First Monday Free Fiction: Ritual Failure

Demon Summoning for Beginners by Cora BuhlertWelcome to the October 2021 edition of First Monday Free Fiction, which goes out on a Tuesday, because I was really busy yesterday and just forgot to post this.

To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on the first Monday of every month. At the end of the month, I’ll take the story down and post another.

October is the spooky month, so it’s the perfect time to post a spooky story. Of course, I’m still horror-impaired, though I’m getting better, so most of my attempts at writing horror either turn into “Let’s figure out what the ghost/werewolf/vampire/insert monster here wants” or they turn into humour pieces skewering horror tropes.

This month’s story, from the collection Demon Summoning for Beginners, falls into the latter category. And if you want to read all of my spooky stories to date, check out The Spooky Bundle, available exclusively at DriveThruFiction, where you can get all of my attempts at writing horror in one handy bundle at a reduced price.

So follow Lucas, as his attempt to summon a demon goes quite differently than expected.

Ritual Failure

Lucas took a deep breath. Everything was ready.

The altar had been prepared and the ritual circle had been drawn on the basement floor with chalk pilfered from the classroom. A gong had been set up. The candles and the incense — proper church incense and not those joss sticks from the Chinese import store — awaited. The correct page was bookmarked in the ancient grimoire he’d found in the local used book store. Lucas had put on a ceremonial robe that looked only a little bit like the bathrobe it was. The athame was ready — forged of virgin steel as required (though Lucas wasn’t sure if there even was non-virginal steel — after all, who had sex with daggers?). He’d even procured a sacrifice, a clucking chicken that had gifted him with a bonus egg it had laid that afternoon.

Lucas checked his wristwatch. The hour was here, determined by arcane calculations. In its cage, the chicken clucked and idly picked at some grains.

Time to get started. Time to summon a demon, a real bona-fide demon. A demon who would hopefully help Lucas win the heart and undying love of Bethany Morris, the prettiest girl in his class.

Lucas lit the candles and the incense and promptly inhaled a plume of smoke, which caused a violent coughing fit and drove tears into his eyes.

So Lucas had to step out of the circle again to get his inhaler, which he’d forgotten. Of course in theory, you weren’t supposed to leave the circle, once the ritual had started. But then, Lucas hadn’t gotten started yet, not really. All he’d done was light the incense and the candles. And besides, he was extra careful not to smudge the chalk lines that marked the circle.

Once he’d dealt with his inopportune coughing fit, Lucas picked up the grimoire and began to read, solemnly intoning the words. The summoning ritual was in Latin with a bit of Hebrew sprinkled in, as magical rituals tended to be.

Of course, Lucas spoke neither Latin nor Hebrew, so he had absolutely no idea just what he was intoning. He only hoped it wasn’t something terribly embarrassing.

Besides, the guy in the used book store who’d sold him the grimoire had said that most magicians did not actually speak Latin, let alone Hebrew. It was perfectly okay just to recite the words.

So Lucas did just that. He recited the words, struck the gong at the prescribed moments and did his best to ignore the clucking chicken. He did all that and nothing, absolutely nothing happened, except that the chicken began to pick at stray crumbs of ash raining from the incense burner.

After about ten minutes of nothing happening, Lucas began to feel very silly indeed. After all, he was standing here in his bathrobe in the basement, breathing incense fumes that made his asthma flare up and reciting strange words in a language he did not understand, while a chicken offered a running commentary in clicks and clucks.

It was, in a word, ridiculous. And obviously not going to work, because there was no sign of a demon, not even the faint smell of brimstone, whatever brimstone was supposed to smell like. Unless it smelled like this godawful stinking church incense he’d bought.

Lucas abruptly stopped and plopped down on his butt in the middle of his magical circle. He looked over at the cage with the clucking chicken and wondered what to do with it now. The ritual called for slitting its throat with the athame and spilling its blood on the altar, but Lucas probably could never have brought himself to do that anyway. The chicken was a living creature, after all, and Lucas was just too damned soft-hearted to kill it, demon summoning ritual or not.

Maybe he could just keep the chicken as a pet. After all, he’d always wanted a pet. And fresh eggs every morning would sure be nice and a welcome change from last night’s stale pizza.

So he reached for the cage and got to his feet. “Sorry, pal,” he said to the chicken, “I wasn’t really going to slit your throat, you know? No hard feelings, okay?”

