The occult was a topic which carried interest when I was a young man, and as I advanced in age, my curiosity grew in tandem. My upbringing had nothing to do with my interests; my parents were not religious folk and I never once attended a mass or a church service. Funerals and weddings were the events for which I would set foot into a chapel, and my bowed head followed prayers in monotony. I did not believe in any form of higher power.
My grandfather from my mother’s side was the origin of my fancies concerning beings from an otherworldly realm. He was a quiet man who lived in a manor built upon a hill that overlooked the distant city, the perfect viewing site to see the lights inside houses flick off as the night grew dark and the sandman visited each home. I often visited during vacations. In his parlor, there were bookshelves stocked with tomes regarding every subject one could imagine; medicine, religion, history, geography, art, biographies, and cooking were the most featured. When I would spend the night there, he would lend me a book with his personal recommendation. They were fairy tales at first. As I matured, they shifted towards darker tales: the works of Aleister Crowley, writings on Lilith, Faust’s dealings with Mephistopheles, and studies of ancient texts regarding demons of Hebrew lore. These were fairy tales of a darker nature. Though I did not take any such fable as anything more than myth, they never failed to mesmerize me and demand my eyes stay glued to the pages.
My grandfather passed when I was forty. Twelve years before him, my father died in an automotive accident; five years after that incident, cancer claimed my mother. When a lawyer read my grandfather’s will to the gathered mourners, of which there were few, it revealed that I was the heir to his isolated chateau. I and my belongings arrived three weeks later. By this time, I had not married nor sired any children. Life as a war correspondent kept me abroad and didn’t allow much time to develop a complete romantic relationship. With the money left to me by my grandfather, a hefty sum which came with the manor, I was able to retire comfortably.
Having spent several days moving in, I was free to roam the halls and explore the lonely house in its entirety. There were rooms which I never saw as a child. My family and I kept to the first and second floors while visiting, never ascending to the third and fourth. These floors included five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a collection of taxidermied beasts and trophy heads, an empty storeroom, and a small museum of quaint items such as a sword dated from the Norman Conquest of England and an octogonal mirror from Japan. The trinkets sat in glass display cases. One of the exotic knickknacks caught my eye as I admired the dusty exhibits: a thick book one thousand pages in length with a white, leather cover emblazoned by an obsidian-colored symbol. It was an intricate crest which resembled three ring of decreasing size, their outlines warped as though they were made of twisting, thorned vines. Gazing from the center was a smaller mark. At first glance, the insignia was a pentagram, but the six points showed that it was no such shape. Intrigued, I opened the unlocked case and took the tome to the parlor.
What I found that night as I sat in the solitary longue was a medley of rituals, spells, and hexes dating back to the days of the Uruk period, some before Gilgamesh took the throne as its legendary king. I read two hundred pages. My eyes stung as I slept, though I found myself awake until dawn as my head repeated the incantations and curses that I memorized and skimmed, each detail and component fresh in my mind. When I rose the next day at noon, I forsook breakfast and wandered to the parlor, eager to continue pursuing the yellowed pages of the tome.
I completed another hundred. My reason for stopping was not due to hunger or fatigue. One of the rites was bookmarked by a red tassel, the title written in text which I recognized as Hellenic while the instructions were scribed in English which appeared Elizabethan. It detailed the procedure for conjuring an otherworldly being, illustrating a summoning circle that bared resemblance to the six-pointed star on the cover and listing ingredients the sacrament demanded. The routine was straightforward. Having no other tasks that required my attention, I entertained the idea of performing the ancient spell as a joke.
All that I needed was found in a cabinet in my grandfather’s bedroom: several vials of mercury, a block of brimstone, bone-colored chalk, a lump of peat, and a matchbox missing half its matches. I waited until nightfall. The ritual required that it be conducted under the light of the moon, lest it fail and force me to postpone the conjuration. Beneath the dim illumination of the ashen moon, I recreated the illustration with the chalk, composing the seal on the black stone patio. At each of the six points of the star, I emptied a vial of mercury, taking care to ensure that none of the liquid silver licked my fingers. In the center stood I with the remaining components. Red and orange flames grew from the peat as it burned in the center of the celestial crest, providing minute light as I recited the chants recorded in the book. Finally, I placed the brimstone chunk in the muted blaze, completing the ritual after uttering three more lines from the hymn.
A sudden light blinded me. It was a flash as sudden as a gunshot, filling my eyes with a piercing white glare that pained me worse than staring at the midday sun. My vision faded back to normal. I was greeted by the sight of seven-foot high flames encasing me within the center of the emblem, brighter than the collective light of the stars and moon. The scathing heat was ignored by my body as I screamed and thoughtlessly stumbled through the burning walls, my clothes scorched and hair singed, but my skin remained unharmed.
I hastily returned armed with a hose. As I raised the nozzle and aimed at the inexplicable inferno, my eyes saw what must have been a hallucination or pareidoliac fantasy: standing in the fire were figures in black, hooded cloaks that obscured their faces. They were misty in the blaze, wavering in conjunction with the dancing embers and wavering flames. None in the illusionary horde advanced. My hands trembled and my heart raced as I raised the hose, dousing the fire and transforming the chalk insignia into a muddled, murky mess as the pale dust mixed with the water.
The water poured until no spark remained. I dropped the hose and returned to my room, smelling of smoke and soot, yet I felt no lethargy from the late-night folly; rather, my heart raced from excitement. When morning came, I found that I had changed from my charred clothes and cleaned myself of the black grit which covered my face and arms. Despite having no recollection of having done either, I released a relieved sigh as I got out of bed, stepping into a pair of slippers to see what damage, if any, the patio sustained during my idiocy.
When I set foot onto the stone patio, I discovered that there was no trace of the fire, the emblem, or any other evidence of the butchered sacrament. I returned to my room and looked in the mirror, finding that my hair showed no signs of the fire, disheveled as it was. Dark circles created by lack of sleep marred my eyes but otherwise gave no indication that I charged through pillars of flame and became sprinkled by ash. It was a dream. That was my only explanation.
Whether that dream was a forlorn delusion or had an affect on me thirty years ago, I led a peaceful, if not reclusive, life from that point onwards. Much of my free time passed within the confines of the manor. Despite reaching seventy years of age, I don’t appear a day older than forty. It is quite possible that I have become more youthful in body and mind, as I am able to better recall events I hitherto struggled remembering. My hair hasn’t grayed from its jet-black, despite having been blond before the ritual, and my crimson eyes, once cerulean, remain bright and joyful. I’ve grown stronger in spite of a lack of exercise, notwithstanding my nightly walks in the city where I arrogate those unfortunate to cross my path and haul them to my lair. The screams don’t bother me. This manor built upon a hill that overlooks the distant city is my personal oasis, a hidden paradise where none may interrupt my developing sorcerery.