I awakened with a growling stomach but no appetite. All night I kept going back and forth trying to decide between two options: surrender to Grandpa’s safe guidance or follow my own precarious path.
I walked into the kitchen. The house was quiet and a note was waiting for me on the dining table. It was from Mom. She went to my grandparents’ apartment to fetch Daniel. Under an inverted bowl, Mom had left me a plate of scrambled eggs, but they didn’t look very appealing. Instead, I made myself tea, feeling a particular desire for lemon. I ended up squeezing three whole ones into a pitcher. Sitting down on the table and sipping the tart drink, I put together a rough plan of my day. I knew that engaging Crass in my ritual carried a risk, but thanks to the moon’s energy I had received last night, I felt a certain power. I took it at Sariel’s way of calling me home. All I needed Crass for was the invocation.
I looked at the clock. It was almost noon. I tidied up my room, got dressed, and went outside to think some more and avoid bumping into Mom and Daniel, possibly even carrying grandfather’s reprimands.
The neighborhood was quiet, most people attending the Sunday mass. Two ravens circled the network of streets. The trees were naked, with nascent spring blooms poking out of their branches. Passing through my backyard, I aimed for the river. Halfway there I needed to take off my jacket. The sun was bright and the temperatures quite warm for March. The air smelled of fecund earth. In eight days, I would be turning sixteen. It would be the first time that I had no plans for my birthday. By the time I paused at the riverbank, I was down to my black short-sleeved top. The day was serene and nature was beginning to awaken after months of slumber. Making a pillow out of my jacket, I laid down on a patch of moss, letting the sun caress my face in splashes of light that streamed between braches. I felt profoundly alone in my quest.
Perhaps this was, after all, the way things were. Paths to truth had room for only one traveler.
I must have fallen asleep for some time. When I finally awakened, the sun was much lower. I was hungry, but I did not want to go home to eat, as surely Mom and Daniel were already back. Instead, I followed the banks of the river southward, the direction of a neighboring house development where Crass’ family lived.
Crass’ house stood at the very end of a narrow street and faced the river. His parents had taken over the uninhabited plot of land on its banks and had made it into a vegetable garden. Years ago, I’d see their hunched bodies working the land on the days when I’d venture too far in that direction, picking flowers for Mom. They struck me as hardworking, quiet people who mostly kept to themselves.
When I approached, Crass was in the garden, freshly plowed for sowing, smoking a cigarette, his head toward the rushing body of water. He was wearing a black long sleeve shirt with a white pentagram on the front with a skull in the middle. His hair was tied at the nape of his neck. He looked like he was expecting someone. The thought was both exciting and scary. I wavered. This was my last chance to turn around. But the only other option was to relent and submit to the will of others. I took a step forward and cleared my throat. Crass looked in my direction and dropped the butt to the ground. He waited for me to walk up to him.
“Follow me,” he said and turned toward his house.
We passed the open gate in the fence and I caught a glare of television screen through one window. We skirted the decaying rose garden and walked upon a smaller unit behind the main house. The door to his room was left partly open. Entering after Crass, I was taken aback by the intense smell inside. It was a mixture of stale tobacco, incense, and something else, I couldn’t tell. The walls in his room were painted black and covered with posters of metal bands, monsters, and creatures that looked like the living dead, with rotting flesh peeling off their glistening skulls.
“Your own private lair I see,” I said, looking around.
“I call it my Hades,” he murmured, rearranging a few objects on a low glass table that stood in the middle of the room. It was cluttered and covered in grime, which looked like dust and cigarette ash. On the edge, tied with a red ribbon, lay a bundle of dry chrysanthemums.
“Nice bouquet,” I said.
“Fresh from the cemetery,” he smiled at me. “Ready to take a walk on the wild side?”
I gulped the air. “I think so.” Crass was starting to make me nervous.
“I need a definite answer,” he added. “Maybe a little more enthusiasm, too?”
“Yes. I mean yes,” I said, wary of Crass’ persuasive powers.
“Good. Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back,” he said, and left the room.
After wrestling with it for a while, I managed to crack open the room’s only window, which was in dire need of washing. Crass’ interest in the occult was clear. I counted more candles in his room than we had ever had in my house. Most were half-molten, made of yellow or red wax, and scattered around the room, over shelves and stools, one of which stood next to Crass’ unmade bed. His desk was encrusted in splashes of wax with symbols carved with a sharp object. On the floor, leaning against a wall, I counted a row of thirteen more candles. I looked up and saw the hand drawn image of a downcast pentagram on a fragment of a wall.
