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Author Topic: DarthVitrial's Stories: Files from the Black Phoenix  (Read 2558 times)

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I've been writing short horror stories for a while, and I've gradually started establishing an overall "universe" for them. Right now I'm working on getting enough stories written that I can actually publish them as a collection of stories, but for now I've been posting them on my DeviantArt account, and later on revising them and putting them on NoSleep as well.

As I revise these stories, I'll also be adding them here. 

Additionally, if you'd like to read other stories I have written, read the comics I'm working on (including my very much not horror series, Flower Garden 2/3), ask one of the characters a question, or see different drawings I've done (including some of the characters from these stories), please visit my DeviantArt page at

  • The Surgeon - a very short story that was used to introduce the character of Doctor Fira Cata (aka Dr. Cutter), a character from a comic I am working on.
  • Alone: The Mansion - the first entry in the main Alone universe (where most of the stories take place), and first story in the "Kerina Trilogy" (the third of which I am currently working on).
  • The Well - A story that is not part of the Alone universe. My attempt at writing a more Lovecraftian sort of story.
  • Alone: Asylum - the second in the "Kerina Trilogy". Currently being revised, can be seen on my DA.
  • Alone: Kia the Exorcist - a side story in the Alone storyline.
  • Alone: The Fairground (Working Title) - The third in the "Kerina Trilogy". WIP.
  • The Black Phoenix - a short side story in the Alone universe. Currently being revised, can be seen on my DA.
  • Halloween at the Black Phoenix - a short side story focusing on the characters from the Black Phoenix Corp.
  • About 30 more Alone stories, coming when I get around to writing them. :P
  • Dr Cutter - a series of short comics starring Fira Cata. Starting at the end of the year.
  • The Exorcise Exam- A prequel to Kia the Exorcist
« Last Edit: 04:17:01 PM 09/28/18 by DarthVitrial »


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The Surgeon

The text that follows is a transcription of an interview I conducted with an individual who wishes to remain anonymous. The interview was done as part of a project to study local "paranormal" phenomena.

Paranormal encounters? I’m afraid I’m not a believer in ghosts and the like. If you just want an abnormal story, though, I think I can oblige.

You see, two years ago I was working the night shift at a local bar, and was preparing to close when the final customer of my career arrived.

It was around three in the morning when she entered. Tall, with short red hair and bright green eyes behind fogged lab goggles. She wore a dirty lab coat, covered with red blotches I preferred not to contemplate. She walked with an odd gait, like her legs bent somewhere above her knees, and as she got closer I heard an odd thumping noise that seemed to emanate from her.

She sat down at the bar and nodded at me. I felt a strange sensation of fear as I approached her, but tried my best to ignore it. The late hours attracted all sorts of eccentrics and criminals – if she was a drug dealer or organ thief, it was not my problem (this sounds harsh, I know, but the bar was in a bad part of a city already known for a high crime rate – one tends to become inured to such things).

“What can I get you?” I asked, trying to sound pleasant. She looked at me through her dirty goggles. “Just ice water.” I bit my tongue, resisting the urge to ask why she would go to a bar at three in the morning just to get water, and filled her a glass from the sink.

She slowly sipped her water, and I found myself becoming more uncomfortable. The dull thumping noise was starting to give me a headache. Mainly to distract myself, I tried to make conversation. “So, what brings you to this part of town?” After two years of the job, I had gotten to know the faces of many of the locals, and I knew I had never seen this odd woman before.

She lifted her head from the glass and turned to me. “I’m visiting a client.” Something about her voice unnerved me, though I had not yet realized why. “A…client?” She nodded. “Yes. I performed a rather difficult surgery on him last month, and I’m visiting him for a followup appointment. Normally I’d insist he come to me, but I felt that some travel might do me good.”

“So you’re a doctor, then?” I tried to tell myself that that would make the red stains less unpleasant, but it didn’t work.

She paused, thinking. “Doctor might not be the best word. Truth be told, I’ve no license or formal training. That said, I like to think I’ve a good bit of skill in the arts of surgery.” She seemed to be getting more enthusiastic as she continued speaking. “The difference between me and a doctor, I think, is primarily one of motive. Doctors perform operations to save the patient. I do it for the challenge. Nothing thrills me more than working on an inoperable sickness. And I’m pleased to say I’ve not lost any patients to date. No cancer, disease, or failed organ can match my scalpel.”

She looked me over, a hungry look in her strangely-shaped eyes. “Speaking of which…how long have you had problems with your kidneys?” I stepped back involuntarily. “How did you know I-“ “Experience. I can smell it on you.” She pulled a frighteningly shaped blade from the pocket of her coat and tapped the table with it. It sliced cleanly through. “I could fix you right up, if you want.” I backed away, feeling the wall up against my back. “No, please, I’m fine, really.” She returned the scalpel to her pocket. “Your loss.” She sipped her water as I suddenly realized what unnerved me about her voice.

When I was young, I made a game out of attempting to inhale while speaking. Obviously, such a feat is impossible, as one cannot inhale and exhale simultaneously- and yet, that is what she was doing. She inhaled through her nose as she spoke, creating an odd distortion to her voice.

“You know, I think everyone could benefit from more surgery.” She suddenly spoke again. “If one were to place themselves on a table daily, have their innards inspected and maintained regularly, one could in theory live forever.” She smirked. “Obviously it’s more complex than that. Surgery can have complications. The human body takes time to recover, as well, unless the surgeon were supernaturally skilled.” She swished the ice cubes around her glass. “But assuming a flawless doctor, and a patient with a willingness to be dissected daily, the patient could extend their life for thousands of years.”

“I…I suppose.” I said. “But there are so many other factors that can lead to death-“ She cut me off with a raised finger. “I believe that any failure can be corrected. Even on the cellular level, I see no reason one could not repair damaged DNA, or surgically remove bacteria. The only limits are the fineness of the tool, and the skill of the surgeon.”

I was stumbling for a response when a gust of wind blew the door open. Now, this is not an abnormal experience – we were located in a particularly windy area and the door did not quite fit its frame. The door would blow open several times a day, and I found nothing odd about that.

No, the reason this was notable is because it blew off the woman’s lab coat.

Beneath her lab coat, I saw it. Her chest was open, and through the it I could see her ribs, her lungs, her heart…God, that dreadful thumping noise as her heart pulsed. I saw her lungs expand and contract as she breathed. Her blood vessels were all in clear view, and I swear I could see the blood coursing through them. She smirked at me as her heart beat. Thump…thump…thump…

I was frozen. Before I could recover, she stood, retrieved her lab coat, and placed a fifty dollar bill upon the table.

She turned and walked out the door, but not before leaving me with some parting words: “A truly skilled surgeon could bypass the issue of finding a patient, you know. A truly skilled surgeon could even operate on herself.” 


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The Mansion

Entry One

It's times like this that I really have to reconsider my life choices. Though I doubt there's much life left for me.

Well, at least I have this. The blank diary I found under a pile of rotted, moth eaten clothes in another dusty corner of another dusty room in this godforsaken dusty mansion.

Well, mostly blank. The first few pages were written on, as anyone reading this can see. I tore out most of them, because twenty-five pages of “helpmehelpmeohgodhelpmehelpmehelpme” did not improve my mood.

Right then. I’m just going to keep writing in this whenever I have some free time. Help keep my mind focused. If I get out, maybe I’ll publish it. If I don’t…well, maybe it will be useful to whoever gets trapped in here next.

But I’d prefer to get out.

So then. Operating under the assumption that this will be read by others, I guess I should do some sort of introduction. My name is Kerina Meredith Heloise Van Drasen, which is a mouthful to say and sounds kinda pretentious. And stupid. Just call me Kerina (that’s pronounced Kerr-eena, FYI). I’m 23 years old, and right now it looks like I might not make it to 24.

…optimistic, Kerina. Look on the bright side.

Nah, there is no bright side. I’m gonna die here.

Entry Two

OK, that was terrifying. Honestly kinda worried it might be able to hear me just from how loudly my heart is beating. Not that anyone reading this knows what I’m talking about. I think I lost it a few rooms back, so I might as well take this time to write out what’s been happening, how I got here. Take some time to catch my breath and hope it doesn’t find me.

It started about three days ago. I was taking a walk in the big forest outside town. You know the one. Feels more like a jungle than a forest. 4000-odd acres of thick, old trees, rocks, a few little rivers here and there. It’s a nice place, I walk there a lot. Or…used to, I guess.

Anyway, I took a different trail than I normally do and ended up lost. Of course my goddamn cell phone was out of battery (I listen to music when I walk…), and I find compasses about as useful as divining rods for finding my way home, which means I didn’t bring one. Mistake number one.

So, lost in the middle of a giant forest. Sounds like a great start, right? Don’t worry, it gets worse.

I decided to just keep walking, try to find a trail and follow it out. I did find one, but it was so overgrown with weeds I could barely tell if it was manmade or just happened to look like a path. I figured it was better than nothing, though, so I followed it. Mistake number two.

After a while, I noticed the trees getting thinner, and there seemed to be less plants overall. Great, right? Must mean I’m almost out! 

Wrong. Turned out, I followed the path even deeper into the forest. What I’d found wasn’t an exit, just a large clearing. That said, there was one thing that gave me hope: The clearing was obviously man made, because there was a giant mansion right in front of me.

Ever been to Disney World? Or Land? Any of the Disney parks. You know the Haunted Mansion ride? What it looks like from outside? This mansion looked exactly like that, but way older and more decrepit. The lawn was covered with dead weeds, and behind the house was – you guessed it – a graveyard. Definitely a good sign. Totally not ominous at all.

Still, it was a house, so maybe I’d find something helpful there. A phone. Food. People. A map. A map would be nice.

I slowly made my way down the weed-covered path. I doubted anyone lived there, but even so I took hold of the huge brass knocker and swung it down. It made a hell of a noise, but nothing much else happened.

I waited a minute, then tried the door handle. Locked. I looked around for a window, but they were all boarded up. Seriously. Every window in the mansion was boarded up. A five-story building, and someone boarded up every window on the damn thing. Who does that?
Anyway, I wasn’t getting in through the window.  I looked around for another door, or a hole in the wall, or something, when I saw the shack.

Just a tiny, one room shack, in front of the graveyard. Probably for a groundskeeper. I figured that there might be a key in there, so it was worth checking out.

This door was locked too, but while the door to the mansion was huge and clearly made of some expensive, sturdy wood, this was more like plywood. One good kick brought down the door, and almost the entire shack.

I admit to screaming hysterically at the sheer number of spiders that landed on me. I also admit that I continued to scream for the seven straight minutes I spent rolling frantically on the ground while swatting desperately at myself. Funnily enough, not a single spider bit me. I think they were all already dead.

Anyway, once I was done being terrified, I took a peek into the shack. Not much there. A moldy bed with some sort of green slime coagulating on top of it, something that had probably been a chair at one point, a rotted wooden desk, and a whole lot of dust.

I tiptoed in, like I was worried about being caught intruding – though if there HAD been any living people left here, my screams earlier would have already attracted them, but it’s not like I was really thinking clearly – and opened the top drawer of the desk. Empty.

Same for the second drawer. The bottom drawer, though, was paydirt. And literal dirt, too. Seriously, my whole body is caked with dust and I keep sneezing, which I’m worried will attract- right, getting ahead of myself.

So, the bottom drawer. There was a key in there. I took it and ran back to the manor entrance. The key fit. The door opened. The key snapped in half. I sighed.
I tossed away the half-key and stepped inside. The mansion was incredibly dark, with just a few beams of light making it through the boarded windows. The air was filled with dust, and I kicked up new dust clouds with every step. There were cobwebs on every possible surface – but oddly enough, not a single spider. Or any insects at all.

I took a tentative step inside. Then another. Then another. Then the door shut behind me.
Yeah, I know. Laugh all you want, I know it sounds silly. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It closed on me. And for whatever reason, I couldn’t get it open. My guess is, the broken half of the key jammed something. Maybe I damaged the doorframe or the hinges when I opened the door. I don’t know. All I know is, I wasn’t getting out that way.

So then, I

Entry 3

Sorry about that. This stupid pencil broke, and I’ve spent the past half hour searching for something to use as a sharpener. Searched the whole room before I finally found this tiny little knife. And sharpening a rotten pencil with a rusty knife? NOT FUN.

Anyway, I got the pencil sharpened enough to write with, so I may as well continue where I left off. God I’m hungry. How long have I been in here? It’s probably stopped looking for me by now…I’ll finish this entry and move on.

So, I made my way into the house, the door locked behind me, dust and cobwebs, blah blah blah. I guess I should do my best to describe the entryway to you. Directly in front of me, like five feet in front of the door, was the biggest, narrowest staircase I have ever seen. I counted at least fifty steps before I gave up. And the staircase…Look, I’m a thin girl. But that staircase was uncomfortably narrow. Maybe a foot across at most? And the steps…ugh, they were smaller than my feet. I do not want to climb that thing if I can avoid it. Let’s hope I can. 

The staircase was built directly in the middle of the wall. On the left side of the stairs (or, right side… I was looking at the stairs. My left.) was a door, firmly locked and bolted. As far as I could tell, it was locked from my side, and deadbolted from the other. Who even makes doors like that?

On the other side of the stairs was an old table, collapsed under its own weight. A vase of dead flowers lay shattered in the middle.

On the left side of the room was a doorway leading into another room. I peeked in, and decided it must have been a waiting room of sorts. Rotted, broken chairs, moth eaten moldy cushions, and paintings depicting the same people over and over, in different poses and clothes each time. The owners, I guess. I couldn’t quite make out their faces in the darkness, but I identified them as a husband and wife, and, in some of the paintings, a small child that must have been their daughter. The paintings almost seemed arranged in order, beginning with the man and woman looking young and happy, in front of the mansion, an elderly man beside them, presumably a parent. Probably of the man, they looked similar. I guess the mansion got passed down through the generations – which explains the graveyard, too, I guess. The next showed the couple standing alone, looking a bit older, but still smiling broadly. In the third, the man was beginning to go grey, and the woman was holding an infant. The fourth showed the man supporting the woman, who seemed thin and sickly. A toddler was sitting beside them.

