I awoke in a panicked sweat. God it was bad.
Was I dreaming?
There certainly had to be some explanation for why I was now a simmering pig, drenching my sheets and pillow in sweat. Nothing made sense. I needed to catch my breath.
I kicked my feet over to the edge of the bed, feeling like the weight of the world was on me, and stumbled over to the small bathroom of my apartment, to cool off.
I hopped into the shower, and let that refreshing cold water free me from the turmoil of my body. No shampoo, no soap, I just needed the sweat to be gone.
No more than two minutes later, I was back in decent shape. I’d still have the sheets to clean if I didn’t want to deal with the nasty scent all night, but it seemed awfully late. I could deal with them for the rest of the night. But regardless, I felt okay again…had a strange, new, and even worse feeling come over me. I didn’t know how to describe it in words, but something wasn’t right. It was a gut feeling. A damn strong one.
I whipped the towel around my legs and body quickly, and left the Bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I threw on a second set of clean Pyjamas, did a quick spray of the air using deodorant to mask the lingering scent of sweat, and got back into bed to return to my rest.
As soon as my head touched the pillow, the phone on my nightstand began to vibrate violently.
Who could be calling me at such a late hour? I thought.
I didn’t want to take the call, but I felt like it would just keep going otherwise. I held the phone to my ear.
The caller ID was unknown, and strangely, all the text on my screen was red, not the phone’s usual UI elements of blue and white text.
I could hear the sound of some stifled giggling.
“So, you’ve succeeded in avoiding Her, already?” came a suave voice with a deep tone.
“…Excuse me?” I replied. It sounded like a prank call, I didn’t recognize the voice as anyone I knew. My old roommate David was known for the occasional prank, but this clearly wasn’t him.
“Oh, come now. You were no more than an inch away from her, and you didn’t have the heart to introduce yourself? Not very gracious of you.” came the response, tutting.
I rolled my eyes and then got back to him. “Look, I’m just trying to get to sleep her-” I was abruptly interrupted.
“And I have information that might just save your life. Well… return it, at least.”
I wanted to hang up for being rudely interrupted, but the next thing he said was just intriguing enough for me to hear him out.
“…Are you threatening me?” I said.
“On the contrary. I’m here to help.” was his response.
I sat silent for a moment, wondering what the man’s motive might be. “I’d like to offer you a deal.” he said.
“A… deal?” I said, confused.
“If you’ll allow me a moment of your time to explain myself, of course…” he said.
“Shoot.” I said, just wishing he’d get on with it.
“In case you were otherwise unaware, you are dead.”
“…Dead?” I said, while trying to interpret his meaning.
“Yes. Dead. The type in which your mortal coil has been snuffed out, and you are now merely a soul. As it happens, your corpse is sitting in the local morgue, while your family are out of town with friends and relatives.”
“Cut the bullshit.” I said, ready to hang up. That whole statement made no sense. I was right here.
“Oh, you can hang up on me if you please, but you’ll soon regret it…” He said.
“Then start making sense!” I shouted, my patience finally starting to wear thin.
“I’ve been quite honest with you so far, but I’ll do what I can to clear things up for you. That ‘Friend’ of yours, Richard? The one who offered you ‘Superpowers’ beyond your wildest imagination, in exchange for nothing more than a quick injection… Well, he did you quite a disservice.” he said.
“You were injected with Krokodil, that ghastly substance that brings new Russian lowlifes to my door, daily. I wish I could say you had a pleasant death, but I can’t lie to you, in good faith.”
“…If I am dead… how are we talking? Explain that.” I said, scoffing.
“Oh, that’s very simple. As I said, I offered you a deal.”
“I looked over your case, and my poor heart was just so moved to find how unfairly you were treated…” I couldn’t believe how mocking his voice was. This guy cared nothing for me.
“For the moment, I have temporarily returned you to life. Course’, that’s conditional on how you handle yourself from now on.” he said.
“And what would you have me do?” I retorted, sick of the baseless statements so far.
“Survive. For no more than a week. I would hope someone as capable as you could do that much.” he said.
“…A week. You don’t think I can live a week? I’ve been alive for over 20 years. What’s one more week…” I responded, feeling good about myself.
