by John Falter

Wherever I go, I always do my best to fit in and put others at ease. Visiting the temple of Marathak the Baboon God to make a sacrifice is no exception. I feel pretty nervous about it. I can kill either a dog or a cat. Whatever I choose, I’ll have to kill it myself.

Many of my friends who worship Marathak say the sacrifice is their favorite part of the religion. They often describe how it helps them feel connected to their ancestors and the “flow of life.” They laugh at my squeamishness and I laugh, too.

Monday is the big day. I walk down College Street with Elaine (she’s worshipped Marathak for years), and a little ways past Pritchard Park, we come to a large red door with torches lit on either side. I must not come into town enough because I don’t recognize the door. I follow Elaine inside and do my best to act natural, casual.

The interior is filled with heavy incense and the sounds of drumming. Everyone inside is naked. Elaine begins to take off her clothes and I disrobe, too, trying hard to stay somber and reverent.

At the far side of the temple is a large brass statue of Marathak and a roaring fire. His mouth is open, showing his teeth. I giggle when I see his massive testicles. The scene interests me a lot and I look around amazed.

Elaine nudges me. “Best not to waste time,” she says.

We walk toward the altar and see two wire crates, one filled with cats and the other filled with dogs. I start thinking about my decision; which to choose? I try to think about what Marathak might be in the mood for today, and I ponder whether dogs or cats make a more pleasing smell to baboons when cooking. Best not to overthink it, I reason. Ritual, I’ve read, is all about the experience.

Once we arrive at the altar, I pick up the obsidian knife and recite the Minor Litany of Marathak. “Sacred are You, Marathak, who tears the flesh of the Great Bull…” and so on. I look down toward the cats and dogs, and without hesitation, grab a small Labrador retriever puppy from the crate on the left, carefully slit its throat, and toss it into the mighty fire with purpose.

Elaine smiles approvingly at me, then she says her prayer, and picks out an older black cat, cuts its throat, and gently drops its lifeless body into the fire.

Now we’re both smiling, and cheerfully wash off our hands in a silver basin held by a small boy.

We quickly make our way back to the entrance, put on our clothes, and leave the temple. “What did you think?” Elaine asks.

“I liked it!”

John Falter is a Florida native who has lived in Asheville, North Carolina, for several years. He’s fond of religion, magic, and the fiction that invades our lives.

About Monday—This piece came from the heart. It blends death, innocence, and a broadening understanding of faith, set against the streets of Asheville.