The fifth showed the man standing by himself, looking mournful. Behind him, the mansion itself seemed to have deteriorated – the immaculate lawn depicted in the earlier paintings was now overgrown with dead leaves, the paint had stripped from the walls of the mansion, and several windows were boarded up.

I wondered why anyone would have those sort of paintings. It’s like he was telling his entire life story to guests before they even met him. Maybe that way he wouldn’t have to discuss anything personal with them, because they already knew the important details?
The waiting room had two additional doors leading out of it, but both were locked tight.
The right side of the entry room led to a long hallway, lined with candles and portraits of other people. These paintings seemed older than the ones in the waiting room, so they probably showed the previous owners.

At the end of the hallway was clearly the dining room. The table alone was bigger than my bedroom, and it only took up maybe a quarter of the room. Moldy curtains, which must have looked impressive when they were new, lined the walls. Shattered glasses lined the floor.
And for an instant, I swear I saw people sitting at the table. They were gone when I looked closer.

When I was really young, I had this recurring nightmare. An amusement park, only all the guests and workers were corpses. I don’t think I even knew what a corpse WAS at that age, but that’s what they were.
Each night, a different corpse would come over to me as I rode the merry-go-round (it was always that ride. I never dreamed of any of the others) and talk to me, tell me their life story, start to finish. One day, I asked my mom about it, and she went pale. After a while, she said that our family always had a strong connection to the spirit world, and that the dreams were telling me about people that weren’t around anymore, but still wanted their story told.

After that, I stopped having the dreams.

When I saw the figures huddled around the table, the ones that vanished when I looked, I wondered if that’s what they were. If some latent power inside me let me see ghosts for real.
If I actually do have that power, can I trade it in for something? I’d rather have the power to eat infinite candy without gaining weight. Or flying. Flying is good too.

Anyway, I decided to move on from that room as fast as my legs could carry me. I opened a door at one side of the room, ran down a hallway, opened a door into another hallway, then another, then into what must have been a guest bedroom.

I wasn’t alone.

He looked old, emaciated. And transparent.

His hollow eyes looked at me from fleshless sockets. His mouth opened with a faint moaning noise, revealing rotted teeth in a tongueless mouth. He reached a clawed hand out to me.

I screamed louder than I ever have in my life and ran. I don’t know why I bothered to slam the door behind me, but I did. And I took off faster than I ever thought I could.

I ran from one room to the next, through dusty hallways, ruined sitting rooms and guest quarters, taking one turn, then another. I did my best to close doors behind me, hoping that would throw off my pursuer.

But it wasn’t just him. As I ran through rooms, I’d see them out of the corner of my eyes. Other ghosts. Men, women, young and old. Many of them were dressed as servants. Sometimes, one would reach out a bony claw as I ran past, but most seemed as terrified as I was, hiding in corners, never even acknowledging me. In the back of my mind, a voice seemed to tell me that I was watching them relive the last moments of their lives, forever.

I don’t know how long I ran, or how many rooms I went through. After a while, I realized I hadn’t seen any of the specters for a while. The adrenaline started to fade. My breath burned hot in my lungs, my heart felt like it would burst out of my chest. I collapsed to the floor and sobbed.

After some time, I started to calm down. I knew I needed time to pause and think this through rationally. I started aimlessly searching the room, and found this diary. So, that’s how I got here.

Anyway, I think I’ve written enough for now. I need to find a way out. I’m going to keep exploring. I’ll write more if I’m able.

Entry Four

So, I left the room I was hiding in, and started searching for a way out. I don’t know how, but I ended up back in the entrance room. I’d somehow made a full lap of the first floor. Only two paths were left – the door, locked and bolted from both sides, and that godawful staircase.

Nowhere to go but up.

The climb was hellish. Every step, I felt sure I’d fall. My feet were larger than the steps. The guardrail was coated with some sort of slimy mold. And the staircase just. Kept. Going. I felt that I was about to end up on the roof, but no such luck. I think I was only on the third floor. Why were all the ceilings so high?

The hallway stretched out to both sides, doors lining it. Most likely the living floor for the family and their guests, with servants on the fourth floor. With how high the ceiling was, I imagine the servants rooms must have been quite cramped.

I wandered down the hall, opening doors at random. I don’t quite know what I was looking for. One room, though, was different from the others. It was decorated much more ornately, lined with portraits of the man and woman I’d seen in the waiting room. The master bedroom, perhaps.

There were three beds. One large bed, suited for a couple. One medium, for a single adult, and one crib. The largest bed was covered by large drapes, and looking at it made me think of some sort of cloth hearse.

It was in this room that I found a clue to this mansion. In a drawer I found a diary. Barely damaged – something about this room seemed to have kept away the dust and mold.

I have the dairy with me, so I’ll summarize. I don’t want to actually transcribe it, because Ye Olde Englishe doth giveth me a headache.

Apparently, the mansion’s last owner was Alexander Ward, back in 1765. He married a woman named Victoria Holt. Alexander was the heir to a fortune, Victoria came from a line of priestesses or something like that (the writing in the diary is really flowery. It’s hard to decipher).

They were married in 1768, and he took full ownership of the mansion after his own father died in 1772. In 1785, Victoria became pregnant at the age of 39, and in early 1786 gave birth to their daughter, Eliza.
On Eliza’s second birthday, a woman came to visit. She said she was a distant relative of Victoria, and had a present for Eliza – a hand-made music box. Little Eliza fell in love with the music box, playing it day and night. I know this seems like a pointless detail, but there’s a reason I’m mentioning the box, bear with me.

In late 1787, Victoria fell ill, and died in June of 1788. From what I can tell, this is when Alexander snapped. He couldn’t bear to sleep in their bed anymore, but didn’t want to remove it, so he covered it with cloths and dragged a new bed into his room. He developed a habit of sleepwalking, sometimes attacking servants in his sleep. After he horribly injured a maid, he started tying himself to bed.

His mentions of his daughter start to get less and less coherent, ranting how she stole her mother’s soul, that she took her from him. He even started ranting about the song from Eliza’s music box sounding like Victoria’s screams. If I’m reading this last entry right, one night, when his daughter was six years old, he snuck into her room at night, and…well, next morning, he was childless.

After this, he starts ranting about “bringing her back”. I think he tried to…revive his wife, somehow. There’s a key in the back of the diary. Once I find the door it fits…maybe, just maybe, I can get out of here. Or maybe I’ll die.

But before that…Well, there’s something else. There’s a sound. Music. I swear I hear music. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word…” It’s tinny, and it’s just the tune, no words. A music box? But why did it just start now?

…I can’t help myself. I know it’s stupid, but I have to investigate.

Entry Five

I found the daughter.

I followed the sound of the music to one of the rooms at the far end of the hallway. The whole room was done up in pale blue, with pictures of little animals on the wall. Somehow that made the bloodstained bed even worse.

There was a music box by the bed. That was the music. And there, on the bed, was the girl.
She was looking at the music box when I entered. I froze. She turned her head to face me. Not her body. Her head rotated a full 180 degrees to stare at me through eyeless sockets. Blood oozed out of her spectral neck. Her transparent skin seemed to undulate as she moved towards me. She giggled and flew at me.

I dove to the ground, face first into the moldy, blood covered carpet. This was centuries ago, so why was the blood still fresh?

She flew at me again as I clambered to my feet and ran towards the other end of the room.
The room was too small. A child’s room, not meant for adults to spend prolonged periods in. The walls seemed to press in on me, the ceiling felt like it was slowly lowering. The air was thick and hot and smelled like rotting meat.

I had to find some way to fight, some way to stop her. Something in my head whispered to me. The Music Box. It wasn’t my voice. It wasn’t a human voice. But I listened to it. I dove for the box and smashed it against the ground as the girl reached for my neck.

I felt an instant of cold, like some slimy tentacle wrapped around my neck. I heard a girl’s scream. Then the feeling was gone. And so was the ghost.

I know what I have to do now. Whatever is causing this…I need to find the door this key opens. I need to face this.

Entry Six

The basement. Of course it was the basement.

The door the key fit was the one in the entrance hall, the one locked from both sides. When I turned the key, I felt the door twitch, like a living thing, squirming away from the key. Then, with a deep groan and a screech of rusty hinges, the door opened. Beyond it was a staircase, leading down into darkness.

The deeper I went, the worse I felt. There was a horrible pressure inside my skull, like my head was ready to burst and implode at the same time. I felt hot tears begin to stream down my face from the pain. It was like my eyes were ready to rip from their sockets.
And there was the noise. An unearthly shriek, high pitched and deep at once. The air was heavy and hot, and everything had a reddish tint.

I made my way down. I saw it at last.

As best I can figure, the man tried something to revive his wife. Something went wrong. I don’t know what. I guess that reviving the dead is impossible, and his efforts somehow ended up creating that…I don’t know what it was. A rip, I guess. Like an open drain in the air, a rip in the world. But unlike a drain, it wasn’t sucking anything through. I felt the intense pressure of whatever it is that the rip was pushing out. It was like raw lightning, almost invisible, but incredibly painful. Like sparks across my skin, inside my pores, flowing through my veins.

Every now and again, a piece of wood, or a chunk of earth would break free from the floor or ceiling and fly towards the rip, only to dissolve before they came near.
How was I supposed to do anything about THAT?

Then I saw her. In the very center of the rip, I saw a woman, her face contorted into an expression of unimaginable agony. I recognized her from the paintings.  Victoria Ward, lady of the mansion. Trapped between two worlds.

I think I blacked out, because I had a dream.

Men and women walked past me, wearing the robes of ancient priests. When I looked at them, I recognized myself. My ancestors carried me forwards, into a shrine. There, an old woman with raven hair knelt before an altar, her hands drawing strange symbols on leaves of paper.

“Ov. To See.” A symbol burned itself into my mind. “Ket. To Break The Chains.” Another symbol. “Tekil. To Release And Dispel.” Another. And another. And another. “Fron. To Bind.” “Yei. To Comfort.”

“Keri Na. To Awaken.” My name. Kerina.

I woke up suddenly. My hands were clenched tightly, blood dripping from where my nails had pierced my skin. I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling. I could see the red wind gushing from the rip. Not a rip. Hellgate.

In the wind, I saw faces. The people of this house, the natives that had lived here before them. Tormented, screaming, trapped.

I searched in my pocket for the diary, tore out blank page after blank page. My fingers traced the symbols in blood.
Ket. Ket. Ket. Tekil. Ket. Tekil. Tekil. Yei. Yei. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket.

I was dizzy. Loss of blood, the lack of air in the room, the strange energy from the Hellgate. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Ket. Tekil. Tekil. Ket.

All at once, the pages lifted from the ground, flying towards the Hellgate, exploding into white energy that bathed the tormented soul at the core.

And then…silence.

A sense of horrible pressure, a different pressure, of something about to happen. The wind was gone. The energy was gone. I turned and ran, out of the basement, up the stairs. I threw myself to the ground as an enormous blast of energy hit me from behind.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious. Maybe minutes, maybe hours. When I woke up, the house was all but destroyed. I was lying in a pile of rubble, dusty, bruised and bloody. Shards of glass and wooden splinters coated my raw flesh. My whole body was red, like I’d been in the sun for days. And as one final insult, while the walls were gone…that damn door was still standing in front of me. Still closed.

I dragged myself to my feet and walked past the door, back towards the forest. Somehow, I knew the way home.

Final Entry

Home. I’m home. Hello bed. I missed you.

So, after I finally made it home, I all but collapsed.

I made it to the kitchen, wolfed down some food, and dragged myself to the shower. It hurt like hell on my raw skin, but I enjoyed the pain. I was alive. I made it out. I felt like I was scrubbing all traces of that house from my skin.

I dried myself off and collapsed into bed.

My clock says I’ve been asleep for 16 hours. I needed that.

Not sure what I’ll do now. Nobody will believe this diary. I guess I could publish it anyway, as fiction? Money is always nice.

I’m more worried about what happens next. The dreams are back. Dreams of people from long ago, telling me their sorrows. But now there’s a new voice. A voice that sounds like the roar of the Hellgate, pulling me towards it.

But there are friendly voices, as well. My mother and aunt. My father. My grandparents. Family, living and dead, lending their voices to my dreams.

My family has always been sensitive to the spirit world. But it’s more than that for me.

-Kerina Van Drasen, Exorcist. Has a nice ring, huh?

A man stood in the ruins of the mansion. His expression was a mix of amusement and irritation. The Hellgate had been unstable after all. Yes, it had lasted more than two centuries, but it had not been complete. The energy was wild, unfocused. It lacked grounding. And it had been dispelled by an amateur.

Summoning a Hellgate would not suffice, then. He would need a true Hellgate, many true Hellgates, if he were to achieve his goals. Troublesome, to say the least. It would take time to find enough Hellgates

Still… at least he’d gotten to see something interesting. She would be worth observation.

« Last Edit: 12:44:18 AM 11/14/17 by DarthVitrial »


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Note: The following is a transcript of a recording I made of my interview with Mr. Andrew White late last year. As Mr. White has since passed away, I felt that there could be no harm in revealing his story to the public. I at first planned to simply release the tapes, but upon listening to them found that my recording were almost unintelligible, drowned out by a static that resembled distorted screams. As the tapes were still in prime condition, I can only suppose that my recorder picked up and amplified some minor background noise. Thus, I have carefully transcribed what dialog I can, filling in the gaps by memory. I hope my efforts are adequate.

Also, for the sake of anonymity, I shall simply refer to myself as "Interviewer" in this transcript.

