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The Ritual
by Keith Gillison

The four figures entered the chamber, bodies and faces covered by hooded white cloaks. Their steps were slow and in unison as they carefully carried their offering towards the altar.

‘Halt,’ a voice said. ‘Who goes there?’

‘Servants of the dark lord,’ came the reply.

‘And what business do you have in this temple?’ the priest asked.

‘Sire, we have come to present this sacrifice to the master. To thank him for his mercy in allowing us, his humble apostles, to serve him.’

The priest squinted to appraise the wooden tray, upon which rested the offering. The room was dark, save for the flicker of candlelight. Sunlight was forbidden. The air was thick with smoke from the burning incense on the altar. The priest approached it, bowed his head and knelt before the image of the goat’s head inscribed inside the inverted pentagram. Silently, he offered a prayer. Moments passed. The priest rose to his feet.

‘The dark one has spoken. He will accept your sacrifice.’

The servants stepped forward and the sacrifice was lowered onto the altar. They bowed to the altar, then to the priest and finally to each other. The priest returned the bow. He then took a bottle from the altar, and poured a dark liquid into five goblets, handing one to each of the servants before taking one himself.

‘Our darkest lord and master,’ the priest began, his arms outstretched, ‘as we drink your blood, we ask that you accept our sacrifice and grant us your favour…’

The priest and the servants jumped as the door was flung open.

‘For God’s sake, not again! Every Sunday this is now. I can’t even go to the pub without coming back and finding you lot sacrificing a chicken.’

‘You said you’d be out for hours,’ said the priest.

‘Yeah, well,’ the intruder said, flinging open the curtains to let the light in, ‘there’s a Simpsons double bill on at three.’

The priest looked flustered.

‘I think we need to establish some ground rules here. If you say you’re going to be out then …’

‘Look, I’ve put up with this nonsense for long enough. I didn’t mind at first because I get a nice Sunday roast out of it, but this has gone far enough now, Nigel.’

‘It’s just a bit of fun, Stuart,’ Nigel replied.

Stuart walked over to the altar, shaking his head.

‘I mean, how can you have a sacrifice when the chicken’s already dead? You bought it at Asda yesterday.’ Nigel flushed. ‘And I see the roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese have made it onto the altar this week as well. And have you been at my Ribena again?’ Stuart asked, eyeing the goblets with suspicion. The servants looked sheepish. ‘I’ll let it go this time, but if this happens again, I swear I’m telling the Dean.’

Nigel sighed and removed his hood. The jaws of reality bit him and his thoughts returned to his sociology thesis.