October 30, 2009 in Spooky Story Spook-Off
The mere appearance of a ghost was nothing out of the ordinary for Andrew. He was a medium, after all, and not one of those predatory flimflam con artists that exploited the inner turmoil of the weak. During his first year of college, he had crashed his automobile through the fence of a cemetery while trying to avoid a drunk driver. It had been a bad wreck, and the paramedics told him later that he had died for a brief time before they were able to bring him back. The experience had left him with the ability to see and interact with the souls of dead people by touching one of their personal possessions.
However, this had been the first time one of the ghosts had touched him. Actually, it had brushed him aside with a dark, savage claw of a hand. His tall, lean frame was thrown against the wall, hard, and Andrew tried to regain his senses as the uninvited guest began to methodically execute the invited guests.
Upon further reflection, Andrew decided this was no ghost at all. It was, instead, a demon. Demons weren’t supposed to exist, of course, but the empirical evidence could not be denied. First, when it had appeared mere moments ago, it had burst from within the flames of the fireplace. The demon was not bright red as often pictured, but was colored more like a dull copper penny. It was very tall by human standards, with a bulky, muscular physique. It wore what looked like a tunic of liquid black iron, tied at its waist.
Its first victim was Keri, who had met Andrew at a coffee shop near campus late in the spring semester. She wore her dark hair short and her eyeliner heavy. She was petite always full of energy, a contrast to Andrew, who was dirty blonde and decidedly more reserved. They had never officially dated, but often shared a lunchtime conversation and, more recently, his bed. Andrew could not be sure, but he thought he heard the demon snarl some sort of thanks as it lifted Keri off the ground by her neck with its left arm and squeezed until she went limp.
The séance had been all her idea, really. During the Labor Day weekend, Andrew had shared his ability with Keri. He had communicated with her grandfather, who had been dead for about five years. Keri was astonished and insisted that a séance was in order. Why wait for Halloween, she argued. It would be a great way to welcome autumn. She knew a place, an old two-story home near the edge of town. It was unoccupied due to a recent foreclosure, and had just the right mix of New England architecture and spooky disrepair. Andrew was apprehensive about showing off his ability in front of so many people, but Keri’s enthusiasm had made it impossible to debate the point.
Keri had acquired the key from a realtor, invited nine of her friends from the college and the community, and planned the entire event. On the first day of autumn, the weather cooperated to help set the mood. An unusually crisp chill declared summer a memory, and Keri lit a fire against the damp cool in the living room. The party started in late afternoon with wine and appetizers in the dining room, which had been adorned with a few folding metal chairs and an old coffee table. The main course, she teased, was at sunset.
As the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon, the group sat in a circle on the floor of the living room, the fireplace directly in front of Andrew. Dying sunlight filtered through the window shutters. They held hands, some closed their eyes, and the séance began. Andrew began to explain in a calm voice what he was going to do. Suddenly, Keri, who sat directly to his left, squeezed his hand tightly and shouted something that sounded like a short chant of gibberish. Then, before anyone had time to react, the demon had stepped into the center of the circle, bent down, and struck Andrew.
Other guests were moving now and a few were screaming. But the living room in the old house was small, which made it difficult to maneuver. It made no difference, the demon caught them all. It silenced two screamers quickly, slicing through their necks with its sharp nails. The third lost her voice when the demon ripped out her neck with its sharp teeth. When the woman’s head fell to the ground, a look of horror frozen on its face, it rolled a bit then stopped, mercifully looking away from Andrew.
One of Andrew’s classmates, an athletic young woman named Madison, was not so easily panicked. As the demon turned her way, she executed a flawless side kick into its midsection. Andrew had seen Madison spar during a demonstration on campus and knew that kick would have knocked almost anyone to the ground. The demon didn’t flinch. She then tried a spinning hook kick toward its head, but it never landed. With inhuman speed, the demon caught her right ankle with its left hand, lifted her off the ground, grabbed her other ankle with its free hand, and ripped her apart like a wishbone. It dropped the pieces of Madison into a small pool of blood and organs, then returned to its work.