Interviewer: Thanks again. I know this must be a hassle for you.
White: Oh no, not at all. I’m eighty-seven years old, young man. I don’t exactly have a busy schedule. laughs
Interviewer: Right. Well, as I mentioned, I’m assembling material for my research into supposed paranormal experiences, and I’d heard about you from your old student at Miskatonic, Amber Graves. She said you’d told her a story at one point about a-

White: Oh, that. Well, I can tell you if you wish, but I’m not really sure it will help you. After all, most scary stories end badly for the protagonist, but that was forty-five years ago and I’m still going strong!

Interviewer: Please, any information you can tell me would be appreciated.
White: Very well then. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I think I can still tell you what happened.

At this point, Mr. White stood and began to pace the room.

White: It was, as I said, forty-five years ago, in the spring of 19(I was unable to hear the date over the static. I believe it was some time in the fifties). I was preparing for an archaeological expedition into the jungles of – actually, would you mind if I not give any exact locations? I’d hate for someone to hear this and try to investigate themselves. Anyway, it was in a jungle, where I and some of my colleagues believed an ancient civilization had lived. I hoped to recover some knowledge about this mysterious ancient tribe.

It was a hot, muggy day when my plane landed. I began to sweat almost immediately, and felt the scorching rays of the sun beat down upon me, piercing through my clothes and heating me to my bones.

My guide met me at the airport and drove me to the jungle, taking us down unkempt back streets and muddy dirt roads, until trees and vines made it impossible to drive further. From there, we set out on foot, walking through the hot forest – or rather, wading through the thick, deep mud. We were constantly swarmed by bugs, from harmless gnats to the largest mosquitoes I’d ever seen. By nighttime, my entire body was caked with mud, even my eyelids and the insides of my ears. My skin was covered with insect bites and rashes from some relatives of poison ivy. We had no tents, as carrying them would have slowed us down. We instead unfurled two Spartan sleeping bags, lit a small fire, and attempted to sleep.
I would have thought I could not possibly have fallen asleep, so uncomfortable was I, but the next thing I recall is my guide shaking me awake.

We ate some dried rations and set out. My guide warned me that we were heading into the “demon's den”, as the locals had nicknamed it - an area which nearly nobody returned from. The thick growth of trees blotted out the sun completely, and a high amount of magnetic rocks in the area made compasses worthless.

As we entered, I felt something change. Though the insects continued to assail us, the constant background noise of animals fell silent. The oppressive heat began to fade, until I was nearly shivering from cold.

My guide led me deeper into the demon's den, then stopped, posed as if he were listening to something. He turned to me and solemnly told me that he would have to go. I was surprised – the agreement was that he would take me to the ruins. He shook his head, and told me that he now knew he would not be able to. He then turned and walked into the darkness. I later heard, upon my return, that my guide had not been seen since.

Though unnerved, I was determined to pursue my investigation, and continued in what I hoped was the right direction.

Eventually, I broke through a wall of leaves and found myself in a clearing. Before me lay the ruined village I had been seeking. In the center of the clearing was a pyramid, about as tall as a three-story house. Near the entrance to the village was a small, dry well, which upon investigation went down farther than my flashlight could illuminate – no doubt dug deeper and deeper in attempts to get more water during times of drought.

Aside from the pyramid, none of the other structures had survived the ages, and were left as nothing but piles of stone, overgrown by vines. I approached the pyramid, and after some searching found an entrance. A large stone, hooked up to some sort of pulley mechanism. A small flight of stairs led up to the second level of the pyramid, where a large boulder rested beside the basket of the pulley. With some effort I pushed the boulder onto the basket, and heard a satisfying grinding noise as the door rose.

The first thing I observed was that the hallway sloped strongly downward. I doubt there was even a way into the upper chambers – or even if there were any rooms in the pyramid proper at all.

The hallway rapidly became darker and more narrow as I explored. My flashlight seemed suffocated by the darkness, only illuminating a few feet in front of my face. The rough stone of the walls closed in on me, scratching my flesh and clothes. Before long I was unable to walk any further, and was reduced to crawling through the tight passage.

The path continued to tighten. I could barely breathe anymore, reduced to only taking short, stilted breaths. I began to worry that the path would shrink further, that I would become trapped in the tunnels. I then heard it – a faint rumbling noise, and felt a slight vibration in the stones. Panic set in. What if this was an earthquake? What if the tunnel collapsed on me – or worse, cut off my exit?

In a blind panic I pushed forward, desperately hoping for space, nearly suffocating on the stale air, feeling the stones slice through my arms and legs. Then suddenly…the path widened. Within moments, the tunnel had gone from the size of a ball to that of an enormous banquet hall or church. 

I stood gratefully and examined the room with my light. The walls of the room were decorated with intricate images of daemonic entities – horrid beaked Things with tendrils and too many eyes, enormous serpents that seemed to writhe in the dim light, and – no, I would rather not describe the remaining images.

Several feet in front of me, the ground dropped off into a seemingly bottomless abyss. A small, thin bridge of stone stretched over the abyss, leading off into the darkness.

Slowly, cautiously, I stepped onto the bridge and began to crawl across, feeling my stomach turn as the bridge creaked, and small pieces of stone fell from the bottom.

I had crawled about 200 feet when I heard it. I cannot quite describe the sound: a sort of slimy screeching noise, which reverberated through the chamber and caused the bridge to shudder dangerously. In the depths of the pit, I could have sworn I saw something unfathomably huge begin to stir.

The bridge was too narrow to turn on, and I instinctively knew that falling would lead to a fate worse than death. I began to crawl along faster, quick as I dared. Below me, the monstrous, shapeless darkness seemed to rise towards me. Shadows of serpentine tendrils danced on the walls, and the Things depicted in those dark images seemed to contort and writhe toward me.
I shut my eyes and crawled on, onwards into the unknown, until at last I felt blessed, solid ground below my hands. I scrambled onto the ledge and collapsed, panting.

Before me, I saw a large, ornate door. Slowly, terrified, I opened it. On the other side was a small, white chamber. It was void of any decoration, and contained a single inhabitant.

The thing in the pit had been terrifying. The sort of monstrosity that could swallow a blue whale in a single gulp and barely notice – assuming that the beast even had something we could understand as a mouth. It was the color of pure darkness, and smelled of death. Its body followed no rules of biology or geometry that one could understand. But compared to what I found in this room, the pit entity was barely worth notice.

They were human. Or appeared human, at least. On examination, they seemed a perfectly normal, if nondescript, human. But something about them gave such an air of wrongness, of pure, unadulterated…well, I do not think English has a word for it. Not Evil – Evil can be understood. Evil is a human concept. This false human was something Alien. Something we could never grasp.

I know I am doing a poor job of describing it. I cannot help it – proper words do not exist. It was not a concept, it was a feeling. A feeling of pure wrongness, of things that should not be. A human, but somehow horribly, invisibly twisted into something worse than any nightmare.

It stood and moved toward me. With energy born of terror I turned and fled. I ran across the pit – better to be consumed by the thing below than by the pseudohuman behind me. I ran over the bridge, stumbling and nearly falling into the abyss several times. I heard the rumble of stones falling from the bridge, the slow, methodical steps of the being behind me, and the hungry stirrings of the thing below.

With desperate energy, I leapt onto the ledge on the other side and turned. That being was still walking across the pit, slowly and calmly, as if knowing I could not escape. And then…my flashlight died.

In blind panic, I took the useless torch and smashed it as hard as I could upon the bridge, desperately hoping to shatter it before that thing could reach me. After several panicked strikes I heard a loud crunch, followed by an enormous crash as the bridge collapsed, falling into the abyss.

I dared not be relived. Somehow, I felt that the inhuman thing was still following me, undeterred by the loss of the ground below it. I turned and groped blindly in the dark, searching for the hole I had come through.

After what seemed like an eternity, I found it and scrambled through. I crawled desperately, smashing my head against the stones, slicing open my arms, legs, forehead, and all exposed parts of my body. I forced myself through the tight chambers, terrified I would become trapped, with no option but to wait for the thing behind me to catch up.

I heard it behind me, closer and closer. I forced myself to go on, barely breathing, barely feeling the pain from the countless wounds on my body. Once I swore I felt something grab for my foot. Finally, I broke through, and found myself at the pyramid entrance. I ran outside, charged up the side, and with all my strength pushed the boulder off the pulley’s basket. I heard the door slam shut with a sickening crunch, and watched as a viscous fluid, indescribable in color, oozed from the bottom.

I dared to hope I had killed the being, but did not risk remaining to find out. I ran until I reached the edge of the village, when I felt my legs give out below me. I collapsed beside the well and vomited. The pain of my wounds could now be felt in full. I sobbed incoherently, my terrified brain struggling to make sense of what had happened.
Then I heard it. A faint tapping from the well. I looked up as that thing, that horrible, inhuman thing, dragged itself from the well and approached me again.

I think I went mad then. I remember a blind run through the jungle, and horrid hallucinations of the elder things that predated man, the ancient ones to whom humanity was as bacteria, and yet who feared the thing below the pyramid, who had desperately sealed it within the white chamber and left (unintelligible), the dweller in the depths, to guard the chamber. That creature, who even the old gods had feared. The creature that had reached out into the subconscious of Man, drawing us in, until finally I was drawn to it, and opened the door to its tomb.

I finally made it to the native village, whereupon I was taken to the nearest city and hospitalized for two months for several horrid infections I had obtained through my wounds during my run through the jungle.
I told nobody what had happened, tried to convince myself it had been a hallucination. Once I was recovered, I gratefully returned to New England and resumed my studies in peace.

That is the last of the story that I know for sure. Since then, I have seen things – I swear I saw that creature among my students, that I see it in crowds, surrounded by other, shadowy beings that slavishly follow it – but I tell myself it is my imagination, the result of lingering trauma.

This concludes the transcript of our interview. I feel lucky to have interviewed him when I did, for several months later he passed away. I was invited to attend the funeral, but was informed that there would be no viewing. I later learned that only two people had seen the corpse - a neighbor, who found him, and the undertaker who prepared his body. Both refuse to speak of it.

That said, it was a nice service, simple but touching. I do admit, though...I couldn't help but be a bit unnerved by the person who stood beside me. I can't really describe them - they were quite nondescript, and wore a flu mask that made their face difficult to see. Still...I couldn't help but feel some vague sense of wrongness from them.
« Last Edit: 02:18:09 PM 08/13/17 by DarthVitrial »


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Noon, and nothing interesting has happened yet. It’s like that a lot of days.

My name is Kia Awara, and I am the owner (and sole employee) of K Exorcists. As the name implies, I exorcise ghosts for a living. Most of the time I’ll get called out to a house only to find out that the owner just got spooked by some creaky furniture, but every so often it’s a genuine haunting. That’s when I get to do my thing.

Unlike most exorcists, I’m not descended from any special bloodline. None of my ancestors were spirit mediums or shrine maidens or anything like that (though my great-grandfather was a professional rodeo clown, which is completely unrelated to anything but still amusing to me), I just happened to be born with strong spiritual power and decided to turn it into a career. It’s an interesting job, to be sure…long periods of boredom punctuated by occasional bouts of pure terror.
Today, like most days, the boredom is winning. I’ve been in my “office” (actually just the bedroom of my apartment) all day, surfing the web and staring at the phone. Sadly, psychic abilities don’t allow me to summon clients, so I’m just debating whether to keep watching YouTube videos of dogs running into things, or switch to porn. Yep, the life of an exorcist is thrilling.

Before I can decide, the phone rings. Brushing a strand of light blue hair out of my face, I leap over to it, praying it’s not another telemarketer, or worse, my cousin Sarah. She seems to think that just because we’re both girls, I enjoy spending hours shoe shopping with her. I usually spend most of the shopping trip debating which shoe to smack her with.

“Hello, K Exorcists, Kia speaking!” I try to sound as chipper as possible. A moment later, I slam the phone back down and groan. Telemarketer.

But as I walk back to my computer, something catches my eye. A small advertisement in the local newspaper, which I’d missed in my rush to find the comics. Demonstrate your psychic abilities - $10,000 reward! That got my attention.

This sort of thing happens now and then – even though the existence of ghosts has been acknowledged by scientists for decades now, many people remain skeptical. It makes sense – as one scholar said, “The average individual is more likely to be attacked by a kangaroo than to encounter a ghost.” While this was obviously intended to demonstrate the rarity of ghost encounters, some people took it to mean that ghosts are more common in Australia. Some people are stupid. My point is, since ghosts aren’t visible to most people, and science still hasn’t created a reliable way of detecting them, many people still don’t believe they exist. And some of these people spend lots of money trying to debunk believers with tests like this.

I skim the advertisement. Self-proclaimed psychics will go to an allegedly-haunted location, and will have to either prove that it is haunted, or that it isn’t. If someone proves it, they get $10,000. Otherwise, they get called a fraud.

It’s rigged against me, of course. Non-psychic people tend to be bad at telling whether a location is actually haunted or just creepy looking, and it’s next to impossible to prove that a place isn’t haunted. Still, $10,000 is a good amount of money for just one day’s work, and it’s not like I have anything better to do. I’m in.

The location in the advertisement is an old high-rise on the edge of town, about a thirty minute drive from my apartment, twenty if I speed. I get there in twelve.
I look around at the other people already here. I count about thirty people total, plus some spectators standing apart from the group. Of the self-proclaimed psychics, most are women, and the majority of those women are over 60. Out of all of them, I only sense spiritual power from five others – three girls, one shriveled old woman, and a teenage boy who looks like he’s having second thoughts about this whole thing. Out of them, the old woman has the strongest aura – the boy and two of the girls have very weak auras, and the other girl is average at best. Cute, though. I make a mental note to ask for her number later (and maybe one of these days I’ll actually follow through on those mental notes, too).

I turn my attention to the high-rise, and feel my body give an involuntary shudder. There is definitely something there. Describing the sensation is as impossible as describing the feeling of cold to someone with no nerves, but it’s a feeling any exorcist will instantly recognize: the sensation of a powerful spirit nearby, or maybe multiple spirits. Whatever is inside that building, though, it’s far stronger than the average ghost. Not the most powerful I’ve encountered, but definitely in the top five. I mutter a protective spell under my breath, and look back at the other psychics I noticed.

