It was an average executive office in a humdrum office building in a typical suburbia office park. Oak desk. Nice, big windows. The kind that really let the sun in. But I'd chosen to come here in the evening. Fewer people around, and the kind of people who would be working at this hour were likely to be most useful to me.
"Ernest Witherspoon" was the name on the door. I'd just burst in.
The startlement of his visage from behind his desk was the first sign I'd come to the right place. "What's this?" he demanded. "Who the hell are you?" Oh, such apt words.
"Ernest Witherspoon," I loudly announced, "I am Stan Feldman of the Internal Revenue Service
." As expected, his jolt of fear was delicious, just the appetizer I was looking for. Now for the main course. Everybody fears the IRS, but I had a feeling wouldn't need to probe very deep to find the specific things that this one would most fear. "We know what you've been up to, Mister Witherspoon. This is the end of the road."
He glanced at his phone. I could feel the dry discomfort in his throat. A million thoughts were firing through his decidedly weaselly mind. Most were very, very bad. I had no regrets about picking this one.
"Mister Witherspoon, are you thinking of calling your wife Doris to ask her to hide evidence of your tax evasion
? Or calling you mistress
Elana, to have her empty out your Cayman Islands account." His eyes widened. "Oh yes, we've known about all your 'secret' accounts for a long time. Even the one in Portugal." I shook my head in mock remorse. "More lawbreaking. Well, they're all being seized, even as we speak, and I don't think your wife will be any help to you." I grinned in mock triumph. "Our people are on their way to your house right now. They'll be showing her some choice photos of you and the mistress.
"No!! No, you can't-- this can't be happening!! I was so careful!!"
"Mister Witherspoon," I licked my lips, "we know everything
. The bearer bonds. The unreported land deals. Your cozy life is over. You'll be spending the rest of it in prison."
Witherspoon suddenly delved into one of his desk drawers and came out with a handgun
. Ooh, a nice, big one, at that. He pointed it at me, pulled the trigger, but I had already moved out of the way by the time the bullet passed by. I gave him my most unimpressed stare.
I wasn't completely sure he would try to shoot himself, but he did, gun in the mouth, slowly squeezing the trigger. You might think people who resort to such steps are beyond fear, but the truth is, they are consumed
with it, blocking out every rational thought and driven to act on that fear alone -- fear so strong that it turns the self-preservation
instinct on its head, wrestles it into an instinct to preserve some phantom of the ego through self-destruction instead.
Naturally, when Witherspoon's frantic desire for death finally overcame his fear, and the trigger made it all the way back, the gun jammed. No bullet
for Mister Witherspoon today. He threw the gun to the ground -- this time it fired (just for effect). He turned and threw himself at the window behind him. This was getting comical. He bounced off. Two g-men in shapeless suits came in the room. They grabbed Witherspoon's arms and began dragging him towards the door. When they got to me, they stopped. I put a hand over his confused face. "That's enough. Sleep."
Witherspoon collapsed on a sweaty bundle on the floor. The g-men evaporated -- they were, after all, only ever in his mind. Or in my mind, projecting into his. He'd wake up in a few hours thinking it was all a nightmare, and might even contemplate changing his ways for a few days. I'd fed well on his fear. I saw myself out and was preparing to leave, when something.... irresistible.... crossed my seasoned palate.
What a delightfully odd coincidence, that with none of my machinations, there was a tasty bit of fear wrapping itself around me from another office in this same building. Upstairs and down the hall, I could tell. Even though I had just had a satisfying meal, I found myself drawn to it -- after all, what's lunch without a little desert?
It was, as it turns out, the office of the CEO of the company. Perhaps he had just read some news that would sink his stock portfolio? Or gotten an email from a blackmailer, threatening to reveal some impropriety? Whatever it was, I'd figure it out and stir it into a delicious treat. So into the office I walked (with, I confess, a bit of a swagger). And that's how I found myself standing at the center of a binding chalk pentagram. Captured. The CEO was not in fear of anything, least of all me. But he did have some sort of charm to create the illusion of it -- the better to lure your unfriendly neighborhood fear-eating demon.
And, naturally, from his neck hung an amulet of Ahnkathat, probably bargained for with some piece of his precious human soul
. I was trapped, unable to move beyond the edge of the pentagram. I figured I'd better play it cool while I figured out an escape plan.
"Well, well, well," the CEO grinned, "what have we here? I'd hoped to catch a minor urguk
, maybe a grimoine
, but you look like a much higher level of demon than that."
"I'm slumming," I responded. "Look, this pentagram won't hold me for long -- release me now and I'll go easy on you." I was totally bluffing.
The CEO didn't bite; instead he leaned in a bit, held up that damned amulet, and asked that most dreaded of questions: "what is your true name?"
The true name; the sigil of vulnerability which gives men the power to command demons, bend us to their will. The boss
invented that you know, just as a tease, as a way to draw humans into his fold and keep demons humble and on their toes. For a moment, I almost spit it out without even thinking it through, but I caught myself. "You're using a spell of compulsion on me? Ha!! Sorry buddy, but that won't work. I'm immune to the stuff."
A moment of worry furrowed his brow. The truth is, naturally, that I was lying. It's kind of a long story, but there was this wizard who I once did a favor for, and in return, he gave me a bit of a resistance boost to spells of compulsion. I can stonewall the first two times a question is asked or a task is demanded, but if the asker gets around to asking a third time.... well then I'm screwed.
