Andi awoke the next morning, sure that the entire night’s activities had been a dream. Sure, she couldn’t particularly remember how she had gotten to bed–or even how she had gotten home, if her memories of the bookstore and the train were not to be believed.
But it had all been too ridiculous. A book that had somehow followed her home. The feeling of falling, even if it hadn’t come back. The man on the train; had he even been related to all the rest of it? A book that her cat irrationally hated–and she couldn’t even read. Writing that wasn’t writing, at least until it was.
And that title.
What in the world could that possibly mean?
I mean, she thought, the words themselves make sense. At least apart from one another. It’s something to do with computers. And demons.
But demons weren’t real.
She’d never been one for Sunday school. After a few years as a child, she’d never been back. They’d had more than enough to say about Old Scratch himself, but any sort of lesser demons? Nothing. If the Church didn’t even want to deal with them…
And now she had a book that purported to merge the two.
For what felt a long while, she lay in bed. She couldn’t very well go back out into the living room. What if the book were still there? She managed to go a long way towards convincing herself that it had all been a dream, but what if no one had told the book that? It seemed to already have a mind of it’s own. What if it was waiting for her.
Chicken, she told herself.
In the end, it was her alarm that made her get out of bed. If she didn’t get out soon, she was going to be late for work.
After all that… work.
Rolling out of bed with a groan, she went to make breakfast.
Of course the book was still there sitting on the table. Taunting her.
At first, she ignored it. Pouring some cereal into a bowl, she sat very carefully with her back to the book. Perhaps if she ignored it.
As if that ever helped…
But she could feel it calling to her.
Perhaps if the cover had changed, then the pages had as well?
She ignored it for a few minutes more, but eventually she finished her cereal. Now she was just sitting at the table. Nothing was keeping that book away from her.
She turned. Slowly.
She half expected the text to be gone, the silver threads to be back as they had been the day before.
But they were the same, still glittering in just the pattern necessary to spell out the words.
She flipped open the first page.
For better or for worse, her guess had been quite correct. The text on the inside of the book had changed as well. Now those thin silver threads–too thin to even be seen in the half light the night before–spelled out words, all written in that same old fashioned scripted font.
Table of Contents
Under that was a list of chapters. There were no page numbers to speak of. Stranger yet though, she couldn’t actually make out any of the titles but the first. The rest all appeared to be gibberish. Clear enough that they were obviously letters, but nothing that she could identify.
The first was clear enough.
On the history of the demons
It seemed that the book was willing to play this all of the way through. She couldn’t for sure say if she believed it, but she knew that something strange was going on.
She flipped another page. It appeared to be the start of the first chapter. The same title as in the table of contents appeared here, in much the same font. There were still no page numbers, no indication of how long the chapter was going to be or what else there was.
She flipped ahead, thinking that perhaps the rest of the chapters might appear now even if they weren’t in the table of contents. Of course that wasn’t the case. After some amount of flipping–what seemed too far into the book, not for the given number of chapters that had appeared in the table of contents–she came to a section of gibberish. The same way that all of the chapters after the first in the table of contents had been scrambled, the rest of the content of the book seemed as well.
She had to admit to herself–it was kind of neat. It was impossible of course, that much she was certain about. But it had the same feel as an ancient version of an ebook reader. The pages changed to user stimulus. Even if she couldn’t tell what the stimulus was.
“Eos?” she asked. The cat’s cry had broken her right out of her stupor. She would have to thank her for that later. Right now, she had to get to work.
The entire day, she couldn’t help but think about that book. She had no more than skimmed over the first chapter, trying much harder to reach the rest than actually begin to understand. But even in that time, she had come across a number of illustrations and figures. They were complicated yet all had the look of having been rendered by hand. Several had an almost mathematical aspect to them, but one in particular kept coming to mind over and over again.
A figure of a man, long dark robes obscuring his face and figure. Smoke, drifting and twirling around him, rendered dark as oil, thick and black. A circle on the floor, inscribed within by a figured even Andi could recognize as the five pointed star of a pentagram. A hint of another figure, standing before and beneath the man, half hidden in shadow, half shrouded in mist.