The old woman has definitely noticed. She’s speaking to one of the girls – her granddaughter? – in a serious tone. The other two girls seem unnerved, but they don’t appear to have realized exactly why. The boy apparently made his exit while I was distracted. Probably a good choice.
“Fools.” I jump. Someone came up beside me while I was distracted. I turn to look at the speaker. He’s tall, and the sort of guy I’d describe as “generically handsome”. Jet-black hair frames his green eyes, and I get the uncomfortable feeling that he can see every bad thing I’ve ever done. He smirks, and gives a slight bow, tipping his black hat. All his clothes are black, I notice – black pants, black tie, black suit. There’s a pin of some sort on his suit, over his heart – a black bird within a red circle, surrounded by shadowy flames. He gives me an emotionless smile. “Pardon me. I was not referring to you, of course.” His voice is low and silky, with a vague accent I can’t quite trace. “You feel it, do you not?” He nodded towards the high-rise. “This is more than they can handle.”

I feel a sudden chill. “You mean the spirit in there?” He smirks again. “Indeed. The sponsor of this event seems to have summoned these people to their doom, though I shan’t say whether or not he realizes it.” He gives a faint chuckle. “And these fools that attend…how many of them truly believe themselves to have powers? How many are simply scam artists, who do not even believe in spirits at all?” He raises an eyebrow. “And how many genuinely want to free the poor souls trapped within? They are the most foolish of all.”

I take a step back, away from him, but he doesn’t seem any farther away. “I don’t feel any power from you, either.” I mutter. It’s not entirely true – I sense something, but I’m not quite sure what. He laughs again. “Indeed. But while I may not have the gift, I do have knowledge. I can recognize the telltale signs of the supernatural, perhaps even better than any psychic.” He grins. It’s a cold, predatory grin. “You, though…You certainly have the gift, Miss Kia. I look forward to seeing it in action.” The air around me feels heavy. “How do you know my name?” I ask. In response, he laughs again. “Is that so odd? Well, in the interest of fairness, I shall introduce myself.” His voice has a mocking tone to it. “I am a businessman, of sorts. You may call me Frost. It’s not my name, but it’s good enough.” With that, he gives an exaggerated bow. I don’t know how to respond, so I turn to look at the high-rise. When I look back, he’s gone.

After a few more minutes, the doors of the building open, and everyone is ushered in by a haggard-looking woman. We’re shown into a dimly-lit lobby and told to make ourselves comfortable. I select an old wooden chair with purple cushions. As I sit down, a cloud of dust rises out, triggering a sneezing fit.

I look around the room. Well furnished, but run down. The furniture looks antique, but not in good enough condition to be worth anything. The floral wallpaper has started to peel, revealing walls of rotting wood. Only one of the three cobweb-ridden chandeliers actually provides any light, and not much of it. 

An old wooden door in the back of the room opens, and a man strolls in. He’s a tall, lanky man, with pale skin that makes me think of a street mime. He walks strangely, like his movements are all exaggerated. He wears a tailored suit, the sort you’d expect from a government employee, or maybe a Mafia enforcer.

The man looks around the room, then claps his hands loudly. It echoes around the cramped space, causing dust to cascade from the ceiling. “Hello, everyone!” His voice reminds me of a children’s TV show host – false excitement mixed with condescension. “I’m your host for this little competition, and I’d like to explain how this will work. First, I’m going to have you come up here one at a time and demonstrate your abilities to me. If you can convince me you have psychic powers, you’ll be granted the master key to this building. Bring me proof that there’s a spirit here, and the money is yours! First come, first served, as it were – once the prize is claimed, that’s it.” He smiles. It’s clearly not an expression he’s accustomed to making, because he looks less like he’s happy and more like the Joker. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Frost in the shadows, leaning against a wall. Combined with his all-black ensemble, the darkness renders him all but invisible. He notices me looking and smirks.

The host calls the first person forward. An elderly woman shuffles over to him and kneels in the center of the room. She begins mumbling to herself, then jumps to her feet and stares forward, her eyes bulging. “Who dares disturb my rest?” she asks, her voice ragged. I sigh to myself. This woman has clearly learned everything she thinks she knows about psychics from movies. The host seems to know this too. He shoos the old woman away, interrupting her performance. She curses at him as she walks out.

The next person fails in a similar way. Then the next, and the next. Finally, the host calls up one of the girls I sensed power from earlier. She walks up to the host and closes her eyes in meditation. I hear muttering from the people nearby as she stands silently, her body rigid. My suspicion was correct – she is completely untrained. She doesn’t know how to use her powers. Nonetheless, it seems like she has indeed made contact with something, because she begins to shiver. A moment later, she collapses, unconscious. Several people rush forward to help her, and she is carried out. I look around for Frost, and see him grinning. He’s enjoying this.

I hear the girl’s friend asking if she will be OK. I want to reassure her, tell her that the girl only collapsed because she was inexperienced, but before I can, our host calls me forward.
I look around the room, then close my eyes. Ignore the outside. Ignore the living. Shut out all outside noise. Don’t think of anyone else. Nobody is watching me. Nobody is listening. I am alone. Reach out. Feel the spiritual energy around me. Follow the current. Find the source. Find-
Something grabs me. Something dark, hateful. Suffocating. I feel myself being pulled from my body, my soul screaming in agony. I let out an involuntary yell and jump backwards, crashing into a nearby pillar and falling to the floor. I open my eyes to see everyone staring. Someone mutters something about “bad acting”. They think I’m just pretending. I have to prove myself. I get to my feet, feeling that my legs may suddenly give out.

“Avane.” I begin, uttering a charm of sight. The influence is still closing around me, pushing at me. This will expose it to everyone, if only for a moment. “Kevis. Elemai. Torev Narei Akanel. Ov Hatan. Delas!” I make a symbol with my hands, a gesture representing the Route of Souls, a concept from ancient myth referring to the pathway to the next world. I don’t actually believe in that mythology, but I can’t deny the symbol is usually effective. And it is effective now.
Around my body, shadowy images appear. First, they are merely smoky tendrils, but then they take the form of countless hands, reaching out for my body. The hands, as if sensing their visibility, retract suddenly into the ceiling and vanish – along with all light in the room.
Someone screams. Then another voice joins them, and then another. Before long the entire room is panicking. I press myself against the pillar, hoping I won’t be trampled if the crowd tries to run for the door.

“SILENCE!” The voice of our host rings out, overpowering the screaming. “Please, calm yourselves, everyone.” A light appears, illuminating his skeletal figure. He has drawn a flashlight from one of his pockets, and now shines it around the room, before focusing the beam at me. The light is almost blinding, rendering him an indistinct silhouette. “I am quite impressed.” The shadows on his face writhe as he contorts his mouth into a smile. “But I cannot accept that demonstration alone as proof.”

I resist the urge to slap him. “Why not?” I ask, as politely as I can. It doesn’t come out sounding very polite. He shrugs slightly. “Call me a skeptic. I’d just like to see a bit more of your ‘powers’. If you do possess psychic powers, surely you can do more?” He smirks slightly. I really don’t like him. The lights are still out, but I can feel everyone else staring at me. “Fine. How about this, then: I go exorcise the ghost. You can see the actual exorcism. Those are usually pretty flashy, so that should be proof enough, OK? But in return, you pay me my standard exorcism fee along with the prize money.” I stand up as tall as I can and try to look strong, a gesture that would probably look more impressive if I were taller than 5’5’’. He grins. “Very well.” He reaches into a pocket and pulls out a rusty key. “This will let you into any room in this building. I shall remain here and observe the rest of these good people in their own attempts. Any of them that succeed, I will send after you. We’ll make a race of it.” With that, he flicks off the flashlight, leaving me in darkness once more.

I stumble through the darkness, my only guide the flashlight app on my phone. Once again, I regret buying the cheapest model they had, because the light barely even reaches the floor. They say that evil spirits can drain the light from their surroundings, and while that may be true, I’m pretty sure that in this case it’s mostly just a crappy phone. First order of business for me, then, should be to get the lights back up. I assume there’s a fuse box in the basement, so I start looking for a way down.

I walk slowly, cautiously. The rotted floorboards creak loudly with every step, and my mind fills with images of the floor giving way and sending me plummeting into an endless black abyss. I flick my flashlight across the walls, exposing thick lines of black mold and peeling, yellowed paint. Foul-smelling dust billows from the floor with each step I take, and the shuffling sounds of unseen rodents occasionally emerge from the walls. I feel a cobweb become tangled in my hair, and I pray that the spider wasn’t hitching a ride.

“Looking for the basement?” I make a strangled squeaking sound and jump higher than I ever remember jumping before, dropping my phone to the floor. A pale, well-manicured hand picks up the phone and holds it aloft, the light from the screen illuminating Frost’s face. “I thought you might need directions.” He hands the phone back to me, smirking. “W-“ I stumble over the words. “Why are you following me?” He shrugs in response. “The same reason I do anything: it amuses me.” He chuckled. “As for the basement, you’ll want the third door on the left. The steps down are quite narrow, so watch your step.” He leans against the wall, somehow finding the one spot not covered in mold or cobwebs. “Why do you know so much about this place?” I ask. He shrugs. “Who can say? Perhaps I just enjoy reading architectural plans for old buildings. Perhaps I sent a friend to explore this place last night. Perhaps I’m actually the owner of the building. Personally, I find possibilities far more interesting than facts.” I stare at him a moment longer, then turn and start walking. After taking a few steps, I turn around and shine the light behind me. As expected, he’s gone.

I turn back the way I was walking and grope my way down the hall, ears straining for any stray noise. As I near the midway point of the hall, I feel a sudden chill. I shine my light around, and see a rusted metal door to my left. I look behind me. Two doors. This one is the basement, then. Time to go down.

I push open the heavy door, a horrible screeching noise filling the hall as the rusty hinges resist me. I squeeze my way through, and find myself at the top of a long, narrow metal stairway. On all sides, rusted metal walls push in on me. I step down carefully, trying to sense any malicious presences. The chill surrounding me grows even colder, and the light of my phone begins to flicker. Rather than risk damaging the battery, I flick the light off, and focus on feeling my way down. I can feel several dark presences flitting about, but none of them the presence I felt earlier. These are lesser spirits, then, drawn here by the malice of whatever is waiting for me up above.

It’s a funny thing about basements – they really do attract ghosts, at least the basements that actually go underground. I’ve heard several theories about why this is, but in the end the simple fact is that they do. 

Knowing this fact doesn’t make me any more comfortable. I brace myself and take another step forward. Unfortunately, I’ve made a mistake – under the assumption that there are more steps before I reach the bottom, I’ve overextended my step. I stumble forward and fall to the dusty, ice-cold floor. My phone falls from my hand and skids across the floor. And the air becomes even colder.

I brace myself against the floor and hold my breath. I was careless, and now I’ve drawn the attention of the spirits. A faint moaning sound fills the air as the darkness begins to press in on me. I want to speak a protective charm, but right now there’s still a chance I haven’t been noticed. If I speak, that chance disappears. And depending on the number of ghosts here, a charm may well be ineffective. My eyes dart from side to side, but all I see is utter blackness. I feel my heart beating hard against my ribs, my chest pressing into the freezing floor. I try to take a deep breath, but cannot. The air is like a solid mass, somehow both ice cold and yet oppressively hot. My lungs burn as I struggle for breath, my heart pounding harder and harder. In the back of my mind, my inner voice of reason tries to tell me that I’m fine. Intellectually, I know the air is fine. But my body doesn’t believe my mind. I see spots appearing before my eyes, lighting the darkness in pulses of blue and green. I can hear my blood pounding in my ears, and I start to believe that the spirits can hear my heartbeat.

I feel a scream begin to build in my throat, and bite down hard on my tongue. I need to control myself, to calm down, or I have no chance of survival. I remind myself that I am an experienced exorcist. These are just weak ghosts. I can handle them. I almost believe myself, too. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see it – a faint blue light. I turn my head slowly, and squeeze my eyes shut, trying to clear the spots from my vision. When I open them again, the light is still there. I smile faintly. My phone survived the fall. Cautiously, I reach out with my senses, checking if any spirits are lingering around it. I don’t feel anything. Slowly, I begin to crawl along the floor, almost numb to the cold. After what seems like an eternity, I stretch out my hand and wrap it around my phone, sliding it into my pocket. Fighting back a sigh of relief, I pull myself to a seated position. Somehow, having my phone back is enough to comfort me.

I slowly work my way to a standing position and close my eyes, shutting out all distractions. I reach out with my senses, trying to feel where the ghosts are. In my mind, I try to make a mental map of the basement. I don’t know exactly what shape the basement is or how large, but I can at least try to pinpoint the spirits. I sense four – no, five – of them, moving aimlessly around. I press one hand against the wall. If I just keep to the wall and avoid the spirits, hopefully I’ll find the fuse box before long.

I take a step forward and walk directly into a concrete pillar. I stumble backwards, my head pounding. And I feel the attention of the spirits move to focus on me. Fighting back a rush of panic – and dizziness – I drop to my knees, spreading my focus out. To my left, I feel an intense malice flying towards me.

“Ahir!” I exclaim the charm, surprised by my own volume. It echoes around the dark basement. Placing my left hand atop my right, I intertwine my ring and index fingers and shove my hand in the direction of the incoming malice. “Ahir ta koveh iteh. Lein giien falrijo.” One of these days I’d like to look up what these charms actually mean, as they don’t seem to relate to any known language. But I cannot deny their effectiveness. As I hold my hand outward and continue muttering the charm, I feel the dark presence before me fading. But I can’t rest yet. Four more spirits, coming at me from all sides.

