Twinkling white lights wrapped around the carcass of the once majestic pine tree and flickered on and off, on and off. The antique ornaments that my grandmother had rescued from her mother were chipped, but shiny. Probably leaving tiny traces of lead paint all over the Santa shaped tree skirt beneath the sacrificed piece of nature brought inside so my family could celebrate another banner Christmas.
Mother sat wrapped in a terrycloth robe, it was well past noon, but she had already taken her fistful of Xanax that morning, and Father drank his fourth cup on coffee. Grandma rocked away, staring off into space, while her index fingers did a wild dance to a melancholy Bing Crosby Christmas tune. I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the wrapped boxes under the tree. I knew what they contained—a sweater, some socks, maybe a new, fancy journal—if I was lucky. But there was one gift that Christmas I never asked for. One I never dreamed would fall into my very unskilled hands.
“Knock, knock,” the front door flew open and upon the incoming winter winds cackled the voice of my Aunt Cindy. “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” she chortled as she flung herself through the entrance with two arms full of packages.
I sprung to my feet to close the door behind her, suppressing the blustery chill that wafted in. “Hi, Aunt Cindy,” I said and wrapped an arm around her frigid shoulder.
Of all the people in my family, I loved Aunt Cindy the best. She was like the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda had a love child and sent it off to Woodstock for a higher education. Her chestnut brown hair was wild and untamed. It stuck out in every direction, and it had a gleaming silver streak at the temple that glittered like moonbeams. Aunt Cindy’s smile was mischievous, and the gap between her two front teeth gave her a child-like quality that mocked her age. She was the only one who knew what I was. She accepted me. I could breathe in her company.
“Happy Yule,” she whispered in my ear. “I hope you weren’t waiting for me. The roads are terrible. Hell of a blizzard outside.”
“No trouble at all, Sister,” Father grinned through coffee-stained teeth. The man might have been a robot for all the emotion he dared to show.
Aunt Cindy rifled through the boxes she’d tossed on an ottoman. Each of them delicately wrapped in silver or gold paper. Each of them adorned with a magnificent, billowy bow. She shuffled around the room dropping packages in laps, as if she were Kris Kringle, and circled back to me.
“I think,” Aunt Cindy muttered with breathy secrecy, “that you will find this—amusing.”
I smirked and furrowed my brow. Aunt Cindy had a special talent for gifting me objects that seemed innocuous to my parents but were unfathomably wonderful in my practice and education. I slid the green silk ribbon from the package and shredded the paper. The contents immediately puzzled me. Aunt Cindy had gifted me a worn, ancient leather-bound Bible. It had the remnants of a brass lock, but it was broken, the mechanism that welcomed the key missing. The writing indicating the name of the book was worn, all that was left was the impression of the tool used to mar the leather—which was hard and brittle.
“It isn’t what you think, dear Alice. Look inside.”
“What?” I opened the cover gingerly, the spine of the antique book protested against the force. Bits of stiff thread broke away and toppled onto the cracked and folded pages. I flipped through, but all looked as it should.
“The back cover, Alice.”
The pages flipped violently, and I was certain they were going to give up, like a desperate man on the top of a skyscraper, just leap from their chains to the hereafter. But the book stayed intact. A prickly heat started in my scalp and then spread through my trunk, my extremities, when I saw the back cover of the book. Etched in the paper that had been bound to the leather was a pentagram. Sigils carved into each of the corners. My heart was a symbol, clanging away in ecstasy and excitement. What did they mean? What had this witch been up to?
“Aunt Cindy, this is, so cool!” I squealed and wrapped my arms around her neck—taking in a mouthful of that untamed hair. I immediately ran off to my room for more exploration.
“Glad you like it, kid,” Aunt Cindy called after me.
I went straight to my altar, which my parents believed to be some sort of strange teenage angst filled decoration despite the fact that it was decorated for Yule, and lit the candles representing God and Goddess as well as the elements and myself. To this day, I don’t know why I called upon them except, perhaps, for knowledge or safe guidance. That was probably my first mistake.
