The phone was ringing, and when he picked it up the voice on the other end said
“Dude, I need a solid.”
It was Michael. Arjil had rarely heard his friend sound so out of sorts, almost nothing frazzled him, and he was Quite frazzled.
“It’s Alexa- I think she’s possessed.”
“I don’t know man, I don’t know, but I think she’s fuckin possessed. It’s not her.”
There was a wild, desperate, searching quality to Michael’s voice that put Arjil on edge.
Arjil blew out a heavy breath “Ok… Ok, um… You’re going to have to start over.”
The story came out in a half mad tangle, and Arjil harbored secret worries that Alexa wasn’t the only one beset by demons, but Michael still sounded like himself- a rather unhinged self that was getting chewed up pretty hard, but still himself, nonetheless.
It had started on a movie set, on the east coast, where Michael was directing a low budget occult based film. She had been a hot and hopeful actress with a douchebag of a boyfriend. The typical math happened, and they wound up in a tawdry affair of sex, blood, and wild magick, for Michael was indeed a magus and that girl had the shine. Apparently their cross country journey to LA was one of those epic tales only best friends get to hear about, and even they don’t get all of it. They found LA after a week or so, got an apartment and everything went fine for a few weeks until the day Alexa wasn’t Alexa anymore. One hundred eighty degree personality shift, self destructive plunge, saying weird things- the whole nine yards.
“This town, man, it’s full of Demons.” Michael said, “It’s the called the City of Angles for a Reason, I’m not even kidding. They’re everywhere.”
Almost anyone else saying that would have gotten a liberal dose of salt, but Arjil had known Michael for years, through many strange happenings. Michael was not the sort to go getting in a flap over nothing. If he said it was a hellmouth, then it was. It made perfect sense from an occult perspective, this city of fabled dreams, where worlds were made, the veil thinned by its very nature- made bright by the shining dreams of the world and rotten at it’s core by the broken heaps of them that littered the streets.
This was just the sort of place for Demons to thrive.
“So, why don’t you just… you know… Yank it out and whoop it’s ass?” Arjil asked, though he thought he knew the answer. Love is perhaps the most empowering thing in the world, unless it goes awry, in which case your shit is toast.
“I’m too close to this,” Michael said,”She’s freaked out by everything we’ve done already. She wasn’t a practitioner, and I kinda dragged her down the rabbit hole the hard way if you get what I’m saying.”
“Bloody werewolf sex will do that.” said Arjil a little coolly. He didn’t always approve of his best friend’s chosen path “And you carved the Ellis sigil into her, what the hell did you Expect to happen?”
“Yeah well, we are what we are. Look dude, I just can’t, I don’t want to freak her out more, and I’m… I don’t know, can you do something?”
Arjil sighed heavily “Sure, bro. I’ll come up with something. Listen, are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be ok, just, thanks brother. Do what you can.”
“Yeah.” Said Arjil, and hung up the phone shaking his head. He had no idea how to get a goddamn Demon out of a girl fifteen hundred miles away whom he had met all of Once, without so much as a picture to use as a sympathetic focus.
He wandered over to the altar table in the corner, running his hand wearily through his hair. He’d had a long day at work, what with the sale and the tedious assholes sales always brought out of the woodwork. He tried to put aside the mundane world and kick his wizard brain into gear. He hated that such a thing was a necessity with a loathing that bordered on violence, but Wizards and retail do not mix well.
He had to keep himself bound, accepting for a time the led blanket mantle of Normal, just to keep from screwing up the computers or throwing everyone around him into a weird chaotic clusterfuck. Most days he managed it. Mostly. The computers still had inexplicable gremlins, and things would unaccountably go from fine to day-from-hell anytime he lost his cool. He tried though, burning his soul to do it.
He feared more than anything, that one day he would wake up, and his true self would be so beaten it wouldn’t be a challenge anymore, and he’d forget what he was. It was so hard to hold on to sometimes, when the days piled into weeks, and into months, and he couldn’t tell the difference. The only magick he consistently touched was sneaking out to smoke his pipe in the In-Between space in the alley behind the store, that he had ripped open in self defense just to have somewhere to hide for a second or two.
