The television was still on, and by the sounds of it my mother fell asleep in front of one of her favorite late night talk shows. She watched them all, depending on her mood, but they weren't to my taste so I couldn't tell them apart merely by listening. I needed to wake her if I was going to sneak out, because otherwise she'd hear me regardless of which door I left through.
I needed a lie, a reason for being up, but thankfully she'd already provided me with that because of her predicament. Tossing my hoodie to the side and messing up my hair so it looked like I'd just crawled out of bed, I walked into the living room and quietly approached the couch.
Her head was tilted awkwardly to the side, hair as blonde as mine scrunched awkwardly between her cheek and neck. I smirked as I considered how to take advantage of this situation. Did I have enough time for a picture? I glanced at the old grandfather clock in the corner. No, I needed to get a move on, and each minute counted if I wanted to arrive first.
I found the remote sitting a foot away from her hand and picked it up silently, then muted the television. I then slowly increased the volume while it was on mute until it reached a loud yet still believable level. Placing the remote back in its place, I pressed the mute button again then quickly retracted my hand, hoping the noise would startle my mother awake.
She stirred momentarily, snorting loudly before rolling her head to the other side and resuming her sleep. I wanted to laugh, despite my frustration that my ploy had failed, but I managed to keep my composure. "Mom," I said, "You're drooling."
Her hand reached up and idly wiped at her mouth. "No I'm not, Craig. Go back to sleep."
I sighed. She was dreaming about my father again. Never a good thing. "Mom!" I insisted. She opened an eye and turned toward me. "Mom, you fell asleep on the couch again. The TV woke me up."
"Craig?" She asked, then shook her head and sighed. "No, Gabriel. I'm sorry, son. I was & I'm sorry. You have your father's eyes, you know. It's not nice to sneak up on a woman like that when she's dreaming about eyes as beautifully blue as yours."
"Mom" I said, glancing past her at the bottle of wine on the coffee table. "Have you been drinking?"
"Just a glass, I swear," she said. I gave her a hard look and she said, "Check the bottle if you don't believe me. It's almost full. You know I'm not an alcoholic. Are you thinking of my mother?"
She had a point; she'd never abused alcohol in the past, even at her lowest. But I needed to get out of here, and I was going to milk this for everything I could. "No, I was thinking of my mother, and she just fell asleep in front of the television after drinking wine, with the volume up way higher than normal. Are you okay? I'm just worried about you."
"I'm fine, but I suppose you have reason to be," she replied, then reached out and turned off the TV with the remote. "It was a stressful day of errands, and I was tired when I got home. I just wanted to unwind a little. Can you believe that Stewart's Market doesn't have any more Halloween candy? I had to go to Walmart over in Chesterton just to get something to hand out for tomorrow night."
"Sounds like you need sleep," I countered. "We both do."
She nodded and said, "Yeah, why'd you have to wake me up?" I rolled my eyes and she snickered. "Yeah, yeah, if I insist you sleep in your bed, I guess I better be a good example, huh? All right, Gabe. Don't stay up too late, okay? Sorry I woke you."
"I'm just going to get some water first," I replied. "My mouth is dry."
My mother stood and patted my arm, then started toward the stairs up to her room. She glanced over her shoulder and said, "Thanks for looking out for me, son."
"Anytime," I replied. "Love you."
"Love you, too."
And then she was gone, but I still had to wait before I left. It wouldn't take her long to fall asleep, but I couldn't risk her still being awake. She knew I sneaked out at night sometimes and hated it, but I wasn't about to change my habits just because she was scared I'd be abducted. I was sixteen, a few weeks shy of seventeen, and I could handle myself.
My mother didn't usually make much of a fuss provided I kept my grades up, at least provided she didn't catch me in the act, and my home life wasn't so bad, all things considered. It was just my mom and me in our small house on the edge of town, and we usually had a great relationship. My dad, Craig Montgomery, still saw me a few times a year, when I flew out to Florida to visit him, but they'd been divorced since I was eight. He paid his child support and often called me, even when it wasn't my birthday or a holiday, and I was happy overall with my life.
The only thing that got in the way sometimes was my love life. I lived in the small town of Florence Heights, and like most small towns it could be a dangerous place for a gay teenager. Nine out of ten people belonged to some form of organized Christianity including my mother, although she no longer went to church and was fairly liberal overall. She was the only one in the world who knew about my sexuality and I'd never questioned her acceptance of me, so at least I had one thing to be grateful for.
A large electronics factory opened near Florence Heights several years back, and slowly the town had grown with some new developments, both residential and commercial. The influx of new families moving in because of job openings at the factory had brought several new demographics into the town, for which I'd been incredibly grateful. My best friend, Brandon Kerry, was one of those, moving in four years ago. His father and mother both had jobs at the factory, and they'd moved here straight from Silicon Valley when their old company had gone bankrupt. They were true blue California Democrats, and it was a refreshing change for me from my rather conservative neighbors.
When we met at school his first week in town, our friendship was instantaneous. I could tell he wasn't going to fit in with the Christian crowd any better than I did, and he saw something in me which told him he was better off with me, too. We'd been nearly inseparable since then, and spent most of our free time together.
One of our favorite activities involved sneaking out at night and hanging out in the woods near my house. On weekends, we'd sometimes camp there all night and wouldn't return until morning after our parents went to work, but we had a specific tradition of doing so on Halloween night, and this year would be no exception.
At eleven we'd meet at the trailhead a block away from my house and then find our way through the dark to one of several secluded campsites we'd either commandeered or created over the years. There was one spot that we used each Halloween which held special significance to us. We'd moved a significant number of rocks into the area to create a large fire pit sheltered by a huge boulder, blocking it from view unless you were looking for it. Although it would still be easy to find the site at night if the fire were lit simply by the smoke and light, the site remained secluded enough that we were never bothered while we were there.
Although Halloween wasn't until tomorrow, we agreed to meet tonight to finalize our plans for the holiday, but there was more going on at this meeting than usual. Brandon had texted me a couple of hours earlier saying he had a surprise for me, and that I couldn't cancel no matter what. I knew Brandon well enough to take him seriously when he was so insistent, and so I'd made plans to leave my house at ten-thirty exactly, intending to beat him to the trailhead long before we were scheduled to meet.
Unfortunately, my mother being awake had delayed me by several minutes already, and I still wasn't sure she'd fallen asleep yet. I needed to play my part to keep her from being suspicious, and so I headed to the kitchen to get a glass of water. As I turned on the faucet, I could hear the water running in her bathroom upstairs. I'd made the right choice to delay my departure for a little longer, because she'd have heard the door open if I'd left any sooner. Once I heard the creak of her box springs, however, I knew I was safe. She'd be out in seconds once her head hit the pillow.
I returned to where I'd abandoned my hoodie and threw it on as quickly as possible, then headed toward the back door. It was the outer door farthest from her bedroom, and the one least likely to wake her. Glancing back at my now dark house, I prayed she'd stay asleep until I came home, or I'd be dead for sure.
Being abducted? That I was willing to face. My mother catching me in the act of sneaking out the day before Halloween? That'd ruin the holiday for sure, and this was one day I wasn't about to miss. Brandon had a surprise for me, and I was determined to see what it was. He'd never let me down before, and I was certain this would be no different.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The cool air caressed my skin as I moved through my small town, and I paused every so often to sniff the nostalgic aroma of Autumn. It was a scent I had long associated with childlike happiness, and at this time of year I could never get enough of taking time to smell the proverbial roses, only in this case it was the scent of rotting leaves and burning firewood instead of flower petals. I wished there existed a magical world where it was Autumn all the time, and that I could go there whenever I felt the need to escape my own boring existence. I wouldn't want to live there, not if I could never leave, for to experience Autumn all the time would make its magic mundane, and I wouldn't give up the energy of Fall for anything.
I was pleased to see some people had already carved jack-o'-lanterns and set them out on their porches, though none of them were lit at this time of night. It made me eager for tomorrow, knowing my neighborhood would be bathed in fire-lit, demonic splendor as young kids traveled in ghoulish costumes and engaged in the same rituals I adored as a child. It wasn't so much the trick-or-treating I'd enjoyed, but rather the magical atmosphere of the evening, feeling as if the spirit realm was just a blink and a whisper away.