The figure struck a chord in her and she didn’t know why.
Her coworkers noticed that she was distracted, although she wouldn’t–couldn’t–tell them why. Throughout the day, she got more than the usual amount of sideways glances and ‘are you okays’. But she drifted, giving only half answers and vague assurances in response. After a while, they stopped asking. She still got the glances, but they never again said a word.
Towards the end of the day, even her boss came in. There was the guise of asking about an assignment, but they both knew it wouldn’t be due for days yet. It was just an excuse. Andi brushed her off–somewhat less subtly than would have been the norm.
Finally, she was on her way home.
It was going to be a long night.
On the train home, she couldn’t help but look all around for the man she had seen the night before. She couldn’t have said if she wanted to find him or not, but it wasn’t up to her. The entire trip, people came and went as they always did, but never once did she spy a tool tall man in a fancy jacket. For better or for worse, he appeared to have vanished the night before.
Ah home, Andi made a point of feeding Eos and reheating some dinner for herself before even so much as looking at the book. She knew full well that once she was welling to look at it, she was going to be sucked in again. This wasn’t the sort of thing that you could do with half measures. Either it was the most impressive work of fiction that she had ever seen–with bonus points for the display, she still couldn’t figure out how that could possible work–or she had to accept the possibility that it was real.
“So Eos,” she said as she was finishing days old take out. “What do you think?”
She had to speak up, Eos was in the bathroom presumably having dinner of her own. She could hear the sounds of tiny kitty sized bites being taken. Eos hadn’t come out even when she’d come home, staying in the bedroom, bathroom, and short hallway between. Anywhere that that book was not.
A mystery wrapped in an enigma, that.
Finally out excuses, she turned back to the book.
She half hoped that the cover would have reset itself back to just those silver threads. That would at least mean that she was dealing with something still squarely in the realm of possible, no matter how improbable.
But no, the text was still there, every bit as legible as ever.
She turned the page.
Hours later–or was it mere minutes–she closed it once again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d read quite so intensely or for so long. It had to have been during her undergraduate days on some all night study binge or another. She couldn’t imagine anymore how she’d done it. She could feel the pressure at the back of her eyeballs, a warning that she was straining herself.
But she just couldn’t help it.
The book was fascinating.
If it were a hoax, it was the most impressive one she’d ever come across–and in her years in the basements and backrooms of used bookstores, she’d seen more than her fair share of strange books.
This time around, the details were all there. Each bit built on the previous, just strange enough to keep one moving forwards, but never more than a whisker’s breath away from possibility.
She knew right then that she was going to have to try it.
She’d tell herself later that it was just to double check. The book couldn’t possibly be telling the truth… could it? So what harm could there be?
What harm in trying to summon a demon?
The problem was that while the book was rather extensive in the supposed history of demons and those that summoned them–most often called sorcerers, it claimed–it was rather scant on the details. Andi had a feeling that the information was a chapter away, maybe even less. If only she could figure out how to get to the next chapter.
Andi sprawled back in the armchair she’d moved to at some time during the reading, the book on her lap.
It came to her then, the way that she’d gotten the book to reveal its secrets in the first place.
The paper cut.
“This is mad,” she muttered to no one in particular.
No one likewise had an answer for her.
Bleed on the book? It was so cliche it was almost painful. But then again so was a lot of what she was reading. It was like someone had taken the vague idea of what everyone knew–or thought they knew–about demons and twisted just ever so slightly. Putting just a bit of tension on it as it were.
So of course it would be blood.
Rising carefully, she put the book down on her coffee table and went to the kitchen to get a knife.
I can’t believe I’m doing this.
She was stopped halfway there by a rather surprising find–Eos was waiting for her in the kitchen. The cat looked expectant–and Andi could swear, a little bit reproachful.
“What is it with you and that book?” Andi asked.
“Not a friend?” she tried again.
