The Ritual

Hunting conditions were perfect as Dustin and his best friend, Rick, quietly walked through the woods. The wind was slight and the sun was bright. Each time they passed through a beam of sunlight that made its way through the dense trees, Dustin fought the urge to pause in it. He knew Rick would grow impatient if he did that. Rick was after a buck. A big buck. He’d heard a rumor that there was a sixteen point in this forest and he was determined to find it. Scanning the ground as well as their surroundings while they walked, the men trudged through the root tangled forest floor and trees looking for signs that deer were nearby.

By this time in the morning, they were deep enough in the West Virginia mountains that they didn’t anticipate seeing anyone while they hiked. It was this fact that caused them to startle when they spotted a pale face with deep green eyes staring at them through the trees up ahead. Her red hair was barely showing from under the black hooded cloak she wore. She looked like something straight out of some fairy tale they’d heard as little boys. Both men stopped dead in their tracks and glanced at each other, as if for conformation that they were seeing what they thought they were seeing.

“Are you lost?” Rick asked, trying not to be so loud that he might scare any possible deer away. Dustin stood still, staring into her eyes. They looked endless, like the forest might continue right into them. She stepped out from behind the tree, revealing her perfect figure under the form fitting waistline of her Little House on the Prairie style dress. Dustin was silenced by his own awe of her. Rick didn’t seem quite as impressed. He was likely irritated that she was messing with his date with the sixteen point buck.

“Can you hear me?” he said with impatience in his voice now. “Are you okay? It’s not safe to be out this far and dressed in dark clothes, miss. You’re gonna get shot.” Rick warned. Her lips slid into a small smile as she switched her gaze from Rick to Dustin, who was still staring directly into her eyes.

“I am very safe.” she said. “But you are not.” She spoke the words so clearly that Dustin wondered if he heard them with his ears or in his head. Then, he heard something that he was sure reverberated only in his mind. Rick didn’t seem to react to it but Dustin was slowly pulled into action by the words. Shoot your friend in the chest. The voice was still echoing in his mind when Dustin realized he was taking his riffle off his shoulder and releasing the safety. Rick looked over at Dustin only when he detected his movement. He hadn’t heard the instructions Dustin was given so he didn’t know to run. He didn’t know to shield himself behind a tree or beg his friend to snap out of it. He just glanced over and said, “What are you doing?”

The shot rang through the trees, bouncing off rocks and echoing like a bucket hitting the bottom of a dry well. Dustin flinched at the sound of it and switched his stare from Rick’s chest to the barrel of his gun. The end of it let off a slight puff of smoke as Rick crumpled to the ground in front of Dustin.

“What happened?” Dustin stammered and then looked sharply at the mystery woman in the black cloak. Her eyes were still fixed on him, ignoring the gravely injured man in front of them both.

“You did as you were told.” she said with a smile. “Such a good boy. Follow me.” She turned to walk in the direction the men had been heading and Dustin followed. He didn’t put his gun back on his shoulder or even put the safety on. He just followed. In the back of his mind, he knew something had gone terribly wrong but he couldn’t place it. His brain was telling him to take step after step and that’s all he was thinking. Follow her.

They walked for roughly twenty minutes until a little log cabin came into view. Dustin barely noticed it. His nose had begun to bleed five minutes ago but he hadn’t noticed that, either. Follow her. The woman turned as they neared the front door of the cabin and saw the shape of her captive.

“Oh dear. You’ve had a nose bleed, sweetheart.” she casually stated as she wiped the blood away with the sleeve of her dress. “I’d better get you settled before your brain turns to mush.” Dustin followed her into the cabin, of course, but a nagging feeling of distress continued to linger in his mind.

“Sit here.” she commanded. He sat in the chair and stayed still while she tied him securely to the chair and then the large beam that went from the floor up into the ceiling of the one room cabin. Once she had him tightly bound, she said, “Release”. The fog he’d been in for the past half hour instantly cleared and he let out a cry of pain. The woman didn’t seem fazed or even surprised by it. She continued to prepare something in the corner of the room that must’ve been the kitchen area.

