[Note: this is a sequel to the story "Lies of the Rational Mind", although it can be read as a standalone story]
The aftermath of whatever had gone down was grisly, grislier than most supernatural crime scenes I had investigated. I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’d had to run to the toilet to puke immediately. I returned to the bedroom a shade paler than usual, brushed underneath the yellow and black tape crossing the doorway, and appraised the corpse for a second time, trying my utmost to ignore the viscid stench of rotting offal emanating from it.
‘Demon’s work,’ I said to myself, crouching on my hunkers and eyeing the mutilated corpse as objectively as I could. It was spreadeagled on the bloodsoaked carpet at the foot of the bed, still in pyjamas.
I grunted as I straightened. ‘But how did the demon get into this dimension?’ I pondered.
I stepped around the semi decapitated corpse, craning my head to view all corners of the room, checking for mirrors. I say semi decapitated because the whole front of the neck was missing, along with the whole chin and lower half of the mouth. Sort of like a giant ice-cream scoop had dug into the woman’s open mouth and scooped out a chunk of her. A very sharp, serrated ice-cream scoop. All that connected what remained of the head to the body was the spine, which I could see quite clearly, and a bit of stringy muscle and skin behind the spine. The chunk of flesh that should’ve been between her chin and her collar bones had been ripped out and flung against the wall beside me (I could hear the splat of it against the plaster just by looking at the big reddish brown stain on the wall) where it had then slid down to the skirting board. There was an esophagus over there somewhere on the other side of the bed, a tongue too, and half a mouthful of teeth. Her skin had the pallor of grey dough; she’d been drained of blood. Her glazed eyes stared at the ceiling.
I opened all the wardrobe doors, checking the inside of them. No mirrors. Strange, but not that strange, as the couple had only moved in recently. Maybe the previous owners had taken them all down for a reason, but the bathroom had a mirror. I remembered from my puke-trip.
I walked out into the hall. I stood there a moment, letting the air meander on my skin. I gripped the talisman in my pocket, ready to pull it out and speak its word of activation if needed. But I noticed no disturbances. I walked slowly down the corridor, got to the bathroom where a sour odour still lingered and went straight to the sink, leaned on it. I got up real close to the mirror and then tapped on it twice with my index finger. I inspected my reflection and couldn’t detect any abnormalities. I noticed the string for turning on the sink light was broken. I looked down and picked up a rectangular bar of soap from the sink. Etched into it was an intricate geometric design…almost like…a tiny summoning symbol. My eyes flicked to the mirror again. I pulled a piece of white chalk from my pocket, drew a circle on the mirror and within it drew the Sign of Janus.
I stepped back. ‘If you’re in there, come on out…’. I tried to think of the husband’s name for a second. I’d read it on the file. ‘Pete. It’s safe. You can step through.’
After a moment, a slippered foot broke through the mirror, sending iridescent ripples across the mirror’s surface. Then the whole of Pete clambered out after. He tumbled half into the sink trying to extricate himself from the mirror, and then crashed to the floor. He looked up at me with wild eyes, all jittery, his breath wheezing in and out of him. He backed away from me and tripped over, fell on the hard tiles between the toilet and the sink. He was about to have a panic attack, I could tell. Had been there myself.
‘Peter,’ I said. ‘You’re back now. This is real.’
‘My wife?’ he managed to croak.
I shook my head. ‘Come outside with me.’ I found the best way to help someone in this state was to act normal. Do something normal. People tend to act how the people around them act.
We stood outside the house on the lawn. It was approaching twilight and the moon was visible as half a chalky thumbprint on a darkening blue sky. A few wisps of cloud drifted across the faded blue like smears of toothpaste.
I spoke to him as gently as I could manage. ‘If you want me to catch this creature – I am sorry, Pete, but you are going to have to recount as many details as possible of what happened. And quickly. Time is of the essence here, and the lives of everyone in this town are at risk.’
Pete trembled. ‘Catch it?’ he said. ‘Can you kill it?’
I paused with my hand cupped over the tip of a cigarette I’d produced and placed between my lips and glanced up at him. I sparked it and inhaled until the tip glowed orange and a thread of smoke twined up from it.
Truthfully, I could offer him no such assurances. But I told him, ‘Yes.’ I proffered him the pack of cigarettes. After a moment of hesitation he fumbled one out with shaky fingers. ‘Okay,’ he said, wedging the smoke in the corner of his mouth. ‘I’ll do my best.’
I let him speak. I checked my watch. I looked up and down the treelined avenue, wondering when and where the next victim would be.
I drove to nowhere in particular, trying to plan my next move.