The books about spellcasting that I had collected were safely stored away under my bed, like secret passengers on a vessel. I couldn’t let anyone else in the house find my secret stash, and no one would venture to peer into the abyss that was everything I shoved under there for safe keeping, or because I was too lazy to put it away. I spread the tomes out across my crimson carpet and began scouring the pages, hunting for sigils that looked like those I saw in Aunt Cindy’s gift. Hundreds, thousands of pages flipped as my eyes began to go blurry in protest. I rolled anxiously on the floor—flipped from belly to back holding books precariously above my face. Towers of them teetered next to me. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
My eyes darted back and forth as I attempted to decipher the meaning of what was carved in the Bible I had received, but I was desperately inexperienced. The whole thing was like reading computer code. Something about a horned God, eternity, shadow, fire, and primal law. Whatever the hell primal law meant. The symbols and meanings seemed a secret code that I just wasn’t qualified to crack. And as I sat, pondering over the puzzle before me, something new appeared just below the etched pentagram. It was written in what must have been pencil, a very long time ago, because it was nearly invisible.
“She who trespass upon this book, also trespass upon me.
Let the Gods break her will
Her flesh be spoilt
Her tongue burn out.
May the Gods intervene where I cannot. So mote it be.”
That was mistake number two. I don’t know why I read that out loud except that I was compelled to. Except that it seemed totally and completely innocent at the time. Until it was over. I was suddenly overcome by an intense and unidentifiable feeling of dread, panic. As if the world had spun off its axis and I was the only person in all of humanity that was aware of the cataclysmic doom bearing down upon us. My heart began to beat rapidly. My head was numb, spinning, as if I had just removed myself from a carnival ride.
When I stood, the floor swirled beneath my feet, a vortex ready to suck me in. I bent to pick up one of my books. I needed to find an answer for the mayhem overpowering my senses, but when I gazed down upon the open pages, I saw my arms. The tender, creamy flesh covered in black boils. I screamed and threw the book aside—rushed to the vanity mirror that rested in the corner of my room. The boils trailed all the way up my arms and disappeared under my t-shirt. I pulled frantically at the collar—more boils just below my collar bone.
“Holy shit,” I said into the mirror, “was that a curse?”
“It was,” a deep, smooth voice answered from behind me.
Oxygen caught in my throat and I sprung around to find the owner of the voice. He stood in the shadows surrounded by a thick fog of noxious black. What I could see of him was interesting, alluring even. Despite the onyx darkness that fell across his face, in the glow of the candlelight, I could see a square jaw, a set of full pink lips, eyes that sparkled out of the bleakness, and horns—were those horns protruding from his forehead?
“Who are you?” I choked, pressing myself hard against the edge of my vanity.
He took a step forward into the light. He wore a well-tailored suit. I glanced at the ‘Gone with the Wind’ poster above my nightstand.
“It was a good decade,” he winked. “Alice, come now. How long have you been studying? One year, two? A witch should know her master.”
“Pan?” I gasped.
“Ugh. No.” He scoffed and picked up the Bible that I had left on the floor. “I am Satan, Alice. You can call me Lucifer if you like.” He smiled a coy, flirtatious grin.
“Oh no,” I protested, “I didn’t sign up for Satan worship or deals with the Devil. Gods and Goddesses is what I’ve been studying.”
“Yes, I can see that’s worked out well for you.”
The pus-filled boils that marred my skin had begun to fester and grow. A few exploded, releasing vile, fermented ooze that slithered down my arm like a serpent. As if the stench and the spectacle weren’t enough, the liquid scorched and scarred what was left of my porcelain arms. I could feel the boils creeping up my neck. “So, what? You’re here to help?”
“Of course, Alice. For a price.” He sniggered.
“It’s not as if you’re some mystical oddity, ya know.” I gripped the edge of my vanity. My fingers were slick with green slime. “What do you want? My eternal soul? My first born? Do you want me to slaughter a town or something?”
He laughed, “No, nothing like that Alice.” Satan took a few careful steps closer to me. I could see him now, really see him, and his irises glowed like fire. “I just need a teeny tiny favor. What I require is very specific, you see. I simply don’t have time to get the items myself. If you can procure them for me I can wipe away the curse. And make no mistake, the witch who set this into motion was quite powerful.”
“S-So, what do you want? The blood of a virgin, because that’s pretty hard to come by these days.”
“No, Alice. What I need is wood from the tree to which the false God was tied, and a blade not unlike the first. Can you get those things for me, Alice?”
“What are those things? You’re speaking in riddles.” I pleaded.
