Hello again, my friend. If you find yourself asking ‘why is this strange person calling me a friend?’ then you’re obviously a bit out of touch… Hello, I’m The Madman and I’m back for round two. I’ll admit that I left you in a rather awkward place, and I must apologize. But there’s something extremely important that I need your help with. It’s in your best interest, if that sweetens the pot.
Last time we met, you were in a different world and I was, well, escaping from it. I hope you woke up and found your way home alright, and if you feel deceived I apologize for the inconvenience. But it was what had to be done, you see. At the very least, my advice and guidance on the supernatural world was no joke or tomfoolery. I knew (and still know) what I was talking about, and I trust you made it through any demonic encounters safely.
I also hope you enjoyed the little treat I put with this book –dark chocolate truffles are your favorite, aren’t they? Look, I know finding a strange manuscript with a baggie of rather expensive Belgian candies in your home wasn’t how you expected your day to go. But as I said; this is very important.
Oh, alright. I guess it’s time to cut to the chase. You released me from a prison of sorts, but something else got out as well. Something very dangerous. If I were to call it something, I’d call it ‘The Devil.’ Don’t laugh. I’m being very serious.
Quincy had indeed found himself smirking in disbelief. He caught himself at The Madman’s words and looked around apprehensively. The Madman knew him a little too well. He shook off his unwarranted paranoia and glanced back at the parchment in his hands.
It’s the best name to give it, honestly. It embodies things you can’t even comprehend –which can be quite a bit many things, but this is just… evil. That’s quite a nice word that has been unfortunately turned to cliché: evil. Look, this thing that you –we– let out isn’t something unique. But it is something dangerous. I know this is all quite sudden, but you don’t have much of a choice. It might even be a bit of fun.
Quincy ate another truffle, beginning to feel a little uneasy. If The Madman was worried about something, that thing was something to be terrified about –but why did The Madman need him specifically?
I need you because you’re the one who was in my… prison with me. Not to get overly technical here, but it has to be you my friend. Please don’t worry; it won’t be very painful–comparatively. Besides, I’ll be with you every step of the way.
Quincy was beginning to feel thoroughly uncomfortable now. He hadn’t signed up for saving the world. In fact, he had resolved to take a break from demons and summoning and the lot. The whole affair had taken a toll that he needed a rest from.
Quincy left the book on his desk and went downstairs for a cup of coffee. The stuff helped him calm down, and a little calm was something that he most definitely needed right now. He went through the actions mechanically: put the filter in the machine, pour in several scoops of ground beans, pour in the water, close it, turn it on. As the machine bubbled and steamed, Quincy’s thoughts did the same. He knew that he didn’t want to get back in any mischief with The Madman, but he didn’t think he had a choice. He was also shocked at the intimacy with which The Madman had been addressing him. The taste of the delicious truffles was now sour and unpleasant. He had been in Quincy’s room. His innermost sanctuary had been invaded. Understandably, Quincy was quite shook up.
The final drops of coffee made their way into the pot. The machine gurgled happily, proud of a job well down. Quincy emptied the liquid into a mug and gulped it down black. The bitterness brought him back to his senses.
Of course he shouldn’t help The Madman. He should burn the book and forget any of it ever happened. He even considered taking out his arsenal of protective items from their hiding place. Maybe if a cold shoulder wasn’t enough to keep The Madman at bay, a sackful of salt was. Quincy set his empty mug down and trudged upstairs, dreading having to face the looming issue above him. He picked up the book, and, in a fit of frustration, threw it across the room. It bounced sadly off the wall and tumbled to land on Quincy’s unmade bed.
“Leave me alone!” Quincy shouted at nobody in particular. Over the next week, Quincy did his best to forget any of it ever happened. He hid the book under a pile of refuse in his closet and tried to remove the word “supernatural” from his vocabulary. The Madman would just have to find somebody else, he told himself.
But The Madman wouldn’t find somebody else. One dreary morning, exactly a week after Quincy had first found the book, The Madman returned. This time, it wasn’t anything as gentle as a note in a book. Quincy woke at the usual time of much-too-early o’clock and fumbled to silence his screeching alarm clock. The early morning glow filtered in through the window. Birds chirped dully outside.
