THE CONJURING – a modern gothic short story.

The Conjuring (A Modern Gothic Short Story)

I sit in the darkened room at Madame Marta’s Edwardian villa in Swiss Cottage. Seated around the large, round, antique mahogany table I see eleven other people, like me, wearing silver masks and long red robes.  I have no idea who they are, this is the first time I have ever attended a conjuring.  The house itself exhibits gothic features, it is built in the style of a mid nineteenth century Italianate villa from the Borromean Islands on Lago Maggiore.  The castellated tower which widens with height, is topped by a cloistered walkway, decorated with green and gold images of Chinese style dragons. It impressed me greatly when I arrived, and I found myself in the room at the centre of the cloister when the door opened five minutes ago.  Madame Marta enters the room carrying an ornate basket containing a number of golden jewel encrusted amulets with red dragons inscribed on them.  The dragons are attached to black ribbons.  She also hands out some short, thick, black candles. She instructs us to all take one of the amulets and tie the black ribbon around our waist with the amulet image facing outwards.

Madame Marta attaches great importance to this saying, “The requests that you make here will only be answered if the dragon is facing away from you. If the dragon faces the wrong way then your desire will be reversed and that could be extremely dangerous.”

She then passes a burning taper around the room so that we each, in turn, light our allotted candle. At this point a heavy, cloying, perfumed aroma fills the room and I begin to feel slightly swimmy as I breathe it in.  The characters on the ornate tapestries around the room appear to dance before my eyes.  I am in a state of astonishment and am quivering all over.

I am not sure what this ritual is likely to achieve, to be honest I have always thought of the supernatural as somewhat of a hoax.  I am only here because a friend at work told me that they knew of a sure fire way to get revenge on a bully or anyone that had mistreated you.  When she had mentioned a conjuring I had laughed but after a few minutes of her sincere advocating my curiosity was aroused.  She had given me Madame Marta’s card and thus here I am.

Focusing clearly, my memory takes me back twenty years and I see myself as a frightened eleven year old boy, sat as I await the electric enter sign to come on and usher me into Mr Jenkins’s study to face yet another ferocious beating with his cane for nothing more than failure to my homework. I recently took my eldest son along to view the local comprehensive school and was shocked to see Ronald Arthur Jenkins installed as the new head teacher. The very sight of this old bully brought back all my fear and pain, and reawakened my desire for vengeance. I determined that there was no way on god’s earth that my son was going to this school all the time Jenkins is head. Something has to be done.

Now I feel very strange indeed, I can smell the colours in the tapestries. Madame Marta takes a folio sized grimoire into her hands.  This ancient book is covered in what looks like emerald green lizard skin, although I cannot be sure. She opens the book and begins to read from it in a language I do not understand. 

We sit in silence until, after five minutes of reading aloud she stands and speaks; “Rise now.  Take hold of the hands of the people either side of you. Slowly beat a rhythm with your right foot upon the floor in time with my handclapping.”

We do as she instructs. After a while she speaks again “Chant the following words over and over until I command you to stop:-

Please come to us

Prince Astaroth.”

The chanting and the sound of the feet beating the floor has the effect of sending Madame Marta into a trance like state. She begins to utter soft urgent phrases in that same unknown language whilst moving her arms back and forth above the table.

I continue chanting and, combined with the rhythmic nature of the stamping, soon find myself entering a higher state of awareness, everything in my field of vision is assuming a sharpness.  Then, slowly at first, a small undulating cloud is forming in the air above the centre of the table.  From whence it emanates I cannot ascertain.  I am thinking to myself that this is a very neat trick. The cloud is getting larger and moving strangely whilst hovering in the same position. It is so large now that I can’t see the other side of the table; Madame Marta is hidden from view.

Suddenly she makes a long, loud, howling moan, then shouts “Stop chanting. He is here. He is here.”

As I watch the cloud clears, and there floating before us is a red dragon with a man sized demon sitting astride the beast with a writhing python in one hand and a wavy edged dagger in the other.  I feel shocked and frightened, and feel my legs getting wet as I realise I am pissing myself.  It looks so real. I stand paralysed whilst Madame Marta reaches forward with a shiny black onyx bowl and holds it beneath the dragon.  The demon bares it’s oversized set of pointed teeth in an horrifying grimace and looks around the circle before drawing the dagger slowly across one of the dragons feet. I can smell the stench of his vile breath as he leans forward with the knife. A bright red stream of steaming blood falls from the wounded creature into the waiting bowl. A few seconds later Madame Marta places the bowl on the table and bows low whilst uttering more words in the strange language. The demon stares at her with a definite lascivious look, and then, with a sudden loud noise, is gone.

“Prince Astaroth has gone but has left us with enough dragon blood ink to carry out the rest of our purposes here today. Please join me in thanking him by repeating the following words.”

“O Mighty Astaroth”

“O Mighty Astaroth”

“We thank you for your gift.”

