Emil sipped a beer at the billiards bar down the street from the apartment as the Thursday afternoon dwindled. It was becoming a ritual: driving back over the hill to NoHo from the studio in West Hollywood, parking the car between the apartment and the bar, buying two beers and losing a round of pool, then walking back, checking Dad’s pulse, jacking off, and off to sleep—only to wake up and head back to work making thankless liquor and snack runs for mildly famous rappers. He was an intern and didn’t see how he’d ever get a chance to play his beats.

Emil was nearing the bottom of his glass, thoughts buzzing with the old TV playing Monday Night Football as he tried to ignore the adjacent ill-conceived Tinder date and a pair of middle-aged men with too much money on the Ravens moneyline when suddenly a familiar, beautiful face appeared in the blue-red neon haze. Piper Hastings was scanning the bar as she waited for a drink. Emil hadn’t seen her since their graduation five years ago, but he never stopped having those daydreams.

She caught Emil’s stare and looked away quickly, just like she used to across their 10th-grade Chemistry classroom when he couldn’t help but glance too far to his left. Emil was ready to be ignored and go home, but then Piper began tilting her head at Emil like she was trying to place him. The words spilled from his lips with more enthusiasm than he’d intended. Tom Brady’s face appeared on the screen behind her, and Emil felt like it was judging him.

“Hey! Piper Hastings!”

Her face didn’t change. She still couldn’t place him.

“It’s Emil; from high school.”

Her eyebrows raised before her head tilted back in recognition.

“Oh my god! Emil Vacho! How are you? Come see everyone!”

To Emil’s relief, everyone did not include Piper’s high school boyfriend, Dylan Trent.

“Dylan’s probably dead.”

To Emil’s evident nerves, his voice cracking like a preteen as he introduced himself, everyone meant all those intimidating, sharp, and entrancing outsider girlcrew Piper had captained in high school: Anna Lumpkins, Molly Kercsh, Grace Zalatas, and Lulu Gomez. Emil returned to the bar and brought a pitcher to break the ice. The girls politely declined—all drinking some sort of clear club soda cocktail that was probably cool and Emil didn’t know about—so he ended up drinking the pitcher himself and getting so drunk it became a game to pretend to be sober.


“Do you play here often?” Piper asked.

“I drink here all the time, but I usually just drink,” he said. “I usually don’t drink this much.”

Piper piteously smiled at Emil as she sank another ball into a corner pocket.

“You’re fine; don’t worry about it,” Piper said.

She was beating Emil in pool for the third game in a row. The rest of the girls had stepped outside for a cigarette what felt like hours ago.

“My dad taught me how to play,” Piper said.

“My dad taught me to drink,” Emil said.

“Didn’t they all.”

As Piper rounded his side of the table to set up a shot, Emil held out his glass, and they cheered. Before they could drink, Piper suddenly grabbed his collar and stretched it down to reveal the cartoon-devil tattoo in all his baby-cheeked, Disneyfied trident-wheeling glory. She stared at it like it was interesting.

“This is sick,” Piper said. “Are you a satanist?”

Emil assumed this was ironic and laughed nervously as she walked away and lined up her shot.

“No, I wish. It’s dumb, I know,” Emil said. “I got it when I turned 18 and, I don’t know, my parents always called me a little devil because I was a little troublemaker—getting detention; watching fucked up shit online—”

“What kinda fucked up videos?” Piper asked.

The cue ricocheted and struck the last striped ball into the corner pocket closest to Emil, but she hit it too hard—the cue rolled and fell behind it into the pocket for a scratch.

“Shit,” Piper said.

“Time for a comeback,” Emil said.

Emil smiled lamely at Piper, who was still awaiting an answer about the online videos. He was really referring to a single event: the one time Brady Blade slept over, and the thirteen-year-old sadist made Emil watch stomach-churning, grainy livestream re-uploads of chainsaw beheadings until his Mom eventually barged in, hearing the screams through the thin walls of the crowded apartment.

“I don’t know, like chainsaw beheadings; thieves being burned alive—that sorta shit,” Emil said. Emil struck the cue and missed his target altogether, sending it bounding off two walls while only glancing at the sides of two solid balls stranded in the green felt.

“I suck,” Emil said.

“You’re fine,” Piper said.

“They even forgot to get me baptized, so I crossed my arms in church and shit.” Emil said.

Emil stretched down his collar and looked at the little red baby devil.

“But now it just looks—I don’t know; my mom always hated it—” Emil said.