“Oh, I can’t pretend that your usual routine places in you in any harm, no… But you’re not alone right now…”
I pulled a face of pure disbelief, having been looking at my empty room for the entire conversation.
“Listen. There’s nobo-”
Scratching sounds at the bathroom door. Very distinct scratches. Fingernails, no doubt.
He was right.
I bolted outright out of bed, grabbing the pistol I’ve kept in the drawer beside my bed for just such an occasion. I made my way towards the bathroom, wondering just who the hell was in there. I had just come out of there minutes ago, and it was empty.
I reached for the doorknob, when the voice came from the phone again. I could hear it all the way from across the room.
“I wouldn’t advise that, if I was you…” Came a serious tone. I walked backwards to the bed, continuing to stare at the door, talking with the phone in one hand.
“You see, down here, she’s affectionately known as Lamia. One of the older demons, and easily the most eldritch sight we have. I called a vote to see what the board wanted to see you deal with, and she won by a landslide.”
“…What fucking vote! Just who are you??” I finally screamed. The stress of the bathroom scratching getting to me, and this call continuing to wind me into madness.
“You haven’t guessed? I go by many names, but your kin usually just call me the Devil.”
“…The devil?” Funny as hell, but I was actually considering that he was telling the truth.
“I’ll help you to understand your task. It’d be no fun to watch you perish so soon, after all…”
“For the next seven days, you will have to contend with Her being in your presence. She will materialize close to you, starting from 10AM, and leaving you at 6PM sharp. This could be from your cabinet, under your bed, anywhere unseen, really. Dark places are a surefire favorite dwelling for her.
“She’s not terribly keen on being looked at. Frankly, it’s the thing she hates most. I’ve observed some truly abhorrent butchery of those who can’t pay her the respect of remaining unseen. If you catch so much as a quick peek of her, you’ll understand.”
“She may be kind enough to let slide some unconscious reflections, after all, you humanshave a very wide gaze. But, that’s in her court. I wouldn’t rely on her mercy, myself.”
“…I can’t look at her?” I said. “…What’s stopping her from coming out?”
“She’s not awfully familiar with your world, and your architecture. Usually, you’ll find her tormenting souls on the third rung of the underworld, so please, forgive her naivety.”
“I kid…” he said, laughing. “She could open the door, but she’s a good sport. If you manage to trap her as such, you can consider the threat over for the night.”
“She has a handful of supernatural abilities to help her out. Low-level telepathy to move or rotate objects, the ability to absorb and reform light into other forms of energy, mostly used to overload or dim light bulbs…”
“But worst of all, she has a particularly cruel tendency to make your hear things that aren’t actually there. She can imitate any voice, or sound naturally. Expect her to save that for the later days, though. She should only employ that if you’re doing a good job.”
“Ok, ok… I’m getting some of this.” I said, wishing this was all just some dream.
“Now, while I did call her a good sport, it’s only fair you don’t cheat yourself..”
“Cheat?” I said, confused.
“Well, your task is merely to avoid to looking at her. You could lock yourself in an empty room with no windows, lock the doors, and be done with it. Or you could turn on all the lights in the house, and keep her from appearing anywhere. Anything of that nature, really. There are several ways to exploit the rules, but she’s been granted special permission to break her usual restrictions, if you can’t respect a fair challenge.”
“….Ok. I think I get it… Is that it?” I said.
“Mostly. Your life is as it was, before your death. You can go about your day, and prepare for the challenge during the daytime, just be sure to have your strategy in place before 10AM. Having trapped her in your bathroom, you’re safe for the first night. You could sleep in peace, but I suspect you’re too troubled for that right now…”
“If I’ve forgotten anything, I can call you back. There’s a lot of money riding on you, right now. I can promise you that you don’t want to fail this test. You’ll be tormented for all eternity if you disappoint some of the bigger demons, betting on your survival. Well, then. I think that’s all. Farewell, and good luck with your life.”
The call was over. And I was an emotional wreck right now, faced with my very survival.
If I could trust ‘The Devil’, or so he said he was, then I was safe for the first night, because of my accidental fortune.He might have said a lot of questionable things, but he was right about one thing.
I wasn’t getting a fucking second of sleep tonight.