Friday, May 25, 2007

The Ritual Itself.

I can’t really explain why I went through with the ritual, once I’d seen what was really to be done. It’s one of those things you do, like a petty theft or a sleazy thought, but you don’t want to have to talk about it afterwards – it made sense at that moment, but hindsight’s like the Gestapo. Why didn’t I just get up and tell them all to grow up or shut up and wise up? Why didn’t I just go round to Geoff’s after work one day and smash him in the legs with a hammer until he told me what I wanted to know? I wish now that I was the sort of person who’d do that, but I guess I’m the sort of person who believes the only options are the ones they’ve been told about. And it’s easy to be sceptical, here in Sheffield. There’s an effect though, of becoming so used to the insanity of others that it becomes the normal world, and being normal means it becomes defensible. I’d spent so much time with the group, whatever the situation they’d put me in was half-obvious, because it had the momentum of all that preceded it.

There was also a momentum in my state of mind that night. Feeling like the hero, because I’d saved Sebastian from the ritual, I couldn’t then back out. The blonde was reciting his opening words again, confirming the solemnity of the ritual: “The quest that has existed since consciousness dawned, to split or unite the body and soul, is here subverted. We rewrite the contract that exists between the two halves of our existence.” I remember this bit, because it’s the closest I ever got to what their master must have told them. “All acts of betrayal will be met with torment and hopelessness.” He went on to list specific tortures. I gather it owed a lot to the masons.

While he spoke, I wiped the blood off the knife with my robe, and then held it over the candle flame. I can’t pretend that this sterilised it or anything, because the candle blackened and dirtied the blade, but it made me feel better at the time. I drew the dagger up the inside of my arm, to match the cut on the blonde, not only cutting me but burning me. The pain is sort of funny now – my whole body sending waves of panic to try and stop me doing what I was doing, while I looked on, oddly detached from the blood that now trickled into the wooden bowl.

The blonde prompted me to speak the opening vows, which I’d memorised: “I forswear my mother, my father, my friends, and all former loyalties. I forswear the pleasures of the flesh: vanity, lust, and gluttony. I forswear love, and cowardice. I forswear justice.”

I spoke these words like they were instructions for assembly – any impression of passion came from the pain in my arm, and my disgust as the blonde toasted the vows by drinking his blood. I had then to do the same, but only raised the bowl to my lips, staining them. Then we swapped over bowls, and I did the same, not even able to taste what I’d done. But then the blonde took the two bowls and mixed the two bloods, swirling them together. He divided two equal measures again, and drained his half. Despite what this sounds like now, I’m not entirely stupid, I know enough to be worried about disease, but I’d heard somewhere that the stomach can deal with all sorts of infections. I’ve read since that I was massively misinformed, especially dealing with a group that shares blood at every weekend, but again I was caught up by the momentum of events, so I tipped back the bowl, the blood was already clotting into knotty strings and lumps. It should probably go at the top of a list of stupid things that I’ve done.

I felt sick. The blonde smiled, and reminded me to deliver the closing vows. A little breathlessly I said: “I embrace the laws of cunning and strength. I embrace surrender. I embrace the knowledge of the body: pride, possession and hunger. I embrace the life beyond life.”

I was confused by these last words, and I said them again. My words were slurred. I would have tried a third time, but the blonde was telling me something. His face was all his mouth was all his teeth. I didn’t get it. My hand was lifted up and placed over the candle flame, just as the blonde was doing. The burn on my palm woke me up for a second, and I wondered if I felt so weak because of the loss of blood, but we’d not bled that much yet. Distracted by this train of thought, I forgot to move my hand away from the candle, and that’s when I realised I’d been drugged. Too late. I was already falling sideways.

They left me there, which confused me. I thought I was supposed to be special, so why was the blonde taking Sebastian to one side? They were shaking hands, and the blonde presented him with a piece of paper. I was dimly aware that Sebastian had climbed up and out of the room without me, when I was propped back up, and the group all moved round one place, so that the ritual could be performed again.


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