“To Invocate His Aid”

(The estimated reading time for this is 11 minutes)

“To Invocate His Aid” © 2014 by Gary McMahon.  All rights reserved.

Editor’s Note: The following story was the initial spark of inspiration for the character Hoodoo who appears in Gary McMahon’s latest novella, Reaping the Dark, now available at Amazon.

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The girl is dressed only in a pair of scant white panties and gooseflesh, and the thin chain that binds her to the scabbed, watermarked radiator is digging into the flesh of her wrist hard enough to make a bright red mark. She tries to cover her tiny dirty breasts with her thin white forearms. Tears have washed her cheeks clean of whatever dark muck Hoodoo had daubed on her face before bringing her here, to this God-forsaken one-room flat somewhere south of the city.

I guess her age at fourteen or fifteen; she looks much younger, shivering beneath the stark light from the bare bulb that hangs from the ceiling like a bulging eyeball, but if she were dressed, and made-up, she would probably look ten years older.

I feel no pity; only a mild form of sorrow. And then, to my eternal shame, a snake-slow stirring of sexual arousal.

The radiator is situated below a window boarded with graffitied wooden slats that block out any natural moonlight. The chain that fixes her there is short, tough, yet looks oddly delicate. The patchy carpet looks damp where she sits; she probably pissed herself when the fear became too much. The walls of the flat are quite bare: torn gray wallpaper hangs in wispy tatters, revealing a badly plastered expanse that is gouged and pitted in a manner that suggests Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Hoodoo smiles from the corner, the expression creeping across his face like a rogue shadow. I shuffle my feet on the cheaply carpeted floor. The sudden and powerful urge to run almost overtakes me, but I just about manage to keep it in check. I’ve come this far, and resign myself to the fact that I must finish what I put into motion. Stay until the end, whatever happens. When the girl’s bright, red-rimmed eyes make contact with my own, I feel like crying.

Hoodoo steps forward, a thick book in his hands. He is wearing a ridiculous white toga that looks suspiciously like a bed sheet. “Are we ready?” he asks, his voice theatrical, thick and lazy as treacle. I can’t even guess at what kind of drugs he has imbibed as a prelude to the invocation, and the stench of cheap whisky rises from him like a coiling miasma.

I cannot speak; cannot move: I merely nod my acquiescence.

Police sirens wail like the damned out in the streets, the vehicles from which they emit charging to crime scenes and domestic disturbances. If only they knew what was going on in this miserable little room—what goes on in other such shuttered rooms across the city, the world. Would Hoodoo and I be jailed for our part in this? Or simply beaten to death in some secret back alley, our blood and sweat spilling into a dirty gutter and spiralling down into the haunted sewer system that Hoodoo knows so well from midnight tours and arcane rites?

As Hoodoo draws level with me, I can see that he sports an erection beneath the toga; I am compelled by the way it seems to twitch in a strange sensual dance. A thought crosses my mind: have I been tricked? Is this ritual simply his way of gratifying certain pleasures that he can only take from underage girls in lonely bedsits at the arse-end of night?

Then he begins to chant as he reads from the book, and I am reminded of the authenticity of what we are doing. And of the things I have seen, conjured and given substance by Hoodoo in middle-class drawing rooms, council estate bedrooms, suburban garages, by the light of a pale, sickly moon.

Hoodoo calls himself a Summoner, because that’s what he does. He summons things. Whatever you want, whatever you need—for the right price—he can give it flesh and make it appear before you like a glimpse of something ripped from your dreams. They say he called the Devil himself into being for a second, standing with clients in a cold northern clearing up near Keswick. A flash, a fleeting image of all that is vile in the world, and then it was gone, leaving behind only a dry, scorched mark on the barren earth. Hoodoo carries a sample of that soil in a phial around his neck, strung from a thick gold chain that has been sullied by the blood of innocents. Or so he says. Frankly, I take none of his boasts as gospel; I suspect he makes it all up as he goes along, as he does his cheap street magic.

I first met Hoodoo three years ago, back when he would perform card tricks on an upturned wooden crate outside the café I owned in West London. He would come in for black coffee during breaks in his performances, and practice his sleight-of-hand routine on the thick glass counter above the pastries and pre-packed sandwiches. I gravitated towards him like a planet to a burning sun, and he showed me things that I’d never even imagined existed in the world. Then, after my fourteen-year-old daughter was killed by an unknown assailant on her way home from a friend’s house one autumn evening, I was pulled into his orbit again by my deep grief—and it was only a matter of time before I asked him to perform a summoning.

The girl starts to sob again. The sound is quiet, barely even registering over Hoodoo’s low chanting. She doesn’t even look like my daughter, but Hoodoo says that it doesn’t matter; he tells me she is simply a substitute, and when the real thing is summoned this other will be seared from existence in the heat of the transfer. Nothing will remain of her, he says, but the ashes of her soul.

Hoodoo starts to walk slowly around the room, lighting the small black candles that sit at each corner of the perfectly square space. As he dips his head, those thick red dreadlocks hang down and obscure his androgynous features. His skin is a subtle shade of coffee, yet he has the delicate features of a Caucasian female. If he were in fact a woman, he would be beautiful.

His chanting grows almost imperceptibly louder, and he moves to the center of the room. It is all I can do not to look away as he lifts his soiled white garment, and squats on the floor to defecate. The smell, when it comes, is strong, animal in its intensity. When he is done, Hoodoo squirts lighter fluid onto the firm stool, and then sets fire to it using yet another chunky black candle—he says that these are made from the fat of deformed calves born a year ago in a barn in Bedfordshire. Again, I take his words with a pinch of salt.

