Story by Mark Figueroa (anthony_abyss) | Featured art by: Salem Jaeger @theforgottenpen
Tree branches spread like veins across the sky, covering clouds and the full, orange moon. I sit in the living room, waiting for black mist to signal Őfelsége’s presence. So far, it’s been like every other offering night. The air’s thick and charged with a spooky sensation. I glares Szófia who’s read over the same three journals for the past few days. “If you haven’t found what you’re looking for by now, you never will. Give it up, Szófia,” I comment, resting my head on my fist while getting comfortable on my couch. Szófia ignores me and continues flipping through pages. I close my eyes and lean my head on the arm rest.
Őfelsége’s offerings are more active inside me. Most of them are screaming and sobbing in pain. I don’t know if it’s because they’re just dead and kind of crazy, or if they can sense what’s coming. Either way, I don’t want to find out. I just want them to stop. Housing spirits was fine at first. Even fun. But, now, I just feel sick. I haven’t been able to sleep well and the closer it gets to feeding time, the more erratic they’ve been. There were a few times I jumped and flinched at work or the grocery store because of an angry ghost screaming and appearing to rush at me. This can’t go on. I want them out of me and I want Szófia gone. Like for good.
Szófia turns to me. Her eyes are wide. Szófia’s pale, gaunt face is filled with fear and dread. It almost makes me feel bad for her. Almost. Faint whispering trails up from the basement. Thin smoke billows around the room. The basement steps creak with Őfelsége’s wooden joints while she takes slow, audible steps upstairs. Goosebumps form on my forearms, and I shiver as Őfelsége slides the basement door open. I watch her stick her head through the doorway. She faces me, and the vines and twigs forming her neck snap and pop. Her long branchlike fingers appear along the doorframe, inching forward until her tall, imposing figure is in full view.
Őfelsége’s glowing, red eyes stare me down. She grins, exposing her gnarled, coarse, wood fangs, and the networks of vines making her facial muscles creak. Őfelsége takes a step toward me. The ghosts inside me wail. Their sorrow and fear overwhelms me. I clutch my chest and rock back and forth. “Petra,” Őfelsége whispers, like a siren calling a ship to its doom. “Petra. Éhség. Hunger.” She leans over me and I scramble off the couch, falling on my back. I stare up at Őfelsége while scurrying backwards. I shouldn’t be afraid, but I can’t fight the fears of the dead inside me. I scoot back against my living room table and hoist myself up. I turn to run, but Őfelsége whispers something and I turn in her direction. She towers over me and places her massive, rough, bark hands on my face. Őfelsége opens her mouth and I see the life of a man flash before my eyes. The images come too fast for me to keep up and fade when a ball of light floats out of my mouth and into Őfelsége’s gaping maw. My throat aches like I just threw up. Őfelsége shrieks and groans, sucking more souls out of me. Their lives flicker in my mind, along with their intense emotions. Őfelsége slams a hand on my forehead and lifts me up. She wraps her other hand around my neck. Her eyes beam with delight and her haunting face shines with perverse excitement.
“Őfel…sége?” I mutter, while she squeezes my throat. My hands shoot up and fight her grasp, splintering over with each attempt to pull her fingers from around my neck. “Őfelsége,” I say, struggling to speak. Őfelsége laughs and begins pulling my neck down and my head up. “Őfelsége!” I try to yell, but can only manage to whisper. She presses tighter and pulls slower, chuckling at my pain. The muscles under my jaw spasm as they begin to stretch apart. I struggle harder, to no avail. Őfelsége brings my faces close to hers and tilts her head like a curious animal. “Petra,” she whispers, her raspy voice cutting through me. She pulls a bit more and I flail like a fish on concrete. Just before my jaw pops, Szófia appears behind Őfelsége and yells something in Hungarian. Őfelsége shrieks and swats Szófia away, releasing me in the process. Szófia slams against the bookcase and Őfelsége vanishes.
I crawl over to Szófia. Her face is flush with color, and she wheezes, unconscious. I reach out to her and scream when I touch her. Szófia’s skin is smooth and tangible. Her stomach rises and shrinks with each breath. Holy shit. She’s alive.
Szófia opens her eyes. “Did I kill her? Did I kill the demon?” she asks, concerned and half out of it. “Why am I in so much pain?” she inquires, rubbing her ribs. Szófia sits up and starts heaving. She has a panic attack and runs to my dresser. “No! No! No! This was not supposed to happen. I was supposed to claim us both!” Szófia shrieks, frantic and manic. She pounds the ground with her fists until her knuckles bleed, while I stand by her in disbelief. This piece of trash intended to kill us both? For what? To sacrifice us to Őfelsége? Fuck that. I wrap my hand around her hair and yank Szófia’s head back. Rage shooting from her eyes, warps to fear as I pull her head against my fist.
“You!” I scream. “You bitch! All your god damn talk about stopping Őfelsége! You were trying to kill us both, huh? You piece of trash!” I declare, dragging her to the front door, tearing strands of her hair. Szófia kicks me and tries to run, but I grab another fistful of her long, dark hair and whip her back into a chokehold. She coughs and gags, fighting me. I slam her on the ground and kick her stomach, then spit on her. “Get out!” I yell.
Szófia stumbles to her feet, rubbing her throat and struggling to talk. “N-No,” she says, wheezing. “Not us.” Szófia collapses on the couch and catches her breath. “Not us, Petra. I was trying to kill Őfelsége… And, myself.” She pulls her legs on the couch and shoves her face into her knees, weeping in silence. I reach out to her, but pull my hand back as reality finally sets in.
“You’re alive, Szófia,” I mutter. “You’re alive and Őfelsége is gone.” I rush over to Szófia with a glass of water as her coughs and wheezes stabilize. She chugs while I brush her hair with my hands, then hug her. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry, Szófia,” I say, sobbing with her. I plop down on the couch next to her and just sit. “So what now, Szófia? What are we supposed to do? What happens next?”
Szófia looks at her hands, frowning as she sniffles. After a few moments, she sobs and I join her.
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