From the author: Mark Baker was a quiet man, kept to himself and tried to avoid conflict, something he'd been unsuccessful at since his high school days. And then he received a letter from overseas...
by G.A. Miller
Mark Baker gasped loudly, waking from the nightmare. The same nightmare that haunted him since it happened, so long ago.
He was in the shower after gym class, his eyes closed as he washed his hair, trying to prevent the shampoo from getting in his eyes and stinging them.
Suddenly, he was pushed hard from behind, the force causing him to slip and fall on the wet tiles. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, opening them to see a circle of wet feet surrounding him.
The first stream of hot urine hit his face, causing him to gag and squeeze his eyes closed as the other streams began, all aiming for his head, his face. He opened his mouth to cry for help, and one of them scored a bullseye, right in his mouth. He retched and gagged, vomiting on the floor, as they all laughed while emptying their bladders.
In his nightmare, those bladders never seemed to empty, their urine hot enough to burn his skin. Then, the cleansing water from the shower heads all turned into forceful yellow jets of boiling hot urine, his skin blistering as he flailed helplessly on the floor before them.
He sat up, tears running down his face, and went into the bathroom, ashamed that he now had to empty his own bladder.
Monday had arrived.
Mark Baker wasn't the sort of man to stand out in a crowd. Slender build, average height and coloring, no distinct features to speak of, he naturally blended into the background of any surrounding.
He lived quietly, renting a small apartment for himself, working as a bookkeeper in a large company, just another faceless occupant in a cubicle. He had no close friends, never really did, having been the preferred target of every bully in every school he'd ever attended.
That harsh childhood taught him to keep quiet, to look down, and try not to be noticed, traits he'd kept as an adult. It also fueled a very deep seated hatred for the world in general, which he wasn't even consciously aware of, having accepted his fate long ago.
The last time he'd tried to become friendly with one of his co-workers, he later overheard her talking to a friend, describing Mark as "having the personality of an orphaned sock." A bright flare of anger briefly burned inside him, but then he silently sat in his cubicle, blushing furiously, waiting until she'd left the office before gathering his things to go home. He understood he simply didn't know how to socialize, never having had the chance to learn when he was growing up.
But understanding didn't lessen the pain and embarrassment.
He caught the 5:17 bus, as he usually did, and had a window seat. He opened the newspaper in his lap, but gazed out the window instead, watching the world pass by, wondering what it was like to be different, to be confident, like the men standing outside their homes talking and laughing as they collected the mail from the boxes at the curb. There were probably wives inside those houses, maybe children too, waiting for Daddy to walk in, excited and happy to see him arrive.
Folding his paper, he stood and pulled the signal cord, his stop approaching soon. He exited the bus and walked to his apartment building, glancing at the mail boxes in the vestibule wall. Was that an envelope? He wasn't expecting any utility bills for at least another week or two. He opened his box to find a lone envelope addressed to him from “Quimby and Howe, Solicitors,” with a return address in London. He locked his mail box and went inside, taking the stairs up to his small apartment on the second floor.
He set his things down absently, wondering if he'd received the letter by mistake. He opened it with a butter knife, and sat down at the small kitchenette table to read.
It said his grandfather had a brother named Edgar who'd settled in England after World War One, spent the rest of his life there, and had left behind one item that he bequeathed to the last living male member of their family, which happened to be Mark. They apologized profusely at the long delay in locating him, finally succeeding by using the new ancestry databases that had become so popular. They'd enclosed a legal release form and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for its return, asking him to please sign and date and then return it to them at his earliest convenience.
Upon receipt of the release, they'd ship the item from his grand uncle directly to him, and would consider the matter properly closed.
Mark was stunned. He now remembered family members occasionally referring to someone "over there", but they were immediately hushed by the others, as though speaking of a secret meant to be kept, a black sheep of some kind. His parents never spoke about him to Mark, and he'd completely forgotten about it until now.
He wondered what this item was-as they'd only referred to it as an item-with no further description. He was positive it wouldn't be anything of value, though. Things like that simply don't happen to him, and this would be no different. Probably a souvenir from the war, or something like that. He signed and dated the release form, folded it into the return envelope, and left it on the table next to his keys, so he'd remember to mail it in the morning.
Weeks passed, and Mark had forgotten about the letter. He arrived home one Friday to find a folded piece of paper in the grate of his mail box. He removed it, and found a note from George, the building superintendent, asking him to stop by when he got home. He walked down the hall to George's apartment, hoping a pipe hadn't burst, or some other disaster, and rang the bell.
