It began in darkness. In a salt circle, on the floor, sigils were drawn. A certain arrangement of numbers and planetary signs was made, suitable to the purpose. Within the circle, a pentagram; within the pentagram, a triangle; within the triangle, the most forbidden tool of the summoner’s art, a black mirror. It gleamed with reflected candlelight, like a fragment of the starry void; an unholy portal, a hole punched through the fragile skin of our reality, a gate opened to the unthinkable, allowing the thousands of Hells beneath our world to seethe through.
You can make your own black mirror at home, by the way. It’s easy. If you read to the end of this, I’ll give you the instructions.
The room of the ceremony was pitch-black and clouded with smoke. In its center, huddled over the light of a black candle, were the summoners: A pale, frightened girl and a boy with a knife in his hand.
The girl was almost disturbingly normal: Suburban white girl, standard-order, like a composite sketch of every model who had ever been featured in a DeLiA’s catalogue, or a computer-generated image of the exact median audience member at Lilith Fair. The only thing standing between her and total anonymity were her glasses, which were plastic, and unflattering, and which she had been wearing, in progressively larger but still basically identical models, since third grade. She was blonde as a girl on a German beer label, with a soft, round face that still belonged to a child, and if you saw her in that circle, you would worry for her: What’s a nice kid like you doing in a Satanic ritual like this, you’d wonder, assuming she’d been pressured into this hellish perversity. That impression would be wrong. This girl is the most dangerous person in the story. Nonetheless, it is what you’d think.
The second summoner, you’d worry about for different reasons. He was a skinny, wiry boy, all sharp angles, but handsome, with wild black hair and large dark eyes that glittered with quiet anger. He missed nothing, this boy, and he forgave nothing; fools on his watch were not suffered. His face was sharp and gaunt, the skull’s shape visible beneath the skin; his eye sockets were hollowed out with eyeliner that went past “emo” and on into “missing member of a KISS tribute band.” His eyes glittered with quiet anger, unless I’ve said that already, and also with quiet intelligence. His hair was super rad. He was handsome.
Oh, all right, you got me. That one’s me. This was me, age 18 years old, still very deep in my Goth phase. The blonde is my best friend Jenny. My hair was gigantic. I still haven’t found a cool way to describe my eyeliner. There was nothing cool about that eyeliner; it was a tragic mistake that marred my childhood. But I loved it, at the time, and you’re going to find out more embarrassing things about me eventually, so please just accept it for what it was. Pencil me into your mind, gentle reader. Give me eyeliner you can forgive. Make me handsome.
“Omphagor, seventh of Hell’s seven Generals, Fiend who givs’t glory,” the boy (I) intoned. “In thy name we gather, that thou mays’t arise.”
I was working the ritual from memory; tracing my tongue along the curls of its strange, dangerous language. I’d spent hours learning the script—pacing back and forth in my bedroom all semester long with the pages I’d Xeroxed from an old library book, until it was so much a part of me that I sometimes woke up mumbling the lines.
“Omphagor, bringer of Torpor and Confusion,” I said. “Omphagor, who drowns the world.”
I raised the ritual dagger up and drove it, hard, into the floor. As I closed my eyes, I could feel it—the black swoon of magic, raising the hair on my neck, crackling the air around me like static. It could be a placebo effect, I tried to tell myself. I could be willing myself crazy. But it never felt that way. I chanted and let a black door open in my mind. Soon enough, the door in our world opened, too.
I mean. It was my bedroom door. It was my mom, standing at the top of the stairs—my bedroom was, by most people’s definitions, our basement—letting the late afternoon sunlight spill down and wreck our ambiance. But a door did open! So there.
“Girls?” My mother called down the stairs.
Here’s where I stop and explain some things.
I will get this out of the way now, and then we can stop talking about it,* but one thing you should know about me is that I’m trans. That means a lot of people mistook me for a girl until I was in my 20s. People will mistake me for a girl in this story, several times. My friends won’t, because they know me—Jenny over there, she knows me—but in suburban Ohio in the late ’90s, it was dangerous to even be gay. The only thing anyone knew about transgender people came from the end of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in the scene wherein Ace, whose previous life accomplishments included talking through his ass cheeks, threw up because he’d met one. I’m a brave man, but I was not about to subject myself to four years of non-stop Jim-Carrey-inspired violence if I could help it. So that was my situation: Safe people knew, most people didn’t, and I was stuck that way, dangling halfway out of the closet, until college. Fortunately, Goth girls and Goth guys don’t look that different, so I could make myself surprisingly comfortable without anyone noticing. A lot of dudes at our school wore too much eyeliner.
I mean, there was one other dude. His name was Trevor, and he despised me. Trevor spent all his time talking about the distinction between real Goths (him) and mall Goths (me), between real Goth music (the kind from the ’80s) and stuff that was “just, like, heavy metal” (anything I liked). He said the phrase “that 4AD sound” more often than any non-thirtysomething had any right to. He had been on the wrestling team until he bought Disintegration in junior year. He claimed to have gotten high with Damon Zex, this dude who ran an all-Goth public access show, and whose two claims to fame were that he might have inspired an SNL skit and that every single Goth in Columbus claimed to have gotten high with him.** It wasn’t fun to share a subculture with Trevor, nor was it fun to share a gender, but I was already better at both than he was, and once I got out of high school —
Right. Where was I? I’m trans. Let’s move on.
*He’s not going to stop talking about it. — Jenny.
**Claimed! Don’t sue us, Damon! — Jenny
This adapted excerpt of Apocalypse 1999 by Sady Doyle appears by permission of the author. Read an interview with the author here.
Sady Doyle is a feminist, journalist, opinion writer, and the author of three books, including Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy and the Fear of Female Power (Melville House). They live in upstate New York.