It was hot, excruciatingly so. The red light was so intense that, even with sunglasses on, I had to keep my eyes orientated downwards. I was walking home from work, and had taken a different route than usual, for the sake of minor novelty. The road I was on was unfamiliar, and, even though Newdean was only a small town, I experienced some delight in knowing that there were still parts of it I didn’t know, streets I was yet to tread.
The houses were all tall and terraced, red bricks made bloody by the sunlight as evening approached. I slowed my pace and let my eyes glide over the houses, drinking in unkempt gardens, unwashed windows, guttering that sagged from neglect. If I hadn’t done so, I would have missed the box. It was sat on a low garden wall that barely came up to my waist. It was large, cardboard, and filled with books. Curious, I stopped altogether and looked at the titles.
They were strange, unfamiliar, sometimes awkward, sometimes elegant and suggestive. I didn’t recognise any of the titles or authors, but there was something eminently intriguing about them. I was about to reach in and withdraw one when the door of the house opened. A middle-aged man stepped out, his arms full of boxes.
‘Alright there, mate!’ he shouted. ‘Could you give me a hand with these?’
I went through the gate and took the top two boxes from him. He was visibly struggling with their weight, and the heat only intensified the strain of the work.
‘Where do you want them?’ I asked.
‘Down by the wall, please.’
I obliged, and after we set the boxes down, we shook hands and introduced ourselves.
He gestured towards the house. ‘This was my mum’s place. She passed a couple of weeks ago.’
‘God, sorry to hear that.’
‘Well, these things happen,’ he muttered, sagely. ‘She was an odd one, mum. Into her books, Tarot cards,’ he pronounced the ‘T’ at the end, ‘and all that. Loads of stuff like that cluttering up the house, just trying to shift it all out so we can sell the place. You read at all?’
‘A little. Don’t really have the energy for it after work.’
He looked at the box of books on the wall. ‘To be honest mate, you’d be doing me a favour if you just took them with you. If you wanted to, mind. Doubt they’re worth much and we really just want to get the place sold now.’
I looked at the books again. My curiosity was piqued by the odd covers and the strange names. Something about all of this felt fortuitous, or fated. Departing from my usual route, encountering these books…
He laughed. ‘Please, just take them. You’re doing me a favour, like I said.’
Happily, I took the box of books up. It was surprisingly heavy, but I wasn’t far from my home now. I thanked him, and left.
I was sweating by the time I got to my door. The heat and the weight of the box reminded me how out of shape I was, and my arms were almost ready to drop the box altogether by the time I got home. After negotiating through my front door, I set the box down on the kitchen table with a heavy sigh of relief. I sat down for a moment, until the scratch in my throat forced me to get a glass of water. I guzzled this down quickly, refilled, and repeated.
The sunlight that streamed through the kitchen window was becoming an even deeper red than it was before. The heat formed a fog around me that I had to struggle my way through. I climbed upstairs to my bedroom and changed out of my work clothes into something more comfortable. None of my housemates were home – one was at a wedding, and the other didn’t finish work until nine o’clock most days. So, for a change, the house was mine. It occurred to me that if I wasn’t single, this would be a perfect opportunity to ring someone, invite them round for dinner and, maybe, a movie. But, as it was, the only thing I had to keep me company was the unexpected treasure I’d brought home with me.
I sat back down at the kitchen table, and began taking the books out of the box. The ones on top were all black hardbacks, but as I dived in I found a trove of aged paperbacks. Many of the paperbacks were sky-blue, mostly horror fiction and occult manuals, from a publisher called ‘Dark Thorn’. I took out my phone to look up some of the names. Dark Thorn books were in high demand, apparently, as the vast majority that were published by them had gone out of print with the dissolution of the publishing house in the late 80s.
Dark Thorn had specialised in extreme horror, guidebooks through the world of the occult and supernatural, esoteric manuals, astrological texts, practical instructions on alchemy, and even some avant-garde philosophy (and, apparently, erotica). The selection I had received from the anonymous old woman represented all of these genres. I smiled to myself at the realisation that I could probably sell these for hundreds of pounds in total. My glee was interrupted by a pang of guilt; the old woman’s son had said he didn’t think there was anything valuable in the box, and an only preliminary search of the Internet had revealed that this wasn’t the case. Should I return to the house, tell him he was wrong?
