totem illustration of the arcane mandate horror short story
Image credit: simonwijers via Pixabay

Horror Short Story

‘Arcane Mandate’ by Stewart Storrar

I woke up earlier today. The rains were dormant, waiting, and I needed to finish what I had started. The house was fairly empty, only my mother was home, and she was still fast asleep. It was five in the morning and the sun hadn’t started the day yet.

I swung my legs out from under my bed. I felt the harsh, splintered floor boards poke at my feet and so I pulled on a pair of thick woollen socks first before anything else. I then decided to pull on my cargo trousers, a thin cotton top,  and a woollen fleece; I was wrapped up to defend against the chill from the Alaskan highlands. I pulled on my sturdy walking boots and reached for my raincoat. Having wrapped myself up, I grabbed my hunting knife and my Jō Staff. It was time to leave.

A small note was left in my wake, sitting atop the kitchen counter and I was off. I left without making much sound and had packed my lunch in my sling bag. The brisk morning air stole my first few breaths from me, before I was able to acclimatise to the dying remnants of the night’s chill.

The walk had only begun. I had made it countless times before to make sure I was capable of its completion within the time frame. Today was the day, I had waited months for this moment, and everything so far was perfect. All I needed to do was get to where I was going. If by some feat I failed due to the timings, I dread to contemplate what that would mean. Nothing needed to go wrong but, usually, things always did. This was my third attempt and this time I was going to get it right.

Failure was not an option now.

I managed to reach the first totem in time. This was met by an overwhelming sense of not only satisfaction, but relief. I glared to the pine tree towering up towards the heavens and it was most certainly the one. It wasn’t hard to identify the totem as it was near impossible to miss the various pins stabbed to the tree’s bark in a wide, circular fashion. I took a moment to admire the craftsmanship of the spectacle. 

Before long I sat my sling bag down and unzipped it to begin my search. It had taken longer than I had hoped before I pulled out the small metal tin that I was looking for. I opened this tin to reveal my insect for this year; a house spider. It was already dead. Taking the pin that was also stored inside the tin container, I gently began the delicate process of stripping the limbs from the creature. One by one, the long, thin legs were pulled from the carcass using the needle. The process took around a minute meaning I was still on schedule. Finally, I slid the pin through the main body of the dead spider and pinned it to the tree. One down, three to go.

I packed up my kit fairly quickly and gave a quick glance to my wristwatch. It was only quarter to six and I was already on my way to the second totem. I needed to be careful. There had been previous occasions where I overshot a specific totem and arrived far too early. I could not allow the same mistakes to happen again and again. After all, repetition of the same thing over and over again expecting something to change was (apparently) the definition of madness. Strange that. If Einstein had indeed said it, or at least something to that effect, then it must have some grain of truth to it.

Marching onward the dawn began to make its presence known to the new day. The sun was no longer a soft glow on the horizon as its powerful, auburn rays cut across the forest behind me. That meant I was heading in the right direction; west. I did spare a thought about the weather forecast. It was unusual that it was wrong but that did not affect anything, not really.

It took just under an hour to reach the next totem. It was exactly as I had left it. The tree itself was home to old, rusted nails I had hammered in on my last attempt. I sat my kit down and rummaged about until my hand found the tough wooden handle of my claw hammer. I pulled it from the bag and made use of the claw side to pull the nails from the trunk and pocket them. With the rusted nails clanking around in my pocket, I knelt down and picked up the grey squirrel by its tail. The limp body of the creature swayed and the blood stained fur giving off a metallic aroma. It had only been dead a day and I was thankful no wildlife had claimed it for their own use. Last year a wolf had made off with my kill.

I wasted no time and fetched a nail from my pocket. I positioned the squirrel appropriately and with a few direct strokes of the hammer, nailed its tail to the trunk of my second totem. Although the creature had been dead for a day, fresh blood spurted from the flesh with each blow. I felt the cold trickles off the liquid on my face but continued nonetheless. After hammering its tail to the trunk, I completed my piece with all four limbs. I stood up and took a few steps back. It was upside down and perfectly aligned in the centre of the tree’s truck. I gave it a short, yet respectful, bow. It needed recognition for its sacrifice. It had died for my needs, my cause, but it was a noble way to go. For a squirrel at least.

My final totem was the farthest away meaning the last stretch of my journey was going to be the most tiring. I took one last look at the second totem and packed up my things to  began the ‘long slog’ of the pilgrimage. It was the last leg and by far the hardest to complete. It wasn’t so much the distance of the totem but more the final totem preparation that was difficult. It had always been the final totem that had failed me in previous years. This year was going to be different. This year I was going to finish what I started.

I reached the final totem on time. I could smell it long before I could actually see it. Part of the reason it was so far out was due to the smell it gave off. The secrets of the mandate had to stay hidden. They were royal. Arcane, even.

The first thing that hit me was always the smell of rot. Not the damp, decaying rot of the tree but rather the rot of past years’ chosen. This year it smelled particularly bad. The fact the pig had been a chosen last year was most likely part of the reason why. Those animals practically lived in their own filth for the majority of their lives. After the smell, came the bones. The old, decayed, stained bones of the chosen. The past three years had spawned countless carcasses. I had gone on a few practice runs, but even the practice runs needed real chosen. I wouldn’t dare disrespect without a real chosen, even if it were a mere practice run.

Then, it was the totem itself. It was the epitome of death. The smell was rancid and overpowering. It looked horrific; like something out a cheap horror movie. Except this was no cheap horror movie. This was the real deal. The old, blood stained the pine. The bits of flesh, the shards of bone, the fragments of skulls; it was all real. Most importantly, it was all me.

This year, however, was going to be different. This year I would complete the mandate. My ticket to salvation lay at the base of the tree and she looked terrified. In another life she may have been my second half, she was certainly pretty enough.

She knew what was going to happen now. Be that as it may, it was time to prepare the last totem.

About This Horror Short Story

The Arcane Mandate is a horror short story written by Scottish writer Stewart Storrar. Stewart lives in Glasgow with his cat Houdini and enjoys writing Sci Fi, Horror, and the various sub-genres these genres own! His inspirations are 2000AD, the lovecraftian mythos, Star Wars, and the Halo universe (among other things). While Stewart mainly writes sci fi, he does enjoy penning the occasional horror short story – mostly cosmic horror.

You can find him over on YouTube – where he makes videos about his hobbies; skateboarding and filmmaking.

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