If you're just opening The Door, you should read the earlier chapters, too.
Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII,
Part IX, and Part X are all Doors waiting to be opened.
Fish was not born Fish. Whoever she was meant to be, whatever name her parents had wished for her to have, whatever destiny they imagined spreading out before her, late nights of what if’s and how will we deal with’s, problems and rewards imagined, each story rich with life and possibility, all reaching out like tendrils from the moment she was brought into the world, all of it died with her parents.
Fish was more found than adopted. Iris, whose name back then was several iterations prior to her current one--possibly Rose or Flower or Tulip--had heard a yowl from within an alleyway while out running errands. She bunched up her bags of herbs, incense, oils, vials of glowing liquid, and a handful of musty smelling books, and clutched them to her chest while she turned the corner, seeking out the origin of the cry. And then there she was, nameless and naked, her impressive plume of dark wiry hair spilling down on her face, streaked with tears and snot.
Iris dropped her bags and pulled the baby from the trash. She rustled through her things until she produced a sprig of rosemary and a white candle. Cradling the child in one arm, she lit the candle and then burnt a segment of the rosemary stem while chanting in an old language, hoping this light divination would direct her toward her guardians.
Darkness, a dead end. They were, at the very least, no longer on this plane of existence. Iris understood that in most circumstances this meant that they were dead. She furrowed her brow as she glared at the dumpster, attempting to conjure the path that brought this child to be here. How does a baby, once her parents were removed from this world, find herself here of all places?
The darkness shifted green and then vanished. “Interesting,” Iris said out loud. She blew out the candle and then looked down at the child. “Well, I guess you can come with me.”
Fish’s upbringing at the house in the middle of the forest was abnormal, to say the least, although she did not understand that until much later. The place was always filled with other children, studying hard in the ways of the paranormal. At first, despite the urging of the overseers of this institution, The Twins, Iris attempted to keep Fish on a normal regimen of education, focusing on math and geography and language. But as Fish grew older, she grew more curious. Her dreams had morphed into something deeper and otherworldly, her inquisitiveness getting the better of her.
The first time that Iris caught Fish making a blood sacrifice, she was only four. “Green!” she shouted, holding up a quivering chicken by its feet, her arms and face sheen with blood. “Green with teeth!”
Iris took away the dead bird, and Fish bawled, crying out that “it would go away without the blood.”
Iris turned and bent down to be face to face with Fish. “Who?” she asked.
“Green!” Fish cried.
Maybe it was a foolish notion, to follow the direction of a four year old’s tantrum, but something shook Iris, goosebumps rippling down her arms and the back of her neck. “Green,” she said to Fish softly. “Would you like Green to return?”
Fish beamed, “Green!” she squealed. “Yes, please, Ms. Flower.”
Iris tussled Fish’s curly hair. “Aren’t you my little ray of sunshine?”
Here, imaginary friends were treated with reverence. At even the slightest chance that the being in question was a real beyond-the-veil entity, The Twins demanded that Iris guide the child toward summoning the thing for all to see. Most beings preferred to work alone, channeling their energy into possession, torment, and senseless tomfoolery, but occasionally, or so The Twins and Iris surmised, there would be one who would appear alongside a human to lend them their power to whatever end their whims guided them. There was literature on the subject, for sure, but to date, none of the students had been successful.
The practicality of summoning was tenuous. It was a poorly documented subject and what documentation did exist, it all contradicted one another in a crisscrossed mess of shoddy information and speculation. It turned out that each particular demon or devil had their own preferred method of contact. In order to command, one must first learn one’s peculiarities.
Over the years, Fish eagerly worked through every method known to exist. She cut her own wrists, she sacrificed animals, both big and small, she chanted, she burned more chemicals and oils and herbs than her sense of smell could ever recover from. She fasted, deprived herself of sleep for days. She spun in circles, learned dead languages and intoned them over and over and over while she tried to fall asleep. Occasionally her dreams veered into the abnormal, feeling so real that when she woke—always suddenly and drenched in sweat and fear—she swore she had not been sleeping at all. But nothing ever showed.
Every year, as students would disappear and be replaced with new blood, she hardened. She teased them about the house, how doors opened and closed and materialized and disappeared on their own. She gravely warned them that they wouldn’t last the night. She had been there longer than anyone else and she knew everything there was to know about anything.
Everything changed when Hashtag Barry arrived. He had a genuine contract with a devil, or so the rumors spread. Word was that The Twins had even seen it, that he could conjure it at will, a giant dust laden beast with red and blue eyes. He was working to learn its name under the stern tutelage of Iris and The Twins. Fish was jealous. She did her best to taunt him whenever she could, misleading him about directions in the hallways, how the house shifted in the middle of the night.
