Black Sacrament

Chapter One

An Unexpected Masterpiece

There were three things Ryder hated, though in which order was hard to decide.

Being cold was likely at the top of the list, and the most pressing at that moment in time. It was a nightmare, shivering in a pair of old boots while soaked to the bone. The rain, it fell in sheets. The rain, it was as heartless as it was relentless. Nothing more than a constant, unyielding nightmare.

Standing under the cover of a glass-top bus stop, suitcase dead and bleeding on the ground, Ryder could do nothing more but standing wet and miserable. Could do nothing more than wait, which was something the teenager disliked. No car, no keys, and no map: it was the setup of a crime waiting to happen. Waiting, it was something the teen did not like for what was there to wait for?

The green-eyed teen checked the time, irises bright as the gaze lifted.

Raining and cold, Ryder could only stand there while some hunched woman mumbled to herself.

It was unpleasant, almost as much as the damp slacks and wet socks hidden underneath. Checking the watch once more, scowling and unable to do anything without the fear of getting lost, came the third thing which Ryder detested: a lack of independence, which was the epitome of the entire forsaken picture one rainy, dark and dreary evening was turning out to be.

'They're late,' Ryder fiddled with the watch strapped to a thin, pale wrist with a sigh. The bus stop was empty, save for the homeless woman sitting listlessly on a wet bench. She was pretty, in her own way. Thick hair, an off-blonde darkened by grim and water. 'Beautiful, once. Still is, in a wild way. Pathetic, in others.'

The woman just sat there, raining plastering thick hair to a sallow face while sunken eyes stared outward. Mumbling still, the teen noted. Ryder leaned against a stone pillar of the glass-roofed bus stop, hands curled tight under the armpits. It was more of a shelter, the thick, clear ceiling giving a view of the thick, blackening clouds above.

Rain, it was enough to leave Ryder scowling and checking the time for a third time.

'Three hours. They were supposed to be here three hours ago,' Ryder's gaze lifted, towards the dark road and darker street framed by thick, imposing woods. Dark eyebrows furrowed, nearly touching as the teen glanced back at the homeless woman. 'Who builds a bus stop in the middle of a damn forest? No, who builds a bus stop within a forest located in the middle of nowhere? Who does that?'

Emerald eyes closed, then a rough voice whispered, "You best leave this place. No good comes."

Ryder's gaze shifted to the woman. She was no longer on the bench, but closer. Her gaze was intent, and the teen pushed off the stone pillar, edging away from the homeless woman as she continued, voice rough but no higher than a whisper, "Haven is not what it once was. There is nothing good there. Only pain. Only misery. Leave. Leave, before it's too late."

Ryder blinked, watching as the homeless woman ambled away. There was little to say, whatever question rising drowned by the blare of a horn and the blinding veil of light. Eyes shielded, Ryder watched as a car nearly hit one of the many pillars of the bus stop as the tires bit, screaming, into the wet mud. When it came to a complete stop, the driver's door opened and a woman stepped out.

"There you are, Lux! Why didn't you answer your cell?"

"Because there's no signal, for one." Ryder retorted, grabbing the suitcase from the ground with a narrowed, deep-set scowl. The teen narrowed emerald eyes on the tall woman, watching as she shielded her face from the onslaught of wet, merciless water. Ryder stepped away from the bus stop, voice hard. "You confiscated my phone before you packed us up and moved, Margery."

"Don't call me that," the woman was glaring as she rounded the front of the car, wet within seconds as she continued, "No matter your decisions, or why we moved, or what you might be thinking right now, I am still, and always will be, your mother. You're my daughter, regardless of what you might have been before this. It will take time for all of us, so get used to it."

Ryder exhaled, focusing on the muscles in her shoulders and back. 'Lux. No, not anymore.'

She exhaled, muscles unwinding as she cast a look towards the bench. The homeless woman was gone, and Ryder paused. She had been there, moments before the car came flying in. She had sat down, on that bench. Marg paused at her side, quiet as her gaze followed the younger's.

Ryder said nothing as she turned, tossing her suitcase into the trunk.

"Let's go," she collapsed onto the passenger seat, head hitting the back of the seat as her gaze shifted towards the dark, empty bus stop stranded in the middle of a distant, remote forest. "Turn the heat up, will ya? I'm soaked and cold. Let's just get out of here."

Marg sat in the driver's seat. Ryder felt the stare, felt it boring into her face, before the car roared to life. The drive was a long one, and the town beyond was as remote and unwelcoming as the forest the teen had been forced to lurk in. Tall, grey buildings and wet, reflective asphalt.

