Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Mountain of Despair. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
“Don’t tell me you’ve never done anything stupid, Dad,” Jennifer said, shivering in a foot of snow. “I’ve read your high school yearbook.”
“I can honestly say I’ve never summoned Satan.”
“It was Bogmath, Dad, one of his lieutenants, not Satan himself. Get it right. Besides, what the hell were you doing with that book, anyway?”
“Watch your language young lady. The book was supposed to be part of a collection. The rituals were never meant to be read aloud nevertheless performed. Even then, I could not fathom that they would actually work.”
“Well, they do or at least one did, and now we’re all screwed thanks to you.”
“We’re not screwed. We’re here because we’re going to solve this problem and how is this my fault? You’re the one who performed the chant.”
“You shouldn’t have left it somewhere I could find it. You should have known it was a temptation too great for me to resist.”
“You can’t keep blaming people for all of your mistakes.” Malcolm placed his bag on the ground and took off his coat. He placed it around his daughter’s shoulders. “Didn’t I say that you needed to dress more warmly?”
“You’re turning blue.”
“I’m not cold at all.”
“I’m too hot, then. Please carry my coat for me.”
“All right. Whatever.” She wrapped the coat tightly around her arms. The snow fell lightly upon their heads. Despite the weather, the climb was relatively easy as was the rest of their sojourn. Their experiences thus far were mostly peaceful. This was quite the contrast to the journey’s harrowing stakes.
They continued their ascent until they reached the cavern near the top of those jagged cliffs. With a bag full of amulets, trinkets, and other such religious artifacts as well as sacred texts of various faiths, from the mainstream and the obscure, from across the globe, Malcolm entered with his daughter.
“Are you sure he’s here?” Jennifer asked.
The father pulled out an object reminiscent of a magnifying glass with tinted red glass and purple spikes jutting from the circular frame. “Solomon’s Eye seems to indicate he’s here. Let’s see if I can see his trail.” He looked through and observed a line of red haze that indicated the demon’s path. It led to the ceiling.
Malcolm pointed toward the ceiling. “Ah, right. There he is.”
The demon gripped the rocks above tightly. His wings were curled into his back and torso. In his current state, with his current health, the relics in the bag were enough to keep him at bay. He would have so loved to rip them apart, to engulf their souls with an eternal flame, but he’d have to wait until he was at full strength. Then they’d suffer his wrath. All of them on this planet would. They would experience an eternity of agony, torture, and despair. Not even the gods would be able to stop him then. That is what he told himself though he did look a little bit apprehensively toward the man and his teenage daughter. He wondered what was in that little bag of tricks that made him so nervous.
Malcolm pulled out his journal where he had condensed all the knowledge he acquired from the various hallowed manuscripts as well as the holy men and women he met during his and his daughter’s tumultuous trek across the globe. He read several passages then placed it on the ground. He again reached into the bag and pulled a thick leather-bound grimoire with large metal clasps which were an added feature after his daughter’s foray into the occult. He unlocked it with a key he pulled from inside his shirt pocket.
The man then retrieved a white powder from his pack and drew a pentagram in the middle of the cave floor. On each of its points, he placed a candle. He lit the first one with his pocket lighter, then lit the rest with it in the exact order as indicated in the holy manual in his hand. He placed the final item in his bag, a ruby amulet, in the middle of the unholy shape he had drawn then lit the powder to set the maltodextrin mixture aflame.
He turned to a specific part of the manuscript. “Here,” he said offering the open book to his daughter. “Read these passages verbatim and do not stop.” She did as he directed. A vortex formed in the middle of the pentagram. Its power increased with every syllable she read.
Long claw marks formed on the rocks that the creature gripped. It exhaled feral, thunderous squeals as the swirling wind dragged him toward the ground. Its large, scaly red wings flapped ferociously. Each motion caused an increasing amount of noise and debris. Several stalactites narrowly missed Malcolm and Jennifer as they fell. They tried to remain steadfast and as faithfully as possible adhere to the ritual as these hazards landed inches from them though the father was having an easier go at it than his daughter.
The demon’s talons were ripped apart. Blood from his bloody stumps filled the air as he succumbed to the pentagram’s vacuum-like force. It let out a terrorized scream so loud that Jennifer was compelled to drop the book and convert her ears as she winced in pain. Malcolm was quick to reprimand her loudly in a panicked yet surprisingly clean and expletive-free yell. Normally she would have balked at such a command but the sternness of Malcolm’s face and the intensity in his eyes compelled her to obey. Jennifer picked up the book and resumed her reading.
It was a quick descent for the demon. There was hardly time to panic as its body fell and struck the jagged floor with a sickening smack and the sounds of its cracking bones filled the air. Its body was now a crumpled mass of shattered bones and disjointed wings.
“Is he dead?” Jennifer asked, ceasing the chant once again.
