Swirling mists occluded the bloody sun as it dropped like a wounded animal towards the dim horizon. Below the sun, mammoth stones paraded in a circle around a central altar—an altar spattered and oozing with lazy meandering trickles that rivaled the sun’s hue.
A flock of ravens, their cawing oddly un-avian in the deepening twilight, plotted an ever decreasing orbit about the granite altar. One inky messenger landed at the extreme edge of the cold stone, its bright orange talons scrabbling against the roughness as it trotted forward. With an inquiring beak as vivid as the sun, it pecked at a bound and unresponsive finger. One curious jet eye, then another, examined with interest the pallid flesh of the naked body bound to the stone.
A man strode towards the altar and with a negligent hand waved the bird away from the trussed and silent offering. The bird winged off to join its brothers, tossing angry squawks over a feathered shoulder.
The man turned to his companions. Flowing hair gray-white as the stone, eyes black as the swiftly darkening sky and with as little warmth in them, he stood half a head taller than the tallest there. Heliotrope robes draped a figure gaunt yet powerful; a diadem of silvery metal elegant with filigree encircled a brow as sere and wrinkled as ancient leather.
The man raised an arm and in a voice deep with hidden force shouted out across the stone enclosure:
Many of the others there assembled jumped at the sound of his voice. There was complete and total silence as they aligned themselves in an untidy semicircle about the offering lashed to the altar.
“We have triumphed!” trumpeted the man, his eyes blazing with an internal light. “At long last, through weary millennia, our time of reckoning has arrived. No longer will the beings of light and day rule over us. We now regain the powers that were lost to our ancestors in the dim and ancient past. Now, once more and forever, we shall dominate, as we were ordained. Rejoice! Rejoice, my brethren, as we take part in the sacrament of flesh and blood. Rejoice in the new dawn of our race and the downfall of our enemies of yore!”
A knife, its jagged edge emitting a glow as faint and gossamer as starlight, appeared in his upraised hand. For an instant it hung there, biding its time as if somehow aware of its destiny.
Then it plunged deep, deep into the cruelly bound naked body spread-eagle on the stony altar.
The body dissolved—into an unfortunate fit of giggles.
“Cut, cut! Okay, kill the mist machine…again!” called a disgusted voice.
A lanky man in the jeans and leather jacket that proclaimed his directorial position strode into the circle.
“Micki,” sighed the man, “now what?”
The body slithered out of its cruel bindings like a worn out of its skin and spoke:
“I’m sorry, Alan, but that trick knife tickles so much when it hits me.”
The erstwhile victim rubbed her midsection ruefully, spreading fake gore in an all-too-realistic fashion over bouncing naked breasts.
“But Micki, it’s all we have,” said the jeans-clad man in a patient voice, “and if we don’t get this scene shot tonight—tonight, Micki—we’ll be late and over budget. Not to mention, we may never get permission to film here again. Stonehenge, Micki. It belongs to the government. The government, you know? So, please. I’m begging you.”
He fell to one knee in mock supplication, hands outspread.
A boom of thunder echoed overhead.
“And, Micki…it’s going to rain,” continued the director in a pleading voice, still on his knees.
Groans and complaints rose from all sides. The tall gentleman in the gray robes removed his diadem, which took with it a large portion of his straggling grey locks. He rubbed his forehead in weary patience.
“May we please be allowed to complete this farce, before we all catch our deaths?” he asked plaintively in a voice far different from his former stentorian tones. “I, for one, would like to at least see my bed tonight.”
The director tossed a wave towards the humming mist machines. After a few preliminary grumbles, lazy tendrils once more encircled the stone altar. The brethren grouped themselves about their leader, who had replaced his diadem complete with ancillary hair.
The victim slid her arms into the bindings and prepared to offer herself to the forces of darkness.
For the fourth time that evening.
Another rumble of thunder echoed overheard, yet stars twinkled in the inky heavens. Busy with their work, no one noticed this anomaly as the scene resumed.
“Brethren!” boomed their leader’s voice.