Ten bloody, merciless deaths. The demon had eliminated each guest in turn, never bothering to wipe away any blood or other bodily residue from its victims that had splashed on it. For the final kill, it had literally plunged its right arm through the chest of a man Andrew had met that evening. The man, a teller at a local bank, if Andrew recalled correctly, was dead instantly, but his heart continued to beat as it sat in the demon’s bloody palm, his body hanging on the demon’s muscular arm. The demon retracted its arm, heart in hand, and the last of Andrew’s party slumped to the ground.
“You are my gateway,” it said in a deep voice, tossing the heart aside and staring directly at Andrew. “You have allowed me access to your world.”
“Who are you?” Andrew managed.
“You may call me Tasher,” it replied in an even tone.
“What are you? Where did you come from? I don’t understand any of this.” Andrew again tried desperately to grasp the situation – and keep the conversation moving. Tasher hadn’t made a threatening move since it had started talking.
“Clearly I’m a demon,” Tasher said, irritated. “I might not look exactly like what you’d expect based on the images from your myths and popular culture, but I would imagine I’m close enough to connect the dots. And I speak English, so it’s stands to reason that I am familiar with your world. As to how I got here, it is simply beyond your comprehension.”
Andrew reevaluated. This was not some brainless beast. This was much worse. It was an intelligent, calculating monster. And it was standing less than six feet from him. He quickly decided to try a different approach.
“You killed all those people. You killed Keri.”
“They were no longer necessary, not even Keri.” Tasher mouth formed into his interpretation of a smile, but there was no joy in the expression. “She was a very useful pawn.”
“Pawn?” asked Andrew, still trying to accept the fact that not only had a demon slaughtered a roomful of people, but he was now trying to carry on a conversation with it. He forced himself to stare directly into Tasher’s dark eyes, which were filled with the stuff of nightmares but far more tolerable than surveying the floor littered with mangled bodies.
“Yes. It took me a long time to find someone like you, someone who could be my gateway,” Tasher said. “I discovered you during the spring equinox. Once I found you, I needed a pawn to help guide your actions so they would serve my purpose and allow me to come to your world.”
Tasher paused as it watched Andrew struggle to comprehend. “You humans worry about the oddest things,” the demon grinned, which was almost as unpleasant as its smile. “Her feelings for you were quite real, Andrew. She simply perceived me as a commanding inner voice. I made sure she maintained a relationship with you, and even steered her part in some conversations so I could test your ability to communicate with the dead. So you see, sometimes the people who claim to hear voices in their head really do.”
Tasher chuckled at his own attempt at humor. Andrew didn’t find it funny.
“Near the end, she bonded with you physically, which helped provide a stable platform from my reality to yours. Tonight, your séance circle numbered eleven. Prime number, it helps with the platform as well. She held your hand, lit the fire, spoke the incantation. Yes, your Keri was an excellent pawn.”
And now she’s dead, Andrew thought. He felt he had recovered sufficiently to stand, but he remained seated against the wall. After all, where could he go? There was no escape; Andrew was alive simply because the demon wanted him to live, at least for now. Why? Was he still necessary?
The puddle of blood on the floor kept expanding, as the corpses of friends, classmates, lovers, and new acquaintances continued to drain. He tried not to notice as the red pool began seeping around his shoes. Tasher stood in the center of the gore and clearly didn’t care.
“OK, you’re a demon, presumably from Hell,” Andrew reasoned. Tasher nodded. “You needed someone who had a way to communicate to souls in the afterlife to get you here.” Another nod. “I’m not even going to ask how that works, but I’m guessing from the fact that I’m still alive that my work isn’t done.” A third nod with a smile that made Andrew almost wish he was wrong.
“Yes, I will use you to help me bring a small army of demons to Earth,” Tasher said. “As I am already here, there is no need for anyone but you to help transport my army. We shall bask in the glory of a world that we have only been able to observe at a distance but never touch. We shall feast on the flesh of man and beast. We shall rule. Perform efficiently and you may live. Prepare yourself.”
“What, today? Now?”
“For someone who can communicate with the dead, you haven’t done a particularly good job of it,” quipped the demon. “Otherwise, you might have learned when your access to the dead would be its strongest.”
