Liquid dripped off the table.
Nothing else moved.
The boy was paralyzed. Fear battled with confusion. The darkness was like a vacuum in his eyes, sucking them out of his sockets, even the light from the window had been blotted in the sudden eclipse. He could hear nothing but his heart pumping fear, like a hammer against steel, in his ears.
“You would do that to yourself?” Mama Twayblade’s voice didn’t sound like that of a dithering old woman. It rang now like the clear, damning chimes of bells.
The boy didn’t reply, couldn’t reply.
“How could someone so young be driven to - ” She couldn’t articulate herself. “Magicks, like that... All they do is corrupt and torture. The horrors you would inflict. Upon others, upon yourself.” She spoke with a venom that slid down his throat into his stomach, into his soul.
He tried to reply, tell her that he didn’t understand, that he needed help. The boy’s jaws remained clenched, glued together out of doubt that he could hold himself together. His lips began to shake.
With a rage that was released like a flash flood Mama Twayblade cried “Answer me!” The boy began to shake. “You are like them all! You’re all the same! Greedy, consuming, hungering. All the same...It’s always lust and always envy and always pride with your kind. Always, always, always!” And suddenly in the darkness she held him by the collar, pulling him toward her, dragging him to the back of the kitchen. The boy whimpered and the liquid on the table carried on carelessly dripping away.
He was too tired to struggle against her as she sat him down in a chair. “I don’t –”His voice wavered through trembling lips. “What have I done?”
He could hear her sharp, methodical breathing, and in it he felt the absolute, illuminating intake of breath that resembled a resolution being made and anger being reined. Seconds stretched into seemingly hours. Then, Mama Twayblade laughed a laugh the same as it had always been. “Oh my dear, sweet, poppet.” She cooed now, her voice dribbling with bittersweet oil. It made his skin crawl.“Don’t you worry anymore; Mama Twayblade is going to help you, isn’t she?” Her face came down an inch from his. He felt her cold breath on his cheeks. “Hmmm? Aren’t I sweetie? Like I always have done.” Her grip was like iron ringing around his wrist.
“Yes what, dear?”
“Yes, Mama Twayblade...” He peered out into the relentless darkness and all he found was his own pain. Burning in his shoulders, his legs, his hands, feet, eyes and head.
She stroked his chin and the ringing of a knife pierced the hollow air. “Good boy. Now, I’m going to make you better. I know what to do, you see. I’ll cut it out. Cut it right out of your head, poppet.” He remembered the precision she had cut herbs, vegetables... meat. Panic now, primal and inescapable flooded through him.
“No... No, please.” Sweat began to dribble from him like blood. Tears streamed down his face.
“Shhh, don’t you worry, little one. It’ll be quick. I’ll cut it right out.” He could hear the fear in her voice, the fear that had led her to this insanity in an instant.
“No. Please... It’s just me, just me. I’m sorry! Whatever I – ” Tyres screeched and the child’s pale face flickered past his eyes again. He gasped now, fighting for air that was right in front of him. “I’m so sorry...”
“I know you are. Shush now. I know you are, but it, it is not.” She paused. “And you’re the price that must be paid to stop it. It’s only right; you are the one who brought it into the world.”
“What,” He gasped in, out, in. “What is it?!”
“You know... Of course you know, poppet.” She raised the knife into the air.
At that point everything, everything, was sucked away from the pale, beaten, detached seventeen-year-old boy who had not experienced enough of anything to understand anything. A demon. The boy thought the word and that was it, like dropping into a well. His heart dissolved. His feet slipped from under him. His emotion drifted into the abyss. And, as he felt the knife cleave the air, seeking his blood, he felt ready to die. Die in pain and blood and despair. Despair seemed fitting to the boy in that crystalline moment before death. Despair, the very matter of Hell itself. The primal emotion of all life that first wrought demons into this world.
