Archive for March, 2014

Good Morrow Azraelle Undercroft

Posted in Gothic Horror, Gothic Prose with tags , , on March 24, 2014 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Scud clouds darken the griseous skies and hover like a headsman’s axe over the vicarage. Seated at his oaken desk, the Vicar Rhodes removes his spectacles and kneads his temples as he slowly exhales a breath infused with the whisky shot he shared earlier with the sexton to calm their nerves after the man burst into his office in a tizzy, ranting and dragging the vicar to witness the ghoulish tableau he had discovered in the churchyard while making his morning rounds. It appears that someone dressed up a couple of old cadavers to look like satanic headbangers and left them strewn amongst the headstones. The perpetrators also left behind a ghetto blaster under the lychgate that the already shaken sexton had backed into during his initial retreat from the scene which prompted it to blare a blasphemous clamor that sounded to him like “the devil’s own choir”. Now the vicar must prepare himself to answer the many queries of the constable waiting for an audience in the vestibule.

Returning his spectacles to the bridge of his aquiline nose, he rises from his chair and walks across the room to a small mirror which he often times refers to when fastening the many buttons on his sarum. Examining his haggard reflection in the glass, he feels alternately drawn to and repelled by the mirror. Fixated on the reflective surface, his pupils begin to widen and his eyesight becomes murky. However, a staccato knocking on his door breaks the thrall and he blinks his eyes, shakes his head and turns to open the door to receive the constable.

On the other side of the mirror, in a macabre dimension of benighted spirits and pernicious entities, Azraelle looks back from her vanity mirror, smiling, and says “Postea sacerdos“. She chose to learn Latin, which is not native to her, because she saw it as being the language of the churchyards. Requiescat in pace, memento mori, every legend on a plaque, every epitaph on a tombstone seemed to bear an inscription in the lingua latina. At least in the western world, it was her key to the city of the dead. Hiding in the lower berths of churches, known as undercrofts (hence the sobriquet), where the sarcophagi of the church elders may be found, Azraelle would linger in the darkness, listening through vents and peeping through keyholes as she snuffed the tiny lights of crypt vermin while listening to the novices learning what was once the language of the Roman Empire; the days of which are long gone, yet Azraelle remains.

Worshiped by a misguided few and often mistaken for Death itself, Azraelle is a soul-eater, which feeds off of the anima of her victims. Looking into her maw is like looking into a walking Hellmouth from which there is no hope of salvation, a sort of death for the dead. Like the Lord of Hell, she is known by many names but the one that has stuck with her, and with which she is most often identified nowadays, is Azraelle Undercroft, an appellation given her by Emanuel Sands, a two-bit English Gothicist,  in his specious treatise on the monstrous lineage of Eve’s seldom mentioned predecessor, entitled Children of Lilith (1914).

In said tome, Sands cites an account which he claims to have translated from an 18th century German manuscript that relates the horror that befell a group of Wallachian vigilantes whom had assembled in their local churchyard to dig up and dispatch an alleged vampire that had been terrorizing their village. Sands claims that when they exhumed the narrow house of their late neighbor, they found the original tenant had been deposed and lying in wait for them was a hellish revenant which grabbed the group captain as he opened the lid of the coffin and drew him in quickly, like a trapdoor spider. Momentarily stunned by the dreadful sounds emanating from within the coffin, the remaining mob members were brought back to the moment when the husk of their comrade was ejected from the pine box as long taloned  fingers clasped the wrist of another of their mates, causing the others to flee, screaming.

At this point Sands claims the lid, and then the lifeless shell of the second vigilante were cast aside and the revenant leapt from its hiding place to assail the fleeing men. “One by one she picked them off (for the author of the manuscript claims the revenant–our dear Azraelle–bore the semblance of a female form, though hominid woman it was not) with alarming alacrity, the only survivor being a young man who made it past the threshold of the churchyard gates, which Ms. Undercroft did not seem to be able to cross. When he turned back to look for his compeers he saw their withered skins strewn across the headstones and clinging to the fencing with shriveled hands, their bones jutting like tent poles in their dessicated corpses. And looming haughtily over the slaughter like a deathful valkyrie–albeit much more ghastly and sinister than Odin’s shield-maidens–was Azraelle Undercroft, leering with her overlarge grin and blackened brow. Lifting her bony claw to wave farewell, she then vaulted the overturned coffin which she pulled from the plot and vanished into the open grave below.” [Children of Lilith 1914, pg 13]

Many scholars denounce this tale as spurious sensationalism and question Sands’ sources since no other record of this event appears to be extant in any form other than his purported re-telling. Sands never produced a copy of the original manuscript, but went to his own grave averring its authenticity. Authentic or not, it’s delineation of her modus operandi rings true enough, although the vigilantes either had to be foolish enough to visit the churchyard by night, or Azraelle was above ground during daylight hours, which does seem unlikely for she is the daughter of the Night after all.

No matter what Sands or the classical mythologists might have believed of her, she is her own woman, after a fashion, and does not trouble herself with their fantasies, nor the scribblings of some fey, laudanum-addled scribe. She existed millennia before them, and she shall continue to do so aeons after they have gone to their just rewards. She ekes out her noxious existence in her world between worlds and pays them no mind at all…rather like the zombie sluggishly lugging the lacerated and withered carcass of her latest inamorato from her chamber of horrors where she entertains her hapless guests.

Although she exists in a world far-removed from the sun’s inimical rays she must still find time to process the energies she has consumed during her  nightly venery. So as she prepares for her moment of quiescence (peeling off her bloodied dress, returning to her bath to wash the mess of her gruesome pastime from her face and figure; rinsing blood-spatter from her long black hair and scraping the gore from under her long red nails) her zombie minions refresh her bedclothes and pump the bellows to fan the fire in the grate as the temperature in the wasteland tends towards the gelid.

Rising from her bath, she is approached by a minion whose clumsy attempt to pat her down ventures on  the inappropriate. Annoyed, she places her rawboned hand on its scalp and pushes it away (almost removing it’s moldered scalp in the process) and heads toward her sarcophagus, which she uses to remind her of from whence comes her bounty.Once inspirited, however, she is up and off again to find more souls to swallow.

Good morrow Azraelle Undercroft–sleep tight–and remember, whenever you awaken, somewhere out there, it will always be night.