(Sorry for the late post. I am still editing this with my friend before I post to Reedsy. Hope you enjoy this short story! Look for one tomorrow based off our, “Writing Hero’s prompt. Warning - graphic and dark content)
“Everything was ready for the ritual,” I said to myself as my skeletal hand reached out to pull on the beaded cord of the dated light in my basement. The shallow pool of light shone upon rusty shelves overflowing with assorted tools and, as Johnny saw it, useless junk.
Of course, it was not his own, not the reason he was in the dark crypt of a room. A thin haze of dust floated before his eyes. He pulls away a plastic crate full of his parent’s unused electronics and cords.
He nonchalantly drops the box on the floor after struggling to lift it off the shelf. He pushes back his jet-black long hair. He takes in a deep breath, whistling out the corner of his lips as if puffing out the remnants of cigarette smoke. Some of which arises because of his minimal clothing that comprised just a band tee, deep blue flannel shirt, black hoodie with a pentagram over his heart, and faded jeans, in the room that felt more like a walk-in freezer than a basement.
Johnny reaches into the hole where the crate once was, struggling to find anything tangible. He reaches around for a while, to no avail.
His eyes grow as wide as an owl in the night, as does his mouth as he rips out his hand. He lets out a short shrill he prays did not wake his parents. Atop his veiny hand crawls up a big black tarantula, making its way up to his wrist. He flicks his wrist back and forth, but the stubborn beast somehow holds tight.
Johnny gains the courage to flick away the spider that flies into the darkness. He tugs at the inner seams of his flannel shirt. He looks to the ceiling as if looking at some dirty and lets out a deep breath that freezes and soon dissipates like the ghost whose stare burned into him ever since he walked into the room.
That was a notion that chilled his entire body and left goosebumps from his head to his toes. After the brief, what felt like a possession, Johnny bends down, sitting on his haunches. He pulls out his father's old toolbox, which he never uses. His father was never a practical man, and neither was his father before that.
So instead, Johnny keeps his ritual devices stowed inside, hiding in plain sight. He lifts the latch-locked box’s dilapidated head. His hair falls over his eye once more. Johnny pushes it back over his ear like a girl to reveal a bruise, typically veiled by his black curtain-style hair. Which itself was of style... as was Satanism.
Long after the Satanic Panic of the eighties, here were Johnny and his friends conjuring up demons of the past. A trend that made him hated by his peers and parents. One of which he closes his eyes when he recalls the time they put their fingers in his face saying, “what a waste.” Before letting their brawny hand fall to their side.
One of which he hated to the point he considered putting a hex on him. However, his friends and he had other plans. Plans that they arranged for the past month, right until a night like that one where the moon would be full and the night right for... the ritual.
It was the first ritual Johhny performed minus the small animal sacrifice he once performed on a rabbit he stoned. Which Johhny in fact was that night. Making a small rabbit sacrifice that would please only his late-night thirst for blood.
This sacrifice was different. It, of course, involved a vessel that one of his friends got on a hunting trip with his father. Hoping he would turn from his ways to a life of hunting. Of course, that was never the case. Ever since Johnny requested a vessel, Case planned to get his hunting license and his father’s approval for once in his life.
It, however, was short-lived as he told Johhny. His father slapped him as soon as he heard he was going out with Johhny and Brandon. He even told Johhny at lunch he ran straight to their garage to rip the corpse of its chains.
Johnny was set to meet Case and Brendon at Blood Lake just before midnight when the ritual would have occurred no minute later. It wasn't always called Blood Lake, but after its colored history, the name seemed fitting than crystal lake. So much so, one of the local teenagers spray painted a large x over the crystal lake. Spray painting blood over it in large print.
Because of its history, it was the perfect place to perform the ritual. A ritual Johnny only needed a few more things for before he set off. Inside the toolbox, he finds some blood-red rope, a knife, a wooded crucifix, a journal embroidered with a makeshift pentagram.
Johnny slams shut the toolbox. Suddenly, above him, he hears creaks follow. His house was nosey ever since he was a child and it petrified him, as it does now. Johnny looks up and follows the creaks with his eyes. Footfalls move across the room above him, his parent's room. He suspects it is just his father waking up for his three-a.m glass of water, or occasionally, whiskey.