“Hello!” Quincy jumped and fell out of bed at the sudden voice. He scrambled to his feet and backed hastily away from the bed. Looming over the bed was a man. He was tall and handsome, with piercing eyes and a devilish smile. He had a very sharp, handsome jaw line and flawlessly styled hair. “Hope I didn’t startle you,” The Madman said, his smile spreading into a grin. Quincy’s heart dropped to his toes.
“W-wha-” he stammered.
“You look startled –did I startle you?”
“It’s you! The Madman! It really is you!” Quincy managed to stop his stammering and fumbled for his phone. The Madman patted himself in mock surprise.
“It is? Oh, would you look at that! It is me! Good detective work, Quincy. Oh what are you doing?” Quincy had dialed 911 and put the phone to his ear.
“I need the police at-” Quincy didn’t even finish the sentence before the line was cut dead. Static filled Quincy’s ear as he dropped his phone and faced The Madman’s bemused expression.
“What did you do that for?” The Madman asked.
“I told you to leave me alone! I don’t want any part of it!”
“I didn’t want any part of being stuck in an interdimensional prison for six-thousand years, but it happened. Sometimes, things are unfortunately out of your control. This is one of those things.”
“I won’t do it!”
“Don’t be so selfish –this isn’t all about you, you know.”
“Why do you care so much, anyways? You never even told me what I have to do, or exactly what happened.”
“I thought I made it pretty clear!” The Madman carried a note of genuine indignation in his voice.
“‘The Devil’ followed you out of Hell? Clear as day, excuse my ignorance.”
“Yes, it is clear as day!” The Madman seemed genuinely confused.
“Well, not to me.” Quincy said, crossing his arms.
“You saw what demons can do,” The Madman said.
“Firsthand –you taught me how.”
“Yes, well, it’s not pretty, is it?”
“No,” Quincy replied, shuddering involuntarily.
“Well imagine something a thousand times worse. Something you really don’t want to mess with.”
“You’ve said it a hundred times. Why should I care?”
“Do you like living, Quincy?”
“Yes, I like living.”
“Then you should care. Because nobody will be doing much living if you don’t help me.” Quincy was about to reply when The Madman cut him off. “Oh, and it is sort of your fault.”
“What?” Quincy was outraged.
“Well, you know, you were the one who let me out.”
“Don’t you dare blame me! You tricked me! You’re the nasty, manipulative, conniving demon here!”
“Ouch. Harsh. But then again, fair point.” There was a long and awkward silence. “So. Are you in?”
“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“Can I at least get out of my pajamas?”
“As long as you get into something else,” The Madman said distastefully. “Besides, I have to do a little hunting. Be back soon!” Before Quincy could react, The Madman was gone with all the noise of a snowflake falling onto a feather pillow.
Quincy wanted to believe it was all a dream –just a fantastic, ludicrous dream– but he knew it wasn’t. With a sense of great and dawning responsibility, Quincy dressed himself appropriately for saving the world. Two old sneakers, one pair of jeans with holes in both knees, and a college football jersey later, he was ready.
The next step was to retrieve his protective items. Quincy opened his closet and withdrew the gimmicky wooden chest in which he had stuffed all the materials he needed for summoning. He laid them out carefully: a large Ziploc gallon-bag of sea salt, an assortment of red wax candles, and collection of heirlooms that served as items of power. Like a hunter choosing the perfect arrow, Quincy selected his item. It was a plain gold ring on a plain gold chain. A relatively unremarkable trinket to look at, but it had belonged to Quincy’s grandmother, and had been in the family for generations.
“Is that a Ziploc bag?” The now familiar voice cut through Quincy’s remembrance.
“You have to stop doing that! Learn to knock!” Quincy turned as he retorted to see The Madman looking down at him with amusement.
“Your salt. It’s in a big old plastic baggie.”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just a little sketchy, is all.”
“It’s all I had!”
“If you say so. Ah good, your item of power. That’s a strong one –I can feel it from here.”
“Are you sure it isn’t sketchy?” Quincy said bitterly.
“What’s with all the attitude? I found us a lead, by the way.”
“That was fast.”
“Don’t insult me. Did you hear about any disasters lately? Any huge, extremely destructive, fatal disasters?”
