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Witches Sabbath By Goya (unreviewed)

I remember when I was in high school back in the early 90s that I went to a coven meeting. This was around the time of the whole Satanic Panic thing, and my family was pretty religious, so I played it off by saying that I was going to a party after our high school’s Winter Dance.

Anyway. I went to this coven thing with my friend Gemma, who had gone to the dance with me. We weren’t involved or anything, but we were pretty close, and we both had a major rebellious streak. Both of us had been heavily into metal and D&D back in the late 80s when that kind of thing was considered Satanic. I feel bad for my parents now, even though most of the stuff we were into was pretty innocent. I still play D&D; sometimes even with my parents. They’re mostly okay with it now, but sometimes they look at me funny when we’re playing, and I have to assume that they still have reservations about the game. Either that or they just don’t trust me anymore. And really, after what happened, who can blame them?

Gemma doesn’t play anymore. She doesn’t listen to metal either.

I think she still remembers.

*

From the second me and Gemma got out of the school gym into the night I knew that something was up. The world around us felt almost ephemeral, as if I could walk back into the dusty corridors and unlit backrooms of the school right through the wall behind me.

“You okay?” I asked Gemma, more out of a need for reassurance than any kind of genuine concern. I guess that might seem kind of selfish, but I didn’t usually feel this – dissociated, you could call it.

She nodded, shivering slightly in the cold. “Yeah, I think so. You good to go?”

“Sure. Let’s go summon Satan!”

She laughed then, an unspoilt laugh; a little guilty, mostly childishly excited. Like a little kid when they’re doing something that their parents wouldn’t approve of.

Gemma still laughs now, but not like that.

Oh well. No sense in getting sentimental over minute details. Leave that to the real writers – God knows I’ve seen enough of them.

We made our way over to the house where the party was. All around us, the snow fell like veils of TV static, blanketing the grim asphalt of the sidewalk. We were on a pretty heavily wooded road, and the pine trees and the snow and the old 1950s streetlights made us feel like we were in Narnia. It was almost magical. Even above us, the vaulted star-haunted blackness of the sky was bright and jewel-like with constellations. Through the pines we could see the warm lights coming on in all the old houses. I felt so happy I could burst.

I fell in love with my hometown that night, and even though that love’s soured now, it still remains. Beneath all the shit and vileness the heart still beats strong.

Gemma and I walked onwards through the night, waifish, towards our own personal hell.

*

We came to the house. It was big and old and painted off-white, and drifts of snow piled up in the windows. The girl who lived there, Samantha, was one of the “popular girls” – that is to say, she was pretty, rich and smart: Ivy League smart. And she was a great person, a great listener. I sometimes wish I could still talk to her. But I don’t think I’ll get that chance any time soon.

We walked up the drive, coats crusted with snow. Through the windows, we could make out vague shapes, basking in a yellow-orange light, all clearly having a great time. The light cast eerie patterns onto the snow and I was reminded of one of the mythical revels of Dionysus. There were probably enough drugs and alcohol there for one, at least. And what a relief that is, because it makes everything so much easier to justify in my head: of course it was all some drug-fuelled nightmare! What else could it have been? It’s so obvious now that I think about it – after all, real human people don’t –

I can’t –

I’m so sorry. I can’t talk about it. Even all these years later, my mind cannot handle all those awful sights.

*

My hand paused above the door knocker.

“You ready?” I asked.

“Hell yeah!” came Gemma’s muffled reply from inside her huge parka.

I knocked.

Once.

Twice.

Samantha opened the door, bubbly and ecstatic – probably high or stoned. Light spilled out onto the path. Orange, red, yellow, white. The colour of fire.

“Hi, you guys! Come in! We’ve been waiting for you!”

She absent-mindedly picked up a half-full cup that somebody else had left on the sideboard. Then, frowning, she looked out and back the way we’d just come from.

“Speaking of waiting,” she said, “have either of you seen Billy Donovan? I asked him to come, but he didn’t…”

“No, we haven’t seen him,” I said.

“Shit,” she said, suddenly morose. Then, as if nothing had happened, she smiled brightly and was back to normal. “Oh well, we can’t wait around for him. We got stuff to do!”

And so we walked through the door. It felt like stepping through a portal, into a warm bath suffused with incense and cinnamon. It felt… occult. I guess that’s only appropriate. Like some kind of gnostic mass.

Everything that happened from that moment on was, in my opinion, inescapable.

*

Before I continue, I should explain a few things.

First, most of the people who were at this party are now dead. And

I

may have killed some of them.

But I’m pretty sure that I acted in self-defense. Between those four cursed walls, nobody could think rationally, and whilst that might not excuse something as serious as murder, I maintain that insanity is a hell of an alibi.

Second.