“Well, I love it,” Piper said. “You know my friends and I are witches.”

“No shit,” Emil said. “Like with brooms and shit?”

Piper rolled her eyes but threw him a smirk as she lined up another shot.

“No; we’re Wiccans; we practice the religion of Wicca,” Piper said.

Piper sank the 8-ball and ended the game.

“What are you doing tonight?”

Piper finished her glass and made another shot. Emil finished his and caught the hiccups.

“I don’t know; going to sleep,” Emil said. “I gotta be at work at 10.”

“Where?” Piper asked.

“West Hollywood.”

Piper was now resting the pool stick on the floor and twiddling it in circles as she made calculations.

“Do you like your job?” Piper asked.

“Honestly,” Emil said. “I know it sounds cool but I sorta hate it.”

“You’d make it, anyways,” Piper said.

“Make what?” Emil asked.

“Have you ever been to Ojai?”


From what Emil could gather from the cramped backseat of Anna’s Prius, he would be the guest of honor to the girls’ “Supermoon Ritual” that would occur that night at exactly 3:23 AM on the hill behind Piper’s parents’ house in Ojai. Grace, who was squeezed next to him, explained that they were ready to call off the ritual since their first male volunteer—Lulu’s boyfriend Byron—bailed on them, so running into Emil at the bar was nothing less than a miracle.

“We would’ve had to wait 18 years for a chance to be cleansed,” Anna said. “That’s when the next Supermoon comes.”

“We probably won’t know one pure boy by then,” Grace said. “We’ll all be like 40—with kids.”

“Not me,” Lulu said.

“I’ll probably be dead by then,” Lulu said.

“What do you mean pure?” Emil asked.

“Don’t say that, Lulu,” Anna said.

“Fine,” Lulu said. “But I’m not having kids.”

“You guys know I’m not a virgin, right?” Emil asked.

The girls laughed. Emil blushed.

“I’d hate to disappoint anyone,” Emil said.

“We don’t mean pure like a virgin,” Piper said. “It just means you have a clear, untainted soul.”

“How could you know that?” Emil asked.

“I can just tell,” Piper said. “We all can.”

“It basically just means you’re not an asshole,” Lulu said.

Anna changed lanes and accelerated to pass an 18-wheeler, its hybrid engine whining and shaking the sides of the Prius. Piper rolled down her window and looked up at the night sky as they passed the first exit for Oxnard.

“The moon goddess smiles down on us tonight,” Piper said. “Do you want me to drive the way back?”

“I’m fine,” Anna said.

For someone who’d been drinking for hours, Anna was an incredibly smooth driver. The bass-heavy indie remixes Piper played off her phone vibrated the door Emil’s body slammed against as the three other girls in the backseat went over preparations for the ritual, using Latin words like Athame and repeating some vague idea of “soul purification.”

Emil wished it was all a pretext for some kind of sex thing or an orgy, but he really hoped it was at least enough to get Piper to let him take her out for a date. His drunken body was tired but oozing with lust as he rested his forehead and slept against the humming windshield.

Emil was shaken awake and led out of the backseat and onto a gravel driveway deep in shadowy hills emitting no lights except for the yellow front door light of the Gates’ modern glass and teakwood vacation home. He wearily came to his senses just in time to sink into the plush leather couch, then be risen again and led out the backdoor.

His buzz drained with each wave of sweat as he followed the girls up an incredibly steep hill. Emil tried to turn around and grab his phone. Piper asserted no phones were allowed during the ceremony, and it was charging safely in her room.


By the time Emil was on his back, within the outlines of the dirt-drawn pentagram, the bright orange moon was double its usual size. It looked like the hill behind Piper’s family’s Ojai house was suspended in space. He tried to focus on it but couldn’t help overhearing the girls as they approached, their sneakers crunching on the dust as their giggles echoed down the canyon.

Piper told him to lay back and relax, then whispered something to Anna. Then, Emil realized that “Athame” was what they called the three-inch kitchen blade Piper held in her hands. Piper knelt in his periphery, held the knife above his chest, and began tracing little triangles onto his skin with the knife. She was practicing. With the icy blade grazing against his skin, Emil no longer wanted to participate in the supermoon ritual. Instead, he wanted to stand up and sprint. He needed to escape.

It was almost 3:23 AM when the moon would be closer to Earth than it had been for 68 years, and Emil knew he’d have to do something soon. With a root digging into his back, he kept his eyes on the glowing orb in the sky but sensed what was happening around him: Anna kneeling next to Piper; Molly aligning the spiritual ornaments and muttering Latin phrases; Grace tending to the “cauldron,” a kitchen pot atop a camping stove; Lulu sitting by the campfire smoking a cigarette.