“There was a fire in some shopping mall that was on the news. Lots of people died –why?”
“Well, that wasn’t coincidence. Up for a little field trip?” And with that, The Madman strode out of the room with Quincy jogging to keep up.
“I didn’t pack the salt!” Quincy complained as they bounced down the stairs.
“Do you really think a thirty cent bag of cooking salt will save you from the Devil himself?”
“It would have made me feel better!”
“Sorry. I don’t care about your feelings that much. Do you have a car?”
The drive to the burnt-out mall was a long, awkward one. It was extremely strange to see The Madman sitting in an old 2002 Toyota Camry, fiddling with the window. He didn’t seem to belong.
“Could you stop doing that, please?” Quincy asked in irritation after The Madman had rolled the window up and down for the hundredth time.
“Oh, is it bothering you?” Quincy gripped the steering wheel harder. “I’ll take that as a yes,” The Madman continued, rolling the window up pointedly.
“I can’t go any farther, there’s a police line.” Quincy stopped the car several feet away from the hefty fortification of yellow tape and white wooden barricades. There were several police cars parked with their flashing sirens spinning silently. Officers stood stolidly, barking at pedestrians and news crews to stand back. Beyond laid a scene of utter carnage: the old mall’s parking lot had been turned into a dead border between the charred and melted carcass of the building and the healthy land beyond.
Quincy had seen the mall on the news, but in person it was much more terrible. He couldn’t shake the knowledge that over a dozen people had been burned alive in the fire, their ashes mingling with the rubble of their tomb. ‘Faulty wiring,’ the news report had said.
The Madman stepped out of the car confidently and began to approach the police line. Quincy leaned out of his window and called after him.
“Where are you going?”
“Come on, we’re going to take a look.”
“But there’re cops-” The Madman ignored Quincy and continued walking. Reluctantly, Quincy followed.
“I don’t think I can even park there,” Quincy complained. Once again, he was ignored.
“Hello, officer.” The Madman had grabbed the attention of the nearest police officer.
“I’ll have to ask you to stand back, sir. The area’s not safe.” The officer’s tone made it clear that he didn’t want to be dealing with the Madman at that moment. He eyed up the strange man in front of him.
“Yes, of course. Just one thing, if I may.” The Madman put a hand on the officer’s shoulder. Quincy jumped in his seat and scrambled out of the car.
“Hey! What are-” Before Quincy could complete his sentence, the policeman was smiling at the Madman jovially.
“You take as much as time as you need sir,” he said, docking his cap. “Your friend too,” he continued, glancing over the Madman’s shoulder at Quincy.
“I wouldn’t say he’s my friend, but thank you anyway! Come on, Quincy.” The Madman swept past the officer and ducked under the caution tape. Quincy jogged to keep up. As he passed the cop, he noticed a dopey smile on the man’s face. His eyes were glazed over and skated over Quincy as if he wasn’t there.
“What did you do to that cop?” Quincy asked as he caught up to the Madman, who was gazing at the ruined mall pensively.
“You did something to him, he’s all loopy now.”
“I did do something, you’re right. I don’t know how you’re always so observant Quincy.” The Madman’s voice was loaded with enough sarcasm to floor an elephant. Quincy gritted his teeth and glanced back at the officer.
“Will he be okay?” Quincy asked.
“Who cares? Look at those burn marks…”
“Will he be okay?” Quincy said again, in a more slow and pointed manner.
“Yes, he’ll be fine. You should be more worried about yourself. Have you seen that shopping mall?” Quincy turned his full attention to the destruction in front of him. Up close, it was an even more gruesome sight.
“Body parts, yes. Ooh, look, somebody dropped something.” The Madman bent over and picked something up from a pile of shattered concrete and held it up. Quincy almost vomited –it was a human finger with a diamond wedding ring perched below the second knuckle.
“Put that down! God, show some respect.” Quincy turned his attention away from the Madman and attempted to find something to distract himself. “What are we even looking for?”
“Clues. We’re looking for clues.”
“Isn’t that what cops are for?” Quincy looked back at the officer, who was now loading and unloading his gun while giggling, as if he were a fascinated child. “Are you sure that guy will be okay?”