“Keep reading,” her father demanded. “You cannot kill a demon. You can only send it back from whence it came. He may look brittle and broken but as long as he remains here on Earth, in the human plane, his power will increase until he has enough to engulf the world in flames.”
His daughter nodded once and resumed. For a brief time, nothing was heard but Jennifer’s voice and the swirling vortex. Even the natural wind and the mountain creatures seemed to have stopped. Perhaps they were holding their collective breathes with terrified anticipation.
What happened next was unfathomable.
Large, crimson, withered, hirsute hands emerged from the floor. The demon, once lifeless, began to panic and attempted to scramble away but his broken body away and the flames of the pentagram proved to be too much. The hands gripped its limbs so tightly he was movement was impossible. He tried to shake himself free but quickly he realized all such efforts would be in vain and surrendered to the horrific fate that awaited. Razor-sharp nails tore the demon’s flesh asunder and exposed its organs. The demon’s ear-piercing shrieks echoed throughout the entire mountain range as the creature was in a perpetual state of pain unable to die.
Jennifer gasped and wanted desperately to scream. Every instinct in her body told her to run out the cavern, consequences be damned. A single glace from her father stopped her. His grizzled middle-aged stoic stance and a resolute stare that displayed not an iota of fear as he gazed at the infernal sight despite the consternation, the terror, and the dread, though not necessarily for himself but for the potential risk to his only child, he felt within but did not display, filled her with courage. She felt it at a deeper level, in her core, in her essence. Her father’s strength emboldened her soul. She stayed and finished what she started.
When Jennifer finished the final passage, she performed the hand motions exactly as her father had instructed before they began the journey up the mountain. Her hands and arms gyrated in the air with expert precision. She performed the ritual even better than she did when she rehearsed it with her father just a night prior when there were no stakes. It was as if she had practiced her entire life.
There was only one more thing to do. She reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a sky blue vial. It contained a mystical chemical compound whose ingredients have been lost to time. Her father bought it at an auction as a lark. Perhaps a “Mad Greek” did find the fluid in the ruins of an ancient church in those German hills. Maybe the druids there did believe that it was a supernatural essence of sorts. The concoction was being sold a dozen at a time which hurt the credulity but that did not mean it couldn’t have happened the way the shopkeeper described.
Perhaps Alesimarchus Aetius really did discover the grimoire he dubbed the Magia Liber Convoca Mihi Omnes Diaboli while trekking through the Black Forest. The druids may have discovered it in Greece and took it with them to their homeland. There were certainly stranger things in the world than the discovered book being a distant ancestor of the Grand Grimoire as it was claimed.
Malcolm did not initially believe these items to be anything more than an inert mixture and an interesting book, respectively, merely items of great historical value, items to be coveted by historians and archeologists alike, an interesting conversation piece for his friends and potential paramours, but nothing more than that. He did not think for a second that his little girl would not only find the items but possess the ability to read the seemingly indecipherable passages and summon a demon. Little did he know that the vials he purchased were the keys to opening the portal to the netherworld, only discovered when Jennifer tossed one of them into the center of a burning pentagram she had drawn in their basement. She did it to kill an afternoon and have something to talk to her friends about after a Friday night which her father did not allow her to go to Keith Mitchell’s wild party. She certainly did not think that the spell would work.
She may have caused the mishap but she had no desire to scour the globe with her father. While he endeavored to find a diverse group of holy men to discover the secrets of the demons, their true nature, their goals, and how to defeat them, Jennifer acted as his reluctant tag-along. A very vocal reluctant tag-along. Getting her to take responsibility for her actions was a greater feat than defeating one of Satan’s own.
Soon this would be over, she thought. The demon, the globetrotting, all of it would be but a memory. A single toss is all it would take. It would need to be accurate and thrown with a high enough arc to clear the growing flames and land in the middle.
She kissed the vial for good luck, as was her habit. The young girl would do the same thing to softballs when she’d first take the mound. Her arm then cocked back and she made an underhand throw.
It flew in the air with a beautiful curve and landed dead center of the pentagram just to the left of the screaming demon. She could not have placed it better had she set it down from inches above.
The blaze continued its ascent. The hideous hands continued their torture. The vortex continued to swirl. Yet a portal did not open. Confused, Jennifer walked toward the flames. “What’s going on, Dad?” she asked as she leaned forward. “The demon just kind of flew out the last time I did this. Of course, he was a lot smaller than he is now, but wasn’t it supposed to open up again like last time?”
“Get away from there!” Malcolm screamed. He dashed over to her in a frenzy and nearly tripped over his own feet. Before she could react, Jennifer felt something shoved into her arms and chest before flying through the air. She landed on the ground hard. Her entire left side was bruised upon impact as were parts of her back and posterior as her body skidded a good several yards away from the ring of fire. She was not so much pushed as she was tossed.
The young girl was full of rage. It wasn’t just the suddenness of her father’s action or the violence, but it was because it contrasted so much with the austere poise that her father exhibited only moments ago. For a moment, she had admired him, but now that was over. She opened her eyes with a scowl on her face. Jennifer was ready to unleash verbal hellfire.
