Caldwell lit the last candle. Everything was in place, exactly as it was meant to be.
The room we were in was completely devoid of furniture, and was lit only by candles. In the center was a rune and a circle. On the floor was a basket of tulip petals and a silver dagger.
“Portia, I think I’m done. You ready to follow through with this? I mean, I trust you, but I’ve never heard of a demon story that turned out well in the end.” Caldwell stood up from his crouch. “Maybe it’s media bias or something, I’ve never met a real demon, but still. Sometimes stereotypes hold a bit of truth?” He looked at me. If I couldn’t hear the concern in his voice, I could see it in his eyes.
“Yes, Caldwell. I’m sure. I’ve done as much studying on demons as I possibly could, and I know this ritual inside out. The demon will give us what we want, and and we only have to give it something small in return. Demons like knick-knacks.”
Caldwell laughed. “You going to give a demon your baby blanket?”
“Maybe. If it wants it. Kind of ironic how sentimental demons can be.” I shrugged. “You’d think souls of the damned wouldn’t want anything to do with earth, but whatever.”
“Yeah. It’s strange.”
We both stood silently, staring at the rune and circle we had etched into my floorboards. The rune would be the actual mechanism which would allow the demon entry- it literally translates into portal- while the circle would keep the demon from wreaking havoc. We carved the circle with the silver dagger and filled it with salt. It sounded like superstitious bullshit, but nearly every account said it worked, so I chose to trust the books.
“Well,” Caldwell clapped his hands, “The candles won’t burn forever. Should we start?”
“Yes. Let’s start.” I kneeled next to the circle and sprinkled tulip petals into the circle. They began to burn as they touched the wood, their form changing into rotted teeth.
“Oh. That’s what the petals are for?” Caldwell asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Honestly I just thought demons needed you to set the mood. Can’t get it up without the right atmosphere right?”
I didn’t bother responding, and instead threw on more petals. This handful turned into rusty nails.
Caldwell sighed. “Tough crowd tonight. Hopefully the demon likes my jokes a little.”
“Sorry if i’m a little dry tonight. I am trying to summon a demon.”
“Oh yeah, don’t mind me. I just figured you might need some more help from me.”
“I’ll let you know when it’s your turn to do something.” I tossed a last handful of petals into the circle.
This time they turned into polaroids. Each image was of a failure I had endured. My second spelling bee, failing in the second round. My junior high school valentine’s dance, where I was turned down by a girl I had a crush on. My high school graduation, where my uncle showed up drunk.
Each photo held places and objects that would mean basically nothing to anyone else looking at them, but I knew what they were. I could see all of them. The first time I tried to get into a sorority and they told me they didn’t accept lesbians. The first time I tried to join a fraternity, which I had almost forgotten about. There was even the first time I was fired from a job, some sushi place that decided I “didn’t fit in” because someone else outed me.
I could feel my hands shake. I let out a ragged breath, and pushed the remaining petals aside.
“Whoa, Portia. Are you alright? You look like you just- scratch that. What’s going on?” Caldwell kneeled next to me and put his hands on my shoulders.
I didn’t respond.
“What’s in the photos, Portia?”
I brushed his hands off. “Nothing. That just means the ceremony is working.”
“Okay…” Caldwell slowly stood up. “I believe you. Just let me know if something goes wrong. I’ll get you out of here.”
“Mhm.” With that, I stood up. “Okay. It’s your turn now. Stand where I was just standing and close your eyes.”
Caldwell shivered. “Hoo, yeah, okay, that gave me the chills. Close my eyes? This is a little too spooky for me.”
“It’s okay, I have everything under control,” I reassured him.
He sighed. “Alright. Okay. Yeah. I can do this. I trust you. This will be alright.” He stepped into the spot where I had been only a moment before. “I can do this,” he told himself one more time.
“Oh, and Portia?” He started. “In case anything bad happens, I just want you to know that I care about you a lot.” He turned around to look at me. “I… I hope this demon thing gives you what you need.” He closed his eyes and turned back around.
I blinked a few times, tears welling in my eyes.. “So do I, Caldwell.” I leaned over and picked up the dagger. “So do I.”
I thrust the knife between his ribs, then pushed him into the circle. He gasped as I did. Then he fell to the ground, and his blood began to pool around him.
I pushed his feet into the circle. I didn’t need any demon getting out.
There was nothing but quiet.
The sudden rush of what I had just done hit me all at once, as if it was on a timer. I fell to the ground and couldn’t stop myself from crying. “Fuck,” I whispered to myself. “This was never gonna work. What have I done.” I screamed and started sobbing, pulling my legs into me to hide my face.
Then, the candles turned into a dark red light. The room was overcome with a harsh wind, circling around Caldwell. I scrambled to my feet and wiped my eyes. It’s happening! His body floated in the center of the circle, turning until he was face up and his feet faced the ground. A bright spear of energy suddenly shot through his chest, and his eyes opened. They were bloodshot, and his pupils replaced his irises. He floated down, landing on his feet.