“Yes. And I dare you to go and ask a detective if he has any leads on the evil demon. I’m not stopping you.”
“Point taken. Have you seen anything?”
“Not yet. But almost…”
“You haven’t even moved, and I think we’re attracting attention.”
“I’m not looking with my eyes.” The Madman could sense Quincy’s question coming. “Don’t worry about it. Look, just keep everyone away. I’m almost done.” Quincy glanced nervously at the police line. A couple reporters were talking to the befuddled police officer, who had dropped his gun and was now chewing on his badge. At least they’re focused on him, Quincy thought. At least they had made a good news story. Quincy could imagine the next day’s headlines: “Police Officer Gone Insane at Mall Massacre.”
“Got it!” The Madman turned to face Quincy. He did not look very happy.
“You know where it is?”
“What? Wasn’t that the goal? To find out where it went?”
“Yes, but it’s here.”
“Here?! What do we do?”
“Hold on! I’m trying to think. It must be in the wreckage, but why has it stayed?”
“Are you really asking me?”
“Of course not! Just shut up for a second, there’s more.” The Madman dashed closer to the ruined building, stretching his hand out searchingly. Quincy, shocked, remained rooted to the spot. His attention had been drawn by a scuffle over by his car. The officer who The Madman had touched was being brought to the ground by two of his fellows. They hauled him up and dragged him to a newly-arrived ambulance. He kicked and giggled loudly as he was thrown into the car. Three more officers came over, and attempted to disperse the agitated press. One of the cops glanced over towards the building. As he did, he spotted The Madman and Quincy.
“Hey!” the officer yelled loudly. He pulled his radio to his mouth and said something into it. The other two officers turned, startled by the cry. They saw Quincy and set off towards him, shouting at him to halt. Quincy swallowed hard and began running towards The Madman.
“Company!” The Madman saw the approaching men and cursed loudly.
“Now I have to kill them!”
“What? No! Let’s just go!” Quincy grabbed The Madman’s arm and pulled him towards the building. The Madman reluctantly broke into a run that matched Quincy’s.
“I don’t think you want to go in there,” The Madman said darkly.
“Better than being arrested,” Quincy replied, They reached the looming husk of charred metal that was once a pizza restaurant and entered. The building had collapsed in such a way that the interior of the shop was almost cave-like in nature. The outside light, though mere feet away, didn’t seem to penetrate very far into the inky gloom ahead. Suddenly, the sound of grating metal and cracking plaster came as the doorway collapsed. Unseen bits of dust and pebbles of concrete dribbled onto Quincy’s head. Instinctively, he reached out to feel for The Madman.
“Hey!” Quincy’s hand had connected with The Madman’s back. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“Did I scare you?” Quincy teased, trying to ward off a growing sense of terror. The Madman ignored him and instead muttered something under his breath. A spark flashed in the dark. It caught and exploded into a crackling orange flame, flooding the room with a warm light. Quincy could see that The Madman held the fire in his naked palm like a torch.
“You really got us into a mess here,” The Madman said drily. “Can you feel it?” Quincy swallowed hard and nodded. There was an overpowering sense of dread in the air. It was unnatural and off-putting. Quincy felt as if he was on the brink of bursting into shivers, or fleeing for any possible exit. Ahead lay only blackness; a darkness laden with an unseen horror.
“I feel it,” Quincy whispered.
“Stay close. Don’t trust anything you see in there, Quincy. Nothing.” The Madman raised the fire. They could see the door to the main mall space, which had been spared the fire’s wrath. Past the soot-covered entrance, however, nothing but silky black could be revealed.
“We’re going in there?”
“We can’t go back. It’s not letting us.”
“Why did you let me go in here if you knew this would happen?”
“Right, blame me if it makes you feel better.” Quincy didn’t reply. He was seized by another wave of anxiety and panic that he had to fight to control.
“Let’s just go,” Quincy said through gritted teeth. “Let’s just get out of here,” he continued, more quietly this time. The Madman took the lead, stepping one hesitant foot into the pool of ink ahead. The safe glow from his palm was almost useless; it was as if the tendrils of darkness were snuffing the flame like so many reaching, clawing fingers.
