How To Test A Ritual
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Posted by RabidRadioactiveRaccoons on: 09:14 PM, 04/21/20
There is something relaxing about driving for three hours on a perfectly straight and empty road, listening to the same 50 second song on repeat, in the middle of a starless night. At least I’m pretty sure it was a straight and empty road; my only illumination was the dome light. Regardless, I poured myself another cup of coffee from the travel box, careful not to smudge the phone number scrawled on the side of the cup, not once breaking from singing along to that beautiful and eternal musical loop. I pointedly ignored the vacant stares of the faces pressed against my window.

The music stopped when the timer went off on my phone, seconds before the car radio turned on again. A long moan came through the speakers. I carefully listened. From what best I could tell, it was louder on the right side. I secured the lid of my cup the best I could and screwed the cap back onto the coffee box while fastening its seatbelt. The moment the moan ended; I made the sharpest possible right turn; as in literally slamming the steering wheel as far to the right that I could. I kept turning for the next three minutes, keeping an eye on the clock rather than the road. Exactly 3 minutes and 16 seconds into the continuous turn, I turned off the car, put the brake pedal to the metal, and simultaneously engaged the emergency brake and shifted the transmission to park. It was a heinous sound and more heinous shift of inertia.

I finished off my coffee and poured another while I sat in the eventually motionless car, trying to catch the breath my locked-up seat belt had stolen from me. After a few minutes, I dug around the mess strewn across the floor of the far, eventually finding the monstrous carton of cigarettes. I rolled down my window as I fished out the lighter from my pocket. I grabbed my phone and set another timer, 97 seconds.

I took a deep breath of the last fresh air I would get for the next two minutes before placing a cigarette in my mouth. I flicked on the lighter with one hand, finger hovering over the start button. One more deep breath. As soon as I started the timer, I lit the cigarette and immediately tossed it out the window. I scrambled to grab another cigarette, lighting it, and throwing it out the window. I repeated this as many times as I could until I heard the alarm on my phone go off. I froze in place and started counting.

Thirty seconds of utter silence passed. I let the breath I had been holding. I poured myself a shot of coffee, downing it before taking a few deep breaths. I grabbed my coffee cup and the box, kicking open the driver’s side door. I almost stepped out before remembering to grab my phone from its holder and sliding it into my pocket. Then, with cup and coffee in hand, I set out.

Looking around, I confirmed that I was, in fact, surrounded by complete darkness beyond the meager glow of the dome light. I fiddled with the pedometer around my neck, checking its backlight function and resetting the depressingly low number of steps it already had logged. Orienting myself so that my back was flat against the side of the car, I began forward.

I walked for 255 paces before turning 45 degrees to the right and continued for 130 paces. 90 degree left turn, another 105 paces, 270 degrees left again, 130 more paces. I made the next turn as quickly as I could without getting too motion sick, doing a 728 clockwise spin before going another 105 paces. I stopped, poured myself another cup of coffee, downing it in one long pull. Two steps to the left, 105 paces again; three to the right, another 105; one to the left, and a final 130.

I sat down and gave my tired legs a rest. I averted my eyes as I pulled out my phone and unlocked it, what faint light I could see from it hurt my eyes. By touch and sound alone, I set a timer for ten minutes before placing it back in my pocket. I did some stretches as I waited, drank a carefully rationed cup of coffee, and counted in finger binary as I waited. It seemed like an eternity before my phone vibrated in my pocket. I stood up and reached for the doorknob.

The unseen door swung open silently on rusty hinges and even the imperceptibly dim light of the hallway hurt my eyes. Still, nonetheless, I stepped forward, squinting heavily as my eyes slowly adjusted to the very gradually increasing light. The hallways seemed to stretch on forever and I had to take several breaks to coax my increasingly protesting legs into carrying me further. At the very end of the hallway, a figure wearing a hooded black robe stood next to a door. They looked at me with a hidden face, awaiting my answer.

“Lyda,” I told the shape. It nodded silently and reached up, opening a trap door in the ceiling and releasing a set of ancient mahogany stairs. I ascended into a small circular room, in the middle of which stood a mirror. Turning away, I walked backwards until I was flat up against the surface of the mirror.

I took a moment, weighed the box of coffee in my hand and poured myself a final cup, a slight frown forming on my face as I realized that I had misjudged how much was left. I checked the side of the cup, making sure that the now faded number was still legible. I downed my coffee and, with my left hand, tossed the cup over my right shoulder.

Without turning to face it, I carefully sidestepped around the mirror.  From there, I only needed to take a single step to reach the massive stone gates, intricate reliefs of unthinkable things carved with impossible detail into the dark rock. I set the box down beside me as I looked at what seemed to more be a wall infinitely tall and wide.

With a silent apology to my legs, I stomped three times with my right foot and brought up my hands to the left of my head to clap. Then I stomped three times with my left foot, clapping to the right of my head. I cannot even begin to guess how many times I repeated this until the unfeeling gates took pity and slowly ground open with an earth shaking noise. I grabbed my box of coffee before trudging forward.

Within the cavernous room, dimly lit by a single light from above, was a giant crow. It lay on the ground, covered in a robe made of human faces sewn together. With eyes of endless and unspeakable void, it watched dispassionately as I approached.

It took all the effort, nerve, and strength I had left to even try to stand tall before the beast so ancient and powerful. I called out to it, “Are you Ga’UTH’La, Speaker of the Nine Seas?”

As my words echoed forth into that eternity, the bird slowly nodded its head with a sense of tired wisdom. With a knowing and infinite gaze, it begged the silent question that it had so many times before.

“Okay, great. Thanks,” I gave it a tired nod instead and made towards the exit before stopping, “You wouldn’t care for some coffee, would you? I think I have about a cup left in here.” I lifted the cardboard box to indicate what I was talking about.

I was met with a withering gaze and, after a literally immeasurable amount of time, I was given the same slow nod as before. I set down the box carefully, gave a polite smile, and slowly forced myself to walk the long distance to the invisibly glowing threshold.

I got back in my car, made an illegal u-turn, and, after about a mile, pulled back through the intersection where two pairs of identical chain restaurants stood across from each other. I parked in front of the East side one, in the space directly across from where I had parked at the beginning of my journey. I dragged myself into the coffee shop and made for the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, I was sitting at a table by the window, phone in one hand and an irresponsibly large travel mug of espresso in the other. I sent my boss an email, the ritual worked and was fit for publication. I spent the rest of my evening contemplating just how much of my remaining budget could be spent on coffee.

« Last Edit: 11:46 PM, 05/ 3/20 by RabidRadioactiveRaccoons »


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