“My altar,” Crass said, carrying two steaming cups in his hands. “Have a seat.” He motioned to his bed, and set the cups on the table before locking the doors behind him, which must have led to the rest of his family’s domicile.
“What’s in them?” I pointed at the cups.
“A tea we will be having after I find the fucking lighter.”
“Your pocket maybe?”
He reached into his pocket, pulling out the lighter. “Ha! Clever or clairvoyant?”
“Pure logic,” I replied, watching him light every single candle in his room.
“Are you warm?” he asked, and I nodded. “Then take off your jacket.”
I obeyed again, not wanting to offend, or worse anger, Crass. “How long is this . . . ceremony going to last?” I asked, setting my wool jacket next to me.
“You’ll be playing hooky tomorrow,” he said, kneeling next to the table and picking up the final unlit votive. “And likely will miss your Sunday supper with mommy and daddy.” I told him that “daddy” was no more. “Whatever,” he shrugged, and dug his fingers into the candle to retrieve its sunken wick.
“What are we going to do?”
“Curious, are we?” he said, pulling out the wick and lighting it up. “One thing I can guarantee,” he held the flame to his face, deep creases lining his forehead, “is that you’ll be on fire.” Crass threw the lighter onto the bed and walked to his stereo to put on a heavy metallic tune.
In an effort to appear confortable, I leaned back on my elbows over Crass’ bed, and looked around for the tenth time, thinking. What would happen tonight? Would I manage to reach Sariel? In order to find him, I was willing to work with a young warlock. This was true devotion, I thought to myself.
Crass touched one of the teacups. “Okay, it should be cool enough now. Let’s drink,” he said, handing me one of them. “Bottoms up.”
“This is not the first time you’re doing this, I take it?” I asked, staring into the cup.
Crass glanced at me through a veil of steam and began to laugh. “Do I look like a novice to you?” he said and blinked. “Don’t be afraid, have a sip.”
The fact that he saw my fear was not a good sign.
“What’s in it?” I asked.
I smelled the rising steam that hinted of sweet earth and fungus before dipping my tongue in it.
“This tea of yours tastes nasty,” I said, experiencing an acidic aftertaste.
“You have to finish the cup if you want to see your fallen angel tonight. Drink up!” He came toward me and held the cup to my lips. “All the way. That’s right,” he said. I kept swallowing while making a sour face. For Sariel, I thought and that got me through. I blinked and a tear fell down my cheek.
“That bad, huh?” Crass laughed again. Once my cup was empty, Crass drank his in three loud gulps, wiped his mouth with a sleeve, and went outside to smoke. I sat on his bed twirling my fingers, feeling increasingly more out of place. But it was too late. The substance that would catalyze the visions was already inside me. Not wanting to face the rising guilt for having submitted to Crass’ influence, I decided to join him outside.
He stood silently, looking toward the backyard of a neighboring house, its gray wall covered with climbing vines. Feeling slightly nauseous, I passed on a smoke and started to dig a hole in the ground with my boot.
“So what’s next?” I asked to fill the void. “What do I do?”
“Nothing. It will happen by itself.”
“What will happen?”
“The going deeper part,” he said, shaking the ashes off his cigarette. “Until you find what you are after. Don’t worry. I’ll help you light the fuse.”
I looked up at the twilight sky and got dizzy. I noticed that my hands were tingling and my stomach churning. The panorama in front of me jolted and began to shift. The trees, the stacked boxes by the fence, the wall with the vines—for a moment I couldn’t tell which layer was closer and which was farther away from me. Lines began to vibrate and circular patterns spun around their center. I looked at Crass and noticed he had four eyes. I blinked and saw them overlap and become two again.
“You feelin’ it?” Crass asked, the end of his cigarette sparkling like the end of a magic wand.
“I think I’m starting to see things.” I said, clutching my stomach.
“That’s normal. Soon you’ll be flying.”
“What exactly was in that drink?” I asked, watching a cluster of transparent bubbles float through the air.
“Let’s go inside.” Crass extinguished his cigarette and led me back into his dark temple shutting the door behind him.
My legs bucked under me and I fell straight onto his bed. I closed my eyes and everything spun.
“I already told you, it’s magic. The tea is full of magic,” Crass said, positioning himself behind me, his hands clutching my waist. I could feel both of us shiver. Not knowing what to do or how to navigate my changing mind, I kept my attention on the music, which seemed to be coming from some place far away. Or straight from within me. I heard a whole new spectrum of tones outside the normal range. There were high treble sounds like chimes that invoked the image of stars, and bass melodies so low and deep they seemed to emanate from the earth’s subterranean chambers. One song ended and another began. And then another. It felt as if it had been hours since I first laid down.
