Johnathon stood in front of the elegant house, halfway up to his knees in the snow, watching snowflakes gently drift onto his thick winter coat, staying only for a heartbeat before melting away into nothingness. A cold November wind whipped silently through the empty white lawn, throwing a cloud of falling snow into his eyes. A slow, steady sigh escaped the occultist’s lips, producing a wisp of steam that curled with the breeze, flowing past his face and bringing a twinge of warmth to his ear.
His eyes wandered from his coat, over to the dark green wreath hanging from the front door. The gray house, the gray sky, the white ground…it all seemed even paler next to the sudden spot of color in front of him. He could remember the autumn months only a few weeks earlier, when the grass was a chaotic mixture of dying green and lifeless brown, and all the leaves were turning into shades of brown and yellow that would make any artist fume with jealousy. Even before that, in the throes of summer, the world seemed to be nothing but green beneath his feet, and blue hanging overhead, both stretching for countless miles before embracing each other at the far-off horizon.
Almost overnight, the world closed its tired eyes, and all color vanished from sight. London was now covered in an expressionless, muted blanket, blocking out all signs of life and happiness. The dreary winter months had barely even started, and already, Johnathon was depressed.
“You’re a damned fool, Johnathon Morris,” he snapped under his breath. “Stop complaining and get back to work. Remember, you’re doing this for the nice Roland family, who always invited you to Christmas dinner, and paid you in advance for your services here. Right. So.”
Johnathon took a deep breath, stepped forward, and grasped the doorknob tightly. Before he could open the door, however, something from inside turned the knob for him, and gently pulled open the door. The horrible stench of decay flowed from the parlor room in a great wave, forcing Johnathon to bury his face in the crook of his elbow to keep from taking in more of the miasma than what had already been thrust onto him.
Still protecting his nose, Johnathon crept inside, and pushed the door shut behind him with his foot. He nearly jumped completely out of his boots when he felt bony hands grasp at his shoulders, and when he spun around to face his assailant, he saw where the rotting stink had been coming from-a zombie, fresh from the graveyard, was standing by the door, in elegant liveries.
“Coat,” the zombie managed to say, despite the minimal amount of effort coming from its half-rotten jaw.
“I beg your pardon?” Johnathon asked. He took a step back, not quite sure what to make of the undead.
“Coat,” the zombie repeated. It raised a stiff arm, and thumped its chest where its heart was probably decomposing at that very minute. “Butluh. Coat.”
Johnathon stared for a moment, exchanging glances with the placid zombie. He didn’t know the living dead could be considerate. He didn’t even know they could speak! It certainly seemed harmless enough. And it genuinely wanted to help. Far be it from Johnathon to keep the… man… from his work.
“Very well,” the occultist replied. He slowly shrugged off his coat, removed his Bible from the inside pocket, and draped it over the zombie’s outstretched arm. As an afterthought, Johnathon dug into his trouser pocket, and placed a farthing into the zombie’s hand. “Ah… for your troubles,” he said, smiling politely.
The zombie made a clumsy half-bow, muttered a quick “Shank yoo,” and shuffled off to wherever the closet was. Very confused, Johnathon cleared his throat, and quietly continued into the house.
Barely a week earlier, the Rolands had come to Johnathon in a panic, telling him stories of demonic possession in their house, centered around their young daughter, Valerie. The last time he had seen Valerie was on her birthday in the summer. He had been invited to spend the day with them in their seaside cottage near Dover, and, of course, he gladly accepted. She had seemed so fragile, yet vibrant and full of life at the same time. That was her eleventh… no, her twelfth birthday. And now, less than half a year later, she was under attack by the forces of darkness. The whole matter was quite disgusting, and Johnathon promised himself he would see the matter through personally.
The young occultist was jarred from his daydreaming by the sudden sound of harsh, bold chanting. He recognized the sound of an incantation immediately. His sharp “extra sense” began alerting every cell in his body to the presence of black magic being woven. Johnathon carefully removed his silver knife from the sheath on his belt, and crept around the next corner. A cloud of warm air greeted him in the narrow hallway, and the unmistakable odor of burning wood crept across his face. The chanting ceased for a moment, then continued again, louder and more forceful than before.
