The concludent statement of Dee Kieller:
As this rubescent haze essipates from abouts my consciousness, in most total clarity do I revisit those actions which over the preceding month I did peragitate. This house—how it reeks of that most sanguinous humor! And so too my sullied, sullied hands, which did that humor spill! He and I thought ourselves bold, but that façade crumbled like ash before that timendous horror that from out mine floor did emerge. To merely witness it rising from the circle would, itself, percuss the brain to insensibility. It is best not to think of such things.
The deed is done, and undone can it not be, yet these words assuage my woe little. That vitessence which from mine friend I reapt that I might invoke the demon—how glad would I be to have it back, and the demon perlineated from this earth! I was mad, then. So too was he. And now, of him, only his lone mandible remains.
As for that demon, I have sealed its essence within the lawn statuary, and transpaled its corporeal form upon my harpooning gun. Still does it stand, as though a corpus lifelorn. But full well I know that comely Death desires as little to do with the demon as I. And oh! The worms—the worms that out from its immaculate corpse do wriggle and breem! The worms! The WORMS! I am but a festering rind of cheese swollen to bursting with worms! Their bloodravenous susurrations churn the rancid milk of my soul! The writhing! The gnawing! The boundless hunger! Even now, I can feel their corpulent bodies crawling within my teeth—
Neither of them meant for things to go this way. Neither of them meant for this place (this house, this once-home) to become something haunted. Occupied, yes, used and maintained and loved but not—not haunted, and certainly not with something that moved. Not something that itched and breathed.
Dee could have coped with a haunting if it were ghostly. The old memories of a husband and child gone, perhaps, or a mischievous spirit who lived here long ago. She could have understood it if it were a spirit or a thought: something intangible, lingering, something that wanted and pulled at her but couldn’t quite get a grip. She would have relied on that, that it could never grasp her. Could never touch.
Her husband and child left regardless, and worms writhed between her teeth.
Dee’s husband had never liked Billy S., even when they were kids. He always stood between him and Dee, spat at Bill’s feet, shooed him away from their playdates-come-dinner dates. Dee had admired her man for his protectiveness, of course, but Billy was her best friend. Her proudest moment would forever be when her mother had nearly had a heart attack at her wedding, seeing that she forewent a bride of honor in favor of a best man.
It was only ever going to be a matter of time before her husband was fed up, of course. He’d already long stopped believing her when she insisted she had never had sex with Bill, and later, after he’d gone, she would laugh privately—hysterically—with Billy, joking that the bust of himself he’d commissioned for her thirtieth was the tipping point. The real blow, though, was that when he left, Dee’s husband took their child with him, leaving behind only the few shaky drawings pinned to the fridge.
Perhaps that was why Dee had gravitated back toward her mind’s old hauntings. Perhaps it was the only way she could have found solace: in a time before her husband had ever known her, before her child had even been a thought. The occult was something that was hers and Billy’s, a childish pursuit that made them feel like they were protagonists in their own small story. They’d stolen forbidden books from the locked cabinets in the church, stockpiled salt beneath their bedframes, scared their mothers with reversed crosses. It had been fun. They had believed in it.
Dee wasn’t naïve. She didn’t expect to be able to invoke a deity and repair her life, regain her child. That was never the goal. The goal was the pure opposite: move on. Move as far away from the nuclear family she’d loved as she possibly could, and then keep going.
What better way, Dee thought sarcastically, than to summon a demon?
In actuality it was Billy’s idea. He’d suggested it as a joke one day, while they were idly flipping through pages of demonology texts secreted between underground occult circles. This was the first time they’d gotten their hands on something so hefty, and while the air was deliberately casual, there was an undercurrent of burning curiosity that ran between them. Billy had suggested it as a joke, yes, but a weak one. Even as kids, they two were always prone to succumb to curiosity.
She pondered it for days before she brought it up again, mulling over the possibilities. What would their purpose be—to beg of it something? Fame, riches?
Would they summon it just to see if they could?
Once she had it, Dee couldn’t get the idea out of her head. It was almost a compulsion—and later she would wonder if the book itself had some sort of curse on it, if their first mistake hadn’t been reading it in the first place—and when she took to words those few days later, voicing the desires she’d harbored, Billy shared in them.
“Yes,” he’d said. “Yes, I understand, I feel it too.” They always were too alike for their own good. It was one of the reasons Dee had never even considered marrying him—he was closer to her than a lover might have been, different than a brother. He felt it too, she knew. He had never once made advances on her.
Their preparations were crude. Of course they were; for all that they were adults, they were children to the craft, and they went about it with just as much giddy, reckless abandon. They were girls giggling in the dark at a sleepover, boys throwing stones on the train tracks, and neither of them cared when the summoning circle they drew was shaky, or when they flipped through the demon bestiary as if it were a picture book, picking out the scariest-looking specter they could find.
Children. Pushing fifty, but children all the same.
They read the procedure together. A fire had gripped them, something manic and desperate, and when they saw the last step—a sacrifice, flesh and blood—they didn’t stop. They didn’t flinch or back away.
Bill turned to Dee, said, “I had always hoped you would kill me, if sickness or old age did not take me first.” He said it carelessly, and Dee either did not absorb the words or no longer had the capacity to understand their weight (and she should have. She had thought she would have), and so she said “It would be my honor.”
Funny, that that was the first thing they’d decided on. Not whose house to perform the ritual in, or where to buy the salt and candles, or who would memorize the incantation and who would help the other learn. The first thing they decided was who would die. The first thing was who would do the killing.
(It never did occur to either of them to find a third party to sacrifice. Neither of them were bad enough people for that, and maybe that was worse.)
