Serpentine - Horror Short Story
She tried to get a head. The ritual wanted something different.
Once again we enter into Original Worlds, fear and trepidation in our step.
Sacred silence must be attended as we watch the ritual before us taking place. Don’t disturb, else we find ourselves taking part, as well…
Today’s story is based on the idea of a modern-day woman who wants to get ahead - no matter the cost.
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The ritual was, thankfully, rather simple.
It had taken some time to find it, but when Shannon finally did, the smile on her face was hard to hide. She couldn’t believe how cheap the bookseller was letting it go for. They probably didn’t realize what kind of a treasure they had on their shelf, tucked away behind a few other dusty tomes, and she almost laughed aloud when she reached the doorway without the teller behind the counter stopping her from leaving.
So much the better. It’s not like she had to worry about money, but the less she spent, the less questions her husband would ask, and this was something she could not let him know.
Some things had to remain secret, even between husband and wife. Planning the death of someone was one of those things.
Shannon wasn’t a bad person. Far from it. She spent a lot of time at the church, working to help those who were in need, as so many were in this poor town, and she gladly gave of herself to make sure they were taken care of. She never even hurt a fly if she could avoid it.
And it’s not like she was going to do anything, herself, after all. Simple tweak of the natural order of things, one might say, to allow the world to be a better place. Nothing more.
She was glad, though, the small shop tucked away in the midst of other poor businesses trying to stay afloat was as dank as it was. At least she was not likely to be spotted by cameras, and their “CASH ONLY” policy suited her just fine.
She didn’t think there would be any kind of trail to her, regardless, but better safe than sorry, so they say, and Shannon was definitely a stickler for keeping things in order.
It wasn’t a decision lightly made, to do Karen in, with many weeks of time spent circling around the thought that she shouldn’t do this, but something had to be done about her, and Shannon was the only one who could make that happen.
Or, at least, that’s how it seemed.
Everyone was afraid of the woman, her stern mannerisms and pushing for perfection driving everyone at work crazy, not to mention nosing into every single thing she could get her fingers into and then using what she found to put people against each other. She made everything she touched miserable, not least of which being Shannon herself.
Since Karen took over as manager, the owners of the factory bypassing Shannon in favor of hiring her from outside, business had slowed, and Karen took it out on everyone, demanding they work even harder to make up the differences. Shannon already worked herself to the bone. How was pushing to go even harder going to do anyone good, when it wasn’t the fault of those laboring, sweating, under her that things were going so badly? They were doing their jobs. They couldn’t be blamed, right?
But Karen kept insisting it was, and the owners took her advice, threatening lay-offs and worse, because they couldn’t be bothered to come, themselves, to see what was happening.
It was all one-sided, and only because Karen wanted to save her own job.
Meanwhile, good people like Shannon were suffering and had to smile into her snide, puckered face, because to do otherwise was to risk loosing the source of income, and the way things were in this town, good jobs were hard as hell to find.
Shannon sat in her basement with the book in front of her, the leather binding it cracked a bit with age. Though there were not many pages within its spine, the thing was heavy and took up most of the small table she laid it on. It was dark, dusky from age and disuse, whatever original color it held being long gone.
She hadn’t even been sure it was a real thing, the old woman she heard about it from seeming almost senile at times, but Rashaan had been correct. It was in the same shop she told her it would be.
Rashaan was an odd duck, surrounded in her little house by shelves of strange bottles containing the weirdest assortment of things Shannon had ever seen outside of the movies. Some of the things in the jars even seemed to move when she wasn’t looking directly at them, shifting out of the corners of her eyes as she stared at the old woman.
“Sscon can take her,” the woman said, after Shannon described her situation. “Give her to Sscon.”
Shannon released her hands from the old woman, who had taken them into her own to stare into the center of them, her lips moving without teeth behind them as she muttered about whatever she imagined seeing there. Shannon wasn’t sure whether she believed Rashaan or not, but there seemed no harm in at least asking the woman if there was anything that could be done, and she came highly recommended by one of Shannon’s friends from church.
“Who’s Sscon?” Shannon asked as she pulled her hands back.
The woman leered at her with one eye squinted shut and laughed hoarsely. “An old one, dear,” she said as she gathered her breath again. “An old god, you might say, forgotten in the mythos of the modern day.”
