"Are you sure you wanna do this?"
"Yeah, sure, why not."
Johnny Berwyn was using a stick to walk off the shape of a giant pentagram in a cleared area of the woods that he and Josh Berlinger occupied. They had arrived on their bikes a few minutes earlier, hiding them in the bushes at the entrance to the pathway. It was late and the sky above the circle of tall trees was completely black. Johnny used a flash light to guide the stick through the rough, dark soil. He then pulled five small candles out of his backpack.
"Holy shit, you got a whole warlock survival kit in there?" Josh asked, surprised at Johnny's determined look and mannerism. Johnny said nothing in response to the question. This was a side of Johnny that was completely foreign to him. No one had ever mentioned that he was into this kind of stuff. Johnny meticulously lit each of the candles and placed them at the pentagram's points. He then walked to the center of the pentagram and placed a white crystal about the size of a quarter in the center.
Josh had known Johnny for awhile; more like known of him. He was the epitome of introvert. He rarely spoke, even to his friends. The most anyone could usually get out of him was a "tccch" if he thought something was funny or interesting. He also shrugged his shoulders a lot and made the occasional small animal noise; more to amuse himself than others. The only time you couldn't get him to shut up was when you were discussing one of his passions: electronics and lesbians. His body was that of an overgrown kid, and in many ways he was. The odd thing people noticed about him at first was that his head appeared too small for his body. His small cherub-like face was framed by a Dutch boy haircut that ended at the middle of his ears, accentuating the fact. The strange combination gave him the appearance of a six foot toddler with a slightly lumbering gate.
Josh, on the other hand, was an extreme extrovert. He was neither a jock nor a stoner, but did a little of both just for something to do. His build fit his five foot eight frame and one could say that he looked physically fit. His blonde crew-cut and square jaw made him attractive to the girls at school, but he was too busy doing stuff to notice them. That's how he had hooked up with Johnny that evening. They happened to be riding bikes together in the same direction. Not having anything to do that night, Josh pulled up along side. As always, Josh was the first one to speak.
"Where ya going?" Johnny was silent for a few moments.
"To the woods across town."
"Can I tag along?"
Johnny gave one of his signature "tccch" responses and shrugged his shoulders. Josh tried to engage Johnny in conversation but his questions were answered with only a simple grunt. He got the hint and they rode silently to the edge of the woods. With their bikes safely concealed in the bushes, then walking up the path to the clearing, Josh finally asked, "So what're we gonna do here?"
"I'm doing a ceremony to bring some spirits in." Johnny replied.
"What? Really?! Isn't that like some scary black magic shit that you shouldn't be messing with?"
"No. No. No. This is white magic. The incantation is designed to bring in good spirits that help you. I have a couple with me all of the time."
"For real?" Josh was astonished. "How hard is it to do? Can anyone do it? Can I do it?"
Johnny remained silent. He set his backpack down against a tree and began his business of arranging some of the items in it.
Josh came around Johnny's back and faced him. "Hey, I want in, man. Can you get me a spirit?" He didn't really believe Johnny could raise himself before noon, much less raise the dead. Though he did recognize this as an experience he could bullshit about for a long time to people. None of his other friends were ever involved in any of this witchcraft shit so he would have bragging rights.
"C'mon, I'm serious. I've always wanted to do this."
"This is something you have to really believe in, and concentrate on. You have to be able to open your soul to the spirits." Johnny replied dryly, still hunched over his backpack, continuing his ritual setup.
"I do, I do, man. You gotta let me." Josh was pleading and Johnny could tell he was on the verge of begging to do it.
Johnny closed his eyes and stood erect. Still showing no emotion he said softly, "Okay."
"Woo hoo! Alright! Hey, you know what would make this way cooler?" Josh burst out loud. At the same time he began pulling a small bag of pot from the front right pocket of his jeans. Inside there were a few pre-rolled joints with enough weed to roll maybe a dozen more.
"No. You gotta have your head about you when we do this. Even though it's white magic it can still be dangerous. If you're messed up and the wrong spirit enters you, you could be in a world of hurt. I've seen some of the things dark spirits can do, and you don't want to be part of that."
Josh quietly and reluctantly returned the bag to his pocket. This adventure had suddenly gotten much less fun.
Once the pentagram was drawn and the candles in place, Johnny pulled out a small velvet bag from his backpack.
"Stand in the center of the pentagram." Johnny said.
"Does it matter which direction? You know, depending on the way it's pointing, it can mean different things." Josh replied.
"That's just movie baloney, now do you want to do this or not?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Josh stepped forward into the center of the pentagram and slowly turned around, not facing any specific direction. The light from the candles' placement played tricks with the shadows in the interior of the pentagram. He thought, this would be so much cooler if I were stoned.