She did not. Something within told her it was not the time. Something really bad was about to happen. Malcolm stood at the edge of the flames. He turned his head and looked back at his daughter and smiled.
“What’s going on, Dad?” Jennifer muttered.
After one last look, Malcolm silently entered the flames.
“What are you doing, Dad?” Jennifer screamed. She leaped to her feet and ran toward the fire. A force pushed her back. It was as if an invisible barrier was erected. Jennifer moved her hands frantically in a vain attempt to find a means of entry. Her makeup smeared as tears streamed down her cheeks. She begged the powers above for a way to save her Dad. Her prayers went unanswered. She crumpled to the ground. Jennifer bawled inconsolably on her knees as her father was engulfed in the blaze.
“Don’t worry!” Malcolm shouted as loudly as he could. “It’ll all be fine! Read my journal!”
Ghastly hands emerged and grabbed him by his limbs and pulled him to the ground.
“Dad! No! God, no! This can’t be happening! Tell me this is a dream! Dear God! No!” Jennifer screamed those words perpetually like a mantra. They did little to deter her father’s fate.
Malcolm wanted nothing more to scream, to yell, to sob, to curse his fate. Pain consumed him. His very being, his very soul was in agony. Yet he did not. Doing so would only hurt his daughter more. He remained smiling even as he was being ripped apart. Besides, there’d be plenty of time for all of that later, he thought to himself. A whole eternity’s worth of time.
The ground glowed from beneath the two tortured entities. It was dim at first but soon it filled the cavern. Jennifer moved her arms and hands impulsively and covered her face. When the light disappeared and she could see again, both her father and the demon were gone.
There was a sudden peace. Compared to the loud reverberations of before, it was tranquil. The sounds of the mountain resumed. A light breeze blew through the cave.
None of this provided any comfort to the poor girl. She hugged her knees and could do little more than cry.
“Why, Dad? Why? Why? Why?” Jennifer repeated this over and over again as she rocked back and forth in place.
She suddenly had an epiphany. Her father’s last words. “Read my journal.” Jennifer never took any real interest in that boring little thing. It was just so dry and academic. Sure, deep down she knew everything her father had written was important but did it have to be so dull?
He had written in it late the previous night. Not that it seemed odd, of course. It was only natural that he’d be writing on the eve of the most important day of their lives.
The young girl frantically searched for the item, ripping through her father’s bag and his coat, everywhere, but she could not find it anywhere. Panic filled her breast and she wanted to scream. Then, when hope seemed lost, to her eternal joy, Jennifer found it. It was at the spot she had been lying, where her father had thrown her. The young girl hastily dashed to it. She eagerly wanted to read. Somewhere inside must be an explanation and a solution to this plight, a spell that could bring her father back.
That is what her father was writing the night before, of course! It explains why he went into the flames calmly despite what awaited him below. He must have discovered a way to be brought back and knew his daughter would be smart enough to figure it out! Jennifer turned the pages rapidly. She ignored the drawings and the scrawling text until she reached the end, the entry with yesterday’s date written on the top. It was addressed to her. This was it. It just had to be.
“Hey, kid. I’m not going to do the whole cliché ‘if you’re reading this, then I’m already dead’ shtick because, yeah, you kind of were there and already know that. Sorry to do this to you. I know you’re dealing with a lot right now because of me. If there was another way, I mean, any other way, believe me, I would have done that instead. Unfortunately, I had no other choice.
There was something I wasn’t telling you. While I did say that you’d have to perform the same ritual as before to send the demon back to Hell, there was one other crucial element.
The final step is for the conjurer to sacrifice herself.
Or to sacrifice a blood relative.
It is supposed to be a sadistic choice. I’ve loved you from the second you were born. No, I’ve loved you since the moment you were conceived. I will continue to love you for eternity. There was no way in hell was I to let you be the sacrifice. I did not even want it to cross your mind. I promised you and your mother that I’d do anything to protect you. Even if it means being dragged to Hell.
So don’t feel guilty, it was my decision. I would make the same choice a hundred times out of a hundred. I do not regret it for a second. I just have one favor to ask you. I know it’s not fair to make a request all things considered but I think this one is reasonable.
Live a long, healthy, and happy life. Forget about me and just live the best life possible. Find true love. Get married. Have kids. Be prosperous. Grow old. And when you see your mother, and hopefully that will be a long time from now, please tell her what happened and how much I love her. Tell her how much we love her. I’d tell her myself but there’s no way she’s where I’m headed. Goodbye, Jennifer, and thank you. I love you so much.”
The journal fell from the girl’s hands. Jennifer let out an anguished moan as she crumbled to the floor. “I’m sorry, Dad!” she shrieked. Her wails echoed across the mountain.
“It’s all my fault,” the poor girl repeated between sobs. “It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault…”
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