So lost was I in my nostalgia, I almost failed to notice the hooded figure waiting for me at the front of the trailhead. Only when he turned towards me and I caught a glimmer of green light did I realize he was there. Inside the shadows of his cowl glowed a bright green skull, painted onto some Lycra suit with glow-in-the-dark paint. The hooded skeleton regarded me silently as I approached, but I had no doubt as to his identity. Although Brandon and I were always tight lipped about our costume choices until the day of the holiday, I knew his style well.
"Nice costume, Brandon," I said, stopping a few feet in front of him, "Halloween's tomorrow, though."
"Shut up," Brandon replied, crossing his arms over his chest. I could feel the defiance of his stare, even though I couldn't see his eyes. "I went to a party tonight, and you're going to thank me for it."
"I am?" I replied, matching his stance and glaring at him. "Why would I thank you for going to a party without inviting me."
"It was at Carol Bridger's house," He replied smoothly. "It was more of a spur of the moment thing."
He was right; that definitely changed things. Carol Bridger was a notorious outcast in our town, although it was the best known secret of our high school that she was the one to go to for any questions regarding drugs, the occult, or anything counterculture at all. She also threw a wild series of parties every Halloween, starting the day before and ending the day after which she affectionately called The Devil's Nights. I had never attended before and didn't want to, because I'd heard it could get really wild and usually ended up with several people being arrested each year. I wasn't into drugs, alcohol, or even into partying much at all, so it wasn't my scene. Until now, I hadn't thought of it as Brandon's scene, either.
"No way," I said, my glare intensifying, "you went to the first party of Devil's Nights?"
Brandon sighed and finally dropped his defiant stance. "Yes, but before you look at me like that, no I didn't drink or do any of the drugs. I'm clean, I promise. You know I don't do any of that shit." I nodded and finally let my own arms drop, standing casually as I waited for him to explain. He didn't waste any time and continued, "I went because Carol had something I wanted and said I could come pick it up at the party; I think you're going to like it."
This news definitely intrigued me, and I said excitedly, "What is it?"
"Patience, Gabe." Brandon laughed and gestured to the trail. "Let's get to the fire pit first, then I'll show you. I'm fucking freezing."
"Are you wearing anything underneath that cloak?" I asked, "Or are you just skin and bones? Or maybe just bones?"
Even though I couldn't see it in the dark, I knew Brandon was rolling his eyes at my comments. "Am I going to have to endure the skeleton jokes all day tomorrow?" He asked.
"Depends on whether or not you get a boner," I replied immediately. "That's something you'll never live down, in which case you're going to have to endure the skeleton jokes for a lot longer than just tomorrow."
"Heh. Getting a boner in this suit sucks, trust me. I decided not to wear any underwear because the suit is skin-tight, and that becomes painfully obvious if I get an erection. Thankfully I noticed that problem pretty quick, and chose to use my cloak from a couple years ago."
I was immediately grateful for being in the cover of darkness, for Brandon's description of his situation brought me immediately to a state of arousal. In an instant I was reminded of the most painful part of being Brandon's best friend. He was straight, as far as he'd ever let on to me, and I was not, the cliché situation of every gay boy who has ever fallen in love with his best friend and realized it would never be returned. At least if I were lucky, I might get a chance to see Brandon without the cloak at some point over the next two days, and thus be provided with some material to fuel my fantasies.
In order to prevent him from being able to see my erection, I fished my flashlight out of my hoodie pocket while starting down the trail. I pressed the button to create a bright cone of light that illuminated the dirt path in front of me, while throwing into darkness the thoughts I desperately wanted to escape. My mind raced through a dozen scenarios of stripping Brandon out of his skin-tight suit and doing naughty things to his naked body. My fingers ached to run through his short, dark brown hair and smash our lips together as our tongues invaded each other's mouths, alternating between dancing and wrestling as our arms, legs, and dicks did the same. I struggled to push the thoughts away, but I just couldn't do it. The autumn scent in the air kept me intoxicated, lowering my defenses and keeping me open to these treacherous thoughts. I had absolutely no problem with my sexuality, but I hated when it betrayed me at times like this.
Thankfully the cold air eventually did what my willpower could or would not, and my erection subsided by the time we reached our favorite campsite. I immediately crouched at the bushes where we stashed our firewood, then pulled out a handful of kindling to start our fire. Brandon complemented my movements by picking up a couple of larger branches which would serve to keep the fire going once the kindling was lit. I raised the kindling in a nice pile in the middle of the fire pit, then pulled out my lighter.
"Shit," I said, "I didn't bring any newspaper."
"Don't worry about it," Brandon said, "I always keep some in my backpack." He set the branches down and reached for the straps of the backpack I hadn't even realized he was wearing. It was black and the straps blended in with his cloak, and up to this point I hadn't seen him from behind this night, so it made sense that I hadn't noticed it. Despite that, I should've known he would've had it, because he carried it everywhere. Even though Brandon had never done a day of Scouting in his life, his father was an Eagle Scout who had taken him on plenty of camping and backpacking trips over the years, and he was always prepared.
We quickly got the fire going and then settled onto the ground a few feet away, watching the blaze grow. Now that we'd finally settled, Brandon made himself a bit more comfortable, pushing back the cowl and lifting the Lycra up from just beneath his chin, pulling back the skull mask and revealing his face at last. My eyes lingered on the smooth skin of his face for a split second longer than a straight boy's gaze would, but I still managed to look away before Brandon noticed my stare. Brandon still couldn't grow any facial hair, and if his father was any indication of his future, he might never have much to speak of, a byproduct of his quarter of Cherokee heritage. He'd lamented it in the past, but I've always preferred the clean-shaven look anyway, and Brandon didn't even have to work at it. I, on the other hand, already had to shave every other day or risk being known as the kid with the neck beard.
"So" I said awkwardly, pushing aside my thoughts regarding his face, "what is this surprise from Carol Bridger?"
Brandon grinned at me and opened the main pocket of his backpack, then tossed me one of its contents. I caught it out of the air, fumbling momentarily before it came to rest in my hand. A small, black candle nestled easily in my palm, its waxy skin feeling strangely warm in my hand despite having been in the cold air for so long.
What's this? I asked.
"It's called a devil candle," Brandon explained, "Apparently if you use them in the proper ritual, you can summon a devil and make a deal for something you want."
"Proper ritual?" I replied incredulously, "So you're talking black magic? Do you believe in that crap?"
Brandon shrugged, and if he was offended it did not show in his expression. "Well, it might all be a load of shit, I dont know, but I thought it might be something fun we could try tomorrow night, and then we could compare experiences." He grinned at me and added, "I just thought you might enjoy doing something new this year."
I reconsidered my position, rolling the candle around in my hand as I stared at it. "I guess there's no real reason not to, right? I dont believe in the existence of souls, anyway, so I dont mind accidentally selling mine." Brandon chuckled at that, and I realized he didn't hold my skepticism against me. That alone was reason enough to humor him on this potential new experience. "So, when and how are we going to do this?
"We'll do it separately. The ritual is supposed to be a private one, but Carol was nice enough to write out the instructions and made us both a copy". He reached into his backpack again and pulled out two envelopes, handing one to me, then gesturing with the other before putting it back into the backpack.
The envelope wasn't sealed so I opened it and pulled out the folded piece of paper and began reviewing the ritual. It looked a lot like a recipe, with a list of ingredients I would need for the ritual followed by a description of how it was to be performed. A lot of the ingredients were strange, like sulfur and fresh sage, and my eyes widened the longer I stared at the list. "Theres a lot more ingredients here than just a candle. Where am I supposed to get all this stuff?"
"Gabe, Gabe, Gabe" Brandon said, reaching into his backpack and pulling out a small plastic bag which he tossed up in the air and caught it again. "You have so little faith in me! Here, I already have everything." He then tossed the bag to me and I caught it easily, then looked at the strange assortment of things I could see through the plastic. I was so bewildered by this strange concoction that I almost missed Brandon's next words. "Well, I am missing one ingredient. Did you notice the last one?"
I set the bag down and picked up the paper again, skipping to the last ingredient listed. The life essence of the person making the deal," I read aloud, "What does that mean?"
"Carol said people usually use blood, as it's sort of the all-purpose ingredient, but there are a few other substitutes if your request is more specific. It's more about the ingredient having meaning to you and a connection to the request than anything else. Like, she said a girl she knew cut off her hair for the ritual one Halloween because she wanted to be prettier."
I raised an eyebrow that. "Did it work?"
"I dont know," Brandon said, shrugging. "Do you think Carols hot?
I smirked, and kept my thoughts on the relative hotness of girls to myself, then answered only the specific question, "Not really. Is she the one who did it?"
