Emmeline brushed back a lock of auburn hair, her hazel eyes anxious where they scanned the text in front of her. Pale skin growing paler as the librarian announced closing time, she hurriedly added some scribbles to her notes and closed the book, adding it to the pile on the table as she grabbed her bag and left through the side exit. She scanned the street as she walked swiftly to her car, seeing nothing—or more specifically, nobody—out of the ordinary.
Today’s notes should be the last pieces of the ritual. Half translated scraps, scattered around other books and scrolls, each piece pointing her to the next—but not today’s piece, this one was the last she needed. Tomorrow she would go shopping for supplies, and then she would be free—she would make herself free.
Arriving at the motel—a dingy-looking pace that was surprisingly pleasant on the inside—Emmeline parked and climbed the stairs to her room, her mind flashing back—as it often did—to the time before she was forced into this life of running and searching.
She didn’t know where he’d spotted her first, but she suddenly started seeing him everywhere she went, feeling someone following her, watching her. Then the cards started, little greeting cards proclaiming his devotion. Then small gifts. Then increasingly angry messages as she not only didn’t respond, but made her apartment more secure, ensured she was never out alone, left when she saw him show up, found places he didn’t know she would be.
When the first death threat came—complete with a sketch—she went to the police, who shrugged. They couldn’t do anything, maybe she shouldn’t have done whatever she did to encourage him, he’d probably go away soon enough if he didn’t get a rise out of her. In short, she was dismissed. When the threats increased, the same happened. By then she could tell them who he was, having done the legwork, but the response was the same: they didn’t take her seriously, and somehow it was her fault.
After the evening she had returned home to find a rat nailed to her door, with a note indicating that nails would also feature in her own future, she had packed a bag and moved to a currently empty apartment rented out by a friend in another county. At first it seemed the distance and the speed of the move had foiled him and things were quiet. Emmeline had even begun a new job, giving up her old apartment entirely and working in the archives at a nearby museum. Long days and late evenings looking through and organising old texts brought a calm back into her life and her mind, until she began to settle once more, making new friends and allowing her guard to drop the tiniest bit.
Then one night, after a few drinks with colleagues, she opened her apartment door to the sight and scent of hundreds of roses. She knew they were from him; he had found her. Reading the card attached to the closest batch confirmed what she knew—he was coming, and soon.
But she had prepared for this—even whilst pretending she was being silly, that she’d never need them, she had made plans. If he refused to let her be, and the police refused to help, she would turn to an authority outside of this world. Stumbling across an arcane text during her job in the archives, a little extra research had given her the information she needed to put together a ritual—all she needed was to track down the rest of it.
And so she had. Piece by piece, slowly eating through her savings, she had found the ritual. Now, supplies purchased, she sat in her living room and lit the candles, burned the herbs, chanted the words, and focused on the being she was trying to summon. A problem-solver, the texts had called it—though they had been a little vague on how the problems were solved and what it might want in return. Still, Emmeline had reasoned, her desperation overcoming her usual common sense, summoning it couldn’t hurt—she could always send it away again if it’s terms were unsatisfactory.
It had appeared, the shadows coalescing to reveal a tall cloaked and hooded figure, hovering just off the ground. Its eyes flickered green in the candlelight as it spoke, voice echoing around the small room.
“I am here. What is your desire?”
Mouth suddenly dry, Emmeline gaped for a few moments. The figure hovered patiently while she regained her voice.
“Someone’s stalking me, threatening me,wherever I go he finds me. I want him to stop.”
“I will kill this man for you,” the figure’s hood made a nodding motion.
“No, no, you don’t need to kill him, just make him stop this.”
The figure shook its hood, “I cannot change the will of this man, I can only remove him. This I will do. In exchange, I ask-“
Emmeline interrupted, voice trembling slightly, “No, hey, no, you know what? Never mind, you can go I’ll figure something else out. I don’t want to be responsible for murder. Not even of him.”
The hooded figure laughed, “Oh child, I cannot be called off once summoned. You should have known that or never called me. I will kill this man. And in the future, when you have a child of your own, you will dedicate it to me. It will be my servant in this world and many others, and I will reward it greatly.”
Emmeline shook her head, this had gotten far out of her control and she looked around desperately, trying to think of anything in the texts that might help, “No. No!”
“This is no longer your choice. You will have a child, and when it turns 5, you will summon me again. Do not fail me, or your fate will be far worse than the man I go to kill.”