Johnathon slowly made his way down the hall, careful to make as little sound as possible. He approached the door where the chanting was coming from, and pushed it open just enough to peer inside. The only wall he could see was lined with bookshelves, each shelf stuffed to the brim with literature. One single window was on the opposite wall-a large, circular window, and very elegantly designed, much like that of a cathedral, but this one lacked any discernible image, and obviously had no color to it. The sound of wood popping as it was combusted was almost drowned out in the din of the harsh spell casting. Judging from everything inside, Johnathon surmised this must have been the study room.
After a moment, the chanting ceased, and the room was filled with a long, heavy sigh. “You are a stubborn one, aren’t you?” a familiar voice mused disdainfully. “Too much trouble, if you ask me. I just know you’re loving every minute of watching me fail, you wretched pit-spawn.” Johnathon pushed open the door a bit more, and took a quiet half-step inside. A tall, pale man was standing in front of the fireplace, almost lean enough to be considered gaunt. His hair showed signs of having once been dark, but age had added its subtle touch, painting gray wings on his temples and strands of ash scattered through the rest of it. He was holding an almost amusingly large tome in his hands, bound with tattered leather and filled with vellum that might have been older than the man himself.
Johnathon knew immediately who he was dealing with.
He gave the door a mighty kick, almost sending it clean off its hinges. The somber man jumped back in surprise, nearly dropping his book as he looked towards the door. Johnathon scowled. The other man scowled.
“Samael Norse,” Johnathon spat. “Of all the wretched, contemptible souls in this world, I have to keep running into you! Why have I been cursed with such a burden?”
“Save your melodramatic nonsense for somebody who cares!” Samael shouted back. He closed his large tome, and set it on the chair behind him. “I happen to be this young lady’s physician. The Rolands called for me only yesterday, claiming that a priest would be here to assist me as well. I find it a bit rude to see that they have sent me a clown instead!”
Johnathon was dangerously close to leaping at the doctor and choking the life out of him, but the sight of Valerie reminded him of his current obligation. He pushed his anger into the back of his thoughts, and knelt down in front of the girl to investigate. Her eyes were completely dilated and her skin was deathly pale, but her pulse and breathing were both rapid. Despite that, she was cold to the touch, and showed no signs of sweating at all. “How far along were you in your exorcism when I arrived?” he asked, brushing a bit of Valerie’s dark hair from her face.
“Not even halfway. It’s been very slow going, so far. The demon inside is quite stubborn,” Samael answered with a sigh.
“Then I shall try myself,” Johnathon announced, removing the Bible from his pocket.
Samael’s eyes nearly dropped out of his head. “What? What are you saying? You can’t be serious! Even you know that mixing necromancy with white magic is incredibly dangerous!”
Johnathon ignored Samael, and placed his hand on Valerie’s head. He closed his eyes, emptied his mind, and began to whisper a prayer. Outside, the skies started to darken as more storm clouds swiftly rolled in. A blast of cold air flew down the chimney, stirring the fire, making it dance, and casting tall shadows on the far wall. Samael’s heart jumped at the sudden breeze; there was a foul odor to it that was not human in nature. No good could come from this. “Johnathon Morris, you thick-headed fool, you’ve got to stop this! You might be willing to risk our lives, but I am not! I demand you cease in your ill-conceived behavior, immediately!”
Valerie twitched beneath Johnathon’s steady hand. Her eyes snapped open. Samael opened his mouth to speak, but before words could even come to him, a powerful, unseen force threw both Johnathon and himself into the wall. The chair Valerie had been resting in was torn to shreds, as if being ripped apart by wolves. Valerie herself rose from her destroyed seat, and hovered a good ten feet in the air while the stuffing and wood from the chair was scattered across the floor.
You should have listened, priest.
Johnathon didn’t even have enough time to wonder whose voice that was before the entire room was plunged into shadow. A harsh, biting cold suddenly flooded through his body. He had the unnerving sensation of being watched from every corner of the room. He flinched when he felt something brush past his face, and nearly shouted in alarm when a hand brushed across his shoulder. Johnathon called out to Samael, but his voice didn’t seem to be working. The darkness seemed to be muffling both sight and sound.
