Horla Fiction (December 2021)

 

A BURNT OFFERING

by ED AHERN

Elzbeth Fowler used written, rather than chanted, spells because she didn’t know how to pronounce Enochian, the purported language of both angels and devils. The spells, scribed on human parchment, were burned in a corpse fat candle. Which was as close and she could get to described diabolical procedure, and none of which had so far worked.

She even mixed her own ink, using vegetable dyes, hide glue and bone black, with lead as a drier. Her quill pens came from the tail feathers of sacrificed black roosters. All to avoid tainting by artificial elements.

She watched her latest attempt be consumed, giving off a stink akin to charring pig hide. Elzbeth waited for twenty minutes inside her protective hexagram, but the dog leashed in the corner didn’t die, and the candle eventually sputtered out.

“John Dee,” she muttered, “you’re a sixteenth century asshole.” She stepped outside the hexagram and over to the golden-haired setter. “All right, Hairy, you’re still alive, so I’ll have to feed you.” She untied the dog’s leash and led him upstairs to the kitchen.

Her husband, Harry, could be seen at his fly-tying bench in an adjoining room. “Burning skin again, honey?”

“Yes, sorry about that. I’ll be starting supper soon, so there’ll be other peculiar aromas.”

His focus has already shifted back to the ornate salmon fly he was tying up in his vise. “That’s fine, dear.”

Elzbeth fed the dog and then turned to cooking liver and onions for Harry. She despised the dish, but prepared it as part of her campaign to keep him content and otherwise occupied, so she could pursue her diabolical interests. She herself was having salad Niçoise.

Dinner and dishes finished she called to Hairy to follow her into her own smaller office. Once there, she swung the door shut, the draft blowing shed dog hair into the corners. She stared down at him.

“How the hell do I spell something to kill you?”

The dog’s mouth gaped open but the words came directly into her head.

 You’ll be in hell before you ever figure it out.

She lurched backward. “You- you can talk.”

Communicate yes, talk no. This mutt’s mouth isn’t made for speeches.

Elzbeth realized she was repeatedly blinking. “Did I do this?”

The old dog’s snout yawned open again, its tongue coiling like a slug. By accident. Like the monkey at a typewriter.

“What?”

Give a monkey a keyboard and an infinite amount of time and it’ll type the works of Shakespeare. You conjured an accident that bonded me to your dog.

Annoyance damped down her fear. “I’ve done everything precisely as Dr. Dee prescribed.”

Hairy cocked his head sideways. Dee was a hopeless guesser. What could he know for certain of the speech of angels, fallen or otherwise. Enochian indeed. Pinning the name of a minor Hebrew prophet on our magnificent tongue.  

 Elzbeth suddenly realized the danger she was in and jumped up. The chalk she needed for a protective design was in a drawer behind the dog.

Hairy barked. Relax. Had I wanted it you’d already be dead.

“So what do you want?”

Stop your doubly blind experiments. You’ve already killed four people by misfiring, for no productively immoral purpose.

“Four? Impossible, I’d have known…”

Silence, monkey. You did, apparent accidents. A suicide, a self-immolation, a chopped-off leg, and poison. You’re a blind woman throwing knives. You’ll never learn our language- the speech of devils and angels?

Elzbeth stared at the dog. Its body proclaimed overweight pet, but its eyes had the shimmer of madness. “But I want to. What’s the cost?”

You will become my familiar, writing and saying what I tell you to, and performing magics you cannot yet conceive of.

“I… no, I want to create my own spells.”

I can wait years in this animal’s body, Are you willing to waste them?

“Why don’t you cast the spells yourself?”

Because, monkey, this creature can’t write or speak.”

Elzbeth glared at the dog, but said, “what must I do?”

Here is the vision and sound of the necessary spell for you to become bound to me. Scribe it and burn it while reciting the sounds and you will become my agent, my tool of immense power.

Enochian characters and sounds filled her mind’s eye and ear.

Elzbeth stood motionless, thinking, then paced over to a desk, took out a notepad and pen, and drew the Enochian symbols and their phonetic sounds while they were fresh in mind. Then she reached into the same drawer, took out a purse sized .32, and shot the dog, twice.

It yelped. You fool, I was your only bridge to knowledge.

“You pompous imp, you just gave me the Rosetta stone that will let me eventually cast spells on my own. Go back to hell.”

As the dog was dying, Harry opened the door and stuck his head into her study. “Did I hear gun shots?”

“A spell went wrong and Hairy tried to bite me. I had to shoot him. Don’t concern yourself, I’ll clean up the mess.”

“Oh. That’s okay, I guess. While you’re cleaning up, could you cut out a section of its back skin? Great fur for fly tying.”

 

***

Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over three hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of nine review editors.

Title image – John Dee, alchemist, 16th century portrait by unknown artist