The blood drained from his face when he opened his front door. A small figure in a pink parka jacket squeezed past him without a word and disappeared into the front room.
“Hi,” his neighbour Abigail said, still standing on the doorstep, trying to look over his shoulder to where her daughter had vanished. “Phil, I’m sorry to have to ask you, but could you sit Chloe for me, Mum’s fallen and is in hospital.”
“Abigail, this isn’t honestly the best-”
“Here’s an overnight bag, just in case,” she pressed a small, nauseatingly pink backpack into his unresisting hands, leaned over and air-kissed him by the side of his face. “There are toys and her PJs. I owe you big time, Phil.” She looked down at his vestments, eyebrows raised. “Nice–dressing gown?”
She turned and almost ran down the path, jumped into her running car and shot off down the street without a backwards glance.
“Oh, bugger,” he said to the cold night air, abruptly realising Chloe was loose in his house. He sighed in relief when he found the small girl sitting on the floor in front of his television, cartoons already on.
He ran his hand through his thinning hair, glancing at the curtained-off area at the back of the house. “Chloe, you know the drill. Shoes and coat, please?”
The little girl gave him a long look, an exact duplicate of Abigail’s, and nodded. “Okay, Uncle Phil.”
He winced. “I’m not your Uncle, I’m just a friend of your mother’s,” he muttered. She ignored him and bounced back to the passageway.
Making sure she wasn’t watching, he slipped behind the curtain and checked the altar. It had taken him two years to gather all the materials. The time was right, the stars were aligned.
And now he had to babysit.
He started to blow out the black candles, allegedly made from human fat, but they didn’t smell any different from normal wax.
The rabbit watched him from the cage on the shelf of the brown tallboy, twitching its nose, and he looked mournfully back at it. He pulled the cover down over the cage.
The Idol of the Dark Ones, situated in the middle of the table, within the three rings of Infinite Power (which he’d paid to have inlaid into his teak dinner table), glowed slightly. Images started to flood his mind, promises of undefined glory, his every vague desire, all for a price of a little blood-
“Uncle Phil!” Chloe shouted. “I’m hungry!”
He shook himself out of his trance, heart racing. He checked his watch. He still had time. Yes, he could still do this. He’d have to forego the rites of observation, but he’d been fasting and purifying himself all week-
“Can I have some cereal?”
He darted back through the curtain to find Chloe standing on the opposite side. She leaned to the right to see what was behind the curtain, and he leaned with her, blocking the view. “Sugar Puffs, right?”
She gave a little cheer and skipped to the kitchen, Philip sighing as he followed her.
He poured her the cereal and winced when she added too much milk into the flower-patterned bowl, some of it spilling onto the Formica tabletop. He quickly mopped it up with some kitchen towel.
“Now, Chloe,” he said, picking his words with care. “I’m doing something really important tonight in the dining room, so I’m going to have to ask you to stay in the spare room while I’m busy.”
“Can I have the TV up there?” she asked.
“Yes!” he said, delighted. “I’ll move the one from my room.”
While she was eating, he carried the television into the small spare bedroom and turned it to her favourite channel. Before he could finish, she thundered up the stairs and skipped into the room, carrying her horrible backpack.
“So you’ll be fine right here, this will only take an hour at most. If you promise to stay here until I come back-”
“Can I have ice cream?”
Philip smiled. “A double helping.”
Chloe clapped her hands together in delight while he hesitated, one hand on the lock. But Chloe was always such a good girl, so he left it open.
He hurried downstairs and darted through the curtains, lighting the candles and began to quietly chant. He knew which boon he wanted. He just wanted to be… special. Something more than a middle aged bachelor.
The words of the incantation, learned off by heart during a six-month (off the record) Open University course, began to roll off his tongue. The words themselves were wanting to be said. The flame of the candles grew brighter, and the idol began to writhe, stone turning to unclean flesh as the symbol of the forbidden gods unfurled its full power. A cyclopean eye of blazing light stared at him. He could feel the presence of the Dark Ones. Now it was time, time to sacrifice blood to the gods. Philip reached over and flipped the cover from the cage.
It was empty.
He looked at the rabbit-less space, then back to the eye.
“Um,” he said.
Abigail looked down at her daughter in surprise when the little girl opened the door to her increasingly annoyed knocking. “Where’s Uncle Phil?”
“I don’t know mum,”
“He didn’t leave you alone, did he?”
“He told me to stay upstairs. Made me promise. There was weird shouting from downstairs, and then a bang noise.”
Abigail peered into the front room, where it looked as though a bomb had gone off. There was a mess in the dining room. It was like a vast, overripe tomato had exploded.
“But look,” Chloe said. She lifted up a struggling animal from the interior of her backpack. “I found a rabbit!”
Steven Patchett is an Engineer, Father and Writer in the North East of England. His works have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dread Stone Press and Molotov Cocktail. He can be found on Twitter, whatever it’s called now, being encouraging. @StevenPatchett7 and BlueSky @Stevenpatchett.bsky.social