I saw the job listing taped to a lamppost at Land’s End. It seemed like a strange place for an ad, but I figured they must be trying to catch people at their lowest, right before they jumped off the cliffs. And I was definitely at my lowest. After four months of unemployment, I was about ready to apply for a job in telesales. So, when I saw the flyer that read “Human Sacrifice urgently needed. £12 an hour”, I couldn’t believe my luck. £12 is way above minimum wage.
I wasn’t a jumper though. At least, I wasn’t when I arrived at Land’s End. I’d spent the last of my savings on a trip down to Cornwall. It wasn’t a holiday–when you’re unemployed you don’t get holidays. –I just had to get away from London. The frantic violence of the city was making me sick. It’s the plastic in the water, the diesel in the air– they seep into your brain like a thick noxious sludge. The sprawling grey slabs grow inside you. They make you frantic and violent too. I needed them cut out of me.
That’s why I went to Cornwall. It’s isolated and wild, and the only part of England the Angles never got to. I wanted to be with my island’s native Celts. I thought they might be able to cure me.
‘Land’s End was my first stop. I’d always wanted to see the most westerly point in England. The weather that day was perfect: cloudy and drizzly. I pictured myself standing atop the cliffs, wreathed in mist, at the edge of the world–the last romantic offering of an undead age. But when I arrived, I realised that this wouldn’t be possible, because the bastards have built a hotel there instead.
Not just a hotel, a whole fucking theme park. I couldn’t believe how they’d reduced the cliffs to a wasteland of tarmac, complete with a small town of gift shops, hot dog stands, and, inexplicably, a 4D interactive Star Wars adventure. I decided to stick with three dimensions and went straight for the cliffs. All I wanted was to feel an unpolluted sea breeze on my face. Of course, you had to wait in line for that too.
The horde of tourists queueing to pay £5 for their special Land’s End selfie made my stomach turn. Then, to make matters worse, a puffin started talking to me.
“Caw! Hiya, mister. I’m Perry the Land’s End puffin! What’s your name?” he asked.
“Uh, Ted,” I answered.
“Hiya, Ted. The midday laser show is starting in ten minutes!” he said. “It’s going to be eggcellent!”
I felt bad for the poor guy, stuck in a bird costume every day, getting paid minimum wage. Not bad enough to go to a laser show though.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Want a picture with me, Perry the Puffin?” He went on. “Printouts included for £10.”
“Do puffins even live here?” I snapped.
He cocked his head. Through the plastic mask, pained eyes stared at me.
“Caw! I’m Perry, the Land’s End puffin,” he repeated. “It’s been a pl-egg-sure meeting you!”
I walked back to the car without having seen the end of the land. It didn’t matter. I had seen man’s end and that was enough. So, when I spotted the ad, it was a light in the darkness. Perhaps my body could be payment for our sins.’
‘Of course, I had my doubts. Sure, the job gets a lot of negative press, but think about it: you only ever hear from the bad human sacrifices.
The ad also specified that the ritual involved “unimaginable pain,” but so do most conversations with my parents about “what I’m doing with my life.” At least now I could say I was doing something with my death. And besides, I’ve always had this lingering suspicion that I probably deserve unimaginable pain. I’m not a bad guy, but I am quite pathetic. Maybe if I had experienced some unimaginable pain earlier in life, I wouldn’t have this overwhelming sense of self-loathing and shame. Or, at least, I might have slightly less.
Anyway, I sent off my CV that evening and they replied the very next day! Apparently, they needed to fill the role in time for Samhain. I was a bit annoyed when they said I’d have to do a group interview, but then I remembered they were looking to see who could endure the most pain and suffering. That must be why they held it over Zoom.
It was me and one other guy on the call. The interviewer was a friendly woman named Linda, a typical HR type: glasses, blonde bun, the works. The other guy was useless, but I had all the right answers. I said my favourite film was The Wickerman, that my hero was Bern Brandes (that German who volunteered to be cannibalised), and I even talked about my love of Doctor Who, just in case they were looking for a virgin.
