside the Tabernacle. One of the veiled Vestals who attended to Baphomet’s altar helped Rachel into the circle.
The Visi screamed. The beam of light shooting from the Abhuva into Baphomet’s Altar diffracted into multiple beams over the Visi’s slumped body and one of these shot straight into Kinski’s moon-shaped head.
Kinski opened his eyes and found himself in front of a planet drawn in light, spinning faster with every rotation. Faces briefly appeared here and there on its surface, creatures as unique as him. He was moving towards it, fascinated and for a moment oblivious to the impending danger. A flickering form which he recognized as the Visi Mater Lacerta floated inside the spinning lights, smoky and losing shape as the sphere slowly closed in on itself. He had to act. He floated towards it, a hum vibrating through him as the lights grew colder and dimmer and stretched out to touch the Visi when the glimpses ran across his mind. All these Breed, their names echoing at the speed of light, living in cities, hermit cabins, caves, above the clouds, in fields of ice and fire and grass, imprinting a map of their locations in his mind, like a white-hot branding iron. If he had a voice here, he would have screamed. Instead he pushed on and made contact with the Visi, pulling her out as hard as he could, fighting the gravity closing in, focusing on the task as the images tried to claim his mind, overwhelming all the rest. Finally the wispy figure of the Visi broke free and floated away from the small sun that was now closing in on itself, becoming denser and denser and colder and colder until it turned into a small blue sphere, its surface broken with lines and dots shinning like embers― a miniature map. Kinski found himself so fascinated that he could almost grasp it. So he did. It burned, but he held it in with what passed as hands in this spiritual plane, and held it closer to his face. Then the humming in the darkness became familiar to him. He felt himself being watched by a presence which he knew well, and he knew what to do. He placed the sphere in his mouth and swallowed it. The Abhuva sphere permeated his spirit, absorbing him in its turn, painting him blue and spreading its map over his form, which slowly dimmed and faded away. Then Kinski snuffed out like a candle and everything was gone.
He came to his senses as Rachel stood over him, her hand on his chest.
“He’s back with us. Baphomet be praised!”
Kinski blinked twice, and for a moment it was as if he could still see the Abhuva sphere burned into his retinas. He stood up and looked around. “The Visi?” he asked.
Mater Lacerta was being attended to by the Vestals, still unconscious.
“Mater Lacerta is with us still,” Rachel said. “It might take her a long time to recover.”
Harimau walked over and pointed out: “Kinski. Your hair…”
Rachel touched his head. “Your hair has now turned completely white, Kinski. What did you see in there?”
“I saw Us.” He said. “All of us out there, lost and alone. I saw their faces, where they hide. The Abhuva was meant to be used by a God… it was too strong for the Visi, for us. But Baphomet helped me. He showed me what to do and I remember all of them. I know where we should go next.”
Rachel and Harimau helped Kinski to his feet as he walked out of the chamber to meet his brothers and sisters who waited anxiously outside. He looked up and he told them what he saw, what he knew. About how they would become whole again when they wouldn’t be a scattered people any longer, but a united tribe. How Cabal would come on the next wind, with news of a new place to rest and build a home, a city. As he walked out into the entrance of the cave and looked up at the night sky, he turned back to the Breed and the children, to the faces of those gypsy-looking nomads whom he loved so much and told them how their new city, their New Midian would one day be filled with so many of these fantastic beings until its walls shook and shone so hard with their own life and laugh and wonder, that the Naturals would have to stand in awe of them for a change.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. The characters of Kinsky, Rachel, Babette, Lude and Nightbreed are © Clive Barker.
Featured Image above features my designs of Harimau, the weretiger from Malaysia and Mater Lacerta, the reptilian Visi. (composed using royalty-free images from morguefile.com)