“When will I see him?” I muttered.
Crass stirred behind me. “After the blood is set free,” he said out of nowhere. “Then he will come.”
“What?” I opened my eyes, the blood in my veins curdling.
“Can’t access the forbidden without a proper sacrifice,” he said, lifting himself up and pressing my shoulder down to turn me onto my back. His ponytail had come undone, the loose tendrils of his hair falling toward me.
“Are you planning to kill another cat?” I squirmed. I wanted to get away from him, but Crass had me trapped underneath him. I felt like I was losing my grasp on reality. Trying to think, my thoughts were slipping like bare feet over ice.
“No, there is no need for that,” he said. “It’s a different kind of blood he wants,” he intoned with a raspy voice. “Once it’s set free, the gates will open,” Crass said, slipping his hand underneath my shirt and bringing his face closer to mine.
“Stop!” I turned my face and tried to push away his hand. But he was too strong.
“C’mon. He’s waiting. The fallen wants to come through.”
“No,” I cried out, and shut my eyes.
But then something strange happened. Crass’ body froze above me, becoming completely still. Slowly, I turned my head to look at him. His eyes were partly closed, exposing only the whites, a dim smile dawning on his face. I got a strange feeling that he wasn’t here anymore. The more I looked at Crass’ face, the more it seemed to be losing its substance until nothing but a milky haze remained. Out of that haze emerged two small flames.
“Ninsal,” I heard him hiss.
“Sariel,” I gasped, watching more of the angel’s features come through. My lips parted and I opened inside, a surge of energy rushing from my belly down, like a river of nectar. I lifted my head and our mouths connected. My back arched and I felt myself falling through the sheets like clouds. Soon I was soaring like a bird; at last I knew what it felt like to fly. Sariel kissed me deeply. He tasted bitter, but it didn’t matter. I finally had him in my arms. His lips traveled to my neck.
“Blood,” he whispered into my ear. “I need your blood.”
“Go ahead, take it,” I said, and tilted my head back even farther.
Sariel’s hands moved down to unbutton my pants. Just then something shot through me like a lightning bolt. Evelina, no! I heard Daniel’s voice and opened my eyes. Instead of Sariel, I saw Crass hard at work to get me undressed.
“What are you doing?” I groaned, trying to push Crass away.
“Taking your offering,” he said, and looked at me with bloodshot eyes. I shivered. “You’re a virgin, right?”
“Get off of me!”
Crass’ hair was covering my face and his hands moved swiftly like snakes, wrestling with my clothes in an effort to tear them off. I squeezed his wrist that was reaching in between my legs and redirected it to the side.
“Please stop,” I called, but it was getting harder to resist him. Sariel had awakened a fever in my body and part of me wanted to surrender.
“This is going to be glorious,” Crass sighed.
“Help me, Daniel,” I said to myself, and kept fighting to regain control over my senses. What I used to think of as solid reality has completely liquefied, disintegrated and turned inside out. Images were fluctuating, juxtaposing, melting and congealing into new shapes, all in the blink of an eye.
But Crass was entranced as much as I was, if not more. So I tried another tactic—to move with him, instead of against him, all in an effort to find a way to slip out of his grasp. With my languid maneuvers, I managed to switch places with Crass and turn him on his back. Draping my body over his, I looked to the side. On his walls, the faces on the posters were coming out before retreating back, dissolving before reappearing again. They were demonic and grotesque, tongues lashing out, and vines growing between them, weaving everything into one seamless web. The doors seemed exceedingly far away. Crass’ hands reached for my hips. I slowly peeled them off, rolled off him, and ambled toward the door.
“Come back,” he called after me. “Come back to me.”
“I need air,” I said, opened the door and stepped outside taking in a lungful of cold air. I had left my jacket on his bed but I had no intent of turning around to get it. It was a small loss compared to what Crass was after.
I was in his garden now, not completely out of his reach but far away enough to free myself from his spell. The fresh air sobered me up, but not for long. There, too, a procession of visions crawled between foliage, with elves flying across the darkened sky, gnomes staring at me from beneath berry bushes, and snakes wriggling on the ground. The earth’s veils had lifted, revealing another face full of eerie guises, a surreal spectacle.
“Come back,” I heard Crass call through the open door of his room. I turned around and saw him crawling toward me.