A supernatural tale about a little girl, her father, and the demon who came to terrorize the valley.
Echoes | Demon
The little girl and her father trudged up the hill. It was late in the evening, and their passage was shrouded by distant sounds of rain on the other side of the valley. She was frightened, all too aware they had left the calm of the village below, with its orchards and meadows, its ancient lanes and quietly grazing cattle, but now they sought towards the fierce ridges above, where dark clouds and thunder lurked around every crag. And, of course, there was demon.
She swallowed at the thought of the creature. For a moment she worried about the sky falling on her head, and closed her eyes. She tripped, and whimpered slightly.
Her father looked down at her, his large, soft eyes, cased in sleepless shadows and a bramble of eyebrows, looked startled. She smiled at his steady jaw and tousled hair and held his firm hand, drawing a little strength and warmth from it.
“Daddy, why do you come up here, every day?” she twisted her mouth, “It’s really horrid.” The little girl knew the stories of the gate demon but none of the parents would talk about it. And even though the children of the village claimed to know every detail, their stories each were different. One fact they all knew: the arrival of the demon had changed the valley, just five years ago. She’d heard tales of burnt crops, destroyed houses, and missing children.
“Oh, you’ll see.” The father was severe with the girl. He used his ‘stop asking questions’ voice. She pouted and pulled at his hand. He was preoccupied. His body seemed reluctant as he strove against the incline of the hill, and he was a little breathless.
They pushed on, with the darkness ravelling around them; rocks, like vaulting tombstones reared up alongside the path, thrusting the occasional chatter of insects at the travellers.
She felt tired. All this walking! She could be playing with the dogs, or running around with her brothers. She giggled, tripped again, let go of her father’s hand, and fell to her knees.
“Oh!” She was shocked by the grazing of the flesh. The stony path was studded with the sharp edges of shale. She pushed herself up, slightly less steady than she had been just a few moments before, and inspected the wound, picking out little bits of dirt.
“Ow! Do we have to do this?” She wailed, turning her head up to the ridges ahead, towards the storms. She saw the back of her father receding a few paces in front of her.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” She half ran, half hobbled to catch up with him. She had grown used to a father who drank and caroused, who led their huge family in the songs of their forefathers, who roused the rooftops with his glorious baritone, his thumping fist weaving with the melée of the company. But he had grown distant in the last few days, morose.
Even her friends had noticed it. “What’s up with your dad?” She wondered if the crops had failed again. But she didn’t really know what this meant.
“Perhaps your mum has a new sweetheart.” She slapped the boy who said that, then ran home and drenched her mother’s skirt with tears.
“Don’t chatter so, girl.” Muttering, the man fiddled with the charm in his right hand, attached to his wrist, as, instinctively he left his hand out to be caught and held by hers. She remembered the stories about her father’s family, warriors who withstood whole winters without food or shelter, who crossed oceans without ships, and fought demons and lizards. I must be strong, she thought, set her mouth and plodded on.
“Not far now,” she said to herself. She fell back a little, letting her father’s hand go, and she turned to look down at the village far below. She could see the smoke trails, the only sign of movement now across the whole valley floor, and wondered if her mother was preparing the food, or putting the little ones to bed. For a moment she had a sense of her body floating above the village, looking down, too, on herself.
She swivelled on her feet and tried to catch up with her father, her head down, watching the tap-tap-tap of her steps on the path, carefully avoiding the rocks and potholes. The darkness was slipping down the edges of the valley. She imagined hands reaching up from the earth, their wriggling fingers probing the bare flesh of her legs.
She rubbed at her arms and swung them like rubber limbs. She groaned; and sighed. The man stopped. She almost ran into him. He took several breaths, coughed and turned.
“Look, I’m sorry.” He sought her cheek with his forefinger, but she moved away, just beyond his reach. He knelt down, his hands loose by his side and slowly opened his arms, “please forgive me.” The little girl, who loved her father rather more than she could be cross with him, allowed herself to fall into his comforting embrace.
“Oh why are you so cross? Please tell me. Is it because I’m here? I didn’t want to come you know.”
“I know, I know. It’s not you I’m cross with, I’m just a little sad.”
“Oh Daddy, I do love you.” She gave him a huge squeeze, inhaling the familiar, smoky fragrance of his neck. Only a couple of hours earlier she had been sitting by the barn, her legs swinging idly, waiting to be harried in for bed. Instead her father had called, and obediently she followed and walked with him to the side of the valley as light began to drain slowly from the skies.
And now they were almost at the top.
“So, do you see where we’re going?” The man turned on his knee and pointed up towards the nearest summit.
“Uhuh.” She squinted, trying to gaze through the twilight umbers, picking out the jagged scars that marked the edges of the valley. It made her feel a little dizzy.
“Come on, not far now.”
She felt more tired though. Instead of walking steadily she found herself stumbling a little, almost every other step. Her father was moving more slowly too, but she felt he was pacing himself to her. Normally she would be rushing ahead, and he would be puffing behind, trying to keep up.
And so they reached the end of the path. It led into a wide recess in the rock, as though scooped out by a gigantic hand. The little girl could see tall, swirling gates of silver, reflecting the stars, absorbing the shadows within its gaps. It was twice as tall as her father, who held her back for a moment.
“See the demon in the centre?”
The little girl, feeling more faint than ever, peered into the darkness and saw the edges of the gate, and traced into the middle she saw a lumpy shape, caught in the central pillars.
“I can only see a head. No eyes! I’m scared daddy.” The little girl found her lips were difficult to move. She slurred her words, and struggled to look up at her father. She felt confused, suddenly exhausted she felt her limbs grow numb.
“It’s ok, I’m here. I’ll always be here.” Her father smiled gently and stroked her forehead. He placed his arm around her shoulders and, as she fell, he cushioned her and lifting her, he cradled her in his arms. He planted a simple kiss on her cheek as she rolled into his chest, sliding into a deep, final sleep.
The storms behind the gate, on the lea side of the valley seemed to suck at the silence around the man. His shoulders slumped over the limp body of his daughter, who he held close and fiercely to his chest. His shoulders shivered with the pain of memory, of the other nights he had appeared in exactly this place so many times before.
“Daddy.” His daughter’s voice emerged in the gloom of the hollow. The man forced his chin up and walked steadily with his daughter’s body in his arms, towards the gates.
“Daddy! Where am I?” Wide, nascent eyes blurted from the darkness of the demon’s head.
Around the foot of the gate was a pit, a bubbling mass of darkness churning, evanescent shapes arching up, gulping for air, then slithering back.
“Daddy.” The man looked at the demon and saw the face of hideous deformity that had almost destroyed the entire valley. Only the head of the creature remained, now trapped in the grip of the eternal gate, the rest of its body long dissolved by the power of the man’s arcane magick. As he stared at it, contempt and rage at war in his head, he remembered imprisoning the demon, just in time, as it had tried to escape with the sweet spirit of his daughter.
“Yes, my lovely girl.” Carefully he peeled off the inert form that was still gripped to his chest and placed it into the roiling darkness beneath the gate. Then he watched it sink. His eyes were narrow, his mouth tight, his breathing heavy.
“Will we go back together again?” The voice, his daughter’s, innocent and oblivious, issued from the throat of the demon.
“Oh, yes, you’ll come with me, always. But let’s wait for morning to bring us back together. To make us whole again.” He sat on the nearest rock and chatted with his daughter in the demon’s head, his magick stirring at the churning pool beneath the gate, creating a new body from the dark distempers, deep within.
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook for Mac app.
Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, published on Wattpad, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes and elsewhere, and on this blog.
More next week…