A Note From the Author:
I lived in Armenia for two years (between 1995-97) as a Peace Corps volunteer. While I never visited NAGORNO-KARABAKH itself, I do recall being able to see the comet HALE-BOPP, which was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months as it passed by our planet. In ancient times comets were always seen as harbingers of evil, and since Hale-Bopp was the most widely observed extraterrestrial body of the 20th century, it made sense to use it here. I don’t really believe comets can turn nuns into depraved, murdering nymphomaniacs, but it does make a good basis for a story. When I first saw Hale-Bopp it looked like it was dragging a long stand of hair behind it, so I called it after BARBARICCIA, one of the demons in Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” whose name means “curly beard,” in Italian.
Throughout this story I use certain terms which, if you are not familiar with Armenian history, will mean very little, but I find fascinating none the less. URARTU was an Iron Age, proto-Armenian kingdom centered around Lake Van in what is now modern-day Turkey. It flourished between 860 BC and 590 BC. Both ARAMAZD and VAHAGN are ancient gods from the pre-Christian Armenian pantheon. Likewise, SHUSHA and STEPANAKERT are cities in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, though in the story I call them villages to make them seem more isolated. THE MASHTOTS INSTITUTE OF ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS, commonly referred to as the Matenadaran, is a repository of books and scrolls located in Yerevan. It holds one of the richest collections of medieval manuscripts in the world, which spans a broad range of subjects; including history, philosophy, medicine, primitive magic and poetry.
Finally, the time this story takes place, 1997, was chosen partly because it was when I was there and partly because the cease-fire that had been declared some years before seemed, at the time, on the verge of collapsing. The area is mostly mountainous and forested, deep in the heart of the South Caucasus. At one time the territory was recognized as part of Azerbaijan, so a war was fought from 1988 to 1994, between the ethnic Armenian civilians and soldiers from Azerbaijan who were attempting to crush their secessionist movement. Even as late as 1997 I was told not to travel in the southern part of Armenia, for shelling was still going on between the armies. This morning (June 5th, 2012) the BBC reported Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of violating its border and killing five of its soldiers, a day after three Armenians were killed in the same area. In such a war-torn region I think it is very possible to imagine otherworldly forces at work; false prophets that whisper in the shadows that war, like evil, can somehow be exorcised, when, in fact, it can only be endured. Perhaps that is why we have the gift of the orgasm, so that we can survive by cumming as the world burns around us. Perhaps.
* * *
“On days, like this, in times like these
I feel an animal deep inside.
The Sisters of Mercy, This Corrosion.
The memory of pleasure gnaws at her, as all memories gnaw upon the lives of nuns and demon slayers. Consequently, Sister Sevana, named after that mountain lake with deep purple waters high up in the Caucasus mountains, a woman known as a divine soothsayer and a holy sorceress of the Armenian Apostolic Church, wrote down this account of the beginning and the end of the Daemon of Karabakh. When the task was done and the last surviving nun who witnessed the carnage had signed her name as well, the manuscript was sealed up in a bronze box and set into a secret chamber within the Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, a curious building in the heart of the city of Yerevan; so that, if there ever came a time when another war swept the mountains of Nagorno-Karabakh, perhaps then the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan would read about the wickedness their enmity had helped to create and, perhaps, seek an alternative path than bloodshed. Perhaps. However, this first war happened at end of the 20th century, a most cynical age and the blood-dimmed tide that consumed those after the fall of the Soviet Union made Nagorno-Karabakh look less like the Biblical Eden and more like everlasting Purgatory. Dark forces were at work at that time, a time when modern science had rooted out the evil that lurked in the hearts of men as nothing more than a few faulty synapses and traumatic childhoods. That hardly explained anything. Death, for many, like sex, is a mystery that we surround with fear; though it still happened every day around the world, like cheap clockwork, like badly-made pornography, regardless of what the square-toed prophesiers of psychology might say.