It was what Andi liked about cats. Get the right cat and you could carry on an entire dialog with them. Granted, the chance of either actually understanding more than a word or even just the tone was slim at best, but it was easy enough to pretend. Not to mention that by talking to a cat it was possible to reveal a bit about what your subconscious mind might have been trying to tell you all along.
Andi started to step over Eos towards the knives, but suddenly the cat was there underfoot, howling up a storm.
She tried to step around, but Eos was there again.
“You’re acting weird.”
She backed away though and almost immediately, Eos calmed down. She calmly went to licking herself in a rather undignified manner most befitting a cat.
“Fine,” Andi muttered. “I’m sure a pin will work just as well.”
She wandered off towards her bedroom instead, looking for something sharp.
Yet her plan was thwarted time and again by that ridiculous cat. She didn’t seem to be around, not until Andi was nearing on anything that could draw blood. That, more than anything, convinced her that she was on the right track. It certainly wasn’t rational, but that cat had taken an immediate dislike to the book. So if she was trying to stop her now… she had to be on the right track.
Finally, she gave up and went back to the book.
Eos let her do this much at least, although she did take up a post across the room on an end table. She just stared, watching Andi.
“I’m just going to read it,” Andi said to the cat. She had to admit, she felt a little crazy saying it aloud like that. “Is that okay?”
She could have sworn that the cat rolled her eyes at her. Cats.
She flipped back to the table of contents once again. It was just the same as she’d seen before. One chapter clearly legible, the rest gibberish. If only she knew another way to get it to tell her more.
If there was more to tell…
“Come on,” she said. “Tell me more.”
And just like that, the words began to move.
She could scarcely believe her eyes, but there was really no way to doubt it. A second entry was appearing in the table of contents.
Gateways and doorways, portals to another realm
There we go, she thought. That’s more like it.
One thing she didn’t particularly want to think about was just how the book had responded to her words. Just one more strange thing.
Suddenly, Eos started to howl. It was an unearthly sound, the sort of sound you might just imagine being associated with a pack of demons. In this instance–it meant that her cat was starving. From the sound of it, it was serious.
As much as Andi wanted to read the new chapter, she knew that the cat would just get louder and louder until she finally fed them. There had been days when she’d actually gotten noise complaints from the neighbors–and they had a pair of remarkably chatty pitbull puppies.
With a sigh, she got up, putting the book back down.
Worse yet, if the cat was calling like that, it meant that it was time for bed. She could imagine staying up all night reading, but she’d be a zombie the next day at work.
That thought gave her pause.
Hadn’t the book said something about zombies?
Another call from the cat, the sound of a thousand unfed souls.
“All right already,” Andi called out. “Drama queen.”
The next day at work was even worse that the first. She was having increasing problems dealing with others, her temper short and her answers shorter.
The entire day, those words were running through her mind.
Gateways and doorways, portals to another realm
That was it. Enough to prove once and for all that the book was real… or not. All she would have to do was… summon a demon.
It sounded mad when she said it that way–even just in her head.
It finally came to a head just after lunch. One of her coworkers–one in that strange gray zone that only seemed to appear in work spaces between acquaintance and friend–had come over to ask her about her plans for the weekend. Andi snapped. She didn’t really even remember what she said, just that the office was silent for a full five minutes after her tirade.
It felt good.
They left her alone after that. She caught her boss giving her a stare towards the afternoon, but Andi just ignored it. Either way, she could make it up to them later. Either it would work–and she would have solid proof that the world was a strange place indeed–or it wouldn’t. She could take the book as a hoax.
That among everything gave her pause, if only for a moment. She still hadn’t decided what to tell the bookstore. After all, she had essentially stolen the book, even if she hadn’t meant to do it–or if she hadn’t had anything to do with it in the first place.
A problem for another day.
The ride home–both train and bus–were uneventful. Granted, Andi was so distracted that the train could have crashed right into the bus and she doubted she would have noticed.
At home, she fed Eos in half a daze. The cat didn’t seem thrilled with her, but she just ignored it. Back to the book.
It was sitting exactly as she had left it the night before, sitting on the coffee table. She turned to the table of contents.