It wasn’t enough.
He threw a jealous mental glare at his friend halfway across the country. Demons were at least interesting, and torn up as he was, this was His girl. He didn’t really get why Michael didn’t just deal with the damned thing himself, save for hearing the near madness in his voice.
It wasn’t a fair thought, Arjil knew, for he was just as free to chase his dreams as his friend was, as Michael was annoyingly wont to remind him. But after fifty plus hours of peddling hardware to morons, Arjil could often barely remember that he was something Other, let alone make a salvo against the established ways of the normal world.
He just wanted to eat something, curl up with his girlfriend, and go the hell to bed, for tomorrow was the same shit all over again and dawned early.
Arjil came back from his grim musings, still staring down at his altar for some inspiration. He had never set it back up properly since he’d moved back to the house a few years ago. He typically didn’t go in for ritual magick, knowing it was actually completely unnecessary. It could help, certainly, and there were many who couldn’t get by without it. It was just a tool, as with all the other trappings of the occult, to help people believe they were actually Doing something. He typically didn’t have that problem. Most often he just threw some Will in the general direction of whatever he wanted to accomplish and that was that.
Magick, do as you will.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. He didn’t think that was going to cut it in this case.
He was a big fan of talismans and enchanted runescribed trinkets, but as he was sworn to covert action in this case, nothing down that road would avail him either. Plucking his wand from the pile of occult parephenelia on his altar, he played with it for a moment, swishing it through the air with emphatic gestures, and tried not to be disappointed that it refused to shoot sparks out the end.
It never did anything fun.
He never even used it, but, being a wizard, he felt that a wand was something he should have- just because. He tossed it back onto the detritus of his eight sided table, and it landed among the stones, crystals, thorns and feathers scattered haphazardly on the black vinyl.
The downstairs door banged shut, signaling the arrival of his girlfriend Marie.
He sighed, feeling dejected and distinctly un-wizardly. He had no clue how to handle this one.
“Hey babe? You here?” Marie’s voice came up the stairs.
“Yeah, coming.” he hollered, trying to keep his annoyance out of his voice. She dealt with his grumpy enough.
“Fuck it. Deal with it later” he sighed, and stumped downstairs to figure out some kind of dinner.
Dinner put him in a marginally better mood. He did make a damn fine crispy chicken salad if he did say so himself. That and a couple glasses of wine had him feeling almost better about his day, though they didn’t help one bit with the seemingly impossible long-distance exorcism weighing on his mind.
What Michael needed, mused Arjil bitterly, was a priest or something. Someone to hold her down shouting “Demons Out!”, flailing around a bible, compelling in the name of Christ, or whatever those people do.
A priest he was not.
He wondered if he could even pull such a thing off if she was right in front of him? He didn’t know.
Marie dragged him off to the shower, keeping up an unceasing flow of the latest home improvement project that had struck her fancy. She was So half a muggle, he thought bitterly, and drifted off into his imagination with just enough Uh-huh’s to pretend he was listening.
If Michael was the one dealing with this, he’d just blast the shit out of the person, figuring he’d fry whatever was in them. At least that’s what Michael had done to Him when he’d had some problems. That was a fun thought, and so he played one of the imagination games he always played, where wizardry worked like it did in stories. It was a lot more interesting than a girlfriend going on about HGTV, no matter how soapy and naked she was- it wasn’t enough that he worked in a damn hardware store, he had to deal with this at home too?
So he delved into his imagination, conjuring the form of Alexa as well as he could remember it.
“So first, I’d blast the shit out of her” he thought, his imaginary self flinging out a hand and unleashing a ball of fire. It struck her form and exploded, and sure as hell, a double image jarred loose. A blackened, smoking, surprised looking thing with half its head blown away, stuck partway out of the imaginary Alexa.
“Oh, hell yeah that would be cool.”
Something in the back of his head noticed that this weird imaginary image’s remaining eye looked awfully surprised, but he wasn’t really paying attention, as he grabbed it with a force, ripped it from the girl and flung the smoking form to the ground. He threw a glass wall between them, and Imaginary Alexa crumpled against it, trying to get back to the Demon.