"Think these thoughts over and over again." Johnny said as, almost like a hypnotist, he began to recite "My mind is pure. My thoughts are of good, not evil. I have a positive attitude. My soul is pure."
He put his index finger and thumb inside the velvet bag and pulled out a pinch of a powdery substance. He circled the pentagram, sprinkling the powder from his fingers high over the candles. The air directly above the candles began to sparkle a moment later. He continued with the positive chanting and candle sprinkling for three more revolutions.
Josh looked like he was trying to concentrate but somehow found it all just a little too silly to take seriously. He noticed that Johnny would routinely look beyond, into the woods, as if searching for something. Josh saw nothing. Johnny suddenly stopped.
"Okay, they're here." Johnny said, tossing the bag on the ground by his backpack. "I can see about twenty of them out there just around us. Do you feel them?"
"I see something out there but I can't make out what it is?" Josh replied, not knowing what to say.
"That's because they're made of energy. You're not supposed to see them. Do you sense them around us?"
"Yeah, I kinda do." Josh said, playing along.
"Go ahead and pick one."
Josh turned slightly to the left pointed blindly into the darkness. Not knowing what he was pointing at, or where.
"I want that one."
"Good choice. Now pick up the crystal on the ground there." Josh complied. Johnny walked over to the candle closest to the point where Josh had pointed. He pulled a substance out of his left pocket and threw it at the candle. A fireball immediately ignited and rose to a height of about ten feet. He simultaneously pulled a different powder out of his right pocket and threw it airborne so that the bulk of it landed in the center of the pentagram, covering Josh.
"Pffffffffttttthhh! What the fuck was that?" Josh was not only startled but a little angry. Did Johnny really know what the stuff was that he was flinging around?
Johnny ignored his cry and began extinguishing the candles. Josh bent over, rubbing his head and pulling at his t-shirt vigorously in an attempt to dislodge whatever it was that Johnny had thrown at him. He finished dusting himself off the same time as Johnny finished packing his backpack.
"Keep that crystal with you at all times. Other spirits now know your soul is vulnerable but the spirit you picked here, tonight, will protect you." Josh looked down and realized that he had been palming the crystal the entire time he was brushing himself off. He casually put it in his pocket opposite the pot. As he looked up he noticed Johnny walking back down the path toward the bikes.
"So what do I do now?" Josh exclaimed, trotting behind to catch up to him. Johnny just shrugged his shoulders.
"Nothing. It's done. Ask your spirit for guidance and see what happens. You'll know." Johnny said, as they silently dug their bikes out from their hiding place in the bushes.
"Where ya going now?" Josh asked as they rode down the middle of the silent dark street. Johnny gave a half attempt at a shoulder shrug while holding the handle bars.
"Home." He said, expressionless. "I'm modifying an amp for a guy down at the guitar shop. I was able to take the guts out of an 8-track player and add it to my amp to get some weird noises out of it. He liked it, so I'm tweaking it a bit for him. You see, if you lower the output voltage..."
"Yeah, I got stuff to do, too." Josh said, cutting him off. He knew nothing about that stuff and didn't feel like sitting around watching someone play with a soldering iron for half the night. "Besides it's a school night. Thanks for the rock. I'll let you know what happens." He peeled his bike off to the left and headed for home.
A dark stillness surrounded Josh during the remainder of his ride home. As he rode up onto the grass hill that was his back yard he made a mental note that he had not seen another car since he had left Johnny.
He parked the bike against the side of the house and dug in his pocket for the key. Opening the back door he walked down into the basement. His dad had converted it into what would later be called a man cave. At the bottom of the stairs to his right were a couch and a large console television. A stereo stand sat next to the television. All of this electronic equipment was flanked by two large speakers standing in the corners. To his left were the stairs that led to the inside of the house, followed by a beer fridge and a pool table. The entire room was finished off with the finest walnut paneling. Straight ahead in the back left corner of the room, looking not much bigger than a closet, was Josh's room. His dad had built it for him so he would have some freedom but still be at home. Josh walked across the room, unlocked the door and turned on a black light. The room had just enough space to change clothes in. The bed was built loft-like, high atop a chest of drawers and a few rows of shelves. It was like having a boy cave inside a man cave. Besides, his dad didn't use the basement much anyway, so he mostly had the place to himself.
He pulled the contents of his pockets out and placed everything on one of the shelves. The crystal fell out of his hand, making a small rumbling sound as it rolled across the wooden board. Josh looked at it closely and thought, I don't think Johnny knows what the fuck he's doing. Just in case, I don't want this thing in the house. He picked it up off the shelf and walked across, up, and out the back door. He thought about throwing it as far as he could. No, he might want it or need it for some reason. What if Johnny wanted it back? He decided to put it on the window sill outside the kitchen.
