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Book Club



Estimated reading time — 52 minutes

Claire stood by the door, the room barely lit by a few tall candles, waiting simply for the door to open once more. Staring out the aged cylinder glass window she wished she could be part of the preparations deeper in the ancient house, but there was a hierarchy here and being the newest put her at the bottom.
“Still awaiting our sister’s arrival.” a cold voice startled her out of the darkness behind,
“Jesus Christ Ava you’re gonna give me a heart attack.” she quickly replied, her heart pounding embarrassingly fast.
“Edith; she is still not here.”
“No, not yet. I would text her if not for the rules. And for the fact that I don’t have her number.”
“Our rules against phones are in place for good reason.”
“Yeah, they’ll interfere with the radio signals and crash the plane.”
Ava stared harshly into her without response, her jaw tightening ever so slightly. Claire wasn’t sure if she was offended by the joke, or if maybe humour was something Ava just didn’t get. Either way, it didn’t play well.
“And that’s not true about planes anyway.” Katelyn chimed in from further down the hall.
“Jesus, is it ‘scare Claire’ night? Or is that just part of the craft?” Claire said, startled by her friend’s unexpected interjection.
“No really though, that plane rule is bullshit, it makes no sense.”
“Whereas what we do here is so perfectly logical” Claire gleefully bathed in her own sarcasm.
“Do not mock the craft Claire.” Ava’s ice-blue eyes piercing her once again “This practise has a habit of biting back when treated with anything less than the respect it deserves. I think you had better keep your attitude in check.” Ava’s tone was cold and steady. Claire was more than a little unnerved by the look in her eyes this time; she even noticed Katelyn back off a little. Kate only brought her in two sessions ago and there hadn’t been much to see so far, but she’d been with the coven for a couple years now. Maybe her respect for Ava wasn’t unfounded. Respect, or fear; it was hard to tell sometimes.
The silence weighed heavy on the room for a moment, “… so no Edith yet?” Katelyn attempted to relieve the tension.
“We will wait for her.” Ava walked back down the hall towards the main room, disappearing into the calm darkness.
“It’s not like her to not show up. And tonight of all nights? The wealth spell is for her after all.” Katelyn added, her shoulders relaxing as the tension dissipated.
“Does she need it? I haven’t talked to her a lot but she seems pretty put together. I would’ve thought she was doing okay.” Claire said, only lightly questioning
“She puts that on pretty well but it’s not easy. She has… two kids? And she’s all alone aside from that. She never talks about it herself but Helena dropped me home once and told me all about it. Losing jobs, paying off her car, mortgage. I guess it’s just too much to handle alone with kids.” Katelyn explained
“Wow that’s… actually pretty rough. I guess some people just hide it really well.”
“Their… financial struggle?”
“Their demons.”

*

“Mummy do you have to go tonight? I wanna show you my pictures!” a little boy, 9 years old, pleaded with his mother by the front door. Ready to leave, a large cloak dawned, she found it hard to resist his innocent, doughy eyes.
“I’m sorry Jem, but yes mummy has to go to her book club tonight, and I’m late already. You can show me all the drawings you do tonight when I get home.” She hated to tell Jeremy no, and part of her suspected he knew it – that he even used it to his advantage at times – but she couldn’t miss tonight. Of all the groups’ meetings, she needed this one the most.
“Elizabeth have you finished your homework?” she gently questioned her daughter.
“Yes mum.” came the teenage monotone response.
“Are you doing your readings?” she asked, her pitch raising slightly.
“Yes mum.” came Elizabeth’s response, still jaded but now slightly aggravated. She didn’t like pushing her daughter’s studies but she knew what happened to girls without prospects. She knew how hard things could get. Not for Elizabeth, she’d be better than that.
“Alright you two, I’ll be back at eleven but you’ll be in bed by then right?” She asked with only a slight sardonicism.
“Right!” came Jeremy’s enthusiastic response – the same enthusiasm that would ensure his consciousness well past his mother’s return.
No response came from Elizabeth. She considered calling out once more but she didn’t want to risk any adolescent wrath. Liz could do with some peace anyhow.
Edith sat herself in her slightly beaten Barino, turning to the rear-view mirror to check her eyeliner. As she did her boss’s words from the end of her shift echoed through her head. The tears started to well up. She tried to hold them back but it was no use, she needed them to get through the pain. Aged care wasn’t exactly where she pictured herself when she was young but at 34 with mouths to feed it was enough. It just seemed after a few late starts and sick days, she wasn’t enough for Green Meadows Retirement Home. No real qualifications outside of a high school diploma and not many friends to call for favours made things hard for her. Maybe tonight would bring enough cash her way to make it work until she found another job. Maybe. She hadn’t felt this vulnerable in a while.

*

“Seriously you don’t wanna use the ‘D’ word here.” Katelyn pleaded with Claire. It was rare she got serious about anything, and Claire was struggling not to find it a little funny.
“It’s that bad? Just the word?” Claire asked
“Claire have you learnt anything since you been here?”
“A bit of Latin and some interior design.”
“Words are powerful. They all hold strength and when used the right way, with the right tone, in the right order they can make some incredible stuff happen. When used the wrong way… well, we don’t use them the wrong way.” Katelyn’s toned darkened a little.
“Have you seen them used the wrong way?” Claire’s curiosity was wetted.
“When you’ve been around for a while, and Ava decides she likes you, she’ll do a private session with you and show you… something. I’ll leave it at that.” Katelyn quickly explained.
Claire suddenly changed demeanour, like a sudden terror had come over her. Kate’s mind started to race, assuming the worst things as Claire’s eyes widened, almost unnaturally; she started to tremble as she came in close to Katelyn’s face, pausing a moment before unleashing the words “… Ava likes people?” Katelyn held her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle the laughter as it erupted from her “Holy fuck you bitch, do not do that here. Seriously, if you don’t want Ava’s husband to come down here and exorcise you.”
“Why? Because I might have a de-“
“Have a what?” a deep voice cut her off from halfway up the stairs, a mischievous smile audible in its words. A tall man stepped down into the dim light, revealing a deep burgundy waistcoat over a well-worn white, buttoned shirt. His silver-white slicked back hair and deep eyes betrayed knowledge, however uncommon.
“Mr Palmer!” Katelyn exclaimed “Um, nothing really. Not anything you should worry about…” she trailed off nervous laughter. Mr Palmer stretched a scheming grin, “You weren’t talking of demons were you, girls?”
“I thought we weren’t meant to say that?” Katelyn asked, confusion clouding her “You know… the ‘D’ word?”
“You certainly shouldn’t my dears,” he began in his dark, thick tone “but when one has become so acquainted with the forces of evil as I, those same spirits might know better than to come knocking.”
“You’ve seen them?” Claire found herself refraining from the ‘D’ word – something about Mr Palmer’s conviction was getting to her.
“Spirits from below? Those who have never truly walked the earth? Why yes my dear I have. I spent many of my best years sending them back to the deep world they crawled from.”
“Exorcisms?” Claire prodded.
“Many.” He smiled.
“So you were a priest?” she asked.
“A priest? No, no I never had the… resolve for organised religion.” He laughed.
“But I thought you needed approval from the Vatican or something to perform exorcisms?” Claire dug deeper.
“Hm,” he grinned “they would certainly prefer it that way.”
“Otto was a volunteer teacher in the Philippines all through the 70s and 80s.” Ava once again appeared from the darkness, startling both Claire and Katelyn as she appeared. “While he was there he helped a lot of sick people and battled many powerful demonic presences; and I shall hear no more of this tonight.” She turned her entire body towards her husband in one swift motion, “Otto, if you’re quite done frightening my newest student and taunting the forces of darkness, you may go upstairs. We’re ready to begin.”
Katelyn cut in “But Edith still isn’t here!”
A knock at the door.
“It’s for you.” Ava said, staring coldly again into Claire’s eyes.
Claire opened the door to a slightly flustered Edith, badging just a hint of makeup smudge below her eyes “Claire! Hi! So sorry I’m late, we haven’t started right?? I’d hate to disrupt the ritual.” Mr Palmer chuckled as he turned around, returning to the darkness upstairs. Claire did her very best to move past the bizarre timing of Edith’s arrival and invited her in. “Hello Edith. You are late.” Ava directed her stare to the ruffled woman as she came in. “I know, I know, I’m so sorry – my son, he wanted me to stay for dinner and, well, you know how little boys can be sometimes they just won’t take no for an answer!” she laughed, trying to lighten the mood. Claire wasn’t sure if Ava had any idea what little boys were like, or if she even knew what that was. “Come in, we must begin.” Ava directed.
Ava lead the three of them down the hall, into a small front room and stopped in front of a large set of carved wooden doors. She turned back to the three and spoke aloud “An’ it harm none, do what ye will.” They repeated back in unison, “Harm none.”
Ava opened the doors with a single, slow, methodical push, revealing a large room lit with what must have been hundreds of candles. Even after two sessions this sight was still a little breathtaking to Claire. The room was tall, in an almost church-like way and it was deep enough to fit a congregation too. The walls were largely lined with bookcases, above them spaces for paintings that had been taken down. Ava had said that during rituals, the eyes tended to wander. Several shelves of the bookcases were lined with rosemary; two women around Edith’s age then hung more on the handles of the large doors as they closed shut. The candles laid about the room grew more and more dense as they approached the centre, where a wide empty circle was left. The fireplace in the centre of the back wall was dead, the smell of smoke just barely hanging in the air. Claire had noticed that for every session, the fireplace wasn’t lit. Maybe it hurt the ritual? It wasn’t something Ava had talked about so maybe it didn’t matter. She thought she could still see a faint ember anyhow.
“Helena, Melissa, is everything prepared?” Ava asked the two women as they approached the centre circle.
“Everything in order.” Replied Melissa, the taller of the two, almost military-like. Claire had noticed how these two even more than Kate and Edith revered Ava. She had barely spoken to them at all but gauged that they had probably been performing these rituals with Ava for a long time, maybe decades. They appeared a little older than Edith but neither as old as Ava. How often did she take in newcomers? When did Edith join? Was it unusual to be taken in so soon after Katelyn? Or did newcomers not often last past Ava’s one-on-one session? All these questions nagged at Claire as she awaited the next instruction.

