As expected, the house was empty when I returned home. And so I went to the kitchen and started on the steaks my mom had seasoned and left out for dinner. While the rice cooked I took a quick shower and put on my old bears pajamas, something I had since I was twelve and that still fit me perfectly. I dried my hair so it wouldn't turn out even more disheveled than it already was, and went down once more to grill the meat. I ate too aware of the time and the homework I still had to do, and saved Rachel's dinner in the oven, so she could have it when she returned.
Before going up to my room, I passed by the living room to grab my things and dropped them on my desk before practically fainting on the bed.
We'd walked the whole afternoon and my feet throbbed painfully. Besides, it had been a long day and I felt really tired.
Classes, the thing with Michael, the strange woman and her even stranger reading, the heavy book I had been forced to carry around all afternoon, the stores we had visited and that, by the end of the day, had been packed with people, the constant dressing and undressing. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I wondered if I still had enough energy to study.
My eyes found the old book under the bag with the only jersey I'd ended up buying. I'd promised to take good care of it, which meant finding it a place in one of my overcrowded bookshelves. With a sigh I stood up once more and picked it up, feeling how soft its leather cover was, and ended up sitting on my bed with it resting on my legs. The engraved title glistened lightly under the lamp light and I couldn't help notice that, even though its letters had looked silvery in the store, now they were more of a metallic red. The title, Magic Spells and Enchantments, made me smile.
It sounded more like one of those children's book, filled with fairy tales, and so I opened it carefully to take a closer look. As expected from such an old volume, the pages were yellowish and some of the corners had crumbled from old age. All the pages had a silver frame and the letters inside it were similar to the ones in the cover, almost as if they'd been handwritten. To my surprise, as I flipped through it, I noticed that unlike a tales' book or even a romance, its structure reminded me more of a cooking book, filled with recipes carefully organized by chapters. I looked for the index, which was also divided in three sections, and read it out loud.
"Magic Spells - of Friendship, of Love, of Communication, to Heal, of Prosperity, of Protection, of Purification, of Spiritual Evolution, to Bless, to Cast Away, to Cause Pain, to Be Successful, to Cause Failure, to Bind, Spells and Curses. Enchantments - of Animals, of Elementals, of Spirits, of Minerals, of Objects, of People, of Plants. Magic Circles of Protection, Seals and Talismans ..."
I could almost laugh, or I knew I should probably be laughing. But since I was alone there was no need for me to act accordingly and so I simply caressed the shiny letters. It really sounded like something out of some fantasy movie. How could someone living in the twenty-first century believe in things like that?
Still my eyes stopped over a page number written in roman characters and my hands flipped through the yellow pages once again. On the top of the page, in letters that ended in delicate swirls, was written - 'Love Spells.'
Smiling in what I knew would be a perfect expression of amusement, I went through the next pages reading the titles of the magic recipes that filled the chapter.
'To attract a rich husband (or wife),' 'To make sure of fidelity,' 'To attract a new love,' 'To avoid jealousy,' 'To enjoy a satisfying sexual life,' 'To protect lovers,' 'To attract a predestined love ...'
My eyes stopped on that page, refusing to read more than the title. What the old woman had told me replayed in my mind. She had also spoken of a predestined love.
I shook my head, criticizing myself for half taking something as nonsensical as that seriously and, using curiosity as an excuse, read through the recipe.
To my surprise it wasn't all that hard to follow. I'd expected the recipes in that thick book to be virtually impossible to comply with, meaning its results were impossible to verify. The process, however, simply included some rhymes to be said out loud, a candle that had to be lit, a drop of blood that had to be shed and, of course, a bunch of steps that needed to be followed.
I sighed. If only things would be that easy, people like me would never have to go through the shame and pain I had endured that morning.
The first thing written on that recipe was 'It's advised to raise a Circle of Protection. See page cccxxiii.'
I flipped through the pages once more, careful not to lose my love spell, and quickly read over the requirements to fulfill that second task. Once more it all sounded rather easy. According to the recipe, a Circle of Protection had to be drawn in white or with salt. In the center, with its main point pointing north, a pentagram should be included. The book even had some illustrations to help better understand the procedures.
