Sunny is a short story from Dan Diehn.
If you're just joining us, you can read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,
Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI,
and Part XII to catch up with Fish, Jack,
and an old friend.
All of Fish’s memories of her childhood home were hazy at best. What she did remember, she relived through quick dreams that bored themselves into her brain long after she woke. Endless hallways, the taste of fog on her tongue, the walls extending far above her to the high ceiling, the echo of footsteps, the stench of blood and death in the air. Her stomach in knots, she’d cradle her arms around herself and do her damnedest to forget the fear, the panic, and the humiliation that comes with youth. Years after, she secretly longed to go back. Despite the horrors associated with those rooms, that hallway, the days on end without sleep listening to children shriek and cry as doors slammed shut, rooms shifted, and voices cackled in the silence between them all, no matter how hard she may try to disassociate herself with it, that place was always truly home. And now, here, setting foot in it again after two decades, it felt hollow, a husk of its former glory, just an empty box, just a hallway, just a house.
She shoved Jack away from her face and stood up, dusting herself off and helping Duri to her feet, instinctively encouraging her to hide behind her and Green in case Jack did anything stupid. “How the hell did you get here?” Fish nearly yelled. “How the hell did we get here?” She stepped up to him and surveyed his state.
Jack’s clothes were in tatters, bits of wires and machinery poking out from under his skin and through various rips and tears in his long-sleeve thin sweater, like roots pouring out of the earth. His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were purple, his hair matted and and a mess. His teeth were chattering and he hunched his back in fear. “What did you do, Jack?”
“Fish!” he exclaimed, running a hand through his hair and adjusting his posture. “It’s you! Fish! And…” he looked at Duri, “...that girl from the library. Duri, was it? What a happy surprise. I’m so glad you could make it.”
Fish crossed her arms and glared over her nose, “Why are we here, Jack? How did you pull us here?”
Jack reeled back, his eyebrows revealing his surprise. “Me? Do something to you? I honestly didn’t. I wanted to meet your, uh… your friend you talked about and the scuttlebutt on the scene is that a massive amount of energy blew up a few days ago and then zipped out of nowhere.”
“The house, Jack,” Fish gritted her teeth. “How did you find the house? How did you find us?”
Jack wavered, his eyes darting to Fish then to Duri then to the endless hallway. “Okay, but, like, don’t be mad.”
“No promises,” Fish muttered.
“Well, you know how it is with power, right? Once it’s gone, nothing is really the same. I’ve been self-medicating to replicate the effect,” he waved his arms in the air, “but it’s not the same!. Dominions are really rare, it turns out. And no matter how nicely I ask, no devil or demon or principality wants to dance with me.”
“You asked out a principality?” Fish nearly laughed.
“Not asked out per se,” he faltered on the words, “but yes. It was not impressed. But I got bored, Fish, bored! There are only so many weird glowing liquids a man can drink at a demon bar before he starts to get desperate. There was this rush of energy in the air, more creatures talking, rumors spreading about old stories, languages that hadn’t been uttered in centuries being spoken. I figured I was missing out on some serious action. I figured it had something to do with Kiran. I didn’t want to ask for help, I really didn’t, least of all from him, but the way that everyone talked about him--”
“You talked to Hashtag,” Fish finished for him.
“And he told me about this house! He said that there are books, knowledge, he even let me hitch a ride with him!”
Fish glanced around the hall, “Hashtag is here!?” she whispered harshly.
“Was,” Jack corrected. “He bailed, off to do whatever it is that freak does in his spare time.”
“I thought he killed people like you,” Duri piped up, glaring at Jack.
Jack looked down, “I’m hurt, Duri, I truly am. I’m not like them.”
“He’s not smart enough to leech,” Fish said, the word leech dripping with distaste in her mouth.
“I would never!” Jack was astonished, his voice reeling and then growing quiet. A bell rang throughout the air and Duri jumped. “We really ought to get to the dining hall,” he continued. “The house does not like it when you ignore food.” He turned and began to trot down the nondescript hall.
Fish began to trail him, “How long have you been here?”
Jack gestured with his hands outward, “Oh, you know, I have no idea. This place seems to suck you in pretty easily. I went outside a few times to get a breath of fresh air but thought the trees might murder me with the way they swayed and sang in the night. I’ve only seen trees like that one other time in my life.”
“I am very much in the tree-hating camp right now,” Duri shuddered. “No more trees. Ever.”
Fish grunted in agreement. She was home, finally. She knew the house would only show them things it wanted to, but she longed for her childhood room, to see the stains etched into the hardwood floors. She desperately wanted to make a break for it and sneak off to explore on her own but didn’t dare trust Jack alone with Duri. He seemed docile enough, but with all of the artificial energy coursing through his bloodstream right now, she couldn’t be certain of his next move. No matter which way she sliced the situation in her mind, they were stuck with him for now.
The house provided them far too much food, heaping portions of goat and beef and lamb, smoked fish, mashed and smashed potatoes, the aroma of garlic settled heavily in the air, bowls filled with steamed vegetables, baskets of freshly baked rolls simultaneously crusty and soft, carafes of gravy, an array of cheese and charcuterie, plates of cakes and pies and spiced fruit, goblets of wine and mead and steins of beer adorning the surface of the hall’s table. There were vials of brightly colored liquids on trays in the corners of the room, an impressive spread of hors d'oeuvres amongst them.
Duri dove in immediately, the thought of ever eating any of Attila’s fruit again turning her stomach.
Fish and Jack stopped in the doorway and surveyed the spread. “Does it always give you this much food?” Fish asked.
Jack’s mouth was agape, his eyes wide, nostrils flaring, “No,” he said, “no at most it’s made me a pot pie.”
The lights in the room flickered and heavy thuds settled into the woodwork, loosening dust from the ceiling. Fish turned around and peered down the dark and seemingly infinite hallway. In the distance, shadows loomed and shifted and grew larger. She looked to Jack. “Are you expecting guests?”
Jack turned and squinted until he also saw them approach. “No,” he whispered, “what are they?”
Green flitted out of Fish’s heart and darted to meet them.
by Dan Diehn