I Used to Have a Strange Hobby

You are surely too smart to believe in such things as ghost stories.

I bet you'd gladly walk up to a mirror in the dead of night and declare "Bloody Mary" three times without a second thought. I bet the thought of a boogeyman conjures a laugh from you, not a shiver. I'd even be willing to bet that the noises in the night - those bumps, creaks, and groans - don't even cause you a second's thought.

But what if I told you they should?

You see, I think I know you because I used to be just like that. Any reasonable person would be, honestly. What is there to fear in this complex world of technology and science, which puts all our past superstitions to shame? What could possibly escape the huge grasp of what has been explained and documented so tidily in so many studies, packed neatly away in labeled folders?

I was so confident, in fact, that I went out searching for trouble. Any old book that looked spooky or supernatural was promptly read, laughed at, and discarded. If the book happened to have some sort of voodoo magic or demon-summoning ritual, it was all the better; countless nights of mine were spent out in the secluded woods behind my home, drawing pentagrams, lighting candles, or doing whatever those tattered old books promised me would summon the supernatural. Books came and went, full moons and new moons flew by, and slowly my interest in the occult started to wane. While I had never truly expected any results, the sheer effort of performing these so-called rituals had really gotten to me.

That is exactly how I came to be in my current situation. I decided to perform one final ritual before calling it all quits, but I had grown far too tired of the huge circles, bonfires, and strange assortments of ingredients necessitated by my tomes. I remembered that during my "research" I had encountered a tiny book, the cover half ripped off and the lower-right corner of every page slightly blue-colored with mold or mildew. Upon my first read-through, I had found instructions for a ritual to summon some demon thing or another, but the ceremony was so simple compared to the complex rituals I had been smitten with that I had quickly stored the book away. Now, though, that simplicity looked to be a very welcome change, perfect for a brief farewell. Digging through my bookshelves I managed to find the book again; its cover even more torn from the motions of me pulling out books around it, and the corners a slightly darker shade of blue than I remembered. However, it was still readable, and the one-word title written in simple font across the top caused me a moment's pause: Skrimmerjack. Previously I would not have been interested unless the title was something much more sinister, like On Daemons and Their Summoning, but I was growing tired of the dramatics and was looking for a short, simple end to my fun.

Opening up the book revealed much of the same. The pages were written in large font, easily readable, and showed a very short list of how to perform a ceremony to summon the so-called Skrimmerjack. Although to be fair, it didn't actually say to summon them. According to the book, Skrimmerjack are already here, you see. They are the creatures that make the bumps in the night. Whenever you are sitting alone at night and feel a chill, or shudder for no apparent reason, a Skrimmerjack is near. When in small numbers, the book claimed, they can only cause minor annoyances, maybe opening a door you have closed, or moving that one item from that one place that you were SO SURE you had placed it. However, in larger numbers, they are not so powerless. In larger numbers, a Skrimmerjack and its brethren can (and seek to) take over a human host. This, claimed the book, explained demonic possession as well as several other frightening or mysterious occurrences. The final page before the ritual started contained a warning, written in the exact same font, style, and size as all the rest, making it far too easy to be ignored by a careless user. It was short, simple, and to the point:

Warning: Welcoming the Skrimmerjack will call them to your location in great numbers. They may or may not cause problems such as demonic possession, unexplained disappearances, or other disturbing events. They have only one goal; to encourage, beg, mislead, force, or deceive others into performing the Welcoming Ritual as well.

Please proceed with the utmost caution.

Did you laugh? I admit that I laughed. After reading warnings of giant undead monsters being raised from the dead to rip the flesh from my bones, the thought of some minor imps being welcomed into my home didn't even register as an afterthought. The welcoming ritual was laughable as well, containing hardly any steps, no fanciful language, and no complex ingredients, words, or drawings whatsoever. In fact, it was so simple I can still recite the whole thing perfectly by memory, step-by-step.

Rule One: The Welcoming Ritual must be performed alone

That one sure was easy enough for me. As you can probably guess by how much time I dedicated to this I wasn't exactly bombarded with friends asking me to hang out with them

Rule Two: The Welcoming Ritual must be performed at night

At night? Check. That couldn't get any easier for me.

Rule Three: There can be no light, except that illuminating the words of the Welcoming Ritual

This one was slightly tricky for me since I didn't have a flashlight handy. I had plenty of candles, but they were all so small they barely gave enough light to read by. I had to constantly keep an eye on the candle I held to make sure I did not burn the book.

Rule Four: The words of the Welcoming Ritual must be read. They are as follows

Home to home Dark to Dark Now is borne The Welcoming Mark

Again, I had trouble keeping myself from laughing. That was the shortest, most pathetic attempt at a scary poem I had ever come across. The instructions didn't even bother telling me to read it aloud (I did anyway), probably figuring I was embarrassing myself enough as it was without the risk of bothering neighbors. I found myself sitting in an empty, dark room with a tiny candle, squinting to read the steps by the flickering light. I could hardly have asked for a weaker end to my hobby, but at least I had enough awareness to realize it was time to quit. I turned the page on the book and saw the final step, the last occult ritual piece I would ever perform, and read Rule Five. It was very simple.

Rule Five: To finalize the Welcoming, the participant must fully open their mind to the Skrimmerjack. This can be accomplished by shouting, speaking aloud, or reading the word Skrimmerjack at least ten (10) times.

Well, there it was. I quietly spoke "Skrimmerjack" aloud ten times and closed the book, no longer experiencing even the slightest rush of excitement or fear from what I had just performed. In some ways, I missed that adrenaline rush from reading the final word of a poem, and the chills that I felt over my entire body from the slightest sound when I was in this state of hypersensitivity. Now all of those days were behind me. The rushing wind outside sounded more comforting than spooky, and the familiar groans of the house shifting would only help me fall asleep.

But you see, dear reader, this is where I was truly mistaken. As you have surely guessed by now, I am telling you this tale because it had a different ending than all the others. An ending that included me coming face to face with the consequences of my foolish decisions and false bravado… quite a funny thing, seeing as I was so sure of myself the whole way.

And you know what else is a funny thing, reader? So, so many people like to read scary stories alone at night that I can't help but think you would do the same - I certainly did. And at this point, hardly anyone reads from books anymore - everything is read through that nice, illuminated computer screen…

The Welcoming Ritual never said it had to be read aloud.

I truly do appreciate your time, dear reader. Please don't worry about those bumps, creaks, and groans you might start hearing. They'll be over soon enough.

Oh, but silly me, I almost forgot!

Skrimmerjack makes ten.