Chapter 1

“I sung of Chaos and Eternal Nightt

Taught by the heav’nly Muse to venture down

The dark descent, and up to reascend…”

― John Milton, Paradise Lost

“I can’t believe you dragged me here on a Saturday morning.”

Silas Cromwell adjusted his round golden spectacles and tried his best to repress the flare of annoyance at his sulking best friend. Keenan slumped in the uncomfortable folding chair beside him.

His cheeks flushed in embarrassment at the disapproval stares all around him and nudged Keenan. They were both out of place in this crowd.

They were the only hint of melanin in a crowd of wealthy white people.

“Can you get up?” Silas hissed. He nudged his pristine oxfords into Keenan’s ripped jeans.

Silas turned to see a woman narrowing her eyes at him, securing her purse as if they both going to snatch it.

Keenan groaned and sat up.

“You owe me for this.” He smoothes back his long black hair that was tied into a bun showing off his stylish fade uncut. Keenan with his sepia brown color skin, dark eyes, handsome face, and lean muscular body always turned heads wherever he went.

“We had a deal.”

Keenan huffed, “I thought you would hit it off with Lamar.”

Silas shook his head, “You were wrong. Face it, you are a horrible matchmaker.”

“What wrong with my cousin?”

Silas glanced away and out on to the empty makeshift stage. He didn’t see the auctioneer. With a sigh, Silas thought about that disastrous date last Friday.

Lamar was nice, just like Keenan he was gorgeous and looked like he walked right off of one of those Calvin Klein ads that had fueled more than a few of his teenage indiscretions.

But at the end of the night, when Lamar kissed him he had felt nothing.

Silas peered back at Keenan, trying to find an acceptable way to tell his best friend that it was just never going to happen with his cousin.

All he could do was shrug.

Keenan nudged Silas, “You need to get laid.”

Silas hissed. “Keenan.”

“It’s true,” His best friend threw up his hands. “When is the last time you—”

Silas blushed, “None of your business.”

You are not ninety years old,” Keenan scoffed. “Even though you dress like it.”

Silas did not pout, he was way too dignified for it, but he looked down at his clothing. He wore a Seafoam green cashmere sweater over a sharply pressed white button-down shirt, black pants, and sensible leather loafers. The sweater was his favorite top, and it contrasted nicely with his dark mahogany skin.

“I am perfectly acceptable.”

Keenan snorted.

“I don’t need your help. I am perfectly acceptable.”

“Yeah, I don’t—”

The gravel came down with a heavy smack. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Mackintosh estate auction.”

There was a round of applause.

Silas leaned forward, interested, as they placed items on the table next to the auctioneer. There was a vase, a George L.K. Morris painting, a beautiful gold and onyx necklace that he bid on and lost. All the while, Keenan was typing on his phone, most likely talking to his latest paramour.

He picked up a few items here or there: a gorgeous Noritake Belfort dish set, a butler desk dresser, and a vintage lithograph.

They would all sell at a good price, but there was still not a lot to get excited about.

Again, the auctioneer smacked the gravel on to the podium. Silas abruptly spotted a glint of gold. There was a man making his way to the podium, cradling a book in his arms.

His breath caught, and his heart sped up. It was a thick tome with red leather binding a golden symbol on the cover, secured by two gold buckles. It was in a word: exquisite.

“You okay, dude?” Keenan whispered in his ear, but Silas nodded, but his entire attention was on the tome as the man laid it cautiously on a nearby table.

“We have a special treat for you this morning.” The Auctioneer said. “The grimoire of the famous 18th-century witch Thomas Moreland.”

A hush spread across the room.

“What’s so special about that dusty old book,” Keenan asked.

“Thomas Moreland was an infamous 18th century English spiritualist. Herbalist, Scholar, and even spy during the Crimean War,” Silas excitedly, explained. “No one knew what happened to his grimoire, and I thought it was lost but he gestured towards it.

This was such a find, and Silas knew it. The grimoire should be in the National Museum in London, but there it was, mere feet away from his hands. He licked his lips, his groin tightening in his pants. A flush that crept across Silas’s cheeks.

“Ridiculous,” Silas muttered to himself.

“We are starting at $5,000.” The auctioneer said. “Is anyone buying at $5,000?”

Silas had a firm budget and despite having the means to splurge on the grimoire. He was so tempted to buy it. But no, he was going to stay firm. There were certainly cheaper pieces to buy. Then the old woman who had glared at them earlier raises her hand.

“$5,000 to the lady in the blue shirt.”

“$10,000!” The auctioneer called. “Do we have $10,000?”

To his utter astonishment, Silas found his arm shooting up in the air.

“10,000 from the woman in the blue shirt.”

Another hush ran through the room and the woman threw a glare at him, cutting enough to injure, and raised her hand.

“15,000.”

The bidding war was fast and fierce. Keenan kept trying to stop him, shaking him, but Silas was determined to own this book and he could not lose. His hand rose again and again as the price crept from doable to ludicrous in so short of time that it felt whiplash.

The gavel slammed down, and the auctioneer pointed to Silas, “SOLD! To the man in the glasses.”

“What the hell, man?”

Silas just turned and blinked at his friend as his competition for the grimoire huffed shot him another venomous stare, shot out of her chair, and marched out of the room with a huff.

Silas didn’t know what to say. He just paid a small fortune for Thomas Moreland’s grimoire, and he couldn’t help but feel strangely satisfied.