He and I thought ourselves bold, she would write later, in a battered journal with shaking hands and aching teeth, and they did. Dee and Billy shared mischievous smiles across the circle from each other before they began to chant, and then they chanted, and then Bill was with Dee on her side, his back pressed to her front, head lolled onto her shoulder, baring his neck for the knife she held. It was a kitchen knife. She’d had nothing else.
He shaved for this, Dee noted as the blade bit lovingly into his skin. His chin and throat were smooth, just the barest of stubble peeking out near his ears. To give her better access, perhaps, or to make for a prettier death.
His voice died out as hers rose in volume, a cold frenzy building in her throat. Her hands did not shake as she carved out his jaw (a metaphorical summoning, the book had said: bring forth the demon that watches and does not speak by removing the sacrifice’s mouth), but the rest of her seemed to, a frantic trembling that was not wrought by nerves.
The most poignant part about that moment, the one Dee would dwell on later, hiding in her bed from what lurked in her home, the worst part, was that she didn’t notice the instant in which Bill died. She hadn’t been paying attention. She hadn’t watched his eyes, watched the light leave them, hadn’t given any notice to his body once it went limp. Her entire being was focused on the energy that had been building, on the knife in her hands, the flesh she liberated from him. As she sliced the last tendon and his mandible came away in her hands, Dee let his corpse (was it even a corpse by then? She hadn’t stabbed him, hadn’t done anything but maim. How long did it take him to bleed out? Was he still alive to watch it emerge? Did he live long enough to see her madness break, and her remorse begin?) fall carelessly into the summoning circle. She spoke the final words of the incantation, and watched as the demon manifested, seeming to absorb Bill’s body, remake it into something new.
There were and are no words for it, none that are wretched enough to convey what it was to watch that thing, that tremendous horror coalesce into being. If she was not mad before, she was mad then; in beholding it she was calcified. Undone.
The rest of things are blurry now. Somehow in flipping through her books she found a way to trap it, to steal its very soul from that terrible body and transpose it into another container: the tacky garden gnome her husband had gifted to her when she was twenty, before they’d married. The demon’s body she speared through, unconvinced of its innocuity, before shutting it in the lounge, reasoning that she would certainly no longer need it to entertain guests. She stowed the gnome within the old hidden safe her man had installed, locked it shut, hoping to God that that would be the end of it.
God, of course, would not be so kind.
The demon’s body was a physical thing, and physical bodies rot. Dee knew this. Still, somehow, she was surprised when the worms began to appear: squirming, writhing things that squished beneath her shoes in a most disgusting way. She was more surprised when she began waking up with them in her mouth, her ears, every orifice they could wriggle their way into.
It was around then that she chose to scrape the flesh and muscle from Billy’s jaw and clean it for display like a trophy buck’s antlers. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do, but it was something, and it was all she had left of him. Dee took to tracing the shape of his teeth in the dead of night as she listened to her house squelch, all the pests encroaching on her. They chased her slowly between rooms. She would move to the next whenever they got too close.
Dee wrote her last journal entry when she no longer had to pull worms from the back of her throat. They were already inside, and she could feel them within her, eating her, carving out hollows that never should have been. She didn’t know if they were natural or demonic but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that her home was haunted, and Billy was dead, and she was dying.
When the words ran out she stood from her desk, legs numb, and she couldn’t tell if it was a symptom of the rot or of the dreadful anxiety that filled her. Regardless she ignored it, stumbling away from the room, from the lockbox that had lain innocently beneath the table since the night of the ritual, where she’d hidden away the knife she used, revolted. As she left, she left clutching Bill’s jawbone, unwilling to part with it just yet.
The mirror in the bathroom was dusty when she gazed into it. Her face was worn and gaunt—when had she stopped eating?—and she fancied she could see them, those things burrowing within her. Her fist clenched around Bill’s mandible and suddenly she hated it, hated him for being so important to her. For meeting her in the first place, for being her best friend, for introducing her to such dark things.
Dee threw the bone into the trashcan and left it there, feeling as though her soul was what was walking forward, dragging her rotten body along behind her. She took inventory of her things, the important ones: knife, locked away. Gnome, hidden and sealed. Bone, left behind. All the rest didn’t matter or wasn’t hers.
Dee was tired. Her house was haunted, and she had marinated in it. Lost herself in it.
(Her body hurt, by now. There was a bone-deep weariness to her that was more than just sickness and fright. Something had been eating her ever since the ritual, sucking from her her very essence, and Dee knew in that impossible way of knowing that it was killing her. Draining her, bleeding her dry. Killing her.)
She hadn’t left the house in a long while. She wanted to die in the sun.
Dee, traitor to God that she was, lingered. She died but was not freed, her soul as trapped in that house as she’d believed she was in life; perhaps more so. She watched through decades as the demon’s corpse rotted, and then as the house did. She saw squatters come and go, children break and enter, drug deals go right and wrong (and one of the wrong ones left cash to linger in her living room). Her house became a festering legend, and very few adventurers made it up the stairs.
When the man—Alexandre V. Badmann, or so the child called him—entered her home, she didn’t think much of him. She giggled at his terror when he caught sight of what lurked in the lounge, long past feeling dread for it, and nearly cackled when the child knocked him out cold with her old frying pan. A firestarter, that kid. It was a breath of fresh air she had long forgotten she could feel.
They were colorful, seeming to bleed it into the air around them. Dee had missed this kind of energy: life in its sweetest form.
Her heart grew much colder when the child, Jam, figured out how to open the safe, and found Bill’s mandible in the bathroom, and her knife in the lockbox. It grew colder still when they began to light the house aflame.
The demon was freed. Her home was burning.
As was true when her husband left, and when the demon emerged, Dee could do nothing but watch.
She only prayed that with the house’s death, her own spirit would be freed.