I push my feet off the floor and run to my right, hoping to throw them off. Miraculously avoiding running into any other pillars, I skid to a stop and spin around again, preparing another charm. Then, I notice it, a faint red light off to my right. Reaching out my hand, I feel the cold, wet stone of the basement wall, then metal. The fuse box. Keeping my senses sharp in case the spirits attack, I reach around until I feel a switch, and pull it.

Instantly, a bright light illuminates the room. I see four vaguely human shapes floating, confused, in the air around me. “Asi ghen fotora, lumi no torosi ka bel roh quiti.” I speak this charm as boldly as I can, extending my left hand towards the spirits as I cross the fingers of my right hand into a shape resembling the Vulcan salute. With a bizarre hissing sound, the remaining spirits vanish from my senses. I hope I have given them some measure of peace, but if I can’t deal with the source of the darkness in this building I’m sure they’ll remain trapped here, in this disturbingly moldy basement. How long has this structure been empty?

Regardless, my job isn’t to question. All I need to do is exorcise the source of the evil. With the power back, hopefully that will be a bit easier. Somehow, though, I feel like the real trouble has yet to begin.

I groan and lean back, stretching. My shoulder pops far more loudly than I expected, causing me to flinch. Before the ghosts can begin to reappear, I turn and climb back up the stairs, half expecting to see Frost waiting at the top. But the only thing that greets me is more dust. Fighting back a sneeze, I turn and look around. I had hoped that the building would be less disturbing with the lights on, but I was wrong. In the dim light, every object casts disturbing shadows that seem to flit across the moldy, rotted floor and walls with each flicker of the old, dying lights. The few bulbs that don’t seem about ready to die are instead busying themselves with creating the most obnoxious buzzing noise I’ve ever heard, and the addition of this noise and light seems to have disturbed the many insects and rodents nesting in the walls. A small mouse runs over my foot, causing me to yelp and jump backwards. I trip over my own feet and crash into the wall. With a sickly crunching sound, the wall gives way, and I feel myself falling into blackness. I barely have time to scream before I hit the ground, and the world fades.

I open my eyes slowly. All I can see is a tiny pinprick of light about thirty feet above me – the hole I fell through. My head is pounding, and a loud ringing echoes in my ears. My whole body is bruised and battered, but miraculously I don’t seem to have broken any bones. I climb unsteadily to my feet and check my pocket. Another miracle – my phone somehow avoided being shattered into a million pieces.   

I flick on my phone’s flashlight and look around. I seem to have fallen into a sort of storage room. Rotted wooden crates are stacked haphazardly around, along with some newer-looking boxes marked with the logo of the Thorne Corporation. At first, I don’t find anything odd about this – Thorne is the biggest producer of industrial and technological equipment, after all – but then something strikes me: this building has clearly been abandoned for decades. Why, then, does this underground room have equipment from a company that’s only existed for a few years?

Curiously, I approach one of the crates and try to lift the lid. No good, it seems to be locked. What would be worth hiding down here? I look around again, and spot a door in the far wall. It looks far newer and more well-maintained than any of the other doors I’ve seen in this place. Slowly, I approach it, and press my ear against the door. On the other side, I hear a faint electronic humming, but nothing to indicate the presence of any humans, and I don’t sense any particular spiritual presence nearby.

I cautiously press the door open, and enter into a stark-white room. Bright lights fill the area, almost blinding me. A series of computers sit on a plastic desk, connected to all sorts of expensive-looking equipment and monitors. One of the monitors catches my eye. On it is displayed an infrared image of the chamber where our host had tasked me to demonstrate my power. The image blinks, and changes to a depiction of an unfamiliar hallway, where the old woman and her granddaughter are slowly making their way, the girl in front, guiding her grandmother.

My breath catches in my throat. Someone has been watching us. I don’t know why, but we’ve clearly been set up. But before I can decide how to react, my attention is drawn to the monitor once more. Behind the old woman, I see something shift in the shadows. The old woman gestures to her granddaughter, signaling to her to move faster, and the darkness in the hallway seems to rush forwards towards them. And then…the camera blinks off.

I shake the monitor, as if that will bring back the image. No luck. I need to hurry. The two of them are in danger. The old woman might have decent spiritual power, but her age will leave her slow and unable to react in time. And her granddaughter is too inexperienced to have any chance against anything but a weak spirit. If there are more than one or two spirits there, the two of them are doomed.

I turn and look around for an exit. Spying a door on the left-hand wall, I dash towards it and fling it open. I run through, and find myself back in the basement. Behind me, the door swings shut, looking from this side like just part of the basement wall.

I brace myself, expecting the spirits to reappear and attack me. But nothing happens. The basement is cold and empty, devoid of any abnormal presence. This worries me. Ghosts, in my experience, tend to find a single area to haunt and just stay there. If they’ve left, that means one of two things: they’ve been fully banished, or something has summoned them elsewhere. I doubt that anyone here has the ability to completely exorcise them, at least not with that dark aura still lingering over the building. But if the spirit responsible for this malicious presence is strong enough to control lesser spirits… I feel my throat begin to tighten, as if my body is preparing to vomit. If the spirit here has that sort of power, then we’re all in far worse danger than I’d thought.

No time to worry. The old woman and her granddaughter might already be dead. I need to hurry and find them. I dash up the stairs, nearly tripping at least twice, and run down the hallway, skidding past the hole in the wall created by my fall. I feel my heart pounding against my bruised ribs, my battered arms and legs aching, a pulsing ache inside my skull. No time. Need to move.
I remember the small icon in the lower-right corner of the monitor. Third floor, hallway D. I need to find the stairs.

I dash through a massive cobweb, swatting at my head to dislodge any lingering spiders as I continue to run. There. The stairs. I fling open the door and run up the stairs two at a time, hearing the rotted wood creak dangerously beneath my feet.
I run through the door at the top, spots filling my vision, and dash down the nearest hall. The lights on this floor have not aged as well as the lights on the first floor, and I struggle to make out where I’m going. One more floor to go. Need to find the next staircase.

I run into a promising-looking room and trip over something. I crash to the floor in a heap.
Coughing, struggling to breathe, I pull myself into a sitting position and look around. I’ve tripped over the rim of an old carpet, which must have looked quite ornate when it was new. Now, moth-eaten and covered in dust and mold, I can’t even imagine what it originally looked like. The room is illuminated by a single cobweb-covered chandelier, its dim light flickering faintly, leaving much of the room filled with shadow. A single wooden table sits in the center of the room, a wooden chair on each side. One of the chairs is empty. In the other, calmly sipping a cup of tea, is Frost.

“Quite an entrance.” He says, his smirk barely visible in the dim light. I struggle to my feet. “No…no time. I need…need to…” I can’t get the words out. There’s not enough air in my lungs. I hear Frost’s distinctive chuckle. “I doubt you can help the two of them in your current state. Sit. Take a deep breath. You have time. Let’s talk.” I don’t have the energy to argue. Something in his voice makes me feel as if everything he says is obviously true. A small voice in the back of my mind is telling me that he can’t be trusted, but it’s as if my thoughts are drifting through a thick fog. Idly, almost dispassionately, I wonder if I have a concussion. I sit in the chair opposite Frost.

“You’ve provided me with quite a bit of entertainment so far, Miss Kia. And I have high hopes for the rest of the night, as well.” He smirks. I try to respond, but my thoughts are too scattered. In the end, all I’m able to say is “Where did you get that tea?” Not the question I wanted to ask. Frost chuckles again. “I have my ways. Let’s talk about something more important, shall we? Let’s talk about the reason you’re here.” I struggle to collect my thoughts. “I’m here…because of that advertisement. Prove the supernatural and get money.” Frost shakes his head. “Is that so? Seems to me that your host is already quite certain that the supernatural is indeed a reality. After all, he went to all the trouble to entice spiritually-sensitive individuals to come here, separated you, and set you loose in a building containing quite a powerful Amalgam.” I feel my blood run cold. My lungs feel like they’re filled with ice.

An Amalgam. An exorcist term for a ghost made up of multiple other spirits. Normally, one dead human equals one spirit, but in cases where large numbers of people die all at once in close proximity to each other – such as in a horrible accident – their spirits may cluster together and fuse into an Amalgam. Amalgams are far more dangerous than normal spirits, capable of summoning lesser spirits to themselves and absorbing them to become even stronger. And with the dozens or even hundreds of fragments of individual wills thrashing in torment within the spirit, an Amalgam is truly unpredictable. I’ve only faced one before, a fairly weak Amalgam, and even then I nearly died. If an Amalgam is here, a powerful one, then… “They sent us here to die.” I mutter. Frost grins. “Indeed. Or rather, they sent you here to be added to the Amalgam. Quite an interesting science project they’re running, wouldn’t you say? Creating powerful spirits for the purpose of weaponization.”

I can hear my blood pounding in my ears. My vision is black. My intestines are tied in a knot, and I feel bile rising in my throat. I feel my strength give out, and I collapse, my face pressed against the cold warped wood of the table. Frost continues to talk, calm and collected as ever. “So what will you do, Kia Awara? Will you play the hero? Exorcise the Amalgam, save your fellow exorcists, and bring the man waiting in the lobby to justice? Will you run? Or will you die, and become one of a thousand tortured souls trapped in a vortex of eternal agony? I look forward to seeing your performance.”

I take a deep breath, and lift my head up. The room is empty. I am alone.

In the sudden silence, the room feels far darker and colder than it had a moment earlier. Slowly, as if in a trance, I rise to my feet and turn back to the door. I still have somewhere to be. I step through the door and walk. The last few lights have gone out, and the hallway is pitch black, but somehow I know where I must go. I’m finally completely serious about this. No distractions. No diversions. And so my spiritual power has opened my mind. I close my eyes and continue walking, as though pulled by an invisible string. Stepping past a series of rooms, I place my hand on the handle of another metal door, and push it open. Up the stairs, my feet barely touching the steps. I step out into the hall, and hear a scream.

Snapped out of my trance, I turn and run down the hall, in the direction of the scream. This floor, like the one below, is fully dark, and as I run I smash my knee into a small table carelessly placed in the center of the hallway. I crash to the moldy carpet, cursing, and clamber back to my feet. Kicking the table away, I turn and run – well, limp quickly – in the direction of the scream.

Rounding a corner, I see the silhouettes of two people pressed against a wall, a swirl of transparent shapes undulating in the air before them. I quickly hold out my left hand, bending my ring finger downwards and pressing my thumb behind the knuckle of my index finder, as I turn the fingers of my right hand towards the floor and press my palms outwards. “MEKII!” I yell the charm as loud as I can, and see the floating shapes twist in on themselves. For an instant, everything is perfectly silent and still. Then, in a burst of shrieking winds, the shapes blast towards me at high speed. I dive down to the floor as the spirits fly past me. Rolling onto my back, I curl my spine forwards, reaching my arms towards the spirits once more. “Iiyili Atah Lesvi Ak-“ a sudden blast of cold darkness crashes into my chest, smothering the words of the charm within my throat. I hear, more than feel, one of my ribs snap, and feel a warm, metallic liquid in my mouth. I roll back onto my side, spitting blood to the floor, as a mass of cold hands grab me by my waist. I kick wildly, pushing myself against the wall. A sharp, stabbing pain erupts in my hip.

Through blurred eyes, I see five human shapes reaching out for me, and feel myself lifted into the air. I don’t even have time to scream before being hurled into the wall. Dust, bugs, and shards of rotted wood sprinkle down on me, and I squeeze my eyes shut before anything has a chance to land in them. With a horrid moaning scream, the ghosts fly towards me once more. I feel the rush of cold and pressure as the air is sucked away from me by the advancing malice. And then, I hear a pair of voices, old and young, calm and panicked, but speaking in unison. Between the howling of the spirits and the pounding of my own heart, the words are unintelligible, but I know them to be some sort of charm. The pressure above me lifts, and once again my consciousness fades.

I dream.

At least, I think it’s a dream. When it comes to the supernatural, it can be difficult to tell.
I’m standing in a dimly-lit room. Looking around I see it to be an office, well-furnished with expensive wooden furniture and velvet-cushioned chairs. On one wall is a simple calendar, and I notice the date to be nearly two months ago. This is the past, then?

Behind the desk sits a tall, thin man. His long, narrow face is clean-shaven and wrinkled, with pronounced, high cheekbones and thin lips. His pale, baleful eyes look out from behind thin silver glasses, perched atop a long, sharply-pointed nose. His grey hair is long and tangled, reaching past his shoulders. He wears an expensive brown suit, but one that has been weathered by many years of use.

On the desk in front of him is a golden nameplate, but for some reason the letters are meaningless to me.

Across from him sits another man, a man I recognize. Our host, the man responsible for luring us here, to perish as a sacrifice to strengthen the Amalgam.

I realize the old man is speaking. His voice is strong and emotionless, the voice of a man who can order hundreds to their deaths without batting an eye. I concentrate on trying to pick up his words.

“I’ve just gotten off the phone with Agent R. The Fleur Project has failed. This presents an opportunity for you.” His eyes narrow even further, until his eyes are barely a sliver. “Agent R is the sort of man who always has two plans, one that he is given and one that furthers his own interests. I have no doubt that he is concealing information about what occurred at the Fleur Asylum. And so, while he recklessly pursues his own agenda, you have the opportunity to impress me. Show me that your Amalgam will do what I need, and Agent R’s position is yours.”
The other man stands and bows. “Of course, Mister Thorne. You will not be disappointed.”
He turns and walks out of the room. I feel my consciousness returning, as one of the most powerful men in the world reclines back in his chair. “We shall see, Agent L. We shall see.”

The sudden pain throughout my body provides a clue that I am now awake.

I blink, my vision blurry. A pale light illuminates me, the dust sparkling in my muddled vision. Two figures are vaguely visible above me. Slowly, the forms take shape, revealing the girl and her grandmother, concerned expressions on their faces. The girl holds a small flashlight in her left hand, slightly pushing back the darkness.