"Hello, George...you wanted to see me?"
"Hi Mr. Baker, yes. A package came for you today, they let me sign for it. One minute," he stepped over to a table in his hallway, reaching for something there.
"Here you go," George returned, handing Mark a small cardboard box with labels all over it.
"Thank you, George. I appreciate you signing for it for me."
"No problem, Mr. Baker. You have a good one now," smiling, George closed his door as Mark examined the box. He turned it over and saw his name and address, with “Quimby and Howe, Solicitors,” as the return address.
So, this was the mysterious item they'd mailed him about. He went upstairs to his apartment, put it aside, and set about making his dinner.
Once the dinner dishes were cleaned and put away, Mark sat down and used a pair of scissors to cut the tape securing the box and opened it. Inside was a folded letter, and a small wooden box, once polished to a high gloss, but marred heavily with dents and tool marks. He opened the letter, which apologized for the deplorable condition of the box, stating that was how it came into their possession, clearly from failed attempts to pry it open.
They ascertained what appeared to be a seam, indicating that it should open, but were unable to determine how to open it. As such, they encouraged him to report any valuables he might find inside to the appropriate authorities for tax purposes, and wished him well.
He set the letter aside, and picked up the box. He turned it over, feeling weight inside it, but seeing no obvious way to open it. The deep gouges in it showed many attempts at forcing it open, which hadn't seemed to work. He held it in both hands, and smiled, remembering an old cartoon he'd watched.
"Open Sesame..." he whispered, using his thumbs to push up on the top half of the box.
It opened smoothly and easily on hidden hinges.
He was so startled, he nearly dropped it. In the bottom, set in a cushion of black satin, was a ring. It was gold, but a darker shade of the yellow than he'd ever seen in gold jewelry, with a deep blue gemstone speckled with gilded dots, resembling stars in the night sky. Toward the bottom, the dots changed to red, and finally to black at the very edge. The sides of the ring surrounding the stone were engraved with what appeared to be dragons reaching toward the center. It looked like it had been made by hand, not nearly as refined as the rings you might see in a modern display case.
In the top of the case, there was a rolled-up parchment with a black ribbon around it. He removed it, and revealed words etched by hand into the wood itself, "Daemonium Et Dimittere", whatever that meant. Maybe the ring makers?
He carefully opened the parchment and found one lone sentence and a symbol, both clearly written by hand. The sentence simply said, "Do What Thou Wilt", and under that, a symbol with a five petaled flower at the center of a diamond shape, with wings of some sort stretching out to each side.
Mark was thoroughly confused. He'd originally thought the ring had something to do with his great uncle's military background, perhaps a symbol adopted by his battalion, but the parchment and ring design didn't look to be military at all. He carefully rolled the old parchment back up, sliding it back inside the black ribbon, and setting it back inside the cover of the box. He put the box down on the table, leaving it open. He had a feeling it wouldn't open for him so easily again if he closed it.
"Oh, Uncle Edgar, what the hell were you mixed up with?" he wondered aloud. He looked over at the ring, but never actually touched it. Something about the signet made him a little uneasy, but he couldn't say what or why. He decided to do some research and see what he could find out.
He opened his small Chromebook, hoping Ross had a signal available upstairs. His neighbor Ross allowed Mark to piggyback on his wireless signal in exchange for a few dollars a month against the cost, a deal that worked well for them both. It connected perfectly, and be began searching for more information about the puzzling box and its contents.
An hour later, the notepad beside his Chromebook was full of notes he'd taken, most very disturbing. He wondered how deep into insanity his grand uncle had fallen when he put the box and its contents together.
The phrase etched into the top of the box turned out to be Latin for "Release the Demon". As bad as that was, the phrase on the parchment, "Do What Thou Wilt", was attributed to an Aleister Crowley, a notorious medium and rumored Satanist in England, at about the time his grand uncle had settled there after the war. He found endless references to Crowley, none very flattering, and finally learned that the stone in the ring appeared to be a Lapis Lazuli, rumored to enhance communication with spirits, among other things. He surmised his uncle had met and become a disciple of Crowley's, based on the layout of the box and its contents.
So, he'd received a ring, somehow connected with a very bad man, seemingly for the purpose of releasing a demon of some sort.