“How is this supposed to help?” Shannon could not believe this woman was serious, blurting out a small laugh of her own. When Rashaan realized she was being made fun of, she turned deadly serious.
“Sscon is real, woman,” she spat. “More so than the dust you’ll find in that church of yours.”
“So how’s he supposed to help?”
“By removing the trouble from your life,” the elder said, her tone dark as she rasped out the words. “He will give you what you want.”
She paid Rashaan the twenty dollars for her fee and walked away from the house, still not sure whether she could be believed. But when she went to the book store Rashaan told her of and looked on the shelf she was described, her mood shifted considerably.
Maybe this would work, after all.
Shannon pored through the pages in the book, flipping through the tome slowly so she could understand what it wanted her to do. The ritual seemed simple enough, and it described the protections she should do before getting it started.
Sscon was old, the book said, reiterating what Rashaan told her, one of the Titans of Olympus that had been discarded from the myths. He granted the wishes of the mortals, but always asked for a price which was easily paid.
Shannon wasn’t sure how old the book was, there being no copyright page at the beginning or end, and the words in the thing were all hand-written in ink, scrawling notes among the edges obscuring some arts of it here and there. She had to squint to make out some of it, but from what she could tell, she could do this.
If Karen was removed from the picture, Shannon and her fellows could once again have an easier time of things, and, who knows, the owners might finally recognize that it was she who should be managing them, anyway. Karen being gone would only be a benefit and certainly no one she knew would miss the foul beast of a woman.
It had to be done.
She closed the book and hid it behind the water heater in the basement. Stan would be home soon and she did not want him knowing what she was going to do. The less he knew, the better.
She cooked dinner and watched some TV with him, then went to bed earlier than her usual time, telling him she was not feeling well.
A few hours of sleep later, Shannon crept out of bed and down the stairs, her nightgown flowing in the soft breeze coming in through the opened windows to cool the house in the summer heat. She wished they could afford to get the air conditioner fixed again, the sweat already beading across her forehead as she went into the basement and the thankfully cooler air.
If she got the manager position, they would be able to get that fixed, and maybe even get the new roof on, like they needed to three years ago.
The emergency candles were there in the basement already, and she arranged them as the diagram in the book showed her to do, then marked the symbol it commanded to be in place in the white chalk Stan sometimes used to mark wood when he cut it.
She read over the ritual again, realizing she had forgotten the eggs, and went back up the stairs to get them, as well as a patty of ground beef that they had saved for dinner the next weekend. She would have to pick up some more, but it’s what the ritual wanted.
Well, technically, it said a meat sacrifice had to be made as the spell was cast, but she didn’t have a lamb or cow handy and thought it might work as an alternative.
The three eggs went in different places around the circle of chalk, and she put the cold meat into the center, arranging everything to match the picture in the book as best she could.
She stood back, surveying her work, then brought the book to her face and began chanting the words of the spell.
She could not help feeling a little silly while doing it, and hoped to God Stan didn’t decide to wake up at that moment and come check where she might be. The last thing she wanted was to try to explain what she was doing to him.
Her insides squirmed as the smoke began to rise from the meat, the silliness of the situation dissipating instantly as the words continued from her mouth. She didn’t hesitate, taking the warning to heart at the beginning of the book, that once started, it could not be stopped without extreme danger to the priest working the spell.
Another sentence came out and the candles brightened, rising on their wicks far past what they should be able to do. The wax didn’t melt further, almost pausing in their flickers.
When the eggs began to tremble, her own body joined in, her hands shaking almost too hard for the book to be straight any longer, but she redoubled her hold on it, her free hand still moving in the circular motions the book showed her to do.
A hiss resounded off of the cement walls of the dark basement, and she thought, at first, it was the meat, which smoked more as it seemed to cook on the floor, but when she realized it was coming from all around her, she faltered for a brief second in her words, her eyes darting everywhere.
She resumed the pace, though, uninterrupted, and the air in the basement began to not only smell like the frying meat, but also something else, something musky and deep. It wasn’t the dankness of the basement, though, this was something more akin to an animal exposed to a summer rain.
The smoke from the beef grew thicker as she restarted the ritual, beginning from the top again as it said to do, each sentence punctuated by a deep intake of breath to catch up. The haze was so thick now she could not even see across the basement to the other side and the light from the candles did nothing to penetrate it.