An hour later, I’d got the job! That was on the 30th, so I only had half a day to say goodbye to my life. I was done by dinnertime.’
‘The ritual wasn’t until sundown, but I had to check out of the hotel at eleven. After that, I sort of drove around aimlessly. I felt like I should probably be making the most of the last hours of my life–eating good food, savouring the sunshine on my face, sleeping with a beautiful person, but I’ve never been good at those sorts of things. They make me feel guilty. I did try Tinder, but that just made me glad I was about to die. In the end, I just sat in my car eating a multi-pack of cheese and onion crisps.
The address I’d been given was located further inland, in the Cornish hills. A thick fog set in as the day wore on, quickly consuming the narrow road ahead. I found myself driving extra slowly around the sharp corners, as if I was delivering a priceless parcel. My body finally had value; I couldn’t depreciate it now.
As I drove, my muscles tensed and twitched. The thought of being damaged made my skin tingle. Since they’d offered me the job, I’d found myself more aware than ever of how wrong this all felt. Being in this body, this mind, this place. And now I had an alternative, I could feel it, like a caustic poison in my chest, coursing through my veins, burning my skin. The impotence. The sickness. The rage. I dug my fingernails into the steering wheel until they broke through the rubber. This ritual couldn’t begin soon enough. Being was becoming unbearable.
The sat nav took me onto a road atop the hills. By now the light was turning dim and grey. The sky was overcast. Atop the hills, it felt like I was inches from the sky. Finally, I spotted a small stone sign that read: “Fairy Glen, 100 yards.”’
‘As per their instructions, I followed a path out of a layby and clambered over a gate. It brought me to a meadow enclosed by a tall hedge. The grass was thick and sprinkled with daisies. Empty fields, devoid of life, rose and fell over the neighbouring hills. The air was still and silent. At the top of the meadow, figures stood in the mist. I could tell they were waiting for me.
I gave a friendly wave, but they didn’t wave back. My mouth went dry. As I got closer, I could see that they wore ragged animal furs. Their faces were strange and twisted, with horns and feathers protruding at odd angles. The figures were arranged in a circle, in between weathered standing stones. They stood as still and as silent as the stones themselves. I passed into the centre of the circle and realised their faces were hidden by grotesque masks. Only their eyes were showing. A woman wielding a large wooden staff approached me.
“Hi Ted, nice to finally meet you in person,” she said.
“Oh, hi Linda.” I tried to hide my shallow breathing, in case they started to doubt my commitment to the role. Mentally, I was still totally down for dying, but my body was having second thoughts.
“Put this on,” she said, pulling a tattered fur loincloth from a Tesco bag-for-life. I couldn’t help but notice that there was also a fur bikini top still at the bottom of the bag.
“Uh, do you want me to wear that as well?”
She shrugged. “That’s up to you.”
“Well, it is pretty cold…” I paused, but quickly went off the idea. I figured I should probably die with a little bit of dignity. “Where should I get changed?”
“Right here,” Linda answered.
I undressed with a frown. Apparently, my dignity was too much to ask for. But I told myself that it was my first day on the job, and I had to be a team player.’
‘When I’d changed, the other figures drew pointed instruments and closed in on me. I thought they might be knives and imagined the ecstasy of a dozen blades carving beautiful patterns out of my pallid, unclean skin. But when one was pressed into my chest, I realised that they were paintbrushes and tattoo needles.
Strong hands held me in place as busy fingers went to work on my body, preparing me. The needles daubed what looked like feathers into my skin, while brushes marked long lines, like a surgeon might on his next patient. Meanwhile, ropes were thrown around my wrists and ankles. They strapped me to a hard wooden board and pulled me taut. I was pinned to the board like a bug on a display, my soft underbelly exposed and defenceless. Pinned so tight I couldn’t squirm.
