Here’s a short story inspired, in part, by binge-reading Zoophobia. I linked to it again because go read it.
I’ll have a post of a personal nature to follow this one shortly, too, but for now let’s focus on this story. It was quite fun to write, and I hope it’s fun to read as well.
Jordan was certain he’d followed the instructions right for conjuring a djinni’s lamp, but the gaping portal to Hell burning brightly in the middle of his living room floor suggested otherwise. He reached into his pocket, grabbing the parchment he’d been given with the book of incantations, unfolding it as quickly as he could. It was dingy, brown, and entirely devoid of markings, save for one small coffee stain from earlier in the week. As far as Jordan could tell, the parchment never said a word.
“Oh, shit, what do I do?” Jordan said, his eyes darting from the parchment to the plumes of Hellfire that periodically erupted from the portal. There was a faint scratching sound coming from the old parchment, and when Jordan worked up the nerve to look at it he saw letters had begun to appear.
“So, you’ve gone and summoned a demon, huh?” the parchment said in bold, gothic script. “Way to go, champ.” Jordan stared at the words, his eyes wide with disbelief.
“What the hell?” Jordan said. “Are you some demon, too?” The parchment shuddered in Jordan’s hands, crumpling quietly as it did.
“I’ll chalk that up to you being scared. I am the great and powerful Nymara, Witch of the Ink Well,” the parchment said, its swooping script taking on hints of violet and gold when the witch’s name appeared. “And if you want to get out of this in one piece, listen to everything I say.” Jordan lifted the parchment up, looking at its underside. He turned it over in its hands.
“Seriously, how is this happening?” Jordan said. The gateway to Hell churned and spat in the middle of the room, yet nothing emerged.
“Your befuddlement tells me you probably had no business dabbling in magic, mister,” Nymara said, her words harsh and jagged on the page. “Anyway, I’ve got a script to follow, sort of, so try to keep up.” Jordan’s focus shifted to the demonic portal for a moment.
“Look, you judgmental Rorschach test,” Jordan said, fumbling with his words. “I really could use some help. Please?” The parchment lifted up gently in his hands, drooping back down; it was the closest Jordan had ever seen to a piece of paper sighing since he’d printed his thesis out an hour before it was due.
“Is Mister Grumpy getting agitated? Should I give you a moment?” Nymara said, her words in a whimsical font. “Ahem. Yes. As I was saying. So, you’ve accidentally summoned a demon? This is a common enough problem, and can be solved through quick thinking and careful acting. I hope you’ve got a good life insurance policy, so someone you love will be benefitting from this should things go sour.”
“Gee, thanks,” Jordan said, scowling at the parchment. Jets of ashy black smoke shot forth from the portal. “Shit. Directions, please!”
“Step one is an important one,” Nymara said. “Whatever you do, make certain you do panic. Yes! You read that right! Panic is essential. If the demon arrives and sees a calm, collected mortal, they often are overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and will try to compensate. My favorite result is when they flip the poor fool who summoned them inside-out.” A large, scaly red hand emerged from the demonic portal, its sharp, black talons scratching deep gouges into the floor.
“Oh, holy shit,” Jordan said. He grabbed the couch, yanking it away from the wall and placing it between him and the portal in one quick motion. The demon continued its slow ascent into Jordan’s living room.
“Getting there,” Nymara said, her words now very plain on the old parchment. “Not really getting a sense of pants-soiling terror. Now, take two. Have another go at it.” Fire and brimstone sputtered out of the portal. A tall, reptilian demon appeared, its red skin glowing brightly in the firelight from below.
“Who dares summon me?” the demon said, its voice tones from much darker times. Jordan let escape a high-pitched, highly embarrassing scream, falling backwards.
“Yes, lovely!” Nymara said. “Very believable. I especially like the way you’re crying. Very child-who-dropped-their-ice-cream. Now try to identify the demon?” Jordan could hear heavy footfalls on the other side of the couch.
