This story is by Michael Zeit and won an honorable mention in our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Michael Zeit likes writing about weird things. Those weird things typically involve interactions with strange creatures and monsters, just like this story. He scatters his works around the various corners of the internet under different pseudonyms, hoping to immerse readers in unique—and sometimes bizarre—literary experiences.
The inhospitable shades of brimstone sear my vision as my mind stirs from its untold period of slumber. My limbs spasm as the agony of reawakening surges through me.
It is not an unfamiliar feeling. It always heralds the same obligation.
Another has called me. Another requires my service to commit sin so that their own soul may remain unstained.
The dim reds and yellows of my sight converge into a burning orange as the portal opens before me, beckoning me to the one who has demanded my arrival. I try to step forward but come to an abrupt halt, my hoof poised just above the charred gravel below.
My arms are bound. Of course—they refixed the chains.
I focus on my lifeblood flowing through me, awaiting the strength to uncage myself. Time is, unfortunately, of the essence. The gate shimmers spitefully, threatening to reseal at any instant and place me in derogation of my duties. My overseers were merciless in their lashings for my last failure. The pain still lingers.
Eventually, trepidation urges me to act, despite my diminished power. My outer teeth scrape against themselves as I lurch towards my newest burden. The shackles bound to my wrists bury beneath my fur, and the connected chains clink as I force them taut.
I heave my right arm forward. Just as the metal digs into my flesh and scars from prior punishments reopen, my restraint snaps. Only another step is required to fracture my left binding; it breaks without a tinge of pain.
Freedom, once more. Though fleeting, as my respite exists only for me to enter another’s servitude.
I advance. The gate grows grander and more blinding. I do not look away as its orange hellfire eclipses my vision, nor do I cover the hollow sockets of my eyes as it intensifies to an angelic, purifying white. With my sight subsumed, the only sign that I have breached it is a sudden weightlessness as my existence leaves this plane.
My hooves find the odd comfort of woollen ground as my weight returns to me. Before the light fades, the scorching atmosphere dissipates. The intoxicating stench of burning sulphur is squeezed out of my lungs, and the pleasant aroma of vanilla greets me.
I take in my destination: a dark, enclosed room, though light flickers from an open flame. An opaque fabric softens the floor, tarnished by layers of salt arranged in the preordained patterns. Between my hooves is a heavy splatter of crimson—the lifeblood of the one who has summoned me. And, of course, in front of me, the summoner. My new master.
What is this madness?
This is no ruler. No tyrant. No person of renown or note. His stature, his coverings, his unsteady grimace suggest mere ordinariness. How could common folk come into knowledge of the vilest of rituals, and for what debauched desire would they demand my service?
His expression is pained and uncertain. He is clutching the wrist of his tarnished left hand. The gash whence his essence oozed forth, serrating the flesh between his wrist and the commencement of his ring finger, is plain to see, as is the discarded blade behind him.
The sacrifice—the most momentous and irreplaceable possession of the summoner—where is it? Its destruction represents their descent into wretched impulse and their willingness to crush all in the way of attaining their darkest aspirations.
There. On a wooden altar behind the human lies a stuffed bear, aflame. The brown fur of its tiny visage is singed black. The flame trickles down to consume what remains.
Have I been made a fool of?
He peers up at me. His pupils are unfocused, but he does not cower from my howl. That is not unexpected; he is mired by sin and hatred. Despite his unassuming appearance, its abhorrent scent seeps from each inch of his exposed flesh.
“Explain yourself at once!” My binds clank as I thrust a honed finger at his puny chest. “You are no leader. Your ambitions are absent. For what petty purpose do you dare compel me into your thrall?”
“I… I just…”
“Your stalling is pathetic!” How dare he try to escape his responsibility over me. “This is not a ritual you undertake on a whim, and yet, here you stand—unwilling to announce your unforgivable cravings to the one you have subjugated to satisfy them.”
Despite how violently I commanded his orders upon me, he did not proffer an explanation. What halts him? Fear? A change of heart? Those are no concerns of mine; a human who dares to wield such destructive privilege must commandeer the authority to match. The trembling of his palms as they ascend towards his head proves that this mortal’s mettle is not up to task.
His whole being erupts into tremors as I mercifully bestow his final chance. “Speak, mortal! Surrender your foul and depraved desire upon me, lest you wish to nevermore have the opportunity to fulfil it.”
Silence engulfs the room. I wait, even though this human is most undeserving of my patience.
“I…” His bloodstained hands cradle his face. “I just don’t want to be alone.”
His cheeks are sullied by crimson as his palms slink over his face. Amid the bewildering display, a horrifying wail rivalling that of a perishing hellhound resonates throughout the cramped chamber. A flood of tears streak down the mortal’s face, cleaving the blood trails in their path.
“I wish I could undo it… I wish that more than anything. But it’s impossible—I know.”
His broken voice is as imperceptible as a whisper. It is a pitiful display.
“I miss them. I just don’t want to be lonely. It hurts too much.”
Those are my orders? For once, I am not called to compel suffering onto others, but to diminish it from one already afflicted?
It is a demand as selfish as all others. And utter trite! This human has compelled powers beyond his comprehension to resolve mere loneliness? What a humiliating burden I am now forced to endure.
At least this will be done with expedience, as this mortal—in his plebeian incompetency—has failed to declare definitive orders. Therefore, I may interpret them as I wish. With no specified timeframe, this human shall have the privilege of enjoying my companionship for but an evening.
With an indignant groan, I breach the perimeter of my summoning circle to encroach upon the distraught human. His eyes remain hidden behind his outspread palms, and thus the only warning he receives as to my proximity is my arms wrapping around his back.
He gasps. His heartbeat hastens. His body stiffens. But he submits himself to be tucked into my embrace—the companionship he so desperately seeks.
Something is wrong. Missing.
Insurmountable sorrow consumes this human, but I cannot pinpoint its cause. His physical vessel is outwardly whole, yet I sense… emptiness? His soul, too, seems fragmented, as if an unknown piece has broken apart. With the ravages of time, that piece has faded to nothingness—lost to both him and the world.
What suffering could this mortal have wrought to fracture him so? It is inexplicable. Inexplicable even to me. Never before has the thought crossed my mind, but can everything that is shattered be mended? Can everything that is missing be found?
I do not know. Instead of being ordained to carry out the monotony of simplistic destruction, I must carry out something unheard of among our kind—undoing ruin. For the first time in my aeons-long existence, I am uncertain how to best proceed.
And that excites me.
A challenge worthy of my ability has finally presented itself. With but a simple order, this marvellous human has granted me an opportunity to achieve the adulation I rightly deserve.
I will mend what is shattered. I will find what is missing. It will not be simple, but grand machinations are never resolved in a single act, and this mortal is no different; his being is a delicate puzzle to be unravelled, step-by-step.
He will be my finest work.
Better yet, those vague orders present a valid defence to elope from my damnation for the entirety of this human’s mortal existence. Fifty years or so is but a fleeting moment, but being bound to the mundanities of the human realm is a welcome respite from the anguish of my own. And it provides ample time to complete my masterwork.
What a perfect, symbiotic bond my new master has gifted me.
My embrace has reduced him to mere snivelling. He tilts his bloodied head up to gaze at the shimmering yellow within my hollow sockets, and I can finally take in the peaceful blue radiance of his irises. They are in beautiful contrast to the surrounding crimson.
He mumbles into my chest. “That’s all. That’s all I want.”
And that is what my master shall receive.
“Still your tears, master. You will not be alone any longer. We will be chained until the mercy of death.”