“Please! Do it for me!” Ellen pleaded. My best friend knelt on the floor before me with her hands clasped together. She was nearing the end of her efforts to invite me to a women’s retreat with her church.
“El, I’m not religious, I wouldn’t get anything out of it,” I said, for at least the second time since she’d started asking.
“You’d get my undying love and affection” she mumbled into her fingers, her large brown eyes looking up at me. She’d been attempting to invite me for the last week, and as the weekend of the event slowly approached, she became more persistent.
“My mom and my sister are both going, but my sister’s bringing a friend and I don’t want to sit with my mom the whole time. Please, please, please come.” She was tugging at the hem of my jeans now, nearly pulling them down. I looked at the ceiling of my bedroom and pinched my eyes with my forefinger and thumb, knowing there was no excuse in the book she hadn’t heard by now, I mumbled,
“Fine.” Ellen jumped up and hugged me, she immediately took to my closet and threw some items into a duffel bag.
Ellen came to pick me up the following day. Her black coupe with a large dent on the passenger side rumbled and shook as it pulled up outside of my apartment building. She helped me load up my belongings and we took off towards our destination. The drive was beautiful. The chilly fall wind blew through the small car and the changing leaves became brighter and more colorful as we traveled up towards the mountains. We arrived just before dinner was scheduled. We found our room and unpacked while we waited.
The facility was a small group of cabins set back from the main road amid towering trees. There were several cabins surrounding a mess hall/recreation area. After we had unpacked, Ellen and I wandered around a bit outside before taking our seats. It was a beautiful campus. The cabins were traditional and rustic, made with real logs. The forest floor was an amalgam of dead pine needles and rocky soil, the occasional bright orange fall foliage poking through. Leading from the mess hall door to each cabin’s entrance, there was a sparse stone path. It was quaint and peaceful. Though I was anxious for my agnostic self to be thrust into a religious sermon, the scenery made it bearable.
Dinner was buffet style. There were chicken thighs, vegetables, and assorted side dishes. It was better than you might expect camp food to be, but not a five star meal by any stretch of the imagination. Ellen and I both felt nauseous after a few mouthfuls and instead snuck away to our room to eat the snacks we’d brought with us.
Once dinner was officially over, the first of a weekend of sermons was scheduled to begin. I had very little experience with church groups before this weekend. When I was younger, my parent’s would take me to their Baptist church with them and stick me in Sunday school. I was never interested enough to keep it all going once high school rolled around.
Ellen and I took our seats next to her other family members in uncomfortably cushioned folding chairs. We sat behind plastic pop-up tables adorned with burlap runners, baby pumpkins, and cinnamon sticks. We sat in the second row from a small stage decorated with larger versions of the same fall stereotypes on our tables. A hush fell over the room as a stout woman with shoulder- length dark hair and small eyes climbed the three steps. The book she carried with some effort was much larger than any Bible I’d ever seen. It seemed to have a textured covering around the hard cover but it didn’t quite look like leather.She hoisted it up onto a podium and opened it to a page near the front.
“Good evening ladies” she spoke. Her voice was loud and reverberated against the walls of the mess hall.
“Our God is good in all he does” the congregation replied with a simultaneous “Amen.” I looked around, a bit confused.
“He is the sole reason we are here this weekend” said the stout woman, gesturing with her hand. Her houndstooth jacket swishing against her silk shirt. “I am happy to say he has brought us a suitable sacrificial being for each day.” She looked at a young girl cowering in the corner, at me, then at the younger girl sitting next to Ellen’s sister. I looked at Ellen and whispered
“what does that mean?” She looked at me like I had three heads and ignored my question.
After a brief pause, candles that I had not previously noticed suddenly lit in unison and the house lights dimmed. Candles sitting on window sills, the steps of the stage, lining the walls, and on our tables now were the main source of light for the entire mess hall. I looked around to see if any of the other women were as flabbergasted as I was; they weren’t. Some seemed to be praying, others intently focused on the speaker. The stout woman began mumbling something, staring down at the book with her eyes closed. It sounded like Spanish, maybe Latin.
Without any provocation, each woman stood up and walked to the back of the room. Rather than the extra tables where we’d just eaten, an empty space was now there. It seemed as if someone had cut a large square of the grey office carpet from the floor of the mess hall. It looked unassuming, yet all of the women formed a circle around it. Not wanting to be left out I followed and stood next to Ellen and another woman I didn’t know.
The stout woman came down from the stage and before she passed through the circle of women, she thrust her hand in the air and the carpet was scrunched up and pulled out of the way by an unseen force. There was a large black pentagram painted onto the concrete underneath. My jaw dropped, my heart sank, and I immediately wanted to leave. I leaned over to Ellen and said
“I’m going to the bathroom, I’ll be right back” she didn’t seem to hear me, but as one of my feet left the circle, each woman immediately grasped the hands of the women beside them, almost robotically with a simultaneous clap. Ellen gripped mine tightly and I knew I would just have to grin and bear it. I started thinking of excuses and overnight maladies that might warrant a taxi home after this…whatever this is, but I was so confused about what was happening, my mind was blank.
The stout woman walked around the inner circle of the group, carrying her large book, touching each woman lightly on the shoulder as she passed. Each woman relaxed a bit as she did so. She’d started with Ellen, and when she got to me, she stopped. Rather than tap me on the shoulder, her ice cold fingers curled around it and rested there. Her eyes seemed to be a dark red, though it was difficult to tell in the candlelight. Her dark hair framed her square face and hooked nose in a way that made her seem sinister.
Her hand traveled down my arm, an icy trail behind it, and grabbed the hand that was holding Ellen’s. Scratching my wrist with a long, red fingernail, she brought me to the center of the circle.
“What is your name?” she asked me. She spoke softly, yet with an air of professionalism. I looked at her with wide eyes and began shaking.
“Devon” I said quietly, knowing an escape would likely be impossible at this point. She looked down into her large book and said,
She suddenly spoke “oh great and mighty Lucifer, we bring you Devon as a suitable sacrifice so that you may bless this weekend and bring us closer to you. When the end of times draws near, let us fight by your side against the evil ones.” She finished and looked at me, no, through me with a smile that nearly split her face in two. I looked at Ellen, my heart pounding and tears now falling from my eyes. She stood with perfect posture, clasping the hands of the women beside her. She dared not make eye contact.
“Ellen!?” I nearly screamed. “Are you going to do anything?”
“About what?” she replied, looking up and mirroring the evil smile plastered across the stout woman’s face. “Why did you think I invited you?”
Last Week’s Story: Novel Excerpt 1
Next Week’s Story: Master and I
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