“I always thought Halloween was the celebration of the dead,” Andrew said.
“Halloween was an arbitrary day on chosen by heads of ancient religious orders to signify the end of the warm season and the beginning of the cold, dead winter. The day is more of a tradition than anything else. It holds no greater power over the world of the dead than any other day.
“The equinox, however,” Tasher paused. “Now that is a cosmic event with relevance. It’s not based on a particular date determined by some man-made calendar system. It happens at a specific moment in time, and that happens precisely twice a year. In the spring and the fall, of course. The sun crosses the equator, and day and night are of equal length. During that time, the planet you call Earth is neither inclined toward the sun nor away from it.”
“You’re telling me the equinox is the key to unlocking some army of undead? I don’t believe it.”
“We are not the undead,” the demon corrected. “We are servants of Hell, not some silly zombie monster invented to scare little children. And whether you believe or you do not is of no consequence to me.”
Tasher smiled again. “Tell me something, Andrew. When was that accident you had in college? The one that suddenly allowed you to see ghosts?”
“Spring semester,” Andrew replied. “Why?”
“What day?” the demon pressed.
“I don’t know, it was in March. Probably, no, wait. It was …” Andrew’s eyes suddenly went wide and he stopped speaking.
“What day?” Tasher asked again, its sickening grin rising again.
“The first day of spring,” Andrew said weakly.
“Indeed,” Tasher agreed. “Another equinox, it would seem. You do seem to have a knack for timing your behavior around very pivotal moments. We have come to another pivotal moment right now. Nothing on Earth can stop me. You will help me. Now. Or you will feel pain beyond anything you can imagine. I am a demon, so you really should trust me on this. I will keep you alive only to suffer more. By the time the next equinox occurs, you will beg me to let you help bring my army, if only to be granted a quick death.”
Blood now covered the entire floor, and Andrew’s jeans were soaking up the sticky mess. It hardly mattered. Andrew was lost, he knew that now. He looked down and saw Keri. Blood trickled out of her mouth, part of the puddle in which he sat. Tasher was right. Nothing on Earth could stop him, certainly not Andrew.
Nothing on Earth.
He placed his hands on the wood floor of the old home, and braced himself as if trying to stand. But he did not stand. Instead, he closed his eyes and concentrated on one solitary word.
The spirits did not resist his call. The ghosts of the ten victims floated up from the carnage surrounding Tasher. They glowed slightly, showing no evidence of the damage their physical bodies had endured. Long, shimmering robes covered their ethereal bodies. Each spirit looked almost serene as it moved closer to the demon. Together, they created a circle around their prey.
Andrew was surprised to see Tasher panic. Its eyes showed fear and disbelief. The massive creature lashed out with fury. Immaterial, the ghosts were immune to his flailing claws and savage fangs. He tried to leave the circle, but somehow the ghosts would not let him pass. Together, the wraiths swirled around Tasher, dipping in and out of his massive frame. Each invasion brought forth inhuman shrieks of pain and misery from the demon, its copper hue tinged with sickly yellow at each point of entry.
The attack was over in a few minutes. In the end, the demon that had seemed so invincible was a sagging, quivering, pitiful beast. But Andrew had no pity. In a fit of rage, he leapt from the floor and tackled what remained of his enemy. The demon struck the floor and its flesh became a red flame that extinguished almost instantly.
Andrew lifted himself from the bloody floor, surprised but thankful that he had not been burned. The ghosts gathered before him in a half circle and smiled in unison. An instant later, they faded from view, their work done. Only one remained. It was Keri. She faced Andrew, infinite sorrow in her dead eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she moaned. “It tricked me. It lied to me. It made me betray you.”
“I know,” Andrew replied, struggling to find the right words to say to the eternal spirit of his fallen lover. “Be at peace now,” he finally decided. Keri smiled.
“I wish you the same.”
She floated to him and kissed him deeply. It was an unusual experience to be kissed by a ghost, Andrew decided, joy and warmth touched by a chill of sensuality. He opened his eyes and Keri’s spirit was gone.
It was only then that he noticed his body, still slumped against the wall, palms still flat in the dark pool of blood.