Emmeline tried to shout another denial, but her vocal cords locked and the room began to spin. She vomited on the rug and tipped over sideways on the sofa, laying her head on the pillows. Sleep took her, and she watched the hooded figure appear in the motel room of her stalker. He slept peacefully, his dark hair spread across the pillow, skin sickly green in the light from the Motel sign.
The shadowy figure hovered over him and its sleeve rose. But instead of revealing a hand, the shadows simply moved, chasing around each other before locking around his mouth and nose, pinning him as he suffocated.
His struggles lasted only a few minutes, but Emmeline’s memory of his open, staring, red-blotched eyes lasted her a lifetime.
She remained celibate for a number of years, careful not to fulfill the prediction of the monster she had summoned – he surely couldn’t make her pregnant without she engage in sexual acts, she reasoned, so she would simply…not.
But, the 70s came, and with it drink, drugs, and a sexual revolution. She avoided all three as much as she could, but—whether through the monster’s power or not—at a party in a part of town she knew very little, abandoned by her drunk or tripping friends, there was nobody to remind her which food was drug free and she guessed wrongly.
Waking the next day, the rest of the previous night was something of a blur. The colours, the emotional release, the feeling of connectedness to everyone around her, the touch of a hopeful young suitor, and the longing she had suppressed for so long. She gave in. Just that one time, she gave in, and she led the young man to a private place where she took control, then left him behind, both sated.
It was enough. Even with her vague memory of rolling a condom onto him with her—out of practice but still skilled—mouth, clearly it had been enough.
She quit her job, left her apartment, moved away She cut all ties and ensured nobody could connect her to the baby’s father. When he was born, she left the father’s box blank and gave her child her own last name. Taking him home with her for the first time, she swore to his crying, red face that she would find a way to protect him from the monster that wanted to claim him. He would remain his own person—Christoper Danson would never be a slave to a murderous beast of shadows.
Emmeline searched. Mindful daily of the five year deadline drawing closer, she searched every text she could find. Deal breaking, binding spells, hiding them from view—whatever she could find, she tried, with no idea if any of them would work. The young boy became used to sitting quietly through rituals—wearings markings, holding candles or other objects, joining in chants, and more. He learned quickly not to ask about these things—all his mother would say was that they were for his protection.
On his 5th birthday, Danson had no party to look forward to. No presents, no cake. He and his mother simply waited until the clock hit midnight, bringing the fated day around.
The monster solidified in the shadows, as it had all those years earlier when Emmeline was young. She looked different now. Aged with worry, her auburn hair turned to steel grey, eyes watery and filled with the fear and stress of so many years fearing the figure now appearing before her.
“You have been busy, child, trying to keep from me that which I created in you, that which is my payment for services rendered.”
“You can’t take him,” Emmeline stood in front of Danson, her child sitting frightened but calm on her bed.
“I cannot,” the hooded figure agreed, “You have bound him so tightly not even I can break his hold. He cannot serve me now.”
“Then why are you here? Leave!” In her victory Emmeline was immediately more forceful.
The hooded figure chuckled, “I will leave. But your transgressions cannot be overlooked. You denied me my payment, for now. Oh, I will collect him, some day, be sure of that. But you. You will not be there to see.”
Emmeline jerked as her body rose into the air, arms and legs twitching. Her eyes flicked from side to side, throat working as she tried to scream through paralysed vocal cords. This couldn’t be how it ended, she screamed inside, not after everything. Her boy, her baby boy, he must be safe!
The hooded figure chuckled as lines of blood began to appear across her flesh, sticking her clothes to her as the flow sped up, dripping to the floor, forming a puddle that grew until it touched the bed that Danson sat on, the youngster watching in horror as his mother bled out in front of him.
Holding off the pain that wanted to make her reel, faint, vomit, Emmeline intoned a chant in her head, one she had held in reserve, just in case, summoning something else, another desperate hope, that she might be able to protect him.
Five years old, taught from birth to sit still and not interfere, to accept the strange things that happened during and after rituals, Danson’s love for his mother finally broke through and he leapt off the bed, diving at the hooded figure with a cry. Passing right through a wave of cold, clinging shadow, he hit the wall behind headfirst, knocking himself out for a few moments. It was long enough for the figure to finish and drop his mother to the floor in a pale, crumpled, heap.
The figure turned to Danson as the child fought not to wail.
“I will get you, child.”
The figure dissolved back into shadows and vanished.
For a moment there was silence in the room, before Danson’s control dropped and his cries, for his mother, for his own pain, for his terror, rose until they woke the neighours. Help was coming—but it was too late.
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