Summoning demons into the service of a mortal has always been a difficult task. You’ve made at least fifty attempts, but every time the room fills with thick black smoke and all of your ritual candles are snuffed out; occasionally the smoke bears the tormented faces of the damned, or you’d hear an anguished wail, but no entities made it through the portal. Well, once something made it through–an imp. It was a tiny, mangled mess of wings, horns, and hooves that could hardly qualify as anything more than a pile of masticated flesh.
This time, you know you have everything right. The pentagram at your feet is drawn perfectly; the candles are arranged in three groups of six–one at the solitary point, and one each nestled between the eastern and western points. You’ve properly mutilated the corpse of your sacrifice and her blood forms the symbol that will beseech the demon to come forth, her heart the offering. The room is lit only by the candles. An eerie glow emanates from the pentagram as you chant the unintelligible words that you’ve come to memorize.
A flash of black smoke consumes the heart.
The candles flicker to their deaths.
Where the offering was, a creature now kneeled–a demon forged of smoke and shadow with solid red eyes hovering in the swirling black mist that formed its body. You didn’t even have a chance to state the terms of the deal.
“Let me stay! I will give you whatever you want–money, power, fame…I’ll even be your slave for eternity! I’ll be your whole family’s slave, just let me stay!”
You can see now that the creature, despite its billowy form, is actually missing its lower half. Jagged pieces of smoke floated from its lower torso and turned to ash on the ground. If a smoke cloud could be ravaged by wild animals, you imagine this is what it would look like.
A gaping, fang-filled maw forms inside the pentagram.
The demon shrieks. It claws at the concrete floors as a long, sharp tongue begins drawing it inside the mouth. It’s leaving deep scratches, but making no ground, and is consumed with no satisfying snapping of bones. Only silence.
If a demon made entirely of smoke could not wrest itself from the jaws of this creature, you certainly stood no chance. Your fingernails chip and bend against the concrete floors. Your fingers are even more useless; even digging into the gashes left behind by the demon does nothing to keep you from being dragged into the thousands of pointy, silver teeth.
There exists a pain so excruciating that it nearly overloads your pain receptors, and you feel that pain each time your skin brushes against one of those fangs. It’s a long tunnel. You feel like you’re burning from the inside out, like your skin is being dissolved, like at any moment you will die…but you don’t. It feels as if you should be reaching the end of the tunnel soon…but you don’t. It seems like your body will be incapable of feeling any more pain…but it never stops.
Hell is full of “almost theres”. The desire to obtain something becomes an agonizing obsession when it remains out of reach for too long; hell is a place where those desires are unreachable forever. It’s worse than being damned to become nothing.
But this was not hell.
You eventually fall onto a hard stone floor. The pain sears through your body for a time, but eventually recedes to a dull throbbing. You did not die. The demon you had summoned so briefly lies ahead of you, sobbing. Its entire body is shimmering with brilliant radiance beneath its shadowy form, and you can hear a chorus of beautiful voices singing soft hymns of forgiveness and redemption.
A demon fears atonement.
What does a human fear?
A creature with your face locks eyes with you. It walks on six grotesque exaggerations of human arms, edging closer to you, licking its lips. Its sharp tongue pierces your forehead and retracts so quickly that you aren’t even sure that it even did so. You feel your limbs lock up. Your thoughts are not your own. Your thoughts have been shoved down to the farthest recesses of your mind. Your thoughts are pleading with the entity in control to stop.
You’ve accidentally left the oven on and your mother perished in the ensuing house fire. Your father will never say it, but he blames you. Your siblings blame you. In fact, your brother has ceased contacting you entirely. An old classmate with a grudge splashes your face with a burning chemical; your face will be scarred forever. Your fiance leaves you.
When control is given back to you, it’s unclear whether any of that was real or fabricated by the demon who turned you into its puppet. Regardless, you now sit alone in the stone prison that is the demon’s belly: the only light coming from the radiance of the tormented shadow demon, the only sound his sobbing echoing throughout the chamber.
Humans fear many things. They fear death…they fear dogs…they fear fading into obscurity…some even fear contentment. But there is a primal fear that permeates all humans, whether they will admit to it or not.
A human fears being alone.