And the CEO was asking a second time -- this time while using his charms to inflict as much pain as he could point my way. My body coursed with a seemingly randomly placed collection of sensations, alternating between freezing slashes like those delivered by the souls trapped in living, shrieking icicles of the mountains of desolation, and burning stings, like swarming hellbees. Yes, hell has bees. The boss has a sweet tooth
"What. Is. Your. NAME!?!?"
"Gah-- Gah-- Go fuck yourself," I gasped out. This guy was really, really good. I mean, I wasn't enjoying the experience or anything, but I had to admire the guy's technique.
I thought the guy had dispensed as much pain as he was able to, but no, he upped it a notch. And then he started to ask that third time, "What. Is. Your--"
"Ga-- Golthallennium !!" I blurted out. Not exactly sure why -- I know, that was a really, really dumb move on my part, but I was kind of in a pinch. And, hey, he didn't finish the question. He didn't actually get around to asking my name
a third time. It's kind of like when you ask a djinn
to grant wishes, and they interpret the request in the most messed-up way they can. Actually, some of my friends are djinn, and they explained some great tricks and techniques for doing just that. Answering the incomplete question before the asker gets done is one of those. For all I know, he was going to ask my shoe size, or my favorite color. So to that partially asked question, I can answer whatever I want -- no compulsion kicking in. And I chose to think he was going to ask "What is your biggest fear." And I answered Golthallennium.
And, naturally, my captor's eyes lit up with such surprise, they were like the lava after a fresh spawn's climbed out of it.
"Are you fucking kidding me?!?!" It wasn't so much a declaration as a challenge. He squeezed the amulet and pain wracked me again.
"Can't.... lie...." I gasped, "under.... compulsion." That was a lie too.
He let up; locked eyes with me, and asked again. "What is your true name?"
Now I'm sure you're thinking that this is the third time he's asking the question, but technically he threw a monkey wrench in his own works by asking a different 'third question' when he asked if I was 'fucking kidding' him. At least, that's how I chose to interpret it. So I was free to interpret this
as the first
in a new set of questions he was asking me. So I stood up as straight as I could, and let my wings unfurl and darkness unfold as much as the space allowed by the pentagram would allow, and I bellowed in a decidedly over-the-top manner, "I am Golthallennium the Great, the Demon Lord of Discord, First Minister of Rumors and Lies in the Dismal Planes
." That surely wasn't Golth's full real name, but it was as much of it as I knew or dared to guess. Fired up, I continued, "I am Golthallennium the Great, and I will devour your soul!!"
I'd hoped possibly to cow this guy a bit, but he seemed more gleeful than ever, thinking he'd caught one of the bigwigs of demonkind. And now I saw a flaw in my plan, because he would ask me to do things which only Golthallennium could do, and would be a mite displeased to discover that I couldn't do those things. I was formulating a next step -- and the CEO was clearly formulating his first demand -- when suddenly I sensed a presence behind me. A skinny blond teenage boy. More specifically, a particular teenage boy named 'James' (or at least, that was his human name; I wasn't going to think about any other under the circumstances). "James, stay back, it's a--" but it was too late. He had walked right into the pentagram, alongside me.
James whispered in my ear, "Grandpa sent me to tell you that if you ever invoke his name again, he'll skin you alive, then send you to the pits with no skin."
"Lovely," I replied. "So how's your mother?"
"She's taken up pottery. It really helps her unwind."
I shrugged and nodded a modicum of approval.
"Silence!!" the CEO yelled, and then he cackled, "two demons for the price of one!! And how touching, you're friends. Or is it.... father and son?" Then he snapped into a snarl. "Perhaps I'll make one of you kill the other."
I muttered to James, "Any idea how we get out of this?"
"Yeah," James grinned, "like this." And then he stepped right out of the pentagram. The CEO looked confused. "Demon-binding pentagram?" James asked. It was a rhetorical question; he continued, "I'm a quarter human. My human part just crossed your threshold."
"Son of a bitch!!" the CEO growled, holding up his amulet. "Stay back," he commanded as lightning shot from the talisman towards my son, who held up a hand -- and suddenly it was a large, flaming, blade covered hand at that. He absorbed the lightning without a hint of discomfort.
"But, you know," James explained, "I'm still three quarters demon. On my father's side." His face melted into a mass of tentacles tipped with razors. Vile fluids oozed from his feet, spreading over the chalk, erasing it, freeing me from the pentagram. I would have stepped in to help, but the kid didn't need it. He had his grandfather's room-filling wings. And, apparently, his grandfather's penchant for devouring the screaming flesh of evil humans. The CEO's fear -- his real
fear -- was some of the best I'd ever tasted.
Later, as we strolled through a nearby park under moonlight shrouded by clouds, James looked thoughtfully at his newly-acquired amulet of Ahnkathat. It had a little extra glimmer in its central gem now, where James had trapped the writhing soul of the CEO.
I cleared my throat a bit. "Hey, you know I'm really-- I mean, getting to see you-- and not just because you saved my ass back there-- um, it's--"
"I know, dad," he cut me off. "Actually.... mom thinks I oughtta spend some time with you. Learn the ropes and all that."
"And how does grandpa feel about that
"Doesn't matter," he shrugged. "He can't tell his little girl 'no,' so...."
I was grinning so hard I must have looked like an idiot. "Great, then -- let's get started!! I don't know if you've heard, but.... this is kinda my month of the year
For No More Room in Hell: The 2014 Halloween Horrorquest