“But you’re sure this will work, right?” Tom says, looking at the book’s illegible cover as his friend Alex stands by watching him. Alex is already shaving every day. Tom claims he only has to shave 1-2 a week but even that’s an exaggeration he tells his fellow Seniors at Princeton HS 334. Tom is a lanky, redheaded teenager who has rarely felt comfortable in his own skin; he wishes he had Alex’s confidence.
“Yes. For the fourth time. It will work. The rituals in that book could make Angelina Jolie fall in love with you – if you believed enough,” Alex says turning back to Tom. “And you know, not overthink everything like you normally do.”
“And I don’t have to read any Latin?” Tom asks nervously.
Get a grip Tom! You’re sounding like a coward!
For some reason the prospect of reading Latin reminds him too much of the Catholic masses from his childhood. From there it was a short hop, skip, and a jump to mortal sins. And while Tom was fairly sure speaking Latin wasn’t a sin, it reminds Tom that he is about to begin practicing magick with a ‘k,’ and he was certain that it was a sin.
“Yes! You asked that also.”
Come on man! Get a hold of yourself!
Alex pauses and looks at his friend Tom with concern in his eyes. Fearing Tom might actually change his mind, Alex tries a different tact.
“Hey look man, I didn’t mean to push you into something you’re clearly not ready for. Just give the book back and, look, here’s your money back, all $300,” Alex says as he pulls Tom’s three crisp hundred bills back out of his wallet and offers them to Tom.
Tom says nothing.
“Look if it were me and I was still a virgin at 17, and if I were desperately in love with Beth Cassidy, I would take a gamble with magick. But hey! I’ve been practicing magick since I was 13. And here’s something I’ve never told anyone,” Alex says as he leans in, lowers his voice conspiratorially, “The reason I started studying magick, specifically ‘love magick’ in the first place, was so that I could lose my virginity also. I was always so awkward and uncomfortable anytime I was anywhere near a girl. And I always had a constant erection, I remember always trying to hide it behind my books when I walked between classes in eighth grade!
Tom laughs as he shifts the magick book in front of his crotch in an imitation of the practice that every teenage boy knows all too well.
Alex looks but doesn’t laugh. He just winces like he’s smelled something rotten.
The book is a very old, thin, oversized volume with a coarse, red cloth cover. The pages are very thin and each features several hand drawn illustrations detailing magick spells that one performs with only gestures over a pentagram. Tom suspects the book was stitched together by hand. The faded title on the cover reads:
Convocatis itaque Daemonium
Alex told Tom that he felt ‘Creating Eternal Love’ was probably the best translation for the phrase. It was not.
That might be the perfect thing for us to have engraved on the inside of her ring.
“Well, I can’t believe I’m about to study black magick,” Tom says.
“Hey! No! This isn’t black magic. I thought we went over this last week? This is white magick,” Alex says.
“And I won’t … lose my soul or anything?”
Alex thinks this is a question Tom has surely asked before but Thoth whispers to him that it is not.
“No. You won’t lose your soul. What you will GAIN however, is love and sex, with a girl you’ve been smitten with since the seventh grade! Not bad for only three hundred dollars?”
Alex waves the three bills again at Tom, “So are you sure?”
“I’m sure Alex. Keep the money, I’m going home to work some magick.”
The air in the basement is cool but sweat is beginning to drip off Tom’s face. He picks up the oversized red magick book again and carefully studies each illustration in the ritual. Alex had assured him that this ritual was the one that would finally get Becky to notice Tom. He’s gone through the instructions dozens of times but he gets the distinct impression that the ritual is doing nothing so far.
Per Alex’s detailed instructions (that were not included in the book) Tom had drawn a complex chalk pentagram on the basement floor of his parent’s house. In the center of the pentagram, Tom had carefully written Becky’s name in chalk. Scattered around her name were a few of her personal possessions Tom had procured through less than scrupulous means. But Tom is a romantic. He believes ‘true love’ can overcome any obstacle and that the ends justify the means.
Besides he’s burned for her since the seventh grade. Over all those years he has spoken with her a total of maybe eight times. Always real personal stuff too though, like ‘Hey could I possibly get the reading assignment from English class?’ ‘Beautiful night huh?’ (This latter jewel was delivered DOA at a high school football game. Just as Tom finally approached Becky and said the three little words, the opposing team threw an interception and his beautiful line was lost in the noise of the crowd cheering as Dex Dyson, ran the intercepted ball 37 yards to score the winning touchdown.)