Brandon laughed. "She wouldnt tell me the name, so I sort of assumed it was her. Maybe she really asked to be popular; she does have a lot of friends. I don't know about her being hot, though."
"Reasonable," I replied, still mulling over this entire proposal. It sounded like fun at least, though I was still incredibly skeptical about the possibility of it working. I suppose it's worth a shot, anyway," I said after a moment. "What are you going to ask for?"
"The ritual is personal, Gabe. Maybe I'll tell you when its over, after it either works or doesn't."
It wasn't like Brandon to keep secrets from me; I was the one who kept secrets. "Come on, we're best friends," I urged, "you can tell me anything."
"Okay, then what are you going to ask for?" Brandon countered, resuming his earlier defiant posturing from the trailhead. I didn't immediately answer, and though the truth was I hadn't yet made it that far in my thought process, Brandon took it as an unwillingness to answer altogether. "That's what I thought. You want to see if it works or not, and you can't break the rules until youve tested them. I know you, Gabe. Way better than you think."
My immediate thoughts were to counter that assertion with my hidden sexuality, and then as soon as those thoughts entered my mind, I realized what I wanted to ask the devil for, and I definitely couldn't tell Brandon that. "Yeah, you're right," I said instead, "So, we test the ritual, then meet at the trailhead around eight? Sunset shouldve already come by then, right?"
Brandon nodded. "Definitely. That should work."
"Cool," I replied, "Hey, I'm freezing, add some more wood to the fire."
"We have to conserve wood for tomorrow," Brandon said, glancing at our dwindling woodpile. "We should probably just split. The walk back ought to warm us up."
I looked at my phone and sighed, seeing the late hour. You've got a point. I have an English test tomorrow morning, anyway, so I should probably get to sleep."
"Mrs. Forrest is giving a test tomorrow?" Brandon asked. I nodded, and he growled in frustration. "Fuck. I havent studied at all."
"Shouldnt have gone to that party without me," I chided. "We could've studied together instead."
"The party was worth it," Brandon said, rolling his eyes. "You'll see."
If the ritual worked then he was right, but all I could say was, I sure hope so.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We didn't speak much as we walked back down the trail before we split up at the trailhead to head home. I was tired and distracted and, as far as I could tell, he was, too. As I walked home, my mind wandered through all the possibilities of things I could ask for in this ritual. I knew what I wanted to ask for, but I was scared of that possibility, too.
I wanted to ask for Brandon to fall in love with me, but there were a lot of problems with that, especially moral ones. I felt guilty for even considering the possibility, because if it worked, wouldn't I be taking away Brandon's free will? One of the reasons I was in love with him was because of many of the decisions he freely made; I'd always love the way he wasn't afraid to be true to himself.
I continued to mull the situation over in my mind as I settled down to sleep, which triggered a bout of insomnia like nothing I'd ever faced before. I tossed and turned until the wee hours of the morning, finding little sleep at all before my alarm went off, announcing that Halloween had arrived.
Sleep-deprived and lacking energy, I moved through the school day like a zombie. For added effect, I even dressed like one, with rotting makeup and disheveled clothes to complete the costume. Our school allowed us to wear costumes on Halloween provided they were appropriate, and most years my costumes had met that criteria. I was a little disappointed Brandon chose not to wear his costume, but remembering what he'd said about its skin-tight nature the night before, it likely would not have been well accepted by the faculty without the cloak. Our school notoriously kept the heaters on full blast once the temperature started dropping outside, so I couldn't blame Brandon for not wanting to wear a thick cloak all day.
He and I only spoke briefly about our plans for the evening, and I forgot most of what we spoke about otherwise throughout the day. As soon as I laid eyes on him when I got to school in the morning, the question of the ritual came back to my mind, and I couldn't focus on much else. It was all I could do to concentrate on the English test later, and, even then I didn't do as well as I could have, despite studying for it.
It reached a point where I was actually relieved when Brandon told me he couldn't hang out immediately after school because he needed to do some chores. I'd have several hours alone with my thoughts before the ritual, and hopefully I'd have the answer before I began.
Once I was home, I finished my homework and then sat down on the couch, intending to watch TV for a while to distract myself. My thoughts kept circling, though, and when my mother came home from work she saw me sitting in silence and asked, “Hey, Gabriel, you doing okay?”
I shook myself out of my stupor and smiled politely. “Yeah, Mom. Just thinking. How was work?”
“It wasn't too bad. The worst part about being a travel agent is setting up trips for people that you're never going to take yourself," she replied, sighing dramatically. She made that exact complaint more often than any other, but in this particular moment I could relate better than I ever had before. I didn't want to be anywhere near here, either.
"Where’s Brandon?" my mother asked when I didn't respond. "You two always hang out for Halloween.”
I winced at the mention of his name, but I answered her question truthfully. “We’re going to meet up later. He said his dad needed him to do a few chores he’s been putting off, so he wanted to get them out of the way before tonight. You know how Mr. Kerry can nag.”
“I know how you can complain about him nagging,” my mother replied, grinning. When I rolled my eyes in response she added, “I’m kidding. How was school?”
“It was all right. I think I might've bombed my English test today, even though I studied, so that sucks," I replied, sighing. "I only had a little bit of homework, so at least there's a silver lining.”
“Is it already done?” She asked.
“Yep," I replied with a smirk. "I didn’t want you to be nagging me all night, either.”
She tousled my hair and said, “Brat.”
I shifted out of her reach and replied, “But you love me.”
“Biological imperative. It comes with the territory of giving birth to you,” my mother said. She chuckled as I rolled my eyes again, and then she started to leave the room.
I don't know why, but I felt a sudden need to address the doubts in my mind with someone and so I said, “Hey, Mom?”
She turned toward me, and I knew she caught the urgency in my voice. “Yeah?”
“If you could . . ." I hesitated then, not sure how to phrase the question I wanted to ask. "If you could make someone love you, someone who didn’t already, would you?”
Her eyes widened, but her tone sounded more curious than anything else as she replied, “That’s a rather specific yet random question, son.”
“Yeah . . ." I replied, now feeling silly for having broached the question at all. "Sorry, forget I asked.”
My mother walked around the couch and sat down next to me, looking at me with maternal affection. “What’s this about?”
I shook my head and avoided her gaze. “Nothing.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?” She asked.
“Yeah," I replied, "I’m sure.”
“Okay," she said, but then she remained sitting. An awkward silence stretched on for a few moments before she began speaking again. "To answer your question, though, I honestly don’t know. Maybe, if it would’ve meant keeping your father here and our family together, I might’ve done it. It hurt a lot the first time he told me he didn’t love me anymore, but I also got over it eventually. As you know, we’re pretty good friends now, though it was really rough for a while.”
I hadn't expected her to have an answer, but as usual, my mother came through for me. “Thanks for answering, Mom.”
She patted my arm then stood and turned toward me. “Any time. You want some dinner? I was thinking of cooking some spaghetti.”
I nodded enthusiastically. She knew the way to my heart. “Sounds good.”
She smiled and turned to go but then paused and said quietly, “If it’s any help, I’m pretty certain he likes you.”
“What?” I asked, certain I had misheard her.
“I said dinner will be ready in thirty minutes,” she replied smoothly.
I shook my head firmly. “No you didn’t.”
“Can’t prove it. Didn’t happen," my mother said, walking out of the room, her voice rising so I could still hear her as she moved farther away. "Now let me get to work. My famous sauce isn’t going to make itself!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After a delicious dinner, I retreated to my room to prepare for the ritual. Sitting at my desk, I pulled out the plastic bag full of ingredients, the ritual instructions, and the small black candle, setting all three in front of me. The sun was just about to set, and I had run out of time to make my deliberations. It was now or never, and Brandon was expecting a full report on my experience.
I wasn't going to disappoint him, so regardless of what I asked for, I was going to go through with it. Unfolding the ritual paper, I set it in the middle of my desk, then went through the instructions again. At the bottom of the page was a drawing of an upside-down pentagram, with a small note saying 'place candle here' written next to it. I placed the candle in its proper position, and then continued to the next set of instructions.
Included with the ingredients was a small disc made of a glossy, black stone, either onyx or obsidian. I was never good at telling the difference. Setting the stone on the paper next to the candle, I retrieved the remaining items from the bag, including: fresh sage, sulfur, and a number of other herbs which I couldn't pronounce or even spell without the reference in front of me. The instructions told me to add all ingredients to the black disc in the order I pulled them from the bag, whatever that happened to be.
