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IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A JOKE, Ronan reminisced, bitterly. He and his friend Jared (who insisted on being called "Red") had been screwing around with some bullcrap rituals they found on some obscure goth website from the early 2000s. Red was really into that stuff now, claiming that it "filled the void" in his transition into his self-proclaimed goth phase. We were already outcasts before, Red argued, I might as well go all the way and emerge as the true me.
Ronan wasn't easily fooled. He didn't actually believe that skin-tight jeans, a new dark-sounding nickname, hardcore screamo music, and black eyeliner was the true Jared. But alas, he supported his friend in his temperamental phase anyway. Ronan was positive that in about two months, the two of them would return to playing DnD in the state's only remaining video store. It just so happened that in the sleepy town of Bleakridge, the 21st century was just starting to arrive. Ronan found it ridiculous that some people were only now making the transition from tapes to DVDs.
So to humor Red, Ronan agreed to check out the occult stuff he had set up in his basement. His first impression was that it was like something out of one of those cringy horror movies, but of course, this was real life. It's not like they were actually going to be summoning Satan or anything. They were just two high school Sophomores messing around for kicks and giggles. He honestly doubted that Crayola chalk and Yankee scented candles could pull the devil up from the confines of hell.
“So how're we doing this?” Ronan asked, popping the tab on his can of Pibb. He was leaning against a rickety pool table, and Red swatted at him absently. Ronan laughed and practically fell next to his friend on the floor.
“How do you drink that crap?” Red eyed the offending can of soda with disgust. “It tastes like cough syrup.”
Ronan shrugged, “I don't have anything against cough syrup.” To demonstrate, he took a large gulp of the soda.
“Maybe, because your Mom drugged you with it when you were little so many times, it's part of you now,” Red countered.
“Are you saying I'm a cola mutant?” Ronan skeptically raised an eyebrow. “Would that entail my own theme song and superpowers? Teenage mutant soda Ronan—”
Red smacked him again, and Ronan laughed, almost spilling the can all over the floor. He caught it just in time, preventing Red from flipping out again.
“You're impossible,” Red groaned.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, abruptly changing topics. “Back to earlier,” Ronan started again, gesturing loosely around the room. "How're we doing this?"
“Well,” Red said, adopting a more zealous attitude, “most rituals use pentagrams, so I figure we should start with that. You brought your sister's chalk like I asked, right?”
“Yeah,” Ronan nodded, pulling out a plastic bag full of chalk. “Chances are, she won't even know it's missing.”
“Wouldn't it be funny if we gave it back to her cursed?” Red pondered. Ronan tried to picture it mentally and visibly shuddered.
“I'm sure my Mom would think it's hilarious, right before grounding me. You know she's a fanatic for anything superstitious, so if she found out we were doing this...”
“Relax,” Red crossed his arms, “she won't find out, unless you go home possessed or something.”
Ronan laughed, “If anyone's being possessed, it's you, Red. For possession of a lame-ass haircut.”
Red defensively held up a hand to his hair, “It's spiky. I just got it dyed black last week.”
“Wow,” Ronan quipped, “it's not like I couldn't figure that out by looking at you.”
“Yeah, but what's lame-ass about it?” Red demanded.
Ronan ignored him, “Let's just get started on the pentagram. Your dad gets home at 6 PM, and right now we have about two hours. So are we doing this or not?”
“Fine, fine,” Red dismissed.
“Are we even drawing this right?” Ronan asked. The two had moved the furniture in Red's basement to give them an open space to draw on the cement floor.
“Hell, if I know,” Red said, “the picture looks right.”
"You'd say the picture looks right if a five-year-old tried to draw the Mona Lisa," Ronan deadpanned.
“Hey,” Red said, "some of those booger-picking gremlins are very prodigious in the arts.”
“Saying that does not help your case,” Ronan responded, finishing the final line on the pentagram.
As he did that, Red strategically placed candles on all five points and lit them. Soon enough, all that was left was to read the specified words, and they officially partook in their first occult act.
“Do you feel anxious?” Ronan asked offhandedly, as the two reviewed their work.
“Why would I be?” Red asked. “I mean, if die or something then that would suck, but, oh well. What else are we gonna do?”
“It's not because of that,” Ronan reassured. “It's mainly because...” he struggled for the words, “this is the most rebellious act we've done in our teenage years. And it's probably gonna be that way for a while, seeing as we practically have no lives outside of class.”
“That's not a reason to be wound up, you idiot,” Red said.
Ronan sighed in resignation. The few times he had brought it up, Red never seemed to understand Ronan's social frustration. He didn't understand how Ronan wanted to do more in this fleeting period in his life, how he fantasized of going out and doing things like normal kids. But Ronan never could do that: he was trapped inside of his own skin, constantly trying to figure out how to talk to other people, how to not be that weird boy. Ronan was so accustomed to following the rules, doing what he was supposed to do, that whenever he was given a situation outside of his comfort zone, it felt like he was living someone else's life. Rebellion was not his cup of tea, and the consequences of doing something slightly out of line terrified him.
Red, on the other hand, had no fear, no filter. He was naturally weird and saw no discomfort about it—which was why he could spontaneously experiment with being goth so smoothly. He was the only other person in their little dead-end town that enjoyed the same sort of weird humor and easy-going geek activities. He didn't want to go out and ride around in cars, play sports, destroy things, rely on sex jokes to be "funny," and definitely didn't comply with the illusory social hierarchy. Red also was intelligent, maybe not a traditional "nerd," but could probably be an honors student if he tried.