“Ok, cool. A bit weird, not sure where that came from, but cool. Yeah, that’s just what I’d do.” He thought to himself in his little daydream.
Marie started talking about sex.
This time the naked and soapy did kinda matter, and she got his attention. They’d both had too long a day for it, but the banter was fun.
The only problem was, the daydream didn’t go away.
It stood back up in his mind’s eye all charred, and smoking, with half it’s face gone, and now it looked rather more annoyed than surprised.
“Huh, ” he thought, and paused kissing Marie long enough to fry the image with lightning from his imaginary fingertips. He lit that thing up like a christmas tree with arcs of blazing light and it fell to a twitching, smoking pile on the ground.
Marie had his attention again, but then the hot water ran out, completely ruining that moment.
They had clambered out of the shower with the nightly ritual of towels and toothbrushes, when the blasted thing in his mind stood back up yet again, and was Angry this time.
This was a little ridiculous, imagination was fun and all, but it was supposed to quit playing when he did. He gave the thing both barrels this time, full on sorcerous fury, fire and lightning, and an atom bomb for good measure. He gritted his teeth on his toothbrush as he piled it on till there was nothing left in his minds eye but a dark smudge on the ground.
“My head. You lose.” Arjil thought to himself, as he cheerfully finished brushing his teeth, thinking his weird little daydream banished at last.
He didn’t feel right as they walked up the stairs. There was a creeping unease as he set the alarm, kissed Marie, and said goodnight, burrowing down into his pillows.
And suddenly, something was there.
Aura was not a word he used much, as it conjured up hippy-dippy, new agey connotations. Subtle bodies, perhaps, spiritual field. Whatever, didn’t matter, his spiritual real estate had been invaded and he was not alone in there.
In the space in front of his right eye, that space that was still him, a consciousness awoke. He only had impressions of thoughts, and a weird pressure by which to know this thing. It felt cautious, curious, angry, and alien.
Arjil was not ok with this.
He swatted at it with his Will, trying to knock it away like a wasp.
That was a mistake:
In that instant, this thing became aware of where it was, held on hard and started trying to spread like the roots of a weed, driving viciously questing tendrils into his being. Arjil, in that same instant became aware that his daydream had been real.
Some impossible how, it had been terribly, terribly real. And now he had a motherfucking Demon stuck in his face.
He slammed his will against it in a tide of rising panic as it scrabbled for purchase in his spirit. He tried to call on the protections he’d wrought around is bed, but they were no help.
It was inside him.
He fought to conjure his walls and shields, but between the force he was exerting to keep this thing from digging any deeper, and the panic that was threatening to overwhelm his mind he couldn’t hold their form.
The hungry alien presence dug hard against his will, and he felt his hold loosening as it gained ground. He surged back against it with everything he had and fought it to a standstill again.
He was panting, his mind awhirl with frantic possibilities.
It was too late to disbelieve this out of happening,
too late to take a mental side-step to a world where it couldn’t reach.
There was no deity upon which he could call, no fervent prayer for help that would be answered, for he swore no fealty, and didn’t know the right words anyway.
Accepting his previous vision as real, he had already blown this thing to smithereens and it had done Nothing. It was taking everything he had just to keep this thing where it was.
He was in a sort of trouble he had not known.
Never had he pitted his will directly against such a fierce thing, never had something like this invaded his being. He did not know what would happen if he lost, he just knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with stark driving terror, that it would be bad.
Drastic action was called for.
Arjil flung himself out of bed, staggering in the dark, somehow finding it within himself to dig a lighter from his discarded pants as he vied with the malign invader burrowing into his spiritual face.
“Babe, what’s the matter?” came Marie’s worried voice, as he banged his shin painfully on the coffee table and growled a curse.
“Problem.” he said in a tight voice, his control slipping a little and the thing writhing against his will.
To her credit, she knew there was something heavy going down just across the room, so she stayed silent and let him handle it- for which he spared a tiny thought of thanks.