So, I was dealing with a shapeshifting demon, from what Pete had managed to tell me. And probably a witch controlling it, I’d guessed myself. Demons reside on the Other Side and can’t reach our world without help, so humans are largely safe from them unless they’re summoned, or a witch lacking moral scruples decides to send one through a portal – like a mirror – to harvest some human blood for her. Some witches, and other people and creatures too, get banished to the Other Side for performing perverse magic and are bound there for eternity. But it’s often eternity-ish. Consuming human blood would be a good way to garner enough power to escape. The reason I’d guessed a witch was involved was because Pete’s wife had been drained but Pete hadn’t, and witches were female – they needed female blood to augment their powers. A witch could control a demon, send it to our world and order it to bring back blood. Banishments and bindings unfortunately didn’t prevent that from happening.
That was my job.
I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel, watched the streetlights spool by, allowed myself a moment to think.
‘C’mon Matty, don’t have that many moments here.’ The witch would be coming for others, building her power. She would gorge on the human blood brought to her and she would reawaken more powerful than before. Her demon too.
A solution drifted into my mind. A terrible cold gripped my guts at the thought of it. The beginning of realising that something must be done, and that something was incredibly dangerous, but incredibly necessary. The witch would take the blood of every female in town if she met no resistance. And she would go further. Her hunger for power would only increase exponentially.
I needed to go to the Other Side, something I’d never done before. Something no human should ever do. It’s a realm the human brain cannot perceive, or simply refuses to comprehend, and for good reason. Whether I would ever make it back was questionable.
But it was my job, godammit. And aside from the fact that I took pride in doing it well, hundreds if not thousands of lives were at stake.
I pulled my car into the hard shoulder, tires screeching. It was night now and the moon was no longer a vague thumbprint but a glowing half-circle of luminescence. The car was under a streetlamp in a cone of halogen light, and it cut the interior up into sharp shadows. I scrambled at the glove compartment, eventually managing to tear it open. I rummaged around in there and pulled out a handful of vials and held them up in a stripe of light to read their labels, then dumped all but one.
Dark dreams was written on it. I flipped it over. Warning: risk of never waking up.
Not “risk of death”, no. Risk of never waking up.
We could not perceive the Other Side during waking consciousness, but sometimes we could slip into it in our dreams. In our nightmares. And that’s where I had to go.
Minutes after I glugged the rancid potion down I was feeling drowsy. Unlike with regular sleep, where there was only a small chance of ending up on the Other Side, the potion guaranteed that my sleep would bring me there. I’d laid the seat out as flat as it would go. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous deathbed, but I at least wanted it to be as comfortable as possible.
I already felt the urge to sleep growing behind my eyes, pressing a great weight down on my eyelids.
Then I was out, and I dreamt almost immediately.
It was my dream, in my head, so I had some control. For now. I had erected a model of my old childhood home in my dream and I was in the kitchen, all simple wooden furniture and worktops and cream coloured cupboards, scuffed red tiles on the ground. Now I just had to trust that the witch would sense my presence here. If she didn’t come for me I would have to venture out of the house, and that was not something I wished to do.
I needn’t have worried. I heard a chain scraping along the ground and then a door opened, the hinges in my dream squealing. My mind’s doors created convincing hinge noises, I’ll give it that.
The scraping grew louder and my heart thumped like a jackhammer in my chest, sweat breaking out all over me in a cold slime. Goosebumps erupted on the nape of my neck, down my forearms.
The witch entered my kitchen, a thick black chain trailing her. ‘Impressive,’ she purred. She had long black hair, almost to her waist, and wore a suitably witchy gown of flowing black silk. Unnaturally green eyes latched onto me, measuring me. She was younger than I thought she would be, or at least so it appeared. Her true appearance would be something grotesque and barely semblant of human, I knew. ‘You are holding this apparition together well. You have talent.’ She smiled a white toothed smile. It was convincing, and it was attractive. I nipped it in the bud.
‘Forget seduction, hag. It won’t work. Bring the demon. It is the only thing that can stop me killing you right now.’
Her grin went slack, her eyes flat. ‘You could not kill me.’
‘Maybe not, but this might.’ I pulled a revolver out of my coat pocket, six bullets encased in silver in it, pointed it at her, and squeezed the trigger six times. The first thunderous shot nicked her shoulder and sent a gout of black flying up in the air, but the rest struck an invisible shield in front of her.
Now she looked pissed. She tugged sharply on the chain and a moment later the demon crept in. It was in vaguely human form. A spindly, hunched thing, but appearances can be deceiving, and they mean little on the Other Side.
Pete had told me it had changed form before his eyes, and it did so before mine right now. Even as its mouth stretched into a heinous overextended grin, ear to ear displaying jagged yellow teeth, its skin was beginning to writhe and wriggle, its bones popping and bending. Its mouth was in such an ecstatic vigorous grin that its eyes bulged out of narrow slits. When it had finished changing, its limbs were all equal length, holding its torso up as if it was a four-legged spider, but with that white grinning face seated between jutting shoulder blades. The rags it had been wearing had mostly fallen off revealing taut grey hide. Its torso lowered closer to the ground and its legs elongated further with a few subtle cracks, so it was in a deep squat. It looked at the witch, drool slobbering over its bottom lip, bifurcated tongue lolling. ‘Food?’ it questioned in a highpitched voice.