Emil tried to calm himself, smelling herbal stew from the cauldron and hearing the roar of the propane tank as he prepared his body to move. He was terrified that the next prick would burst an artery, turning his body into a pulsating fountain of blood. Piper kept pricking away, drawing a pentagram over his devil tattoo.

Emil wondered if she would buy his excuse of needing to return to the house to use the restroom, where he could retrieve his phone from the couch and order a ride home. Emil knew that it’d be hard to find an Uber. Even if he did, it would surely decimate his bank account. But none of that seemed important compared to Emil’s fear of the knife lying there helpless. He knew the blade would slip too far under his skin at any moment. Even if the girls would have to wait at least a few more decades for their spirits to be “cleansed,” Emil decided it wasn’t worth the knife on his chest.

When Grace called Piper and Anna to the cauldron, Emil saw his chance. He got up and sprinted down the main path. The wind was freezing against his bare, prickled chest. Piper’s voice called after him.

“Emil! Emil!” Piper called.

“Going to the bathroom!” Emil responded, “Be right back!”

He heard Piper cutting through the chaparral to his right, gaining on him quickly. Emil broke off the trail to his left, found a tree, and pretended to pee, hopefully giving him enough time to find another excuse to return to the house. But she caught up to him fast, so he pretended to finish zipping his pants.

When he turned and saw the outstretched blade of “Athame” glimmering in her pale hands, Emil flinched and hid his face behind his hands. Piper jumped before she saw his terrified expression. She hid the knife behind her back and cringed, seeming to break from a spell.

“Fuck, I’m sorry, that was too much,” Piper said. “We just really need you. This is the longest we’ve gone–”

Piper stopped herself.

“I’m not supposed to say anything,” Piper said.

“What do you mean?” Emil asked.

“We’ve been all going to AA for six months,” Piper said. “It’s why we started practicing the Wicca stuff, because like, fuck all the religions, you know? So all this stuff has kept us going.”

Piper turned away and began pacing a small semi-circle on the path, twiddling the kitchen knife between her hands like a toy.

“I’m worried they’re getting bored,” Piper said. “and tonight—it’s dumb, but tonight was the night we were looking forward to all year. So, when we ran into you, I was about to call it off, but then I saw your tattoo and, I don’t know, it felt like everything was aligned for once.”

Emil didn’t know how to respond. Not because they were in AA; he was happy for them about that, albeit a little surprised since he thought AA was for old, broken drunks like his dad and not for people as young and fascinating as them. Emil was speechless about the fact that he was the only one drinking at the bar earlier. What he was ready to file away as a strange drunken escapade became something different as he realized everyone else would remember everything.

“I thought you said you were good with blood and stuff?” Piper said.

“I kinda lied,” Emil said.

“Why?” Piper asked.

“Because I kinda like you.”

Emil immediately regretted letting the words slip from his lips. She rolled her eyes and looked at the sky as if he had reminded her of a dentist appointment. His mind flashed an intrusive memory of Piper catching his gaze during a test, startling his daydreams away with a repulsed frow of her eyebrows.

“Or liked you; in high school,” Emil said. “Shit; I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I just can’t, no offense; I’m taking a break from dating and all that,” Piper said.

They both stood silent. Athame dangled by Piper’s side, its blade holding a shimmering orb as it reflected the moon each time it swung by her hip.

“I’m sorry,” Emil said. “I kind of fucked all this up, didn’t I? I’ll just go down.”

Piper was looking at the moon and smirked when he finished.

“There’s still plenty of time if you want to,” Piper said. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. But you do what you want to.”

Emil was tempted, but the fear was still yanking down his insides whenever he looked at the knife. He didn’t want to disappoint Piper and her friends but also wanted to run home and hide in his bed until dawn. Emil never had a chance to figure out what he really wanted. It felt like he was always either satisfying someone else’s desires or failing them, following someone else’s orders or refusing them, fitting into the song, or playing off-key without rhythm. Emil had no idea who or what he wanted; he only knew what people wanted from him.

“You can’t do it without me?” Emil asked.

“No, unfortunately,” Piper said. “It has to be a man’s blood. I guess we can just burn for our sins forever.”

Emil winced. Piper rolled her eyes again.

“I’m kidding; it’s fine; you can leave,” Piper said. “I get it. We’re weird.”