The eggs smashed open, spilling out the contents over the floor, and though they had been raw when she put them down, they seemed almost half-cooked, now, the clear whites thickening like the haze around her. The yolks, too, split, the yellow bubbling.
The hissing grew louder, one long, uninterrupted sound intensifying around her, like a steam valve opened and shooting out. When it cut off, her stomach dropped. Had she failed, somehow?
She reached the end of the spell once more, and stopped her words. Say it twice, that’s what the book said, and she waited in the deep haze of smoke that had formed, wondering what the hell was going on.
“Ssso,” a deep voice said behind her, and she whirled around with the book still in her hand, raising the other defensively. “Sssuch a ssstrange plasssce.”
It was bigger than her, nearly reaching the top of the ceiling above her, but it could have made it more, she suspected, as she stared at the thing with no legs and a deep set of sapphire eyes that reflected the light of the candles back to her.
It was a snake, but more than that, the long arms extending away from it ending in claws that could have taken off her head in one swipe if it should desire to do so, its face taken up mostly by the huge mouth, which flicked a tongue toward her, tasting the air and, perhaps, her.
She trembled, dropping the book to the floor with a loud thump. It came to rest against her bare foot, hot in contrast to the cold stone floor. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming, but everything inside of her told her to run. This thing was death incarnate and could swallow her up without even thinking about it.
Its’ wispy, lisping voice poured out of it again, smooth as silk, and as its words came, she felt her legs stop trembling, almost hypnotized by the power of the being.
“What do you want of me,” Sscon asked, eyes glinting as it weaved slightly in and out of the shadows near the wall.
“K-Karen,” she stumbled across the word, having planned out exactly what to say but faltering now that this being of immense power was before her. Her body was in shock, her mind racing to try to understand what was happening even as it screamed none of it could be real.
She could get no more words to come forth, both terrified and enraptured by the eyes of the thing, this old god, before her.
It’s hooded orbs fluttered a few times, staring into her soul as licked the air again. The tongue, as big as her own arm, stretched out toward her and flicked once across her face, barely caressing her cheek. It was damp but not unpleasant, the warmth of the creature soothing on her chilled, sweat-slicked skin.
“Death you ssseek,” the beast intoned. “Yesss?”
It took her a second to process, the words coming to her in waves across her mind. How had it known? Did it, somehow, read her thoughts?
Perhaps it was written on her like the book she dropped, and it tasted those words with its’ tongue.
She finally nodded, trying to stand up straighter to face the creature with strength she knew she didn’t have.
“Isss it worth the prisssce?” The fleshy wisp of a tongue flicked again, the dewy dampness of it glinting in the candle light.
Shannon had been prepared for this. She was sure, whatever price it commanded she pay, she could meet. She could always make it back if and when she was chosen to replace Karen as manager, the raise in pay being far more than she made now. Stan would be so proud of her, even if she could never tell him the means by which she got it.
“Yes, Sscon,” she muttered, her voice catching a bit in her throat. She cleared it and let her hands go to her sides. “Yes,” she said again, clearer this time.
“Karen will die,” it said, ducking down a little lower to make its own head even with hers. The scent of its breath, heady and moist, musky like decaying plants wafted over her, the breeze from it fluttering the sides of her hair. “You agree to the prisssce?”
She nodded again, letting the barest hint of a smile cross her face. She was glad this would be over soon, the fear ebbing away as the seeming gentleness of this being, the way its words flowed through her like a soothing wine, edged her away from the dread she felt when she first saw it.
“Ssso be it,” it said, almost nodding in its strange, swaying way. “A life for a life, as the price demands.”
Her brows furrowed as the words followed one to another. She opened her mouth, the question forming on her lips. “Wait, what?”
The darkness enveloped her before she could inhale another breath, dank wetness and fetid decay taking over all other scents as she was taken into the throat of the being.
She tried to scream but nothing more than a burble escaped her throat as the gullet of the beast constricted her and the tightness of the hold crushed what was left in her lungs out in an instant.
All she might have been faded into black as her mind screamed that this was not supposed to happen.
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Keep striving to “be the best you that you can be” at this moment. Remember, no matter who you are or what you’re going through, you are worthy of being loved. Don’t let anyone teach you anything different.