In other words, this was all nonsense, the sort of thing that kids tell each other around campfires to scare themselves. He wondered if his grand uncle had come back with severe PTSD, long before it had been recognized, and that led him to this Crowley individual, who clearly preyed on weak minded followers in his cult, or whatever his following was.
Relieved, and now more curious, Mark lifted the ring out of the cushion in the box. He was surprised at its weight, heavier than he'd expected. The only marking inside the band was the single word, "Asmodeus", but he had a feeling that the gold was real. At this weight, he just might have something of value to declare, after all.
It was large too, clearly made for a bigger hand than his. For the fun of it, he slipped it onto the index finger of his right hand, and found that it fit perfectly, as if it were made for him.
He held up his hand to look at it, and felt a little lightheaded for a moment. He'd never owned or worn any jewelry at all, but didn't think the skin contact with the gold would cause the odd feeling. As he turned his hand to look from all angles, he realized he felt a surge of confidence, something he wasn't used to at all.
Along with that, there was a feeling of contempt for himself, for allowing himself to be victimized time and time again, simply accepting his fate as though he had no choice. His renewed sense of confidence seemed to assure him that those days were over forever.
He started to remove the ring and put it back in the box, but stopped. He enjoyed the sensations he was feeling, and if they were somehow related to the ring, then why remove it? He closed his right hand slowly into a fist and smiled. Remembering the inscription inside the band, he returned to his Chromebook, and quickly learned that 'Asmodeus' was one of the seven princes of hell, known for lust, and as a revenger of wickedness.
His smile widened as he realized how useful those two particular attributes could prove to be...
Mark Baker opened his eyes slowly, adjusting to the brightness in the room, and realized two things.
He was smiling happily, this time from the new dream he'd just had, and he'd also awakened with a painful erection that had nothing to do with bladder control.
He needed a woman, and he meant to have one. Soon.
His new dream had begun the same as before, in the shower after gym class, his eyes closed as he washed his hair, trying to prevent the shampoo from getting in his eyes and stinging them.
This time, however, when the push came, he was ready for it, and spun around quickly to face Chuck Richardson, the captain of the football team, and his tormentor-in-chief.
"What the fuck is your problem, Richardson?"
"Well, what do we have here?" Chuck laughed, "it seems the worm is growing a set of balls!"
He and his friends all laughed, as Chuck moved in closer
"Lemmie show you what it means to have balls, wimp."
As Chuck reached out to grab him, Mark turned to his left and reached up between the outstretched arms, grabbing Chuck by the throat. With more force than he could account for, he easily spun Chuck around and slammed him back into the tile wall, hard enough to break a few of the tiles.
"Hey, leave him alone, Baker!" One of his friends yelled, but Mark paid no mind. He stared instead at Chuck as his grip tightened. He didn't even notice that his hand had grown larger, the fingernails extending out to thick, sharp points.
"No, peasant, the worm has turned, and your time has come..." Mark's voice had changed, dropping much deeper in timbre, very rough and raspy. Chuck's friends started to step back, unsure of what was happening.
Mark's thick nails allowed him to press in on either side of Chuck's throat, tearing through the skin, letting him wrap his fist around the jugular itself. The sheeting blood splattered the floor, turning red instead of yellow in this version of the dream.
Chuck's friends started running for the open door, a few screaming as they escaped. Only one or two looked back in time to see Mark rip the jugular and larynx out of Chuck's throat, allowing his lifeless body to drop down hard onto the wet floor. The pool of blood expanded quickly, then thinned as it met the water from the still running shower heads.
Mark got out of bed, whistling as he went into the bathroom to start his day.
Saturday had arrived.
Monday came around much too soon, the weekends seeming shorter all the time now. Mark smiled, remembering the whore he'd picked up on Sunday in the rental car, and all the things he'd been able to do for the first time. His lust had been well satiated, at least for the time being.
He glanced down at the monitor, and clicked on the email button. The latest tirade from his manager, Tessa Marden, about the ongoing quest for higher productivity started a dull throbbing in his temples. He opened his desk drawer and dry swallowed two aspirins from the bottle he kept there, as he deleted the message.
He looked deeply into the stone on the ring and reflected on how he'd fallen into an endless circle of pushing himself harder and harder to satisfy ever increasing targets and prevent a direct hit on the bullseye he clearly felt on his back. His renewed confidence made him sneer at what a lemming he'd become, and began planning profound changes for the very near future.