It was oddly cold inside the circle. Claire had expected that six robed bodies hand-to-hand, surrounded by candles would be a least lukewarm but there was a cool stillness here. She stood as a statue, her eyes on Ava, who held her head bowed to the floor. It seemed she was in deep focus, her eyes closed and her hands still by her side. Everyone stared as Claire did, all anticipating a stir; even Helena and Melissa seemed anxious as to when it would come. A slight twitch of Ava’s hand beneath her robe nearly startled Claire, prompting the thought that it really must have been ‘scare Claire’ night. Ava slowly looked up. The coldness in her eyes was nowhere to be seen. It was as if the callous and focused women Claire new her to be had in this moment been replaced by someone new; her eyes were filled with an ethereal warmth, her cheeks warm and welcoming, her shoulders even seemed to loosen, although she did not smile. She looked gently around the circle and announced “Let us begin.”
Her tone was inviting and reverberated a positive energy through Claire, and seemingly everyone else. Slowly Ava raised her arms up and towards the centre of the circle, beginning to chant quietly “Fer opes, stabilitatem me fac, me iuva, crescam” repeatedly. Helena and Melissa were the first to join, barely increasing the volume, followed by Edith, who seemed to fight with a broad smile as she closed her eyes and began to repeat the words. Katelyn came next, closing her eyes and joining the chant, creasing her eyebrows and focusing intently, then finally Claire did the same, raising the overall volume of the chant a little more than she had meant to. She hoped that was okay.

*

Otto Palmer’s office was filled with strange objects; paintings of alien landscapes, small idols depicting unrecognisable creatures, urns with seemingly ancient engravings and leather-bound books older than the trees surrounding his home. To most it would seem more an occult museum or a twisted freakshow than an office, but a varied career in the occult had led Otto to a peculiar sense of interior design. Among all these baffling and intriguing objects and ornaments stood one in particular that peaked his interest on this night. Upon a shelf on the wall opposite his desk lay a bottle of port. Dow’s, aged twenty years.
Mr Palmer poured himself a generous glass and sat back in his well-worn armchair. It certainly hadn’t been a big day for him – his occult consultations seemed to be far less in demand than they used to be, and he hadn’t been even asked about an exorcism in years. He felt this to be a victory, a sign that his near-lifelong battle against the darkness had been a winning one. Whether or not God officially wanted his help, whether or not the church approved of his practise (they most certainly did not), and whether or not the world at large believed him to be insane, he was content in knowing that he had lived as a force for good in this world. He raised his glass to his lips, closed his eyes and took a slow, satisfied sip of his drink. The smooth thick texture soothed his old, brittle throat as he drank it down. Opening his eyes he noticed the glass still in front of his face. His arm wouldn’t move. He strained trying to force it down as a pained tightness overtook it – a cold sweat began to break out all over his frail body as the tightness spread to his chest. An intense soreness crept between his shoulder blades and the sensation of a closing fist found its way to his heart. He finally managed to jolt himself up and out of his seat, but his now weak legs gave in, colliding his body with the hard wood floor beneath him. He quivered there, the port flowing from his glass to his face, stinging his eyes. He tried to yell but all that came was a croaked whimper. A varied career in the occult had left his heart strained, and on this particular night it gave up.

*

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*THUD*
Claire quickly opened her eyes at the sound of a thump on the floor above them. She wasn’t sure what had created the sound, but the sudden stir made her nervous. Looking around, no one else seemed to notice; their eyes all remained closed and their chanting unbroken. The group seemed hypnotised, hopelessly caught by the web of the spell; only Claire had been ripped free from the absorbing ritual. They didn’t even seem to notice that she had stopped, but she was sure she heard something upstairs. Looking again around the circle she noticed something. Edith was crying. She was chanting as before but her promising smile had disappeared; each tear left a stream of desperation and sorrow down her face. Although she couldn’t say what it was or how, Claire felt a palpable sense that something was wrong. Like some sort of unwanted presence had entered the room, it’s eyes fixed on the group. But surely not, Ava had been doing this for years – she’d notice, right? Then again, it didn’t feel like Ava was here, the way she’d changed right before the ritual. The focused and calculated woman who usually occupied that body wasn’t here to notice that something was deeply wrong.
A flicker in the corner of Claire’s eye. The fireplace. The hint of an ember she had noticed earlier had become a red heat spread across the interior of the logs. As if it were a flame all but burnt out. Slowly it seemed to grow and almost pulsate as it started to lick the brick walls around it. The flames grew and rose until a vague heat became a small flame, became a modest fire, and grew to a roaring inferno. The colours mesmerised Claire; although it seemed at a glance to be a regular fire, each wave of the flame seemed to flare a hint of new colour, every edge of the mass changing and morphing until all she could see was a horrid, writhing mass of colours. Everything, all at once; it began to overload her senses but still, she couldn’t move. Whatever it was, it had her. The kaleidoscope began to spread, turning outwards and slowly, methodically, almost consciously revealing a dark, empty centre. Emanating from this black space, now as big as her, Claire felt one thing. Hate.
Slowly, a dark and toxic mist began to leak from the emptiness, spilling out onto the rug below. As the mist gathered it began to move with a sickly intelligence, a malignant purpose about it. It piled upon itself, beginning to reveal form. An arm, a leg – it was almost human for a moment before reaching the head. A tall, dark figure stood before Claire. The mist continued to flow from every part of its body, the true figure beneath remaining obfuscated. All she could make out were a set of powerful, hooved legs, and a set of twisted, broken horns upon its head, cutting clearly through the fog. It began to move, it’s steps forceful and determined, yet weightless. With the landing of each hoof came a low, muted *doomph*, reverberating as if the space were impossibly large. Claire was sure it was aware of her, but it’s malice-drenched steps took it not to her, but over to Edith. She was still chanting, but Claire couldn’t hear it. At some point it had left her capacity to interpret; all she could hear was hear own heartbeat, and the hateful footsteps. The presence stood behind Edith and began to put its hands on her body, this slow seduction somehow filling Claire with more terror than was already about her. She didn’t know a human being could feel this much fear at once, that anyone could feel this much of anything.
She was paralysed as the being caressed Edith’s body, laying it’s leprous hands across her hips, one slowly passing across the dunes of her ribcage to her left breast; the other more sinisterly descending to the valley between her legs. Both hands lay in their positions for a moment, sensually kneading the body of it’s still unaware participant until a sudden gentle stop. It hastily gripped her tightly, withing nothing but the intention to harm and as it did two eyes appeared in the head, staring right back into Claire as the words came to her, from the blackest, most vile voice “Infernum est dominus tuus nunc.” Two dark orange caverns seized her, and her gaze fell down them; a pair of endless, dark and fiery pits. She felt years of torment in the moment she gave to them, hot coals in her lungs, needles in her throat, blades slashing under her nails and teeth being hammered back into her skull. She screamed and finally managed to rip herself away from the horror that strangled her. She had endured a single second of hell.
With Claire’s scream the rest of the group awakened; Claire’s hearing returned as she collapsed to the floor, shaking, gripping herself tightly as tears flowed uncontrollably from her eyes. Ava’s gaze seized the shape as it began to flow back into the open void, dragging the now panicked and terrified Edith with it. Edith screamed and writhed as her body began to contort, her image twisting and flailing like the very fire that consumed her. Ava let out a deafening cry, once more overloading Claire’s senses, muting the world around her. Katelyn, Helena and Melissa all covered their ears and fell to the floor as the cry reverberated through them, feeling each bone in their body resonate with the tone of her voice. Claire looked up at Ava to see a powerful, silver-blue aura bursting from her body as she shouted unknowable phrases at the infernal shape before them. The being began to struggle, its structure rippled like stormy waves and began to fall apart, but still it dragged Edith’s twisted form through the flames into the dark pit. The fire began to close around the opening, with Edith now lost on the other side but Ava’s lyrical onslaught ceased not. Again she hurled forgotten phrase after forgotten phrase at the rift, the heavenly glow around her expanding ferociously with each word. The flames had all but closed before the furthest expansion of Ava’s mighty rapture reached it, tendrils of bright light began to rip open the gate, colours swirling as it pulsated against the aura. Slowly the opening became just large enough and a lone tentacle of light dived in. The struggle continued as the fiery hole began to overpower Ava, slowly closing again. It seemed hours she fought it from closing, her essence searching for the lost sister of the coven on the other side. With the hole barely big enough to squeeze a child through, Edith was ripped out, birthed once more into the world of the living. The rift imploded in on itself, it’s shockwave hurling Ava’s old, and now exhausted body against the doors behind her. In front of the fireplace lay Edith. Face down, her clothes burnt away, revealing hundreds of fresh scars and burns. Aeons of torture and suffering compressed into only a few minutes. She breathed heavily at first, quickly working her way down to complete stillness. Claire stared at the body on the ground before her. She knew the woman that was dragged into the pit. This was not her.