He picks up the book again, studies several of the drawings, and makes some minor alteration in how he moves his wrists in the ritual’s opening sequence.
The problem, he realizes, is he’s trying to learn three dimensional gestures described in a series of two-dimensional panels from a very old book. While the illustrations are uniformly excellent what he really needs is a video. He had looked on YouTube; the search engine had returned some hits for ‘love magick,’ but none of them seemed like the real thing to Tom.
He looks at the pictures more closely. He focuses and tries to take in every detail in each drawing. As his attention flows to the italicized numbers in the lower right-hand corner of each illustration, he notices something odd.
“There’s an error in the illustration numbers in the book! Drawings 19 and 20 are swapped!” he says to himself. His breath quickens and wonders if this was how Copernicus felt when he made whatever discovery it was – Tom couldn’t remember – that had landed him in the annals of history.
He sits down on the ratty couch with his book and commits to memorizing the sequence in the proper order.
Two hours later he sighs in disgust. He has been trying nonstop and he’s still not completed the ritual. Alex told Tom in no uncertain terms that he, Tom, would know for certain when the ritual had been successfully completed. Alex also encouraged Tom to not give up after the first attempt.
In his mind, Tom believes he has held each hand as perfectly as he perceives the book instructs. He has carefully checked his footwork repeatedly and made sure to not step on or smudge any of the chalked symbols in the pentagram. His mind constantly shifted from his head to his hands to his feet as he ‘tried’ the ritual over and over again.
“What a waste of time!” he sighs in disgust.
He decides to head up to bed – it is 3:02 AM after all – but then he decides to dance through the sequence one more time first.
Just for the hell of it.
He steps into the pentagram, shuts his thoughts off and proceeds with the entire sequence. The motions coming from muscle memory by this point.
The ground begins to shake and Tom wonders if they are having an earthquake.
But then lights begin to glow in the basement along and he begins to hear a wet, hissing sound that Tom finds oddly disquieting.
Heavy footsteps then.
“Who dares summon me?” the tall demon Thoth says stepping out of the shadows from the other side of the poorly lit basement.
Tom looks and sees one of the biggest creatures he’s ever seen. The demon appears to be over seven feet tall not including the massive horns that curl out of his huge red head.
“Oh, it’s just …”
Tom sees the flick, hears the whistling of the whip too late to react.
Agonizing pain shoots through every cell in Tom’s body. He clenches his eyes shut and hears the dull thud of something hitting the hard basement floor, and feels a hot, wet sensation pour down the right side of his torso.
Tom opens his eyes, looks down. Confusion. Some object at his feet but his brain refuses to interpret what his eyes are relaying. After a few seconds his brain decides that the object resting inert at his feet is in fact his entire right arm. Tom begins a pitiable moaning, screaming, wailing noise.
“Silence mortal!” Thoth commands and the swishing sound is again heard. Tom’s left foot is suddenly on fire.
He looks down again and sees that entire front half of his left foot has been sliced away. The tip of the whip still resting between the two pieces.
The long whip was made of a pulsating, liquid fire Tom casually notices as the demon flicks his wrist and deftly retracts the whip.
He wants to scream. He needs to scream, but the demon had made it pretty clear he demanded silence.
I’m going to bleed to death.
The thought, once formed, is impossible to ignore. It grows under its own gravity, becomes its own tumbling snowball gathering mass that would make it unstoppable. Tom looks at his right shoulder and feels his blood leaving his body. He begins to scream.
The demon seeing Tom’s distress administers his own peculiar form of first aid. The demon swirls his arms and hands rapidly in tight, rapid spirals for almost a minute. When his arms and hands stop he is holding a red glowing ball that appears to be neither liquid or solid and yet somehow both.
The demon throws the ball lightning fast at Tom’s shoulder.
If his pain was a level 10 before, Tom would, were he capable of coherent thought, assign the new pain a level of 97. The red ball smacked into the shoulder stump, flattened itself over the open and began hissing and fusing to Tom’s body.