“Follow the light, and follow it close.” With that final vocation, The Madman disappeared into the void. The light, which Quincy had been looking at eagerly, was suddenly gone. Quincy’s heart dropped to his shoes. He took several steps after The Madman, reaching his hands out in a vain attempt to make contact.
“Hey! Wait up!” Quincy’s voice sounded faded and muffled. It was almost like he was surrounded by a thick curtain. He couldn’t see anything. “Come back!” Quincy’s voice broke. The cry was more of a plea –Quincy was beginning to panic. His resolve failed, and he decided to get back to the pizza restaurant. He had only taken a few steps into the mall, after all.
Quincy turned, took a step, and promptly ran into a hard obstacle. His forehead collided with a slab of concrete –a wall. A sob escaped him. That wall wasn’t there before, there was supposed to be a doorway. Had he gotten lost in the dark? He spun, hands grasping at the dark, hoping to find something –anything– that would bring him to salvation.
My phone! The revelation came like bolt of lightning. Quincy fumbled at his jeans, trying to fish his cell phone from his pockets. He grasped it, turned on its flashlight, and swung it up. As he did so, an unseen hand grabbed the phone and jerked it into the dark with inhuman speed. The light, like The Madman’s fire, was extinguished. Quincy’s heart stopped. He fell to the floor, breathing so hard and fast he thought his lungs would burst. What was that? What… what was..oh, God, what- His thoughts raced at an impossible tempo, leaving him incapable of rational thought. He remained there for what seemed like an eternity; hyperventilating on the cold floor, trying desperately to see what could not be seen through the shroud that covered his every sense.
Quincy had never experienced true terror. He was no stranger to fear, but what gripped his heart now was different than fear. He could feel it, taste it, smell it; a festering, ancient sense of utter dread. He was alone, oh so alone. A pattering of footsteps sounded from behind Quincy. They clicked and scuttled, thudded and squelched. It was almost as if each step belonged to a different creature. Quincy’s imagined what could be making the noises and began to shake violently. Cold sweat covered his entire body. The steps came again. They tapped closer and closer until they stopped just in front of Quincy. He whimpered involuntarily, trying fruitlessly to see what was in front of him.
Tap. The thing was coming. Tap. With each slow footstep, Quincy felt his sanity slip farther and farther away. He wanted to run, to stand, to kick out and yell, but he couldn’t move so much as a finger. Tap tap. It was right on top of him. Quincy squeezed his eyes shut instinctively, waiting for the moment of impact.
“Hey!” Quincy opened his eyes. He was met with a painful orange blaze. He shut his eyes again and put his hand up in front of his face.
“I told you to stay close, what are you doing on the floor?” The Madman glared down at Quincy critically. Quincy fought down the urge to let out a sob of relief. He stood and dusted himself off shakily.
“I felt tired, wanted to take a nap,” he said, trying to distract himself from the shock of what had just happened.
“Get up, and don’t make jokes. This place isn’t very funny,” The Madman dragged Quincy up by the arm. Quincy was surprised at The Madman’s seriousness.
“Do you know where we’re going?”
“Sort of, just follow me and don’t lose me this time. Hold my shirt if you have to.” The Madman began walking again, barely giving Quincy enough time to grab his shoulder and follow. They continued in silence, skirting any obstacles that they came to. Quincy felt much safer in the company of The Madman, yet he still felt the underlying unease that seemed to infest the entire building.
They walked for what seemed like an eternity. Each minute that passed felt like an hour. Quincy’s nerves were still rubbed raw, yet nothing else happened. The ruined mall was completely silent. Suddenly, The Madman stopped moving. Quincy bumped into him roughly and staggered back.
“Ow. What’s going on?” The Madman gave no response. “Hey, did you find something?” Quincy asked, louder this time. Again, there was nothing but eerie silence. Quincy began to feel scared.
“Quincy, isn’t it?” The Madman’s voice sounded bored, disinterested.
“Your name, it’s Quincy. Or am I wrong?”
“No –are you crazy? What’s gotten into you?”
“Is that why they call me The Madman? Am I crazy?” Suddenly, The Madman whirled onto Quincy. He held the ball of flame out threateningly, illuminating his face from the bottom. Quincy stepped back in shock –The Madman’s face was contorted evilly, his usually handsome jawline was tightened and twisted into a leering snarl.