*

A naked, pale body bowed on its knees, face-down in front of the fireplace. Lacerations painted the tortured canvas of her skin from head to toe, shaded with burns – the skin rippling like scrunched up paper. Edith would not look up, even as Melissa began to console her, gently laying a blanket over her. She did not flinch as the knitted wool embrace her tattered skin. It seemed that nothing, not a single sense of hers was being provoked by the world around her. Melissa wasn’t ready to try anything forceful with her – the woman had just returned from hell – but she suspected even that wouldn’t gain Edith’s acknowledgement. She just remained bowed, head down, hands on her head. Perfectly, deathly still.
Helena lay Ava down on the lounge that had been moved next to the door, the space needed for candles – all of which had been blown out by the contest mere moments before. She wasn’t a medical professional but knew first aid and was fairly sure Ava was okay, just a bit banged up and exhausted by her exertion of energy. In the many years she’d been performing rituals like this with Ava, she’d never witnessed her display anywhere near that amount of power – even to a seasoned witch, that was incredible. “Is she okay?” Katelyn stood behind her, tears still in her eyes. Everyone had taken a moment to calm down a little, but tensions were still high. Katelyn didn’t make eye contact with Helena but rather fixed on the fragile woman beneath them with an honest fear. “Don’t worry dear, a performance like that was enough to put anyone to bed – she might not be awake for a few days but she’ll be fine.” Helena reassured her. “You might want to tend to your friend.” She tilted her head to the back-left corner of the room, where Claire sat – curled into a slightly shivering ball. She had a pretty significant outburst right after it ended, crying and screaming about how fucked they all are and how she hated Kate for bringing her into this. She knew it was just the intensity of the moment getting the better of her, but Katelyn had to admit she felt somewhat responsible.
“Claire?” She tenderly approached her, beginning to crouch down in front of her. Claire had her eyes fixed on the floor in front of her, her expression empty. “I’m sorry,” Katelyn started “I never thought anything like this would ha-“
“I saw it.” Claire cut her off.
“I know, we all did. Something we were never meant to see, but-“
“No. You caught a glimpse as it pulled her in. I saw it tear its way into the room. I saw it take shape, and touch her. Kate it looked at me. Right into me.”
“You looked into its eyes?”
“She what?” Melissa interjected, turning from her scarred patient “Claire tell me you didn’t.”
“It had me, I couldn’t move – I could hardly breathe. At first it was just an empty face. It wasn’t even that, it was just a black empty… nothing where the face should’ve been. But it cracked open, like two empty holes inside the nothing.” Claire was starting to rave and cry “There was so much hate. So much hate inside it – god I can still feel it, it hurt so much, I just want it to stop, please-“
“Claire stop it now.” Melissa cut in flatly “It’s gone. The presence is back where it came from. Now it’s going to take some time for you to feel normal again, but I promise it’s over.”
Claire finally looked up, into Melissa’s eyes. There was a warm strength about her, she felt that everything she was doing in this moment was to help her. Like she was the only person in the world Melissa could care for right now. She barely knew this woman, but in this moment she trusted her completely – maybe it was her face, her tone, or maybe she just needed to trust someone.
“Okay.” She said, her shoulders relaxing.
“How did you break free?” Katelyn asked
“When it saw me I-“
“No, no, before then. When we were all in the trance. You were the only one who was awake to see it. Why?”
Claire paused for a moment, retracing her thoughts, remembering the loud thump from above, “I heard something. There was a loud bump upstairs, I wasn’t sure what to do, or if it was important but you were all still chanting.”
“A bump?” Melissa questioned
“Yeah, like something hitting the floor.”
Melissa wore a concerned frown on her face, like she was beginning to fear a malign pattern, “Helena,” she called, returning to the military-like tone she and the others expressed during the rituals, “Check on Otto.”
Helena’s expression changed to a deeper concern, seemingly a realisation seizing her. She removed the rosemary from the doors, opening them and hurrying herself upstairs.
“What is it?” Kate asked, becoming more unsure of the situation.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, Otto spent a long portion of his life keeping hell in check.”
“Yeah he made us pretty aware earlier tonight.” Claire answered, her playfully sardonic tone beginning to return to her.
“He has a powerful presence – not just his demeanour but his spirit itself. Having him around is almost like a safeguard for rituals this big. When someone sends back as many inhuman spirits as Otto has, they start to remember him.”
“You mean they’re afraid of him?” Katelyn suggested
“Afraid or not, they’re aware of him. The fact that one came through tonight is more than unusual. But even stranger…” she paused
“What?” Claire asked
“He didn’t do anything about it.”

*

Passed out on the floor, Otto found his unconscious mind reliving past memories. His time abroad was filled with tragedy and darkness; this time presented in the form of a young girl, no more than 12 years old. Chesah, her name was. While he tried to remember the way her mother held her after the spirit was exorcised, his mind lingered on the contortions of her face as it had her. It wasn’t his first exorcism by a long shot, in fact, one of the later ones in his career. He walked off the dirt road and was lead into the tiny two-story house by a one of the neighbours – a woman in her early twenties; not entirely sure of the situation outside the fact that the little girl was unwell. He traversed the damp heat of the main room, following a ladder to the shared bedroom upstairs. Peel-and-stick Hello Kitty tiles reflected a light pink onto his face as his eyes met the girl and her mother in the middle of the room.
“Don’t be frightened. This will all be over very soon.” He said, now standing over the two. It took only one look into the child’s eyes before Otto was certain she was not there. Somewhere, deep inside that mind a little girl was locked away, being tortured second by second. His task was to safely retrieve her from the beast that held her there, and vanquish the evil spirit. Chesah’s mother was aware of Otto and his practise; it had only been a matter of days before she asked him to see her daughter, long enough for her to be sure her daughter was possessed. Demonic possession was a novel thing in the west, but an all-too-frequent reality in the third world. She stood aside and watched, her arms wrapped around herself.
Otto undid his top three buttons and from his pocket, laid a small plain, worn bible next to Chesah. She breathed more heavily now. “Chesah, if you can hear me in there, I’m very sorry for what is about to happen. Our father, who art in heaven…” as he began to recite the Lord’s prayer, the girl convulsed. First she lazily jolted left to right, like a bad seizure. As he continued, her whole body began to jerk, steadily rising into the air for longer, more unnatural periods of time. It appeared less and less as if she was shaking herself, and more as if a malicious, unseen hand was quaking her. He continued his prayer, a slow crescendo as the presence grew more violent. She raised her left hand directly in the air, each finger bending backwards, stretching until the bones in her digits bent – first the slight click of a mild fracture, but the tension grew and the joints tortured further against their natural will, until *CLICK*. Otto didn’t stop. He didn’t bat an eye. This had been his business for some years now, and it would take a lot more than broken fingers to shake him.
He finished the Lord’s prayer and gave the demon no time at all before sinking his teeth into Hail Mary. At these words the demon started to scream through Chesah’s throat. A putrid, twisted mockery of the human voice pouring through her, black slime spurting from her mouth like a fountain of filth. Whatever horror spewed from her began to redecorate the cramped room, spreading it’s fetid scent. Chesah’s mother began to gag and retch, tears crashing down her face – not just from the horror of witnessing her daughter suffer, but from the smell as the presence within her slowly became exposed. Otto was now thundering the prayer from his lungs, his voice deep and commanding; the vile spirit inside the girl seemingly becoming weaker. He reached into his back pocket and retrieved a small glass bottle of holy water, splashing it generously at the girl’s body as it shook. With every drop, black smoke began to fall off her, like dry ice emitting cold steam. It was deep, sickly mist, gathering and contorting on the floor in front of Otto. He finished the prayer and moved directly onto the Athanasian Creed, staring straight through the mist at the girl, refusing to acknowledge the smoke beneath him. Chesah started clawing frantically at her belly, her broken fingers weren’t much use but soon the thing using her body managed to draw blood. The thunder of Otto’s voice became more rapturous as he splashed the holy water more generously, finishing the Creed in record time and letting loose at the infernal shade “YOU WILL LEAVE THIS BODY AND THIS HOUSE, GO BACK TO THE FILTH AND TORMENT FROM WHENCE YOU CAME. THIS HOUSE BELONGS TO CHRIST, AND HIS WILL IS EXECUTED THROUGH ME.” As Otto bellowed his command, the smoke before him compressed in an instant; into a vague, almost incomprehensible shape resembling a man. The details of its form shifted and changed, but from the smoke, a set of jagged, twisted horns became visible. He could locate no eyes through which to confront it, but a gaping eternal, hungry mouth opened at his eye level.
“Your God is a fat, gutless pig and your pitiful words are the shit ripped from its eviscerated colon; you are the discharge of a coward spat into the putrid cunt of a whore who should’ve choked on you in the squalor she fucked in.”
This was new. He had been recipient to many obscene insults before, but always spoken through the possessed. This was a full-blown demon standing in front of him – an inhuman spirit taking corporeal form; a true, dark and hateful voice penetrating his earthly ears. He had to remain strong. “I FEAR NOT YOUR TWISTED WORDS, NOR YOUR VILE FORM. YOU ARE THE-“
“The what? The filth of below? The infernal abomination? I am so much more than that Otto Palmer. I am your oblivion, your hate, your fear; I am all the pain you will ever feel for the rest of eternity – I am the suffering of all you hold dear. I am your hell.”
For a moment he felt it. Staring down the crevasse it used for a mouth, he felt fear, pain, suffering. He felt the torment of everything he loved. In this moment he could have given up – why was he even here? Doing the job of a church who disdained him, who were hiding this truth from the world, more content with maintaining a friendly image than with being a force for good in this world. Here he was, fighting for a God who’d given him nothing in this world, who’d repeatedly thrown it all in his face and even now, as he felt nothing but pain there was no help. *Ekkhuhh* a sputtering, blood-filled cough broke his entrancement. In a small, tiny moment he looked past the malevolence in front of him to a little girl, barely clinging on to life. A little girl who had endured god knows how much torment in the last few days; locked inside her own mind, with this monster ruling over her psyche. And she was still here. Gripping life by what tiny thread of it was left.
He wasn’t here for God. He most definitely wasn’t here for the church. He was here for her. He was here because he knew in his heart that he had to help her, in any way he could.
“My… hell?” he slowly began at the demon. “You claim to be… my hell? THEN SO BE IT.” As he shattered the moment, a golden light burst from him, ripping a hole in the reality behind the dark figure. “IF YOU WOULD BE MINE, THEN I SHALL BE YOURS, DEMON. BY MY OWN POWER, BY MY OWN COMMAND AND MY BY OWN WORDS, I CONDEMN YOU BACK TO THE PIT.” The beast let out a cry of pure abhorrence as the whirlpool of light behind it began to swallow it, twisting and bending it’s shape into new forms of pain. “What is this? You cannot condemn me like this, it is not your power.”
“KNOW THIS DEMON; THIS POWER IS MINE AND MY OWN. THE FORCES OF EVIL WILL KNOW THIS. IF YOU WISH TO TORMENT THIS WORLD, I WILL BE THERE TO STOP YOU.” Otto proudly defied the demon, feeling another surge of power bust from himself, forcing the spirit into the abyss behind it.
Its howl pierced the world around it, and in an instant the rift closed with the demon on the other side. Whatever Otto had found inside himself, it was a new and worthy power. But that power was wasted, as he lay on the floor of his office. It was his turn to cling to life, much like Chesah had done then, and as Helena walked in frantically calling his name, laying her hands on him; that battle would truly begin.

