The Ritual

This flash fiction eventually grew into my novel: The Light Within

The cultist pulled a hood over my head blocking all light. I could hear the other members of the cult chanting in some guttural, gurgling language. The smell of whatever they were burning was making me nauseous. They began to chant the same sound over and over until their chant rose to a scream and then silence filled the barn.

The bag no longer covered my head. I wasn’t in a building but out in the open. There were no cultists; in fact, there wasn’t a single person to be seen.

Lightning flashed, black bolts against a dead gray sky. The clouds covering from horizon to horizon were the color of rotting flesh. Another bolt flashed down from the corrupt sky and struck the ground. The hillside recoiled like a living thing from the pain of the strike. The soil, black and moist was more black paste than life-giving loam. It rippled near the site of the strike. Bubbles journeyed from some deep place up to the surface where they stretched the plastic soil upwards into boils which popped, spewing noxious fumes and pus-like yellow fluids.

A structure stood atop the hill, it was tall yet somehow appeared squat and menacing. The angles of its walls shifted as the eye traversed its height as if it were fluctuating or attempting to escape its hated form and become something other.

Moaning of wind or vast creatures suffering in ways unimaginable filled the air. Gusts of wind drove liquid from the surface upward to the clouds rather than downward as rain. In the distance, things moved. The shapes undulated and crawled, they hopped and staggered across the ever-shifting ground. Energies erupted from the distant hills, blue-white flashes; each seemed the polar opposite of the black lightning. The flashes coalesced to form writhing tendrils which quested across the landscape, enveloping and somehow consuming the things moving there. Lightning flashed again and one of the blue-white tendrils streaked upward to intercept the lightning, swallowing its darkness into itself and increasing in size as it drank in the dark energy.

The tendrils turned and regarded me; I could feel their attention as if they were living things intent on stalking new prey. The tendrils flowed across the shifting ground, racing over everything in their path like Saint Elmo’s fire. The electric forms of the tendrils piled one upon anot
her until they filled my view. The rose up, towering over me and then they flung themselves at me, half lightning, half tentacled beast.

I screamed. From the bottom of my chest, gut-clenching, sphincter puckering screams which tore my throat; I screamed.

“You’re safe,” a man’s voice said. Daylight returned to the dark world banishing the energy tentacles and cursed landscape. Screams still tore their way through my abused throat but wound down to whimpers as I saw that I was still in the barn, still kneeling in rotted straw. Dozens of armed men milled. The smell of gunpowder and blood filled the air. Bodies covered the floor, most in the sackcloth robes of the cult but more than a few in normal clothing—my fellow victims.

The man in front of me looked hard but kind. His bulging black vest displayed the most wonderful word I had ever seen: POLICE.

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