“Wha-” Quincy tried to speak, but fear closed his throat.
“Am I crazy?” The Madman repeated slowly, putting a dangerous emphasis on each word.
“No, I wouldn’t say so,” Quincy said nervously, taking another step back.
“It’s very scary in here, isn’t it?”
“If this is your idea of a joke, I want to remind you we have more important things to be doing,” Quincy finally found the resolve to feel angry.
“More important things…” The Madman repeated the words, musing over them thoughtfully. “Like hunting the Devil?” In an instant, The Madman was gone. In his place was an impossibly black silhouette. Quincy’s heart stopped. There was no way he should be able to see whatever it was that had taken The Madman’s place. The fire had been extinguished and there was absolutely no light, yet the thing before him was darker than the blackness that surrounded it. It was like a void, creating a stark contrast with the very fabric of reality.
“You’re not The Madman,” Quincy whispered hoarsely. He was at a complete and terrified loss for words.
“Did you figure that out yourself, Quincy?” The creature bent forward, lowering its ragged head to look Quincy in the eyes.
“Where is he?” Quincy said in an even meeker tone. He could sense an overwhelming power emanating from whatever was before him. He didn’t have to be told that he was completely powerless to protect himself.
“That is a good question. Why are you here, Quincy? What did he say to you to convince you to come here with him?”
“He said I had to, to save to world.” Quincy answered without thinking, like he was forced to speak.
“The entire world? He thinks rather highly of me… Do you think I could destroy the world, Quincy?”
“I don’t know,” Quincy replied truthfully, if not against his will. “What are you?” As soon as the words left Quincy’s mouth, everything changed to sudden brightness. The darkness that had so greedily clung to every available space was, in an instant, gone. Quincy found that he was standing in the middle of the destroyed mall. Large beams of sunlight spilled down from the ruined roof above. They gloomily illuminated the sad, charred, and empty skeletons of shops, fountains, and planters. Quincy automatically looked around for any of the horrors his mind had created earlier, but there was nothing to be seen.
“What am I?” The question drew Quincy’s attention back to the creature. To his surprise, the looming dark monster was gone. In his place sat a child, raven-haired and pale-faced. The boy looked up at Quincy and smiled hollowly. “Surely, The Madman told you what I am,” the child stood, smiling thinly at Quincy. As Quincy watched, the boy changed grotesquely, his spine arching rapidly and his short black hair growing and graying at an alarming rate. His face, once youthful, chiseled with age. Canyons of wrinkles now sprouted from the corner of his eyes and crept down his face to loose, thin jowls that hung off his tight lips.
“The Devil,” Quincy whispered, his voice muted with terror.
“No,” the creature crooned, its youthful voice now a wizened croak, “I’m your worst nightmare.” It took a step forward, smiling wide, wide, until half of its decrepit face was swallowed up in that evil smile.
“Cliché, boring –overall a 3/10.” The creature paused its charge. Quincy recognized the voice, but he dared not look away from that smile. The Madman stepped into view behind the creature, chin up, shoulders squared, and a look of refined smugness on his face. The creature’s eyes never left Quincy’s.
“I was about to have some fun,” it said with the tone of a child made to go to bed early. The change in voice was so sudden that Quincy nearly looked around for the newcomer. In an instant, the creature was a young boy again. “I was about to have so much fun!” It said furiously, whirling on The Madman.
“It’s time to go home.” The Madman said coolly.
“It’s time to go home,” the boy mocked. “Maybe it is time. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t!” The boy screeched like a banshee and leapt at The Madman like a crazed wolf. They fell to the ground together, writhing and twisting like a knot of snakes. Quincy watched, dumbfounded. He wanted desperately to run, but something kept him transfixed. He watched the bizarre fight: boy against man.
With a heave, The Madman threw the boy off, sending him skidding across the ruined tiles. The Madman reached into his jacket a pulled something out. It caught the light, Quincy gasped. It was the mirror which he had buried when he had read The Madman’s guide.
“Quincy, take this!” The Madman tossed the mirror to Quincy, who caught it with a fumble.
“What? Why?” Quincy glanced over at the boy, who was starting to get up. He was changing, growing taller and thinner as he peeled himself off the ground.