Much of the rest of the story might not make much sense. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either. From the moment I first saw the gray-tinted child in the corner of the living room to that final, red-lit walk down the corridor to Samantha’s bedroom, I would have been considered by most doctors to be basically psychotic. When they pulled me out of the wreckage of that nightmare house, I was still far from sane. A lot of weird shit went down that night and nobody, least of all me, can offer a satisfactory explanation as to what happened. Honestly, I think that’s why it never made more than local news. The official story was that a gas leak, combined with some of those ridiculous witchy candles, caused the house to explode. And, for a good few years, that’s the story that I believed. When they established that I was mentally damaged by whatever traumatic experience I’d had in the house, they packed me off to a psych ward to help cope with the trauma. I was lucky in that sense. So in therapy, I was convinced that none of what I saw had really happened. And I believed that.

But now I wake up in a cold sweat and scribble endless pages in my notebooks, and I know the truth. I think I’ve fully known about my situation for about four years, and why I can never leave this town, no matter how hard I try. God, I want to just run away. But I can’t. I have to stay.

I can see it now when I turn off the light. A cold red light floods the landing, creeps under my door and whispers to me.

And third, and most importantly, my final request: don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Honestly, witch or Wicca stuff doesn’t seem that threatening to me. Nor does Satanism. I mean, they’re just religions. We were not doing anything remotely religious that night. What we brought into that house was not a witch’s familiar, it was not a devil and it was not Satan. It came from somewhere else, from the rot and biomechanical putridity of the future. It may have been a god, or it may have been some kind of interface for one. Either way, I don’t want to think about it – I can’t think about it – and yet I feel compelled to.

Don’t take this as some kind of instruction manual. Please.

*

Later in the night, I, more drunk than I had ever been, stumbled through rooms I barely recognised, suffused in smoky light and surrounded by people. My head throbbed in time to the tribal heavy-metal beats playing somewhere in the house. From what I remember, a lot of the early stages of the coven were just like an ordinary party.

Things built to a fever pitch at around 1AM, which is when Gemma and a couple of Samantha’s friends grabbed me out of the kitchen and into the living room. When we got there, it had been transfigured. All the expensive furniture had been swept to the sides to leave a large empty space. The expensive rug was rolled up out in the hallway, leaning against the wall like an old man. In the middle of the floor was a circle of red sand, with a few candles placed at each of the compass points. The candles were small and black, and gave off a pinkish light.

Samantha looked at us all, eyes glittering in the light of the fire. She looked insane, almost.

“Everyone ready?” she asked.

We were all gathered around the circle, watching in awe. The music still played in the background, but nobody was paying attention anymore. We were transfixed by Samantha. She had begun to wave her arms about, muttering weird words under her breath. A couple of guys started to chuckle awkwardly, and moved away. Our surprise and awe at the ritual circle gave way to embarrassment. Samantha just looked a bit stupid. I guess that was her intention, to have a joke with us before we all went off home.

What happened next was less stupid. She went over to the sideboard and picked a book off it, seemingly old and covered in what looked like leather. At this, my eyes were drawn to the corner of the room, where for a split second, I caught a glimpse of a little boy, colored in black and white, like he’d stepped out of an old photo. Static lines ran down his face.

Then he disappeared, vanishing as quickly as he’d arrived.

“Did you see that kid?” I whispered to Gemma.

She seemed uninterested. “Do you reckon that’s a real spellbook?” she asked, almost dreamily.

I snorted. “Ten bucks says it isn’t.”

She nodded. “We’ll ask her after this.”

Once she’d moved back to her position at the northern point of the circle, Samantha started to read, her voice going from a mutter to a conspiratorial whisper to a noise-laced scream. Her eyes widened, tears streaked down her face. Everyone started, looking at her in horror. Her mouth was stretched open almost to breaking point. Any embarrassment had faded completely. Now we were scared.

All of a sudden it was over. She slumped as if she was a puppet whose strings had been cut, and nearly pitched into the circle. A couple of her friends started towards her, but she waved them away.

“I’m not done yet,” she said, in a voice that didn’t sound anything like her at all.

Then, placing the book open into the centre of the circle, she raised her hand way up high and

there was a flash of silver and

she held out her wrist not looking at it very deliberately as though she did not want to witness

and so much blood

Oh so much blood. Spilling out of her wrist, out of her mouth, out of the candles. It covered me, covered Gemma, covered everyone. Then, in a split second so bright it was like looking into the sun

a rising shadow, taller than all of us

the lights went out.

Then the screams began. I promise you, if you think that you have seen true horror, you lie.

That night was like the end of the world.

*

There are no colours except black and red. The ritual was a success.

I stalk through the warped house, searching for the demon we summoned, with a knife clutched in my left hand. I know that I’m dreaming. I want to wake up.

