This story is by Lori Hendricks and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The box was clearly marked. I can’t say otherwise. The box had several large stickers on them that said, in bold red – DO NOT OPEN. I can’t at all fault the box. My twelve year old self couldn’t be near such a treasure and not be expected to know what was inside. On Earth they say curiosity killed the cat. And they’re right.
To be completely honest, it all happened rather innocently. I was in the mood for something sweet to snack on and decided to sneak out of my room, through the castle, to where I knew my father stored the sugary confections he got from Earth. Mother had forbidden him from having them; his middle had grown soft and pouchy and she didn’t approve. He’d taken to hiding his candies and sneaking there when he thought no one was looking.
Thinking back on that night, I laugh. It really was so innocent. What kid hadn’t found their parent’s forbidden stash and taken it knowing that if they’d made a fuss, they’d be in just as much trouble? Father was really very shortsighted to think that no one in the castle knew about his hiding place.
The candy was in a big plastic bag that read Turnbill’s Grocery Store on it. I pulled the heavy sack of Halloween candy into my lap and gave a quick thought to what Halloween was before sinking my hands in. The delicious peanut butter and chocolate candies father adored were there along with something red and long called Twizzlers. I stashed two hand-fulls into the pockets of my gown before turning to leave. And that was when the box caught my eye.
In my defense, I thought there was more candy in the box. What else could there possibly be? It was a hiding place for candy, right? Wrong. The strange clear strip holding the box closed was strong, but as a child I was never without my dagger. It took me a bit of working to cut through the bindings. Once the box was opened and I heard the cry of something I’d never dreamed could exist, I ran. Fast, and hard, all the way to Father.
“Father,” I screamed and dove for the bed he shared with Mother.
Father shot upright and grabbed the dagger he kept under the straw of his pillow. “What is it? Are we under attack?” He leapt out of his bed and nearly made it to the door before he realized it was me. “Manuela? What is happening?”
Before I could explain, a howl rent the air that froze the very blood in my veins. Mother grabbed me and scrambled off the bed. Father pulled us behind him and dropping into a fighting stance. But nothing came after us. Father peered down the hallway and swore loudly. Mother must have forgotten I was in front of her. She stepped forward to peer over father’s shoulder and pushed me along with her. I’d never seen so much blood in all my young years. And the bodies – I didn’t know the word then, but now I do – eviscerated. They’d been torn apart. There was no tell what arm, leg, or head belong to what torso.
I was later told that the demon I’d released thrived on the souls of the pure, which is why it was repelled by father. It had been sent through what Father called an interdimensional portal from Earth to hide on behalf of one of father’s neighboring allies. I’d heard of Earth before, but like the other planets, it was something in books, not a real place. And the wasn’t even supposed to still be in the castle. But the ally was killed in a border raid and father didn’t know what else to do but hide the box with the demon inside it. And now our lands were going to suffer.
Our forces weren’t prepared for a demon. The elder council convened and demanded answers , but Father had no ready explanation for what terrorized our people. A few nights later I awoke to the sound of chanting and moaning. I looked out my window and saw father and the clergy kneeling and bowing around a fire. I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen and out into the back courtyard. I slowed my pace, not wanting to wake the animals that Cook kept to alert father or the other men. Halfway up the hill was a rock that was just big enough for me to crouch behind, remaining unseen.
The fire flared upward toward the sky in a wide column for minutes though it felt like hours. And finally from that column stepped a man, taller than any I’d ever seen with skin as pale was milk and hair as like copper. He was dressed in some type of robe, the material was brown and looked itchy. The fire column dropped back to the ground. The clergymen dropped in a kneel, but not father. He stood, short than the fire man but equally as proud.
“Your demon is loose in my lands, Eadric. It needs to be contained before it destroys my people.” Father’s voice shook, though I couldn’t tell if it was fear or anger that drove him.
“I believe I was clear when I said the box was not to be opened. How was that misunderstood?” The man’s voice was thick and rich, and there was no mistaking the fury in the his odd-sounding accent.
“And I believe I was clear that that monster was not welcome in my house. Now my daughter…” Father’s voice broke and his eyes went shiny. In all my life I’d never seen father’s steely countenance falter. I’d really made a mess of things. All in the name of human candy.
The next morning Father and the council convened. He didn’t want me there, but Mother insisted that she and I be there to hear the news first hand. We sat in the back of the throne room while the council stood closest to the dais. Father wasted no tell in explaining his actions or giving any reason why the demon was here. Expelling the murderous beast from our lands could be done with a spell he’d gotten from druid on Earth. But since I was the one who released it, according to the Earthling that came through the column of fire, I had to be the one to capture it. They had a spell for me to memorize. But for it to work, I needed to get near the demon. Mother cried for days as father and his men roamed our lands, following a trail of dead bodies to track the demon.
The castle was quiet in a way I’d never experienced before. Father had left the castle before – on raiding parties or diplomatic visits to neighboring lands. But this – this was different. When the squire finally came to collect me, it was almost a relief. Mother couldn’t handle it and stayed locking in her quarters in the castle. It had taken just over ten days to find and somewhat trap the demon. They’d picked a place far from villages and easy to defend. I met up with the group and gathered my wits. I’d spend the last week and a half memorizing the spell that would bind the demon in his box. Father and his men led me to the spot, though no one would mistake the activity for something wanted. I loved Father’s men and they loved me. I was surrounded by guards but I could feel when the demon approached. I was pure. The guards were not. It wanted me.
The guards pushed closer to me and the horses whinnied with fear. I spurred my horse along and broke free of the guards. The knights’ steeds were more than happy to get out of the deadly path of the demon. Father called for me but his horse wouldn’t heed his order to go after me. For a few long moments I was transfixed. At first glance the monster seemed black but as it slowly stalked toward me it was the color of pencil lead, a matted graphite thing with dead eyes and elongated teeth such that it couldn’t properly close it’s mouth. No longer content to wait, the demon leapt for me but I dropped at the last second, hitting the ground with a thud as the demon tore into my beloved mare Esmeralda. I got to my feet and closed my eyes as I began to recite the spell. The demon froze, it’s jaws full of horseflesh. It howled and my voice faltered but didn’t stop as I made my way through the spell a second time.
I could hear it’s talons scrape the rocks of the road as it came toward me. My third recitation of the spell was interrupted by jaws around my midsection. I tried to finish the spell, but the pain was overwhelming. I refused to open my eyes as I whispered the end of the spell. The pressure released instantly as a gust of wind signaled the binding of the demon back to the box. The pain grew hot as the world went black. My world was safe once again.