Was that a different timbre, a more resonating cadence, than the practiced vowels of a moment before? Did a more robust, more formidable soul inhabit the actor that stood above the bound and suddenly frightened sacrifice?
Micki forced herself to take shallow breaths, knowing that the camera would pick up and magnify any unsteady movement from the ‘unconscious’ victim. But her heart was racing, her face felt flushed. She could sense strange forces at work about her, here in the middle of this ancient ring of stones. She chided herself for a fool, a silly fool—but something was happening here, something unknown.
And worst of all, unscripted.
A second rumble of thunder echoed from the star-scattered heavens. No one, in all the cast, in all the crew, had the time to look up to see the threatening storm. Only Micki, bound as she was to the cold stone—cold even now, in the most middle of mid-summer evenings—could see between barely cracked lids the starry sky. Proud, distant, and cloudless, it spread like a canopy above her and all the others, draping them in a darkness that seemed fraught with danger and hidden meaning.
Yeah, now I sound like that creep who wrote this crap, Micki thought with a rueful, if internal, grin. Let’s get this show on the road and get out of here.
A boom of thunder shook the very ground beneath them all. The upright stones that encircled the fake altar shimmered in the dim light, like frozen dancers coming back to a pallid kind of life. One pair of stones, the top of which Micki could just see from the corner of her squinted eye, seemed to lean forward, as if interested in the scene that lay before them.
“It is our time, my brethren, our time at last. After all the years, we shall triumph!”
An icy wind slashed Micki’s naked body, drawing all vestige of animal heat away and dissipating it in an instant. Micki could feel her teeth begin to chatter uncontrollably, but she knew that if she interrupted the scene one more time, she’d be replaced by another, less talented, less ticklish actress. She gritted her teeth so hard she imagined she could hear a filling scream out in protest.
She looked up through an eye partially hidden by her long black hair, taking the chance that its glitter would not been picked up by the cameras ranged about the scene.
The leader of the cult stared down at her, his diadem twinkling like a fallen star, his eyes gone dark and cold, his face no longer the face of the second-rate actor she had laughed and shared bad coffee with just that morning. Now his face was that of a stranger, some distant and dark creature of the past.
There I go again, Micki chided herself. Next thing I know, I’ll be a struggling writer instead of a struggling actor.
But something was wrong. Something had changed. And somehow she knew, without knowing quite how she knew, that the rest of the scene was going to veer from the script.
Veer dramatically from the script.
A strange lethargy filled her. Micki felt her limbs lose all feeling, her muscles refusing to respond. She opened both eyes, not caring if she ruined another scene.
With all the effort she could muster, she rolled her head sideways, opened her mouth to call for help from the crew.
There was no one there. Gone were the cameras mounted on tripods or humans, gone were the lights, gone was the thumping moaning mist machine. There was nothing around her but a group of gray-clad shapes. She could make out eyes within the folds of their hoods, eyes that reflected the dim starlight with flashes of red. A strange obscene chanting rose about her, echoing, calling forth recognition in her very bones like some prehistoric racial memory.
Micki looked up, saw the hand poised above her unprotected belly. In the hand was no cheap trick knife, slender blade ready to retreat into hollow handle. This blade was chipped of obsidian, the stone as black and merciless as the eyes of the hooded man who wielded it.
Micki held her breath as the shining black blade raced towards her vitals, heard that breath—that final breath—escape in one long final sigh of disbelief as the knife plunged into her and the pain began…
The ululating scream of an approaching ambulance broke the silence that had fallen over the huddled crew. There was no other sound, save the mumbles of one tall man in heliotrope robes, his hand drenched and spattered with more than artificial blood.
“It was a fake knife,” he mumbled. “It was a fake knife.”
He had been saying the same short phrase for an hour, ever since the thick red blood had spurted up into his face, ever since the body of the young actress had ceased its twitching and settled into the quiet stillness of death.
“It was a fake knife. It was a fake knife.”
The others huddled about looked at him with varying degrees of concern, confusion and dismay.
Around the distraught group, the circle of stones paraded in their eternal dance. Above them, the stars smiled down in false benevolence.