The camera turns on, showing the face of the man holding it. He wears a hood, and poor lighting obscures his features except for a pointed, stubbly chin.
Cameraman: It’s a few minutes until midnight, and this is our second attempt to summon Astyshkoth.
He fumbles the camera as he turns it around, panning across a circle of torches set up in the desert. Men in hooded robes move around the scene. Two set up an altar in the center while others trace symbols on the ground in a thick, dark liquid.
A coyote approaches the edge of the circle, eyes gleaming in reflected torchlight. One man shouts and waves his arms, scaring it away.
The camera rises, showing a quarter moon in a dark, cloudy sky. When it lowers, the cultists are kneeling in front of the altar.
Cameraman: [in a whisper] We’re about to begin.
A man whose robes have gold lining stands beside the altar.
Cult Leader: Bring out the first sacrifice.
The camera jerks to the right, where a dirty van is parked outside the circle. One cultist pulls open the back door.
[Shrieks and fearful whimpers]
The camera zooms in, showing three women tied up inside. The cultist grabs the closest one and wrenches her to her feet. She stumbles but doesn’t resist. Hunched over, she keeps her head lowered, messy dark hair obscuring her face.
Woman: [mutters inaudibly]
The cultist drags her to the altar and throws her on top of it. He cuts the ropes tying her hands and shoves her arms into place for leather straps mounted to the altar’s surface. Firelight gleams off thick metal bracelets around her wrists, and the cultist tries to pull them off.
The kneeling men shift impatiently. The cult leader crosses his arms.
The cultist curses and fastens the leather straps over the bracelets. Then he rushes to her feet, quickly yanking off her cowboy boots and closing the straps around her ankles. When he finishes, he kneels with the others in front of the altar.
Cult Leader: My brothers, we’ve waited a long time for this night. Everyone here has been cheated. You’re all good men, hard-working men, who should have the respect and importance you deserve. If we lived in simpler times, we wouldn’t need to gather here tonight. We’d have the opportunities that are rightfully ours.
[Murmurs of agreement]
Cult Leader: But that all changes tonight.
He gestures at the woman, who sobs loudly.
Cult Leader: Let us begin.
The cultists chant in an unknown language. The leader ceremoniously washes an ornate knife in a bowl of water atop the altar.
Woman: No. Please, no.
The leader wipes the knife dry with a shimmering cloth. The chanting grows faster, and the flames on the torches flicker in the wind.
Woman: Please don’t. Please—
The leader stops chanting and stares at her.
Woman: Sorry. Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything.
The leader raises his head and rejoins the chant in a loud, booming voice. He lifts the ornate knife into the air and—
Woman: [bursts into laughter]
The cultists look up from their kneeling positions. The chant falters before dying, and everyone stares at the woman.
Woman: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to kill the moment. It’s just— [snorts] Your pronunciation is so god-awful. Seriously, who taught you how to speak the tongues of hell? You should ask for your money back.
Hooded heads turn as the cultists glance at each other.
Cult Leader: Silence!
He backhands the woman.
Cult Leader: You belong to Astyshkoth. Show the proper respect.
The woman moves her jaw as if testing her injury.
Woman: I hate to break it to you, buddy, but Astyshkoth ain’t coming. He probably doesn’t even know you’re calling him. Your chanting was gibberish.
Cult Leader: I said silence!
He raises the knife threateningly.
Fire bursts to life at the head and foot of the altar. The woman jumps up, free from her bonds.
The leader stabs at her, but she grabs his wrist and twists it sharply. There’s an audible crack, and he drops the knife with a cry.
The other cultists shoot to their feet as she punches the leader in the face. They rush forward, shouting.
The woman leaps over the altar and charges them. Flames surround her fists as she strikes them down.
The camera shakes.
Cameraman: Holy shit!
The camera falls to the ground, and rapid footsteps retreat into the distance. The view shows only dark, sandy ground and scraggly bushes.
[Muffled shouts and thuds]
[Silence broken only by gusts of wind]
Male Voice: Wh-What are you doing?
Woman: Giving you a glimpse of what you were trying to summon.
She chants, her voice distorting. Static flickers across the camera. Then fiery light bursts onto the sandy ground and bushes, so bright it takes the camera a second to adjust.
Static overtakes the camera feed, and then it goes black.