*

Helena didn’t scream as she walked in on the seemingly lifeless body of Otto Palmer. She was stronger than that – sure, she let out an audible gasp but years of discipline and study with Ava in such a dangerous art had led her to a sterner demeanour. Maybe thirty years ago, when it all started, maybe then she would have lost her cool – back when she was fragile and quick to tears, a real spilt milk type. She’d lost enough since then to harden up, and gained enough to know how to keep it. She was quick, allowing herself one small moment to process what was in front of her before stepping to action – Otto had been a good friend for many years after all, as much as she tried to repress it, a blow to the composure was natural. She put one hand on Otto’s shoulder and the other on his throat, checking his pulse. Still alive, good. She then turned him over as gently as she could and put her ear to his mouth. He seemed to be breathing shakily but well enough.
The only phone in the house was, conveniently enough, in Otto’s office. Ava had made arguments before as to how phones are vehicles for communication, that they could affect the rituals by allowing unwanted voices in and while that was all somewhat compelling, Helena, Melissa and Otto all quietly agreed she was just a luddite. Maybe there was something to it but the distinct lack of modern technology in Ava’s life seemed less a result of discipline and more a symptom of stubbornness. They never told the younger girls as they thought it best to respect Ava’s authority, although she rarely explained to them her reasoning for the phone-ban.
It didn’t take much to get an ambulance on their way – an old man on the floor, possible heart attack, they sent one right over. It was as soon as Helena finished her call that she began to hear a creaking on the semi-ancient floorboards behind her.

*

Claire had almost fully retained her more calm self; holding conversation with Melissa had helped her relax, like a close friend guiding her down from a bad trip (the irony of her best friend being in the room not lost on her). “So, there’s like… definitely a hell then.” She concluded, coming to grips with implications of the night,
“Yes, there is a hell and yes, that was… it.” Melissa affirmed
“So then there’s also a heaven.” Claire continued
“Well we should hope so, or else the balance isn’t exactly in our favour.”
“Wait you’re not sure? But all that light coming from Ava, that was like, heaven stuff, right?”
“’Heaven stuff’?” Melissa raised an eyebrow
“Well what else would you call it?”
“Those techniques come from the self, Claire. Prayer and worship doesn’t seem to get anyone very far. It’s not until you look for that power inside yourself that you find it.”
“Isn’t that the core principle of Satanism?” Katelyn cut in
Claire rolled her eyes, “Satanism is a dumb book written by a self-righteous virgin who moped in church every Sunday while his parents sang hymns.”
Melissa paused, a little confused by Claire’s declaration, “While… both you of may be correct, the force Ava exerted from herself is probably a bit more visceral than whatever’s in the ‘virgin book’. We’re not entirely sure how it develops; everyone we’ve known to use it has been involved in this life. Maybe everyone has it somewhere inside themselves. Maybe not. It’s complicated.”
“Wait so you’ve seen demons and stuff before but heaven hasn’t interfered at all? No guardian angels or voice of god?” Claire was confused
“Never. The pit is all too keen to leak out onto earth but heaven, if it’s there at all, keeps itself hidden.”
“How do we know it’s hell and not some like, alien world or alternate dimension or whatever opening up to our world?” Katelyn suggested
“We don’t.” Melissa flatly answer
“So why call it hell?”
“That’s what they call it.”
“The d-words? They talk?”
“It spoke to me.” Claire stated sheepishly
“What did it say?” Melissa asked quickly. It was less of a question and more of a toneless demand.
“I don’t really… know… It was in Latin, but nothing I could make sense of.” Claire shrunk back into the corner she was sitting in as Melissa’s militaristic ego stabbed into her.
“Infernum est dominus tuus nunc…” A chillingly familiar voice crept from deep in the room. The three jerked their heads immediately to where the once familiar body of Edith had been left.
“Edith… she’s gone.” Katelyn peeped, the fear in her voice more than palpable
“Hell is your master now.” The voice was a warped and tortured sister to the gentle tone Edith had sung to her friends earlier that night. It was raspy, a choked whisper barely croaking over her vocal folds from a windpipe filled with brimstone. It seemed to come from everywhere, Melissa slowly scanned the room, the two girls with their eyes fixed on her. Claire refused to look beyond her; to do so would mean the possibility of seeing whatever Edith had become, and seeing that would make it real. She couldn’t let it be real. She had pushed the poor, mangled shape of a woman from her mind. The fear had been slowly freezing her from her core, turning each nerve to ice one by one, but in the last twelve seconds that dark frost had exploded out, seizing her entire body. All she could feel was the cold ice of terror wrapping around her. She let it take her, freezing with her gaze on Melissa; as long as she didn’t look away it couldn’t become real. Everything could still be okay, if she didn’t look.
*CRRRRRRKK…….*
Right above her head. The wall. Something was on the wall right above her. Don’t look. Please don’t look. It’s nothing. It isn’t there.
*CRRRKK….*
Shorter. Closer. Don’t do it. It’s not there. Please don’t let it be there.
Claire couldn’t bare it. Her neck began to crane against her will. She felt the joints in her spine crack ever so slightly as her head tilted back.
Right above her, inches from her face hung the depraved musing on what she used to call Edith. Two blue white circles stared directly back into her now tearful eyes. She wanted out. She was trying to scream but there was nothing but silence between them. A completely blank expression paralysing her against the floor. Surely the others would notice? Please God let them notice soon. As the tears welled in Claire’s eyes, one of the pools overflowed a stream down her face. She heard the cracked lips of the not-Edith above her smack ever-so-lightly as it broke a far-too-wide grin. It stretched ear-to-ear and then just… kept going. It should have ended but Jesus it never did. And the teeth. No creature on God’s green earth could, should have teeth like that. So many and so… wrong. They were all bent and sharp and straight and dull and just about every form a tooth could take tortured into one mouth. In that face she saw the same malevolence she saw in the demon. Once again, she saw hell.
Finally the chaos that penetrated her mind became too much; the smile broke her and Claire let out a piercing scream. It almost felt good to relieve the pressure of the moment, like maybe this would make it go away.
It didn’t go away.
Kate and Melissa both jolted around and in half an instant the three of them pulled away. Katelyn’s scream was shorter but Melissa let out no more than a gasp, grabbing the girls and pulling them as far back as she could behind her. The Not-Edith scuttled back up the wall, it was a malnourished spider moving unnaturally fast and fiercely gripping onto anything it could. It crawled not with its hands but with each individual finger tapping the walls, heavy centipedes dragging the body as it’s legs fluttered behind, just barely pecking the surfaces beneath them. It quickly disappeared across the ceiling and… towards the door. “Helena.” The name escaped Melissa’s lips in one fractured breath.

