I tried to breathe through my mouth as I walked down the dim hall. The hardwood floorboards creaked under my shoes.
I slipped as I walked into the living area.
I dry heaved when I inhaled. I forced myself to take another rancid breath and hold it. The metallic smell of what I’d slipped in had wormed its way through the stench.
I forced myself to take a breath… out, in, out, in, hold.
I pulled myself onto my hands and knees only sliding once on the cold, wet floor as I pushed myself upward.
The room spun.
A woman was lying on the floor—her dark tangled hair inches from where my shoes had been. My vision faded for a second when I met her cloudy, dull eyes. Her face was frozen in an expression of terror. Below her chest, she was a tattered mass of rotting flesh and fabric, that didn’t even look like it belonged to a person anymore. I dry heaved as my gaze slid up her body back to her eyes. She couldn’t have been older than eighteen. Her parents were going to have to identify her body. I fell backwards as I tried to stand up. My head spun. I felt like I was looking at myself from the outside in. I couldn’t slow my short, panicked breaths.
I closed my eyes and took a deep, slow breath.
The edges of my vision were fuzzy.
Air, I needed air.
She was still there. This was real. It wasn’t some kind of delusional episode.
In a heart-stopping moment, I realised what the metallic smell was.
I’d slipped in blood.
I let out a gasp, like a wounded animal. For a startled second, I looked around the room for an invisible enemy not realising I’d made the noise. I was covered in her stagnated blood. I vomited before I could angle my head away from my body. This wasn’t happening. I dry heaved as I realised what the wet blood meant in a locked house.
I wasn’t alone.
The shaking of my limbs was uncontrollable as the truth solidified in my mind.
Tears were running down my cheeks as I struggled to my feet. Forcing my stiff, heavy legs to hold my weight. Was the thing that did this still in the house? Waiting at the door for me? Was it in this room, waiting for the perfect moment to strike? I had to know. I slowly looked around the room. Then walked backwards and reached behind me until I felt the light switch. The empty click sliced through the silence.
My heart threatened to burst through my chest. Was this a heart attack? Why couldn’t I breathe? Why was this happening to me?
I wiped my hands on my pants and pulled my phone from my pocket. I angled the thin light from the torch, illuminating what had been obscured from my vision.
She wasn’t the only one!
There were at least three others, scattered around the remains of a chalk diagram. The bodies were in various states of disarray. Everything was covered in a layer of blood. Unidentifiable masses of decomposing flesh were strewn throughout the room from ceiling to floor. I almost dropped my phone when I noticed the candles placed around the diagram. The surviving chalk markings told part of the story. They were placed at significant points. Some had been knocked over in the struggle, but a few were still standing. How long had they been burning after life had been extinguished from the room?
I slowly walked back into the hall. It had to be a thing that did this. A creature they summoned from somewhere else. No earthly being could have done it.
Gran’s warning was a dark, little voice in the back of my mind. I had to get out. The demon was still in the house. The gate it had entered through was closed. If no doors were broken or windows smashed, it was still inside.
A pair of yellow eyes opened; they reflected the light from my phone. Could it read my mind? I would have vomited again if I had anything left in my stomach. I turned and bolted. Its claws were slapping against the wood, an echo of my own footsteps. I ran into the bedroom at the end of the hall and slammed the door. As I locked the en suite door, I heard the glass in the bedroom doors break. The open side of the window was covered with a security screen. I needed something to break the glass. I froze as I reached for the stainless steel scales. If it got out, the whole town would be at risk. I couldn’t shut a solid glass window pane.
I pushed the earpieces of my wireless headphones until they were sitting securely in my ears and paused my music. I unlocked my phone, dialled the infamous number and slipped it into my pocket.
“Hello, Gain Solutions. How can-“
The creature growled as it broke down the bedroom doors cutting off the man. Was it finally done playing with its food?
“Help me. That thing’s going to get in and kill me. I can’t break the window, or it’ll escape.”
“Someone will be with you momentarily.”
I struggled not to sob as the demon ran a claw along the wall as it made its way to the en suite door. “Please. Help me. I’ve only just gotten married, I don’t want to die.” I backed away from the door as the demon crashed into it. The wood bowed, the hinges creaked, but it stayed standing.