Ronan supposed that Red was the perfect kind of naive. He didn't share Ronan's self-made burden of hesitation, he was just able to do whatever he wanted. So, Ronan surrendered any elaboration and thoughtlessly agreed. “Yeah, sure.”
It would be too difficult to explain to someone else, anyway.
“Alright,” Red said, “I printed out a few different rituals from that website I told you about. Basically, you just stand in the circle and read them.”
“Wait,” Ronan said, “am I going first?”
“If you want,” Red shrugged. “And since I'm the more competent one I'll deal with your cold writhing body once it's possessed by a demon from the depths of Hell.”
Ronan shuddered. “You're really getting there with that 'pessimistic goth outlook,'” he commented.
“Really?" Red asked in an uncharacteristically happy tone for goths. “I've been working on it. There's this YouTube channel that really talks about the art of darkening your horizons and lately I've been reading a lot of Edgar Allen P—”
“Red...” Ronan interrupted, “I don't need to know—I don't want to know. Now give me one of those rituals to read.”
Red turned to the table behind him and sifted through a stack of papers that smelled crisp from the printer. Finally, he held up two different papers, “OK this one sounds like Buddha on LSD, and this one sounds like Chewbacca's suicide note. You choose.”
Ronan glanced between the two papers and in a confident moment of clarity, gestured towards the one in Red's left hand, “The suicide note.”
“Alright, take this,” Red handed him a needle, “and stand in the circle.”
Ronan eyed the needle suspiciously, “Why do I need that?”
Red rolled his eyes, “Blood sacrifice, duh. If we're doing this, we're doing it right.”
“Whoa,” Ronan said, “you never said anything about that.”
“All you have to do is prick your finger, it's not a big deal. You afraid that you'll turn into Sleeping Beauty or something?”
Ronan sighed, “Alright.” He took the needle along with the ritual script and stood in the center of the pentagram, facing Red. He was about to start reciting aloud when Red intervened.
“This is where you prick your finger, then you read,” he explained.
“Well thanks for letting me know,” Ronan replied sarcastically. He held the needle diagonally, slowly inserting it into the flesh of his finger. Ruby blood leaked out, and Ronan clenched his teeth together in concentration as he pressed the needle deeper so that the blood would drop onto the dusty concrete floor.
After about five drops, Ronan hastily slid the needle out of his skin and wiped his finger on his jeans. The blood didn't stain his pants, and within a minute, Ronan stopped bleeding completely.
He sent Red a fleeting look, and his friend replied with an encouraging expression that probably meant, "Just freaking do it already."
Ronan turned to the paper in his hands and began reciting the foreign script, “Rogamus spiritibus, da mihi signum; Cum Documentum affigere in mente, impleat animam; In morte sua inhibit carne mea; Da mihi cutis ipsa inuulnerabilis, vivacitas saeculorum; Quoniam suus 'tantum innocentes; Concludere maxima.”*
Ronan looked up from the paper, and nothing had changed. Red was staring at him in fascination and the candles surrounding the pentagram continued to blaze with an eerie light. He had half expected all the candles to go out or for him to be penetrated by some shadowy demon like in all the movies, but Ronan felt completely fine.
“So...” Ronan asked slowly, “what was supposed to happen?”
Red shrugged, “I don't know. But that was a total letdown.”
Ronan choked, “You mean you let me do that without knowing what was supposed to happen?”
"Well, you didn't ask," Red shrugged. “And the description on the website for that ritual was in Latin or something. I tried putting it in Google Translate, but because it was such an awful translator I couldn't make sense of it. Besides, don't worry, whatever it was it didn't work anyway. We're in the clear. Now... I picked out a ritual for me to read, so, get out of the circle.”
Ronan laughed, “I guess you're right. This is all just for fun; nothing happened. I don't know why I'm freaking out over everything.”
Ronan stepped over the line of the pentagram, and immediately doubled over. There was a sharp pain in the center of his chest that felt as if someone was repeatedly introducing a molten spike into his body. He rasped for air, trying to alleviate the pain at his core. All Ronan was really accomplishing was hyperventilation.
“Ronan!” Red cried, concerning bleeding in his voice. “Are you OK?”
Ronan was still on the floor, breathing rapidly and grasping his throbbing chest. “It... hurts...”
Everything was starting to blur, Ronan couldn't decipher if he was staring at Red's concrete floor or the inside of his eyelids. Black dots swarmed the edge of his vision and slowly started to consume everything in an excruciating sensation. It registered somewhere to Ronan that he was losing consciousness, but all he could wrap his mind around was that someone was laughing. He could hear their feral amusement as they howled at his writhing form on the floor.
“Stop... laughing...” Ronan said, his voice never reaching above a whisper.
“I'm not!” Red protested.
Red said some more words after that, but they were lost to Ronan. The laughter filled his head, attacking him from every angle imaginable. It only ceased when Ronan's head fell limp on the floor, darkness swallowing any remains of lucidity.
*I understand that for those who actually speak Latin, that this is incorrect. I do not know the language so I used an online translator and I am aware that those tend to be inaccurate.