Even as a demon slayer, it would be wrong to say Sister Sevana was an outcast or heretic of the Church, for that would imply the Church hierarchy knew what she was doing. Friends were told that she was a librarian, colleagues thought of her as a scholar, albeit one whose topics were not talked about in polite circles. She kept strange hours. Her door to her office was almost always locked and a curious smell, not sulfur per se, but what was it? hung in the hallway late at night when no one else was there. The truth was that the sister trafficked in spirits, elementals they were called and spent more time summoning and controlling them than writing research grants or cataloging manuscripts. Just that evening she had been with a spirit of water, an elemental she had drawn down from a deep mountain pond she had visited the week before. To call it “male” or “female” would be far too imaginative. It had no human-like shape, rather it hung in the pentagram she had drawn on the floor as a complex, twisting spray, forever turning in upon itself, staring at the woman in front of it with what passed as eyes. But its leer was every ounce lascivious, a leer she had seen often enough from men in all walks of life. It wasn’t that it made her uncomfortable, sex never had, rather it was just disappointing that certain spirits had become, over the centuries, so mundanely human.
The nun wasn’t anything special to look at, the spirit thought, turning around and around in its held captivity; curly black hair, weird silver eyes, middle aged, perhaps. No Scheherazade, not even Cleopatra, but a bit alright.
“Nice titties, lady,” the spirit said, making a sound like rain water hitting a hot frying pan.
Sevana didn’t even wince, so fucking predictable. One was not raised in Armenia as a woman and shatter at the first crude word spoken; especially when sexual harassment was a national pastime for half the country.
“Classy. If we’re going to do this we might as well get it over with,” the nun said, grabbing the hem of her business shirt, pulling it over her head and off her arms.
The elemental remained silent for a moment. It had heard of fucking, “carnal congress of the highest order,” as one fire spirit had called it, but this was the first time it had been confronted with the offer. In theory it shouldn’t be a problem, it was pure water, after all, it could go anywhere.
Without wasting another second she pulled the shoulder straps of her bra down her arms and shrugged them off, letting her breasts swing free as she stared at the rotating form before her. Every time she had done this in the past the spirit had asked her what form would be most pleasant for her and she had answered female, for with that came a level of tenderness and compassion she had never experienced from male elementals. Still, a good hard fuck as a reward for revealing knowledge of the spirit world had pluses too. That was the one thing all the spirits asked for and got; the human orgasm was unlike anything else in creation, a power that the elementals could not attain for themselves but hungered after. She was sure that this spirit, once it wrapped itself around her double D’s, would tell her everything she wanted to know.
Sevana stepped out of her shoes as she unbuttoned the trousers and stood on one foot to pull them off, tossing them after the bra and shirt into a heap. The water element had always wondered what modern nuns wore under their habits. The few it had seen pre-dated the Inquisition and were truly disappointing as panties went. No wonder only Christ wanted to be their brides. Sevana’s pink bikini underwear surprised it, but not for long, since they too joined the pile of clothing in quick succession.
“Are you ready?” the nun asked.
The elemental tittered as it ogled Sevana’s milk-white tits, her slightly rounded belly, plump thighs and the untrimmed curly hair, a black hedge of a Y between her legs, that matched the flowing mane on her head. Perhaps it had gotten humans all wrong. After all, human female cum was the most potent substance on the planet, it could do anything, even give something as alien and non-human as an elemental an orgasm. It was why witches were so powerful and warlocks so … impotent; they had nothing to offer. Trading sacred knowledge for that was worth it, the spirit thought. Especially considering the evil that was lurking in the world today. Who knew if this chance would ever come again?
1997 was a queer year … even for the disembodied.
As it turned out the rise of the Daemon of Karabakh was synchronic with the coming in the night sky of the comet researchers called Hale-Bopp, a smear of pale light which rose behind Capricorn in the early summer. One could sit in one’s apartment in Yerevan and watch its path from their bedroom window, such a curious heavenly body, the tail of which spread out, unspooling its stardust guts far behind it. The harbinger brought with it strange tidings from the Nagorno-Karabakh region as well, releasing a fear like pestilence in its pale wake, for this was a land that laid covered in ancient forests, where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of things that were neither mortal nor divine, that fed in the shadows. Soon the rumor of a strange evil, a foulness unheard of in any hand-written book or passed down legend was told among the local people and they despaired.