*

As Helena turned to meet whoever had come to check on her she found herself face-to-face with the perverted shape of her always-struggling friend staring right into her. All the thoughts of Otto suddenly muted. She knew he needed CPR if the ambulance didn’t arrive soon, she knew she had to keep an eye on him and she knew she had to update the girls downstairs. But all of those words shrunk inside her head, disappearing off to the back of her brain. The thing that used to be Edith held her with the most horrid smile any human had ever born witness to. Or so she hoped.
In an instant it leapt upon her, digging two bony fingers into her left eye socket and breaking swiftly through the bone underneath her eyeball, it snarled and drooled on top of her it’s face painting the most perfect bond of joy and hatred. She felt the vile fingers wriggling around like worms against the inside of her cheekbone, molesting the inside of her mouth. The screams were automatic; her ears received the sound of footsteps thumping up the stairs but her conscious mind could sense nothing outside the pain. The Not-Edith ripped away her entire cheek bone in one hateful pull, dislodging her jaw from her face and taking several top molars with it. The thing must have registered the footsteps as that was the last precise move it made on Helena’s face. It began frantically ripping flesh from her face and throat, the same swiftness and instinct as a dog burying a fresh deposit. Helena’s screams became watery and gurgled as her throat turned to a soupy pool of blood and cartilage.
The three burst through the door to witness this desecration of their friends body. Without a moment to think Melissa made a B-line for the bottle of Dow’s on Otto’s desk, smashing it desperately over the Not-Edith’s head with as much force as her body was capable of. It’s smile somehow widening even further, the thing jump to her and laid its blood-soaked hands around Melissa’s arm, biting directly through her radius and ulna at the wrist, tearing away a few growth plates with them. Crimson fluid exploded from Melissa’s arm as she cried out in agony; she could feel her bones crunch and splinter as the jagged plates of the things mouth crashed through her. Her hand fell to the floor, still grasping the neck of the bottle as she fell against the wall, desperately grasping the top of her wrist, not yet fully comprehending the loss of her hand.
Katelyn had frozen the moment she saw what was left of Helena, and seeing Melissa’s disarming threw her body to the floor in dismay, but Claire found herself somehow thrown into gear. She had just regained her composure and wasn’t about to lose it again; seeing someone who’d worked so hard to bring her down from panic now suffering snapped her mind into action. In a split second she scanned the room – a tall torchiere lamp immediately to her right, against the door frame. She grasped it firmly near the bottom, bringing the elderly glass head down on the back of the Edith-thing’s skull. The bulb casing shattered revealing the tungsten, searing the things neck, causing it to finally scream out in pain. It turned to Claire but she held it at bay with the now broken lamp; it seemed to fear the heat of the shattered bulb. She jabbed at it like a cruel lion tamer teaching the animal to fear them, before the Not-Edith threw itself against the wall. From there it launched itself like a pouncing cat past Claire and Katelyn, down the stairs and through the front window. Claire held onto her state of heightened defence for an extra moment before letting her guard down to process and tend to the now-amputee Melissa.

*

“Pretty nice neighbourhood.” Dan stepped down out of the ambulance onto the wet concrete of the footpath; the moist, cool air tickling his face and managing to chill under his near-buzzcut. Late enough for the roads to be quiet, not late enough for the real cold to set in; his favourite time to be out on call. “Yeah it’s ‘round here the rich oldies come to retire. It’s certainly a lot nicer than going to a retirement home, if not a bit lonelier.” Rich started to explain away.
“Yeah, if you can afford it.” Dan flatly pointed out, looking up at the grand old house they had been called to. It was only just starting to irk him, the way Rich needed to explain every neighbourhood they set foot in. Did he ever have any idea what he was even talking about? Or was he just rambling to hear himself talk? Either way, it was getting annoying.
“Planning my friend, it’s all about planning.” Rich informed him, as if it were a novel idea
“Yeah I know.”
“Cos if you set yourself up right, a few investments in the right places-“
“Yeah man, I know.” Dan tried to cut in, adding a little aggression this time
“Seriously you gotta look at the historical evidence, figure out what’s gonna be big and put your money there.”
“Okay Rich.”
“You ever heard of Bitcoin?”
*CRRRRAASSH*
The window right by the front door of the old house shattered open, a naked women with tattered skin flying through. She looked as she’d gone for a swim in a sea of broken glass some years ago and somehow lived through it. “JESUS FUCK!” Rich shouted as she came through.
“Wait what the-“ Dan barely turned himself around before the woman was upon him. She leapt upon him, her weight pushing him to the ground. He looked her straight in the eyes, just long enough to be gripped by the frightening emptiness within them. Her gaze holding him he felt a pressure just below his belly button as her hand started to push against it. Slowly the pressure increased until the skin was broken. He felt her hand tangle through his intestines as they caught on her fractured, cubist fingernails. Her hand moved upwards passing his gallbladder and moving towards his stomach and liver. The pain increased with every movement, the touch of her hand and arm against every vein sending a new shock of agony to his brain. Her hand squeezed around his stomach, her claw nails puncturing it with ease. Dan’s brain was overloaded with pain as he couldn’t help but wonder “Why doesn’t Rich do anything? Is he just standing there? Rich you fucking cunt why won’t you do something?” Somehow these thoughts simply floated on top of the unbearable pain that was overtaking him. Like a secondary consciousness separating itself from the Dan that was being tortured so unfairly.
His skin broke apart more at the base of his abdomen as the woman pushed her hand deeper. Two things were surprising in this moment; the first being that she passed over his heart without stopping to torment it further, the second being that he was still alive. Passing his heart, she tore into his oesophagus and with one slow, deliberate push forced her up and hand out of his mouth. Now completely skewered on her arm, she released Dan from her gaze. And then the screaming began, muffled as it was. Whether he retained the capacity to hear it, Rich began screaming as well, sprinting from the scene with the frantic speed of a hungry rat. The woman let Dan sit with his own choked cries for a moment before viscously tearing her arm upwards and out of him, severing every part of his body between her arm and its freedom.
Dan saw his own jaw fly up in the air in front of him before coming down to land next to his left temple. For a few moments he continued to live, wondering simply why he had been a victim on this night, and when he would finally die. The light dimmed and the cool air tickled his skin once more. It really was quite a nice neighbourhood.