Thinking it would probably be fun, and not wanting to admit that a small part of me really wished it would actually work, I stood up, leaving the book on the bed, and ran downstairs. I quickly put together the necessary ingredients, including a small flask of sea salt my mother liked to use on her cooking, a candle from the light failure prevention cupboard, a small kitchen knife and a glass filled with water. I went back up to my room and added my potted plant to the rest of my magical ingredients.
I stopped for a moment, looking at all those things lying before my feet and asked myself what in the hell was I doing. But my eyes flew to the book and I shrugged. What could happen anyway? Those were all myths and legends. As real as God descending from above to bless the Host during Mass.
I opened one of my desk drawers and looked for a compass. Marking the cardinal points on the floor, I grabbed a handful of sea salt and drew a perfect circle to the best of my abilities — starting east and going clockwise as the book instructed. Inside it I drew a pentagram, and then another circle on the outside. Next I copied the strange symbols as shown on the book, drawing them in the space between the two concentric circles, this time counter clockwise, one at top of each of the pentagram's vertices. Once that was done I placed the book and the rest of the objects I'd gathered beside me and lit the candle. Taking my shoes off, I took a deep breath and stepped into the circle, careful not to ruin any of my drawings. Peering towards the book, I read the magic words out loud:
"The Circle has no beginning and no end; it is in eternal balance. This is a time beyond time. This is a space beyond space. Here the Dream World and the Waking World meet and are one together. So may it be."
Following the book's instructions, I picked up the glass with water and gave three steps towards west, starting to read the greetings and evocation of the Guardians of the West.
"Greeting oh Guardian of the West, of the Element of Water, source of Life. Fresh and crystalline may thy waters be, and that they may extend from the secrete depths all the way to the surface where the sun shines. Blessed be the Spirits of Water that dive in thy currents. So may it be." I recited out loud and, kneeling carefully so I wouldn't ruin the pentagram, placed the water glass on the west. As the ritual described I placed both hands over my chest and went on reading. "I float above the Waters, the Eternal Waters of the World. As I pass by stormy clouds gather and rain falls in the Deep. Waves rise washing my naked skin. Cold and afraid, in clear and bitter, gray and green waters I sink. All fluids and elixirs of life abandon me, flowing out through my pores. I reach the shore, cold and shaking, and dried inside."
I picked up the candle, careful so its flame wouldn't go out, and gave three steps towards south.
"Greetings oh Guardian of the South, of the Element of Fire, of Death and Renewal. Hot and blazing may thy embers be, that they may burn through time in search of eternity. Blessed be the Spirits of Fire that dance in thy flames. So may it be." Kneeling down again I placed the candle on the floor, taking both hands to my chest, and went on. "I walk through a plain of smoke surrounded by screams of anguish and pain. Flames burn furiously, their heat melting my skin. There is no more water, I cannot cry. My flesh melts in agony and pleasure. Nothing remains but bone and dust of ash."
Standing up again I took three steps towards East. As the book said, and since air was everywhere, I simply blew, as if putting out a candle, and carefully read the words of the next evocation.
"Greetings oh Guardian of the East, of the Element of Air, of Direction and New Beginnings. Soft and gentle may thy winds be, that they may see far and come from afar. Blessed be the Spirits of Air that fly on thy wings. So may it be." Kneeling for the third time, I placed my hands over my chest, and read the next set of strange words. "I stand at the edge of a precipice, the wind wraps me in its lament. I'm weightless, no more than bone, and the wind pierces my chest in a moan. A bit more and I fall apart. Bone clashing against bone, slowly turning to dust, echoing my suffering."
Standing up yet again I grabbed a handful of dirt from my potted plant and took three steps towards north, opening my hand with my dirty palm turned up.
"Greetings oh Guardian of the North, of the Element of Earth and of the Constant Movements. That welcoming may thy bosom be, that it may bring rest and safety to the traveler of worlds. Blessed be the Spirits of Earth that inhabit thy depths. So may it be." Kneeling down I placed my handful of dirt on the floor and placed my hands over my chest. "I walk towards the darkness and in it lose all notion of solidity. I am not blood, I am not flesh, I am not bone. I am merely intuition, consciousness and will. Around me I hear mountains raise and stones fall. I would recoil in search of protection but I no longer have a body in need of protection. I am simply pure Soul, white light amongst the darkness of the universe."
I stood up again and, always facing north and the head of my pentagram, gave five small steps backwards so I wouldn't step out of the Circle. Kneeling again, I flipped through the book back to my love spell.