The sunlight was fading, so they lit torches. The meadow was now bathed in flickering red light. Once the preparations were done, the masked people moved back to their positions in the circle and started to hum. Against my will, my body reacted. It broke out in a sweat. My breathing turned ragged. Their humming turned to chanting as someone entered at the edge of the meadow.
Standing there, in the mist and the moonlight, was a large man wearing a crown of jagged antlers. He walked forward, dragging a large, curved knife through the grass. Shivers ran down my back. Suddenly, the night seemed very cold.
The chanting continued until he reached the centre of the stone circle. Then he raised his arms high. The knife caught the moonlight. All fell silent.
“Brothers and sisters of the endless flight!” the man boomed in a gruff, raspy voice. “At last, on the eve of vengeful spirits and–” he glanced towards me, “in the light of… of… of a blood–wait.” He dropped his arms and turned to Linda. “I thought we’d said we were getting a woman?”
“We tried, your grace,” she replied. “But he was all we could find on such short notice.”
He frowned. “It’s just, I was really expecting a young, beautiful woman.”
“If you want, you can cut my dick off?” I chimed in.
“No, no, it’s fine,” the king sighed. “We’ll make do.”
He wasn’t keen on the idea, but at least I’d shown initiative in his eyes. Employers love that.
“Anyway, as I was saying. On the eve of vengeful spirits and the light of the blood moon, we, the children of the clouds, will cleanse ourselves of these earthly bodies,” he said. At least, he said something like that. I kind of tuned out after a while.
Eventually, he finished his speech and Linda started rattling her wooden staff. The circle moved in with their torches. The king approached me, brandishing his long knife. The hairs on my skin stood up.
“Son of man,” he boomed. “You come to us unclean. You come to us imprisoned. You volunteer yourself for torment so that we might rise?”
I looked at Linda. “Well, no, I’m getting paid, right? I’m not a volunteer.”
“Just say yes,” he growled.
He lifted the knife to my face. The chanting quickened. It was all around me and inside me, like a choir in my skull. I wanted to look the king in his face. I wanted to be the bravest human sacrifice he’d ever hired. But I couldn’t help clenching my eyes shut and crying out as he cut into my skin. Warm blood trickled down my forehead, stinging my eyes.
“Bring the mask.”
Through the bleariness and the blood, I saw hands moving something towards my face. It couldn’t be a mask–the inside was lined with needles, like the jaws of an iron maiden. The king aligned the eye holes with my own. But there was no mouth hole, just a large, square wooden block.
“Wait, what’re you—” I stammered. “Just wait!”
But they weren’t listening. They kept chanting, pushing the needles closer. First, they pricked my forehead.
“No, no, no–”
I cried out as they pushed the needles into my skin, through flesh, hitting bone. The wooden block slipped into my open mouth. It tore the sides. I gagged and choked. It stretched my cheek muscles into the needles, burying them deeper in my face, but I couldn’t scream. I threw my head back. The mask shook a little. I might still get free. But the king steadied it with a large hand, placed over the eye holes, and pressed with all his might. Something cracked. I blacked out.’
‘When I woke up, I was here. Back where I started. But I can still feel the needles in my face. Piercing my mouth. I can’t speak. And they lied. I’m still alive. I’m still sick. They didn’t cure me. They flew away.
I saw them! I saw a flock of birds flying out to sea. I know that was them. Free at last! They trapped me here so they could escape. I can’t escape. I tried to throw myself off the cliff, but I couldn’t do it. They won’t let me!
They made me like this. It’s not a costume. I can’t take it off. It’s my skin. I know it sounds crazy, but you’ve got to help me. Get someone. Cut me out of this. Or kill me. I don’t care, just let me go. Please–’
The American tourist interrupts me.
“I told you, I don’t care about the laser show. I just want to know where the toilets are.’
“Caw! The toilets are in block C. Be egg-stra sure to wash your feathers! Caw!”
The tourist shakes his head and walks away. Within the puffin mask, I try and use my eyes to scream.