This is the time when I first remember what I have been, where I have been. It’s frightening to have such a strong sense of déjà vu in a dream, especially when you can clearly remember that the events in the dream never actually happened in real life. Regardless, the eerie feeling stays, tainting your sleep and causing you to break out in a cold sweat that will all but cover you when you wake.

I am conscious that I have killed, and that I will kill again. I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been in this cursed fucking house for. A tick comes out of the darkness at me and I stab it in the chest. It squeals and dissolves messily. I remember its face – it used to be one of my friends, I think, in a time long gone. Not any more. Now it shrieks and scrabbles like an insect in a dungeon. A tick. They’re the only things in this house, other than the colour red, which exists only to distinguish itself from the blackness all around.

o god i dont remember how i came in how am i to get out o lord please help me i beg of you

One day I will forget all this, and maybe it will seem like a bad dream.

For now, I fight, conscious only of the fact that I am hunting down my friend Gemma. I need to get her out of here.

Flow-break: I know all of this sounds utterly ridiculous. But you have to remember, this is all just a dream. It came to me about five years ago, when I still believed the whole “gas-leak” bullshit. In fact, it was my first hint that the narrative I’d bought for so many years was a lie. As far as I can remember, this dream came to me after watching Aliens, and so that might explain some of the action-movie stuff.

The house breathes in, out, letting the air of some abstract alien universe onto my face. I know where it’s coming from. Samantha’s bedroom at the top of the house. Suddenly, as though it was beamed into my brain, I know that that’s where Gemma will be.

So I move. And around me, so does the house. The wallpaper contorts, forms biosynthetic patterns like a caul of human skin; paintings and mirrors grow bulging eyes and mouths that stare and scream. Plants grow out of their pots in the red haze, spreading like the tentacles of some unknowable kraken. There are a few windows, dotted seemingly haphazardly around the walls. They glow incandescent, opening onto an infinite starry night. All the stars glow dead.

Gridlock.

I know I am trapped, with no way out. The only thing keeping me going is the thought that if I find Gemma, somehow everything will be okay.

A titan shadow falls across the window, temporarily blocking my view. Deep whalesong shakes my body from a place beyond the stars. And then I hear them.

I run upstairs as fast as I can, my footsteps drum-like on the old oak boards. Behind me, a multitude of ticks swarm, screaming my name as they try to get to me. I know something they don’t, though. They can’t come upstairs. Whatever power this house belongs to doesn’t allow it. It is its only decree. The ticks are unclean, uncontrollably human. They stay downstairs. I, however, having discarded my humanity long ago, am allowed to ascend.

As I do so, I notice a throbbing in the floor, where the heating pipes normally go. I wonder what would happen if I took up one of the boards and saw what lay beneath now.

I reach the top of the stairs, and am confronted with a huge window, looking out on what appears to be a huge, dying star, surrounded by what I initially take for planets – until one of them unfolds massive, tectonic wings and nosedives into the fire

Whose name I know to be Hell.

I am pinned down, vivisected, torn apart, examined by the lights in the window. For the first time in my life, I feel truly naked. And the worst part is that I almost enjoy it; I like the feeling of my humanity tearing away, the staticky ripping of my heart and soul

which stops now. Now all that is left is me, and a corridor, and endless amounts of time.

The corridor is simple, painted beige, with no wallpaper. A plain carpet that I sink my toes into. White skirting board. There is one light overhead, which has been turned off. I notice that all the red light has gone, except for up ahead, where it creeps through the cracks in the door at the end of the path.

I don’t want to open the door. I feel that all my life has led up to this one moment and now that it’s here, I’m too scared to move.

I look at my watch. It’s almost morning.

“The spirits have done it all in one night,” I mutter, my voice as dull as I feel. My legs are made of lead and I cannot move another step. How hilarious it would be for me to die here, unfulfilled, unable to achieve my goal purely because I’m too fucking scared to.

So I move. Incalculably slowly, I force my legs to work correctly. And I walk towards the door.

Ten steps left.

Nine.

Eight.

Seven.

Six.

Five.

I discover that I really don’t want to know what’s behind the door; regardless of whether it is Gemma or not, I’d rather not go through with it. But there is an awful momentum in my limbs, and I move forward, independent of any semblance of free will.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

Here it comes. I rush forwards, throw open the door, and the wind of alien worlds bursts upon my face. Light from a million trillion dying suns breaks my eyes. And I pass out.

*

When I come to, I am standing. The room is almost normal, and the sun streaming through the window is our own. There is a huge bed in front of me, in which sits something that could barely be considered a person. It’s Samantha, of course. She is rotting, indescribable, skeletal. The mess of her body stains the gorgeous white sheets a vile red-brown.

“Please…” she whispers. I ignore here.