The mixture of scents as I handled each ingredient became pungent quickly, and I had to turn away from my desk to get a breath of fresh air from behind me several times throughout the process. Once I had the ingredients arranged on top of the disc, I moved on to the next step.
I stepped away from the desk and turned off the light in my room, immediately becoming aware of the retreating twilight as the last rays of sunlight invaded my bedroom through the window. My mind began to play tricks on me, for the light seemed to come in at impossible angles, avoiding my desk entirely yet somehow illuminating everything around it. My desk remained a well of shadows, and the darkness beckoned me back toward it, compelling me to complete the ritual.
In that moment, the whole experience became more real. The little hairs on the back of my neck rose, my pulse quickened, and I felt as if every shadow in my room was reaching out to me. I wavered between flight and fight for a moment before finally taking a step toward the desk. My feet continued to move me forward on autopilot until I found myself sitting in my chair again at the center of the well of shadows. My fearful eyes scanned the ritual instructions, eager to complete the next step so that I could be done with it.
"Great Lord of Darkness," I said, reading from the page in a surprisingly steady voice, "I beseech thee to come into me and grant me the boon I ask of thee, by thy grace and thy will." I took my lighter from my pocket and flicked it open then ignited it, putting its tiny fire to the wick of the black candle. It lit immediately, an eerie blue flame illuminating the room. "I call upon thee with offering of flame and . . ." I paused, realizing I'd forgotten one important step. I'd yet to add the final ingredient: my life essence.
I looked for something to prick my finger with so I could offer blood, but realized I had nothing within immediate reach. Then an idea struck me; hadn't Brandon said the substance would have more power if it was symbolically connected to the request?
A feverish desire overwhelmed me, as if spawned from the same darkness which threatened to consume my room and me if I didn't complete the ritual. Now the magic seemed within reach, and I was determined to access it. I was a virgin sorcerer in the midst of my first love affair with magic, and I wanted it to be everything it could be.
Unclipping the button of my jeans, I stood and lowered my zipper, letting my pants fall around my ankles as I reached within the flap of my briefs to free my erection. It didn't surprise me to find my dick already throbbing and begging for release, eager to become an important tool in this dark ritual. I concentrated on the flickering blue flame of the candle as I pointed my penis at the desk, aiming somewhere between the candle and the black disc of ingredients.
My hand jerked at a frenzied pace, but thankfully the dark eroticism of the moment had generated a generous amount of precum to serve as lubrication. The sound of flesh on flesh filled the room, echoing in my ears so loudly I was certain the neighbors could hear me. It didn't matter; lust had overtaken me as powerfully as ever before, drawing my mind into the blue fire and causing my fantasies of Brandon to play out vividly before my eyes. I could feel him touching me, tasting me, putting himself inside me — and me inside of him — as a demon of lust possessed my senses and drove me to the most powerful orgasm I'd ever experienced.
Three huge shots of hot semen exploded from the end of my dick, one landing primarily atop the pile of other ingredients, one landing in the middle of the ritual paper, and one landing in the pooling wax at the base of the candle. A few more shots escaped with shorter flights, landing on the desk only inches away, and the last bit of cum dribbled down my hand as my sensitive penis began to shrink. It was the most I'd ever ejaculated at once, and in my still lust-frenzied mind I was mesmerized by the experience and needed to experience every aspect that I could. I licked my hand clean, tasting myself for the first time in years. The sweet saltiness was enough to make me moan, but it fell short of the powerful taste I wanted it to be. It was my essence, not Brandon's, and I needed to complete the ritual if I wanted his.
I reached for the candle with a determined hand and lifted it from the paper then continued with the line I'd so eagerly begun a few minutes before. "I call upon thee with offering of flame and my essence. Great Lord of Darkness, come into me!" I turned the candle on its side and touched the flame to the mountain of ingredients on the stone disc.
A bright pillar of blue flame engulfed the herbs, sulfur, and cum, spiraling upward several feet into the air. I had to shield my eyes from the brightness and turned away; by the time my eyes recovered the light was gone. The darkness rushed toward me, palpably caressing my skin and calling to me, almost as if it were whispering my name. And then it faded, my heartbeat slowed down, my body slowly relaxed, and I was left standing with my pants around my ankles, my soft dick hanging out from the flap of my briefs, and a black candle in my hand. The strange warmth I'd felt from the candle before was no longer present, and the flame had transformed to a normal yellowish-orange color.
I sat down, dumbfounded as I considered what had just happened. Either it had been a vivid hallucination or I'd done something wrong, but it appeared the ritual was over without any additional effect. "Fuck," I said, collapsing to my desk chair and staring at the desk dumbfounded. "Well, that was disappointing." I blew the candle out with an exasperated breath and set it down on the desk, not caring at all when it toppled over and rolled through one of my drops of cum.
The sound of Brandon's text tone drifted upward from my feet, and I reached down to fish it out of my pants pocket. I took one look at the text and realized I was in trouble. It was nearly eight o'clock. How I'd completely lost track of time, I didn't know, but I was going to be late, and Brandon was expecting me.
I shot him a quick text letting him know I'd be there as soon as possible, then quickly cleaned up. In my haste I put the entire ritual out of my mind and focused on getting to Brandon as quickly as possible. This time I didn't bother with the face paint for my costume. I'd already dressed up once today, and Brandon definitely wouldn't care that I wasn't in costume.
With any luck, he wouldn't ask, and hopefully he'd forget to ask about the ritual too. I doubted it, but at least now I could lie convincingly about what I'd wanted to get from the ritual since I'd received nothing at all. I should never have gotten my hopes up.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For the second time in two days, Brandon beat me to the trailhead. He was wearing the same costume as the day before, but the mask part was pulled back leaving his face exposed. This time I noticed him before he noticed me, and I slowed my approach, hoping to get the drop on him and scare him. Despite all my worries from earlier, scaring each other was such a common factor in our friendship it was second nature to make the attempt.
I sneaked around to the side, watching my feet to make sure I avoided as many twigs and dry leaves as possible. I managed to get behind him and slowly stalked forward, arms raised as I prepared to grab at his shoulders.
He spun around when I was a few feet away, his motion so fluid and practiced it appeared almost supernatural. I was so startled I fell backward into the brush at the side of the trail as he loomed over me. He didn't say anything, just stared at me with curiosity as I struggled to get to a crouched position and rubbed at my tailbone. His lack of laughter or of any offer to help me to my feet was a bit disturbing, and the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise once again.
"Are you all right, Brandon?" I asked, standing and wiping the dirt from the back of my pants. "You're really quiet."
It was Brandon's voice that answered, but I could tell immediately it wasn’t Brandon saying the words. "I've been waiting for you, Gabriel. You called for me, and I've come to answer your request."
Even though I knew something was up, I didn't want to believe it, and so I replied, "What's going on? Are you messing with me, Brandon? Seriously, dude. Was this whole thing a setup?"
"Ah, a skeptic. I see I have my work cut out for me," Brandon replied. "Sounds like you need a little proof."
I opened my mouth to reply, but he disappeared from sight, vanishing into the shadows as if he'd never been standing there at all. Gasping, I spun around, looking for any sign of him and found him immediately behind me, his face inches from mine, but something was dreadfully wrong. His eyes glowed blue from somewhere deep within, then burst into bright cobalt flames, the same hue as the candle from before. My gaze was drawn deep into those flames just as it had been during the ritual, and I could feel it burn deep into my mind and into the soul I didn't even believe I had. It branded me, marking me as belonging to it, and then withdrew as suddenly as it had entered.
Stumbling backward, I coughed as a supernatural heat engulfed my chest. Black smoke rose from my mouth and nostrils, barely visible in the silvery moonlight. The heat soon faded and was replaced by fear as I forced my eyes back on Brandon's body and the devil that possessed him. "W-what do you want with me?" I stammered. "Why are you in Brandon's body?"
"You're the one who called me, Gabriel," Brandon's body replied, and then it smirked. It wasn't like Brandon's smirk at all; nothing about the facial expressions matched my best friend. They didn't feel inherently abnormal, and if I'd never known Brandon I probably would've thought nothing of it, but I'd made a hobby out of studying Brandon's beautiful face. This was wrong. This was insane.
"What? I didn't want you to . . . I didn't want you to take over Brandon's body," I said, trying to maintain my composure. "Why did you take control of him?"
