This is the altar of our sacrifice
To a host of invisible spirits that are ever voracious
And do not sleep.
- Jane Kampfer, Midnight Invocations (1889)
There was a dead space, out back of the print shop. One of those little places where construction leaves a bit too much room, and it gets paved over and around, closed in by walls. Empty, forgotten, away from the wind. Where a fine layer of dirt might settle in the cracks, and pale green weeds spring up if the weather is right. A good place to have a smoke, or a piss.
Benito laid his charge down by the altar. It wasn't much to look at, really: a handful of bricks, loosely stacked. A tin bowl full of white sand or ash, in which the corroded disks of old pennies were half-buried as offerings. It was set flush against a wall, and the wall itself was tagged with prayers, layered on top of each other night after night until they were almost indistinguishable.
Someday, Benito knew, the owners would take notice. That was how it went. There were no public spaces anymore - but there were absent landlords. The Ways could be practiced, if you were quick and quiet, not in grand cathedrals but in somber 2 AM benedictions, pouring out a cheap beer for the Others to have their sustenance.
When he was a child, Benito had the habit of building altars. Never temples, as such, or sanctums. It liked them to be open, wild. Places that could be found and used by others. Only lately, as the nights wore thin after a long shift, it hadn't been enough. Vandals found some, owners others. All his work, washed away. A deep need came into him, as he stared in the mirror at his thinning hair and growing gut, to leave something behind...a scar on the world...a foundation to build on...to not just build an altar, but to sanctify it.
The charge wiggled, muffled through the burlap sack on his head. Benito studied the altar carefully.
If he moved the bricks, there was just enough room for the skull...
"Ugly," the voice whispered through the darkness like the rattle of dry leaves.
Benito turned slowly, hand grasping the boxcutter.
"Inefficient," this voice was low and sweet as the wind through tall dry grass.
There was nothing there in the dead space, except Benito and his charge. Hairs raised on the back of his neck and arms.
"Amateur," the darkness split off a piece of itself, and it had Benito's face...no, he saw, not quite. The shadows of his face, like the negative image of the man in the moon. A pockmarked ruin, bald and lined, with deep pits for eyes and a gaping hole for a mouth.
The boxcutter sang swift and sure. A ragged scratch spurted scarlet on his own neck. Benito sank to his knees, hand clutched instinctively at the wound.
His charge waggled free. Crawling on all fours, eyes wide and curious. Benito watched the sacrifice pull itself up and toddle away, stubby legs bowed, holding onto one wall for support.
"Cheap, little priest." The dry leaves rattled again.
"You never learned." The wind swept through the grass.
The shadow with the ruined face picked up his discarded boxcutter.
"The only fitting sacrifice for your religion, is yourself."
Benito watched the blade rise against the shadow's own threat. Felt the prick of the steel at the end of the ragged cut on his own fat neck.