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Ritual

I stare at the door, and I am afraid. Doubts flutter through my mind like moth wings. Maybe this won’t work. What if she just kills you? How do you know she can save Ella? What are you even doing here? Why don’t you go back home and pray for her like everyone else? But then, I picture my sister’s face, her sweet eyes still unchanged by the disease that is stealing her from me.
There is no other way to save Ella, I convince myself. She’s dying. You have to do this. I take a deep breath and knock on the door.

I wait, and then the door creaks open. She pokes her head out, taking a while to recognize me in the darkness. “Come in, boy,” she whispers, her voice cracking with age, and the door opens wider, wide enough for me to slip in.

Her one-room house is lit by only four candles, but I don’t need any light to see her glowing yellow eyes. Her long, straight black hair covers the wrinkled skin of her face, and I remember how afraid of her I was the first time I ever saw her.
I look out the single window, barely the size of my hand, to see a forest. I know that there is a clearing, the clearing, the one where I will … I shouldn’t think about it. I force myself to swallow my fear. Think of Ella. You’re doing this for her.

“Have you prepared?” she asks, her raspy voice grating my ears. She walks over to the small bed in the corner and picks something up. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see a bag, but I have no idea what’s inside it.

I nod, remembering the cleansing steps she asked me to take. I had to fast from last midnight to tonight, wash my hair three times, and lay in the bath from sunrise to midday.
“I am ready.” My voice is steady despite the apprehension slowly gnawing at my insides.

“Then follow me, boy.” She leads me out the back door of her house, and I trip over my feet to keep up with her brisk pace. I can tell, by the way the grass feels soft on my feet, that this is a path that has been walked many times. Finally we arrive at the clearing. Bones litter the grass. Human bones. Skulls seem to laugh up at me as I look on them. I shudder when I realize I might join them tonight. There is a circle of stones in the middle, gray and round, worn as though they had been there since the beginning of time. She sits near the circle, and I sit opposite her.

I can’t help but wonder what the ritual will be like. I am nervous, but it is the only thing I can do to save my dying sister. I am impatient to begin; I fear that if I must wait for much longer, I will lose my nerve and simply pray for her, like everyone else.
“Is it time yet?” I ask.

“Not yet.”

We must wait until midnight to complete the ritual. She will know when it’s time – her kind has a sense of when it is midnight.

After what feels like an eternity of waiting, when my sister might even be dead already, she draws a circle in the ground around the first. “Get in the circle, boy,” she tells me.

I oblige, standing between the two circles. She approaches me with a knife from her bag, the blade as long as my head and the handle made of bone. Is she going to kill me? We’re not ready for that part of the ritual yet!
Still, I stand unflinching, surprising even myself, as she reaches out with the knife. She grabs a fistful of my hair and cuts it off, the sharp blade shearing easily through the strands. Then she finds a vein in my left arm and makes a shallow cut, gentler than I expect it to be. My blood flows out of the cut, streaming down my arm and along my fingers, finally dripping into the circle of stones. She throws my hair into the circle as well and puts the knife away, my blood staining the blade.

Then she places her hand on the jagged wound, and it begins to heal. “We can’t offer you up to him with any imperfections,” she mutters, almost entirely to herself.

When there is no sign that there was ever a scar on my arm, she walks over to the other side of the circle. She begins her chant in a whisper.


“I call upon thee, O Demon of the Night


I stand in thy circle


Hear me


Boy calls upon thee, O Demon of the Night


He stands in thy circle


Hear him


He worships thee with every breath


Boy calls upon thee, O Demon of the Night


Bone of thy bone, blood of thy blood


Hear him


He gives thee his body


He gives thee his soul


Boy calls upon thee


Hear him, O Demon of the Night!”
She shrieks these last words, and my blood and hair begin to burn in the circle.

I feel as if I’m suffocating, almost as though I’m buried in sand and someone is kneeling on top of me. I know this is part of the process though, and it is a sign that he heard her chant.

She gestures for me to stand in the circle, amid my burning blood and hair, and I can imagine her order as clearly as if she said it. Stand in the fire, boy.

I take a deep breath, even more nervous now than when I first arrived tonight, and step into the flames. Unexpectedly, they don’t burn me. I can barely feel them, aside from an illusion of ants crawling on my skin.

Soon the fire dies down. My skin is covered in a layer of ash. She grabs my arm and pulls me behind her. We enter the trees again. The leaves block out all the light from the full moon, and my heart races. It’s much more frightening in absolute darkness. The trees thin out again, and I relax when I see we are at the lake not far into the forest. Even with no spoken command, I know what she wants me to do. I take my shirt off and kneel, the gentle waves barely lapping at my knees. The water is cold, even though it is the middle of summer, and I feel my skin break out into gooseflesh.
She takes a vial of red wine from her bag. She spreads it over my torso and back, and in the dark it looks almost exactly like blood.

Then she whispers, “Bone of thy bone, blood of thy blood; hear him, O Demon of the Night.” She then pushes my head under the surface of the water. Those hands that seemed so weak have a strong grip on my hair. I know I can’t escape, whether or not I want to.

As I lay beneath the surface, I begin to think, not for the first time, that maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I don’t want to die. But again I remind myself to think of Ella. She deserves life more than you do. She’s your sister. Everybody loves her. They don’t love you. They’ve been praying for her for weeks. Weeks! God won’t save her now. You’re the only one who can. So I fight my instincts to not succumb to the enemy, and let her hold my head under the water until I lose all thoughts, all feelings, all illusions of being alive.



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