“How? Do I just get up and ask the damned thing?” Jordan said. “Why can’t I just hold you up and have you look?” A series of swooping, looping hah-hah-hahs appeared on the parchment.
“Jordan, you sly dog. Am I sensing a hint of a wordsmith in you?” Nymara said, her words a cheerful, rolling cursive. “Unless you hand the parchment over, I can only interact with you. Do you really want to lose this invaluable lifeline? Just look at the demon. I know. Very spooky. Grow a pair, stand up, and look. Try to give me hints on how it looks. Just don’t look it in the eyes. They take that as a challenge”
“Any other advice?” Jordan said, unable to hide his panic. The words disappeared from the parchment, replaced by an increasing number of spots and blots. The old paper cleared itself once again.
“Yes! Certainly,” Nymara said. “If it’s Lucifer, Beelzebub, or any of Hell’s royalty, you’re well and truly screwed. Mostly if it’s Lucifer. If it’s ol’ Beelzy, or one of the other dukes, you might just stand a chance. Groveling and begging are two very valuable tools. The phrase ‘I am beneath you, oh mighty Lord of Hell’ is your best friend.” Jordan took a deep breath, gulped, and stood up slowly. His eyes met with black, reptilian ones, and Jordan cursed quietly at his continued bad luck.
“What manner of pitiful mortal dares summon me?” the demon said, its voice the stampeding hooves of a thousand horses against ancient rock.
“Yes, er, hi,” Jordan said. He cleared his throat. “I am Jordan the Magnificent, great and powerful conjurer.” He glanced at the parchment, which featured a frowny face.
“What an impressive heap of bullshit,” Nymara said. “Ask his name!” Jordan looked back to the demon, his lip quivering.
“And what manner of demon are you?” Jordan said, standing as tall as he could. The demon cocked its head, eyeing Jordan suspiciously. Jordan did his best to remain completely still, hoping he looked serious and powerful. A tiny voice in the back of his head was whispering something about looking like a mouse surrounded by cats. Cats who breathed fire and ate souls. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of tense silence, the demon laughed. It was a horrible, crackling noise, and Jordan felt certain he’d never forget that noise.
“I can appreciate a sense of humor in a conjurer. I am Belial, the Lord of Lies,” Belial said. “Now tell me, human, what pact is it you wish to enter? What are you so desperate to obtain that you would part with your immortal soul?” Jordan glanced down at the parchment again. It remained blank for a moment or two, shivering in his hands.
“Nice knowing you, pal,” Nymara said. The parchment turned black, as though an entire inkwell had overturned onto it.
“Shit,” Jordan said. “Well, this is awkward. You know, this is a really funny story. I could probably tell it a lot better if my teeth weren’t chattering so much.” Belial gripped each side of the couch with his claws. Fabric smoldered and smoked within the demon’s grasp, and he split the couch in half with one mighty tug. His hooves burned deep holes in the floor beneath him with each step Belial took toward Jordan.
“You stall, and waste my time,” Belial said, his voice a terrible roar that shook Jordan to the bone. “Tell me what your feeble mortal heart desires, so I may claim your soul.” Jordan looked around. What few rational parts of his brain were still working, and hadn’t packed up shop to call it a day, were telling him to run for his life. Which, by their calculations, would probably be fairly short, and involve a great deal of burning and agony. Something, surrounded by the horror and embarrassment, snapped in the very back of Jordan’s mind.
“Wait! I’ll tell you. It’s just not what you thought,” Jordan said. Belial stopped, leaning in close. Enormous, jagged fangs stuck out of the demon’s mouth at harsh angles. Jordan could feel Belial’s hot breath burning at his skin, and he feared no number of showers could possibly banish the odor.
“Speak, mortal, for I have grown so bored of this,” Belial said. “I will claim your soul by force if I need to, and I will enjoy every second of it.” Jordan backed up, hands raised in front of him.
