A drenching rain beat down on the taxi’s windshield. Charlie’s body was slumped in the back of the car. He was barely able to keep his eyes open.
“That’s one hundred and eighty-seven quid,” the taxi driver said in a distinct cockney accent.
“That’s a bit high, don’t you think?” Hokfield said in a sharp tone.
“Sir, we drove more than one hundred miles.”
“Thief,” Hokfield snapped, throwing the money at him and getting out of the taxi.
Looking down the dimly lit, countryside street, Charlie was unsure if he was awake or dreaming. He could see several cars parked outside a small cottage. Hokfield pressed Charlie’s hand tightly.
He sensed that this moment meant something to Hokfield. He was unusually quiet and concentrated and did not share one word with Charlie during the entire eight-hour flight, nor the two-hour drive.
“Where are we?” Charlie asked, entering the cottage.
“Shell Grotto,” Hokfield replied.
They walked down a narrow stairway leading into a chalk passage. The walls were illuminated with gas lamps.
Charlie rubbed his eyes. The walls of the room he stood in were completely covered in seashells. Every wall was covered with them, forming mosaic panels of crocodiles, owls, and turtles, to name a few. They moved through the room down another corridor toward a distinct sound of chatter. They entered another room. Candles illuminated the interior. The room was filled by several people wearing matching black capes and hoods.
Charlie took a step back.
He saw a skeleton made of multiple shells on the wall.
“Don’t be afraid. He brought us together for a reason,” Hokfield said with a crisp nod, laying his hand on Charlie’s shoulder.
“He?” Charlie said and bit his lip slightly.
“The great teacher, Satan.”
“Satan?” Charlie’s shoulders tightened.
“I know what you are thinking, but all that you know is wrong. Remember our conversation? I explained to you that Satan isn’t evil. It’s man who’s evil,” Hokfield said and moved in closer to add, “Don’t be afraid.”
“Yes, I remember,” Charlie said, looking at the circle of people in front of him.
“It’s time that you’re officially to become Baal,” Hokfield said and continued, “This will be your true christening.”
Charlie trusted him and felt that this ritual would strengthen their bond.
They joined the circle of people. In the middle of the circle lay one very small bowl and one slightly larger bowl, a writing quill, and an antique-looking golden dagger. The others opened their hands toward the middle of the circle, inviting Charlie to step inside. The people circling him starting chanting simultaneously, “Baal, you Guardian Demon of Charlie, join us to welcome our brother into our midst and become one of us. Become one of the Lord’s soldiers.”
Hokfield handed Charlie a sheet of papyrus.
“Read it out loud to enter The Thirty-Six Legions of Demons.”
Charlie bit the inside of his cheek as he looked at the paper. With a high pitched voice, he started to read out loud, “Before the almighty and ineffable God Satan Lucifer and in the presence of all Demons of Hell, who are the True and the Original Gods, I, Charlie, renounce any and all past allegiances. I renounce the false Judeo/Christian God Yahweh, I renounce his vile and worthless son, Jesus…” Charlie stopped and scratched his eyebrow. He looked at Hokfield.
“It’s okay. Keep reading.” His eye contact with Charlie was unwavering.
“…I renounce his foul, odious, and rotten Holy Spirit….” His voice weakened, but then he took a breath and found strength in his voice again. “I proclaim Satan Lucifer as my one and only God. I promise to recognize and honor him in all things, without reservation, desiring in return his manifold assistance in the successful completion of my endeavors. I, Charlie, before almighty Satan Lucifer, before Baal, in the presence of all here assembled, of my own free will, I solemnly swear that I shall ever keep secret those things entrusted to my ears alone by this coven. I promise to work to advance Satanism in every way that is available to me. I understand I am a warrior for Satan and an earthly member of Hell’s Army. This coven being my unit.”
Charlie took a deep breath and looked up.
“Continue to read. Go on,” Hokfield encouraged him once more.
“I promise to apply my powers and energies with those of the group to destroy enemies of Satan. I promise to apply my powers in a group effort for any member of this coven who is in need, knowing the same will be done for me. All of this, I swear upon my life, now and hereafter, and may those powers I possess, now or hereafter, turn against me should I break this most solemn oath. Lord Satan, and all of the Demons and Powers of Hell, may you deem me worthy. Ave Satanas.”
