If anyone’s wondering what I’m reading at the moment, it’s Howliday Inn. Just getting reacquainted with the classics.
He woke with a start, from a dream of torn skin in his mouth. The room was bright with sunlight. Harper was slouched in the chair, asleep. She stirred when he woke thrashing, but didn’t wake. Hussein was at his desk, head in his arms. He didn’t stir at all.
Bryan tiptoed out the door and to the bathroom, where he pissed a river. He didn’t meet anyone on the way there and back. The building was like a tomb in the day. There were daytime workers – analysts and payroll and damage control – but they hardly equaled the buzz of nighttime, and they worked on the lower floors.
The two were still asleep when he got back. He closed the door silently, without even a click of the latch, and looked them over. Harper’s hair was in her face, swaying gently with each breath. She snored if he listened hard enough. Hussein was hunched over his desk, arms for a pillow, back rising and falling. Bryan felt bad for him; he had taken his couch.
His eyes roamed to the other side of the room, to the bookcases. And his bag. His bag filled with waterlogged cards he had scooped up in the midst of his gibbering horror, filled only with self-preservation, as if the cards were pieces of his body he had to gather together before running away from the thing that was gathering its own body.
And the gamma. The gamma was in there too.
He went to the bag and took it out, finding the box immediately like a metal filing drawn to a magnet. He sat down on the couch and drew it, expecting to feel something when he touched the card, but feeling nothing, as if it were asleep too. He turned it over and over in his hands. Seven of spades.
I know you’re there, he thought at it.
It didn’t respond. There was only an energy under his fingertips like any other demon.
I know you can hear me.
Come on you cowardly fuck.
He took a shaky breath. Was it trying to make him angry?
What was that thing that attacked me?
He felt something. Its eyes on him perhaps, but that was all.
You helped me. If you want to help me, you’ll tell me what that thing was.
It peered out at him. The card was warm in his hand. It was studying him, thinking. Somehow he knew this, and he waited, until its voice rose in his mind, rose up from some depths he didn’t know were there.
You know what she is.
He flinched at the voice. It was toneless, sexless. Like a stray thought in his head come forward.
He licked his lips, which were dry and cracked. Possessed eternally.
It didn’t answer, but he was right.
How did it get here?
It didn’t answer.
Through a gate?
His fingertips pressed indents into the card. Why was he even bothering with it? He was answering his own questions. I thought only demons came through the gates.
It’s difficult for them, the voice told him. This early, it is a risk few take and fewer survive.
He blinked at the sudden information. Then why do they try?
Because they are hungry.
He thought of the dead plains and the dead wind that blew through them. Of dwelling there for centuries. How do I kill it?
You don’t. She is Eternal.
Bull. I can burn her at least.
The demon tied to her will reconstruct her.
Then drown her in lava or a vat of acid or something.
Even at a molecular or atomic level, she will be brought together.
Sweat stood out on Bryan’s forehead. How is that possible?
Her demon knows every part of her. That is why she is Eternal.
His whole mouth was dry now. Nothing he or anyone else could do. How was that possible? All these years of fighting demons just to run into something like this? To end like this?
And there were others.
Why was she after me?
She was after me.
Younger demons are powerful. Our power wanes as time passes and we feed.
So she would use you? How? For what?
This is a war after all.
He was getting a headache. Harper stirred in her sleep and gave a sound that was nearly a whimper. This was hard to process when he had to struggle to get answers. But it made sense that she had been after the gamma – perhaps that was why it had been frightened. But then again, what did it have to be afraid of?
It didn’t matter.
They’re strengthening the gate. So they can come through safely.
It didn’t answer. So he was correct.
When will that happen? When can they come through?
They have 2000 years to prepare. Then they have their chance.
Bryan licked his lips again. When?
God, his head was pounding. His fingertips were burning where they touched the card. When?
It didn’t answer. He knew it didn’t know. He knew because it was in his pounding head, looking out of his eyes, flipping through his thoughts.
He threw the card in horror, and it felt like he used all his strength to toss that card away from his body, like he was throwing a fifty pound weight, like the air resistance against it was a hurricane. But being a card it didn’t fly but swayed drunkenly in the air, threatening a couple of times to drift back to him before landing on the corner of the coffee table. It wavered there for a moment and then fell over the edge to the carpet. He had cringed away from it and was breathing heavily.
Stupid, he thought at himself. Stupid. You didn’t even learn anything.
But he had. He had learned that these Eternals wouldn’t die. And that there were more of them.
And more coming.