“Belial, oh, um, magnificent bringer of hatred,” Jordan said. “This is embarrassing, but, uh, I didn’t summon you to fulfill a bargain for me.” Belial raised a claw high above his head, bright flames dancing around his black talons.
“Wait, please!” Jordan said, taking another step back. “I, er. You? Lord of the inferno, I summoned you because I, um, thought it would be nice for you to get a chance to really just talk. On your terms. A sort of vacation?” Belial narrowed his eyes at Jordan, his claw still raised and ready to strike.
“That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard,” Belial said. Jordan closed his eyes, expecting agonizing pain followed by eternal suffering. There was a soft thud, followed by a pronounced sizzle and the smell of smoke. Jordan opened his eyes slowly. Belial had sat down, cross-legged, with his claws resting on his knees.
“You are either very brave or very stupid, but I am willing to entertain this,” Belial said. “Let me tell you just how difficult it is running an entire layer of Hell. You cannot even begin to understand, mortal.” Jordan breathed a sigh of relief and sat down. As the night went on Belial talked more freely. He complained and reminisced in equal measure, and as he did other demons emerged from the portal.
The first rays of sunlight crept across the front lawn, over and past the remains of Jordan’s couch, and into the living room windows, and there was a sudden poof of vibrant, multi-colored smoke behind Jordan. A young woman, dressed in clothes that didn’t so much state witch as they shouted it from the rooftops with a megaphone, stepped out of the colorful display, caught in a violent coughing spell. She looked up, and her eyes met those of at least half a dozen demons.
“Well, this is far from ideal. Is one of you Jordan?” the witch said. Jordan turned around and waved.
“Hey there, pal. I’m Nymara, in case you didn’t piece that together,” Nymara said. “Panicked a little back there myself, and I may have spilled ink all over my side of the parchment.”
“It’s all right,” Jordan said, smiling. Nymara raised an eyebrow.
“Really? You’re not possessed, right?” Nymara said. “Drained of your life-force? I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad, so here I am.” A vaguely human-shaped fly demon raised one of its limbs.
“Yes, excuse Beelzebub for his rudeness, but Beelzebub was in the middle of sharing,” Beelzebub said, his words accompanied by a dull buzz.
“What? Oh, sorry. Just a second, if you don’t mind,” Nymara said. Beelzebub nodded. “So, you don’t need saving or something? I got all brave and ready for a fight for nothing?”
“Actually, a lot of these demons just needed to talk,” Jordan said. “They’ve been sorting out issues they have with one another for the past five hours. It’s actually been pretty productive.
“That’s not even the best part,” Belial said with a chuckle. “Tell her, Jordan.” Jordan smiled, looking sheepish.
“No, this isn’t about me,” Jordan said. A short demon with a goat’s head sitting to Jordan’s immediate left slapped him on the back.
“Far too amusing for you not to share,” the demon said. Jordan looked around the room, and many of the demons nodded in approval.
“Oh, fine,” Jordan said. “It’s funny because I was looking to get a djinni’s lamp so I could wish for some direction. I’ve been pretty upset with not being able to make use of my counselling degree.”
“And then we found ourselves here,” Belial said. Nymara stared at the group in silence for a moment, her expression blank.
“Well, that’s a new one,” Nymara said at last. “I definitely need a strong drink.” Beelzebub raised a hand.
“If it’s not too much, Beelzebub would like you to ask Lucifer how the buffalo chicken dip is coming along,” Beelzebub said. “We are so hungry we could plague a small country.” Jordan wagged a finger at Beelzebub, and Nymara massaged her temples.
“Sure, of course,” Nymara said. “Yeah, I clearly didn’t get trained for this sort of thing.”
On the floor, unseen by anyone in Jordan’s house, sat the old parchment. Thin, white lines appeared on its inky black surface, growing into elaborate handwriting.
“The End?” the parchment said.