There it was. The demon I had spent so long attempting to summon was in front of me. It took a step toward me, stopping just a moment before the barrier that kept it from murdering me.
“So it’s you. I had heard about you.” The demon’s voice was just Caldwell’s voice. Nothing had changed. “Tell me. What is it your name?” The demon stared at me. The blood in its eyes receded back into white.
“My name doesn’t matter,” I told the demon. Stay Strong, Portia.
“Oh, do you think giving me your name gives me some power over you?” The demon asked. “No, names mean nothing. They’re a human construct. Gods and demons know each other by essences, and have no need for names. However, for dealings like this we tend to have one. You may call me Moniker. My pronouns are gi and gir.”
I laughed. “You know what moniker means, right?”
“Very,” gi responded. Gi didn’t laugh along.
I cleared my throat. “Very well. I am Portia.”
“Portia. Interesting. Now what would a Portia want with a demon?” gi asked.
“I want… I want a purpose,” I told gir. “I want to feel like my life will make a difference on this earth. I want to prove that I’m worth something, and I want to-” I stopped myself from saying something I might regret. “I want to make the world a better place for me. And for others like me. I don’t want us to have to live in fear anymore.”
Moniker cocked gir head and smiled. “Interesting. And who are you, Portia? Who would you categorise as ‘like you?’”
“I’m- I’m a lesbian. And the people who I’d say are like me are other queer people.” I clenched my fists. “We deserve better.”
“Hm. I’m not usually one to mettle in human affairs.” Moniker clapped gir hands, much like Caldwell used to. “I will do this for you, however.”
“What’s your price?” I asked Moniker.
“Hmm. This room is rather empty.” Gi looked about the room, before scanning the floor. “I’ll take the photos in my circle. They feel charged with emotions. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt an energy like this.”
“Oh. Demons really do like knick-knacks,” I said.
“Who told you that? We keep that part of our deals secret. We like to surprise those we deal with,” gi said.
“I honestly made it up a few minutes ago,” I replied.
I and Moniker sat in silence for a few moments. I stared at the photos at gir feet.
“Well, I need you to do one more thing for me to enact my end of the bargain.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Give me your hands,” the demon responded.
“Oh no, you aren’t fooling me,” I told gir. “I know how this works. I break the circle, you kill me, and then you kill everyone else in a mile radius. Not happening.”
“I have no intentions of killing you, Portia.” I winced when he said my name. Just like Caldwell. “I will change the fiber of your being, yes, but I will not kill you. You will do that much more effectively than I could. Your form will be suited to the job.”
“Hold on,” I interrupted. “Will you run that by me just one more time?”
“I’m going to transform you. Your human life as you know it will end, but you will be reborn as something greater. You will be beyond humanity, and even beyond demonhood. You will roam the earth and be submerged in glorious purpose. I almost envy you.”
“I still don’t trust you,” I replied.
“Portia, I’m trapped in a human body with a knife sticking out of my back. Do you truly believe I pose a huge threat to anyone, save infants?” Moniker shook gir head. “No. I will give you what you crave and take the photos in return.”
I stole a glance at one last photo. It was of a leather recliner. A recliner I lost my virginity on. The recliner that my parents walked in and kicked me out of the house.
“Portia, time is running thin. The candles won’t burn forever. Shall we start?” The demon extended a hand, stopping just before the circle.
I sighed. “I trust you.” I put my hand in girs.
“Wonderful..” Moniker gripped my hand, holding on tightly. I felt nothing for a few moments. Then gi let go.
“Welcome to your new purpose. Welcome to your new life,” Moniker said.
“Nothing is happening,” I replied.
“Not yet,” Moniker said. Gi began picking up the polaroids. “They’ll happen soon. Farewell, Portia. I look forward to our next meeting.” Gi had picked up all of the polaroids. They all burned into ash, and then gi closed gir eyes. Caldwell’s body fell back down.
I knelt on the floor and began crying. Had I really killed someone for nothing? Was this really how this was going to happen?
In between sobs, I wiped my eyes. Looking at my hands, something was amiss.
My hands were covered in ink. I pressed them to my face again, and felt the cool liquid.
I started laughing, but my breath failed me and never let a sound out. I dug my nails into my cheeks, and felt more of the ink fall out. I felt no pain.
Continuing my cold cackling, I grasped my shoulders. They were soaked. I ripped into my own flesh anyway, just to feel even more of my cursed blood leak. I danced around the room, leaving ink stains on the walls with my hands. Sometimes I dragged my hands across the walls, sometimes I threw ink off of them onto the walls.
I finally knew what it meant to be real. I knew exactly why I was on this earth. I could feel my reason to exist welling up in my chest.
I was born for this.
Suddenly my laughter could be heard. It was quiet. Private. Only I needed to hear myself laugh. No one else deserved to hear me. No one else had the same amount of purpose that I had, and no one ever would.