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*

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, what do we do? Kate please help I don’t know what the FUCK I’m doing here.” Claire frantically tried to wrap Otto’s front pocket handkerchief around Melissa’s fleshy nub. “KATE.” She barked, more frustrated than before.
“I’M SORRY.” Katelyn finally woke from her paralysed state of fear.
“I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what the fucking do I’m not a fucking doctor!” she began to bark back.
“Well don’t just SIT there like a fucking retard!”
“Helena… she…” Melissa began to let a few words out, slowly in daze.
“She’s dead, she’s very fucking dead right now if you haven’t forgotten.” Claire indelicately cut in.
“No she… Otto… She would have called… an ambulance… I think…” she coughed as she got the last words out, a little blood coming with them
“She would- Okay alright that’s good we can work with that. At least fucking Edith is gone.” Claire said, pulling the handkerchief tight. “Kate go check outside, wait for them to turn up.”
“What if she’s out there?”
“Well bring a fucking knife or something, you figure it out.”
Katelyn frowned, leading herself to the kitchen downstairs.
The vast rich-old-people kitchen held a large array of knives, all out on display on a very proud rack on the counter. Finally something simple, Katelyn thought – as if the knives were all laid out for her in particular. Very little thought was required to select the largest, most Michael-Myers-est butcher knife from the group. She began to walk cautiously and quietly from the kitchen to the front door. She hoped with all her heart that the ambulance would be there already. Just rolling up as she stepped out, maybe the paramedics would even out of the vehicle already and waiting for someone to lead them in, a most perfect of timing. The last thing she wanted was to wait. Kate really didn’t think she could handle waiting. After everything, the thought of further anticipation filled her with dread. Waiting would build tension, it meant there had to be some sort of payoff, a climax and the nearest thing she could think of was… Edith. Well, the thing that used to be Edith. She didn’t know much about D-words or hell or any of that stuff but she figured Edith must have been possessed. So they could get it out of her right? If Otto was okay he could do an exorcism and make her okay again, surely? But even still. Would she want that? Edith? Her body was a horrible mess, and Kate could only imagine the pain she must be in. Would she really want to return to herself at this point? She remembered how in movies the possessed people seemed to just kinda heal from the damage. Like the girl in The Exorcist; sure she was all fucked up for a while there when the demon was in her but once it was out she was pretty much back to normal. Somehow that didn’t feel realistic. She had seen the scars on Edith’s skin, the way it had tightened over her, the boniness of her once Monroe-type figure. This didn’t feel like it could just reset like it did in the movies. And even worse, Helen would still be gone. Melissa would live (she couldn’t die just from losing a hand right?) but there was no way to bring Helen back.
Katelyn stepped up to the door, ignoring the shattered window – partially because of the harsh reality it reminded her of, partially to delay the inevitable truth that the ambulance would not be magically waiting for her. If it were coming at all. She paused for a few seconds in front of the door, taking a deep breathe before opening it. The image hit her all at once. Her first thought being relief that the ambulance was actually already here, the second being shock at the massacre in front of her. There, by the ambulance, lay a man completely eviscerated. His insides from his pelvis to his nose were completely laid out either side of him, his jaw ripped off and left just beside his head. Clamping a hand to her mouth she suppressed a scream. As much as she wanted to let it out, she still feared that Edith might be nearby. She held the knife defensively out in front of her and backed herself into the house, quickly but quietly closing the door behind her. She hastily made her way back upstairs where Claire was sitting with Melissa, trying to keep her awake.
“The ambulance is, uh… here.” Katelyn announced
“Okay so are they coming in?” Claire asked
“Um. No.”
“What?”
“There’s a guy out there and he’s… um…”
“What? Get him inside!”
“He’s super… uh… dead.”
“Shit.”
Melissa looked up at Katelyn, she seemed much more cognoscente now, “There should be a defibrillator in the ambulance, go get it.” She held her hand, pain piercing through each of her words.
“Okay one sec.” Kate ran back down the stairs, trying to think about where she was going as little as possible. A few moments later she ran back into the room holding a small green box, it read ‘AED Defibrillator’ on the side. “Okay I think this is it. So how do we use it.” Katelyn asked. The three looked at each other. It wasn’t until this moment that it occurred to each of them that none of them had any idea how to use a defibrillator outside of saying ‘clear’. “You’re joking right.” Kate said
“I’ve never done first aid, you know that!” Claire cleared herself.
“Helena knew first aid but…” Melissa said, leading them all to stare once more at her dismembered body.
“Okay fuck it.” Katelyn exclaimed, pulling her phone from underneath her robe
“You bitch!” Claire yelled, only mostly surprised “Is that why all this happened? Cos you had your fucking phone with you? That’s so you Kate, that’s so you, Jesus Christ.”
“Shut up okay, I needed it for google maps, I’m meeting someone after this!”
“Oh it just gets better doesn’t it, Helena died and Melissa lost her hand because you had a dick appointment.”
“SHUT UP, BOTH OF YOU.” Melissa broke through, her frustration immense, “Ava’s phone rule is bullshit, it doesn’t mean anything she’s just a luddite so stop fucking arguing – I don’t know what’s worse, you or the hand.” she held up her lack there-of.
They both looked down in shame, then at each other apologetically. “Sorry for calling you the R-word earlier.” Claire, her tone slightly slurred and childlike.
“That’s okay” Kate replied, equally juvenile.
“Great now if we’ve all made up and everyone’s friends again how about we figure out how to use this defibrillator so Otto doesn’t fucking die? What do we think class? Good idea?” Melissa pushed forward, still forcing every word through the thick pain of her wrist. The bleeding had stopped for now but the pain was present as ever.
“How… use… defib… okay here we go.” Katelyn found an answer quickly, one with pictures too. “So basically we turn it on, put the pads on his bare chest, it analyses him and then it’ll tell us when to press ‘zap’.”
“There’s no way it’s that simple” Claire said
“No seriously that’s all there is.” Katelyn got to work unbuttoning Otto’s shirt, revealing his chest, sprinkled with grey hairs – far from the Amazonian jungle she had expected. Just like in the pictures she put one electrode pad above his right breast, the other below his left. She turned it on “Peel cover off blue pad and place on left shoulder” a robotic voice immediately directed her “HOLY SHIT” Kate jumped back, startled by the unexpected vocal directive, before immediately crawling back to make sure she had the pads the right way around “Peel cover off red pad and place below right breast”
“Oh thank god I got that right already.”
“Evaluating heart rhythm…” Katelyn sat totally still, not wanting to mess anything up. “Standby… Remain clear, do not touch patient… Delivering shock.” The AED let out a series of rapid beeps for a few seconds before
*CHU-CHUNK*
“Shock delivered.” Otto jumped up, more agilely than any elderly probably should, taking in deep, pained breaths. “Edith! Where is she?!” He shot the words out like blow-darts in between frantic breaths. The other three sat and stared at him a moment, their jaws hanging low at his impressive resilience. “Girls, please! We have to find her!” his proud composure was, for the first time in years, quite broken. Melissa had never seen Otto truly act his age.
“Uhhhh… she’s gone.” Claire finally answered. “We just barely fought her off after she…” her eyes drifted to Helena’s torn up body, and then to Melissa’s handless-nub.
“Where did she go?? We have to find her and stop her immediately, before she hurts anyone else.” Otto pleaded, clutching at his still-tight chest.
“She’s possessed, right Mr Palmer?” Katelyn asked
“No…”
“What? She killed Helena and that ambulance guy and bit off Melissa’s hand! She’s possessed!”
“By ill intentions perhaps, but there was no demonic presence in this room. I felt it all happen and dear Edith was not under the influence of any inhuman spirits, she simply chose to do these things. I am so very sorry.”
“No but wait, I’ve met Edith she would never do this, she surely wouldn’t hurt anyone like this!” Claire argued, sure that Mr Palmer must’ve made a mistake
“You knew the woman that went into the pit. Not she who came out. Time passes very differently under hell’s torment. I’m afraid the Edith you knew is gone. For good.” Otto let his eyes drift to the floor, finally catching up with his breath. He looked up at Melissa with a contained urgency,
“Does She have family?”
“Yeah, two kids. No husband though.” Katelyn answered
“… children.” Otto murmured gravely
“Why?” Kate asked
“Do any of you know where she lives?”
“No?” Katelyn said, looking at Claire and Melissa. They both shook their heads. “Why? Does it matter?”
“Where else would she go, if not home?” Otto flatly informed her. The faces of the three went white. Each felt their stomach turn in an instant as they realised Mr Palmer’s implication.
“Where is my wife?”
“She’s downstairs, asleep. After the fight she put up I doubt she’ll be awake for a few days.” Melissa answered. Otto immediately got up and began to storm out of the room, clutching his chest once more. “What are you doing?” Melissa called out after him
“Finding out where she lives.” He replied, making his way down the stairs.

*

Otto breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his wife unharmed on the lounge. The mess upstairs, he could handle; seeing little girls tear their faces and vomit blood, he could handle. Losing her, he could not. She had never been seen as beautiful to most, but to him she was the very light of heaven who loved him back – even if she had an often odd way of showing. He stepped towards her, easing himself onto his knees while trying to keep his back straight. His pained spine helped him maintain his appearance as a distinguished and learned gentleman, but it made simple moves such as bending over a frightful task. He gently laid his hands on the sides of her face, the tips of his fingers reaching her temples. He took a moment to stare into her face, feeling the warmth of a smile come over him before closing his eyes and threw his own consciousness into hers. The colours behind his eyes swirled into a white shining vortex, spiralling inwards to a deep openness. He felt himself plummeting league after league through the spiritual connection, carrying him like a waterfall from his mind to hers.
And there she was. The love of his life standing in a warm, welcoming yet dark space. “My, you do keep it rather inviting here. The bleakness is so very comforting, like a warm cottage in the alps.” He teased
“Yes dear and I suppose you’d be happier if the walls were decorated with daggers and golems and all the other frightful souvenirs you keep in that dreadful office of yours.” She playfully bit back. Otto stepped forward and took her hand. The world around them flickered and waved, Each part of them was a ribbon of colour among an electric field of tones. Every shade waving in the lively wind of an impossibly beautiful abyss. “I am glad to see you, as I always am.” He conceded, “Whether in the depths of consciousness or in that dreary library you love so.” He smiled, his other hand gracing her cheek with the backs of his fingers. Ava’s callous demeanour finally loosened, a loving smile of admiration burrowing its way out of her countenance. Even deep in her own mind she found it hard to break, but for her husband of so many years she could hardly resist. “We had better get on with the more pressing matters. You’re here about Edith.”
“Indeed. The girls managed to lose track of her, I believe she’s going to her home.”
“She’s not possessed then.”
“No.”
“Pity, that would have been easier.”
“You know what we have to do.”
“What you have to do, my love. I am quite incapable of participating in this resolution.”
“Where does she live?”
“26 Rosemary Street. It’s only a few blocks over.”
“Then time is of the essence. Goodbye my love, rest easy.”
“Good luck my dear.”
With her farewell Otto felt the link between them loosen and fracture. The colours waved and flickered more intensely, each streak waving more wildly until they occupied all of Otto’s vision. He fell back through the foliage of subconscious matter until his eyes opened once again on his sleeping wife.
Mr Palmer left the room and made his way only a few steps up the hall to the door under the stairs. Claire, Katelyn and Melissa stood at the foot of the stairs watching him, “What are you doing?” Katelyn inquired. Otto stepped out of the tiny room holding a white, one-litre bottle of kerosene. “We may poke and prod at Edith as much as we like, but there is one aid that will finish the job more effectively than the rest. Beyond that, the one weapon she will truly fear.” Claire’s mind shot back to Edith’s reaction to the sting of the broken lamp. Otto looked up at her. “The signature of the pit. Fire.”