The Circle where I stood was supposed to have the ability to protect me from the outside negative energies, and intensify my own inner energy, or so the book said. I placed the kitchen knife next to me and took a deep breath. The book also said something about how to clean and consecrate the knife, but I jumped over that part. The purification process would take several days, including nights under the moonlight and some special herbs. I quickly read over the spell once again, making sure I had everything I needed, and focused on reading the supposedly magic words:
"Yog-Sothoth, Master of Dimensions, through you I now enter the World of Magic. To you, the one without face or features, I ask to guide me through the night of your creation, so that I may contemplate the Bonds that unite the Angels and the promise of the fulfillment of my will." Unconsciously my voice became lower, no more than a monotonous murmur that seemed to echo all around me, as if at some point I wasn't the one speaking anymore, and someone else was echoing my words from afar. Still my eyes kept reading line after line, my mind completely empty, except from those nonsensically words. Reading the text that, in a different color, instructed what I had to do next, I held my kitchen knife and pressed the point against my index finger, wincing when the blade broke my skin. I squeezed my finger until a droplet of blood was formed and went back to the book for some more reading.
"With no blood, with no flesh, with no bones, hear the voice of my Soul. That this bridge, between my life and my being may echo my will, so that it may be heard and fulfilled," I claimed and frowned as I tried to decipher what had been written next. Inside the pentagram I drew the symbol of the infinite with my bloodied finger and tried to read the next phrase without biting my tongue. "I'a k'nark ... Ishanyx ... kyr'w ... qu'ra ... cylth ... drehm'n ... El-ak."
The moment I pronounced the last syllable, the five symbols I had drawn in between the two circles came alight, shining incandescently. As I looked completely stunned at what was happening right before my eyes, they exploded, throwing sea salt everywhere, almost as if the light had been too intense to be contained within the symbols. A windstorm broke all over the room, as if someone had opened the windows to allow a cyclone in. I heard the book pages rustle as they were thrown from one side to another and the sound of the candle holder as it fell. Trying to make sense of what was happening, I shielded my eyes with one hand and looked towards the window that, to my disbelief, was still firmly shut. The strong wind destroyed the rest of the Circle and blew away all the papers on my desk. The bag with the new jersey Steph had practically forced me to buy fell on the floor. The roar all around was so strong I thought I would go deaf, which meant it was no use screaming for help. And the speed of the furious whirlwind surrounding me made it difficult to breathe. Above all, I was so shocked with what I was seeing I couldn't even think.
I raised my gaze to the origin of the windstorm and blinked twice to make sure of what was ... or wasn't happening. Floating right in front of my eyes, suspended in midair, at the center of what used to be a pentagram, was a black mass of nothingness. No color, no sound, no air. The nothingness was pure darkness spitting out that furious vortex of wind.
I couldn't move, nor speak or even blink. I briefly thought I had to be dreaming, that somehow I had fallen asleep along the way and hadn't even noticed it.
The nothingness that had been dark and round began to slowly stretch, and I asked myself if it would end up swallowing the whole room, and me with it! But then it suddenly stopped growing and the wind finally subsided, until everything was silent again. With my heart pounding I stared up at the nothingness that hadn't disappeared and couldn't help thinking that it almost looked like some kind of egg. In the silence my irregular breath became suddenly quite audible and, unable to think about any of the possible consequences, I raised my right hand, which wouldn't stop shaking, to touch it. That thing looked hard, but at the same time almost liquid. It looked soft and malleable. On the other hand, its shape was perfectly geometrical. But the instant I touched it a shrill shriek echoed through my room making me cover both ears. The dark egg exploded with that screeching sound and what stood in its place was even more terrifying.
I dragged myself across the floor, pulling away without even thinking, moving on pure instinct, until I hit the wall. Even then I tried to get farther away, as if I could drill a hole somewhere and simply run away. My crazed eyes didn't know where or what to look at. The only thing I could hear was my own breath, assuring me that I was still alive. The horror froze me inside, making me shiver uncontrollably, and erased all rational thoughts from my mind.
I suddenly saw arms and hands holding legs covered in black; a cascade of long black hair falling over bent knees pulled against a white chest. The skin I could see was inhumanely white. And worst of all, I saw dark glossy wings embracing a body protectively.
This was no dream! It was a nightmare from which I wished I could wake up as soon as possible!