“Uhhh.” I groan, slowly forcing myself to a seated position. My vision briefly darkens, and I feel pain shoot through my chest and back.

“Careful!” The girl says, placing her hand on my shoulder. I wince. “What happened?” I ask, or at least attempt to. It comes out sounding closer to “Whaumped?” “You distracted the ghosts long enough for grandma and I to recover.” The girl says. Her voice sounds like its coming from a long distance, and possibly being spoken into a block of cheese. The incoherence of that last simile suggests to me that I may have hit my head harder than I’d thought. “We were able to exorcise the ghosts while they were attacking you. I thought…I thought you’d…died…” the girl’s shoulders heave. Her body shudders, and her grandmother places her hands soothingly on her shoulders. She’s clearly overwhelmed. “You…you need… need to get out of here.” I mutter, breaking into a coughing fit as I speak. Once I catch my breath, I try again. “There’s…there’s an…am..agm…amal…” I start coughing again. “Don’t talk.” The grandmother says, her voice stern but warm. “We’re leaving. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

“N…no…” I force the words out. “Need to…to…stop…I…I have…to…” My vision blurs again. I try to struggle to my feet, but a sudden spike of pain shoots down my spine, sending me to my knees. My vision blackens again, and my mind is lost in a red haze.

“Go.” My voice is barely a whisper. “It’s…it’s targeting me. I have to be the one to…to face it.” I brace myself on the wall and slowly, agonizingly, drag myself to my feet. “You…you need…to…to find the other exorcists.” My breath is slowly, if painfully, returning. “Take care of the other spirits here. I don’t…don’t want the Amalgam summoning help. Make sure everyone is safe. And don’t…don’t let that man…get away.” Ignoring their protests, I close my eyes and walk, reaching out with my mind, moving towards the malicious presence above. A sudden flash of pain informs me that I have just walked into the wall, and I decide that I should probably keep my eyes open. Leaving the girl and her grandmother looking worriedly after me, I walk down the hall and slowly step through a door into the next stairwell.    

As I step through the threshold, I hear footsteps approaching behind me. Turning, I see the girl following behind me. “Please, wait!” She runs up to me. “You’re hurt, please-“ I shake my head. “It’s fine. For whatever reason, I’ve been chosen for this. And I’ve exorcised powerful spirits before. As long as you and the others can clear out the rest of the lesser spirits and then get out, I can handle this. Please. Stay with your grandmother.” Saying that many words leaves me slightly winded, but the girl seems to understand. She nods, then turns. “Wait.” She stops, and looks back at me, curious. I try to choose my words carefully. “There’s someone else here. Not one of the exorcists, but I don’t think he’s working with the ones who trapped us here either. He’s…I’m not sure, but if you run into him you should be careful, OK? He’s wearing an all-black suit with some sort of bird symbol over his heart. Just…I don’t think he can be trusted, so be careful.” She nods, then turns and goes back down the stairs to her grandmother.

If all goes well, the other exorcists will clear out the ghosts on the remaining floors, meaning I can focus on reaching the Amalgam. I can still sense it in my mind, a writhing, hate-filled maelstrom above me. The highest floor, most likely. Thankfully this stairwell seems to go all the way up, but I can’t be sure. Only one way to find out.

My breath is ragged, and I still see a few spots floating before me, but my strength is definitely returning, and I seem to have become mostly numb to the pain. That’s either a good thing or a sign that I’m near death. I choose to be optimistic.

As I continue to climb, the air slowly grows cold and thin. Even with my eyes open, the stairwell has become pitch black, and the light from my phone seems to be instantly swallowed up by the darkness. I brace one hand against the wall and climb as slowly as I can, carefully feeling out the next step with my feet, but even so I nearly fall several times. Once I hit my head on something cold and wet protruding from the wall, and let out a short yell, but the sound is instantly absorbed by the icy blackness enveloping me.

I climb.

Time loses all meaning. Seconds stretch out forever, a black abyss of endless, slow movement, silent and cold. My body shudders with each movement, my muscles struggling to propel me ever upward. A cold, sickly sweat coats my flesh, and once or twice a sudden coughing fit nearly causes me to topple backwards. On these wet stone steps, falling would be fatal. Worse than fatal – if I die here, my soul will surely be absorbed by the Amalgam, doomed to spend eternity in a writhing vortex of wailing agony.

I climb.

An intense pressure surrounds everything. I’ve only felt this sort of pressure once before – in an old mine in Nevada, recently reopened under supervision of the Thorne Corporation, where a sudden earthquake had killed the workers and unearthed a Hellgate, one of the countless stone doorways, older than any known civilization, that lie scattered around the world. The Hellgate had been open, if only slightly, and the entire mine was filled with the distinctive orange and purple glow of Hellgate Radiation, the mysterious energy responsible for the existence of ghosts. I was one of five exorcists hired by Thorne to push back the ghosts of the miners and rebury the Hellgate before the radiation could spread, and even with all our charms and protection the immense pressure of the Hellgate nearly crushed me.

Here, in this stairwell, I feel as though I’m back at the entrance to that mine, the faintest traces of that unspeakable energy leaking out and warping my soul. An Amalgam is nothing compared to a Hellgate, of course – it would take tens of thousands of ghosts to equal the energy output of even a mostly-closed Hellgate – but the pressure is unmistakable. This Amalgam is even more powerful than I had feared.

I want to speak a charm, but all sound is absorbed by the darkness, pressing in from every side, and I have an irrational feeling that if I open my mouth, that darkness will flow in and fill me as well, choking me and hollowing me out until I’m nothing but a vessel for the malice of the dead.
I climb.

I smell metal. The frigid air brims with electricity, frozen, waiting to be set off. A sudden sense of great distance envelops me, like I’m standing atop a cliff so tall that the Earth resembles a marble. The top step. And beyond it, a horror from the grave awaits me.
It feels as though I’m moving through molasses. The air itself is like a solid mass of ice, pushing back against me. It takes all my strength to climb up that last step, and push open the rusty door.

I step through, and find myself in a large, empty room. The only light comes from a flickering red emergency light, nearly drained dry from exposure to the nightmare lurking nearby. The silence gives way to an electrical humming, an irritating, disorienting buzz that seems to come from behind me no matter which way I turn. In the dim red light, I see that the dust on the floor has been disturbed, like a large table or similar object was recently removed. This must have been a meeting room before the building was abandoned, then.

As I step forward, the air before me seems to warp and bend, and then, as if it had been there along…the Amalgam appears before me. I feel a sudden urge to vomit, and the ache in my bones returns in full force. I feel the air being quickly sucked from my lungs, a cold wind in my mouth. My vision twists, the world turning into something from a funhouse mirror. The chill in the air is now matched by an agonizing burning within my blood. There is an electrical crackle in the air, a faint orange and purple glow across my skin. The thing before me is a pulsing mass of hands and screaming faces, undulating and twisting, agonized faces breaching the surface of the mass only to be dragged back in by countless twisted arms, replaced by another face, and another, one morphing into the next, torn and tortured by the endless writhing hands.

The Amalgam.

I stumble backwards quickly, pointing my palms outward, fingers facing the ground. “Evei Kla-“  The Amalgam swarms towards me, endless hands grasping desperately, indistinct faces moaning and screaming in torment. I roll to the side, gasping and choking as my broken rib hits the floor. Shutting my eyes against the pain, I try to stagger to my feet, turning my left hand upside down and outwards as I point my thumb and pinkie in the general direction of the Amalgam. “T’si hveti!” I stumble over the words, feeling a small trickle of blood leave my mouth, but they still have an effect, as the Amalgam recoils with a sound like a thunderclap.

I make it to my feet, spots appearing before my eyes. The Amalgam shivers and writhes, spinning rapidly as it flies towards me, a twitching blob of arms and mouths and hollow empty eyes. I brace myself and push my arms forward. “Hol’Itra Zjui Liriti Asza!” I take a step forward, and another, muttering under my breath. My breath is dry, ragged, my voice the buzzing of a dying bee. In the back of my skull, I feel a slight lightening of the pressure. It recedes, slowly, then more quickly, as my fellow exorcists dispel the spirits from the other floors and make their way out. The malicious aura is weakened, but the Amalgam remains, and it is focused entirely on me.
I continue moving forward, feeling the clutching hands grasping at me, the frigid breath of the damned cutting through my innards. The spirits rush me, their arms reaching down my throat to stifle the words. I continue muttering, my eyes closed, my heartbeat slow and quiet. My movements are now almost imperceptible, fighting against the tornado of screams pressing at me from all sides.

And then, suddenly…silence. An immense pressure, like falling into a black hole, then nothing, a fragile calm, electricity pulsing through the air. I dive to the ground, pressing my hands over my ears, as a fierce gale fills the room with the sound of a gunshot. And then, nothing.
Slowly, shakily, I climb to my feet once more. The darkness has lessened, the soft red glow of the emergency light now spreading gently across the floor. The malice and pressure is all but gone, faded into the background hum of the world. I take a slow breath, the cool night air filling my bruised chest. I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but at least a day. But the spirit is gone. Its suffering is over. My job, however, is yet to end.

As I watch, the door opposite me slowly opens, and he walks in, silhouetted in pale red light. Tall, gaunt, an expression of barely disguised rage upon his skeletal face. Agent L. The man responsible for this.

“Well, well, well. I see.” His voice is low and snakelike, a hiss of dark contempt. “It seems you succeeded in exorcising the spirit within this building. Well done.”
“How many.” My voice, too, is low. Unlike him, I make no effort to conceal my anger.
“Pardon?” He asks, not moving from the doorway.
“How many deaths? How many people did you sacrifice to create that thing?”
His hand moves to his pocket. “I haven’t the faintest idea-“
“Shove it.” I spit the words at him. Behind my back, I slowly curl the fingers of my right hand, extending the ring and pinkie of my left. “I know what you did…Agent L.”
“I see.” There is a glint of metal from his side, as his thin hand wraps itself around the pistol. “And what do you intend to do with this new knowledge, little girl?”
My voice is quiet, low. “Nothing. I won’t do anything. But the dead have long memories, Agent L. And they never forgive.”

In a flash, his pistol is in his hand, pointed at me. In the same instant, I speak. The charm I speak is forbidden, dark, the antithesis of what it means to be an exorcist. And it works. Before the words have fully left my mouth, the air around Agent L twists, and as the crimson light finally burns out completely, the dead surround him, enveloping him in their cold embrace. I hear a single shot, see the spark as it hits the ceiling above me. Then the spirits are gone, and him as well, dragged away to cold oblivion.

“Rest in peace.” Now, perhaps, the rage of the souls here is satisfied, and the darkness can fade away entirely. But that same darkness now drips down over my eyes, and the world vanishes.

When I come to, I am in a hospital bed. By my bedside is a card from the girl I’d met in the building. She’d waited outside with her grandmother, and when I didn’t come out, they’d come back to get me, and found me collapsed on the floor where I’d faced the Amalgam. They’d brought me to the hospital and left, though the girl had hastily written her number and email on the bottom of the card, with a request that I let her know when I’m feeling better.

The doctors tell me it was mostly exhaustion that finally took me down, and that I simply need rest. I sign a few papers, and prepare to leave. Apparently, my hospital bill was already covered, though the man who paid didn’t leave his name. I have a suspicion, though.

I head outside and hail a cab, making a mental note to go back to the building and collect my car tomorrow. As we drive, I flip through my unread messages on my phone. Three texts from Sarah, asking me to go shopping. A reminder for a dentist’s appointment. And…a message from my bank. $16700 was added to my account, courtesy of the Thorne Corporation, for ”Services Rendered.” Hush money, more like it. Regardless, I’ll accept it. I’m not stupid enough to try to fight Thorne on my own anyway.

The cab drops me off outside my apartment, and I stagger upstairs to my room. Unlocking the door, I prepare to collapse in my bed…and freeze. I know for a fact that the doors and windows were locked when I left, and they’re still locked now. Nobody but the landlord has the key, and he’d never someone other than me in without informing me first.

So…why? Why is there a box on my bed?

Slowly, with trembling hands, I pick it up. It’s heavy, made of smooth wood. It clearly has something in it, but I don’t see any sign of any way to open it. Turning it over, I see the note.
As thanks for the entertainment. You’ll know what to do when the time comes.

With a shudder, I place the box in a drawer and slam it shut.

Frost raised the teacup to his lips and took a slow sip, his face impassive, hiding his revulsion. He hated the taste of tea, but he had decided that it fit the persona he had adopted, and so he drank. Behind him, Ann Villae stood waiting, a tall, thin girl, her pale flesh nearly transparent, her eyes hidden behind her dark hair.

As if sensing the call coming, Frost reached over to his phone, placing it to his ear before it even began to ring.

“I was wondering when you would call.” Frost smirked, and gestured for Ann to refill the tea. “So, tell me, Mister Thorne…What can the Black Phoenix do for you?”


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“A ghost in your…earrings?” I do my best to sound skeptical, but honestly it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve heard today. It comes with the job, really.

The old woman nods. “I think they’re made of human bones!” I give her my best fake smile and hold out my hand. “Alright, let’s see them.” She removes her earrings and places them on my desk. I don’t sense anything from them. I lift them up to the light. Yep...Made in China. I place them on a little scale. Way too light to be bone. Obviously. Just another crazy woman who thinks her plastic dollar store clip-on earrings are haunted. Funnily enough, I’ve actually had people with the exact same issue come in before. Work here long enough and you eventually meet every lunatic in the city.

I hand the earrings back to her. “Sorry to tell you this, ma’am, but these earrings are completely ghost-free. You’ll have to look elsewhere for whatever’s been bothering you.” She puts them back on and looks blankly at me. “Ma’am?” She jumps. I guess she has a hard time focusing on much of anything. “Is there something else you need, ma’am?” “Oh, no, no, that’s all. How much do I owe you?” I shake my head. “We don’t charge for consultations, ma’am. Have a good night.” As I say that, I ring the little bell on my desk and nod behind the woman.