'Fantastic, fan-fucking-tastic,' Ryder propped her elbow on the lip of the window, chin resting on her hand as she said, "And don't call me Lux, mother."

"And what would you have me call you?" They were turning onto another street, moving further and further from the crowded shopping district. Ryder turned her gaze on the woman driving, face impassive as she said, "You know my preferred name."

"It's your last name, Lux," Marg turned into a beaten driveway framed by stone walls, the worn pathway winding into fog and mist and shadows. Ryder huffed, sitting up as her gaze shifting to the looming shadow rising out of the darkness as she said, "Lux is what he called me. I don't want a name associated with him."

"And Ryder isn't associated?"

"No," Ryder breathed in, silently thankful when the car followed a circle driveway to stop in front of a three story building. She kicked the door open, voice carrying as she called back to her mother as she yelled, "I was never a Ryder, not the way everyone wanted me to be. Let's not forget the importance of following tradition; in other countries, it's rude to call strangers by anything other than their surname."

"We're not strangers!" A slam of a door and then hurried footsteps. Ryder didn't bother looking back, a trail of water following them both indoors as Marg pressed on, "You've changed, but you are still the child I gave birth to. Lux!"

Ryder shouldered her way through the doorway, scowling and eyes narrowed.

Max, her younger brother, stood in the foyer with sleep-laced eyes wearing nothing but a pair of loose, white pants. He followed her as she made her way deeper into the building, quiet but there. A constant presence that stalked her, and it was as she made up a flight of stairs that he finally asked, "You already know where your room is?"

"No," Ryder took the stairs three-at-a-time, glaring at her surroundings. 'What is this place, anyway?'

She paused at the first platform, exhaling as she eyed the second flight of stairs and the landing she had found herself on. There were three hallways, one to the left and right, and a single one straight ahead. The third looked to be connect on either side of the stairwell, and, as she made her way through, a backwards glance showed the wall where the steps rose was storage. "Does it really matter, though? Where I sleep?"

"Yeah, it kind of does..."

Ryder shot a look at her younger brother, slowing as he said, "You know how it goes. Mom, she's going to renovate this place. Flip it. Sell it. Whatever it is that she does. Use to be a hotel or something."

"Or something," Ryder slowed, eyeing the doors and the numbers. They were in the two-hundreds, at that moment. The door to her left was 237, the number-plaque faded and the once-black etchings dull and nearly gone. "It's an apartment complex, I think. Did she say how she got this place?"

Max gave her a long look, and Ryder raised one black eyebrow in question. He huffed, "Really?"

Ryder was tempted to cast a glare in his direction, but an elderly woman was hobbling her way down the stairs. Ryder felt her shoulders relax, a slow smile spreading across her face as the silver-haired woman, soft blue eyes alight with laughter and warmth, paused on the small landing between second and third floor.

"Granny," Ryder stepped on the staircase, slowing as her brother bounced past her and reached for the hand reaching for them as the old woman said, "If it isn't my own grandchild, at long last. My, you look different. Never thought I'd see you with longer hair. Or makeup, at that."

"A change was needed," Ryder stepped to the side, one hand coming up to ghost across Granny's back as the old woman made her way down the rest of the stairs. She kept her eye on her brother, who kept one hand clasped with their grandmother's. As they reached the second floor, Granny was saying, "I suppose that's true. Must be hard, going from Lu to the girl I see now. Might be a good change."

'Lu,' Ryder smiled, the expression not quite reaching her eyes. 'Never thought I'd hear that again.'

She and Max helped Granny down to the main floor, and she pointedly looked away from Marg as the woman came into the building with her suitcases. She watched as Max eased the older woman into a chair, and Ryder smiled when Granny said, "I swear, every year I get a little weaker. Soon enough, you'll be taking care of me! And it should be the other way around, don't you think?"

"Am I not a bit old to be taken care of, Granny?"

"Nonsense," Ryder blinked at the comment, and then shrugged. Behind her, Marg said, "I might as well show you to where you will be staying. It's on the third floor. Next month, you should be able to take the elevator up but until then..."

"I'm stuck walking. Got it," Ryder waited for her mother to take the lead, and then followed in her shadow while Max plopped down on a sheet-clad sofa to talk to Granny. Whispered conversation followed the two women up the stairs as Marg said, "Lu—Ryder, I know things between us haven't been good. It got worse, over the last few years...

