Alternative Magick for the Modern Man (short fiction)

short fiction: Alternative Magick for the Modern Man
Codex Gigas (Wikimedia Commons)

Ernest had fallen asleep with his face between pages nineteen and twenty of a book called ‘Alternative Magick for the Modern Man’. He realized this as his eyes cracked open and he tried to focus on his workroom. It must have been about five in the morning; the blue light coming in pre-sunrise was giving the room a deep-sea atmosphere.

Ernest took in a breath only to find his nostrils assaulted by the scent of… pocket change? Forest floor, damp with gasoline? He sat up and realized he’d had a nosebleed sometime in the night. Where the pages of the book met, there was a narrow gutter of browning blood. The surrounding text, too, was obscured with stains.

He grunted and dragged the leathery palms of his hands down his face. More dried blood; it flaked off like fish food and landed lightly on his novelty South Park pajama pants. They had been a gift from his wife several Christmases ago, back when Ernest’s faith in the American dream was just starting to give out. At thirty-one years old, he had married a novelist named Suzy and within a year they were expecting twin girls. At thirty-three he was back in the same hospital with a third squirming cotton cocoon in his arms and was angry, so angry with himself for not feeling quite the same about this one. By the fourth year of marriage, Suzy was going by Susan and her novels had somehow started to come out as gardening manuals. Ernest filled the tiresome occupation of debt collector for the IRS until he was laid off in the sixth year, and it was in the seventh that he developed an interest in the occult because – well, shit, you can only drive to and from so many varsity softball games before you start daydreaming about ritual sacrifice.

And now here he was in year nine, waking up alone in his workroom with an indigestible block in his stomach shaped like last night’s TV dinner. He had some vague echoing memory of Susan slamming the bedroom door around ten o’clock, so he must have spitefully returned to the ‘Necromancy Do’s and Don’ts’ chapter not long after. Ernest guessed that he had dozed off at about midnight, which led him to wonder why he was now awake in the early hours of the morning.

His questions were answered as a sound came from the general direction of the front door: an insistent knocking that must have jolted him awake (unless, of course, his shady new hobby was giving him premonitions, which was more than the bargain shelf at the bookstore had promised).

If this was that same Jehovah’s witness from last week, so help him God, Ernest was going to go out first thing tomorrow and buy a very big, very mean dog. He resolved that regardless of who it was, he wasn’t about to answer the door with his face encrusted with blood. He went straight from his workroom to the bathroom across the hall and quickly rinsed himself off. He was drying off with a towel when another series of knocks sounded, this time much too strong to be someone with barely enough muscle mass to lift a stack of pamphlets about the Lord and Savior.

Ernest dropped the towel into the undrained sink (a load of laundry wouldn’t kill Susan) and made his way down the dim hall and into the kitchen. There was a dreamy sense of surreality for Ernest as he noted that his wife and all three daughters were seated motionlessly around the kitchen table, but he had little time to linger on this as the beating on the front door had grown to a constant, frantic banging. It dawned on him that the violent din of force on fake wood must have frozen his family in fear, and he suddenly felt guilty for not rising sooner.

He approached the door feeling, for once, like the man of the house; a sentiment that overlapped awkwardly with that of complete terror. Whatever was on the other side of that door wanted very badly for it to be opened, and Ernest wasn’t sure he wanted to open it. He also wasn’t sure what it meant to spill one’s own blood on a book about the dark arts – in fact, opening this door was sure as hell starting to sound like a necromancy “don’t.”

But, before he could cite the paragraph containing instructions for exactly what to do when an unintentionally conjured entity is trying to gain entrance into your home, he had swung the door open.

He found himself staring past a very frustrated Susan and into the petrified eyes of his daughters.

“Jesus, Ernest!” Susan whispered, anger mixing with the shaky tone of someone who just narrowly avoided falling from a great height. “I don’t know what in God’s name you’ve been doing with all that sorcery crap in the workroom, but we’ve been trying to get you out of this house for twenty minutes because we are not going back in.”

Ernest took a thoroughly confused glance back at the kitchen table, where carbon copies of his family were seated so still that one may have mistaken them for mannequins if it weren’t for the steady rise and fall of their chests with every silent breath. He turned back to his wife, who now had tears brimming in her eyes.

“What the hell are those things?” She hissed.

Ernest began to speak, but trailed off at the sound of chair legs scraping along linoleum as the Inside-Family stood up. The Outside-Family watched in horror. Ernest could feel them behind him, upright and still breathing mechanically, and he suddenly became very aware of the possibility that he was going to die in a pair of South Park pajama pants.

The sound of contorting joints caused him to turn back to the Inside-Family just in time to watch his blank-eyed youngest daughter dislocate her own jaw as Susan’s arms, of their own accord, cracked and bent backwards.

Sarah Navin