The car barreled down the desolate road, kicking up dust and dirt and debris from the nearby farms, harvest just completed and strewn about the landscape. The engine roared loudly as Fish pushed the gas pedal even harder. The sun was rising over the horizon. The large countryside houses cast strange long shadows across the surface of the earth. Everything was orange and blue and pale.
Jack groaned, his body slumped awkwardly in the passenger seat. His forehead pressed against the window and whenever he breathed, it momentarily fogged up, obscuring the view. He only managed a few words here and there and even those weren’t very helpful, mostly cries of confusion and the desire to help find or release it.
Fish was not unfamiliar with possession. When she was a child, the main focus of her studies had always been summoning, but the risk of a possession was always high, and so they prepared by learning various methods of warding, casting, and expulsion. After Hashtag vanished, she had torn into a box hidden in her closet, dusting off old tomes. She worked through each spell and chant and incantation she could muster. It had been so long, it felt like relearning a language she had managed to forget overnight. The tingle returned to her brain and it sent her heart aflutter. The excitement of dabbling into the unknown elated her. And yet, nothing happened. Jack never snapped out of it. Whatever it was that had its claws into him, dug into him deeply. It was beyond anything she had ever learned.
She had to half carry him to her car. It wasn’t good, she surmised, Jack’s body being so far away from the house, but she didn’t know what else to do. Hashtag brought him to her because he knew she could help. She wanted to believe that now. She needed help. She needed someone who outstripped the power of everyone she had ever known. She needed her.
Last Fish had heard, after she had shut down the school, she changed her name and retreated into a nondescript town well beyond the outer rings of the city, biding her time in a library. She always had loved books and directing people in their study, even if the subject matter had been a little nonstandard. Fish hadn’t seen her since the incident.
In her left hand, Fish clutched an ornate locket that hung around her neck on a silver chain. Her right hand tightened its grasp on the wheel as she pressed her right foot into the gas pedal even harder. The engine growled in appreciation.
In the horizon, the subtle signs of a town grew into a view. A water tower stretched into the sky as the houses began to line themselves up closer and closer. Every other building was either a church, a bar, or an empty shop, now closed, windows boarded and signs defaced with unoriginal graffiti.
Fish hurled the car into a motel’s parking lot. It advertised color TV on a marquee, half the lights flickering on and off randomly. She slammed the gear into park and threw back her curly hair behind her ears, turning to face Jack. He looked cold. He was losing color.
She reached behind her neck and unfastened the pendant. Carefully, she reached around Jack’s body and hung it over his shoulders. Jack flinched but never resisted.
“I’m sorry, Jack,” she whispered. “I just don’t know how long it’ll be or it’ll take. This might help.”
She sighed a heavy sigh before exiting the car, grabbing the backpack from the back seat. She sauntered up to the booth where a middle-aged man stared deeply into the projections from his phone. He was plugged in. Fish shuddered and hammered her knuckles against the window pane. He jumped and shut down his device but never unplugged. Fish wondered what colors or sounds or smells permeated his reality.
“I’m looking for a room!” Fish shouted at the double-paned glass.
The man simply nodded and held up one finger and then two.
“I don’t know how long!” Fish retorted.
He rubbed his thumb and index finger together. Fish groaned and reached into her bag and pulled out a wad of paper money. The man’s eyes widened as he stared at it and then her and then at it.
“Yeah, yeah,” Fish conceded. “I’m old school. You want or no?”
The man nodded furiously.
“Good,” she said, then placed her hands on the window pane. Her voice deepened. “All of this,” she gestured at the cash, “this gets me privacy. No housekeeping, no wakeup calls, no bothering me to leave if you think I’m staying too long. Got it?”
Fish returned to the car with an electronic key and a grin on her face.
“Okay, Jacky-boy,” she opened the passenger side door, “we have got ourselves a room. You are going to stay here while I find you some help.”
It didn’t take long to find the library. The entire downtown was comprised of four or five roads that crisscrossed at 90 degree angles. Fish hopped out of the car, pulled at her sweater at her wrists, and waltzed inside. The aroma of old paper hit her first. The scent catapulted her back to childhood.
And then there she was. Her back was turned to Fish, her mousey frame older than Fish had ever remembered, older than she felt she ought to be. A placard hung on the desk’s edge that simply said Iris. Fish’s heart sunk as she stepped up to the desk. The librarian froze, stood up straight, and then turned toward her, adjusting her glasses.
“You,” she said, “what do I even call you right now?”
“F..F..Fish,” Fish stammered. “And you? Should I call you--”
“No!” the librarian hissed, then said quieter, “Names have power…”
“I know,” Fish finished.
“Just call me Iris,” the librarian said.
“Iris,” Fish rolled it around in her brain while a sly grin crept across her face. “Very original.”
Iris scoffed, tearing the glasses off of her face, “You should talk. Anyone else know your true name?” She paused. “I thought not.”
Fish pulled her sleeves over her entire hands and clutched them to her body.
“So, Fish, what brought you to me again after all of these years?”
Fish glared at the ground, “He showed up. Last night. With someone in tow. A,” Fish hesitated, “well, a friend.”
Iris’ eyes lit up as she danced around to the other side of the desk and ushered Fish into a conference room, her three-fingered hand on Fish’s shoulder. She closed the door behind her quietly. Fear flickered behind her eyes. “And what did the little monster want?” Iris spit.
Fish pulled herself from Iris’ grasp. “He wanted me to help this guy. Says he found him entering a portal in a demon bar. And then I had a dream--”
“A dream!” Iris exclaimed.
“--oh don’t think I don’t remember the supposed dreams,” Fish jeered. “I know I was there.”
Iris twirled around the room, practically floating off the carpet. “And I suppose,” she said, “I suppose this friend is in trouble and in need of assistance. I imagine you took out your old book with a twinge of nostalgia tearing at your heart, hesitation and cowardice staying your hand until you recited some words and found them lacking.”
Fish clenched her jaw.
“Well, then, dear, let’s go see your friend.” Iris tiptoed up to Fish, and wrapped her fingers around her arm.
Fish thought she had been stabbed in the stomach when she opened her eyes and found herself in the motel room. Jack was standing before them, the pendant shining under dim lamplight. Iris’ eyes were wide, her mouth agape. Her three fingers dug into Fish’s shoulder.
“Oh…” Iris was shaking, pointing, her mouth agape, “oh, honey, this isn’t a demon or a devil. You’re friend is a dominion and that old trinket won’t do a damn thing.”
Jack clasped the ornate pendant around his fingers, tore the necklace off of his body, and smiled.
The house was dark, with boxes stacked neatly into their corners. It was the same house as her dream, Fish could tell, even from here. They stood near an open window, nothing but emptiness swirling in the air. The house groaned and they turned, Jack gesturing for them to follow him to a newly carved door in the hallway, sawdust adorning the carpet.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)