The good news is the bleeding stops. The bad news is Tom feels tentacles originating from the ball begin protruding from ball and penetrating into his body through the gaping shoulder wound.
A sound of slow applause from the bottom of the stairs. Alex.
The protruding, penetrating, and prodding into Tom’s torso continue but he tries to ignore the alien sensations.
“Well, well, well buddy! I didn’t think you had it in you but you did it! You completed the ritual!”
“Alex?” he says.
Everything about this is very wrong. Alex is his friend, isn’t he?
Or is he?
“Oh me? I was watching you from your security cameras upstairs – nice setup by the way. And I could tell you were overthinking every single gesture. But then, you let your thoughts go and you did it! I swear it was all I could do to NOT come to the top of the stairs and shout – ‘YOU’RE OVERTHINKING!'”
A sadness invades Tom’s mind. He is feeling the profound loss of his friendship.
What friendship!? This guy was obviously using me all along!
“What … do you want,” Tom manages weakly. He’s lost a lot of blood and is starting to feel like he will pass out.
“Me? Oh, I needed to see that my buddy Thoth here, got his monthly meal. Have you two met already?” Alex looks back and forth between the demon and Tom who is becoming concerned with just how far into his body the tentacles intend to go.
Alex finally notices Tom’s shoulder, sees the severed arm. “Oh, I guess you have met then.”
“What’s that about a meal?” Tom asks.
“Bit of a bad news, good … well honestly I guess it’s just a bad news situation we have here. YOU are the meal, I’m afraid.”
“But why all the stuff with the book? All the talk about Becky?”
“Oh, you had to engage in the summoning ritual voluntarily. There are laws to these things apparently,” Alex explains.
Tom is still confused.
“But why are you here? In my house tonight?”
Surely Thoth doesn’t need your supervision, does he?
“I was just making sure that the ritual was completed tonight. You see if you didn’t complete the ritual tonight, and I was determined to find a way that you would, well then, I would have been this year’s dinner. Sorry buddy, but better you than me.”
Tom senses there is more.
“And? I feel like there must be more,” Tom says.
Alex grins sheepishly.
“Well why not? They say confession is good for the soul, so… Thoth here is the demon that I first met at 13. I had accidentally summoned him and he granted me the favors I asked. But in return, I had to find a yearly sacrifice to offer him as payment for services rendered. I am, in a way, his indentured servant for the next thirty years.”
Tom couldn’t imagine being duplicitous enough or committed enough to arranging for such a thing every year. The thought makes him gag.
“Yeah, you’re right! It is tough on me. Having to find a suitable victim every year. Last year I had put off finding one until the last minute.”
Last year? Didn’t Kevin die last year? Kevin? Your eight-year-old brother? You sick jerk! How did I ever think that we were friends?
“I can see that you already have worked out who last year’s guest of honor slash entree was. Poor Kevin. That ritual, you’ll be pleased to know is one I did NOT attend personally!”
Oh yeah, you’re a helluva guy for not wanting to watch a 400-pound demon kill and eat your youngest brother.
“Oh, and there is one other thing!” Alex steps aside.
No, no, no, no, noooooo!
At some point Becky had materialized within the pentagram. She is bound with ropes and seems drugged. She opens her eyes and looks up at Tom. She looks like she recognizes him, but is having a hard time recalling his name or where she might know him from. Her gaze moves to Alex.
“Alex! What am I doing here? Why am I tied up? Let me go please Alex? Alex?!”
Oh, but him, Mr. Brother-sacrificing-demon-lover Alex, him you recognize? His name you remember?
Beth’s total lack of recognition hurts him in a deep way. Tom sees now that if the hadn’t been so obsessed with this girl, who apparently doesn’t know him at all, then he would mostly likely still have his right arm and left foot.
Tom, you deluded dolt!
“I get Becky,” Alex says and begins to laugh.
Alex’s laughter and Becky’s screams are the last things Tom hear before Thoth begins biting and chewing on his left foot.
Tom’s brain is done for the day and decides to just shut everything down.
As the life seeps from his eyes, he sees the light go out in Becky’s eyes as Alex finishes strangling her from behind.
Tom wishes he could find the idea of their dying together to be romantic but he is done with romance. Done with magick. In the end he is just done with all of it. His eyes close. Done!