The Ritual by Mary Ann Bernal
Summary:The Ritual is a story about an impressionable young woman’s initiation into a modern-day pagan sect on All Hallows’ Eve in a mausoleum. She becomes terrified when she witnesses the first initiation amidst a raging storm and flees for her life, but will she survive the tempest?
Loud rolls of thunder shook the earth, bright flashes of lightning streaking across the darkened sky as fierce winds battered the countryside. Swollen storm clouds hovered menacingly above the cemetery, threatening the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve.
The small crowd had gathered in the old section of the graveyard where the mausoleums of the city’s once eminent families still stood, long forgotten by their descendants and falling into disrepair. Statues of angels protected most of the marble and stone structures, their sightless eyes watching every move. However, two buildings were bereft of religious connotation and the inscriptions above the doors were difficult to read. Yet the family names were well known to the men and women who were waiting patiently for the high priest to arrive.
Ashley held onto Kent’s arm tightly, standing firmly against the wind gusts that toppled the nearby treetops and scattered the fallen leaves while glancing at the neglected tomb where her ancestors rested. She was proud to be a Raven just as Kent was proud to be a Wolf, their lineage tracing back to the ancient Celts. She envisioned the ancient rituals in her mind’s eye, smiling when she remembered being married to Kent. However, when she thought about her own initiation she was overcome with fear, recalling her terror when the high priest placed her naked upon the altar. She had tried to be brave for Kent, not wishing to embarrass him before his friends, but she could not control her tears. She had kept her eyes closed when they prayed above her, their hands perilously close to her exposed flesh. She remembered being relieved when the initiation was over, but she also remembered her anger when Kent had chastised her for crying and for her misplaced modesty.
Two new members would be initiated this night, but only Devona mattered, and Devona had no knowledge of what the ritual entailed. Ashley wanted to tell Devona so she would not be afraid but Kent had forbidden it, reminding her of the punishment she would suffer once the high priest learned of her meddling.
Devona and Ashley met at the Laundromat, and they quickly became friends. Devona was a country girl, having moved to the city recently to perform on stage, but the play closed within a week and Devona needed a job. Ashley found her a position in her law firm where she had met Bronson Wolf, and it was Bronson who had introduced her to their religious beliefs.
The high priest and his assistants walked solemnly through the crumbling gate as the thunder and lightning intensified. He opened the entrance to the Wolf mausoleum, entering quickly with his followers not far behind just as a heavy rain began to pummel the earth. Once the fire was lit, one of the assistants closed the door, sealing them in.
The group encircled a stone coffin that had been placed in the center of the small building that was being used for an altar that was covered with flaming candles. Incense burned in a bronze offering bowl, the billowing smoke filtering through the air. The assistants kept their heads covered, their black garments blending well in the darkened room, their piercing eyes glaring menacingly at Ashley, or so she thought.
Ashley grasped Devona’s hand, squeezing her fingers reassuringly, mouthing words of comfort while noticing beads of sweat dripping down the side of her face. She would have said something, believing Devona wanted to leave, but the high priest raised his hands above him, chanting the offertory prayers loudly to be heard over the thunder. The ritual had begun.