The List by Erin Cole

Miriam thinks she’s a witch, a real one. She lights frankincense and myrrh and watches it smolder into a star-flecked night. Her skirt is black with fine, frayed mesh, stockings netted, boots laced. Lots of dark eye shadow and cat-eye liner accentuating a you-wanna-fuck-with-me frown.

We (Miriam, me, and a guy I decided to take pity on, Terrence) stand in a field, in a room-sized pentacle of salt lit at the points with five black candles. A skull at the top leg of the star stares across at us. Miriam says she stole it from the basement of her dad’s funeral home, and then proceeded to lecture us about horrors worse than death, the afterlife is just a fuckin’ ball of fire and our souls are the fuel.

I can’t stand atheists, especially the doom-filled ones.

Terrence is skeptical too, if she’s really a witch, and asks her. “Tell me, Miriam, what the difference is between a real witch and a fake witch?”

Miriam laughs a small, high-pitched chortle before her eyes go screwy on him. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself, Terrence?”

At that, Terrence shuffles to the edge of the circle, unzips his pants, and proceeds to do just that, but he’s swearing under his breath. I sense he can’t control himself. Miriam is making him do it. Maybe she is a real witch.

Miriam props a hand on her hip and crooks her head at him. “What an idiot.” She spins around and plants dark eyes on me like a sharp hoe in soft dirt. “What about you, Isabelle? Are you a real witch or a fake one?”

I know a challenge when I hear it, but I also know when it’s constructive to lie, so I tell her what she wants to hear.

“I’m the real thing.”

“Prove it,” she says and hands me an athame.

Terrence zips up his pants, then pauses mid-way, frozen in my venomous glare. He shakes his head. I wink at him, raise my arms up to a depthless black sky, and invoke the Dark One.

*

A heavy, putrid wind blows in from the oak field and swirls the scent of sulfur and rot around us. Miriam smirks—she’s proud of herself to have sought me out.
The incense clouds thicken and boil, and through the haze of smoke, the lucent form of Satan emerges. His shape crystallizes until he stands, tangibly solid, in the middle of the pentacle with roped, blue veins, twisted black horns, and chrome-yellow eyes.

Miriam circles around him, a sticky-sweet gaze fixed to his flesh and muscle. “I’m impressed, Isabelle. Very impressed.”

“I thought you might like that,” I reply. “But there’s more.”

Her brow twitches up, dark eyes brighten. “Oh? What’s that?”

“In all honestly, I’m not really a witch. I just have an obligation to fulfill.”

Miriam flinches in shock as I lunge forward and shove her into the hands of Satan. He swings his burly arm around her neck and grins with bold, sharp teeth. They recede from the circle and fade into a typhoon of red smoke and distancing laughter.

I break a line in the salt and exit the circle to blow out the candles.

Terrence walks over to me. “So how many more witches do we have to get until Satan lets us go? I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

I pull the list from pocket and check the names. I cross off Miriam. “Only seven more. You going to make it?”

“If it means settling my debt to Satan, I guess, but how do we know he’ll keep his promise to us? After all, he is the ultimate in evil.”

“Jesus, Terrence,” I say, kicking dirt over the skull. “You are an idiot.”

I wrap my arm around his neck and lean into him. “I suppose you don’t know the difference between a real Satan and a fake Satan either?”

*

Erin Cole writes dark, speculative fiction and is the author of the mystery novels Feral ThingsGrave Echoes and Wicked Tempest, and the dark fiction collections Of the Night, After Dusk,and Between Feathers and Fins. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking ‘real’ food, adopts rescue animals, and is a true ally of insomnia.

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