Fish felt like her stomach was on fire, all of the air forcibly knocked out of her chest as she whipped out of reality. The hospital room vanished, the bed where Trish lay, the harsh light of the florescent bulbs, the sterile stench, all of it scrunched up and sucked into nothingness. There was a moment here, in the darkness, floating, where she thought she may never touch the ground again, never feel the cold wind against her skin, never savor the last few bites of a hot meal, never smell the pungent aroma of incense wafting in the air.
She knew that she had requested the teleportation. She had said the words somewhere in the back of her mind and before she had a chance to focus on them, green light enveloped her and whisked her away. But she did not know how to control it, did not know that she could not control it. Despite years of study, reading story after story, learning hierarchies of angels and demons, devils and gods, methods of sacrifice and entreatment swirling around her brain, none had prepared her for the practical aspect of communing with one’s personal devil.
Is it even a devil? the words slipped into her brain. Her skin shook as the thing rattled. Green with teeth, she thought.
It didn’t so much speak in words as it did in riddles of images and feelings, laughter always brimming in the undertones of its voice. Fish laughed with it and they glided through the nothingness until just as quick as it disappeared it all rushed back and she crashed into the earth with a wallop.
She gasped for breath and inhaled the fresh scent of grass and tasted the salt spray of the ocean on her tongue.
“Where are we?” she asked out loud.
The green light pulled away from her heart and stood before her, a gigantic beast with rows of teeth dangling around its makeshift shoulders like a necklace. It cackled, loud.
“Damnit!” Fish cried. “I meant somewhere safe, not somewhere rife with horrible, terrible, memories!”
The green light shrieked with glee before swirling up and around her body. She caught herself wincing in anticipation of the gut punch but found none when she was whisked away and set down in what appeared to be an abandoned house.
Fish nervously scoped it out for a few days before deciding to settle. As best as she could tell it was meant to be some sort of cheap alternative housing that stopped construction near the end of the project. The place was still fenced off, crude chicken wire with barbs standing eight feet tall encircling the space, but she had not seen a person walk through the main chained and locked gate.
After foraging some spruce needles and about twenty attempts to conjure a fire, she managed to slice through the metal and create an subtle opening for herself to pass through.
Calling the town small would be an understatement. After she walked down a dirt road for what felt like miles, she happened upon a few crisscrossing streets where a charging station housed a handful of vehicles. In the distance she spotted a couple of bars and churches. She stocked up on food and bottled water with what credit she had and then retreated to her newfound home.
Fish brimmed afresh with excitement she had not felt since leaving the now defunct paranormal school she grew up in. But without instruction or books to guide her, she was lost as to how to proceed. She fell back on some of her old ways, making blood sacrifices, both personal and external. Nothing coaxed power out of the monster.
Every time she felt she was getting closer, it would pull back, the air full of electricity. It whispered her true name into her ears. She couldn’t bring herself to utter the word again. Despite years of preaching the power of names, she had never truly understood what it had meant until the word fell from her lips and she was born anew in a waterfall of energy. She could hardly control her thoughts, how was she to control that kind of force?
So she worked at it slowly, learning by trial and error, teleporting five feet to the left, then outside the house, then outside the fence, and then accidentally into the middle of the sole intersection in town.
Fish knew there was a community of people she could reach out to, others from the school who had continued in the Twins’ footsteps. She had never kept in contact with them; it wasn’t like you held a ten year reunion for the now shuttered school of devil summoning and possession, but given the right words, the right tincture, she could likely locate them again. She could search demon bars for information, she could even reach out to Hashtag Barry if necessary.
She shuddered and pulled a blanket over her shoulders.
Fish closed her eyes and dreamed of her days growing up under the tutelage of Flower and The Twins. They weren’t very happy memories, but it was where everything she knew, her entire world, was born.
The next day Fish set out to find the house, believing that if she could locate it, she may be able to retrace her steps from birth to now. She never did find out what happened to the house after she left.
After Hashtag killed The Twins, Flower had worked tirelessly to find each of them homes, but they were not allowed to watch the place as they left, crude bags covering their vision as one by one they were driven off of the campus.
The rumors had always flowed when she lived there: the house was not in any given location but danced around the globe, hidden behind a large swath of magical, soul stealing trees. The image of the wrought iron fence, the goats and chickens, the rusted out vehicles in the garage, the arching doorway, the endless hallway of fog, the ring of the bell, it all burrowed deeply into Fish’s brain. It was not long before she began to dream of the place.
In the beginning it was merely a general feeling of dread one acquires when revisiting the past, but slowly the visions melted into something more concrete and reminiscent of when real power was pulling someone close to it. She could hear his voice around every corner. She saw footsteps planted in the dusty wooden floors. And then one day she saw the tree and the man suspended in its branches. She looked up and woke in a cold sweat.
For the next few months, she tried to perfect her astral projection, preferring to keep her body intact while attempting to discover the passageway to her old home. Every night she jumped from building to building until finally one night she popped into a rural farmhouse and saw the branches of the eternal forest whipping in the breeze. She bounced down the stairs, ignoring the cries of horror in her wake and bounded toward the path.
She had never experienced the woods before now. She had only traveled between the house and the world twice in her life: when she arrived as a baby and when she left as a child, both under the cover of darkness.
The trees’ cries nipped at her heels.
Fish pushed forward for as long as she could until her legs began to give beneath her. How long she had traveled, she was uncertain. Glancing backward, the entrance was nowhere to be found, a horde of trees constantly filling in as she pushed forward, obscuring the origin of her journey. Hope spurred her on. Days came and went unnoticed, the oppressive canopy of leaves blocking out any light from entering. Darkness eternally in front of her, she resigned herself to make camp.
The trees would not offer any wood for a fire and so she conjured the green light and out of nothing a fire manifested.
Fish didn’t hear the girl approach until she was nearly there. She looked exhausted and lost, clearly searching for something whose existence she doubted. Fish lowered her head and sighed in sympathy.
“Hello! Is that you, old man? Why aren’t you in your tree?” the girl shouted out.
Fish tucked the green devil inside of her heart and waited for the girl to approach.
by Dan Diehn