"All I am trying to say is that this, this place, is a fresh start," They paused on the landing on the third floor, and Marg turned. Ryder caught her mother's gaze, silently holding it. Searching, eyes intent on every flicker of light and color in those intense blue eyes. So much like Granny's eyes, yet darker and filled with too many emotions. Ryder turned away, away from the spastic, mirage-like lines mucking up the air around her mother, as she said, "A redo? It's a bit late, don't you think? After everything that happened?"

"It's never too late."

Ryder said nothing in response, making her way down the hallway until her mother was forced to come after her. Neither said anything, as they made their way down the center hallway. Ignoring the ones branching off to the left and right, heading forward. Never a backward glance. As they neared the door at the end, the plaque bearing only three, bold black numbers, Ryder slowed.

319, the door read.

There was a slight jingling sound, and then a key was being pushed into the lock as Marg continued, "This room, it has the best view. Overlooks the backyard. A mess, still, but I think you'll like it. Has a porch, too. I think."

Marg stepped away, and Ryder, after glancing at her mother, pushed the door open. It swung soundlessly on its hinge, and the darkened shadows of the room seemed to swallow the light of the hallway that poured over the threshold. Stepping into the hallway of 319, Ryder let her gaze roam.

The hallway was small, more of a walkway than anything else. Straight ahead, the living area with a kitchen pressed to the left. The entranceway was roomy, the walls on either side bearing closed doors. On the left, the bathroom. Ryder stood in the doorway, gaze shifting from the white tiles of the floor to the open shadow and the toilet in the corner. Closing the door, her gaze shifted to the rest of the small apartment.

'My bedroom,' Ryder made her way past the kitchen counters, hand skimming the wall, into the living room. Spacious, a single lamp standing tall in the corner. The front room, it was empty for the most part. She turned, gaze shifting on a second hall with three doors. 'It's an apartment. Of course it's an apartment. This is an apartment complex. What else would my room be?'

Marge paused at her side. Neither said anything, just staring down the hallway before her mother said, "The rooms the left and right are empty. The door at the end leads to the utilities. There's a washer and dryer. You'll keep after yourself. The apartment's power is there, too."

Several minutes passed in silence, and then Marg added, "The balcony, it has two sets of doors. There's one there, in the living room."

Ryder turned from the hallway, making her way to the far end of the living space. There was thick drapes on the wall, a thick chain hanging on the right and left side of the wall. Marg grabbed the right one, pulling it. The curtains parted, and, on the right, the chain shortened as the curtain's skirts brushed across the ground. What lied behind the curtains was a sight that stole her breath.

Stained glass, the entire back wall was made of it. Most of it was a milky white, but the designs branching across it was reminiscence of a forest with glowing, bead-like leaves. Hundreds of small, pearl-like impressions flickered and glimmered, and, as Marg slid the doors open, sliding them apart to expose the outside, Ryder smiled. It was a soft smile, barely there. She hardly noticed, as Marg quietly stepped away.

After the door closed, leaving Ryder by herself in an empty apartment, she sunk to the ground. She propped her chin on her knees, gaze on the stained glass and the crowded and jungle-like mess that was once a garden. It would need a lot of work, if it was to be a sight of beauty once more. When her brother's voice called to her from the door, she looked up. Max grinned.

"It's time to eat," she rose to her feet, stomach growling as she dusted off her damp legs. The material wasn't sticking, anymore. He stepped to the side, as she reached the door. He offered his hand, and she took it as he said, "Granny made chicken. Smells like heaven. You ready to eat?"

"I'm starving," she closed the door behind herself, blinking as she eyed the key sticking out of the lock. She turned it, locking the apartment, and tucked the key into her pocket. Her gaze shifted to her brother as she said, "I hope Granny thought to make mashed potatoes. I've been craving 'em."

As she left the room, something within the apartment stirred.

The curtains fluttered, the stained doors easing shut. The lock turned. In the hallway leading towards the laundry room, the door on the left opened with a whispered sigh, the glass door frosted over as it creaked open. As the heat kicked on, the vents groaning as the doors shuddered in their frames, a darkened form walked across the balcony.

Author's Note

Greeting, one and all. You have officially reached the end of the first chapter of The Black Sacrament, a new story which I am excited to have begun. It is my hope that everyone will enjoy the story unfolding, as it is one which has risen, without warning, in my mind. I hope to hear from you all, and that you will all stay for the ride. The next chapter is soon to come, where more of the town and Ryder's new home will be explored.

Good Day, Goodnight, Don't Forget To Write (A Review)