But I didn't wake up. And, as my eyes, that I couldn't for the life of me, close, began to burn, the horror that completely ruled over me threatened to stop my heart. Unable to move and utterly terrified, I watched as the inhuman figure slowly came to life. The arm around its knees fell to its side and the legs began to stretch, even though it still floated in midair. The black tunic it wore, looking more like a piece of satin wrapped around its lean body, floated down with a gentle murmur, shocking vividly with the raging panic inside me.
It raised its head and I wanted to scream, run, cry ... anything ... but I simply sat there, trembling and powerless. I saw flashes of its face, but my eyes wouldn't stop wandering around in sheer terror. And then its wings opened, like dark shadows ready to devour the entire world, and that deafening roar came back. I think I screamed. I must have. I remember closing my eyes tightly and thinking I would probably never open them again. The silence that followed convinced me I'd been right and that my life was over, and I silently gave thanks that at least it had been painless.
The sound of footsteps over broken glass startled me and the fear that momentarily had left me came back to strangle my chest. Dreading what I was about to see, wishing I wouldn't be able to do it, I opened my eyes to a scene of complete devastation.
My desk had been shattered in hundreds of small wooden pieces; my books were all over the floor, some lying opened, many torn, their white pages dancing lazily by the cold wind coming from the window. The window! Sure, it was still closed, but the glass was shattered into tiny bits that glittered among the broken wood and torn pages.
A shadow leaned over me and, panicking, I recalled what I'd tried so hard to forget. Why hadn't I simply fainted? Maybe I'd have woken up the next day, cursing the irritating sound of the alarm clock, like any other day.
Unable to avoid it and wishing I didn't have to, I turned my head, my stiff neck hurting, and looked at it ... at him. His face was as close to mine as Michael's had been, the day before, but still I couldn't see him. Without thinking I opened my mouth and took a deep breath ready to scream, but a cold hand with long fingers silenced me, almost suffocating me to death.
"Hush ... Since you're going to die anyway, why not do it quietly?" he asked me in a low voice. I don't know which startled me the most — that he could talk, that I could understand him or that his voice sounded as deep and soft as velvet. My eyes finally stopped wandering aimlessly and stared back at him. His eyes were frighteningly unreal, glowing hypnotically in a violet color sparkled with red. "Hmm ... and to think that a small Human child, with no Magic whatsoever, would be able to release me from that Seal," he mused sarcastically. I couldn't help thinking that even with those words, his voice was unearthly beautiful. "Nothing personal, Human. To tell you the truth, I'm even thankful. And I'm sorry I'm not the kind of being that can be evoked to fulfill your pathetic wishes. Just think of it as ... bad luck," he added, sounding bleakly amused, and his eyes stretched out telling me that he'd probably smiled. "Your Soul belongs to me now," he told me as he placed his other hand over my chest, crushing me against the wall. Pain shot through my ribs and I was sure they were about to break. I tried to cough but could hardly breathe, and my sight became blurry as I felt hot tears sliding down my cheeks.
Suddenly, and to my surprise, his hands were pulled away and I could finally cough while gasping for air. I pressed the ribs that hurt and winced as my lungs burned.
"You!" His incredulous tone of accusation made me look up. He was holding his hand against his chest, as if he'd hurt himself, and my gaze wandered aimlessly again as terror ate at me from within. I think I saw him smile and a terrifying expression transformed his marble-like face. He kept his wings closed against his body and my stomach cramped, threatening to throw up my dinner. And then he was holding me again, this time squeezing my neck, and I was sure that I'd just taken my last breath. "Change of plans!" he informed me and once again I became a prisoner of his crimson gaze. "I will establish a Contract with you. I will fulfill your pathetic wish. And, in return, your virginity is mine."
My mind went completely blank and everything around me went deadly silent. I knew he was still speaking with that cold persistent smile on his lips, but I could no longer hear him. All tension left my body and I forgot to check if I was still breathing, if my heart still beat, if I remained among the living.
I followed his movements as he held my right hand and then leaned over my wrist, softly pressing his lips against my skin. I screamed and new tears slid down my face, but I wasn't able to even hear my own voice anymore. I knew I should have felt pain but didn't. That body was mine but wasn't. And, when he finally stopped talking, as if that had been the authorization my mind had been waiting for, I closed my eyes and gladly welcomed the cold silent darkness that finally enveloped me.