The house looks normal, a carbon copy of the suburban houses on the street. Healthy green grass sits before the house. No peeling paint or falling shingle. A beautifully carved rocking chair sits on the porch.
But something is off about it, it's barely noticeable, like a slight shift in the wind. A weird feeling radiates from it, one I'm familiar with, creeping silently along my skin.
A woman stands on the porch, arms crossed, trying to shield herself from the chill of the Winter air. Blonde hair whips about from the breeze. I can feel the exhaustion coming off of her the closer we get to the house.
"Mrs. Petterson, were you waiting long?" My dad asks as we walk up the stairs, her dull sapphire blues watching us.
She gives us a small smile, shaking her head. "No, just a few minutes."
"Right. Iris, this is Mrs. Petterson," he states, motioning to the woman. "Mrs. Petterson, this is who I was talking about. My daughter, Iris."
I shake her hand, giving her a smile of my own. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Petterson."
"And you as well. Please call me Mary," she tells me, before leading us inside.
The front door leads directly into the living room. Modest, gray furnishing sits on a soft looking Burgandy rug. Every curtain in the house is wide open, the outside light illuminates nearly every crevice. Pictures of a happy family line the wall.
I walk up to one with a boy. He looks like a mini copy of his mother, with his bright blue eyes and pale blonde curls flaring out from his knitted hat, small button nose, and round cheeks. A happy smile stretches across his face as he looks at the camera, showing off a missing front tooth.
"That's Tobias. He just turned seven." Mary says quietly, coming up behind me. Sadness flits across her face as she looks at him. "This was a couple of weeks ago... before everything started happening."
Pain scrunches up her face as tears begin to form. Before I can say anything, small sobs escape her. "I'm sorry," she tells us, covering her face.
"It's okay Mary. We're here to help you." I tell her while leading her to the couch. I rub her back as she cries, letting her get it all out. Eventually, she pulls herself together.
"I'm okay now. It's just... it's been hard these last couple of weeks." she tells us, sniffling a bit.
"Can you tell me about what's been happening? When did it start?" I ask her.
She nods. "Um. It started about three weeks ago. We ran across a warehouse that was clearing out. Tobi was instantly drawn to this baseball. It was weird how attached he became. The ball wasn't in good shape. Some of the seams were loose. But he was adamant about having it. So we bought it."
"Is that when things started happening?" I ask.
"Yes. It was little things at first. Doors closing by themselves, things appearing in different places, the lights flickering on and off. That lasted for a few days. Then, Tobi started acting weird." A shuddered sigh leaves her. "Tobi is a very active boy. He loves to laugh and play. But after we got the ball, he became subdued and distant. He stopped laughing, playing outside, and eventually, he stopped interacting with us completely. Now he rarely leaves his room. And for some reason, he can't stand the dark. During the day, we have to have all the curtains open and at night, all of the lights are o-" her words cut off as she begins to cry again. The sobs rack her thin shoulders.
I can feel her pain as though it were my own. Raw and unfiltered, it washes over me. It takes several minutes for her sobs to fade. "Sorry," she tells us. I wave away her apology and tell her it's okay. She takes a breath and starts again.
"For the past few days, he's been sleeping in his closet, clutching that wretched ball. There are bruises shaped like hands all over him. And he sleeps so much. Sometimes... I can barely even wake him up."
"Is he there right now?" I ask. Nodding, she leads us up the stairs.
"My husband's away right now. He doesn't believe in the supernatural. He says there's "something wrong with his head," and that he needs professional help." she scoffs out. I can feel her frustration at the situation, and the fear for her son.
The closer we get to the boy's room, the colder the air feels. Mary stands off to the side as I place my hand on the doorknob. Cold stings my skin as I grip the metal, it's almost like holding ice.
Pushing past the discomfort, I open the door. As Mary said, the curtains are wide open. Light blue walls are lined with posters of different dinosaurs. A bookcase sits in the corner, filled with books and dinosaur toys. Dinosaur sheets lay across his bed, along with a stuffed T-rex.
"He loves dinosaurs," Mary states from the doorway.
"Haha, I can tell," I reply. Walking further into the room, I turn towards the closet. I step in front of the opening to see Tobi lying inside, staring at the window, clutching the baseball tightly.
Those full of life, bright blue eyes I saw from the picture are now dull. As I look closer, I realize his left eye has a ring of green around the edge of his pupil. A sign of possession, barely noticeable to untrained eyes. Dark circles beneath his eyes stand out against his pale skin.
He doesn't move as I sit down, save for the slight tightening of his fingers. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Mary and my father enter the room. Mary is nervously biting her fingernail as she stares at her son.
"Tobi," I call out. He doesn't respond, as I expected.