Brandon rolled his eyes and said, "Okay, let's get some things out of the way really quick. Number one, this is a voluntary possession. You invited me to 'come into you', and Brandon performed the same ritual. He said the same words, inviting me to enter him just as you did. Although, he didn't forget to add the final ingredient like you did. That was . . . a wonderful show by the way." I blushed despite my anxiety. To know this demon, who was currently in the body of the boy I loved, had watched me jack off, was unsettling to say the least. |Number two," he continued, "my name is Mephistopheles, but you can call me either Mephisto or Phil. I'd prefer if you avoided 'Philly', but this is your devil deal, so I'll put up with it if you insist."
"Mephistopheles?" I asked. "You're the actual devil?"
"No. I'm Mephistopheles VII. It's an appointed position. All of my successors are performing other duties now. You're thinking of Lucifer," Mephisto replied. "But you're also getting ahead of yourself. None of that's important, because we're running out of time. Your deal is only good for Devil's night, and at sunrise I leave, so if you want to get things started we better get through the syllabus."
I gave him a strained look. His attitude made him sound young, which I thought odd for an evil spirit I assumed would be at least hundreds of years old. Of course, he'd also said he wasn't the devil, so what did I know? Before this moment, I hadn't even believed devils existed, so I had plenty of questions, but one took precedence above any others. "So, if you're gone at sunrise, I get Brandon back?"
"That's the idea, Sherlock," Mephisto replied. "Now, will you please let me get through the rest of the particulars?"
I nodded and he continued. "Okay, we covered my name, now we'll get through the rest of the basics. I know why you called me. When you peered into the flames, you told me your request simply by letting me read your fantasies. I know exactly what you want. You want Brandon to love you, right?" I shifted uncomfortably under Mephisto's gaze and didn't answer. I couldn't bring myself to answer that question come from those perfect lips. "It doesn't matter if you say yes or no at this point, I already know the answer," Mephisto continued when I remained silent, "So, now we need to talk deals. There are some things I need you to do for me."
"W-what?" I stammered. "Am I supposed to sell my soul or something?"
"Nothing so dramatic, Gabriel," Mephisto said, laughing softly. Even the laughter was different. "No, it's something much more mundane. There are certain tasks I cannot accomplish, which I'll need you to do."
"Why can't you do them? You're certainly more powerful than me," I said, slowly regaining a bit of my usual steadiness.
"It's your deal, Gabriel. You earn your reward by holding up your end of the bargain. That's the first rule of this deal. You do what I ask, and you'll get what you asked for. On top of that, until this deal is over I am only a guest in Brandon's body, and as a guest I can only do things he'd do. Pretty simple, right?"
"Do I get a contract?" I asked. "I'm not going to do anything bad if I don't get some sort of guarantee."
He smirked again, then stepped forward and kissed me on the lips. It didn't feel like I expected. The contact carried the same warmth as the candle had the first time I'd touched it. It felt exactly like what it was; someone else was kissing me with Brandon's mouth. Of course, I had no idea what Brandon's lips actually felt like, but I knew somehow this wasn't it.
That being said, it wasn't a bad experience. I was definitely kissing a boy, and one who was as into it as me. Although I'd hoped my first kiss would've been with someone who wanted to kiss me for love, at least it was with a male. I loved it and hated it at the same time; if only Brandon were the one controlling his body. If only he already loved me.
"We seal our deals with the devil's kiss," Mephisto said when he pulled away. "You should be able to feel it in your soul. You've got the contract, now, and I'll keep up my end of the bargain."
I could definitely feel it. In the same way I'd felt him branding my soul with the blue flame, I could feel his promise burned into the essence of my being. If it really meant I could have Brandon . . . "Okay, what do you want me to do?" I heard myself asking.
"Wonderful! I'm glad we're in agreement," Mephisto replied. "The first thing we'll do is some trick or treating."
I regarded him incredulously. "Are you serious?"
He nodded. "Yep. First we go tricking, then you get your treat."
"Awesome," I replied. "Lead the way."
"You just want to look at Brandon's ass," Mephisto replied, winking at me.
I sighed. This was going to be a long night. But as he started down the path back into town, I got a chance to watch the ass in question the whole way, reminding me that whatever was in store, it might just be worth it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My doubts began to return as we entered town together and he replaced the mask. The glow-in-the-dark skull seemed much more sinister now than it had before. The blue flames weren't completely gone from Brandon's eyes, but they'd dulled to tiny embers I could only see because I knew they were there.
The image accomplished something good for me, however, as it gave me an inhuman visage to attribute to Mephistopheles VII instead of Brandon's face. That gave me the necessary perspective to consider this whole thing from a different angle. Was I really doing the right thing? I already knew the answer to that question. I wasn't. I definitely wasn't. Agreeing to perform unknown tasks for a devil in order to make my best friend magically love me? Yeah, that was bad, no question about that.
Which brought me to a different question. Could I live with it? I didn't know yet, but I was at least willing to find out what my tasks were first before I made that decision. If they weren't too evil, maybe, I could . . . maybe it would be okay.
But if devils exist, did that mean hell existed? Did that mean heaven existed, too? Would doing this consign me to eternal damnation? I had a lot of questions, and I knew Mephisto could probably answer them all, but there was a catch to wasting his time. I only had until sunrise, and I had no idea how many tasks my fiendish employer had for me. Could I afford to waste what could be my only opportunity to get the boy I loved?
"There," Mephisto said, reaching out with his hand to stop me. His hand rested against my chest. Brandon's hand. My body responded instinctively, and I urged my dick to not betray me as long as someone else inhabited Brandon's body.
"Where?" I asked, looking around for what Mephisto was talking about. We'd stopped on the sidewalk in the middle of a neighborhood on the opposite side of town from where I lived. It had taken us nearly an hour and a half to get here, and we'd passed plenty of houses and trick-or-treaters that looked like the ones near us now.
There was a slight difference in the air, though. It had been a long time since I'd wandered the streets of my town this late on Halloween. By this point Brandon and I were usually at the campsite next to a roaring fire. The last time I'd been on the streets of Florence Heights at this time on a Halloween night was when I was twelve; that was also the last time I'd gone trick-or-treating.
Most of the younger kids were already off the streets, and only tweens and teenagers were wandering around now. Most of them were in costume and genuinely seeking candy from each lit-up doorway, but there was one particular group of three teenagers, a couple years younger than me, who weren't in costumes at all. They were moving in the shadows, and when they thought no one was looking they'd go up to a porch and snatch a jack-o'-lantern each, then run out into the road and smash it on the pavement.
At each dark house they passed they'd pull eggs out from their backpacks and toss them at the garage, the door, the cars parked outside. Every available target was hit, and then the boys would move on, already psyched up for their next round of mayhem.
"You see those boys?" Mephisto asked, nodding in their general direction.
"Yes. What about them?"
Mephisto's voice had a dangerous edge to it as he said, "We're going to teach them a lesson."
"What?" I asked, startled by his declaration. I'd have expected the devil, or someone who worked for him, to endorse the kind of behavior those kids were engaged in, but Mephisto actually sounded mad. Beyond mad; he was pissed.
"Do you know what Halloween is about, Gabriel?" Mephisto asked.
"In school they teach us that originally people believed evil spirits walked the earth on All Hallows Eve, and people would dress up to scare the evil spirits away." I paused, then added. "To scare things like you away."
Mephisto gave me a sidelong look and said, "Things like me, huh? You think the devil is evil but teenage boys can't be wicked? Who's the one who tried to sell his soul for a piece of ass earlier tonight? Who's the person who's willing to follow me without question to make a boy fall in love with him?"
His words hit home, but I couldn't figure out why he'd try to discourage my actions. Wasn't it in his best interest for me to accomplish his tasks? He was playing games with me, and now I had a renewed interest in seeing this through to the end. His motivation made me curious, and I wanted to know the full story. Plus, I already knew my actions were evil, and I didn't need him to tell me that. I'd already been reconsidering my request, and, until I actually completed the deal to take away Brandon's right to choose, I was in the clear.
Or at least that's what I told myself so I didn't have to let go of the fantasy just yet.
"Why do you care what those boys are doing?" I asked, refusing to let Mephisto bait me into a debate or argument about my motivations.
Thankfully, he didn't press the issue about Brandon, and answered my question instead. "Although telling you my motivations isn't part of the deal, I like you, Gabriel, and so I'll give you a taste of what it means to be a devil. This is our night. We walk the earth tonight in ways we don't get to throughout the rest of the year. It's sacred to us; Halloween, Samhain, whatever you want to call it, is sacred to us because on this night we're free."