She smiled. ‘Yes,’ she hissed.
I probably should have reloaded my gun while the thing had been crackling and popping but I had been too stunned, too entranced by its changing. Even as my mind ordered my hands to begin the process now, my hands refused to move. Maybe it was because the demon had not yet finished its transmogrification. Its jaw was jutting further and further out into a less and less biologically possible overbite. Strings of viscous drool swayed off its chin. Then its whole face began to split apart. Flaps of skin peeled back to reveal vibrant, squirming red tissue, until the flaps of skin were splayed out in a seven pointed star. Its mouth was a hole about the size of my head (about the size of the chunk taken out of Pete’s wife’s neck) and lined with teeth that were growing even as I watched, splitting its gums. Then the thing’s face-flaps went rigid and it let loose an unholy raucous scream, spittle spraying from its mouth. It bent its legs into a deeper squat, and sprung across the room at me.
I unfroze just in time and leapt out of the way. I heard it crash into the wall behind me and scramble back to its feet. I fumbled about in my pocket looking for a talisman. I jumped and rolled again at the last second as the demon attempted to smite me with a powerful arm. Or was it a leg?
I pulled something from my pocket.
Ah. This would do.
It was a purple nail clippers. Talismans didn’t always have to be meaningful or fancy. Any old item would do.
I pointed it at the demon and yelled the keyword. ‘Segregare!’ A beam of pure white energy lanced out of the clippers and sliced through the demon’s foreleg like a hot knife through butter. The demon squalled and its mouth flaps spasmed as it lurched to the side, ichor spewing from its severed limb. Unfortunately, it began to regenerate.
‘Fuck,’ I said, chucking the spent nail clippers. I fumbled for another talisman in my pocket. ‘C’mon,’ I whispered, searching for one I knew was in there. My fingers found it, a shrivelled, hardened pea, and I took it out and held it up before me.
The demon bellowed a war-cry, its leg regrown, and scuttled at me with speed. I waited. Blood raged through my body, adrenaline willing me to act, to move, to survive. But I waited.
The demon leaped, opening its maw wide, distending its multiple jaws, bloody spittle flying from it.
‘Deminuo!’ I shouted, squeezing my eyes closed and clenching the pea tight - my life depended entirely on the magic imbued in that minuscule legume.
I opened my eyes and I was inside the demon. It had worked. I had shrunk to the size of a bee and I was in the demon’s throat, thankfully having bypassed the teeth. I wedged the pea under my right armpit like it was a football and gripped onto a string of bloody flesh with my left hand and waited. I could hear the dulled voice of the witch outside.
‘Is he dead? Where did he go?’
I held my breath and counted.
I closed my eyes tight and plugged my ears with my fingers, and then I very suddenly and very rapidly expanded back to my normal size. I heard a violent ripping sound from all around me, and then a multitude of splatters as gobbets of steaming demonflesh painted the walls of my childhood kitchen.
I stood in the centre of the room, every inch of me dripping in gore. I leaned to the side and spat red. I looked at the witch and she looked at me. She took a step back.
‘Who are you?’
‘I’m the guy you and your kind have to deal with if you come meddling in this neck of the woods.’
I reached inside my coat. No more talismans, but I produced something else.
The witch twitched. ‘What’s that?’
‘Oh this ‘ol thing? Nothing magical anyway. Look.’ I pulled the pin, waited a few seconds and tossed it underhand to her. The grenade exploded and I was propelled backwards in a storm of debris and guts, until I smacked into a wall, and all went black.
I jolted awake in my car, pouring sweat yet freezing cold, hyperventilating, patting myself down to check I was intact. I had a second to breathe a sigh of relief before I had to jimmy the window down, lean out, and vomit. As I hung out the window of my car, panting, I felt the first warm rays of dawn touching my face. A sweet, sweet caress. I smiled. I laughed. I choked up some final painful bile and I laughed again, long and loud and manically.
I sat there recovering until the sun was fully up.
Then I took a deep breath, started the engine, and checked my watch.
It was time to go to work.
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Hi! I love the stories you’ve written and I was wondering if you are going to do a part 3.
Hi Stella, apologies for not responding sooner - I haven't been logged in here. There is a part 3 written but it's a bit longer. I'm considering posting my works to a website of my own soon. I'm thrilled you're interested and hopefully when I'm up and running you will come and read it there!
It seems like this is part of something bigger right? Keep it up. Let me know when you’ve uploaded the next one.
I have some ideas alright. I'll let you know!