Table of Contents
On the history of the demons
On the summoning of demons
She flipped through the page, trying to figure out how the chapters were separated. The last time she’d read through, the first chapter had essentially ended, turning into gibberish between one page and the next. That had been nearly to the end of the book though, there certainly wasn’t enough room for more than a thin chapter or two. Let alone a dozen or more as hinted at by the table of contents.
Yet when she tried to skip forward, there was no telling. Each time, she ended up opening the book on gibberish. Even when she started near to the beginning, there was still gibberish where just last night there had been the first chapter.
In the end, she had to start over at the beginning. It was possible to skim through the first chapter, but only if she changed pages one at a time. She didn’t have to read them, but she couldn’t skip ahead. It was strange to say the least, but less strange than much. SO that was something at least.
Finally, she arrived at the second chapter.
On the summoning of demons
“It can’t be that easy.”
The chapter had everything she had wanted and feared … and more beyond that. There was more than enough in this chapter to test her theory. All she needed would be a few … more esoteric supplies.
The only problem would be finding them. The chalks and and powders were easy enough to come by–as were the candles, assuming that demons wouldn’t mind the local supermarket variety.
But the rest was going to be a little more trouble. Blood? She couldn’t very well use her own. Let alone the fact that she didn’t think Eos would be thrilled with the idea, she wasn’t sure she could deal with the pain on purpose. The night before–she thought maybe she could have. Today? Less so. Perhaps she could get some from a butcher’s?
And the plants? They had strange name, but she’d pulled a few of them up on her phone. Several New Age sort of stores picked up, each within a short distance of travel. That was one of the advantages of living in one of the most liberal cities in the country–you could find just about anything… for a price.
Suddenly, the realization of just what she was contemplating struck home.
Was she really considering summoning a demon?
It was madness. Everything that she’d read about in the book hinted that it should be possible, but it just didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be real.
But if she didn’t at least try…
She’d never know if she didn’t at least try to summon a demon.
And that would bother her more than anything, the not knowing. She had to know. She wanted to know.
“Eos?” she said aloud, surprising herself at just how horse her voice sounded. A glance at her watch and she saw she’d been sitting in one place for hours, reading.
Mrowl? Eos’ plaintive reply came back from across the room. She turned to see the cat looking at her from the hallway.
“What do you think?” she said. “Summon a demon?”
Eos didn’t answer. Not even a mrowl. She just stared at Andi.
“Fine.” She stood, feeling the strain of sitting for so long running through her. “Tomorrow. I’ll go tomorrow.”
The next morning it was hard even to get up. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to do anything until the evening–she still had a job after all. And a not insignificant part of her realized that if she kept going the way she had the previous two days, she wouldn’t have one for much longer.
Andi sat up in bed only to find Eos sitting just at her feat. The cat grumbled at her for a moment for disturbing it’s rest, but settled back down quickly enough. So it seemed that for now at least she had forgiven her.
Somehow, just that fact made her feel significantly lighter on her feet. It was as if a pressure she hadn’t even realized that had settled on her had been lifted, giving her at least some chance at another chance.
Tossing the blanket off and disturbing Eos yet again, she said “how about some breakfast?”
She didn’t even make it into work the next day. She knew that it was going to come back and bite her, but she couldn’t make herself care. The book was consuming her every waking moment and she knew that if she didn’t deal with it soon, it was only going to get worse. She was going to have to attempt the summoning today or she was never going to do it.
Instead, she set out for some of the more interesting backroads of the city.
She’d always known that areas like this were out there–people running stores out of their houses, never quite properly registered or advertised. It was only a matter of time until they got shut down, but it never seemed permanent. Just some time and perhaps a slight change of location and they’d be right back.
Her first stop was to a New Age store known locally as Heirlooms & Herbs. It was only half a mile from home and their website–quaint as it was–promised just about everything she would need.
Walking in the front day, she was assaulted by the scent of a dozen flavors of incense, blending into a just-not-overpowering medley that made her eyes water. She blinked a few times standing in the door. When she could see again, there was a young woman standing in front of her in the absolutely most stereotypical hippie garb you could possibly imagine.