You cannot imagine the nightmare you have unleashed.
“Wh… who’s there? Show yourself!” Johnathon shouted, too anxious to be surprised that his voice was working again.
The petty rivalry of man has called us once again. We owe you much, priest.
Johnathon reached into his pocket, and removed a pair of silver crosses bound by a gold chain. He wrapped it tightly around his hand, and grasped the third crucifix around his neck. “I warn you for the last time! Stay back, or I shall bring a holy wrath down upon you the likes of which has never been seen before!”
The Silver Herald began to shine, and the darkness inched away. He still couldn’t see much, but the rug beneath his feet was now visible once again. Johnathon had only thought to bring the Herald as an afterthought, but he was glad he listened to his instincts. Just that little bit of light made him feel more secure.
“Does it burn, you wretched filth?” Johnathon shouted at the shadows. “Be gone, immediately! Leave this girl out of your twisted–”
Before he could finish, the darkness contracted into a cloudy mist, barely the size of another man. When his eyes adjusted to the light again, Johnathon could see Samael hadn’t moved from in front of the fireplace. The doctor looked just as terrified and worried as Johnathon himself felt. The black shadow trembled for a moment, and spat out Valerie Roland into Samael’s chest, sending both of them tumbling back against the hearth. As quickly as it had arrived, the shadow burst out the large study window, allowing a flurry of snow and glass to shower the room. Johnathon shielded his eyes just for a brief second, but when he looked again, there was no trace of the demon.
Samael let out a low groan of discontent as he pushed Valerie off of him. He rubbed the back of his head, and was relieved to find he wasn’t bleeding. “I’m getting too old for this nonsense,” he grumbled.
Johnathon quickly moved over to Valerie, and lifted her to sit upright. He started to check for her pulse, and it was then that her eyelids began to flutter. With a bit of coaxing from the two men, she cracked open her eyes, and let out a long, jaw-popping yawn. Valerie rubbed her eyes, and looked up at the figures standing around here. “Father… Morris?” she asked, looking up at Johnathon. “Why are you here?”
“You don’t remember anything?” Johnathon asked.
Valerie slowly shook her head, and yawned again. “No, not at all. I feel like I’ve been asleep for days. Was I hurt?”
“No memory at all…” Samael pursed his lips in thought, and rose to collect his book.
“You were merely sick. But… Dr. Norse and I have cured you,” Johnathon said, smiling warmly down at Valerie. “Your parents will be very glad to see you again. Shall we retire to my house and surprise them? I imagine even Samael would want to come along.”
Samael stuffed his book into his bag, and snapped it shut before slinging it back over his shoulder. “I have no intention of staying with this meddling half-wit any longer than I possibly have to,” he snapped. “Because of your ineptitude, you might have just released only God-knows-what into the world! Why didn’t you listen to me?!”
“How do we know that perhaps it was your faulty, bumbling spell casting that weakened the seal between worlds?” the occultist shouted back, standing up to see face-to-face with Samael. “The techniques and prayers I learned have been successful in my family since before the Crusades! If anyone here is to blame, it must be you!”
Valerie looked between the two men as they squabbled with each other. Couldn’t they see that they had both helped her, in their own way? The doctor had taken care of her, and Father Morris had comforted her parents and come by to pray for her.
“So help me, Samael Norse, I will walk this island for half a century if I must, but I will dedicate myself to cleaning up your ridiculous mess!” Johnathon continued harshly. “And if I ever see you again, I swear, you’ll be spending your next ten Christmases in a hospital!”
“But, it might be better if you helped each other,” Valerie offered.
Johnathon scowled, and gently started to lead Valerie away from the study. “I wouldn’t have Samael for a partner, even if the devil himself came to London. Come, now; let’s return to Greystone, and have a nice dinner with your parents.”
Samael and Johnathon exchanged caustic glances one last time before the occultist gathered his coat from the pile of bones near the front door, wrapped it around Valerie, and led her outside into the bleak, white blanket of snow that had once been England.