A shadow shifted. The metronome dripping of the liquid stopped. Fear and panic and the will to survive plummeted back into the boy. Something in the darkness stirred. Something leapt. Mama Twayblade screamed as the growling, furious night ripped into her.
The boy felt the air, parted by the creature, brush over his cheek. Something knocked him off his chair; he hit the floor on his shoulder. Pain seared through him but was drowned by the sudden temptation of freedom before him. He looked out into the darkness, towards the direction of the door as claws met fabric and the sound of ripping and growling intertwined in the air.
Slowly, on all fours, the boy began to crawl across the cold stone floor asMama Twayblade screeched, shrill and angry as the ocean. He had to get out, had to live. As the shadows tore at fleshhe abandoned any other feeling or impulse except the inexplicable compulsion to survive. Hunger itself panted behind himas the boy crawled and as he did he did not see the gnashing of jaws or the ripple of black fur. The sudden flash of a silver eye, purple flowing into green flowing into orange. Desperately now he rushed across the kitchen, stumbling into cupboards and chairs. And the thump of something fleshy being flung to the ground. His breathing, erratic and frantic.
He struck the door. Felt the soft wood. The frigid metal of the handle. He flung it open with all his fear backing the movement of his limbs. For a blinding instant sudden, harsh, artificial orange light infested his vision. And then relief, like a shy breeze between his fingertips, whispered up him, through his clothes, up his spine and around his hair, but only for a moment. As the boy entered the outside world, like a child being born screaming and bloody, his dread and desperation erupted all around him once again. Suddenly, as the back gardens and rooms of houses filled with the howling of dogs, the sky was filled with the whirring and harking of birds. Cats yowled in allies. Bats screeched from rooftops. They all lamented at the corrosive emotions squeezing through the boy’s body. They awoke the night to the hell that lay about him.
As the boy stumbled onto the road house lights began to shed their annoyance from windows all about him. The boy looked around the stone cold street. His eyes moved as if dreaming, information and images slightly delayed before being received. He felt as if thousands of eyes watched him and hands had begun to reach out of the ground to pull him down. He ran and left distress like ripples of a pond around him.
A family photo, the picture of a young boy with light blonde, curly hair. His sister, similar with freckles across her cheeks, hugging him. Two parents, happiness, satisfaction, love spread across their faces.
The door swung upon and the boy swept through. Wind roared through in his wake, released, like a storm surge upon a dam, carrying with it the cries of animals like a terrifying bestial festival. It had soared with him all the way to the house, building, growing, amassing. Petrified determination was worn on the boy’s face like a mask. He slammed the door behind him. The wind stopped. The animals quietened. The house was still.
The boy, still shaking, heart still thumping, growing dread still amassing in his head like thorny vines, marched though the room. He turned upon a bookcase, ripping the books, ornaments, the photo from where they rested. Behind he withdrew, like a priest lifting a bible, a small leather-bound book. Frantically he searched through the pages looking for something that would bring him solace. Solace that was inked into old parchment by ignorant men. He found it with a mix of thrill and doubt and scanned the page. His face flicked up, eyes with a building fire searing the room. He leapt up grabbed a candle and its stick and a box of matches, then he turned and ascended the stairs.
Each step up the old wood built his horror. What he was about to do – What he conceived was like taunting the devil. As he had run he had found a speck of clarity, of determination. The fae could not lie, but still he wanted to check for himself. He came to the top of the stairs and stared at the door waiting at the end of the corridor. As he looked the door seemed to shrink, seemed to move further and further out of his reach and for a second he gave up. The boy just wanted to crumple, to let it claim him and to finally rest. It would be so peaceful. No. He marched to the bathroom.
Even in the darkness of the room he could see his face, still grotesquely contorted in the broken mirror. He stood the long white candle with its silver candlestick on the sink at one corner of the mirror and propped the little book in front of him, matchbox in hands. He read through the passage again quickly and inhaled a long deep, slightly hesitant, slightly hysterical breath. Now, whilst his determination lasted. Now.