*********

Excited about his new acquisition, Silas ended up cutting his outing with Keenan short. He grimaced, suddenly overcome with guilt. Keenan had gotten up ludicrously early to go to the auction with him because he knew Silas would be uncomfortable being the only black man there

“I’ll make it up to him,” Silas swore to himself as he drove across town to his quaint two-story colonial home in North Philadelphia. His gaze went to the grimoire that was wrapped in a brown paper wrapping sitting in the passenger’s seat. There was an irritated honk from the car behind him and Silas realized that the light was now green. He threw a sheepish look through the rearview mirror and put his full attention on the road. Silas knew that he needed to go back to his antique store.

Silas’s assistant Effie would be all alone at the shop. He would message her and take the rest of the day off. They didn’t have any appointments and the store can stand to be closed for half a day.

Finally, Silas was turning on to the corner on to his street. It was picturesque with stately homes with neat manicured lawns and gardens. He shivered as he got of the car. The cool fall wind cutting through his thin peacoat as he hurried up the brief steps. His Leather loafers were crunching on the yellow, red, and brown leaves as he made his way up to the front door. There was a loud yawel and with a put-upon sigh Silas opened the door. He snatched up the white ball of fluff that tried to desperately escape.

Silas rolled his eyes. “Pearle, I told you once, I told you a million times: you can’t go outside.”

He winced as the cat dug her sharp claws into his arm in retaliation.

With another defeated sigh, he stroked the fluffy white Persian cat once. Silas managed to pry her claws out of his skin and shut her into the downstairs bathroom. He flinched at the ear-splitting yowl as she angrily scratched at the door.

Silas just knew that he was going to pay for this, presumably in the form of her defecating in one of his expensive shoes.

Sighing, he went back out to the car to carry in his purchases. One by one, he put the grimoire and the rest of his new purchases safely downstairs in his basement workshop.

When he finally released Pearle from her makeshift prison, she practically flew past him in ball of angry fluff and right into the kitchen to stand pointedly next to her food bowl. Grey eyes glowered up at him menacingly.

With Pearle fed, Silas was relieved that he could finally have some alone time with the grimoire. He winced at his choice of words, remembering his own ridiculous reaction at the auction.

Silas shook his head as he again made his way back down into his basement.

Any remaining tension from the auction seemed to melt away at the familiar musty smell. The basement stretched across the entire width of the house. The walls were lined with bookshelves, full of his precious first editions and ancient leather-bound tomes. A half-finished tapestry on a giant wooden weaving loom that sat on a round table. Various spindles of yarn sat in a woven basket, a sewing kit sitting right next to it. Beside the loom, was actual spinning wheel shoved in the corner next to a stool.

He walked to the other side of the room where his home office was. A massive 18th-century French desk made of sleek brown walnut stood in front of one of the bookshelves. The desk was tidy, his mac book pushed aside to make room for wrapped grimoire, his papers and other research books stacked meticulously beside it.

Flicking on the lamp, he slid a pair of latex gloves on. Silas wanted to make sure not to damage the grimoire’s fragile pages. He carefully unwrapped the book. Silas’s fingers touched the embossed symbol. Close as he was, Silas could see now the design of the cover was more intricate than he first thought.

There was a rune of some sort, swirly lines connecting to a single point of a center line.

Silas couldn’t be certain without further analysis, but he was pretty sure it was real gold. He opened the buckles, the first page inked with that same symbol now in black and white.

Despite the book being billed as a grimoire, it was a mixture of journal entries from Thomas Moreland’s travels around the world, and his case files as a spiritualist. It was fascinating to read, For Silas, it was as if he was re-reading from one of his prized copies of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or ‘The Haunting of Hill House’.

Moreland reunited people with the ghosts of their loved ones, solved mysteries, and battled monsters. If this was all to be believed, the rumors of the man had barely scratched the surface of Moreland’s life.

The further he got through the book, the personal accounts were replaced with spells, herbal remedies, and plant lore, and towards the end were various invocations of gods, angels, and to his utter surprise demons.

His fingers stilled on an elaborate sketch of a grotesque being with long black horns and a tail. Below it was the headline: “Bazaduil, the Defiler, one of the seven princes of Hell.” Under the illustration, there was a tiny string of Latin.

He manipulated his magnifying glass, so it can hover over the words, silently mouthing along until the translation was made clear in his mind. The words slipped easily from his lips, even though he barely knew the language. His normal struggle with the pronunciation completely gone.

As Silas read, time seemed to stretch on. The world faded away, A drop of sweat fell on the page and Silas frowned down at the stain. He took out his embroidered handkerchief and dabbed his forehead. His nose flared as he smelt the sharp acrid smell of sulfur.

“Did I turn up the heater?”

Silas spun around his vision blurring. Abruptly, his clothing was too tight. The usual soft cotton of his shirt was rough and scratchy against his skin. His wool trousers rubbing uncomfortably against him. Silas moaned as he brushed against the shape of his swollen member taut against the fabric.

“What?” He asked because Silas typically kept his more private activities to his bedroom.

He glanced up at the stairs. They were too far away, too much of an effort to climb. Instead, as if he had no control over his fingers, he was stripping out of his clothes, uncharacteristically throwing them onto the floor.

He sat in his comfortable office chair; the leather was cool against his skin. Silas sighed as he wrapped his hands around his aching length.

“What the hell am I doing?” Eventually, that thought faded away as his mind gave way to pleasure.