I yelped and took another step backwards. The back of my knees hit the bathtub with a thud, and I lost my balance. My head hit the sharp edge of the tiled windowsill as I fell sideways into the tub.
I closed my eyes, the lack of light and cold porcelain relieving the pain for a few precious seconds.
If I gave in to the darkness, I’d wake up from this nightmare. I let myself slip into it, the feeling of bliss calling to me. I was waking from a long sleep. Relief washed over me; it was all a dream.
“Are you okay? Please answer me.”
I was on my hands and knees, watching blood drip onto the porcelain. Why was I here?
How did I get here?
I watched the red drops form a puddle on the smooth white surface. Was that my blood?
“I need you to speak to me. Please.”
The voice was desperate, pleading and right in my ear. Something growled outside the door and crashed into it. Terror gripped my heart and tears formed in my eyes as I realised.
This was real.
It wasn’t some sick nightmare.
It was real.
My arms slid from under me, the crack my nose made as it hit the porcelain cutting through the room.
“Dexter? I need you to speak to me.” The voice was like a slap across the face.
How did he know my name? The thing crashed into the door again. It was playing with me… did it enjoy my suffering? Did it want me to beg for the release of death? I wasn’t going to give it that satisfaction.
“How do you know my name? Who are you? What do you want?”
“How hard have you hit your head? Are you bleeding? Speak to me.”
It growled again and ran its claws along the door.
“It’s going to kill me.”
Another hit. I heard two screws break free and roll across the tiles.
“Can it understand me?”
“Yes.” I pulled myself up on to my hands and knees. Warm, bitter blood slid down the edge of my face into my mouth. I spat it out and wiped my mouth on the collar of my shirt.
“I need you to stay with me.” The man said, “someone is coming. Take your mind off that thing. Let’s talk about something else? Let me know you’re okay.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Your number is on a list.”
I started screaming hysterically as it broke down the door. I slid down into the tub and curled into a ball. I closed my eyes. Maybe it would be better if I couldn’t see it. I braced myself for impact. The gunshots caused my ears to ring, the pain drowning the sound of the dying creature. I felt something warm splatter on me. I knew it was from the demon.
More body fluid…
I couldn’t hear anything. As I opened my eyes, the sight of its black blood caused me to heave, but I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat. I closed my eyes again and rested my head against the tub, tears rolling down my cheeks. The cold porcelain felt like an anchor to reality. I let the tension fall from my body. I was alive.
“It’s alright. Dex?”
I felt a hand run through my hair. When had someone hopped in the tub with me? My head was resting on someone’s lap. I knew the voice, but every time I remembered who it was, the thought slipped from my mind. I took a deep breath, in, then out. Who was it? I screamed in pain as the man touched the back of my head. The hand retracted as though it had been burnt.
“You’re going to have to tell him if you stick around.” Another man said.
“I don’t care about that.” The man holding me said. “He needs to go to the hospital. Some of this blood is his. Pass me a medical pad he has a head wound.”
A hand was pushing something soft against my head. It hurt. I tried to pull away.
“Hush. Love, it’s okay. I need you to stay still. I’m sorry it hurts, but I’m trying to help you.” The man in the tub held me tighter.
Eli! I forced my eyes open, the light from the window stung. I closed my eyes again. It had to be Eli. I didn’t need to see him. I knew I was safe.
“You need to keep him awake. He likely has a concussion.” A woman said. “He could be in shock, too.”
“I know first aid as well as you.” Eli pulled me closer.
I was safe now. I could sleep.
“Dex, love. You need to open your eyes. You need to stay awake while I get you to hospital.” Eli was shaking me gently. “Please look at me. Let me know you’re okay.”
I opened my eyes and turned my head away from the window.
The other man was standing beside the woman, and they were looking down at us. He narrowed his eyes at me while the woman smiled at me.
“He’s not ready for this. Non-magical people can’t deal with this kind of shit.” The man crossed his arms.
“He’s from a magical family, Lloyd,” Eli said. “And married to me.”
“He’s not magical though. Old Ed had him tested at six like everyone else, and he failed.”
Old Ed? Grandfather knew about this! My head spun as I tried to sit up.
“Lean on me.” Eli helped me to my feet and out of the tub. Eli frowned at Lloyd. “I’ll talk to him later.”
Eli held me in the back seat as the woman drove us to the hospital.