"I know you're not Tobi," I say this time. There's a slight shift in his eyes, letting me know that I have his attention. "I don't think you mean this family harm. I also don't sense any hostility from you. But, by the bruises on Tobi, I believe that you are trying to hold on to him as hard as you can." His body tenses at my words.
Before I can say anything else, a phone rings from downstairs. Mary looks around hesitantly before excusing herself to go answer.
"Can you tell me your name?" I ask him. I can feel the hesitation and unease rolling off of him. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help you and Tobi." He tenses up even more, but still refuses to acknowledge me. "You cannot stay here. You're only going to hurt him. And eventually, you'll kill him." That gets his attention as he finally looks at me, eyes wide, the green ring giving off an unnatural glow.
"I- I wasn't trying to hurt Tobi," he tells me, sitting up. He looks down at the bruises, breathing becoming uneven.
"I know. I know you don't want to hurt him. Those bruises are unintentional." I state softly, trying to calm him down. It takes a few minutes, but he finally takes a few deep breaths. "You wanna tell me your name?" I ask.
"...Lincoln," he whispers.
"Hello Lincoln, my name is Iris." I give him a small smile. "Lincoln, you can't stay in Tobi's body. You're slowly killing him. The spirits of the dead are not meant to live in the realm of the living."
He shakes his head furiously back and forth. "No. I can't leave!" he cries, becoming agitated.
"It's okay. That's why I'm here. I'm going to help you safely move on."
"I- I can't leave. He'll get me if I leave." Fat tears roll down his face as he sobs. Fear has him firmly in its grasp.
"Who will get you Lincoln? Is there another spirit here?" I ask, confused.
"The Shadow Man," he whispers after his sobs die down.
"Is he here right now?" I ask, after feeling around for another presence.
He shakes his head. "He only comes out at night."
"Is that why you turn all the lights on?" He nods, drawing his knees up. "What does the Shadow Man look like?"
Little sniffles come out as he speaks. "His skin is gray. There are horns on his head that twist up. His teeth are really sharp, and he has red eyes." he tells me. Dread washes over me as I listen to him describe the entity.
"He followed me here," Lincoln states before I can say anything.
"From where we were before. There were other people like me, ghosts. He ate them. He almost got me, but Tobi bought my ball." he tells me. He grips his ball tighter, the tips of his fingers are turning red. I reach my hand out, placing it just above his, causing him to flinch.
"Is it alright if I touch your hand, so I can see?" I ask him.
"See what?" he asks curiously.
"I have the ability to see inside your head. It's what helps me with those like you." I tell him. After a bit of hesitation, he nods his head.
Slowly, I put my hand on his and close my eyes. Images of his childhood fill my mind. The first time he opens his eyes to the new world. Sunlight shining down on beautiful emerald eyes and short chestnut hair as he wobbles around, taking his first steps. Bubbling laughter, full of joy at discovering new things. The images shift to him playing baseball with an older man with similar green eyes. I can feel how happy he was, and the love that surrounds him.
Then the pain.
A raging fire tears through the house. Smoke filling the room and his lungs, the fire licking at his skin. The shouts of his parents as they call out his name and his answering screams.
I know tears are running down my face, sobs escaping my throat, but I continue to push through. Eventually, I find myself in a warehouse. There are dozens of spirits roaming around, attached to various objects, unable to move on. I watch as one by one, they start disappearing. Lincoln doesn't realize what's happening at first. It isn't until the spirit of a kind elderly woman is devoured right in front of him.
It's just like he described it. Gray skin, horns, sharp teeth, and red eyes. I feel myself being sucked into Lincoln's fear. My palms are growing sweaty and my heart rate is increasing. It's a struggle to pull myself out.
When I do, I nearly fall back from the force of my pulling. My chest is heaving as I take in deep breaths, trying to separate myself from his fear.
"Are you okay Iris?" Dad asks, quickly coming to my side. His hands hover over my shoulders, knowing not to touch, to keep me from being pulled into his emotions. Concern fills his amber eyes as he stares down at me.
It takes me a moment to completely calm down. "I'm okay," I tell him, before looking back at Lincoln. Fear is still there, but there is also worry aimed towards me.
"I'm okay Lincoln," I reassure him. I signal for Dad to help me up, letting him know it's okay to touch me. Once I'm steady, I turn to Lincoln. "Everything is going to be okay, Lincoln. I'm going to help you."
"Are you going to get rid of the Shadow Man?" he asks. Smiling, I give him a firm nod.
"Yes." He looks down for a moment, before giving me a nod of his own. With a reassuring smile to Lincoln, I walk towards the door. Mary meets us as we leave the room.