The woman turns around and yelps in surprise. Standing not an inch from her is my coworker, Ann. “Ann, show our customer out, please.” She nods silently, her wispy black hair covering most of her face, and moves towards the exit. Her tattered brown dress seems to hover slightly above the floor, giving the sense that Ann isn’t so much walking as she is gliding. Any movement of her legs is too subtle to see. The woman looks around and cautiously follows Ann out. “Thank you for visiting the Black Phoenix!” I call after her.

                Me and my Job

My name is Zachary Trinn. Twenty-three years old, part-time graduate student at the local university, part time burger flipper at an average fast food joint, and full time paranormal enthusiast. Every night, from 7 PM to 6 AM, I’m at my real job: The Black Phoenix Corp. I don’t know if we’re actually a corporation – if we are, I’ve never seen any evidence of it – but what I do know is this: We are the one and only source for supernatural knowledge and assistance. No, phone psychics don’t count. We’re actually serious about our stuff.

My main task here is to identify and catalog any cursed, possessed, or otherwise supernatural objects we obtain and place them in the appropriate part of the shop. Often they’ll just stay there forever, but sometimes an eccentric collector will want to buy one, or someone with a personal connection to them will come to reclaim them.

I handle another job, as well: Resurrections. Don’t get too excited – it’s not as good as it sounds. I can bring back any recently deceased animal (yes, humans are animals too. Get over yourself) as long as the body isn’t too damaged, but that never really ends well. We do our best to avoid any disasters – I always give customers strict instructions on caring for who or whatever I revive – but it never seems to work for long.

If the deceased is too damaged, but still recent, I still might be able to save them, with the aid of a local underground surgeon: Fira Cata, better known as Doctor Cutter. A strange woman with a disconcerting love for performing surgery (especially on herself), she may be the most talented doctor in the history of the world. Cancer? Sure, she’ll manually remove every single cancer cell from your body in less than half an hour, won’t miss a single one. Organ failure? She’ll have them running better than ever in a couple of minutes.  Someone dropped you into a meat grinder? She’ll put you back together.

That said, we don’t use her for resurrections that often. For one thing, she only works with humans (I asked her to help with a cat that had injured its leg once, and she actually asked me which end was the head), and reviving a human that’s been dead long enough for the soul to pack up and leave is all but impossible. So she’d only really be useful for reviving humans, and only those that have been dead a very short time, so that limits her usefulness to us. More importantly, she’s very picky, and will only perform an operation if it personally interests her. If it’s not something she considers a challenge, she has no qualms sending you away to die (or, in our cases, to stay dead). Since money isn’t of any interest to her (she receives all the funding she could want already, thanks to her “patron”), and since she couldn’t care less about human life, if she decides she doesn’t want to perform an operation, that’s that. I don’t like disappointing customers, so I don’t refer them to her too often. Plus, for some reason people tend to be creeped out by Dr. Cutter’s assistant (who Dr. Cutter has rather uncreatively named “Assistant). Personally, I think compound-eyed, eight-armed girls stitched together from various parts are rather aesthetically pleasing, but then again, look at what I do for my job.

I’m referring to the Black Phoenix, by the way. Not the burgers.

Other than that, I’m also in charge of customer relations. I’m still training our new hire, and Ann makes people extremely uncomfortable. So anyone affected by a curse, possession, etcetera, they all come to me. Sometimes it’s people who confuse schizophrenia with hauntings, sometimes it’s scammers trying to pull a fast one, but surprisingly often it’s someone with a genuine issue. That’s when I’m reminded why I love my job. Examining cursed paintings, saving the life of someone doomed to die, that’s just fun. That’s why I come to work every night, no matter how tired I am or how foul the weather is.

Honestly, there’s only one part of this job I really dislike: the pay, or lack thereof. The issue is, we never charge our clients any money. If we find it necessary to charge them, the payment is always something ... more abstract. Six hairs from their head, the petals of an eight-month-old rosebush, and an undamaged mirror made after 6:03 PM in March of 1983. Stuff like that. It’s got a purpose, but it doesn’t pay the bills. So if I want to eat, it’s back to flipping burgers.

            Ann and the Store

I really only have one coworker here, and that’s Ann. She’s a tall, frighteningly thin girl, her bones clearly visible through her chalk-white skin, and generally very silent. She’ll rarely start a conversation, and if you try to talk to her she’ll respond with as few words as possible. Her voice is barely louder than a whisper, and sounds as though she’s always close to dying of thirst. She always wears the same tattered brown dress, always has her long black hair covering her face, and never makes a sound when she moves. I suppose it’s no surprise people find her disturbing. She’s never made me feel that way though. She’s my one real friend.

Together, the two of us mind the Black Phoenix Corporation’s shop here in the city. It doesn’t seem like much at first – a dark side alley with a rickety metal staircase leading to an old door in the side of a building. But once inside, it’s a whole other world. The shop extends for over a city block in all directions, and that’s just the first floor. In the back of the store is an old wobbly elevator with no buttons. Only Ann and I know the trick to use it. Once you step in, the descent is long. Many minutes long, usually in pure darkness (sometimes a bright red glow comes from somewhere. I’ve never gotten around to figuring out what it is). I find it soothing.

At the bottom, you’ll find yourself confronted by a steel door with three levers beside it. Ann steps out before you, pulls the middle lever, and opens the door. Welcome to my office. If you pull the right lever, you end up in a storage room. The left, and the door leads to what I think is an old wax museum. I’ve never really felt like exploring it. It smells weird in there.

In the back of my office is one more door. That one is always locked, and only I have the key. It’s where I perform resurrections, and I never let anyone watch. Sometimes Ann will help me – locked doors never seem to keep her out anyway – but generally I do this part alone.
My actual office is quite Spartan. There’s my desk, my coffee maker (what would I do without it), whatever books I’m currently reading, and a little bell. Several bells like it are scattered throughout the store, and they all serve the same purpose: Ring them, and Ann will be there. I don’t know how she does it so fast, but the instant you ring it, turn around and she’s there. I guess that’s partially why people tend to think she’s a ghost, but I’m not convinced. She’s been here longer than I have, and I’m always finding little side passages or disused exhibition rooms. It’s possible she just knows the shortcuts. One thing is sure: you won’t get any answers from her. Whenever someone asks her anything about herself, she just gives a little smile and moves on.


There is one day a year that I hate my job, and that’s Halloween. Either people think we’re a good place to get decorations, or they try to prank us. Because we’re a store that deals with the supernatural, idiots that don’t realize the truth of what we do think it would be fun to try and scare us, or “intelligent” people, thinking themselves too smart to fall for any “superstition”, will try taking legitimately cursed objects to leave in their yard. Idiots.
This year, we decided not to bother. We’re closing up early.

I finish locking any doors that still have working locks and turn to Ann. She’s looking around listlessly. “You live here, right?” I ask. She doesn’t answer. “It’ll be boring by yourself. Let’s try to enjoy our Halloween.” She nods and glides over to me.

As I open the door to leave, I notice a man sitting on the metal steps outside. He’s tall, dressed in a pure black suit and black tie, with our logo (a black bird surrounded by shadowy flames) over his heart. Black hair frames his dark green eyes, the sort of eyes that see right through you. He stands up and tips his black hat at us.

I’ve seen him before, but I don’t know his name. He introduced himself to me as “Frost”, but in the same breath he informed me it wasn’t his real name. I’ve heard him call himself by a number of other Winter-themed aliases on occasion as well. Ann knows him much better than I do, and I suspect she might even know his real name. When Frost needs a driver – or someone to serve him tea - Ann is the one he calls. He certainly has some sort of power over her. Some sort of power over everyone, really. He’s the sort of person who has an aura about them.
Of course, the reason I answer to him is a bit simpler: he’s from Management. Or says he is, anyway. Assuming its true, that makes him my boss.

“Closing up so soon?” he asks, a faint smile on his lips. “Yeah, sorry.” I answer. “We got tired of dealing with the usual pranksters. We never really get any interesting customers on Halloween anyway.” He smiles wider at this. “Indeed, the spirits are occupied with other matters, as are those close to them. By all means, enjoy your night off.”

Our Day Out    

I decide to do something nice for Ann. I don’t have much money, but I have enough to treat her to a milkshake. I propose doing just that, and she agrees. We walk down a series of dirty alleyways, once or twice passing men obviously waiting for a victim to mug. They give us a wide berth. I wish I could say it’s because of how intimidating I am, but it’s probably Ann. Her presence unnerves everyone but me, it seems.

The nice thing about this city, something is always open. There’s a little burger place that I’ve gone to before that serves great milkshakes. Mom-and-Pop sort of thing, only a few tables, but the food and drink were good enough to win the owners the favor of the city’s self-styled “Crime Princess”. And once Aki Nōne favors you, you’ll always be in business.

We sit at a corner table and I order for us. I get a peanut butter milkshake, Ann gets vanilla-chocolate. I notice the wait staff giving me odd looks as I add ketchup, curry powder, and mustard to my milkshake, but that’s how I like it. Ann doesn’t speak, but she seems to be enjoying her milkshake. Her glass is empty before I’ve even had half of mine. I offer to buy her another and she accepts, requesting the same flavor.

She drinks this one a little more slowly, and we finish around the same time. I pay at the counter and we leave. “What do you want to do?” I ask. She says nothing. “Want to look at the decorations?” She nods.

We locate a nearby neighborhood and begin to wander, pausing to look at the plastic skeletons and witches place haphazardly around lawns and poorly-carved Jack-O-Lanterns, their candles blown out by the wind. There is a mild rain, icy droplets splashing onto the ground as a cold wind blows. Not many people will want to trick or treat tonight, but the weather doesn’t bother me or Ann. I’ve always found storms soothing, and I don’t think Ann even feels the cold.  “Did you ever go trick-or-treating?” I ask. She shakes her head slightly. “No… Did… you…?” I nod. “Favorite part of the year when I was a kid. I’d dress up as a vampire or zombie, knock on every door I saw, get sick from too much candy, rinse and repeat.”

Ann tilts her head. “What does… shampoo… have to.. do… with it?” I can’t help but laugh. “It’s a figure of speech, Ann. You can’t be that sheltered.” She smiles faintly, but doesn’t answer. I can’t help but wonder what her eyes look like. Are they bright and colorful, or sunken and grey? Ann seems to carry some heavy burden, some secret, but at the same time there is no doubt in my mind that she is happy. A quiet enigma, our Ann.

She notices me staring at her. “Is something wrong?” “No, sorry, just lost in thought.” I answer. She shrugs, and we continue to walk. Across the street, a stray cat hisses at Ann and dashes away. The rain is starting to pick up. My work suit is soaked through, and the doors of nearby houses are locking as the owners realize no children will be knocking on their doors this night. I glance at Ann. She looks completely dry. As if sensing my gaze, she turns to face me. “Do you…want... to leave?” she asks me. Ann often adds little pauses between words, like she simply doesn’t have enough oxygen to get through a sentence. “Somewhere a bit drier would be nice, yes.” I answer. She nods and glides off ahead of me. I guess she has someplace in mind.

I adjust my hat and follow after her. We make our way down the row of houses, Ann somehow avoiding every puddle and splash of rain. The cold droplets create a soothing patter of sound as they strike my hat, cool rivulets of water streaming down my hair and over my face. We walk slowly, silently, Ann in the lead, me following close behind. It’s a peaceful, meditative moment for me, a moment quickly shattered by a loud splat sound. Turning to look, I see a trio of teenagers determinedly egging one of the houses, trying to hurl their eggs without leaving the protective shield of their umbrella. It’s almost humorous, if not for the vandalism.

I notice Ann approaching them. I decide to stand back and watch, enjoying the sensation of the frigid rain against my face. A veil of fog has risen, rendering the world vague and indistinct. Through this mist, I see Ann glide directly behind the group of teenagers.


Her voice, nothing more than a whisper, somehow carries throughout the fog-shrouded neighborhood, unhindered by the sounds of splashing rain and whistling winds. All three of the teens jump, then, determined not to look weak in front of their friends, quickly try to draw themselves up and look tough. One of the teens, a large, muscular boy with an acne-covered face, says something in response. I can’t make out his exact words, but I gather that it’s something along the lines of “what’s it to you, lady”, though perhaps with a bit more profanity.

“That’s…someone’s house…right? So…it’s…not nice…to throw things…at it.” It strikes me suddenly that Ann doesn’t have anything she can call a home of her own, instead staying either at the shop or at Frost’s estate. I wonder if she ever had a real home, and if so, how long ago that was. It’s not a question I’ll ever ask. I know her too well to do that.

One of the teens says something rather insulting, prompting to other two to snicker. Ann, of course, stands utterly still, unfazed, surrounded by the cold rain and swirling fog, a dark figure in the eye of the storm. And while I’m mentally waxing poetic about her, one of the teens pulls out another egg and hurls it at her.

I barely have time to close my eyes as Ann lifts the hair from her face. I count to ten, then open my eyes. Ann is standing there, her face once more covered by strands of long black hair. The three teens lie unconscious at her feet. Ann kneels down and takes their umbrella, then glides back over to me. “Sorry for…the delay…” She hands me the umbrella, and I take it. “We should go, before the owner of the house comes to investigate the noise.” Ann nods silently, and glides off. I consider the umbrella a moment, and decide that as much as I enjoy the rain, getting sick is probably a bad idea. Holding the umbrella above my head, I follow Ann once more.


Ann leads me out of the neighborhood and down a number of dark side streets, out of the suburbs and back into the city proper, through filthy, shadowy alleyways between towering skyscrapers and rundown apartment complexes, before finally stopping at the entrance to a small, dingy building. An old wooden sign hangs haphazardly above the rusty metal door, the word Aunt Edna’s Antiques written in peeling paint upon the rotted wood. Silently, Ann pushes open the door, and glides inside. Closing the umbrella, I do the same.

