‘Traditional Magic’ was my grandfather’s special interest, and when he died the books he’d collected over a lifetime were put into a book auction and sold, mainly for a song. Dad said Grandad had never spoken about his interest in detail, just told him that certain ‘forces’ had helped him achieve what he’d wanted to achieve in life, namely wealth, health, love, and a successful career as a judge.
I went with Dad, my Uncle Bob and my elder brother Todd to clear out his house. Todd and I were assigned to the loft, being younger, fitter and leaner. I’d looked behind the chimney breast. “Hey, Todd, there’s an old suitcase here.”
Three of us stood within a circle chalked on bare floorboards in an empty, abandoned house. Some said it was haunted, so people generally kept away. The cracked panes in the window were moonlit silver. Distant thunder rumbled. Sophie, Todd’s girlfriend spoke. “Hey, I don’t like this.”
Todd winked at me. “Don’t worry, everything’s fine, I know what I’m doing.”
We’d placed a battery-powered lantern outside the circle and there were five red candles placed equally around its perimeter. Todd lit the candles and in a deep throaty voice began to intone, “Desk-end-ee-moose ab eye-ray oot ask-end-at ….” He read from a small leather-bound book we’d found in the suitcase, buried beneath the usual Raymond Buckland, Alistair Crowley and W. E. Butler type of occult paperbacks. This book was very different. It was handwritten in English, Latin and unknown tongues on smooth parchment with a brownish-coloured ink. Everywhere were strange ‘sigils’ – circles full of squiggles and symbols. On the front endpaper, the author had written his pen name – Magus Christanthos – and the date – 1847. On the spine was inked ‘A Labour of Magick’. Todd said the author had written a pronunciation guide for some rituals, including the one he intended to do.
He continued to intone, calling names of various purported spirits, his otherworldly voice reverberating in the empty room, “Seenah, Meesass, Litoh, Oznass ….” The candles flickered and cast strange shadows like giant misshapen rabbits onto the faded pink stripes of the peeling wallpaper. Sophie and I exchanged nervous glances.
Todd reached what was presumably the climax of the ritual. In his unaccustomed throaty voice, which now seemed to possess him, he proclaimed, “I call on thee, Oh, Demon Rah-oom, bring us the wealth we desire!”
Three things occurred simultaneously. The light from the lantern went out, lightning flashed, and a raucous ‘caw’ came from the window where the head of a huge crow had appeared against the bright moonlight.
Then came a loud crack of thunder, Sophie screamed, and the crow was gone.
“Jesus Christ, that was scary!” I said. My heart was pounding, and my palms were sweaty. We all laughed nervously.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Todd bringing out a torch. We rubbed the circle out with our feet, scraped up spilt wax, and gathered our bits. It had started to turn cold, and our breath misted in the air.
We left as we’d entered, through a cellar, dank and pitch black, save for Todd’s torchlight. Something scuttled across the floor behind us.
Relieved to be in the fresh air again, we walked around the house to the window where we’d seen the crow.
“Look!” exclaimed Sophie, pointing to something on the ground, pink and glistening in the moonlight. Todd shone his torch on what appeared to be a freshly skinned rabbit. Dark, empty eye sockets stared up at us.
“Hey, I’m cooking supper tonight,” said Todd. “Rabbit pie!”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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