Sevana knew nothing of this, of course, at the time. She had more pressing matters, for fucking an elemental is not like fucking a mortal. They fuse with you, transform you, convert you into the same substance as they are … sometimes. True, their orgasms tended to be skull-shatteringly strong, but all spirits are perverse creatures and Sevana knew that this one would not stop until it had had its fill of her, regardless of how many hours, days or years that might be.
“Here I come,” the nun said, smiling slightly and stepped into the pentagram.
Sister Dzovinar, a nun from the Aramazd Convent in the village of Shusha, was the first to witness the horror as it spread across the largely bomb-shelled villages of the region. Returning late to the nunnery from an errand in Stepanakert, Dzovinar was overtaken by nightfall. No moon arose to escort her through the forest; but, between the misty and moist boughs of old, fantastic oaks, she looked up and saw the weird, portentous tail of the comet far overhead, which seemed to guide her as she went. Sister Dzovinar felt an eery fear issuing from the grave-dark shadows all around her. Having spent so much time in the forest the sister attempted to use old-fashion gumption and logic to calm her goose bumps, but found both unequal to the task. Passing among the trees that towered thickly around the road that led to the village of Shusha, she thought that she discerned a light, as if from a hut and was cheered by the sight. But, continuing on, she saw that the light was, in fact, moving; flitting like a speckled willow-the-wisp or a bog-flame, changing color as it went, once becoming pale as an electrical spark then turning red as fresh as blood then oddly green like a hellish nimbus.
Dzovinar knew that men could commit any sort of abominations during wartime, but until that night she had never seen the essence of an abomination loping along on four feet, snuffling at the earth as it went. What Dzovinar beheld, the wicked shape, stopped her in her tracks. Shadows revealed a dimly lit hunch with glowing yellow eyes, a wide ass and a row of teats, oddly human in their naked splendor, swaying back and forth as it moved. This much, but no more, Dzovinar saw before the thing loped past her with its halo of flaring sparks, turning from venomous purple to a wrathful pink, disappearing finally among the gnarled oaks.
Nearly crippled with fear, Dzovinar reached her nunnery, where she plead for admittance. The eunuch boy from the village (the war having taken both his manhood and any desire for carnal lust), who served as both porter and guard of the old, outer gate, upon hearing Dzovinar’s tale of what she had seen in the moonless woods, flung the gate open and ushered her quickly inside.
By ten o’clock the next morning a dead sheep had been found in a field behind the village of Shusha. It had been ripped open, but not by a wolf or a soldier or a hunter, for the wide gash that had laid open the spine, from neck to tail, was almost surgical in its exactitude. The spine itself had been literally ripped from the body, the white marrow sucked dry; but no other portion had been devoured. Azeri soldiers had been spotted scouting out the hills less than a month ago, but this was not a simple act of poaching. No one could guess the nature of the man that slew it, since none of God’s beasts, the nuns reasoned, would only mutilate the spine. But some of the sisters, mindful of the story told by their beloved Dzovinar, believed that something else was, perhaps, awake and stirring in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Now, night by night, the comet grew brighter across the sky, a burning mist of cosmic blood while the stars paled all around it. Day by day, from soldiers and peasants, from former KGB agents sent out to investigate, from woodcutters and American tourists who had snuck into the region for the thrill of it, rumors began to circulate at the convent; the Aramazdi nuns heard tales of fearsome, mysterious desecrations. Dead wolves were found with their backs laid open, the spinal marrow all gone. One night an ox, the next a horse, were mutilated in a similar fashion. Then, it seemed, the unknown daemon grew bolder.
At first, it did not hunt the living, choosing to assault the dead, for at times of war the body count is always high and so it lived like some foul carrion bottom-feeder. Two freshly buried corpses, villagers caught in a cross-fire battle between Armenian and Azerbaijan soldiers, were found lying in the cemetery at Stepanakert where the thing had apparently dug them up from their very graves; it had drawn out their vertebrae with brutish force. On the following night two wood cutters who lived out in the dark in a little hut were slain in their beds. Other villagers, dwelling close at hand, heard the hideous screams that then were cut short. Peering fearfully through their bolted windows they saw, loping away in the starlight, the black, obscene shape and smelled a curious musk on the air that reminded them of a female dog in heat, one that had been rolling around in hot tar, perhaps. Perhaps. Not until dawn did they dare to confirm the fate of their neighbors who had been ripped open in the same manner as the sheep, the wolves and the freshly interred corpses.
