Fish stood in front of a seemingly endless foyer, the extensive corridors like tendrils outstretched left and right and this way and that, wriggling through the monstrous structure. Fog lingered in the distance. It was completely silent save for the occasional bell that rang, pervasively echoing through the hallways, the reverberations obscuring the location of its origin. She twirled her dark wiry hair and trudged forward aimlessly, turning corners with abandon.
Some of the doors she encountered were ajar, glimpses of flashes of light, the scent of burnt hair mottled with old blood, intonations in archaic languages spilling into the aisle. She knew them all too well. She tugged on the sleeves of her dark sweater at her wrists, pulling them up to her knuckles.
She shivered and hugged herself before turning around another corner to find herself inside of a room, her old room. Even then, she had not been much for sentimental ornaments. The room was bare save for the dresser, the desk, the bed, and the window. The shades were drawn. Fish could not handle watching the shadows of the forest dance in the corner of her eyes, lulling her into hypnotic suspension. She did not wish to hear their cries at night.
She sauntered over to her desk and pried open a drawer. Still here, she thought as she beat the dust off of an old leather notebook. She lazily flipped through the pages, stopping here and there to attempt to translate the scrawls of a child. Blood this, goat sacrifice that, drawings of green orbs of light filled with teeth chasing her down stairwells. She shuddered to think that this was at one point normal to her and then twitched at the thought that most people had no idea about the monsters lurking on the other side of the air. She clutched the notebook to her chest and sighed.
Then she heard the noise barreling down the hallway, shrieks of chaos boring down on her skull. She knew what dwelled on the other side of that cacophony and did not want to witness it again, and yet she could not stop her feet from moving as her body sprinted into the corridor and toward the direction of the clamor. She whipped around corners, left left right right left right until suddenly she was inside the room with it, with them.
In the center of the room, a bespeckled boy with large ears stood with his hands tied behind his back. Two bodies were slumped in front of her feet, their eyes removed, blood trickling into the cracks in the wooden floors. And then there was him, shoulders hunched over, commanding the devil made of dust, its makeshift red and blue eyes digging into her soul. She gasped, again, as she had done so many years ago. Her gaze darted around the room, hoping to find an exit, to relieve herself of this memory.
There, on the other side of the expanse, a blue door where there had been none before. She threw herself across the room, swung it open, and jumped through.
The house appeared ordinary enough at first glance. Boxes were stacked neatly into corners as though a family had just moved in and had yet to unpack, but it was dark and the air was heavy. Fish heard the ground creak and she wiggled her toes into the blue carpet. Goosebumps arose on her arms. She crept through the hallway and into the living room.
“Jack?” she cast the words into the air but they never reached him. He stood by an open window, green light swirling around his entire body, oblivious to her presence. Jack turned around slowly and ambled through her, her atoms phasing in and out to accommodate his passage. “Jack!” she shouted after him. He paused at the foot of a newly constructed door. He looked at her, through her, smiled, and then hopped through.
Fish raced after him, tossing the door wide before stepping into a dark and endless corridor of dirt and grime. She found Jack at the end of it, collapsed and mumbling, tears streaking his face. “Oh Jack, what have you gotten yourself into?” she asked. A door in the distance clicked and light poured through.
And then there he was, his devil silhouetted in the brilliance of reality. He hid his face with a cloak, but she would never forget that likeness. Even years later, the image of the one-eyed freak and his dust devil was forever seared into her brain.
“Shit!” she exclaimed. “Hashtag, what the hell are you doing here!?”
She woke in her bed with a start. It was dark, the middle of the night, and yet she could still make out his outline in the shadows, huddling in the corner. Jack was whimpering.
“Fish?” Jack mumbled. “Fish is that you? Where am I?”
A cackle erupted from beneath the cloak and Hashtag whipped it off of his head. Completely bald, scars and wrinkles slithered across his face. He glanced around the room with his one eye, a sly crooked smile spread across his visage. “Fish!?” he whooped. “You’re going by Fish these days? And who is this? Oh my god you know each other!?”
Fish tossed the blankets off of her and stormed up to Hashtag. “Oh, you think my name is funny?” she spit back at him. “That’s rich. Names have...”
“Holy shit please do not finish that sentence.”
“...power, you know?” She slapped him across the face, hard. “Now answer the damn question. What the hell are you doing here!? I haven’t seen you in… god, I don’t even know how long, ten years?”
Hashtag recoiled and the gigantic form of dust lunged forward, its red and blue eyes glaring at her. It never had liked her. Hashtag whispered and the monster flitted into nothingness. He cleared his throat, creases spreading across his forehead. “What am I doing here?” he threw at Fish. “I just happened to see your apparent friend walk through a goddamn portal in the middle of a goddamn demon bar. You saw where he was stuck. Those walls were alive.”
“What were you doing in a demon bar?” Fish hurled at him.
Hashtag was taken aback, “I… I was looking for work. I mean, you know I spend most of my time in places like that, right?”
Fish frowned and sat down on the edge of her bed. “Yes, yes I remember.” Her eyes were distant.
“Release me,” Jack groaned, his body crumbled in the corner.
Fish leapt to her feet. “Good god, what did that thing do to him?” she asked as she tiptoed over to Jack. She grabbed several pieces of multicolored glass out of a nearby desk and began to peer at Jack through them, Hmms and Huhs rising to meet the awkward silence. She slowly stowed the glass and placed her hands on his face, intoning in a dead language.
Hashtag grunted, “That’s never going to work.”
“Shut up!” Fish hissed. “You don’t know this one. He’s been tagged for a month now, at least. I can’t get rid of it, but I think we know someone who can.” Fish tossed a glance toward Hashtag who immediately looked away, shaking his head.
“Oh no!” he bellowed. “There is no way I am going with you. I will kill her before I ask her for help. Nope. You’re on your own, Fish!” Hashtag howled as the air sucked into the vacuum where he stood a moment ago.
Fish let out a yowl and collapsed next to Jack, alone.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)