“Flame, illuminate. In your light I give reason.” With shaking hands he struck the match. It snapped. Desperate anger and panic ricocheted through the boy. I have to do this, I have to, the boy begged sliently, begged to anyone who would listen.
He closed his eyes. Inhaled. He felt a tingle, a leaf tickling him in the wind. Laughter racing through sun dappled woods. A storm building in the sky.
“Flame, illuminate. In your light I give reason.” He struck the match and carried the flame to the candle. Strange shadows bent and wavered in the warm light. “By blood that falls, fall by me. Uncover thy blood.” He scratched at the wound at his brow, drawing blood onto his fingertips and with it he drew a symbol upon the mirror behind the flame. An eight pointed star. “And with thy blood I illuminate. Give my thy reason.” He irritated the wound again, drawing more blood onto the fingertips using it to draw a line under each eyelid. He could feel now a power contained in his body. Like excitement it shivered and rippled through him, uncontainable within his meagre flesh. His mind was filled with confidence and knowledge and power and awareness. As ancient as the earth, endless as the sea, open as the sky. He glanced to the book and closed his eyes again.“Indico. Indicare. Indicavi. Indicatus” He repeated the phrase again and again and again as the power built with in him. He repeated it until the words began to overlap and roll and drop and rise. Until the room was echoing with the indistinguishable syllables, spoken in voices beyond the imagining of his own. His eyes flew open, his head snapped up to the sky. “Be revealed!” The chorus came to a climatic stop. Pupils expanded to the tips of his iris. Power leaked through into the illuminating light of the candle and the symbol behind.
A wave of fatigue threatened to knock him down. He caught himself on the sink. Had it worked? Dread welled deep in his heart as he looked up into the mirror. The candle flame flickered. There was nothing there. His eyes flicked around the mirror. He so had felt like it had worked; the feeling of fitting a key into the write lock, playing the right note on the piano, placing the winning card on a table. He looked behind him at the shadowed wall.
As if a sigh of wind had breathed over the candles, the flame dimmed to a meagre blue light. He glanced back to the mirror, eyes frantically tracing through lines. The light came back. He waited. And once again the light of the candle dimmed. Heart hammering he scrutinised the mirror and, as the shadows receded once more, he caught the glimpse of something silver down his shoulder. There, on the surface of the mirror was a breath of condensation. Two distinct silver lines blending into one. The light faded once more and this time his eyes traced the water vapour up to its source.
A pace behind him a face waited, watching from over his shoulder.
Pale, gaunt. The breath marks lead to a hooked nose above thin lips contorted into a haunting smirk. Dark, greasy hair hung in disgusting clumps from its mostly bold head. With terrible slowness and unbelievable constraint the boy traced the nose up to the small beady eyes. In the instant of their eyes meeting the face broke into a grin. Rotting, broken teeth like shards of glass were presented in its gums. Skin wrinkled around its eyes from the movement of its mouth, contorting its face into a terrifying clown mask. The boy was frozen, fear absolute held him petrified to the spot. Short shallow breaths were all he released. Every muscle tightened. He couldn’t move his eyes from the demon’s.
Deliberately, with chilling slowness it moved a bony, too long fingered and nailed hand toward the boy. Shivers ran down his back. His mind battered against the brick wall that was his body. The hand came to an inch before his right shoulder. The boy screamed in the darkness, he wacked the candle of the sink and jumped back, facing the wall and pushing his back to the mirror. It was too much. His heart was between his teeth. Bite too hard he would puncture it, bite too little and it would slip down the sink. His body shook. He couldn’t take any more.
A cold, putrid breath slide down in neck. The boy’s eyes widened. With painstaking slowness he turned his head to the mirror, his eyes pushing as far to the right as they could, whites bright in the shadows. And where his reflection should have been, his face met with the still grinning, inevitable face of the demon.
He slipped to the floor. Falling into a lake of tears and blood, where old, horrific, smiling faces smirked at him from the depths...
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