I step into the dimly-lit building and deposit the umbrella in a nearby stand. Ann is standing still, waiting for me. “This the place?” I ask. Ann nods. “I…like old things…I like…the smell…of old books and furniture…and…you can find…interesting things…here…just like…at the Phoenix…” I can understand that. I personally love the Black Phoenix, working surrounded by ancient and eerie statues, antique cameras whose photos show things not of this world, cold iron amulets emblazoned with occult symbols, timeworn grimoires of nightmarish secrets. I work for free purely so I can spend more time there, in that world of darkness. But for Ann, who spends all her waking hours in that shop, it makes sense that she would relish the opportunity to surround herself with objects firmly grounded in the physical world, objects with a history unrelated to the supernatural. Though thinking about it, I suppose at least some of the items in this antique shop are probably cursed or haunted too. Lots of old things are, after all.

Ann makes her way down a row of shelves, stocked with old parlor games. Her shoulder brushes against a vintage Scrabble board, and some of the letter tiles trickle to the floor. Ann continues on, paying no attention. I step over the tiles, but spare a glance as I do. They’ve landed in a pattern. DEVIL. I smirk. Nine points. I brush the tiles with my foot, destroying the word, then continue on after Ann.

She stops at the end of the aisle and lowers herself to the dusty floor. I sit across from her, and she pulls a box of old jigsaw puzzles from a shelf and places it between us.

My name is Zachary Trinn, of the Black Phoenix. I deal in exorcisms, supernatural objects, curses (cast and broken), channelings, resurrections, and more. I dwell in the side of the world few mortals can see, and even fewer can comprehend. And now, here on Halloween, night of devils and ghouls, I sit in a dark corner of an antique shop, and assemble puzzles with my closest friend. This is my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for this world or any other.
« Last Edit: 04:14:42 PM 09/28/18 by DarthVitrial »


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“Kia Awara”.

The voice is stern and crisp, almost mechanical. I look up from my seat in the waiting room. Pristine, white, sterile. The only decoration is a single poster of a bald eagle in front of an American Flag, and all the “magazines” are just government pamphlets. Not really sure who they’re trying to recruit, since anyone qualified wouldn’t be here. This is the office for novices.

“Kia Awara.”

The voice comes again, snapping me out of my reverie. The receptionist is glaring at me. I quickly stand, dropping my phone as I do. “That’s, er, that’s me.” I bend over to pick up my phone and bang my head on the chair. Off to a great start.
“Your examiners are ready.” She opens the door behind her and gestures me through.

Beyond the door is an equally sterile hallway. Red lights flash on the ceiling, warning that someone without proper government clearance is being allowed in. I pass through quickly, stopping at the decontamination room at the end of the hall. Once I’ve been decontaminated, whatever that entails, and patted down for the eighth time in an hour, I’m allowed through to the testing room.

Sterile and white, like all the other rooms. Sparsely decorated, just a desk and a few chairs. Another door in the back, covered in painted symbols. Two people are already present and seated. My examiners, I assume. They gesture for me to sit, and I do.

“Kia Awara?” asks the first. A man, tall and thin, with wispy grey hair and a face like a bulldog sucking a lemon. I nod. “I am Doctor Jericho Hapsfield. This is Linda Gadswell.” He gestures to the other examiner. Blonde with streaks of grey, a prematurely aged and wrinkled face concealed behind quickly applied makeup. She nods at me. “We will be conducting the exam today.” Hapsfield continues briskly. “Pass the written and practical portions, and you will be granted an exorcist license, valid for eight years. Note that we can only offer one exam every nine months, so please try your hardest.” I can tell he's memorized the spiel. There is no emotion or energy in anything he said. I nod. At the very least, I’m confident in the written portion. I already had to take two written exams just to be approved for this test, so the third should be a cakewalk. It’s the practical I’m nervous about.

Ever since I turned eight, I could see them. Faint, wispy figures, faces locked in expressions of utter agony and despair, reaching their cold arms to grasp the life away from those around them. At first my family was concerned I was going crazy, but after being moved from psychiatrist to psychiatrist I finally ended up with one that had experience in spiritual matters.

She told my family that I was perfectly sane, and just had spiritual power, and referred us to an exorcist for training. He was an old man, retired, and not overly keen on teaching, but he agreed to teach me the bare basics to defend myself. Most of all, he taught me the prime rule of exorcists: “If you can see them, they can see you.” Higher spiritual power lets me see more ghosts, but it also lets the ghosts sense my presence, and draws them to me. Because of this, my life is always at risk. He trained me in some basic defensive charms and encouraged me to study more myself. And so, as I grew up and decided I didn’t particularly want to get a “real” job, I determined to become an exorcist for a living.

Now here I am, sitting in a government facility deep under some mountain, with two professional exorcists staring across a table at me. It’s all come down to this. If I pass, I’m set. I’ll be a licensed exorcist, free to set up business wherever I please and charge whatever I want. If I fail…nine months is a long time to be without income. I’ve been living off my family for the past two and a half years of training, and I have a feeling they’re getting ready to force me to get a job if this whole exorcist thing doesn’t work out.

“I’m ready.” I say. My voice comes out sounding less filled with confidence and more like I just need to pee. Hapsfield doesn’t seem to care. He places the paper before me and tells me to begin. I fumble for a pencil and begin writing.

Name three pioneers of modern spectral research. James Clark-Winston, Atsushi Kawamura, Edgar Weld. Next.
Compare and contrast the benefits of charm talismans with hand symbols. Hand symbols don’t run out, but they’re less powerful and take longer to perform instead of just tossing a talisman. Next.

On and on it goes, question after question. Most of them are the same as the previous two tests. Government efficiency in action. One or two questions are kind of esoteric, but I’m confident in my answers at the end. I put my pencil down and nod. Gadswell takes my papers and begins skimming through them, while Hapsfield remains focused on me. He resumes with his memorized speech. “The government does not provide any special healthcare benefits for non-government contracted exorcists. Is this acceptable?” I nod. “This job will require you to risk your life. Failure on your part will result in both your death and the deaths of those around you. Can you handle this responsibility?” I nod again. He continues down the list of legal and ethical disclaimers. Legal obligations of exorcists, when to contact the government, potential state secrets involved in exorcism, etcetera. I nod to each question. Finally, he stands.

“This concludes the written and oral portions of your examination. Are you prepared to take the practical?” I gulp. “I….I am.” I reply, voice wavering far more than I’d like to admit. He nods and leads me to the symbol-covered door in the back, Gasdwell following behind. “We will remain present and intervene if it looks like your life is in immediate danger, but other than that you are on your own.” He locks his gaze squarely on me, dark flames seeming to flicker in his pale blue eyes. I feel like a small child again. “I-I-I understand.” I stutter. His expression doesn’t change. “Somewhere in the caverns behind this door is one of the many so-called ‘Hellgates’ known to exist across the globe. Due to its presence, this mountain has been the site of countless deaths, and is considered one of the most haunted in the nation. The largest congregation of ghosts is in these tunnels. You are to exorcise three spirits and return here alive. Do not venture too deep into the tunnels, as the ghosts become stronger nearer the Hellgate, and the extreme amount of radiation the gate emits will put your life in extreme danger.” I gulp again, feeling my legs shake. Hellgates are considered the worst thing an exorcist can encounter, a swirling rift in reality that blasts out lethal radiation and causes spirits to become extremely aggressive. “Y-yes.” I stutter again.

He presses a button, and the door slowly opens, revealing an archway filled with talismans, paper charms, incense, and crucifixes. Beyond the arch is nothing but cold blackness. “Will you require any charms?” he asks. I shake my head. “N-no thank you. I was trained with hand symbols.” He nods at my answer, and ushers me through.


The cavern is pitch black, and the beam from the flashlight app on my ancient and cheaply made phone barely even reaches the ground. It smells of mold and stagnant water, and I swear I feel thousands of eyes staring intensely at me. I shake my head, trying to tell myself it’s just my imagination. Ghosts wouldn’t venture so close to a blessed archway. I take a deep breath, the air feeling thick and cold in my lungs. Fighting the urge to break into a coughing fit, I slowly take a step forward.

With a yelp, I slip on some water and crash to the ground, landing hard on my back. Behind me I see the light of the exam room, and my two examiners watching me unimpressed. Off to a wonderful start. I groan and stagger back to my feet, cursing under my breath at my useless phone. In response, it blinks a low battery warning at me and shuts down. With a sigh, I pick a direction and walk.

And walk. And walk. The cave is utterly black, bone-chillingly cold, and nearly devoid of sound. Each step I take is slow and timid, afraid I’ll slip on more water, or step on something even worse. I blink rapidly, hoping to suddenly develop night vision. And then, I notice…a faint light, illuminating the caverns. A slight glow, purple and orange, almost too little to see, is streaming out from deep within the mountain. A knot forms in my stomach as I realize what this is.

Hellgate Radiation. A mysterious energy emitted by the titular rifts. Responsible for human soul becoming hostile ghosts upon death. Capable of instantly killing any living creature in high enough doses. No material yet invented can block it.

Everywhere on earth has faint amounts of the radiation – it’s why you’ll find ghosts everywhere you go – but if there’s enough radiation for it to actually be visible…Once again, it sinks in just how much danger I’m actually in. A bead of cold sweat runs down my forehead. Three ghosts. Just have to find three ghosts and beat them. I can do this. I can do this. I’m going to die.

Bracing myself, I start moving closer towards the light. Presumably if I follow the light to the source, I’ll find the Hellgate. And I’ll also die horribly and have my soul tormented for eternity, so let’s not do that. Still, if I head a bit towards the radiation, I’m more likely to find ghosts. I take a cautious step forward, and the ground beneath me vanishes.

I land in a crumpled pile in the tunnel below, chunks of small rock battering off my body. All around me swirls a purple and orange fog. My body is covered in scrapes and bruises, and my lungs ache as if suffocating. I struggle to my feet, shivering from sudden cold. In the back of my mind, I sense something nearby.

The presence of a ghost is a feeling all exorcists know, but I’ve never been clear on how to describe it to someone who isn’t spiritually sensitive. The best way I can describe it is like your bones are trying to vomit. The stronger the spirit, or the more spirits there are, the more intense the feeling. Right now, the feeling is quite intense, to the point of making me woozy. Stumbling slightly, I make my way towards the source of the sensation.

Turning a corner, I see them. A pair of human shapes, faces locked in expressions of agony, empty eye sockets gaping with blackness, tongue-less mouths stuck in silent screams. One resembles a man in tattered hiking gear, while the other looks like a young woman in 1930’s-era clothes. In unison, they turn to face me.

I attempt to stammer a charm, but my tongue is frozen. My teeth chatter, both from fear and from cold, and I find my mind going blank. With a faint squeaking sound, I stagger backwards, feeling a harsh pressure in my chest, as the spirits fly at me, a horrible electricity in the air. Instinct takes over, and I throw up my left hand, thumb and index finger bent, and yell out a charm. “Akan!” The ghosts stop, inches from my face. I stumble further backwards, turning my right arm around and holding my hand out in a sort of upside-down Vulkan salute. “Noritan hasuit kolovi!” I try to put more force behind the words. The ghosts stagger, as if blown by an invisible wind. Pushing my advantage, I move forwards again. “Nariist!” I yell as loudly as I can. With a pressure change that makes my ears pop loudly, the ghosts vanish.

One ghost left, along with a bigger issue. How do I get out? I try to make my way back to where I fell, but there are too many side paths and sudden turns in the tunnel, with no sign of which route I took. The tunnels suddenly feel very tight indeed. Fighting the urge to vomit, I look around in panic, the walls and ceiling seeming to close in on me, sucking the air from my lungs. With a sudden burst of adrenaline, I turn and run in a random direction, the tunnels feeling tighter and tighter.

Something makes me freeze in my tracks. No, not the realization that running randomly is making me more lost, but the sensation of a powerful spirit. Turning, I see a form appearing through the wall behind me.

My eyes struggle to figure out what I’m looking at, before the image finally sinks in. It’s a horrible mishmash of hands and feet, a woman’s head atop the neck and a man’s face pulsing grotesquely within the stomach. A strangled gasp escapes my throat as it turns to face me.

“V-vokri!” I yell, but I’m stammering too much. The charm fails, and the spirit flies at me, a dozen mutilated arms reaching out. I turn and run, relying entirely on instinct, praying that my spiritual powers will grant me whatever psychic knowledge is needed to make my escape. I can feel the monstrosity moving behind me, a horrible moan emanating from the tortured form.

Turning another corner, I see a faint white light in the distance, welcome relief from the purple and orange glow of the radiation. Feeling the spirit approaching from behind, I dive to the ground and roll to the side as it flies over me. As the spirit turns back to me, I form another symbol with my hands. “Teliki o’tomri havei kanvi!” I push my hands forward as I yell, blasting the spirit forward. I repeat the process again, and the spirit seems to waver.

Behind it, I see the blessed gate that the government set up at the entrance. Seizing the chance, I yell the charm once more, as loudly as I can, shoving my hands forward with all my strength. The spirit impacts the gate and vanishes in a flash. I feel the lifting of some pressure I wasn’t aware I’d been experiencing and fall to my knees, panting.

I feel someone standing over me and look up to see the figure of Doctor Hapsfield. “Hm.” He mutters. “An unorthodox method for your final exorcism, but I suppose you pass.”

That news is such a relief that I pass out.


The sudden ringing of my phone snaps me out of my memories. It’s been over six years since I got my license, and since then the sorts of things I’ve dealt with make the exam seem like child’s play. Still, I can’t help but think back on it often, especially not when I get a letter from the government reminding me that I need to pay a fee to renew my license…I shake my head and sigh. At least I enjoy my job. Usually, at least…my mind drifts to the wooden box in my cabinet, and I shudder.

My phone is still ringing. I shake my head and pick it up. Some real estate company is selling a house where a murder occurred and wants me to check it out. We hash out my price, and I hang up. An exorcist’s job is never done.