The Martyr’s Vow Series, Book 1
Urban Fantasy / Horror
To Be Published: 12-12-2022
Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Armand Tarkanian is trapped in the ultimate dead-end job: embalming decedents under his abusive uncle’s watchful eye. Every day he goes through the motions, making death look beautiful while his life is anything but.
A car accident leaves him indebted to Berj, a mysterious man with rune-carved gold teeth and a penchant for worshipping old gods. Blackmailed and desperate, Armand feels more trapped than he was under his uncle’s thumb. But the embalmer harbors his own dark secret, a bloodline curse that allows him to communicate with the dead.
When the spirits show him how they were murdered, Armand must choose between fealty to the sadistic and manipulative Berj, or joining the Legion of the Lamb, a monster-hunting biker gang with their own agenda. What began as a dangerous game between secret societies has led Armand on a frightening quest to save the only family he’s ever known and a chance to get closer to the rebellious misfits who saved him.
Heartfelt and provocative, Accursed Son is a story featuring generational
clashes, found families, and the rewards of tempting fate.
THE DAMNED FAMILY
If most people knew the particulars of my career, they’d crawl back into their stuffy cubicles or retail hells and thank their lucky stars they don’t have to do what I do for a living.
For me, every day is the same. Only the bodies change.
Today it’s Mr. Haroutunian’s turn.
When I’m done with him, the former grandfather and insurance salesman sprawled on my porcelain table will look fabulous. That’s my unwritten guarantee.
My name is Armand Tarkanian, and I embalm corpses.
Not the greatest gig, but it’s the only one I know.
Of course, Mr. Haroutunian won’t look fabulous if I don’t focus on the work, so I manipulate the hose and soak him thoroughly, wetting his face, ears, and mouth. I clip the hose to the table with a suction cup and wash the rest of the body, giving Mr. Haroutunian one last shower. My gloved hands then massage his hairy arms and legs, easing the rigor mortis until those gray, lifeless limbs are pliable.
Feature-setting comes next. Plastic eye caps resembling pointy contact lenses slide over Mr. Haroutunian’s eyes, pinning them closed. I inject needles into the gums and wire his jaw shut so his mouth doesn’t flop open. He almost looks serene, like the old gent is napping.
I make a small incision above his collarbone with a scalpel and dissect the fascia with surgical instruments called aneurysm hooks, until I locate the jugular vein and carotid artery. I cut into both, then slip one end of a flexible tube into the carotid artery and attach the other to an embalming machine. A second tube runs from the jugular vein into a nearby sink. The machine clicks softly as it pumps a solution of formaldehyde, humectants, plasticizers, and dyes through Mr. Haroutunian. His blood cascades into the sink like a gurgling cranberry juice river.
Mr. Haroutunian’s pale skin blooms into a pinkish, life-like hue—though he remains quite dead.
It’s a beautiful and slightly disturbing transformation. I’m like a magician resurrecting the dead, except my magic is a cheap illusion. Smoke and mirrors. I preserve inanimate flesh for burial or cremation, nothing more.
Death isn’t pretty until I make it so.
Uncle George stands behind me, supervising my work like a teacher peering over a mischievous student’s shoulder. Drawn-faced, with hollow eyes and a wiry mustache, he resembles an old-timey silent movie villain.
“I knew Haroutunian from church,” Uncle George says in the driest way possible, a dull monotone he’s perfected. “We went way back. His viewing and funeral are tomorrow. The family spared no expense. Flowers have been coming in all day.”
I wipe the front and back of my hands on my polyethylene gown. “Since they spared no expense, maybe a bit of a pay raise is in the cards?” I nudge.
“You know money is tight, Armand,” Uncle George tells me. “We all have to make sacrifices.”
I pull the nitrile gloves from my sweaty hands and drop them in the trashcan.
“Sacrifices are all I make.” I sound exhausted, defeated. “Day in and day out, I’m burning my candle at both ends while you handle things upstairs. I could work in the office with you.”
“The office?” Uncle George stares at me like I sprouted another head. “Upstairs is not for you. What I do is delicate. Administration and bereavement counseling. It’s a skill—not a thing you learn in your,” – he makes a series of dismissive hand gestures — “school classes. You’re either good with people or you’re not. And Armand, you’re not good with people. No. You belong here, in the embalming room.”
“If I can’t grow here, then what’s the point?” I tell him. “Thirtysix years I’ve been cooped up in this town. Doing the same job isn’t healthy. I want to leave Fresno and discover what else is out there.”
Uncle George’s face wrinkles like he’s sucking a lemon. “Leave your family? This is where you belong.” He levels a stare my way. “I pay for your student loans, and I put you up in my house. Your life is pretty good here. A little gratitude won’t kill you.”
“I’ve given you nothing but gratitude,” I reply. “I’ve given you respect. All I want is for someone to listen to me.”
“You’re just having a bad day,” Uncle George tells me.
“Bad day? I’m broke! Between you charging me rent and paying my student loans from my salary, I’m practically an indentured servant,” I reply.
“I pay you just fine.”
“Not enough to save. How can I buy a car or leave Fresno?”
He dismisses my concerns with another hand wave. “You know what your problem is, Armand? You want to work in the office, you want to leave Fresno, and you want to get paid more. You can’t commit to one thing.”
“I’ve been committed to this,” I say. “I’ve been committing the hell out of this for years.”
“And you’ll continue to commit,” Uncle George’s voice is sharper than the scalpel I used to cut open Mr. Haroutunian. “As long as you’re a Tarkanian, you’re a team player.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply, then attend to the best and deadest insurance salesman in Fresno.
If only I had picked the garden trowel during Agra Hadig, my life would’ve been different.
When an Armenian baby gets its first tooth, the family drapes a veil over the teething baby’s head and showers it with pelted wheat. After much fanfare, the bewildered infant is placed in front of a series of objects and is made to choose one. The first thing baby picks determines their future profession.
Choose money, and you’ll be a banker. Pick the hammer, and you’re a builder. Scissors predict a tailor or seamstress, while a knife foretells a surgeon or doctor. Grab a book, and you’re a teacher, or a pencil for an exciting writer’s life.
That’s the Agra Hadig ceremony. Fatalism at its finest.
My mother once told me that my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a farmer, so he carefully positioned a garden trowel in front of me. But someone casually discarded a toy motorcycle on the floor, and that’s what I picked instead.
Dad seized the motorcycle from my stubby little baby hands and forced me to select something else. He said no son of his would suffer the vulgar indignities that comes with riding a motorcycle. My second choice was a knife, and as far as the family was concerned, fate chose me for Uncle George’s funeral home.
About the Author
Eric Avedissian is an adjunct professor and speculative fiction author. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and a ridiculous number of books. When not chained to his writing desk, he hikes the Pinelands and wastes too much time on social media.
Accursed Son is his first novel.
Visit him online at http://www.ericavedissian.com and on Twitter: @angryreporter.