The red-orange glow of the bonfires danced across their faces, casting distorted and macabre shadows on the wall behind them. Viktor poked a stick into the flames, watched it char and fall away, reduced to nothing. He relished the heat. Karl was more timid than his brother. He didn’t feel safe near the fire, didn’t feel safe with the group. He could almost believe that, if it wasn’t for his Viktor, they would have him in the fire just like the stick. He wanted to go but had let Viktor talk him into staying, let himself be convinced they were only teasing.
That was an hour ago. The conversation had grown more sinister since.
They’d told the usual ghost stories, trying to outdo one another. Viktor had even mentioned Karl’s obsession with coin tricks and they’d all but forced him to perform a few vanishings. When no one had been able to produce any real coins, he’d used the coin blanks he kept in his pockets for practice.
Then someone had mentioned real magic: demon summoning. They’d laughed but not nearly hard enough nor long enough to allay Karl’s concern.
One of the other boys, Karl couldn’t remember his name but thought of him as ‘Eyebrow’ after the strange piercing he wore there, had produced a moulding, leather tome from his backpack. At first, Karl assumed the boy was going to use it as more fuel for the fire, until he opened it and started to read. Eyebrow’s voice began as little more than a low growl and he’d had wondered if the boy was alright. It wasn’t long before he realised Eyebrow was chanting: foreign words, Italian maybe or possibly Latin. The rest of the group seemed transfixed, even Viktor swayed slightly to the rhythm of the verse.
‘Vik?’ Karl asked, almost a squeak. ‘Are you alright?’
Viktor opened his mouth but didn’t speak. It just hung open. His face slack, eyes rolling back into his head. He stepped forward, crowding Karl. Karl stepped back and bumped into one of the others. They surrounded him, a tight circle with no exit. Each face fixed him with that slack expression. They started to rotate around him: a grotesque carousel.
His heart raced. He’d never thought of himself as claustrophobic until then but the hot press of their bodies made his head swim. He felt woozy, stomach lurched. The circle began to build in speed. He screwed his eyes shut and fell to his knees. He wanted to pray but the words caught in his throat.
There was a crack beneath him. A sound like the earth opening up to swallow him. He smelt smoke and the acrid tang of sulphur.
The chanting ceased. The crowd dispersed.
Karl sat in the centre of the circle. A wide grin fixed on his face. He reached into his pocket and palmed a practice disk. The flat copper cold against his skin.
He opened his hand and revealed a solid gold coin.
Z is for Zagan
Zagan is a demon of counterfeit money in Christian/Judaic scripture. He has the power to change base metals into coins (copper into gold, lead into silver) and water, or oil, into wine.
Walpurgisnacht is celebrated in many Germanic/Slavic parts of Europe on the 30th April and has connections with the ancient Beltane (May Day) festivals. Exactly six months from All Hallows’ Eve, it is seen as a day of great magical significance and was a traditionally a day for sorcerers and witches to meet.