*

“Jeremy, seriously, go to bed.”
“But I wanna stay up ‘til mummy gets home!”
“I don’t care, go to bed.” Elizabeth had humoured her brother’s games for about 10 minutes after their mother’s departure before leaving him to his own devices. At 16 years of age she had understandably little interest in playing with her 9-year-old brother’s toys. The entirely common pathing of reaching such an age and losing interest in dinosaurs and cartoons. Besides, Jeremy could work the smart TV, he knew how to put on his favourite shows and movies – really he didn’t need her. Elizabeth wondered why he needed her to play with him so badly. She supposed he was just needy. Jeremy had supposed, loudly, that she was a meanie who wouldn’t play with him. She only felt the statement to be half-true. “Jeremy, mum’s not gonna be home for a while so just go to bed.”
“That’s not true! She’ll be home soon! Please can I just stay up a little longer?”
“No. Go to bed.”
“I’ll be good I promise!”
“Bed.” She told herself she didn’t care when tears started to well up in her little brothers eyes, but there was a slight sting that no amount of teenage angst could quite cover. She decided to reason with him, “Listen, Jeremy, if you go to bed now I’ll wake you up when mum gets home and we can have some ice cream together. Okay?”
“You mean it?”
“Yes Jem, I mean it.” She did not mean it.
“Promise?”
“Yes.” The tears dulled as a warm, innocent smile presented itself. Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile back, if only a little bit.
*ZZM*
Darkness enveloped them both as the lights went out. Jeremy let out a whimper as he threw himself to the ground. “What the hell?” Elizabeth wasted little time turning her phone torch on, “Jem come here.” She took her brothers hand, leading him to the kitchen. “Don’t freak out, let’s get the candles and then we’ll get you to bed, okay?”
“Why did the lights go out??”
“I don’t know, random power outage I guess.”
“I’m scared…”
“Jeremy it’s just the lights, there’s nothing wrong.” Jeremy whimpered quietly, his tears welling back up just a little. Elizabeth located the cupboard above the stovetop, containing a few wine glasses, a large flashlight and a few decently sized, mildly used candles as well as a lighter. She laid the candles out on the kitchen table and lit all of them, handing Jeremy the flashlight. “Okay let’s get you into bed.”
“No please! I’m scared!”
“Jeremy the fact that it’s dark doesn’t make a difference to you going to bed, it would be dark anyway!”
“Yeah but, but…”

*DUHM* *DUHM* *DUHM*

A slow dirge of a knock came at the front door. “Mummy!” Jeremy cried. Elizabeth gripped his arm, “Jeremy stay here.”
“Why?”
Elizabeth silently stared through the kitchen doorway to the front door. Something felt very wrong about this. Why the slow knock? Why knock at all when she has keys and they’re expecting her?
… unless it wasn’t her mother.
Then who?
“… Hel-“ her voice cracked and fizzled out on the first syllable, forcing her to admit her own fear. She cleared her throat, weakly defying that same fear, “Hello?” she weakly called.
Nothing.
“Lizzie I don’t like it.” Jeremy whispered, trying to stop himself from crying as the tears now streamed down his face.
“Is anyone there?” Elizabeth called out, louder now, in an attempt to portray a brave frustration in her voice. Slowly the door handle began to turn. Elizabeth’s field of vision seemed to expand all at once, but somehow see nothing but the door handle. Time seemed to slow exponentially as it moved one degree at a time. It shouldn’t take this long, nothing should take this long. She began to hate how her eyes had a adjusted to the darkness as it made every moment of anticipation that much more vivid. How could a moment be so surreal and so uncomfortably real all at once? The bolt of the door clicked as the handle reached the end of its turn. The door slowly drifted open without a hand on the other side, as if being blown by some intelligent wind, an invisible wall bringing it to a sudden stop. In the frame stood a figure, veiled by the shadows of the night. The sight told her it was her mother but every instinct in her body told her to run, to get out of there and take her brother with her because whatever this was it was here to hurt them. But… how could she be? Her mother, who had been there and taken care of her since birth? The one person in the world who would always be there? How could she be here to hurt them? She began to question if it was even her standing in the doorway, if it was even anyone standing in the doorway. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, some shadows falling the wrong way and portraying the shape of a human that just happened to look like her mother. As much as she tried to focus in on these thoughts, to actually embrace the uncertainty, she could not obfuscate her focus on the simple reality.
The words flying through her head quietened. They grew smaller, drifting into a box in the back of her mind. They became more and more muffled and suppressed until her mind was empty. All that was left was the silence of the room. How long had it been? Seconds? Minutes? She felt like she’d been locked on the figure in the doorway for at least an hour. Time seemed to freeze. Until she realised the grip on her arm.
Jeremy.
He was still here. She wasn’t just responsible for her own safety but also her little brother’s. Her helpless 9-year-old brother. She had to get him out of here. She wanted to speak, to tell him to run and hide and be safe somewhere but the words couldn’t find her mouth. She fought viciously against her frozen spine to turn her head towards him; within the moment she managed it she saw his face turn from terror to horror, his jaw widening and a scream escaping his lungs. Elizabeth turned back to see the figure of her mother sprinting towards them both. It entered the flickering light of the candles, revealing itself. The face she mostly recognised to be her mother, but the body was loathsome. Tortured scars and burns pollocked her skin, a disturbing tapestry of abuse. The thing that resembled her mother came upon her and in an instant everything went black.

*

Elizabeth awoke in a warm glow, candles painting the darkness of the living room. A tired attempt to stand made her restraints clear. She was bound to one of the kitchen chairs. Where she had often felt stuck in this same chair, having dinner with her mother and brother, desperately trying to get back to her room or out with her friends, she was finally truly stuck in her place. In front of her lay her brother, unconscious, his pyjama shirt removed. “Mum? Where are you? What’s going on?” While she remained far from convinced that the thing that had entered the house was truly her mother, she saw no other option than to attempt to reason with it. “My dear, sweet children. Mummy has a surprise for you.” A sickly voice drifted out of the far corner of the room, and with it the same figure that had stood in the doorway. “Jeremy! Jem wake up! Please!” Liz started to yell at her brother, seeing the imminent danger. “Oh baby, don’ worry. Mummy’s not gonna hurt him.” The thing came close enough that Elizabeth could make out a smile. A smile she wished she’d never seen on the face of any human being, least of all her mother. “JEREMY! WAKE UP! RUN!” it was only with this exclamation that the little boy began to stir but it was too late. He opened his eyes to his mother looming directly over him.
“Mummy?” he whispered, fear crackling through his unbroken voice
“That’s right Jeremy… Mummy’s right… here.”
Her eyes imprisoned the boy for a moment, silencing all things around the two; even his sister’s screams had become inaudible, just a terrified blur at the back of his mind. Jeremy felt himself drowning in the depth of those cold, feelingless eyes.
She lunged at him.
In an instant Edith locked her teeth around the little boy’s nose, biting down hard. He began to scream and cry; Jeremy couldn’t understand why she would do this. It was his mother wasn’t it? Why was she hurting him? His thoughts slowly lost comprehension as she shook her head back and forth, a rabid dog tearing apart it’s helpless prey. With a strong pull she ripped his nose away, staining the carpet a tragic red. Jeremy’s cries became a roaring fire of pre-adolescent pain; his mother giggled “What’s wrong Jem? I thought you liked this game…”
“NO! PLEASE STOP! MUM PLEASE! STOP YOU HAVE TO STOP! PLEASE!” Elizabeth’s cries fell on deaf ears, Jeremy unable to comprehend anything but the pain, and their mother simply not caring.
Edith placed a hand on her son’s supple cheek, caressing him at first though he writhed in pain. Holding his head down with her other hand she began to dig her fingernails into his cheek, just below his eye socket. Breaking apart his soft skin, she dragged her hand down, ripping off his skin and flesh all the way down to the top of his throat. She brought the morsel to her mouth and quickly sent it to her stomach. As the blood began to squirt from his neck, she brought her knee upon his chest and her face down to his shoulder. Savagely, she began tearing away with her hands and teeth. She dug to the bone as her singular goal, finding it quickly under layers of muscle and puppy fat. Clearing away the flesh surrounding it Edith stood, placing her left foot on Jeremy’s breast and beginning to pull at his arm. Jeremy’s pained cries joined into a singular, tormented tone. Elizabeth, still screaming from her imprisonment joined, the two forming a pleading chorus of agony against their mothers actions, but she would not stop, instead slowing herself to savour the pain. With every new level of tension she found in the boys arm, the screams heightened in pitch and terror. Edith pulled and pulled until…
*SssssssssssSKUH*
Jeremy released yet a higher, more piercing and somehow more tortured scream than any of his previous efforts as his left arm detached his body. Edith tossed the arm aside, rejoicing not in her convenient snack but rather more in her son’s pain. Hearing his screams peak, she dug in. Starting with his belly, Edith tore into her son, ripping apart his internal organs with her teeth and eviscerating him across the floor. Her teeth chewed through his intestines and burst throw the lining of his stomach frantically but deliberately, as if she knew every part of the human anatomy that would hurt the most. Next she moved to his throat, sinking her vile teeth into his jugular and ripping as much flesh as she could out. The screaming boy’s blood dyed her leathery hide as his voice turned to water. He experienced drowning and dissection all at once, the last feeling of his short life accompanied by a final, familiar image. One he had known and loved now warped to a symbol of agony and terror. What had once been perhaps his favourite of all images.
His mother’s smile.