And then, as he was just about to leave the circle, the cage with the chicken in hand, the unthinkable happened. A demon appeared in a puff of smoke that stank of the aftermath of a high school chemistry experiment gone wrong.

Okay, so that’s what brimstone was.

“I am Razariel, the Fearsome, and that was the worst Latin I ever heard,” the demon thundered.

The creature looked just like Lucas had expected a demon to look. Blood red skin, yellow eyes, cloven hooves, horns and a spiked tail.

“It’s ‘sacrificio’ with a k-sound, not an s-sound,” the demon continued, clearly infuriated.

Lucas took a step back, stumbled over the altar and promptly landed on his butt, though thankfully still inside the circle. The chicken squeaked in protest.

“I… I beg your pardon,” he stammered.

“Your Latin is absolutely abominable,” the demon continued, “And don’t even get me started on your Hebrew. At any rate, I suspect those strange throat-clearing noises you just made were supposed to be Hebrew. Cause if they were really just throat-clearing, I’d see a doctor about that. What do they teach you kids at school these days?”

“Ahem, I… I took Spanish,” Lucas stammered.

“Well, next time before you summon anybody, learn proper Latin first,” the demon snarled, “And is that a chicken? Let me guess, you wanted to sacrifice it to gain my favour?”

“That was the idea, yes.”

“Do I look like I want a chicken?” the demon demanded, “If I get a hankering for chicken, I go to Kentucky Fried Chicken just like everybody else. But if I’m to be summoned, I at least expect a nice, juicy virgin, preferably two, as a reward.”

The demon sniffed the air.

“Oh dear, you are a virgin,” it said.

Lucas felt himself blushing furiously. “Uhm yes, but…”

“You weren’t planning to sacrifice yourself, were you?”

Lucas shook his head.

“Well, good for you and the chicken here that I’ve just had a nice big, super-spicy burrito and am not hungry anyway. And just a tip, next time you want to summon someone, bring a burrito rather than a live chicken…”

“I… I’ll remember it, thanks.”

The demon sighed, emitting a burp of sulphur in the process.

“All right, so you summoned me. Congratulations. Now tell me what you want, so I can get back to my Narcos binge.”

“Uhm, I… I…”

“Are you brain-damaged or just stupid? You did summon me for a reason, did you? Not just to see if I would show up. Cause I’m warning you, we demons don’t like jokers who summon us just to prove a point.”

“I didn’t,” Lucas said hastily, “I really wanted something.”

The demon tapped its cloved-hoofed foot, while its tail swished back and forth. “Well, what?”

“B… Be… Bethany Morris. I want the undying love of Bethany Morris.”

The demon rolled its yellow eyes. “That’s all? You summon a demon from hell and interrupt my Narcos binge just to win the heart of some girl? What happened? Was the local occult shop all out of love charms? Or did you accidentally open that grimoire on the wrong page and ended up with a demon summoning spell instead of a love spell?”

“I… It said in there…” Lucas pointed at the grimoire. “…that you would grant me my heart’s desire. And my heart’s desire is the undying love of Bethany Morris.”

The demon emitted another sulphurous sigh. “Humans. So predictable. You are aware that she’ll probably want to get married and move to the suburbs one day, that the sex will get boring and that she’ll get fat and that she’ll want babies that cry and poop all the time…”

The demon glared at Lucas with its yellow eyes.

“So are you really sure you want Bethany Whatshername and not riches beyond your imagination or everlasting fame or to become the best blues musician of all time or one of the other classic wishes?”

“No, I…” Lucas hesitated for a moment, because fame and fortune and musical talent and riches beyond his imagination really did sound tempting. “…I want the love of Bethany Morris.”

“All right then…”

The demon made a few strange gestures that looked a bit like interpretative dance and mumbled some words in what Lucas presumed was correctly pronounced Latin. Or maybe it was correctly pronounced Hebrew.

“There. That’s it,” the demon said with a toothy smile, “Now go find Bethany Whatshername and talk to her, which is what you should have done in the first place. Maybe tell her you summoned a demon to win her love, cause that’s sure to impress her.”

The demon looked Lucas up and down with its yellow eyes.

“On the other hand, maybe not. Anyway, if we’re all done now, then good-bye and all that jazz. Narcos awaits.”

The demon vanished in a puff of foul-smelling smoke.

When it was gone and Lucas had stopped coughing, he turned to the chicken.

“All right, so do you think I should call Bethany?”

The chicken clucked once. Lucas decided to take that as a yes.

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.

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