He kept a neutral expression on his face, not wanting anyone to notice anything different about him as he forced himself to get through the rest of the work day.
He turned in early that night, eager to see where his dreams would take him...and he soon found himself seated back in his cubicle, at his desk.
The instant messaging application began blinking in the corner of the screen. He clicked on the button, opening the new message.
"Baker. My office, right now," it read, coming from Tessa Marden.
He saved his work and got up, walking to the office in the corner.
"Close the door, Baker."
"What is it, Tessa?" he asked, closing the door behind him.
She got up from behind her desk, holding what appeared to be a spreadsheet printout in her hand.
"I'm getting very tired of constantly reminding you to move faster and get more done. I'm not seeing enough progress here."
"Would you prefer volume or accuracy? I insure that everything is correct before submitting, you know."
"Don't you dare speak back to me. You'll do what I tell you, or you'll..."
The switch had clicked in Mark's head, and he reached up, holding Tessa's head firmly in his hands. She opened her mouth to speak and gasped instead, as his eyes changed from their normal brown color to a fiery red, pulsing in brilliance. He spoke, but it wasn't his voice that came out. This voice was much deeper, very harsh in pitch.
"Listen well, wench. You dare presume that pestilence like you should address me in this manner? You will kneel in my presence, you hag!"
Mark pressed her head downward and back, and Tessa fell to her knees hard enough that she heard bones cracking. She started to cry out, but the pressure of his hands on her head increased sharply, the resulting spike of pain causing her to catch her breath instead.
"You have viewed me with scorn for the last time, woman," he said softly, his rough voice much deeper than it had ever been.
While holding her head, his hands had grown larger, harder, the nails thick and sharp. He pressed his thumbs on her eyes, pushing inward. Her eyes split open easily, offering no resistance, as the thick nails drove through them, through the stems behind them, seeking what lay beyond.
Her blood pooled quickly in the ruined sockets, streaming out and down, rushing into her throat and closing off the scream she'd just begun. She began choking on the blood as the flow increased from the depths his thumbs brutally plunged.
When his nails reached and punctured her frontal lobe, the severe spasms began instantly, her limbs shaking uncontrollably for nearly a full minute, before she fell completely limp within his hands.
He slid his thumbs slowly back out of the bloody eye sockets, let go of her head, letting her fell heavily to the carpeted floor, smiling as he viewed her prone body.
Mark turned over in his sleep, unaware that he was also smiling.
When he arrived at work on Tuesday, he was surprised to find an active crime scene in place, all his co-workers gathered outside the building, not allowed in.
"Mark, did you hear?" Gloria, the HR rep asked him.
"Hear? Hear what?"
"Tessa Marden was murdered last night, right here in the office."
Mark paled a bit, then recovered quickly, "Oh my God, for real?"
"Yes. I head a couple of the cops talking, and it sounds really nasty."
Mark had a very good idea of just how nasty it had been. The shock and confusion on his face matched well with those of his peers, but in his case, it was from trying to understand how his dream had leaked into reality.
Gloria turned away to answer her cell phone, and spoke quietly for a few minutes. She turned and raised her voice to address the group.
"People? Listen up, please. I just spoke to corporate, and we're to go back home, and not speak to anyone from the press about this at all. We also have to be available for the police, if they want to interview us, so keep your phones handy. Any questions?"
"Yeah, are we getting paid for the day?" a voice from the back asked.
"As far as I know, this will be treated like an emergency, like a weather disaster, so you should be, yes. Just keep your phones handy, like I said, and we'll call everyone with what to do next. Let's get out of here, and let the police do their work."
Mark's mind was racing. He doubted that Ross would have left the wireless signal available, as they'd both left for the day, so he decided to go to the library. He wanted to scan the local news, wanted to check on something.
He walked to the library, and found an empty computer. He entered the guest password, and went to the local news station's website, scrolling down the story headlines, soon finding his fear illustrated on the screen.
"Car salesman found murdered in his home," the headline read. He opened the story and read that Charles Richardson, a car salesman, had been discovered by police at his home when the dealership called, concerned that he hadn't been to work, and wasn't answering his phone. Details were withheld, as it was an active investigation, but an anonymous source told reporters that the crime was "ritualistic" in nature.
So. Chuck, and now Tessa, both brutally murdered, just as he'd dreamed. Yet, he was positive he'd never left his apartment, his bed, so how?