Johnny felt his hot breath breathing down his neck at that moment. He whips his head around. Instead of seeing his father leering at him, he sees nothing but darkness. This is soon after interrupted by more creaks from above. Johnny hunches down as dust falls from the ceiling like snow.
Some of which peppers Johhny’s black hair. Johnny shakes his head to push back his hair.
His eyes traverse across the room with the footfalls from above. The footfalls continue until they reach the opposite end of the room, then they stop.
A bead of sweat trickles down his cheek as his eyes well. He gulps and his prominent Adam’s apple travels down his throat.
In the room's corner, Johnny hears a deep growl. He fears the demon may be in the room with him now. After all, the room was frigid, and it was almost twelve.
Johnny’s eyes fall upon the corner to see two reflective eyes staring into his soul. Threatening to tear at his thin neck with its bony teeth.
Johnny shoves all he needs for the ritual into his pockets. He slowly rises to his feet to escape the demon.
The growling seizes, and the room fills with an unbearable silence momentarily. The demon breaks the same silence, emerging from the shadows. Prompting Johnny to sprint out the open door to the room. He looks back to see his dog, Buster, testing the strength of his chain, trying him to the wall.
Johnny continues his sprint. By now he has reached the foyer, but before he can turn around to see his obstacle, round right into it. It falls on its back and Johnny almost loses his balance and falls right onto it. He smells its foul odor and recognizes it immediately.
Comes out of his mouth in a slur. Johnny springs past him but before he can escape his grasp, it grabs his pant leg. Johnny flails his leg around.
“Where are you going?”
Johnny's eyes go wide once more. He shoved his hand in his right pocket, producing the knife. As he swipes at the hand, blood spills onto his flannel jacket. The crucifix falls out of his pocket as he frees himself from his grasp.
“Ah! Johnny, what the hell?”
Johnny continues on, paying no mind to his knife... or his wound on his wrist. Adrenaline drives him to the front door that he pulls. Multiple locks and a chain lock it after the last time Johnny “sneaked out.”
Johnny undoes each chain, one by one. From behind him, he hears.
“Johnny? Is that you?”
Johnny undoes the final lock on the handle itself. He looks back to see his frail mother at the top of the stairs like an ethereal presence.
“I’m sorry Mom.”
Johnny opens the door as the cool breeze pushes its way in.
“Johhny, you get back here this instant!”
Johnny slams the door behind him and runs to his father's car.
He reaches out for the door handle and sees for the first time the blood on his sleeve. His hands tremble and he grabs it with the other and pulls it to his side. He reaches with the other hand, which is also trembling, but less severe, and opens the door. He gets in as a crushed beer can fell out. He slams the door shut behind him.
He pulls down the sun visor, looking for the keys to no avail.
“Johnny! Get back here!” Johnny flips up the visor to see his mother coming down the porch in her long cardigan. Johnny reaches over and opens the middle console. He sorts through multiple speeding tickets and more beer cans. He slams it shut. His mother, by now, was only a few feet away from the truck. Johnny gulps and reaches over to his side once more. This time opening the glove compartment.
He finally finds the brass keys and puts them in. The ignition sputters but the engine does not start. Johnny whispers something under his breath as he closes his eyes. He turns the key a final time, and the engine roars to life.
His mother slams on the hood of the car and Johhny shields his face.
“Get out of the truck... Now!”
He immediately shifts the car into reverse and the car reverses rapidly, kicking up clouds of dust that make his mother gag.
He shifts it into drive and speeds off into the night. Putting up his hood as he takes a deep breath
It is not until eleven-thirty, twenty minutes after he was supposed to, that he arrives at Blood Lake. Speeding past its graffitied sign. He soon after arrives at an open gate he pushes past, noticing the chain on the side that is momentarily illuminated by his headlights. It's as if he was entering the gates of Hell.
He soon after pulls up to a vacant parking lot minus a car and a truck similar to his own. Two demons that emerge from out of the trees meet Johnny. One raising its arms up in exclamation.
