My knuckles went white tightening over the wheel, their luminescent glow matching the moon hanging heavy over the winding road. Glancing to my left I could see that same moon round and ominous reflected over the turbulent ocean waves. To my right were trees that gained girth and height the further they were from the road, the trunks growing thicker and thicker until they disappeared into the indiscernible darkness of the forest.
My tires resisted as I took another turn a bit too quickly. My heart skipped as they skidded for half a second, I felt the rear tires teeter just a bit too far but my foot didn’t hesitate over the pedal. I peered over the guardrail at the waves crashing along the cliff I scaled; but this wasn’t the cause of the fear I felt pricking my chest. With one hand still on the wheel, I reached for the leatherbound book that rested in my passenger seat. The cover was weathered and the pages crinkled and yellowed with age. Notes and post-its sandwiched between the pages, marking some things to remember but more often than not pointing out things that continued to mystify me.
When I saw the Welcome to Redding sign I pushed the pedal even harder, hearing the engine protest but the speedometer needle slowly turn anyway. The car zoomed past the decaying sign into the decaying town. I had to push that last bit to get in, everything in me still begged for me to turn back. Not to return to the mess I’d left behind years before. This wasn’t just a choice anymore, though. It was an obligation.
I flicked my blinker on despite being the only one on the road. Habit. I pulled onto the bumpy side road, kicking up dirt with my worn tires. My headlights swung across the forest but the light could only reach the gnarled road in front of me and a few skeletal branches that reach out towards me. They scraped against my windshield as I eased off the gas. I continued forward until I saw the white steeple. The overgrown grass out front, the boarded windows, the creaky steps. It was a staple of my hometown. That eerie church that kids would sneak into on dares.
A slice of a memory flickered in my mind’s eye. My little sister and I creeping up the dirt path. The one my car was bucking over now. Her tentative whisper as she dared me to go inside. Her regret as I started up the steps, excitement bubbling within me. The dirt smeared on her freckled cheeks from a long day playing outside. Her bright eyes and the way her forehead puckered between her eyebrows as she had watched me enter.
I pulled the book from the passenger seat and my messenger bag from the back, heavy with supplies. Pushing open the car door, I was greeted with the crisp early morning Autumn air. The sky was already beginning to gray, to lighten as the sun prepared to rise. I didn’t have much time. I cast a glance up at the looming steeple before striding forward. It had to be on Holy Ground. This was the only spot.
Pushing open the white church doors I was again reminded of coming here as a child. The way the light had cast rainbows through the broken stained glass onto the wooden floor. The leaves and dirt that had made its way in over the years of abandonment. Some of the pews were destroyed, others just missing. A few holes in the floor. Now, cast mostly in shadow, only lit by the tentative early morning light, it smelled of moss and cedar. I ran a hand over one splintered pew as I made my way to the altar, which remained mostly intact.
The same fear that had fueled my excitement that last time I had ventured in was present but the cause had changed. Looking up into the dark rafters, I couldn’t see the ceiling that was surely home to bats and a maze of spider webs. I tried not to flinch when I heard sharp nails scrape across the rafters as something skittered across. With a deep breath, I advanced my pace, dropping my bag next to the podium.
It only took a few minutes to set up. Goats blood for the pentagram, a meticulous collection of herbs arranged at each point of the star. The candles were much wider than the circle of the pentagram, creating a barrier around me in a larger circle.
With shaky hands I held the paper in front of me, the instructions scrawled in my own writing. All I had to do was say the words aloud. I didn’t have the time to compose myself. It was now or never.
“Et… daem… onium release.” I stumbled over the words but held my ground firmly. I stared at the pentagram, expecting something cinematic. The candles flickered slightly and I tensed. Then I felt the salty breeze against my cheek. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the moment of tranquility before jerking the paper back up and trying again. This time I tried to embed my words with confidence.
“Et daem onium release!” I shouted. My voice echoed the way chorus singers must have ages ago. Still nothing. I paused, going over the blueprint of my plan once again. I turned it over in my head, flipping through tutorials, what the book had told me, supplies… “Fuck,” I muttered, pulling a Ziploc bag from my jacket pocket then pulling the slick newt from it. I dropped his tiny stiff body in the center of the pentagram.
His body hit the floor with a light thwap. Then the candles erupted. The warm flames turned blue and roared. I stumbled backward and onto my ass. Despite the flames, the room seemed to darken and I could see something rising with difficulty from the floor. Wrenching itself not from the floorboards but from the pentagram itself. Unsteadily the figure rose to its feet, somehow completely in silhouette. I tried to calm my thundering heart, sure the figure would hear it. I slowly rose to my feet, trying not to alert it to my presence. My legs felt like jelly. It turned towards me. And as the candles calmed, a shaft of light from the window illuminated it’s face.
This didn’t seem like a divine demon at all. He looked about my age- if not a little older. Early twenties. His brows were dark and lowered over his even darker eyes, rimmed with lashes that looked wet. They clumped together and shined. His cheekbones were prominent and his jawline sharp. I hadn’t expected the demon to be- well, handsome. His gloomy expression shifted as he cocked his head. He grinned but it was devoid of warmth. It was sinister. His voice gravelly and playful.
The candles went out.
As my eyes adjusted to the new darkness, I heard the church doors open with a scrape. I turned towards them just in time to see his lean frame disappear through them. He was running.
“Wait!” I shouted, breaking into a sprint after him.