Eventually I concocted a convenient rationalisation about why it really would be for the best if I sold the books, contenting myself that I would donate some of the money to one charitable cause or another. It was only after this that it occurred to me that I might take some pleasure in reading these books. Perhaps not the heavier looking texts on the Hermetic Qabbalah, but perhaps the horror fiction would give me a bit of a thrill. I continued to unload the box, searching out the juiciest title I could find, until I happened upon a slim, red volume. The colour was a bright contrast to the sky-blue of the other books, and grabbed my attention immediately (likely the intention, I thought). I checked, and it was another Dark Thorn book, but on the title page there was a slight difference – it bore the words ‘Part of the Lost Magick Series’.
The title of the book was Blood Songs: Hymns of the Great Solar Mysteries.
The cover illustration was an abstract image of a sunburst, in shinning yellow, at the heart of which was a blood-red dot. It was entrancing. The red dot fixated me, and I had a sudden feeling like I was tipping over, falling into the vortex of light…
I shut my eyes. The sensation stopped. I opened them again, and the mesmeric influence of the cover image seemed to have been dispelled.
Outside, the sun’s light was growing dim, and the red tint thickened.
I convinced myself that the strange experience was due to tiredness and hunger. It had been a long, unusual, and horribly hot day, after all. The prospect of actually cooking for myself was almost more than I could bear, and I considered risking one of Newdean’s terrible take-aways before remembering I’d bought, on impulse, a steak for myself earlier that week. It wasn’t a particularly good cut of meat, but the simplicity of cooking it was very appealing.
To the mockery of my friends when we eat out, I usually insist on having my steak well-done, but when I began to cook it, I only had it on the heat for a few minutes, just enough to sear it. Eschewing any vegetables, I plated it up, and ate it hungrily. The site and taste of the blood gave me an odd, primal delight. I ate the whole thing in a matter of minutes, barely any longer than I’d spent cooking it. I mopped up the juice on my plate with a slice of white bread. The way the blood sank into and spread fascinated me so much I almost resisted eating it. Almost.
My hunger satisfied, I gathered the books together into the box, ensuring that the red book was on top, and lugged them upstairs to my bedroom. I had a small writing desk at the sole window in my room. Sometimes I would just sit there and watch people going back and forth, imagining myself walking with them and sharing their day. Today, the street outside was deserted, as if the intense sunlight had sent everyone scurrying indoors. The window faced west, and the still-sinking sun would soon make looking out of it impossible. I sat down all the same, and placed the red book in front of me. My early intentions of distracting myself with something light and blood-thirsty had disappeared entirely. The prospect of wanting to read anything other than this book simply didn’t occur to me.
I ran my thumb down the side, flicking through the pages idly, heightening my desire to open it fully and immerse myself in it. A sharp pain struck my thumb, and I realised I’d cut myself on the paper. I examined my thumb, and saw that it was bleeding a great deal, far more than you’d expect from such a minor injury. Some of the blood had even made it onto the pages of the book. I sucked my thumb, and it took me a moment to realise that I was enjoying the warm, coppery taste of my own blood. I looked at the book cover. Somehow, the colours seemed more intense, more vibrant than before…
And the spot of my blood on its pages was disappearing.
I looked out the window. The sun had sunk far enough that it was projecting its energy right through my window now. In violation of every ounce of common sense possessed, I stared into it. I felt myself being filled with its light. The blood in my mouth grew warmer, sweeter. I looked down at the book, and opened it.
The words streamed off the pages and into my mind. It spoke of ancient solar cults surviving to the modern day, of the secrets encoded in common religious symbols, of how, in the right conditions, the blood can sing out a song to the sun, and the sun will sing back in return. The words joined the flow of my blood, writing themselves into my body, my muscles and fibres, down to my cells and the ribbons of my DNA. And deeper, deeper still, cutting themselves into the material of my soul.
My blood hummed and vibrated in ecstasy. I’m not sure when it was that I punched my fist through the window, took up a shard of glass and racked it across my skin, but the urge to unleash my blood before the sun was overwhelmingly powerful. The delight I felt in seeing it arc and spray was almost childlike.
Have you ever seen sunlight reflected in blood? I assure you, the experience really is quite rewarding.
My housemate will be home soon. Tomorrow morning, I will introduce him to the solar mysteries encrypted in the rising sun, encrypted in his blood.
I’m sure he will thank me for it.