Johnny parks next to the truck and the headlights hang on the two figures moving closer to the car. Johnny turns off the engine and the headlights flicker off. The demons steadily approach in pitch-black darkness.
Johnny gets down from the truck and slams the door shut, which shakes the entire car back and forth. The demons are only a few feet in front of him, but Johnny is not afraid. Johnny puts down his hood as they do the same, like they had some sort of secret greeting. The cricket filled one of them, asking a question that broke the silence.
“What took you so long, man?”
The other crosses his arms and asks.
“Yeah man, what gives?”
Johnny puts up his hands and says.
“Look, it’s not my fault. See Buster and my Dad...”
One of them points towards his bloody sleeve, and Johnny covers it with the other.
“What do you mean it's nothing?”
“Yeah, don't tell me you're killing bunnies again. I didn't go out into the middle of nowhere for your petty black magic.”
Johnny sweats profusely, but it is covered by the night.
“Like I said... It's nothing. I promise.”
The one with his arms crossed lifts his overlaying sleeve.
“Doesn't look like nothing.”
The other crosses his arms. Johnny retracts them and buries them in his pockets. The other uncrosses his arms.
“Wait. This doesn't have something to do with your Da...”
“It’s not like that!”
Johnny screams in rebuttal. So loud a flock of crows deserts a tree. They all watch them as they do and the one who seems to be the leader crosses his arms again as he turns to Johhny.
“Oh yeah. What's it like then?”
Johnny shakes his head, sighs, and walks past him, intentionally running into his shoulder.
The others follow him and one calls out.
“Look man, the ritual requires complete honesty from the conjurors.” Johnny stops and clenches his fists. He turns like a toy soldier doing an about-face.
“Look, I killed another rabbit, okay? Happy?”
One of them crosses his arms.
“I told you.”
Johnny rolls his eyes and continues on as they follow.
“Where is this stupid place, anyway?”
“Right by the lake. Where that old man...”
Johnny looks back again.
“I don't wanna hear it. It had a crappy enough night as it is.”
He uncrosses his arms and raises them up as if being arrested.
“Okay, okay. Sheesh.”
After a while, they arrive at the shimmering lake, illuminated by the pale moonlight. Where the corpse of buck, encompassed by a pentagram traced into the sand, resides. A breeze freezes Johnny like some sort of omen. He crosses his arms in frustration as he approaches the corpse.
Once he and his friends arrive, Johnny unloads his pockets, throwing them all to the ground.
“There, now get it over with.”
Johnny retreats to a nearby tree engraved with a similar pentagram.
“Where’s the cross?"
Johnny halts looks at the pile of ritualistic devices, then looks up at Case.
“I don't know, man. Figure it out.”
Johnny turns around and continues towards the tree.
“It doesn't work without the cross. Even less without three.”
“Not my problem man!”
Johnny shrills out as he is, but a few feet away from the tree.
Case grabs Johnny and puts him in a headlock. Johnny flails his arms around and he rotates his head. However, it is of no use seeing Case was always stronger than him after he joined the football team, and Johnny hated him for it.
“What’s wrong buddy? Still pissed no one will smoke with you anymore? “
Brendan yells from behind. Case only grips tighter as Johnny squirms around.
“No, let me guess. You still got Daddy issues, don't you.” Johnny’s eyes widen, and he takes out the one thing he didn't put into the pile.
“Say you'll perform the ritual with us! Say... Ah!”
Johnny slits his forearm that pours blood onto the sand. Case is bent over, covering his arm.
“You little shi...”
“...Johnny, what the hell, man?”
“I’m gonna kill you. You little twat!”
Case rushes towards him, fists raised.
Johnny twirls the knife in his palm. When Case is just a few feet in front of him, he swipes again. This time carving into his face. He bends over again. After a moment of exclamations of his pain, he looks up to Johnny, nostrils flaring out steam like an angry bull.
He shows his blood-stained grin before he shoves Johnny into the tree behind him. Johnny collides into it and holds his arm he feels is broken. Case approaches him and stands over him. He spits blood on his face.
“We done here?”
Johnny painfully moans.