He opened a new tab in the browser, and searched for articles on strange dreams, and came across an article on something called "Astral Projection", where spiritualists claimed to project their spirit outward as their body lay in rest. He was certainly no spiritualist, no medium, but what of the demon Asmodeus? Could this be more than just him using his dead uncle's ring as a talisman, a good luck charm to increase his self-confidence with?
"Come on, are you nuts?" he asked himself aloud, earning a disapproving glance from an old timer sitting nearby, reading the newspaper.
He decided to test the theory. He'd go home, and remove the ring, place it back in the box, and close it, as everything had happened after he put it on. If any of this was true, then taking the ring off and sealing it back up should stop, or at least change, the chain of events. He logged out of the computer, got up, and left the library.
It seemed like forever before Mark finally stood up and pulled the signal cord as he approached his stop. The bus pulled over, and he stepped out, walking briskly to his building. Nothing visible in his mail box, he quickly went up the stairs to his apartment, and closed the door behind him. He sat at the small kitchenette, the box open in front of him.
He pulled on the ring, but it wouldn't budge. It wouldn't even turn on his finger, feeling frozen in place, and then he heard the deep voice emanating from the bathroom.
"Tsk, tsk, Master Baker. You disappoint me so, and I had such high hopes for you."
Frightened now, more like his old self, Mark walked slowly to the open bathroom door, not seeing anyone inside, but that deep voice continued speaking.
"You displayed such promise, much more so than Edgar ever did. And yet, here you are, ready to cast it all aside, to cast ME aside."
"Who...who's there?" Mark called, his voice shaking.
"Gaze upon me, you pathetic worm!" it commanded. Mark walked into the empty bathroom and looked into the mirror over the sink.
Not reflecting the room any longer, the mirror was filled with dark smoke, swirling slowly around the face of the demon. Blazing red eyes set deep in a hard, chiseled face, it's tongue split and forked as it surfaced between rows of sharp teeth, staring now at Mark with open contempt.
"I offered you everything, exacted vengeance on those who'd wronged you, and still you choose to turn your back on me?"
Mark stuttered weakly, unable to form words, frozen in fear by the vision in the mirror before him.
"Weak, miserable excuse for a mortal, just like the others before you. Let me show you very clearly the choice you have made!"
Hours later, Detectives Joe Bannon and Felix Perez walked up to the apartment building. Bannon glanced at the notebook in his hand.
"Yeah, this is the one. Baker, Mark, lives on the second floor. Let's ring the super to get in."
George responded, buzzing the door, and then walking out to greet them.
"I'm Bannon, this is Perez. We need to talk to one of your tenants, a Mark Baker?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Baker. Good man. He lives up in 2D."
"Is he home now, do you know?"
"I think so. I hear noise up there earlier, like maybe moving something around, but quiet since."
"Let's have a look. Do you have a passkey?"
"Yes, I have all the keys for the building."
They walked up the stairs, and Bannon rang the doorbell, then knocked.
"Mr. Baker? Police. Open the door, we need to talk to you."
The apartment was quiet, no response at all.
"Hey Felix, try his phone, will ya?"
Perez looked at his notebook, and dialed the number. They could hear Mark's cell phone ringing inside.
"Well, his phone is home, anyway. Want to open the door for us?"
George selected the key, and unlocked the door, knocking again as he did.
"Wait here," Bannon said, as he walked inside, Perez right behind him.
George waited in the hallway, wondering what this could be about, when he heard Bannon inside.
"Jesus H. Christ, what a friggin' mess. Felix, call for the meat wagon and the lab rats will ya? This one's even worse than the others."
Felix Perez stepped back from the open bathroom door, desperately trying to hold back the bile that rose so quickly in his throat. The small bathroom was splattered with blood from floor to ceiling, and pieces of Mark Baker were tossed everywhere they looked, completely dismembered.
He hadn't been cut apart, but torn apart by something inhumanly strong, the skin jagged, stretched and shredded at the edges.
His head lay in the tub, the eyes open wide, an expression of abject terror etched across his face. As bad as the others had been, this one was much more savage, more personal somehow than those were.
Bannon stepped out of the bathroom, looking at his partner.
"Go out and get some air, kid. Can't have you puking all over the crime scene. I'll call it in."
He took out his cell phone, as Perez nodded gratefully and walked to the door.
Neither of them glanced at the small bookshelf or the small, beat up wooden box that sat beside battered paperbacks.
This story originally appeared in Hinnom Magazine # 1.