The Universe is a living thing: as alive as the greenest jungle or the deepest ocean, and as full of energy. Hell, then, is a parasite. Call me dramatic if you will, but consider that everything that exists in Hell has taken its essence from the world of the living – that place which treats us now like the intruders we are. It is a destructive existence, but one which should bode well for us demons, as the universe is a large animal indeed, and full of juicy flesh…
Yet Hell not in fact the Heaven it should be, abundant with stolen treasures – quite the opposite – and it does beg the question: while we feed on the universe, what feeds on us?
– Blood Dweller’s Guide to the Underworld, Chapter 4 (Life After Death)
The Scared Girl
She comes to Will’s room when it’s after midnight, because she knows Mr. And Mrs. Durmer won’t be as understanding so deep into the witching hours. Will is always understanding. Will believes the things she says, and it is for this quality above all else that she loves him fiercely. He wakes bleary eyed as the light from the hallway floods his room, and stares at Sarah’s silhouette in the doorway blankly for a moment, his mind catching up to his body.
‘W – Will?’ Her voice is pitifully weak in the silence, and he slides out of bed, tiptoeing across the room to her. His hair is mussed and his pyjamas ruffled, but when he sees the look on her face he wakes up quickly.
He puts both hands on her shoulders. ‘Are they back?’ he says.
‘I want to see.’
She’s only ever seen the monsters twice before now in her whole life. There was the man in the tall hat and suit who leered at her as she passed him on the sidewalk, tugged along by her mother. They almost collided, and when Mrs. Durmer cast him one of her withering looks he made an elaborate bow. ‘My apologies, Madams. My fault.’ When he took off his hat, Sarah saw the face of a hideous goblin, his face burned and sour, gums bloody and full of teeth like bamboo. He’d grinned at her and winked with a yellow eye, and then he was on his way.
‘Why was he so burned up, mother?’ She’d said later, but Mrs. Durmer had only tittered in the way she did when she thought Sarah was being childish. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
She’d told Will about the burned man on the very night the Monsters had come to their back garden. They’d been allowed to camp out in the backyard on an overcast night, and so of course when the lights went out in the house they turned on their torches and sat opposite each other in the billowing tent, a bag of chocolate buttons between them. The game had been ghost stories, and for her turn she told him what she’d seen. His reaction had startled her: not an eye roll and a laugh, but a steady gaze.
‘You’re not pulling my leg?’ He’d said. ‘You really saw that?’
He let the silence drag, light drizzle pattering their tent. ‘I’ve seen one like that, once. You were too young, but we passed a car accident on the highway and I saw one of the policemen hanging over someone on the road. The others were all watching him – but he wasn’t giving him mouth to mouth… He was eating his face.’
She’d wanted to laugh herself, then, except that she knew her brother too well to believe he was playing a prank on her. The revulsion on his face was real. He’d seen it, and nobody else had. ‘They just stood there, watching,’ he’d said, shaking his head.
And that very night, just at the first peep of dawn, they’d heard something climb over the back fence and land in the grass. Neither had had the courage to breathe, let alone stick their heads out of the tent, but they watched its shadow cross the garden, trying to make sense of its shape. It was nearly human, but its proportions were all wrong and its joints were bending the wrong way as it shuffled around the tent and over to the far corner of the garden. They analysed the marks in the mud the next day and counted twelve inchworm toes on each foot.
Now, Will opens his closet door and pulls out his hockey stick. He follows her to her bedroom, or rather he leads the way while she trails anxiously behind him. ‘Don’t move too fast, Will,’ she says. ‘Turn off the light before you go in, or it’ll see you.’
‘Where is it? It’s not in the house is it?’
‘No… I don’t think so. It was outside on the street, looking at me. Just looking.’
He reaches in and flips the switch, making Sarah’s room dark except for the orange glow coming from the window. The curtains are half drawn, and one of them is torn from when she’d hurried to pull them shut.
She can’t bring herself to enter and face what’s on the other side of that glow, what’s standing out there under the streetlight and looking up at her. She hangs in the doorway, helpless, as Will steps into the room, hockey stick over one shoulder, and advances to the window. The words come back choke in her throat, and she’s so sure it’ll come right through the glass, but it doesn’t, and he breathes a sigh of relief when he sees the empty street.
‘Keep looking,’ she says, and dares to come forward, creaking inch by inch until she’s at his side.
She doesn’t look out. If she does she knows it will be there, and it will set its drooling eyes on her and she’ll be dead. Instead, she puts a hand on Will’s shoulder and peels him away, leading him back to his room.
Under the covers of his bed, she feels safer, and she pulls him into a bear hug, which he abides indifferently.
‘They’re not real, Sarah,’ he says. ‘You’ll grow out of them one day.’
‘What about the car crash? Eating his face?’ She whispers.
‘I didn’t see it right.’
This sinks in with a horrible sense of loss and she blinks back tears. ‘Yes you did,’ she says fiercely.
When he doesn’t reply, she asks in a small voice: ‘Do you believe me, Will?’ Do you believe I saw it?’
And his answer is like cool water on a fire: ‘Yes,’ he says, and it’s all she needs.
‘I believe you.’