The man stood straight, breathing deeply with eyes closed. It was important that he prepare himself mentally. He needed to be calm and still inside, all his energy focussed on the task at hand. Yes. He was ready now. He opened his eyes and looked around him.
As he watched, the storm clouds parted slightly and the hilltop was flooded with moonlight. The moon was full, of course, as dictated by the Ritual. It was the power of the moon that he was about to tap. He had studied carefully. The storm was a bonus though, an unexpected, dramatic backcloth to the night’s proceedings. The tang of ozone in the air an omen for success.
His black silk cloak flapped in the wind. It was a symbol that tonight was something special. That he was someone special. Normally, he wore a cheap suit during the day, an ordinary man indistinguishable from thousands of other bored commuters. No-one ever looked twice at him, no-one suspected the secrets he kept. But here, now, he was the only one who mattered. It was around him that the forces were gathering.
Like most true Rituals, the really essential elements were simple. A large flat rock served as an altar, with everything else arranged upon it. The night’s sacrifice, a young calf, was tied down by heavy ropes, its terrified mewling almost inaudible over the sounds of the storm. Above its head lay the Book, closed for now. Below was a cup. Positioned to one side was a black handled dagger that reflected the moonlight off its blade.
He smiled at the scene. Perfect. Everything was perfect, even the weather. As a bolt of lightning split the skies, he threw back his head and laughed.
Power. He could feel the power. Power in the storm and beyond. Power in the moon. Power growing stronger by the second, converging on the altar. Power that was attracted by his preparations. Attracted by the Ritual he was about to perform.
Attracted to him.
As one of life’s natural underdogs, power was something he had never known. He had been trampled on first by his parents, then at school, then by a series of bosses at various dull jobs. He had been trampled on by his enemies and by those he had thought of as friends. Lovers.
Unable to fit in with the mundane world, he knew he was destined for greater things. He had turned to the dark underbelly of the occult for answers, withdrawing into its strange symbolism. For years now most of his income had been spent purchasing old books, most of his evenings spent studying them. The majority had been worthless, but occasionally there had been hints of an inner truth, of something more beyond. Something he had been determined to find.
It had taken years of work to discover the Ritual and track down the Book. When he did, excitement had overcome him. He had leapt straight in, attempting the Ritual without proper preparations. So his first attempts had been incomplete. He had failed, again and again.
No more. Tonight he would succeed and success would taste sweeter for the failures. This time he was confident that everything was right. Before the night was done, he would have the power he craved. Anything he wanted would be his; he would have dominion over all living things. He had dreamed of this, had laid great plans. He would repay them for the years of loneliness and suffering; would use the Power as a force for Good; would right wrongs and make the evil suffer. His Will would be done – he would change the world.
That stuck-up bitch of a secretary. She’d never laugh at him again.
Mentally, he rechecked the Words of the Ritual, Words that would do so much. When the time came, he would read them from the ancient tome. That was the way it had to be done. Yet he had still committed them to memory. He could not afford to err. He would only have one chance to utter them out loud. A single mistake, a single hesitation would result in yet another failure. Another agonising wait before he could try again.
It was almost time. He could sense the wall clock ticking away the second, knew that there were mere moments left before his rise to Godhood. Quietly and efficiently, he rechecked his preparations. The calf was securely tied, its breast exposed. It still struggled, but feebly now, as if it too could sense that its destiny was near.
Clearing his throat, willing himself to be calm, he took his position by the altar and picked up the dagger. Opening the Book at the right page, he raised the dirty steak-knife into the air and waited.
A second more…
On cue, the old fluorescent tube flickered erratically, followed quickly by a rumble of thunder. He began calling out the Words of the Ritual, a feeling of almost sexual delight building within him. At the exact right moment he brought the knife down, thrusting it into the calf’s heart. Blood spurted from it, most falling into the carefully positioned coffee mug but some splashing out. The calf gave one final bleat then was silent.
The incantation complete, he lifted the chalice to his lips. Drinking deeply of the warm, salty blood, he waited for the ultimate sensation.
As the rain lashed against the window pane, he waited.
Waited for a change.
Waited for Power.
For something that did not come.
Something had gone wrong. The Ritual had failed – he had failed. Again. He was so sure that everything had been perfect, that this was to be the time. Self-pity overcame him, and he fell to his knees, sobbing against the leg of the kitchen table.
His life was unchanged. There were no miracles. He would continue his meaningless life in this cheap bedsit. The kitchen window shook as a lorry thundered past outside.
Slowly he stood up, pulling his tattered dressing gown around him. So many attempts, so many failures. But he would not give up – could not give up. Next time would be different. There were only four weeks to the next full moon. It would not be difficult to obtain another sacrifice by then.
Opening a cupboard he took out a dustbin liner, in which to bury the young baby’s bloodied body.