Johnny reaches out and swipes at Chase’s legs. He collapses, gritting his bloody teeth. Johnny soon after rises to his feet, still holding his broken arm.
He looks up glaring at Brendon, who states at him as pale as a ghost. Johnny shrill at him like a feral beast, and he turns around and sprints back to his car. Johnny looks back down to his prey, who is now crawling away from him, leaving bloodstains on the sand. Johnny slowly approaches him, twirling the knife once more. He bends over, placing his knee on his back.
Case screams out. Little to Johhny’s knowledge, a crow flies over and sits atop a branch overlooking the gruesome scene. Johnny slits Case’s throat as he holds his hair. Case says in his final breath.
“I thought... we're... friends."
“Not anymore. “
Case dies. Johnny wipes his blood off on his jeans before he struggles to rise to his feet, holding his broken arm.
Using his good arm he drags Case’s corpse over to the outside of the pentagram. He bends over as he catches his breath. After a moment he closes his eyes, says a short mantra, and crosses into the pentagram. He grabs hold of the buck corpse. After a while, he is able to drag it out of the pentagram.
He returns to Case’s body and drags it into the position the buck was once in. After he recovers, he says to Case’s dead body.
“Looks like you're getting your stupid ritual after all.”
He spits into his body. Johny encircles the body, kicking out each limb until the corpse resembles the star. He says another mantra under her breath and leaves the pentagram. Johnny grabs the red string from the pile of devices and goes over to the tree with the pentagram. He goes around the base, fasting it with a knot. He travels over to the tree across from it and does the same. He continues this process until he returns to the middle of the pentagram. Where he uses his knife to cut the string. He repeats his process from earlier before leaving the pentagram.
He picks up his journal and returns to the center of the pentagram. He puts his knife in his pocket. Johnny pulls at the red bookmark in his journal, which opens to a page with ancient symbols and Latin paragraphs. He reads them aloud.
"O magne Satin, mitte me una ex tuis hac nocte. Aliquid terrere facere et facere rectum. O magne Satin, tibi hostiam luetam exhibeo, cuius peccata majora erant virtute.
Johnny slits his arm and wails out. The blood drips onto Case's body. Johnny looks back to his journal and says the last bit of the mantra.
"O magne Satin, veni ad me hac nocte."
He produces the knife and gets down on his knees before the body. He carves an upside-down cross into the sand. He rises, covers his bleeding arm, and steps out of the circle. Without saying the mantra. The crickets are the only thing that fills the night air for the moment, as well as the crashing waves against the shore.
"I knew this all was bull..."
Suddenly, the string catches on fire but does not separate. Instead, a fire produces in the middle of the pentagram, atop Case's body. Johnny continues to step back as the fire glimmers in his eyes. Emerging from the fire comes an actual demon, pitch black and made of a tar-like substance, with horns longer and wider than the bucks.
The fires immediately dissipate and the strings fall down, holding their shape. The demon steadily approaches Johnny. After it leaves the pentagram, it takes the form of Case with pitch-black eyes and no shirt. Johnny falls onto the sand and he crawls backward. He breathes rapidly as sweat pools down his face.
When the demon reaches Johnny, it lifts him up by his hoodie and stares into his eyes. Johnny shrills as more crows join in on the branches until every branch fills. The evil audience watches as the demon shrills out with the voice of one thousand damned souls.
"Look at me!"
"Look at me, you swine, or I'll rip your heart out!"
Johnny opens his eyes filled with tears. He looks into the demon's soulless eyes to see quite the opposite. Instead of seeing the thousands of souls burning in Hell. He sees his family burning. Their flesh tearing away from their bodies. The vision focuses on his father, who says.
"I love you, Johnny. I always have."
Before he disappears into the fire. Johny closes his eyes and shrills out.
"Please, I'm sorry. I want to take it all back.
The legion of damned yells back.
"It's too late for that!"
The demon opens its mouth wide, which stretches out like a painting that horrified Johnny as a child. Before it chomps down and Johnny's head dismembering it from its body that falls to the ground.
The demon approaches the lake, which is suddenly ablaze. He steps in deeper and deeper until the lake of fire covers his horns. The fire suddenly turns to steam and Blood Lake is as it was before...