Armineh, the mother superior of Shusha, was exhausted over the evil that had chosen to manifest itself in their neck of the woods, an evil whose ravages were all committed within a few hours journey of the convent. Pale and clammy from weeks of self-discipline and the foolishness of celibacy, she called the nuns before her in an assemblage to address the women.
“Yes,” Armineh said, “there is a great evil among us that has come with the comet we call Barbariccia. We, the Sisters of Shusha, must go forth with holy words and rain water to hunt down the daimon that is hidden among us.”
“Hidden among us? Like a peeping tom?”
“Not another purging,” muttered Sister Yeranouhi to Sister Varteni.
Later that afternoon Mother Superior Armineh, together with Sister Dzovinar and a dozen others, strode out, making a search of the forest grounds for miles all around. Cassocks are rough things to hike about in and soon every woman’s ass and nipples were chapped by the rough fabric. Still, defeating evil at end of the 20th century takes on a certain amount of obligation. They entered the woods with crucifixes and bic lighters but found no fiercer thing than a wild goat and a Pallas’s cat up in a tree that hissed at them and sprang away. Then they searched the crumbling vaults of the deserted castle of Jajtam Vret, which was said to be haunted by scantily-clad devil women with red skin and Sapphic impulses, but nowhere could they trace the daemon or find any sign of its lair.
As the long summer went by the killing continued. The villagers, who simply called the daemon, “The Daemon,” found their numbers dwindling even more rapidly as the war between the two countries dragged on. Men, women and children began to disappear at night in twos and threes, for the beast ranged abroad at times, even out to the Zontik waterfalls along the Janapar trail, as well as to the gates of the Gandzasar monastery itself. There were those who had laid eyes on it during the night, but always their stories told of a black, foulness clad in ever-changing luminescence. Always the thing was silent, uttering no sound, being swifter in its motion than the mountain wolf or the desert vulture.
One time it was seen in moonlight by the nunnery’s gardens while it glided toward the forest between rows of tomatoes and turnips. Then, coming in darkness, it struck within the walls, taking old Sister Satenik, slumbering on her thin mattress at the end of the dormitory. The crime was not discovered until dawn, when the nun who slept next to Satenik woke up. She saw her friend’s body laying face downward with the back of her robe ripped down the middle, the flesh beneath it in bloodstained shreds, what remained of the bones all exposed.
A week later, the Daemon came again, this time murdering Sister Heghane. In spite of contacting the village police, performing exorcisms, even sprinkling of holy water on all windows and doors, the thing was seen soon afterward gliding along the midnight halls of the nunnery. It left blasphemous signs painted in, what appeared to be one of the nun’s own menstrual blood, up on the walls of the chapel. Many believed that it menaced the mother superior herself; for Sister Erebuni, the Obedientiary, returning from a visit from the village Hadrut, saw it by starlight as it climbed over the high wall, heading directly toward that window of Armineh’s cell which faced the forest. Seeing Erebuni, however, the thing dropped to the ground like a huge wolf, bounding away among the knobbled trees.
Pale and exhausted the mother superior grew gaunt as she kept to her cell in unremitting prayer for deliverance, whipstitching her flesh until she tottered about, weak from loss of blood; her prayers unanswered, a feverish, wasting illness seeming to devour not just her body but her soul as well.
Even as the beast haunted the nunnery, rumors were told that the horror traveled far over mountain and valley, even invading larger towns. Toward the middle of August, when the comet was beginning to fade a little in the sky, there occurred the heartbreaking death of Sister Lusine, the beloved, elderly aunt of Armineh herself, slaughtered by the Daemon in her cell all the way over at the Vahagn Convent of Stepanakert. On this occasion the monster was seen by neighbors down in the streets. Reports were that it climbed the city ramparts like some enormous ape or spider and then fled from Stepanakert into the war-torn dark.
In the dead nun’s cell, it was told, the pious Lusine had a letter from her niece, Armineh, in which the mother superior had spoken at some length of the horrendous happening at her nunnery. She had confessed her despair at being unable to cope with the diabolical thing.