“I’m sure you must have quite the headache.” she said. “Drink this.” She held a cup to Dustin’s lips. He turned his head away to deny the strange smelling liquid. “I can make you drink it, you know. But that will only add to your pain.” she said. “It will help your head, I promise.” He looked at her with tearful fear in his eyes and submitted. The pain was so great that he couldn’t even speak. Even poisoning seemed better than how he felt in that moment. The potion was warm and slimy with a very earthy taste that his body tried to reject. He forced it down. As soon as the liquid hit his belly, his pain faded. Remarkable. Then, he remembered.

“We have to go back and help Rick!” Dustin shouted. “Why did I shoot him? Oh god…” he wailed.

“You shot him because I told you to.” the woman answered quite matter of factly.

“Why? Why did I listen?” Dustin yelled.

“We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Alice and I’m a witch. For now. You shot your friend because I didn’t need him.” she explained.

“I don’t know why I did that. I would never shoot someone.” Dustin was mumbling to himself now, obviously entering a state of shock.

“You would shoot yourself right now if I told you to.” she said. Now, she was just playing with him. She would normally be much more to the point and finish her tasks with efficiency and skill but he’d become a bit of entertainment for her, for the moment at least.

“Why am I here? I didn’t even know there was a cabin back here.” he said.

“Yes, well, you’ve never seen it before because I keep it hidden. I like my privacy, you understand.” she answered.

“Let me go. I need to help Rick. He might be dying.” Dustin pleaded.

“You’re such a good friend but Rick is already dead. You shot him through the heart at point blank range with a rifle. He’s not coming back from that.” she teased.

“Oh god! Let me go. I have to go.” Dustin sobbed.

“I didn’t need him but I do need you. You’ll be staying with me for just a little bit longer. I’m sorry to say that your stay won’t be overly enjoyable for you, either. I’m normally a better host but I needed bait. Unfortunately, that’s you.” she explained. “A shame, really, because you’re nice to look at. I could think of a much better use for you.” she teased him again. His face instantly blushed, despite the terrible situation he was in.

“Don’t be shy.” she said, motioning to his deeply red colored face. “I won’t have the pleasure of playing with you but I honestly have no idea what my other guests will do with you.” Alice motioned to a section of the wall covered with shelves. Many jars sat on the shelves, at least eight of them that he could see. Each jar contained a black rock and were topped with cloth and sealed with candle wax. Dustin must not have kept his confusion hidden well because she continued to explain as she readied a tabletop near him.

“I’ve been collecting these spirits for half a century. They’ve been waiting patiently for me to gather eight of them, two for each element. I’m quite proud of them, as you might guess. For water, I have the spirits of a Siren and a sea serpent. For earth, I have the spirits of a gnome and a basilisk. Tricky things to catch, kill, and contain. I assure you of that. For fire, I have the spirits of a Kobold, which is a fire fairy, and a Phoenix. Lastly, for wind, I have two spirits who were spirits when I found them, unlike the others in my collection. These spirits were lost souls, one in a castle and the other at the edge of a cliff. Both fell to their deaths. The feeling of air rushing past their faces in their final moments makes them perfect for the element of wind.

“Please, don’t set them loose on me.” he begged in a low, soft tone. It’s as if he knew his begging would do no good but he needed to say it anyway. With eyes full of pity mocking his request for mercy, Alice gazed at him and shook her head slowly.

“Tonight is a special night. Did you know?” she asked.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Dustin mumbled in response.

“I’m sure you don’t. There’s a blood moon tonight.” Her eyes were full of delight and anticipation now. “They will use you for an energy source and then they’ll be ready for me to use. No more spell casting to gain the power I need. I’ll be the most powerful sorceress in the world.” she explained.

“Witches and magic aren’t real.” he defiantly mumbled.

“Says the man who just murdered his friend because a voice inside his head told him to.” she laughed. “I’m surprised I would even need to convince you at this point. Once midnight approaches, you won’t need anymore convincing. Not just because you’ll witness it but because you’ll be dead.” The smirk on her face was in full bloom now. She walked away from him to continue preparing for whatever horrors she planned. He pretended not to pay her much attention, all the while watching everything she was doing. He knew he would need to be prepared if he was going to survive the horrors that would undoubtedly unfold over the next several hours.