He closed and locked the door as he made his way back to his room. He got undressed after shutting and locking his own door. He pulled a joint out of the baggie on the shelf and climbed up into the psychedelic loft. He lay with his head propped up against the wall and his pillow until he had smoked about half of the joint. Feeling tired enough to sleep he turned the black light out, slunk down beneath the sheets, and nodded off.
The television in the basement outside Josh's room crackled to life. The stereo clicked on shortly after, and the television audio began blaring through the speakers in the corners. Josh woke up in a haze. He wasn't sure how long he had been out of it. He did know that it was unusual for his dad to be watching television in the basement in the middle of the night. He climbed down and felt around on the floor for his underwear. Putting them on, he unlocked and exited the oversized closet.
He stepped out slowly, letting his eyes get adjusted to the glow from the television. The silhouette sitting in the middle of the couch was definitely not his father. From the back, all he could see was the person's hair was long and matted flat. He could tell it had not been washed in a long time. An arm slowly rose from the couch, and with a click the stereo turned off. Josh didn't know what to do. He was frozen with shock… fear… surprise. He just stood there silent. After a few moments a deep, raspy, dry voice from the couch broke the silence.
"Well, you done fucked up tonight, Buddy Boy!"
"Who the fuck are you?" Then with a pause, "Get… get the fuck out of my house!" Josh yelled back at the figure.
"What do you mean, who am I? You damn well know who I am. You pointed right at me."
"What?!" Josh said, still standing in the same spot, looking confused.
"Out there, in the woods. You looked right at me, and said, I want that one." The man stood and walked around the far side of the couch, turning to face Josh. The man raised his arms in the shape of a cross and turned his palms skyward. "Well, this is what you wanted."
"No, no, fuck you, man."
The figure slowly crossed the back of the couch. This was no hulk of a man, just a little taller than Josh and just as thin. The muddy jeans, army green shirt, and ratted jean vest all matched the unwashed hair a bit too perfectly. Josh's eyes followed the man intently as he slowly backed toward his room. He reached inside the door and grabbed a set of nun-chucks hanging on the wall. The figure stopped. Josh slowly raised one of the pair of chained sticks high above his head with his right hand. He swung wildly in an arc as he crouched to make a leap forward. The advance was short lived as the swinging stick immediately hit his bedroom door bouncing into the back of his head. He brought his hand down quickly, momentarily forgetting that there was still a swinging stick in it. The crack it made on his shin forced him to leap forward and fall to his hands and knees in agony. At that moment Josh thought all kids needed to have a set of nun-chucks. I needed to have a set of nun-chucks. Too bad I never learned how to use them. He looked up at the figure, now standing six feet in front of him, he asked, half crying, "What do you want?"
"You see they've sent me back before, but it ain't gonna happen again. The others all lived and that weakened me." Pointing at the pool table with a gritty smile, he continued "Since you and little Johnny over there were the ones that brought me back, I figure if I kill you then I'm free to do what I want and no one can send me back."
Josh slowly arched his back and lifted his hands from the floor. As he stood on his knees and looked over the edge of the pool table, there in the middle, as if watching the television, was Johnny's severed head. The green felt around it was mottled with patches of dark red and black. Josh's eyes went wide as he lurched straight backward, falling on his tailbone. He kept pushing backward with his feet. As he did, his underwear slid to the back of his legs and his bottom slid across the shag carpet until his back hit the wall. He sat there for a quick moment looking around the room.
"And now it's your turn." The man growled as he started walking between the couch and pool table towards Josh. His arms were out from his sides, and his hands were poised for a fierce grip.
Josh looked for something, anything, to keep distance between himself and this crazy person, or demon, or whatever he was. The only item that was within his reach was a snow ski. He leaned over and grabbed the ski, at the same time pushing up with his legs to stand. The skin on his bare back squealed against the paneled wall as he got to his feet. Holding the ski straight out in front of him like a sword, he pointed the tip into the man's chest. As if physically connected by the ends of the ski, the two moved in unison. Josh walked to his left toward the stairs as the man walked around to the front of the couch. Finally, with his back to the staircase, Josh walked backwards towards it. The man continued to move forward, putting extra pressure on the ski with his chest. Half way across the room Josh dropped the ski, turned, and made a dash for the stairs to the outside. He leaped to the top in three steps, unlocked the door, turned the knob, and shoved as hard as he could. The door did not move.
As he turned around he felt a hand grab on to his calf. He pulled his leg free as the hand slipped down and past his ankle. He jumped across and onto the staircase leading into the house. It was locked from the inside. He banged on the door and screamed as loud as he could.
"Heeeelp! Help me! Daaad! Mom! Heeeelp!" Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
He felt two hands grab his right ankle tightly. This time the grip held. In mid-scream Josh's right leg was yanked out from under him; the left leg quickly followed. He put out his arms to stop his fall but they slipped though the top two steps and his chin hit the top step with all of his weight. His two front top teeth immediately spit out of his mouth as his cry for help ended in a spray of blood from his lips.