Standing on the other side of the bed is Gemma. I hold out my hand to her.

“Come on, let’s get out of here!” I say.

She shakes her head. “What are you talking about?” she asks. “We have nowhere to go.”

“The house is back to normal, Gemma, now let’s go!”

“No.”

“Gemma, I don’t understand. Everyone else is dead; we have to get out now, now there’s finally a chance. Are you even listening?”

Gemma shakes her head, laughing quietly. “Why would you think you’d get a resolution?” she asks. “Because the story demands one? Because the hero rescues the girl? No. This time, you don’t win. We’re beyond that kind of thing now, beyond victory and defeat. This world has been dead for so, so long, and all I want is to go with it.”

“I don’t understand.”

Now she looks annoyed. “You’re so boring,” she says. “I’ve been here for so long, standing by Sam as she fucking dies. And all you can offer me is these half-assed action movie lines. You don’t understand anything in this world, least of all me.”

And, like a snake sloughing its skin, her arm falls off.

“Leave me alone,” she says. “You’re still just a goddamn child.”

As I close the door, I see from the corner of my eye her fallen arm twitch, jerk and sprout up above the ground. And it grows into another Gemma. This new clone walks over to the original and wraps its arms around her in a bizarre hug.

“You’ve done so well,” it says to her. “He will be along soon.”

“Is he beautiful?” Gemma asks.

The clone nods yes. “A beautiful baby boy.”

Gemma bows her head. “Then I’m all done.”

“Yes.”

And the clone reaches up, grasps Gemma’s head, and snaps her neck like a twig.

Then it turns to Samantha. “Are you ready?” it asks.

Samantha is barely able to move her head. She nods, imperceptibly, and dissolves into a fine grey dust that will be washed away by the wind when the clone opens the window. And in her place is a beautiful baby boy.

“The new king,” coos the clone. “Oh, how beautiful you are.”

The baby gurgles appreciatively, and raises its arms to the clone, clearly wanting to be picked up. Gemma is only too happy to oblige and, as she raises the child in her arms, I catch a glimpse of its true form – I don’t know how, maybe its disguise slips. I can’t remember what it looks like, but I remember that I run screaming down the stairs and into the arms of the police officers who had been called up to the house by terrified neighbours. Never in my life has the sun looked so beautiful and so poisonous, now I know what lies behind it. I look up at it, and I see those planet-sized dragons swarming around its titanic carcass, waiting for the coming of their king. Mordred, the betrayer, the one who births himself in reverse.

*

Epilogue

I can’t remember a whole lot other than that; the conditioning has erased some memories permanently. I’m truly grateful for that – there are some things I don’t wish to remember. I can tell you about my time in therapy. Two whole years. It makes sense, to be honest. When I was in police custody, I barely talked, and none of what I said made any sense at all, so the shrinks all figured that I was mentally damaged by my experience in that house – they took one look at the remains of the summoning circle, and decided I was a victim of Satanism. So off I went to therapy, and… it wasn’t so bad. I managed to forget most of what had happened, and now it’s only with the greatest difficulty that I can pick up the pieces and reconstruct what happened that horrible night.  Nothing related to that night ever made it to national news – much of the house was destroyed in an explosion a few minutes after I was evacuated, and the official story was that a gas leak had caused fatal results when it was mixed with a bunch of witch-candles that a bunch of teens had got for a party. Even with the supposed Satanic connection, the whole thing was a non-story.

So why do I feel the need to write about it?

I’ve wondered that, a hell of a lot of the time, since I’ve started this little dream journal. The only rational answer is that I’m obsessed. Obsessed with learning as much as I can about what we brought into that house, all the way back in December 1990. Because it still reaches out to me, a god that travelled back in time to birth itself in the future, spreading its black tentacles of hyperstition backwards out of the future, from the winter jungles of a new dystopia forged by itself. Because of Gemma. Not the neurotic wreck who sits brooding in her hospital bed, but the Replicant, the clone, nurse to a God; I still want to find her, bring her back and see if some kind of reckoning can be had, if she can somehow be saved. So I continue the war against this thing, a war that hasn’t even begun, and I fight for her.

I hide in the shadows of the matrix, of cyberspace.

I am a Terminator, a RoboCop, a Blade Runner.

My prey is a vampire god taller than night, fathering itself in the future, an artificial monster that feeds on reality. It is an antichrist, a perfect mind.

It’s coming for us, and we have to defend ourselves.

But against this thing, I fear there may be no defense.

Our minds are dust against it, our weapons blunted. All we can do is go upriver until we arrive in its territory.

Which is the future.

How would it feel to be a cybersoldier, a guerrilla fighter smuggled over the border into the brain-city of a god? What subversion-tactics could we possibly bring against it that would give us any sort of leverage?

Welcome to Level 2.

To be continued.






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