He made it to his cluttered altar, and seized the wrought iron candelabra hanging above it, lighting the five candles with intent in the pattern of the pentagram.
His altar came to life before him, and he drew strength from the sleepy magicks stirred into waking. He lit two more candles on the table to define two sides of his circle.
He was a wizard.
He was angry and freaking the hell out.
It would do.
He leaned upon his altar, closed his eyes, and returning to his minds eye where this all began, he seized the presence that had torn and melted it’s way into his spiritual flesh, and he ripped it out of his face.
Not in the physical sense, though there was a ghostly echo, a wrong feeling to his flesh.
He didn’t know if he was roaring with his voice or not as he slammed this thing into the circle cast upon the table with his mind and with his Will.
Sweat poured down his shaking naked form, and he trembled so much that the altar shook, the wood creaking beneath his fingers he gripped it so hard.
He compelled this presence, this entity, this he didn’t Know what, to be Gone!
He got the distinct impression of defiance and fury as it tried to break free from the circle.
He slammed it down again, pinning it to the table with a terrible swell of violent thought. Again, he Compelled it. Again it wouldn’t, and the struggle did not cease.
He seized a book and held it open, lit another candle, and pulled his singing bowl close, taking up the striker in his free hand.
“Last chance motherfucker.” he growled. “Go.”
One more surge of furious defiance was his answer.
“This is old-school.” he said coldly.”Begone!”
He slammed the book shut, blew out the candle, and struck the bowl a mighty blow that rang loud in the night.
That was that.
It was gone.
Back to wherever such things go.
He blew out the candles in order, shaking so hard he could barely manage, and slumped onto the couch quivering and sweating.
He had trouble lighting his pipe, and his face felt wrong. There might have been tears leaking from his eyes, but he wasn’t sure.
After some time, Marie asked what had happened.
He told her as well as he could, but the words of it seemed lame and made up, not the epic battle for his very soul that had taken place, not the horror of ripping a really Real demon out of one’s own face and going toe to toe with it, naked, in the dark, with nothing but Will, some on the fly made up dreamings, and a dusty old spell.
And he had to go to work tomorrow.
He laughed, hard and bitter, perhaps a little hysterical over that thought ere he fell exhausted into bed and passed solidly out.
It was two days before Arjil managed to get Michael on the phone again, by which point he felt fuzzy about the whole business. It had happened, he was sure.
His face felt wrong, like the spiritual equivalent of a heinous black eye, or a mauling. He just didn’t know what the hell had happened. It was an annoying habit of such experiences, he knew, to begin to fade the moment they had passed. Somehow, they were so unbelievable that many people forgot them entirely or painted them over with acceptable explanations- well, perhaps not experiences quite so extreme, but still.
He felt certain that somewhere in the world existed a force that actively quelled belief in magick. Like the Power behind the Nothing from the Neverending story, perhaps. He didn’t like it.
At first there wasn’t a doubt in his mind, but now…
He, knew Something had happened.
“Perhaps,” he surmised bitterly, “I accidentally jumped some poor astral entity and kicked its ass for no reason. Or maybe I just pretended too hard and created some phantasm and kicked my own ass. Wouldn’t that be just typical.”
He punched Michael’s number for the third time that day, and finally he answered. He sounded sane this time.
“Hey man, don’t know what you did but the shit worked. Thanks.”
“So what happened?” asked Arjil.
“Oh she’s back to normal again. Bang just like that. Think she’s dumping me for another douchebag guitar boy though. I’m cool with it. I guess, after everything. She just wasn’t ready for what we bring, man.” Michael said.
Arjil unloaded all his tale of what had happened, along with his doubts, and damage, the whole thing.
“Well man, it’s what we do.” Michael said, and Arjil could see his careless shrug over the long miles.
For a moment Arjil stood incredulous.
He had just ripped a Demon out of a girl fifteen-hundred miles away, fought it to a standstill, and took a heinous amount of spiritual damage to the Face before he got the thing banished-
all On Accident,
and THIS is what we DO?!?…
“Yeah, I guess it is.” said Arjil, ” Take care brother. Gotta go. Somebody needs help with plumbing in there.”