Note before we begin this installment, if you’re unfamiliar with the use of the singular ‘they’ as a pronoun replacement for he/she, please check out these links:
Drew’s head pounded as they woke, nausea cramping their stomach. They tried to curl up into a ball, but their arms and legs wouldn’t move. Awareness began to return and Drew realised they were in a chair—tied to a chair, in fact.
Dread crowding out all other thoughts, they opened their eyes, wincing as their eyelashes unpeeled from each other. Their whole face seemed to throb as the single grimy window picked out a room more shadow than light.
The walls were too far away to see, only the odd humped silhouette came into view as Drew squinted, grunting in pain as their face scrunched up.
They pulled against the ropes with all their might, but they wouldn’t give.
“Don’t bother,” a voice croaked.
They looked up to discover a thin girl bound with the same rope. Although it was dark, they were close enough to see her bruised eyes and bloody wrists.
“I already tried.”
Drew tried to respond, but could only produce a strangled sound. They summoned and swallowed a tiny amount of saliva and tried again, throat hoarse with dryness, “What happened?”
She shook her head, hair falling limply over her face, “Dunno. I was high, fuckers knocked me out, woke up here.”
As Drew’s vision sharpened in the darkness they saw the blood that had dried, matted to her hair, and it brought back a memory of their own. Walking home from the pub—sober, as they had been since the night of the blackout—a group had set on them from an alley. What happened was mostly a blur, but presumably explained why their face hurt.
“Same here, I think”, Drew rumbled. “I’m Drew, I don’t think we’ve met?”
“Vicky,” the thin girl said, shivering. “I know you, you got arrested for that murder, but it wasn’t you.”
“Yeah on both counts,” Drew agreed, “Are you cold?” They felt their voice returning somewhat to normal, the effort it took to speak lessening.
Vicky shook her head, “Not cold, well not really, starting withdrawal. Sorry.”
Drew shrugged, “Sorry I can’t help. I don’t even know where we are, or why.”
“Gotta be about the murder. Or it’s a super big coincidence,” Vicky grimaced as another shudder gripped her.
Before Drew could reply, a metal door squealed open ahead of them and the outline of a person entered, not bothering to close it behind them. A little more light filtered through, and Drew frowned as they made out some drawing on the floor.
“Well done on figuring out why you’re both here—some of it, anyway,” the voice was smiling.
Drew’s head shot up, and they groaned at the lightning snap of pain that caused, “Nelson??” they asked, incredulously, after the flashing lights had eased slightly.
Nelson walked to one side and turned on an electric standing lamp, properly illuminating the room, and himself.
The room was smaller than it had seemed when the walls had been invisible, only a little bigger than Drew’s bedroom at the house he and Nelson both lived in. Along some of the walls were metal shelving, and one stack of something covered in an ancient sheet. On the floor, still shining with wetness, was a symbol Drew had never seen before but mentally recoiled from anyway.
Their quick glance taking in all of this they returned their attention to their housemate.
“What the fuck man?!” Drew exploded. “What the actual blue fuck is wrong with you? It’s fucking been you, hasn’t it? That poor woman, framing me, now fucking this? What! The Fuck!”
Nelson waited patiently for Drew to finish, the serene smile on his face betrayed only by a small tic in the corner of his mouth.
“You done for a bit? Alright. You might as well know what’s going on. The girl was a mistake, as it turned out. We—you’ll meet the rest soon—were trying to summon something to do our bidding, only the ritual didn’t work properly, and this thing got stuck, half here half not. It was really fucking pissed, and it wouldn’t let us alone, so we asked it what it needed and it said a sacrifice would give it strength.
“So we grabbed her from the bar—not her specifically, she just happened along alone at the right time—and we drew the symbols the thing gave us, and it properly came through, all solid. It told me putting you in the picture would take heat off the rest of us, so I did that. I wasn’t there laughing about it or anything, I just did as it said, you understand?”
Drew curled their lip despite the crackle of pain it sent through a barely clotted cut, their sneer saying everything they needed to say.
“Well, whatever,” Nelson shrugged in a sharp, jittery movement. “Now it’s here, and it wants us to do all sorts of stuff, like more sacrifices and giving our firstborn and shit, and the protection rituals we’ve done are hiding us alright for now, but it’s not going anywhere. So we found this other ritual that’ll send it away, but it needs more sacrifices and they gotta be people who’ve been touched by it. So you, Drew, cos we framed you, and you, Vicky, cos you found that girl after we killed her. I guess some people will notice you gone Drew, but not many, and I’ll help them figure you just skipped out, too much stress, or whatever. And nobody’ll notice you, Vicky—one more junkie gone—we’re really doing you and everyone else a favour if you think about it. And nobody’ll put both of you together, so that’s that. It’s not personal, we just gotta get rid of this thing before it gets past the protections and hurts us.”
Nelson’s speech had grown increasingly fast and frantic as he hopped from foot to foot, staring earnestly into the faces of his captives as if hoping for their understanding. Drew could see the fear behind his projected bravado, but it wasn’t going to matter, after they were dead, if he felt bad about it.
“Nelson, man, come on, there’s gotta be another way to deal with whatever shit you conjured up,” Drew pleaded, allowing fear to enter their voice.
Nelson flinched, half-turned away, turned back, and opened his mouth to speak—but was interrupted by the appearance of a handful of others.
Drew recognised none of the newcomers, but studied their faces anyway. Mostly they saw fear, but on one face there was just sheer excitement. That face was looking forward to another sacrifice.
Drew turned cold as the hollow eyes in that face turned to fix on theirs.
Nelson hurried around the room, seating everyone around the symbol drawn on the floor, giving each a candle, a sheet of paper, and a knife, then joining them himself, sitting cross-legged and pulling his hood down over his face.
The only one left standing was the one who was looking forward to this.
As Nelson began to lead a chant in some language Drew didn’t recognise, the hollow-eyed killer approached him, smiling an equally hollow smile, and Drew saw something the others had missed. Whoever this had once been, it was now whatever thing they had summoned. Whatever this ritual was, it wasn’t going to banish it anywhere. It was only going to make it stronger, and then they were all going to die.
Drew tried to shout, to warn them, to at least try and get their attention, but the smile widened, filling their vision entirely, and their shout was cut off, strangled beneath a dark pressure that filled their body, before it could even begin.
The thing grinned, teeth gleaming and sharp, and turned back to the chanting circle.
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