Author's note: the following story is scary. Decide whether you want to read on.
Leathery wings crackled and unfurled as the beast scuttled across the high arched ceiling. Talons sank effortlessly into centuries old mortar, etching a jagged trail across the face of yellowing marble. The beast's jaws opened a fraction, exposing a serrated row of fangs designed to rip flesh from bone without a moment's hesitation. A glob of rancid saliva pooled against the frontmost incisor, then hurled itself downwards, pirouetting gracelessly until it exploded against the glazed maiolica tiles far below. The beast's gaze was fixed on the shadowy figure of a man in the centre of the gloomy chamber, his attention focussed in turn on the pages of some ancient manuscript. The beast's hunger raged within, awaiting only the command to strike.
His eyes throbbing from the faint, smoky light of the candelabra, Elias struggled to make sense of the cumbersome Latin inscribed on the delicate vellum. He had used this incantation once before, striking down his foe with a pestilence that had confounded doctors and priests alike. His prey had rallied eventually but never regained his former haughtiness. Now another had presumed to thwart Elias in his inexorable rise to power and a vile demon from the pit of hell must be summoned to teach him the imprudence of ill-advised hubris.
"...radix malorum est cupiditas."
The moment he uttered the final syllable, the beast sprang from its lofty alcove. Elias had rarely seen the creature in the flesh but there was no mistaking the rustle of its wings in flight. Within the hour his adversary would be lying prostrate on the floor, his lungs filled with blood, every agonising retch a reminder of his feeble mortality. Even the sweet release of death would be denied his opponent. The ancient enchantment could not snuff out a man's life. Besides, its hellish executor seemed to relish every torment, every cry of desperation. Elias shrugged nonchalantly. It wasn't his problem.
A shrill descant interrupted his musing. Reaching deep inside his ink-black robe, he plucked a chirruping cell phone from his trouser pocket. Elias hated the incongruity that the black arts demanded. He had tried scanning the magic spells on to his laptop, storing them more securely than the fragile parchment afforded. He had even experimented with automatic incantations, using voice simulation software to deliver a series of curses as the computer worked its way down a list of recipients. Certainly Elias would have loved to dispense with the infernal candlelight and install a few halogen bulbs. But the sorcery never worked. The modern world was somehow too sterile, too clinical for black magic to simmer, bubble and explode.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Elias, I have just been praying for you. And I felt that you were in great danger."
"I've told you before, Mike. I'm not interested in your prayers."
"Listen, you're already on the board of the company. Be patent. The rest will come in time."
"Let's talk over lunch tomorrow. You can have another go at pitching your god to me."
"All I'm saying is that dabbling in magic can backfire. I've heard stories of people who–"
"Sorry, Mike, I've got to go. I appreciate your concern."
Elias thumbed the phone's off button and slipped it back into his pocket. As he did so, the reek of sulphur assailed his nostrils, compelling him to spin round. The beast stood menacingly before him, its claws sunk resolutely into the floor. The demon's voice was harsh yet sibilant, its intent unquestionably malevolent: "You mixed up your dative and your vocative."
Elias understood the subtlety of the Latin grammar. Furthermore he grasped the import of miscasting the enchantment. By rights the curse should rebound to the one who sent it. His voice quavered as he quickly intoned, "I adjure you by Samael and Lilith." For good measure he repeated this in Latin but the beast seemed entirely unperturbed.
"I rebuke you in the name of Jesus."
The demon didn't even flinch. They both knew that Elias' words carried no heavenly authority. Without warning, the beast pounced, pinning the would-be sorcerer to the cold, stone floor.
Elias' screams lasted all night long. No one heard his cries for mercy. Mike phoned every hour on the hour but Elias couldn't answer. A score of God's angels were mustered by the intensity of Mike's intercession. But they stood helplessly by as the hellhound ravaged its erstwhile master. Elias had made his choice. Now he would have to suffer the consequences. Evil would not be easily sated.
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