Throughout that afternoon and evening, Alice would carry things from inside the cabin to the outdoors. She’d be gone for several minutes before returning for more supplies that she would also carry outside. He figured whatever she intended to do wasn’t going to happen inside the cabin. It seemed like they would be outside. That was both helpful and not so much. He wouldn’t be able to survey the area he would need to escape from ahead of time, which was unhelpful. However, he would have more space if he had to make a run for it. Also, he was an avid hiker and camper so he knew his way around the great outdoors. He would be more capable than most to find his way back without modern conveniences.

Each time she came in, he looked at the floor in front of him. Looking defeated would help her feel more confident in her plan. Confidence can be a weakness just as much, if not more, than a strength.

To his surprise, when dinner time came around, she offered him a plate of food. She said nothing to him, just sat down a wooden plate of some type of bird she’d roasted over the open fire outside. Along with the meat was some chopped carrots and potatoes, also prepare on the fire no doubt. Untying his hands so he could eat, she gave him a strict look of warning. He understood the message behind her eyes. Try anything funny and it won’t be the trapped spirits you’ll need to worry about.

He ate, all the while stealing glances in her direction. She was making some kind of potion again, this time for whatever she had planned for later. It smelled strongly of herbs and surprisingly sweet, like Christmas time. Cinnamon and cloves hung in the air and made him long to be anywhere but here. If Rick had survived the shot, he was surely dead by now. Dustin hoped he hadn’t survived it. He loved his friend and hoped he hadn’t suffered.

Time passes so slowly when one is just waiting with nothing else to occupy their mind. Dustin figured midnight was drawing near and he was soon proven right. Alice came into the cabin after being gone for nearly an hour. She wore a sheer black floor length dress that resembled a nightgown of some sort. Her hair was loose and fell just above her behind. Even though he knew she intended to kill him, he still couldn’t help but appreciate her beauty.

Alice approached her captive and began to untie him while she reached into his mind and ordered him to stay still. He complied, of course, because he had no choice. She was in control of him once again. He stood and stared at her, waiting for further instructions. Alice walked outside and Dustin followed like a good little zombie. Once outside, her work was finally revealed to him. There was a clearing about one hundred feet from her front door that had a fire pit in the middle of it, roaring in the moonlight. Around this fire pit sat all eight of the jars, equally spread apart from each other and missing their cloth tops. The black crystal in each one seemed to glow a bit, like gray nightlights for a child’s bedroom.

As they neared, the dome shaped force field came into view. She’d cast a spell of some kind that would keep him in but let her pass through unharmed. Dustin walked closely behind her until they reached the translucent dome. Alice stopped but Dustin continued and walked right into the fire pit area under the dome. She knew her mission would finally be complete this night. She was sick and tired of being so limited as a witch. After all these years and all of her hard work, she would finally have power coursing through her instead of gathering it with spells and concoctions only to need to replenish it over and over.

She watched with anticipation as her bait walked into the protected space and stopped just in front of the fire. Looking up, Alice could see that the moon was slowly changing color to a deep red shade. Nearly there, she thought. Dustin couldn’t leave her protected space and neither could the spirits. They were like piranha at feeding time and Dustin was the meal. In order for her to properly use their magical essence, they would need to be at their peak of strength. Of course, that was risky because she would need to command them once they’d reached said peak but she’d prepared for this. She felt ready. The blood moon would help her also reach her own current peak. This was it. Time to level up, she thought. Then, she noticed something strange.

Dustin looked up at the moon. He shouldn’t have been able to do that. He should’ve just stood there looking straight ahead until the spirits emerged but he didn’t. She opened her mouth to speak but he was already reaching his hands to the sky. A misty looking glow surrounded him. He took in a deep breath as it gathered on top of him and disappeared into his chest. His head snapped in her direction and his red eyes glowed as he met her gaze. The spirits began to seep out of the open jars and materialize in front of each one. She held her hands up and began to speak. Her head spun before she could complete the first word as she was violently pulled into the dome, replacing Dustin in his position while he replaced her in hers. She gasped when she realized what had just happened. However, it was her spell holding the spirits under the dome. Surely she could escape it before they descended on her. She ran toward the shimmering boundary of her spell but bounced off of it as if she’d run face first into a shatterproof glass wall. Blood sprang from her nose, quickly covering her mouth and chin. Pure panic sprouted on her face, not from the blood but from the sudden understanding of her predicament.