“We thank you for your gift.”

“We shall repay it back one day.”

“We shall repay it back one day.”

“Thank you all, now let us move on to cast the spells you have come here for today.”

Madame Marta moved to a Chinese painted chest in the corner and opened a drawer from which she drew twelve sheets of the finest goat vellum, twelve black sharpened ravens quill pens and twelve lengths of black silk ribbon.

After handing these items around she then said. “Write the full name of your target nine times on the vellum using the dragon’s blood ink. Cover the name with your wish or command written nine times. Roll up the name vellum and tie it with the black ribbon. Moving back and forth from left to right, make 4 more knots in the ribbon – there should be five knots in total – including the one holding the rolled name vellum.”

I have no idea what the others are writing down on their vellum. Possibly some of them are seeking to bring a lover to hand for cheating on them, or are hoping to influence the decision of a judge, or maybe their boss is bullying them and they want it to stop, I don’t know, and, as I won’t see any of these unknown people again, never will.

I dip my pen into the dragon’s blood and start writing across the sheet. Nine times I write Ronald Arthur Jenkins in very shaky hand.  I remember clearly vowing to myself that I would one day have my revenge and this time is now. I look at the nine lines of his name and begin writing across every one TAKE THIS MAN TO PURGATORY AND CANE HIM FOR ETERNITY.  As I write I feel the satisfaction growing inside of me whilst the fear I felt in the demon’s presence diminishes with every word. As I finish I feel positively radiant.

As soon as the last person ties the final knot in their ribbons Madame Marta says “I have prepared some special oil for you and you must take it home with you and fill these lamps with it.  Light the lamp and place the vellum scroll in front of it.   Every night for nine nights you must sit by the lamp and say the following five times:-  

O Mighty Prince Astaroth

Who entered the mountain and tied

Up the beast with your ribbons,

I beg you to tie up and dominate [insert name of target].

Mighty Prince

Help Me in my quest

Great commander of the forty legions,

For the oil which you will consume today,

For the oil which nourishes this lamp,

For the wick which burns away all impurities,

I dedicate this Lamp to you,

So that you may relieve me

Of all my Miseries

And Help Me to overcome all Difficulties.

As You dominated the beast beneath your feet.

My Prince,

Grant me that [insert target’s name]

May not live in Peace.

In this way Lord Mighty Astaroth,

Grant my Petition and Eliminate My Misery.

Once the lamp is lit you must keep it burning throughout the nine days and add more of my oil as it burns so that it does not become extinguished. You must also be sure to wear the amulet of Prince Astaroth as a lamen whilst chanting the prayer to the Lord Of Truth.  On the final word of the fifth chanting on the ninth day your command will be executed and all will be well. I thank you for attending the presence of the most mighty strong Prince among all the spirits, O Mighty Lord Astaroth, he that giveth true answers of things past, present, and to come, and can right all wrongs and discover all Secrets. Please enter your cubicles and get changed in silence and respect the privacy of everyone else here. Here are your lamps and bottles of oil, have a safe journey home.” With that she hands out some small brown paper carrier bags and leaves the room.

I quietly get changed and, seeing none of the other participants I go home.

As I drive I try and work out in my mind what happened in the conjuring. Did the demon really manifest itself before us or was it a sophisticated technological trick involving a hologram?  I am unsure, it had seemed so real, the smells, dragon blood ink.  Whatever happened I am now determined to see the process through and will light my lamp to Lord Astaroth tonight, after all I have just handed £1750.00p over to Madame Marta.

After keeping the flame lit for nine days and nights, and chanting the prayer to Lord Astaroth five times every night, the whole spell is now woven.  I have not determined how I will find out whether it has been successful or not but I feel strangely elated at the prospect that it just might have happened. 

This morning I see my friend at work.

She says “How are you Johnny?”

“I have never felt better.” I reply

“Did you go and see Madame Marta?”

“I did.”

“How was it?” she asks

“I am not sure. It blew my mind a bit and made me question reality.” I reply.

“OK, I will see you at lunchtime for a full rundown, laters!”

“See you in the canteen at one.” I say.

I go to my desk and there I find the in tray piled high with correspondence and newspapers. I pick them all up and place them in the out tray as I figure that anything of any real import will be bound to come back to me eventually. As I lift the pile today’s copy of the local newspaper, The Kentish Mercury, falls to the floor and lays open at the inside page where I look down at the headline which reads “Mysterious Disappearance Of Local Head Teacher, Police Baffled.” The first line of the report says Ronald Arthur Jenkins, Head Teacher at Deptford Comprehensive School, disappeared in a puff of smoke during Assembly whilst speaking of the dangers of magic in modern society.”

I sit down in my chair and strange wave of intense calmness sweeps over me, at last I think, I have revenge. I give thanks to the one and mighty Prince Astaroth.

2117 words.  Harry Rogers, Aberbanc, in the hut, February 2017