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Elizabeth sat, choking on the horror before her. As much as she tried to pull away, something in herself told her maybe she could help if she kept her eyes on them. But it just made the vile scene all too real. Her brother was dead. Her mother had eaten him alive.
She wasn’t sure at which point the life truly left her brothers’ eyes, and she wasn’t sure that she even truly wanted to know. Right as her mother dug into Jeremy’s stomach, Elizabeth ceased her screams. Something in her simply switched off, the light of her brother’s life ending and with it, the flame of her hope.
How could the same mother who left the house earlier that evening do this to her and Jeremy? It couldn’t be her. She was sure now that something terrible had happened and whatever was in that body was not her mother. At least she wanted to believe that; Elizabeth tried with every fibre of her will to believe that.
The thing that couldn’t be her mother stood up above Jeremy’s body. The boy had been flayed across the carpet floor like a morbid snow angel. It giggled. That thing inside her mother stood there and giggled at the unspeakable horror it had brought into the world. Elizabeth had never been religious, but in that instant she truly believed that hell was real. Not only that, but that it was in her mother. It turned itself towards her, it’s grin widening.

*

Otto stopped just in front of the door of the modest house. It was small, single story, most likely one bathroom, but it wasn’t the architecture that stopped him. He turned to Claire and Katelyn, his playful demeanour seemingly long-forgotten. This Otto was almost a stranger to them both. “Girls…” he paused a moment, as if preparing to break tragic news to a loved one. “When we are inside, you may see things. Terrible things. Edith may once have been human but that innocence has been warped and blackened by the evil of hell below. We may be too late to stop whatever has happened inside, but we must remain composed and put an end to her evil regardless.”
“Too late for what? Why are we just standing here then?” Claire was impatient, eager to end this nightmare.
“Just be prepared, for in this house lurks a taste of true evil.” Otto raised a lighter. They had each wrapped a kerosene-soaked towel on a plank of wood before making their way. It seemed the most effective way to use fire, if not a largely dangerous one. Edith had to be stopped and if it meant burning the house down, so be it. Each of them had retrieved a knife from the kitchen for closer encounters, Kate retaining her most-Michael-Myers-est butcher knife. Otto lit both their torches as well as his own. “God protect us.” He quickly turned the door knob, swinging the door open and taking two brave, powerful steps into the room.
*SSCCHHLICK*
A figure flew past Otto in the darkness, a blur in a fraction of a moment. He looked down. His trachea and most of his larynx lay splattered on the floor in front of him. In that one, single, painless moment before his brain registered what had happened all he could think was, That doesn’t belong there.
Blood spurted from his mouth and began to pour out of his now-open throat down his waistcoat and white shirt. He fell forward like an old tree giving in to centuries of rough winds, finally snapping from that last blow, his torch falling beside him. Claire and Katelyn stood, frozen in shock. “… Mr Palmer?” Katelyn barely croaked the words out. The room was coldly silent until a callous, malevolent giggle came from the dark. The laughter unthawed Claire, she shouted “The torch!” and ran in after it, quickly snatching it from the ground and stamping out the flames it had leaked to the carpet.
Her eyes turned to Mr Palmer. She wanted to fall to her knees by him, she wanted to scream his name and she prayed he’d be okay but her survival instincts told her not to. She could feel hateful eyes upon her. She looked towards Katelyn, her eyes were fixed on something behind her. The horror in her best friends’ eyes told her not to look for herself. She tried to hold back, to hold her eyes on Kate but her curious, foolish ape instinct overwhelmed her. She turned her head to see Edith, crouched over the eviscerated body of a little boy. Jesus he was just a kid, surely no older than ten. With each moment her eyes adjusted to the dark and with each new level of improved vision came a new and deeper regret. The horror didn’t end at the boy having been ripped apart. Clearly this was her son. And she hadn’t just murdered him. Jesus, if only she had just killed him.
It dawned on Claire… she was eating him.
Claire threw up, her sick mixing with Mr Palmer’s torn out throat in front of her, some of it spilling on her cloak. She leaned forward, vomiting again, now harder. “CLAIRE!” she heard Katelyn shout. Claire looked up to see the awful decrepit figure crawling towards her. She fell back on her arse, thrusting the torches out in front of her. Edith shrieked and pulled back, clawing at the flames like a vicious cat.
Katelyn charged forward, being broken from her shock by the immediate threat to her best friend. She plunged the flame of her torch into Edith’s face, managing to sear it’s right side. Edith pulled back further into the darkness, desperately slapping her hands against her burning face, agony-coated screams pouring out of her.
Claire caught herself glancing back at the disassembled little boy and realised he wasn’t the only victim of the scene. Just a little further in the darkness next to him a teenage girl was tied to a chair, surely Edith’s daughter. She was looking on the struggle before her in horror, but she remained silent. “Kate take this!” Claire demanded, offering Mr Palmer’s torch to her. Without hesitation Katelyn received the flame and added it to her assault, keeping Edith at bay. Claire ran to the young girl, drawing her knife to cut the rope that bound her. “Don’t worry, we’re gonna get you out of here.”
“Jeremy… I don’t… what happened? What happened to my mum?” she was dazed, struggling to comprehend the scene around her.
“Listen don’t worry about that now, we just have to get you out of here!”

Katelyn stepped closer to Edith, angling both the torches in towards her centre. Edith kept a hand over her face, hiding the burn Kate had administered. Edith was crouched, slowly inching back towards the corner of the room.
Claire freed the girl from the chair and gripped her arm tightly, rushing her to the front door. “Come on, come on, it’s time to go.” The girl wouldn’t respond verbally but rag-dolled freely towards the door.
Katelyn risked a glance at Claire, once the girl was out she would be happy to burn the house to the ground. In that moment Edith launched herself to the corner she had been pressed to, bouncing from it towards Claire and the girl like a desperately hungry feral cat.
“CLAIRE!” Kate screamed as she saw the pale figure launch over her head. Before Claire had turned her head Edith landed on the girl.

Elizabeth was barely aware of herself moving towards the door when the thing in her mother appeared above her. She was grounded and eye-to-eye with the now half-melted face of the thing. Her right eye was drooping out like heated glass, pouring towards her and leaking viscous liquid on her face. As soon as the image registered in her brain she found herself letting out a cry of terror. Whatever she had seen in this creature of her mother was gone. She was face-to-face with a monster. It cracked a smile at her before sinking it’s horrid teeth into her throat. She saw her blood spurt up into the air as it ripped the flesh away from her before succumbing to gravity and landing back on her own face. The copper-like taste in her mouth came with two extra sensations: first, the extreme pain as her jugular ripped apart under the savagery of the monsters’ teeth; second, the strange relief that soon this nightmare would be over. In a moment, she would no longer have to live through this awful night, nor live with the trauma it would bring. Strange, how comforting that was.

Claire leapt forward as Edith dug her teeth into the girl’s throat, jabbing her knife rapidly in and out of Edith’s back. Each new opening leaked a stream of blood but she would not acknowledge them, continuing her gorge on the young girl’s neck.
Katelyn darted forward with the torches in hand, repeating her earlier charge now more determined to end this. She pushed away the idea of the young girl burning, forcing herself to believe she was already dead. She rammed the two flaming ends into Edith’s face and ribs. Immediately Edith released the girl and threw herself upon Kate. Though her body was overwhelmed by the sudden attack, Katelyn kept the flames fixed on Edith’s body.
“KATE!” Claire cried, jabbing her torch into the monster’s back, attempting to draw her attention. When she didn’t yield Claire started to swing her torch like a bat into Edith’s side, launching flames across the room. The flames flew from her torch and ignited with Kate’s robe, quickly setting her ablaze, and Edith with her. “RUN! GET OUT!” Katelyn screamed before the heat of the flames registered with her brain. Claire stood frozen a moment, paralysed by the horror of the scene, the immediate guilt of her recklessness, but as her friend’s screams rose in pitch and pain, she found herself sprinting for the front door, her guilt replaced by instinct. The flames spread and followed her, climbing the doorframe as she threw herself through.

Katelyn looked up at the monster she used to call Edith as it’s skin melted away like cheese from a corn chip. Bones seemed to bore out of its skin below its tormented eyes she had come to know too well, as her tattered hide began to crackle and peel. It tried to pull away from her burning self but with all the strength she could find in her burning body she gripped it tightly. She knew that even in her obscene agony she had to ensure that this thing died.
Her mind lost comprehension as the fire overloaded her pain receptors and the smoke filled her lungs. Her hands gripped the monster but Katelyn lost all sense of the world around her. The images blurred and faded as the pain overtook her. Her last thought before entirely succumbing to the fire being, there better be a heaven and they better fucking let me in.

Claire looked on from the other side of the doorway as her best friend fused with a monster, the two being devoured indiscriminately by the hungry flames. The struggle between them slowly died as the house morphed to one unified blaze of red and yellow. The flames washed away the remains of the little boy, the still-leaking teenage girl, Mr Palmer. All were equalised and reduced to ash under the tyranny of the fire.
Claire turned away, looking towards the street. She would hear sirens soon. Maybe it was best if she wasn’t here when they came. She wasn’t sure what she would tell them. She wasn’t sure what she would tell anyone. She knew that the loss of her best friend would hit her soon enough, and it would break her. A wound from which she would never truly recover. Somewhere in the distant reaches of her mind echoed the years of therapy and support she would need, the walls she would put between the world and herself. But for now, she let the numbness of shock gently absorb her. She began to walk back to Ava’s house. Just a few blocks over. Ava would know what to do. Probably.

Credit: JaredTheBigMan

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