"What happened? Is he gone?" she asks hopefully. Closing the door gently, I look at her with a sigh.
"I'm afraid that this is more than just simple possession. There is something else within your home," I tell her.
"What does that mean?" Mary asks worriedly.
"The boy that has your son, Lincoln, is using your son to hide from something very dangerous. He won't leave your son until the threat is gone."
"And what is that threat?"
"A demon," I state simply. Fear rolls off of her in waves as her face pinches together. "I know this is scary. But, I promise... I will do everything in my power to save your son." Her fear is still prominent, but I can tell my words have given her some comfort.
Looking outside at the sun, I would guess that we have about two hours until the sun goes down. Mary makes us some tea to pass the time, and to no doubt get her mind off of things.
The scent of chamomile wafts into my nose as she hands me a mug. "So what's going to happen? Are you going to perform an exorcism?"
"No. This isn't like the movies that you've seen." I state, turning towards her. "I'm not an exorcist. I don't recite scripture from the Bible. And I don't perform exorcisms."
"Then what do you do?" she asks.
"I guide human souls to the afterlife and demons back to their realm."
My dad answers her look of confusion. "Demons do not come from here. They come from a place we call the Demon Realm. During times of chaos, great fear, or huge amounts of death, the veil between our realm and theirs weakens. It allows some to slip through." he answers.
"And I send them back," I state.
A contemplative look settles on her face. "So what happens now?"
"Now... we wait until the sun goes down, which is in a little less than two hours. According to Lincoln, the demon only comes out at night. Once he shows himself, I'll get rid of him." I tell her.
She seems satisfied with my answers as she nods, sipping on her tea. We spend the next two hours talking about what I do.
"So, how do you..."
"Expel them?" I finish for her. She nods. "It's hard to explain. I guess you can say that I pull them out. There's a force within me that allows me to attach myself to them and drag them out."
She thinks about it for a few moments, before nodding. "Have you always been able to do this?"
"Yes. There is a whole society of people like me. We offer our services to those being haunted, possessed, or attacked." I tell her. Her eyes widen in surprise.
"Wow. That's pretty amazing," she tells me.
The door opens as she goes to ask another question, and a deep voice calls out, echoing through the room. A tall, lanky man with dirty blonde hair steps into the living room. Piercing cornflower blue eyes take in the room.
"Tom," Mary exclaims, going over to him. "I thought you weren't coming back until tomorrow."
"The doctor I was meeting canceled, so we rescheduled for next week," he answers, eyeing us. "Who are these people?"
"This is Oscar and his daughter Iris. They're here to help Tobi," she answers. A hard look enters his eyes as a scowl overtakes his face.
"Exorcists!" he shouts, anger flashing in his eyes. "I told you that this is not some supernatural phenomenon. He needs professional help!" As he shouts, his head twitches. It's not really noticeable until he does it several more times. I open my senses, having closed them off after touching Tobi.
Malevolent energy rolls off of him like angry waves. The force of it almost knocks me down. I watch closely as his finger begin to twitch as well.
"Mary!" I shout, causing the room to go silent. "Step away from him. Right now." I urge.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"Get away from him. That is not your husband." I see the moment my words reach her. With wide eyes, she looks towards her husband, backing away. My dad quickly grabs her arm, pulling her to him.
A dark laugh escapes him. Glancing back at us with blood-red eyes. "What gave me away?" he asks, voice scratchy. Instead of answering, I quickly make my way to him and pinch down on his neck. By the time he realizes what's happening, he's unconscious.
I ignore Mary's cries as my father brings me two kitchen chairs. He places him in one while I gather the chains.
"What are you doing?" Mary asks.
"The demon has your husband," I answer as we lock him down.
"Oh God," she whispers.
"It's okay. This actually makes it easier." I tell her, sitting down. As expected, it doesn't take long for him to wake up. Before he gathers his bearings, I grab his head.
Immediately, he screams. Horrifying screeches grate my ears. Handprints appear on his arms, traveling up his neck. Lights flicker, doors rattle, and the house shakes. He's trying to hold on as hard as he can.
With one final hard pull, the air gives a shudder as the demon disappears. Tom slumps over.
"It's over," I confirm, releasing a sigh. I turn to see Tobi standing at the bottom of the stairs.
He walks over to me shyly. I look at him and realize that the ring of green is gone. He hands the ball over to me. I can feel Lincoln inside.
"Thank you," Tobi tells me.
"You're very welcome," I tell him.
Mary quickly picks him up, hugging him tightly. "Thank you." Tears stream down her face as she sobs.
"What about Lincoln?" Toby asks as we reach the door.
"Lincoln's okay. He's going to stay with us for a bit until he can move on." I tell him. Looking at the ball, he nods.