“Did you cleanse yourself before entering the place of summoning?” he says, turning to me in the liquid glow that pools like amber in the hollows of his face. “Did you bathe, as I asked?”

“Yes,” I reply, my voice barely even audible; the atmosphere in the room is thick, teeming with something indefinable. “Yes, I washed in a bath filled with salted spring water, and then burned the clothes I’d been wearing.”

“Good.” And he smiles, little white teeth like those of a shark, black eyes blazing.

The substitute daughter has stopped crying. I think she realizes that there is no more use for tears here; she is much more mature than her years. I think of my dead daughter, of her thin face as she lay in the open casket, a white satin shroud hiding her ravaged body. I wish now that I had kissed her lips one final time—perhaps if I had done so none of this would be necessary.

Ifs. Buts. Maybes. It’s all just water flowing into a sea of missed chances, badly timed opportunities. Emotional waste, as Hoodoo likes to call it.

“Turn it on,” he says, not looking at me, staring only at the girl.

I pick the remote control handset up off the floor and point it at the television that sits in the corner opposite the girl. Silent videotaped images of atrocities flare up on the dull screen…inverted people, legs bound tightly in wire, submerged in water-filled steel barrels that are then beaten with big sticks…a screaming man with electrodes attached to his genitals…a Taliban execution in a huge empty football stadium, the sobbing female victim circled by flat-bed trucks, men hanging from the vehicles and jeering as another burly male figure lifts a massive sword above the woman’s exposed neck…

Torture; mutilation; nasty, grubby death. Evil in all its banality.

The girl watches with an expression of utter dread as the tape unspools before her deep brown eyes. The fiery turd sparks and its stench intensifies. I feel sick, defiled. Swallowing bile, I turn to watch Hoodoo as he completes the summoning.

He picks up a large glass jar from the splintered windowsill above the radiator, the girl flinching away from him as far as her bonds allow as he stands over her. He places his fingers in the jar, and then smears the contents across the girl’s face, muddying the places that her weeping had cleaned.

“What’s in the jar?” I can’t help but ask.

“Mud. Blood. Shit. Semen. The building blocks of a homunculus, a Sorcerer’s slave.  These base ingredients are also required in this particular kind of summoning.”

The girl tries to avert her face, but Hoodoo stills her with a glance. His eyes are like lasers in the gloom.

This done, he resumes his low chanting, and performs a peculiar circular little dance step directly in front of the terrified girl. I can hear the building creaking, bricks and timbers settling and cracking: it is as if the very fabric of the place is straining against something. Is this it? The summoning?

Hoodoo returns his attention to the substitute, and draws invisible shapes with his hands in the air; she stares at the gaps between his flying fingers, mesmerized by whatever she sees there.

It could be an illusion caused by the lambent light cast by those squat candles, but the girl’s face seems to swell, as if there is a pressure being exerted from within her head. Then, just as I notice it, the effect has gone.

The candle flames flicker wildly, and then extinguish themselves one by one. Hoodoo raises his hands to the ceiling, staring beyond the plaster and the ruined Artex pattern.

Something brittle and vague as a whisper moves through the small room and passes on without pause. It leaves in its wake a rarified atmosphere, a sense of something other having been here. Ectoplasmic leavings quiver at the apex of walls and ceiling, fading to nothing as I watch.

Hoodoo’s gown billows, as if a strong draught has risen from below, and he tips back his head in some form of ecstasy.

Then all is as it had been before and we are simply two middle-aged men and a half-naked teenage girl in a dusty room above an empty Indian restaurant. The Summoner retreats to a corner with his jar, faces the wall and begins to mumble to himself; the girl sits like a statue, not even blinking.

“Is that it?” I demand. “Is it over? Where’s my daughter, my Patty?”

“We failed,” is all he can say, still staring at the wall and rocking on his heels.

But we didn’t fail; I know it. I can feel it as I look at the girl, at her bright green eyes. Those eyes were brown when I entered the room; now they are the shade of burnished emeralds, and they are on fire.

Hoodoo kicks over the smoking black candles, scattering scented smoke around the room. His boots are loud on the floor; his anger is apparent in his posture.

“We have to go. Finish this. Dispose of the substitute.” With this he points at the girl, and I realize that he intends to kill her—or, perhaps, to force me to do so.

She is unresisting as we drag her down the stairs, a gray blanket thrown over her nudity. Those dragon-green eyes stare dreamily at nothing, and a tiny smile hangs from her lips like a picked scab.

Once in the car, we head out of the city. Hoodoo knows a place, he tells me; a lonely patch of woodland where one can lose a body. As he drives, I glance at the girl in the rearview mirror. She sits in the back with her feet up on the worn leather upholstery, looking out at the dark night sky. Those eyes unnerve me deeply, but for some reason I cannot bring myself to point them out to Hoodoo.

The invocation was not a failure. We summoned something, but it was the wrong something. My murdered daughter still dances across the cosmos, her disembodied soul wailing for substance. But something else sits in this girl with the green-fire eyes, and it watches and waits as the car cuts through the night like a blade.

Hoodoo turns on the car stereo: a classical station. Mozart fills my head, but not my heart. Suddenly, like a premonition of rain, I know that one of us will not survive this night.

Curled between shadows on the stained back seat, the girl suddenly begins to giggle.


“Go to his temple, invocate his aid”
Samson Agonistes
-John Milton

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