“No time for stupid questions! When I say so, break that mirror!” The boy was now fully standing, but he was a boy no longer. It was as if some great hand had stretched his pale limbs like taffy. His hands, attached to boneless wrists, coiled on the floor. His neck teetered under his head, which was now several feet higher in the air.
The monstrosity flailed its arms towards The Madman and screeched as it broke into a loping, uneven charge. The Madman met the beast at a full sprint. Once again they clashed, but this time The Madman was engulfed in a tangle of tentacle-like limbs. A series of cracks sounded, and The Madman yelled out in pain: “Now, Quincy! Break it now!”
Quincy brought the mirror down on the ground with all the force he could muster. It shattered into a million shards and threw them in every direction. Quincy looked up, only to see that the ruins of the mall were empty. The Madman and his assailant were nowhere to be seen.
A sudden flash of white-hot pain flashed behind Quincy’s eyes. He fell to the floor, clutching his temples and groaning. From somewhere floated an echo of a voice. Quincy looked around, trying to figure out who was speaking, but seeing nobody. The pain came again, this time greater in intensity. Quincy screamed out loud, scrabbling uselessly against his own skull.
“Dismiss me!” the voice came again, more clearly. It was The Madman, but it seemed to come from within Quincy’s throbbing head. “Say the words! Quick, Quincy, now!” The frantic urgency in The Madman’s voice goaded Quincy to his feet. The world around him spun, but he fought to keep his balance.
“I will you to leave this place! Go from whence you came!” Quincy yelled out into the ruined mall. Silence followed. It was a pure silence, like the calm that comes when the final raindrop has fallen, when the last bolt of lightning has been cast. Quincy dropped to his knees. “Madman?” he said weakly. There was no reply, and no more pain. Mercifully, Quincy fell into unconsciousness.
Quincy woke in his own bed. He thought about the strange nightmare he had just had. The memories trickled in slowly, still shrouded in obscurity. His heart began to hammer. None of it was a nightmare; he had been in that mall.
“Calm down, kid.” Quincy then noticed the figure in the corner of the room. It was The Madman, leaning against the wall nonchalantly. “You’re fine. It’s over.”
“The Devil, you fought it, you disappeared-”
“Yes.” The Madman was very matter-of-fact.
“That’s all you have to say? What the hell happened? Where is it?”
“It’s back where it was.” The Madman’s voice adopted a tone of sadness. “And, as it seems, so am I. You’re dreaming, Quincy. But you’ll wake up soon enough.”
“Why did you tell me to break that mirror? Are you going to tell me what really happened?”
“No, that’d take far too long and I don’t think you’d understand it. I’ll give you the quick version, though. When you read my guide and freed me from that painting, I became tied to you. It wasn’t that different from a normal summoning, really. The mirror was a part of the ritual; it was my anchor to your world. But the thing that followed me out, it was also tied to you –to the mirror.”
“Breaking the mirror broke the summons.” Quincy said, understanding. “That’s why I could dismiss you –both of you.”
“But you’re stuck again, with that thing?”
“Well way to waste my time! I went through all sorts of hell to get you out, and then went through some more just to put you back!”
“Go ahead, throw a pity party. You’re alive, at least.”
“Aren’t you upset? You know, being a prisoner again and all.”
“I shouldn’t have ever left. I have to be here. You wouldn’t understand why.”
“To keep an eye on whatever followed you out?”
“Yes, something like that.” The Madman crossed to Quincy and put out a hand. “We aren’t going to see each other again. I want you to burn my guide and forget this demon business. I have no idea how you’ve survived this long, but it would be a shame to see you die. You’ve been so very entertaining.” Quincy took The Madman’s hand and shook it.
“It’s certainly been something. Bye, Madman.” Quincy didn’t want to dawdle with pleasantries. He wanted to be home safe as fast as possible.
“Goodbye, Quincy.” With that, Quincy woke. He was still on the floor of the ruined mall, alone. Two police officers stood over him, shining their flashlights into his face.
“Kid, what the hell are you doing in here?” one of the officers asked.
“Long story,” Quincy muttered, vowing never to so much as say the word “demon” ever again.
Credit: Daniel Zaturensky