"Free to cause havoc, you mean?" I countered. "Havoc and mischief, right?"
"No. Free to live, to fly, to engage and touch the world," Mephisto replied. He lifted Brandon's hand and stared at it in wonder. "Free to take a body, if a willing receptacle is found."
I didn't fully understand, but I felt his answer was genuine, and that was enough for me. "So, what does that have to do with those kids?"
Mephisto clenched Brandon's hand into a fist and dropped it to his side. "People like that are the ones who destroy our free spirit. They're the evil ones, or perhaps 'misguided' is a more appropriate descriptor. Their misbehavior brings out the worst in people, replacing freedom with the trappings of anger, greed, lust, sadism . . . the list goes on and on. They trap themselves in self-destruction. Contrary to popular belief, we devils don't deal in self-destruction, we deal exclusively in freedom."
"Says the one currently possessing my best friend," I replied.
Mephisto snorted. "He invited me in, just as you did. You said the words 'come into me', did you not? I heard you, so don't bother denying it. Brandon invited me to use his body, just as you did."
This revelation unnerved me slightly. "So why'd you choose him instead of me?" I asked.
"There were differing degrees of willingness and belief between the two of you," he answered cryptically. "Now, are you going to do as I ask or are we going to waste our time with this conversation?"
I sighed and nodded. "Okay, what do you want me to do?"
"Simple, really. I'm going to draw on the energy of your soul to perform a little magic. It'll be a lot easier if they're not running around, though, so you're going to distract them."
"How am I going to do that?" I asked.
"How about you go over there and challenge them?" Mephisto suggested. "I only need them to stand still for a moment."
I glanced at the group of boys; there were four of them, each with a large pumpkin in hand which I was sure they'd throw at me if I earned their aggression. But, a deal was a deal, and stopping some vandals really wasn't a terrible thing, was it?
Before I realized it, my feet were moving, and I was halfway to where the boys were standing in the road over their fresh piles of pumpkin gore. They saw me coming, and though one turned to run, his slightly older, larger friend caught his arm before pulling him back, looking at me with a sadistic grin.
"You got a problem, Montgomery?" The kid asked, mentioning my last name. I recognized him then. He was in the grade behind me, Ryan or Rick or Robert, some 'R' name. I knew his older brother, Thomas, a casual acquaintance I'd hung out with once or twice over the years.
His challenge reminded me that I had no idea what I was doing. Mephisto hadn't made it clear how he was going to back me up, and I wondered for a moment if he even would, or if he'd just set me up to get beaten by the four boys for his and their amusement. Devils were known liars, after all, according to all the lore I'd ever known.
Bravado was the only chance I had at getting out of this, now, because the look on the four boys' faces told me that my presence alone was enough to earn their wrath. "Yeah, I got a problem," I said, standing my ground. "You're being a little shithead, and you need to stop."
"Or what?" R replied.
I felt something pulling at me, touching the same source which had been branded by the blue fire. A slight weakness struck me, and I became momentarily unstable, stumbling slightly to the side. The movement made me almost miss the flash of blue light in the distance. One of the eggs the boys smashed against a garage door pooled together and reformed, and it came hurtling through the air to smash into the back of R's head.
He yelped with surprise and toppled forward, losing his balance and crashing to the ground at my feet. "What the hell?" He asked, glancing back at his friends as he reached up to feel the egg goo in his hair. Each of his friends shrugged in turn and then immediately shared his fate as eggs smashed into them as well. What soon followed could only be described as the most supernatural food-fight ever as eggs and pumpkin innards came flying at the four boys from every direction. The boys yelled in fear and surprise, forgetting about me entirely as they ran down the street in a vain attempt to avoid the flying food.
Mephisto cackled loudly as the boys disappeared from sight, and I couldn't help but join him. I hadn't been expecting that at all, and was certainly glad he'd spared me their fate. I rejoined him on the sidewalk, the laughing skeleton serving as the perfect beacon of joy for a Halloween night. The purity of the moment nearly made me forget that it wasn't Brandon I was with, but a devil in his body.
But the laughter wasn't Brandon's, and I wanted nothing more than to hear my best friend's voice again. His real voice, with him in control. "Okay, so I accomplished the task. Can I have my best friend back now, please?" I asked.
"Hold on there, Gabriel," Mephisto said as his laughter subsided. "I said tasks, not task. If you want your best friend's body, you're going to have to do something else for me."
"Maybe I don't care anymore," I replied. "I want him back, whether he loves me or not."
"How mature of you. Unfortunately, I'm not ready to give him back, yet," Mephisto replied. "We have a contract, remember? You agreed to perform tasks for me, and I agreed to give you what you want. A deal's a deal."
"Bastard," I spat. "Look, if you're trying to teach me a lesson, I get it. Like those kids, I was trying to take something which didn't belong to me, and trying to abuse someone else's property. I'm not interested in doing that anymore."
"Oh come on, you're a little interested," Mephisto replied. "You know, you could still play with his body for one night. Your lust has to at least be craving that."
By the way my dick jumped to attention at the mere suggestion of it, I couldn't deny that observation. And would it really be so bad to just, for one night, have a little fun with Brandon's hot body? I bit my lip uncertainly, then sighed deeply. If Mephisto wasn't going to give up Brandon's body without another task, I might as well at least keep my options open, right?
"What's the next task?" I asked, resigned to my current fate.
"Heh, I shouldn't be surprised but I am a little. I thought you might just stick to your guns," Mephisto said, chuckling softly. "Next we need to find a cat. A black cat, specifically."
"Why?" I asked cautiously.
Mephisto regarded me with an evil sneer and said, "We all must make sacrifices, Gabriel. You'll know soon enough."
"I'm not hurting an animal!" I shouted.
"Shush. You're going to wake the neighborhood," Mephisto replied. "A deal is a deal, Gabriel, and if you want your boyfriend back, you'll do exactly as I say."
He began walking down the road again, and I followed him in resignation. What else could I do?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We wandered for what felt like hours, and the sleep deprivation from the night before began to take its toll. I didn't feel like talking to Mephisto anymore. He was holding my best friend hostage so I could do his bidding, and I no longer appreciated it one bit. The biggest problem was I couldn't shake the guilt I felt over creating this situation in the first place.
If I'd never performed that dumb ritual we wouldn't be in this mess, and now I was looking for a cat at three in the morning so I could make a 'sacrifice'. I dreaded the implications of that word. As much as Mephisto had surprised me with his outlook on the misbehaving teenagers, I had no reason to believe that same philosophy would be applied to animals.
This sucked. I wanted to go home, but I wanted Brandon back even more, and I was determined to make the situation right no matter what I had to do.
We ended up on Main Street sometime between three and four, and Mephisto finally stopped me, his flaming blue eyes zeroing in on some movement in the dark. A small form moved in the shadows, and I caught a glimpse of two glowing green eyes before it darted into the alley between the hardware store and Betty's, our town's vintage diner.
"We've found our prey," Mephisto said evilly. "Come on, Gabriel. It's time you completed your end of the bargain."
"Okay, what do you want me to do?" I asked, praying he wouldn't tell me to catch the cat and harm it.
"You're going to go into that alley," he began, speaking slowly and deliberately, "find the cat, and protect it. We weren't the only ones looking for it."
I sighed in relief. "You want me to protect it? Why didn't you fucking tell me that when I asked hours ago?"
"And ruin my fun at seeing you squirm? Never. I am still a devil, you know. There has to be some justification for our reputation. I admit, I get off on people thinking I'm evil," Mephisto replied, laughing. "Now, there's a particular douche-bag who's going to come down the alleyway in a few minutes from the other side. I can sense him. You've got to keep him there a bit longer, got it?"
"How do you know?" I asked. "And how do I know you'll be there?"
"Trust me," Mephisto replied, "I didn't leave you hanging with the teenagers, did I?"
I started walking, but then a thought struck me. Whatever the guy hunting the cat had planned, it was definitely more serious than egging houses and destroying pumpkins. I could only assume Mephisto had a greater punishment in store to match his actions. "What're you going to do to this guy?"
"The guy's a killer and a torturer," Mephisto said, a sudden edge to his voice. "What more do you need to know?"
"He's already a killer?" I asked, keying in on Mephisto's unintended revelation.
Mephisto recoiled from my question, and for the first time since I'd met him he seemed truly uncertain. "Yes. I've been hunting him for several years, actually, but he's usually quiet on Halloween. I think he knows I'm after him."