“No, it’s not that; I’m just—afraid,” Emil said.

“It’s just a little blood,” Piper said.

“I know,” Emil said. “I’m sorry; I just don’t think I’m the right guy.”

Emil walked down the path alone. The amber glow of the house grew close, igniting the porch like a giant lantern in the night. As he neared the bottom of the hill, he saw the girls’ bags strewn across the living room and felt the guilt waiting for him inside. He thought about the terrible day waiting for him at work and painfully imagined what Piper was saying to her friends back up the hill, trying to console them as the moon kissed the Earth without their souls being purified.

Emil stopped and turned around before he could overthink it. He raced back up the hill, not breaking his stride until he was back, lying flat within the drawn lines of the pentagram. The girls turned from the fire and rushed back into their positions, unable to contain their physical excitement.

“Thank you,” Piper said.

“We gotta hurry,” Emil said.

He kept still as Piper prepared Athame. Emil kept his eyes on the moon, stupefied by the colossal orange glow stretching its diameter past the tips of the hanging tree limbs. It felt so close that if Emil jumped straight up, he would start falling into its orbit.

Again, goosebumps rose at the first touch on his chest, but Piper was gentler this time, gliding Athame softly on his chest before breaking through his tender skin. Emil’s fear dissolved as the blood rushed down his chest, warming his icy chest with a warm, tickling river. The sharp pain jolted his senses into the intensity of the present. The cuts left behind burned well.

All the drowning background noise inside his mind was silenced by the blood pooling on his chest and sliding down his ribs. Molly prayed to “the triple goddess,” “horned principal,” and other gods he didn’t recognize. He caught a euphoric whiff of Lulu’s cigarette between the burning wood and sage. Piper rubbed the blood on his forehead and slid her index finger into his mouth. It tasted like Play-Doh, lust, and aluminum.

The ceremony seemed to end, but Emil kept lying still. Soon, the girls started dancing. Emil tasted the dust clouds they kicked into the wind. Then, they joined Molly’s chant in unison, picking up volume and intensity. Their voices became an infantilizing wall of sound seeming to pulse with the moon’s orange glimmer through the rising coastal haze. Emil reached for his phone to record the sound but found an empty pocket. The morning was coming as Emil lay there bare, shivering and laughing.


Emil was trying to stay awake to remember what he wanted to say, his consciousness slipping into dreams as the highway hummed against the tires of Anna’s Prius, softly shaking his body to sleep. He straightened up and smiled at Piper as she ashed her cigarette in the cupholder. Emil then reached for his phone and saw it dimly lit between his thighs. He pulled open a notes app holding the .mp3 file for his new favorite beat. He remembered he was about to ask to play it for Piper before he started the excruciating debate of whether to play it or not for her, weighing out the pros and cons, lost and gained realities, and felt himself again drifting towards sleep as he watched the moonlight dance off the dark waves.

Emil had offered to get an Uber from town. Piper had insisted on driving him back to the Valley by herself, allowing her friends to sleep in while she spent three hours driving on the 405. He knew he should’ve felt embarrassed after Piper rejected him, but Emil felt relieved. Realizing there was no ulterior, sexual motive, he felt the pure joy of making a new, good friend.

“Don’t you need to sleep?” Emil asked.

“I’ll sleep later,” Piper said. “You can pass out if you want; I’m good.”

Emil looked down at his phone, debating whether to ask to play the beat or just fall asleep. He closed his phone and leaned between the headrest and the door, feeling ready to forget the rest of the drive until he remembered his dad would be waiting for him when he woke up, hungover and angry about not knowing where his son’s been all night. Emil wasn’t ready to think of an answer since telling the truth would’ve been too much of a hassle.

“Actually,” Emil said. “Is it cool if I play a song off my phone?”

“Of course,” Piper said. “Sorry I forgot to play music.”

Emil could never remember what his beats actually sounded like until he heard the first note, so when Emil hit play on his phone, the hours of designing the hypnotic arpeggiators, warping the chunky synth slabs, distorting the fuzzy 808, and modulating the silky hi-hat rolls, all came back to him in the moment.

Emil leaned back and closed his eyes, unable to bear Piper’s reaction either way as the intro bass kicked in, rattling the crushed cans and loose change through the Prius like an earthquake as the high-speed synth patterns pierced through high-frequencies like laser beams shooting from an insect. Emil peeked over at Piper, who was subtly bobbing her head to the rhythm. Pure elation pulsed to the raw surface of his chest.