Dustin stood silently, watching her frantically mumbling spells through her blood soaked lips. The thick red liquid spattered the glowing boundary every now and then because even her own blood couldn’t make it through. She was a fish in a bucket and eight big guns were pointed right at her. The spirits began to make whatever noises they would’ve made in life, howling or screaming or simply training their eyes on Alice. She slid down the translucent wall into a ball of defeat and held her hands in front of her face as they lunged at her in unison. A chunk of hair with the scalp still attached hit the boundary in front of Dustin and slid down slowly, leaving a trail of blood behind. Her screams only lasted for a moment as the sea serpent bit into her throat, silencing her cries.

Knowing this is what she’d intended for him kept Dustin from feeling sorry for her. He’d known all along what she intended to do. It was well known in their community that a rouge witch sought to increase her power. That would’ve endangered them all. A plan was formed amongst the other covens and Dustin was chosen to seek her out and foil her ritual. He was temporarily given power from each witch so he’d have to ability to overpower Alice’s power, even on a blood moon. He lowered his defenses and let her overpower him long enough to get into her ritual. He then raised his power back up and sprung into action just before the spirits were fully formed so he could overtake her shield and switch himself with her at the last moment.

Now that she was ended, Dustin lowered the dome around the fire. Raising his hands to the spirits still tugging at the pieces of Alice that were thrown about, he gestured quickly up toward the night sky and all eight of the spirits shot up into the air and dissipated. He was happy to release them. They’d been in her jars for far too long and deserved peace now.

His next and most pressing task was to go back to Rick’s body and bring him back. Dustin was a witch but Rick really was his best friend and had no knowledge of Dustin’s true reason for going into the woods that day. Rick thought there was a really big buck because Dustin spread the rumor that there was. In reality, he just needed someone with him to help him fool Alice. He hated that he’d had to shoot Rick but did because he knew he could bring him back. Normally, that would take a whole coven of witches to accomplish but with his coven’s power in him, he’d be able to take care of it himself. Assuming he got there before decay had begun.

It hadn’t been twenty four hours yet so he was hopeful all would be well for Rick. Dustin quickened his pace just the same. No need making it more difficult than it already was. Rick was still laying undiscovered and undisturbed by wildlife. Relief and another tinge of grief struck Dustin to see his friend in such a state. Dustin dropped to his knees beside his friend. Placing his hands on Rick’s torso, Dustin closed his eyes and began chanting. The blood moon was still visible and he knew that would be very helpful. After a few moments, Dustin’s hands began to glow a bright white light that spread to Rick’s chest and filled the hole the bullet had left. Another few moments and the color returned to Rick’s face. Dustin released his friend’s chest just as Rick gasped and took in a long breath.

Feeling depleted by this point, Dustin sat on the ground and watched as Rick slowly rejoined the land of the living. His chest would be sore for a few days but he would make a full recovery. Dustin put a hand on Rick’s forehead and wiped the memory of what happened from him. He filled the empty spots with memories of a deer charging them and hitting Rick in the chest, thus causing the soreness. No harm, no foul. Now, to explain the blood. Dustin used his hunting knife to give himself a cut sizable to explain the blood but not enough to need medical intervention at a hospital.

Once Rick was conscious and Dustin had sufficiently explained the situation, the two men headed back to Rick’s truck. Although Dustin knew the mission he was sent here to do, there had been a moment when he had the spirits in his control and he’d wondered what would happen if he completed Alice’s ritual. Unlike Alice, Dustin was a good person. Surely he would be the best one to wield such power. He would use it for good. He wouldn’t be corrupted by it. At least he believed he wouldn’t be. Ultimately, though, he’d decided to stay true to his coven and release the spirits. Besides, he was no dummy. He knew they were watching, ready to intervene if he made the wrong choice. They were stealthy but he noticed a sign here and there. A twig breaking when it shouldn’t have. Leaves rustling after a breeze passed instead of with it. He knew now wasn’t the time. But. He knew the ritual now….if he ever changed his mind.


This story is meant to be a continuation of A Castle’s Secret, a personalized story I wrote for my sister. I was asked what the witch at the end of that story intended to do with the glass jars she was collecting and this story was born. I hope you enjoyed it!

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