But then she learned his name. With that knowledge, she cast a few spells, nothing serious, inquiries into his past and future. Nothing made sense. His family was there, but then not. His friends vanished, either into darkness or obscurity. His future twisted and shifted and blurred until the entire image broke apart. It was more powerful than anything she had ever felt and she knew that something was wrong.
She tried to warn him about The Twins, in her own way, but it wasn’t until he was broken and abused that he realized their ulterior motives. He killed The Twins shortly after and left Iris and the kids in the house to fend for themselves. Fish stopped attempting to summon after that day, watching what devastation and horror it could bring.
And now, nearly two decades later, here she was, enveloped in darkness. Iris lay dead at her feet, the only mother she ever knew. Finn and Trish whimpered.
“Would you two shut up!?” Fish yelled into the emptiness. She couldn’t see the hands in front of her face, let alone anyone else. Her arms ached with open wounds. Finn and Trish’s muffled sounds quieted. “The good news is,” Fish continued, “that you’re not dead. Yet, I guess.”
“What’s he going to do?” Trish croaked.
Fish shifted her feet in the dirt. “Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve seen demons and devils in my dreams, but nothing like this. He’s entwined with this entire place,” she gestured outward.
“Good, good,” Finn whined. “That makes me feel better. Then what the hell are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Fish replied flatly.
They stood in silence. In the stillness, the endless void surrounding them at all edges, time did not seem to pass, the only metric the sound of their beating hearts echoing against the emptiness.
“Okay,” Fish finally said, her voice cracking. “let’s get out of here.”
“How—“ Trish started and then stopped as a green door began to manifest along the far wall.
“Did you—“ Finn opened his mouth and then cut himself short as Fish waltzed up to the door, swung it open, and hopped through. Trish and Finn followed.
It was the same house, Fish could tell that from standing here, in the living room, the breeze pouring in from the open window filled with darkness. They were deeper in the house than they ever had been. Fish blinked, adjusting to the newfound light, a dim red haze permeating throughout the space. On the opposite wall, a great hall had opened, a massive table with long benches erected. It was adorned with multicolored candles and at the head of it, Jack sat, his face beaming. A shadow hovered around his body, pushing and pulling Jack’s skin as he spoke. “Welcome, friends!” he shouted. Finn and Trish stumbled into the room. “Please, have a seat and let us break bread together.”
The three reluctantly crept forward and sat at the table. “Uh,” Finn hesitated, “so, where’s the bread?”
The shadow stood and Jack stood with it. “Why, right here,” he gestured toward them. The shadow danced toward Trish and Jack extended his hand to hers. Trish’s fingers trembled as Jack pulled them to his face and in mighty crunch, ripped off her middle and index fingers, gnashing on bone and flesh in his mouth. “Now, I know,” he laughed over Trish’s shriek, mumbling between bites, “one should not talk with one’s mouth full, but you are just so delicious!”
“What the fuck!?” Finn screamed. He was immobile.
“What the fuck, indeed,” Jack slithered around the table toward him. “Old friend, would you lend me your heart?”
Finn recoiled to no avail. The shadow grasped Finn’s chest and Jack mirrored. His fingernails dug into Finn’s flesh.
“No,” Fish whispered.
“Excuse me?” the shadow whirled around and Jack’s face spun with it.
“I said no,” Fish stood, “You do not get to hurt them.”
“Oh really?” the shadow spat. “And what are you going to do, little girl? I can see you trembling in the little trash heap you call home. You have no power here.”
Fish closed her eyes. “I might not. I really might not.”
In her dreams, she had played hide and seek with a green ball of light filled with teeth and wit. When it spoke, it spoke in riddles and truths, attempting to trick and teach and subdue all others around it. When she woke, the words echoed in her head and lingered. When all else was silent, she heard its laughter, always around the next corner. Now, it was booming in her head. “Say it,” it hissed.
Fish opened her eyes. “I may not have power,” she flung at Jack, “but names, names have power, you know.”
She moved her lips silently, reciting the name she never knew she had, the one that had been with her the moment Iris cradled her in her arms.
“Holy shit,” Finn muttered.
A green light burst down the hallway until it engulfed Fish, her body illuminated and casting weird shadows against all of the slithering walls. The sound of rain pitter-pattered against the table and a violent gust stormed through the window, oblivion and fire on its tail.
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)