Long flowing skirt above bare feet. Even longer hair, tied back loosely into a ponytail. A thin band of flowers in her hair and silver dangling earrings in each ear.
“Blessed be, my dear. How can I help you this fine morning?”
Andi couldn’t remember having ever been ‘deared’ by someone in less than their sixth decade and certainly not by someone she would have sworn was someone a few years her junior. Yet, somehow it didn’t feel that out of place, coming from this woman.
Perhaps the incense was getting to her…
“Yeah, actually.” She’d debated enlisting help, but in the end had come down on the side of finishing sooner trumping pure secrecy. Plus, when was she ever going to see this woman again? “I’m looking for a few things.”
She handed over the list she’d made up on the way out. It didn’t have the blood on it–even here that would likely have raised a few eyebrows–but everything else seemed tame enough. She’d left off the exact amounts as well, although she had another list in her pocket just in case the minimal packaging wouldn’t be sufficient.
The woman took the list with a bright smile and started scanning down it. Almost immediately, the smile slowly began to fade and by the end of it only an echo was left. When she looked up at Andi, she was smiling again, but this time it was forced.
“And if I may ask…” she started.
“I’d prefer you didn’t,” Andi cut in. A part of her knew that wasn’t the way to get the woman to help her, but then again there were other stores about. Surely one of them would help her.
The woman stared a moment longer before shrugging. She half turned away so that Andi couldn’t quite make out her next words, but she thought she said “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Without another word, she bustled off down the hallway, turning into another room. The shop was quite obviously a retrofitted home; in all likelihood, the woman actually still even lived here. Upstairs perhaps.
The woman hadn’t indicated anything, but Andi followed her anyways, coming to a glass counter supporting a cash register and containing a wide variety of crystals and stones of every imaginable shape and hue. A few of the colors, she could only begin to describe. She stood there staring for a moment until the sound of the woman shopkeeper drew her back to her back to reality.
She was buzzing around the room from shelf to shelf, pulling things seemingly at random but moving too quickly to have anything but the most direct of intentions. She knew her store, Andi could tell. Likely, despite her age, she was the proprietor. She wondered how someone her age had come to own a business like this, even if run out of her own home.
For that matter, in this city, she vaguely wondered how she could have managed to own a house at all in this area. It wasn’t exactly the cheapest part of the city, although not quite the most expensive.
She only had a short while to wonder though–before she would have believed it possible–the woman was behind the counter with a small pile of good in front her. Andi looked it over but recognized less than half of it at a glance, and even what she recognized was vague at best.
“This is everything?” she asked. She hoped that her naiveté wouldn’t trigger the woman to raise her prices. It wasn’t unheard of.
“Not quite,” the woman said. Her voice was low, nowhere near the cheerful tone she had affected when Andi had first walked in. “Again, may I ask what it is you’re doing with all of this?”
Andi let her finish this time, actually considering the question. She couldn’t very well answer the woman. Either the woman would think her mad… Or worse yet, she wouldn’t.
Andi didn’t know what she would do if that were the case.
“Something I found in a book,” she finally said, trying to imply with her voice that was the most she wanted to say on the matter.
The woman stared at her for a long while before finally nodding. “If you say so.”
Andi could tell that she wanted to say more than that, but she must have heard the tone in her voice. To forestall any further questions, she asked instead, “how much do I owe you?”
She’d made a rough estimate in her head on how much she was willing to pay for this. It wasn’t a particularly high number, but then again, she had no idea how much any of her supplies here were going to cost.
The woman thought for a moment, then rattled off a number that seemed far too low, lower than even the barest minimum Andi had come up with.
“That can’t be right,” she said before her brain could tell her that she should just take the offer.
The woman nodded. “First timer’s discount.” Her look was challenging.
Andi tried to figure out what it was about her look and tone that was bothering her so much, but couldn’t come up with anything. It was only after she had paid and thanked the woman–her manners weren’t quite yet that far gone–and was leaving that she overheard the second half of the woman’s comment.
“You’ll be back.”