"Wait, so this is personal?" I asked, surprised at the sincerity I detected in his voice.
Silence stretched on for several long seconds as Mephisto met my gaze. The blue embers nestled in Brandon's eyes seemed to dull for a moment, growing almost sad before Mephisto continued. "Have you ever heard the name Calvin Patterson?"
Calvin Patterson. Every boy who grew up in Florence Heights knew that name. He was a teenager who'd disappeared on Halloween night a decade earlier, and it caused such a scare that trick-or-treating was almost banned the next year. His body was found in nearby Diamond Lake a week later, battered, bruised, and rotting. The official story was that he'd gone hiking above the Crystal Cascade waterfall and fell into the river before going over the falls and drowning. The urban legend, on the other hand, told a different tale of a boy who'd been kidnapped and tortured before being finally disposed of in the water.
"What about him?" I asked.
"Have you ever heard his middle name?" Mephisto asked. I thought it a strange question, but I had no idea and shook my head. "It doesn't matter, anyway," Mephisto said, sighing. "I knew Calvin. He was a lot like your friend, Brandon. The guy we're hunting tonight . . . he's the one who killed Calvin ten years ago. He used him, used his body for all manner of unspeakable things, and Calvin didn't have a choice in the matter."
I'd assumed as much as soon as we'd started down this train of thought. I wasn't sure I could trust Mephisto explicitly, but if there was any chance his story was true I was willing to explore it. Besides, he'd asked me to protect that cat from any harm, and I was definitely willing to do that. I loved cats more than I loved most humans.
I nodded and said, "So, protect the cat and keep the guy busy?"
"That's right," Mephisto said quietly. "Please."
The moment it became a request instead of one of my required tasks, Mephisto earned my trust. I wasn't sure how a simple change in tone made all the difference for me, but it did, and I knew Mephisto was telling the truth about the man's identity. Walking into the alleyway, I knew full well I would be facing a man who killed a boy my age ten years earlier. And I was scared, but I had to do it. For Brandon, for the cat, and hell, for Mephisto, too.
I didn't have to wait long to come face to face with the man in question. The time I spent deliberating with Mephisto hadn't passed without consequence. Hissing greeted me as soon as I entered the mouth of the alleyway, but it wasn't directed at me. I could see the wide and scared eyes of the black cat like two jewels glittering in the darkness. They shone through the spread legs of the large man who had the cat cornered, but they weren't the only thing glinting in the small sliver of moonlight which illuminated the alleyway. Eight inches of steel rotated slowly in the large man's hand, dancing to the rhythm of his dark chuckling.
"Hey! What the fuck do you think you're doing?" The strength behind the words leaving my mouth surprised me. Whether adrenaline or supernatural support from Mephisto was fueling me, I was ready to stand and fight, and I wouldn't be deterred from my course of action.
The large man stiffened and turned around. I knew him; perhaps more appropriately, I'd seen him around and knew his name. Trenton McGinnis was the former quarterback of our high school football team, and he occasionally worked at the school as an assistant coach. He was also a taxidermist who served the hunting community in our town. Hunting down cats with a knife probably felt like second nature to him.
"Well, well, well," Trenton said when he saw my face. He towered over me by a foot at least and cut a rather imposing figure in the shadows of the alleyway. He started toward me slowly, and I remained where I was, fear slowly climbing within me. Trenton kept coming and I stepped to the side. We circled each other until he assumed my place in the front of the alleyway and I was in the shadows. "If it isn't another kitten who wants to play," Trenton cooed. "You picked the wrong night, kid."
I needed to keep him talking, so I thought of the best role to match my situation and acted like a prostitute. Rubbing my crotch slightly, I nodded at him and asked, "Oh, you want to play with me, huh? How much money you got?"
"Enough," He replied, following the movement of my hand as it lingered near my crotch. Licking his lips, he raised his gaze again and sneered. "But you're not going to get any of it. I don't need to pay for you. I'll just take you." He reached for my arm just as I darted to the side and out of reach.
"Fuck off!" I said, backing away slowly. My heart started to race as I silently wondered where Mephisto's magic was. He'd handled the hooligans from earlier without much time at all, but now that I was faced with real danger, nothing seemed to be happening very quickly at all.
"Oh, you're feisty," Trenton said, chuckling. "I like that." He rushed forward, and though I tried to raise my hands to protect myself, he shoulder-checked me in the chest and slammed me against the wall, knocking the wind out of me. Then he gripped me by the front of my shirt and pressed into me, keeping me against the wall.
"Let go of me!" I tried to shout, but it came out as a strained whimper. I struggled desperately to wrestle my way out of his strong grip while fighting to get my breath back. Where was Mephisto?
"No one's going to hear you, boy," Trenton said, and I saw a glint of steel in the moonlight before feeling the back of the knife blade sliding down my cheek, taunting me, caressing me with the promise of pain and death. "Stop fighting, you might just enjoy it a little."
"Help! Please!" I shouted one last time, hoping Mephisto hadn't abandoned me, but I was met with only Trenton's dark laughter in response. Completely at his mercy, I braced myself for what I knew would be a slow and painful death. Struggling didn't seem to be an option, now; he had a knife, and could kill me anytime he wanted to. After that, he could do anything he wanted to my body.
I felt something pulling on my soul again and saw blue flames in my mind. My thoughts raced into the flame, eager to seek an escape from the torture I'd inevitably experience before dying. Images of Brandon flooded into my mind as they had during the ritual, and at first my mind latched onto these, hoping to find comfort in them, but there was something dreadfully wrong. The Brandon in my fantasies was the boy I'd sold my soul for, the boy I'd willingly followed a devil's orders for; he was a soulless vessel whose light I'd stolen away just to have my way with him.
The images shifted, darkness rising to consume and taint them, and the faces distorted until I assumed Brandon's role in my fantasies, put to the mercy of Trenton's perverse sexual desire, unable to move or act just as I'd wanted to take Brandon's right to choose from him. I visualized being raped and tortured by Trenton as I took it silently, believing I was nearly as guilty in my thoughts toward my best friend. I'd done a terrible thing in ever considering I could take such a choice from Brandon, and at least in my final moments I'd have the clarity to know I'd made a mistake. Hopefully if Brandon ever found out, he'd forgive me for having thought of him that way.
I felt cold steel against my other cheek, then warm breath on my face. Trento released the front of my shirt and lowered his hand, reaching for my genitals as the knife remained just under my chin. As his fingertips brushed the front of my pants, my soul erupted with heat, my eyes burning as blue light radiated from them.
Trenton staggered backward, his face frozen in shock and fear. The knife clattered to the ground, falling from a limp hand which no longer had the capability for human strength. "No! It can't be! I killed you!" He screamed. Whatever horrific image he saw in my face, it was enough to make him reach up and scratch deep furrows into his cheeks, a maddening fervor overcoming him.
And then he began to shrink, his body morphing as blue flames slowly surrounded and enveloped him. The transformation became complete only a few seconds after it began, and I was left staring at a pile of smoking clothes with a small mouse poking his head out from the neck hole of the shirt. The mouse sniffed the air, swiveled its head around to take stock of its surroundings, noticed me, and then raced off into the night.
"Now you'll know what it feels like to be small and helpless, you freak," I said, panting. Tired and drained, I barely had enough energy to turn my head and look at Mephisto as he entered the alleyway and came toward me. "What took you so long?"
"A transformation takes a lot longer than throwing pumpkins and eggs at people, and a lot more energy." He gave me an appraising look as he stopped a foot away from me. "I'm surprised you're still awake and standing."
"What are you talking about?" I asked breathlessly. "I feel fi—" I began, then weakness and fatigue overcame me, and I collapsed against the wall, before descending the rest of the way into darkness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I awoke to the flickering light of a fire raging a few feet away from me. My surroundings only felt foreign for a second before I realized I was laying on the ground at the traditional campsite Brandon and I shared. I rose to my elbow, looking around for my best friend.
He sat on the other side of the fire from me, mask pushed back as he contemplated the flames in front of him. It wasn't one of Brandon's facial expressions. Mephisto was still with me. "The sun's about to rise," he observed without looking at me.
I looked toward the eastern horizon and saw the soft, orange glow which confirmed Mephisto's words. Nodding in understanding, I returned my attention to Mephisto and stated the obvious, "You brought me to the campsite."
"Yeah," Mephisto said, laughing awkwardly before regarding me with a guarded smile. "I thought you and Brandon might want some privacy. He's probably going to have some questions when he wakes up."