The skin on Josh's bare chest peeled as it was dragged down the non-slip strips glued to the wooden stairs. His sun deprived legs, being held tight in the air, led the way toward the center of the basement. He was laid to rest on the floor directly below Johnny's head. Every part of his body felt like it was either in great pain or numb. He knew that he still had to do something, anything to escape.
"Well, you're one tough little bastard." The man muttered, breathing a little heavy himself as he walked over to pick up the ski.
Josh then realized what would get his father to come down to the basement in a flash. He slipped himself up, over, and onto the couch. He found the stereo remote, clicked it on, and turned the volume to full. The stereo came to life with a thunderous roar. At the same time a swinging snow ski hit his shoulder, glanced off the side of his head, and continued upward, smashing into a bar lamp hanging above the couch. Stunned, he slumped to the side with his head resting on the couch arm rest.
The man grabbed the stereo rack and pulled it forward. It all came down in a raucous crash, then silence. He then moved toward Josh with outstretched hands and found his throat. Josh felt the skin around his throat tightening. Beating and pulling at the man's arms, he could not break them free. He was able to pull a thumb loose occasionally and steal a gulp of air. The blood coming from Josh's mouth had also dripped down onto his neck, making it harder to get a good grip.
As suddenly as they were there, the man's hands were gone. Josh watched as the man flew into the wall where the stereo used to be. Roger Burlinger then kicked the man in the chest as he started to move forward. This bent him over enough to be wrestled to the ground.
"Josh! You okay?"
Josh looked up from the couch and saw his dad kneeling on the struggling man's back. With a slight cough he croaked out, "Yeah, thanks dad." His lips fluttered a bit between the broken teeth, and the words sounded wet with blood.
"This isn't over yet. I don't know what this guy is on, but he's a wily critter. Get on his legs and hold 'em." Josh rolled from the couch and lay across the man's legs with his arms around them.
"Who is this guy anyway?" Roger asked excitedly.
"Well, me and Johnny went to the woods out by the old middle school tonight and did this witchcraft thing to raise a spirit. Next thing I know this guy shows up on the couch and wants to kill me."
"What? You gotta be shittin' me. Who is this Johnny kid anyway?"
Josh jerked his head towards the pool table, looked at his dad and back to the pool table.
"Holy shit!" Roger paused to make sure what he was seeing was real. "Is that the kid that wired my television to the stereo?"
"Was. Aren't we gonna call the cops or something, dad?" Josh sounded exhausted.
"Yeah, your mother was doing that before I came down here. And how about you, you mother fucker. What the fuck is your problem." Roger was twisting his knee into the back of the man while he held his face to the floor from the side.
"You need to listen to your kid. He chose to bring me here. And he is my key to eternal life. I will be back. They may try to send me back but as long as he lives I will be hunting him down. Next time he won't have the fighting chance I gave him tonight."
"Fuck you, you will not." Roger started using his fist to punch the side of the man's head.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, there Mr. Burlinger. You might not want to do that." Sheriff Tate hollered as he and a deputy strode down the steps from inside the house. "I can take it from here. Deputy Wallace, go ahead and put the cuffs on him. We've been looking for this guy for a long time. Odd that he's way over here in this part of town."
Safely secured in hand cuffs, the officers each grabbed an arm and raised the man to his feet. Everyone stood there silent for a moment staring at each other; trying to understand exactly what happened. The stranger looked oblivious to the situation. After a deep breath, they moved toward the stairs with the Sheriff leading the way.
"We're gonna take him down to the station tonight and process him. You can come by tomorrow and finish up all the paperwork." Pointing to the pool table, he said, "Some one will be here shortly to take care of that."
"Who is he Sheriff?" asked Roger.
"That's what we're going to find out. He's gone by the name of Dan something. He's a drug addict that hangs out in the woods near the old middle school. Funny thing is, every time we get close to catching up with him, he simply seems to disappear. Not surprising that it took two of you to hold him down. These guys get drugs in them and they think they're fucking Superman."
"Well, thanks, Sheriff. I'll be by tomorrow to finish with the paperwork stuff."
Josh and his father stood on the front porch in their underwear as the officers escorted the man to the police car. Josh heard the Sheriff speak as he pulled the man down the sidewalk to the squad car on the left.
"Well, you done fucked up tonight, Buddy Boy."
They watched as the man was put in the back of the car. The Sheriff walked around and situated himself in the driver's seat. The sound of the starting squad car broke the night's silence. The headlights turned on and the car began to move forward. As it passed the front of the house they could clearly see the silhouette of the Sheriff in the front seat. Immediately behind him was an empty back seat.