“Ave Satanas!” the group chanted loudly.
“Now take the dagger and cut your finger with it,” Hokfield said, pointing at the golden dagger on the floor.
With slight hesitation, Charlie picked up the dagger and looked at it. Once more, he took a deep breath and looked back at Hokfield. Hokfield calmly looked at him. Charlie looked back down at the dagger, took another deep breath, and slit his index finger with the razor-sharp blade of the dagger. Blood dropped to the ground.
“Now let your blood drip into the small bowl, and then use the quill to sign the document with your old name, Charlie, and your new name, Baal,” Hokfield said, leaning in.
Charlie wavered but then picked up the small bowl and squeezed blood from his finger into it. Then he took the writing feather and dipped it rapidly into the bowl, soaking its tip with blood.
Charlie, Baal. He wrote on the document.
“Now take the paper and burn it in the other bowl.”
He picked up one of the candles surrounding him and lit the paper.
He saw the papyrus go up in flames.
He felt different. Empowered. Reborn. He suddenly felt his life became meaningful.
Hokfield stepped into the circle, placing both hands on Baal’s shoulders.
“From this day on, you are officially only known as Baal, and I am your master.”
Another man stepped in from behind holding a tattoo needle.
Hokfield shoved Baal’s sleeve up and held his forearm out. The other man started to tattoo onto Baal’s forearm — two parallel vertical lines in a triangle.
“The mark of the beast,” Hokfield said and smiled, satisfied, “Welcome, my son.”
Hokfield embraced Baal.
“And now we celebrate and feast!” he shouted out toward the group.
* * *
The light was dim, and the tall, wooden closet cast a shadow against the wall. Baal’s head was buried in a book. The squeaking door alarmed Baal. He turned toward the door.
“Master, you honor me with your presence.”
Baal stood up from the small, wooden chair. His muscles tightened, and his back stretched as his gaze focused on Hokfield.
“We need to talk. Sit down;no need to stand so uncomfortably.”
Hokfield took a deep breath.
“Tell me, Baal, can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, sure, master, please.” Baal jerked his head back.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Huh, I don’t know.” He scratched his forehead.
“Okay, let me ask a different question: Do you think God is good?”
Baal’s eyes became empty. “Yes, I guess so.”
“Why do you think he’s good? Can you give me an example when he was good to you?”
“Huh? We met. That was good.”
“Why was that good?”
“Because you took me from the streets and gave me a home.”
“True, but why were you on the streets?”
Baal’s eyes got glassy. His forehead creased. “Because…” He took a deep breath.
“Yes, because?” Hokfield intervened.
“Because my parents were killed.”
“Why were they killed, Baal?”
Baal’s eyes focused on the old wooden floor.
“Tell me, why were they killed?” Hokfield quietly observed Baal.
“Evil men killed them.”
“But why did they kill them?”, he pressed him.
“Because my father owed them money.”
“Because of gambling, right?”
Hokfield laid his hand on Baal’s shoulder, moving closer to him.
“Now tell me again, why is God good?”
Baal stayed silent, still looking to the floor, shifting his eyes back and forth from his naked feet to the floor.
“What if I tell you that not God, but Lucifer, is the good one?”
“I don’t know,” Baal’s eyes trailed off.
“Don’t you think this place where we are right now is already a living Hell? How can it get any worse? I don’t blame the Devil for this, I blame God,” the master said and added, “What if I tell you that the one thing that destroyed your family can bring you revenge?”
Baal’s head slowly moved upward. Their eyes locked.
“God put this suffering on you. But Lucifer can help you if you help him. Are you willing to help him, Baal?”
Baal took a deep breath and looked at their shadows on the wall.
“You can use man’s addiction for gambling against him. Bring him down with that which brought your family down. If you do so, you can help the Devil to reign over us again and finally bring us the paradise we deserve. He would have never done to you what God did to you.” Hokfield clinched his fists. “I think it was the Devil that brought us together, Baal.”
Baal’s eyes widened.
“Baal, when I ask you, will you help me bring the Devil back into this world?”
Baal rubbed his face with his overly large palms and glared at Hokfield.
“What do you say?” Hokfield closed his eyes.
“Yes, I will help,” Ball said, stood up and tightened his muscles.
“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.” Hokfield smiled. “You’ll get a call. When that call comes, I need you to be one hundred percent committed.”