I sat up the rest of the way and shook my head to clear it. After everything that happened, I still had to face my best friend. I hoped he'd forgive me when I told him about my experience; I wasn't planning on holding anything back. "Will he remember anything?" I asked, more to prepare myself for what to expect than anything else.
Mephisto grinned and said cryptically, "More than you realize, less than you think."
I sighed. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"It's better I don't," Mephisto replied, shrugging. "It'll be more organic that way."
"Is he okay?"
"Yep. Definitely," He confirmed, and his eyes told me I could trust him. When I nodded, Mephisto continued. "So, you accomplished my tasks. Do you know what you want from our deal?"
I didn't hesitate. "I want my best friend back. I want him the way he is. I have no right to change him, no matter how much I wish he felt differently about me."
"I see you learned a thing or two." Mephisto chuckled.
"Are you really a devil?" I asked. "You're not the least bit like what I expected."
"I've been called many things, but that's one of my titles. Sometimes things aren't always as they seem," Mephisto said distantly, staring back into the flames as his contemplative expression returned. "Halloween is a night for shifting perceptions and transient realities. It can be a rather spiritual experience, if you pay attention."
Only one thing seemed appropriate to say in response to that. "Thank you."
"Heh. For what?" Mephisto asked, glancing at me with a curious smile.
"For teaching me the lesson I needed," I replied, smiling warmly.
Mephisto pursed his lips thoughtfully and nodded once. He stood and walked over to me, then crouched in front of me. "It's time we sealed our deal, Gabe."
I laughed. "You didn't call me Gabriel."
"Nah," he said. "I feel like we know each other pretty well now."
"Yeah, I guess we do, Phil," I replied, grinning at the surprise in his eyes.
The surprise quickly faded to approval as he said, "So, you did pay attention."
"Been trying to remember that name since I woke up," I replied, my grin intensifying as I added, "Philly."
"Hey now, I thought I told you not to use that name!" Mephisto replied, laughing as he playfully pushed me backward. We stared at each other for a moment as the first rays of sunlight peeked over the horizon and glinted in Mephisto's eyes. We'd run out of time.
"So, the deal?" I asked, sitting up and at attention.
But he had one more thought for me, and said, "You know, when that bastard kidnapped me, I thought I was meeting a boy my age from the internet I'd been flirting with for months."
I didn't want to dwell on Trenton, not with my final moments with Mephisto, a devil I'd come to admire. "So, you're gay, too?" I asked, focusing on our common ground.
"I told you," Mephisto said with a sad smile, "Brandon and I are a lot alike."
My eyes widened as I started to ask, "Wha—" but Mephisto had other ideas and cut me off with a kiss. He pressed into me, guiding me back down to the ground as he climbed on top of me. He communicated so much in that kiss I was nearly overwhelmed by the emotions. First it was a thank you, then a farewell, and then I felt the brand and the contract lift from that deep part of me I'd come to identify as my soul.
And then suddenly I was kissing Brandon, and the emotions were completely different. It was warm, inviting, playful, and I wanted it desperately, but it ended far too quickly for my taste. Brandon pulled back from me, his eyes wide with shock.
"Shit! Oh, God dammit, Gabe . . . I'm . . . I'm so sorry," he stammered, lifting away from me and hiding his face, blushing furiously. I caught a glimpse of the fear in his eyes before he completely looked away and winced at it.
"For what?" I asked, rising to a sitting position and catching his arm by the wrist before he walked away entirely.
He looked at me with genuine surprise. "I . . . you . . ." he gulped in a deep breath and said, "for kissing you."
"It's really good to see you," I said, moisture pooling in my eyes. I had him back, and I had so much to tell him.
"You . . . you remember everything, don't you?" Brandon asked, meeting my eyes. I didn't know what he meant, but thankfully he continued. "He let you see it all, even though he was possessing you. Mephistopheles VII. Calvin Patterson. Phil. Whatever you want to call him. You saw everything while he controlled your body, didn't you?" He ran the fingers of his unoccupied hand through his hair, then down his face as he started to ramble, terrified and anxious. "Fuck . . . so you saw me stand up to those kids, and that fucker in the alley who wanted to kill the cat . . . He killed Calvin, you know . . ." He saw my eyes light up with understanding, and he covered his mouth in shock before continuing. "Oh God, you saw everything . . . You know how I feel about you, don't you?"
"Shifting perspectives . . ." I said, remembering some of Mephisto's final words to me. Sliding my hand from his wrist to his palm, I squeezed his hand gently. "Brandon, I think we have a lot to talk about. Seems we had the same experience."
"Are you mad?" He asked. "I mean . . . shit . . . I almost sold my soul just to have the chance to be with you. That's fucked up, isn't it?"
I laughed. It couldn't be helped; I needed the emotional release more than ever before, and I knew he needed it, too. Glancing at the traces of his skeleton costume I could see under his cloak, I said, "Brandon, I'm gay, and I want to jump your bones."
"Really?" He asked, staring at me dumbfounded. His face lit up and he let out a squeal of delight, and then he considered exactly what I'd said and mouthed the words 'jump your bones' before rolling his eyes. "Fuck, really?" He asked, laughing along with me. "You come out to me and you're still stuck on the skeleton costume?"
"Well, you could always take it off . . ." I said, blushing despite my confident grin.
Brandon laughed nervously, then let me pull him back toward me. He straddled me as we lay there next to the fire, then reached up and stroked the side of my face gently. "We are so not going to school today." He said, locking his eyes on mine as our bodies nestled together.
"Shut up and let me kiss you, I've waited too long to be patient now." I pulled our faces together and kissed him hard, passionate, and deep. I had my best friend back, I loved him, and I could feel from the way he kissed me that he loved me back. There'd never been a need for black magic at all; he was mine by choice, and I'd never have to question that again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We walked hand and hand into the graveyard later in the afternoon. Both of us had a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers in our other hand, and searched the names of the tombstones for one in particular. We weren't even completely sure he was buried here, but it was the only cemetery in Florence Heights, and it was the only chance we had.
It took us less than a half an hour to find the tombstone in question to lay our flowers at its base. Whoever had buried him had spared no expense, and a large, stone angel watched over the burial plot. "This is it. Calvin Patterson's grave," Brandon said excitedly.
"Calvin "Philly" Patterson," I said, reading the name directly from the stone. I noted the death date from ten years earlier. November first, not Halloween. All Saints Day, if I remembered correctly. It was supposed to be a day of holiness, when the world rested in peace because the saints walked the earth. I could only wish the same for my fiendish friend. "Rest in peace, Mephistopheles," I said quietly.
Brandon squeezed my hand gently, and we stood at the stone for a long time, sharing our love with the boy who'd brought us together. I let go of Brandon's hand after a while and wrapped my arm around his shoulder instead, pulling him closer to me for warmth. I kissed his cheek gently and whispered, "Let's go. We'll come back and visit soon, what do you say?"
He nodded his agreement and I turned to start walking away. Brandon turned with me, but we'd only walked a few yards before he glanced over his shoulder and stopped dead in his tracks. "Gabe, look!" He said, tapping my shoulder and turning back to face the tombstone.
A black cat wandered through the gravestones, something clutched in its mouth as it made a direct line toward Calvin's grave. It stopped before the stone, then laid its offering at base of the stone where we'd placed our flowers. It was the battered and broken corpse of a mouse. Whoever found the mouse later would probably find it morbid, but for those of us who knew the truth, it was the perfect tribute to the boy buried beneath the stone.
We stayed and watched the cat for a moment as it sat on its haunches and stared at the stone as if reading it. Then it rose to its feet and glanced back at us, seeming to nod a farewell before turning and walking back the way it had come.
I was filled with emotion at the exchange, and had only one person to express it to. "I love you, Brandon," I said, turning to him and kissing him gently.
"I love you, too," he replied, then responded with another kiss. He patted my shoulder then slid his hand back into mine. "Now, let's go tell your mother. She's probably worried sick. My parents, too."
"Oh fuck . . ." I said, shaking my head as I dreaded confronting my mother. "She's never going to let me hear the end of this."
"Because we skipped school?" Brandon asked. "Or because you didn't come home last night?"
"Yeah, that too," I agreed, "but more because she told me you liked me, and now she's going to rub it in that she knew all along."
Brandon laughed and said, "Your mother rocks."
"Yeah, she does," I replied, grinning before kissing his cheek again. "Come on, you sexy bastard. Let's go home."
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