“Get them and call for me before the rest of the curse has a chance to work.”
And he was gone.
Gauze is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to conceal witch curses. I spent a lot of Christmas money over the next few days visiting the drug store, buying armfuls of gauze, and changing my dressings several times a day. The pharmacist seemed suspicious at the corner drug store, so, I started walking two extra blocks. in the other direction to visit the big box store where people cared a whole lot less.
Satan’s request was confusing at best. I wasn’t raised in a church-going family. I knew nothing of Biblical stories, nothing of who did what when, and let’s face it, that thing would take forever to read through. I didn’t have that kind of time. I did a lot of computer searches, and a lot of them turned up some perplexing answers. What was clear was that, according to the Bible, Caine killed Able—brother on brother crime. So, I figured I needed a blade used in the same manner. The tree was more difficult, but a lot of sleepy nights and puddles of pus later, I found that what Satan—Lucifer—wanted was a piece of an olive tree. What was he planning to do with a knife and a hunk of wood?
The fact that I was but a lowly teen be damned, because one can find anything if they look hard enough on the internet. Olive tree wood is easy if you search enough hippie pages. I ordered that cheap and had it in no time. The real issue was the knife. That took time, patience, and prowess.
There is a place where sane people don’t tread. A place called the dark web, where criminals lurk and will do nearly anything—sell nearly anything—for the right price. It is not an easy place to find, one does not just stumble upon it, but it does hold the answer to many of life’s dilemmas. Inside, I made contact with a man who happened to have the murder weapon used by a man who killed his family some twenty years back. A brutal stabbing, and this former officer took it as a souvenir. As the boils began to cover my cheeks, and even my long black hair struggled to hide them, I had no choice but to use my father’s credit card to purchase the weapon of murder.
“Lucifer, I have what you asked for. It’s Alice. Lucifer, I summon you! Satan!”
A loud pop and more of the sulfur scented smoke filled my room, “Keep your pants on, Alice. I heard you.”
“Here, here,” I shoved the small chunk of wood and the rusty knife into his hands. “Now, please, undo the curse.”
“Yikes,” he sneered, “you’re looking a little worse for wear, aren’t you? Well, I have to be sure these work first. You understand.”
“But—” I attempted to protest, but Satan had already begun his task.
His hands moved so swiftly that they weren’t much more than a blur. One held the knife, the other the piece of wood, and he appeared to be whittling the wood into some shape that I couldn’t quite make out. I gazed at him, in awe of the precision with which he crafted the sculpture. The wood had begun to glow a fierce gold under the murderous blade, and he was finished and held aloft, a tiny, delicate toothpick.
“A toothpick!” I shouted in disbelief.
Satan poked the thing between his molars and dug absentmindedly. His eyes rolled back in his head, the fire gone, replaced by stark, unseeing white. He spit. “Ah. There we are. That long-pig has been stuck in there, driving me crazy for centuries.”
“Seriously? All that for a toothpick?”
“I’m very particular.”
I could feel my eyes bulging from their sockets, “Can you fith thish now?”
“Uh oh, last of the curse is taking effect, huh? Yes, yes we better fix that. Do you have the book?”
I retrieved the book from my bedside table. At the same time I felt the sensation of fire ripping through my tongue. It was as if it were nothing more than serrated paper and someone was giving it a good tug. Blood dribbled down my chin.
“Hurry,” I slurred.
He handled the book as if it would give him warts. “Do you have a pencil?” He took note of one atop my vanity.
Lucifer sauntered, in no real hurry, to the pencil whilst mumbling a little tune, “Tyunum rabash dictum tidur”. He then began to scrub away at the pentagram and sigils, the curse written on the page. Again, I gazed upon him, unsure where all this was going, until he blew the eraser shavings from the book, slammed the covers closed, and tossed it on my bed.
Remarkably, the boils, the ooze, the scars were gone. “That’s it? You did a spell and erased it?”
“No spell. I just erased it.”
“What was that you said a minute ago?”
“Just a song I like. Well, dear Alice, our time together is over. You don’t owe me, and I don’t owe you. Unless, of course, you continue on the path you were on.”
And he was gone as quickly as he’d appeared the first time he came, but I kept the toothpick, because imagine what a witch could do with that. Best, and worst, Christmas ever.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.