The three followed the tunnel for what felt like days. Their footfalls thumped, but the echoes produced by the obscenely large tunnels were nothing short of monstrous. Ed held the only flashlight, stopping every hundred yards or so to check on the other two. They were his friends.
‘Friends,’ he thought, ‘No, They’re more than that now.’ He meant this. He meant it for the two with him now and the half dozen who had been taken by those… those things.
Gus’s watch stopped ticking all at once after the first mile or so through the tunnel. The three found an exit from Daemon House in the form of an abandoned train station that connected to the looming mansion. Gus had thought it odd and deep down, so did Ed and Sam, but they all saw it for what it could be: salvation.
Sam comforted Gus when it happened. ‘Dad gave this to me before he left off for the Middle East,’ Ed remembered him saying. That thought had loomed in Sam’s mind, too, not unlike the echoes of their friends they felt now, but it comforted her all the same.
“When we get out of here,” she said, rubbing the boy’s hulking wrist, “we’ll get it fixed.”
What Sam said, the way she idly carried her words to help Gus in his panic, comforted Ed. The simplicity of it. He had known these two since the days of the playground, some of the others, too. He recalled the memories of old and good while his footfalls landed, feeling those precious times when pacts and promises with each other were made. I solemnly swear.
One promise continued to linger in his mind ever since their long walk began. He repeated those words to himself every time one of his friends had died that night, and he wanted to be sure that it didn’t leave him if they made it out alive.
Another thing Ed remembered, or at least couldn’t extinguish the thought of, was the poster. He picked it up off the ground in a fall carnival a few weeks earlier. It advertised a New & Revolutionary style of haunted attraction, all under a single roof. Remembering that now made Ed’s stomach lurch. The blood.
He swayed with each step, bobbing up and down. He held the flashlight as steady as he could, but it still dipped and bobbed all the same. ‘Did the flyer-maker know? Did the old man at the front desk of Daemon House know? How many people, how many parts does this have,’ Ed thought. He pondered that until they reached the door, and by then, the thought was as sickening as the acts themselves. The gore.
Ed looked back again just before they discovered it, checking to see if his friends were still breathing and still hopeful, too. If Ed lost them, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. He decided something, deep within his tired mind that if something were to happen to them, ‘I won’t need this odd luck of mine anymore. I’ll only want a checkout slip.’
Sam and Gus were filthy from head to toe, but Ed had managed to only get the bottom half of himself soaked in varying amounts of viscous liquids; he smelled like something rotten and coppery. The upper half was laden with sweat, his shirt torn in a few spots, tears that ran parallel with one another and soaking in crimson. It hurt, but Ed focused more on whatever was to come next.
‘Trials,’ he thought, ‘that would prove worth. Worth that would be invaluable.’
Ed still wondered if the old man at the House’s version of a concierge desk understood the gravity of that night’s events, if he knew they would be hunted by beasts, wraiths, shapeless and nameless things, and other inconceivable horrors. He thought it was just another fun house, another hollowed structure with smoke and mirrors to give him a good adrenaline rush, but nothing was fun about your friends being dealt their last glimpse of life in terror while your luck just never quite seemed to run out. The corpses…slid and pulled away by ungodly things.
The three walked two dozen more steps before seeing it. The door. A behemoth structure of studded metal and ancient, bronze wood. On each of the two halves were knockers that mirrored the other. They were carved metal depictions of a goat, complete with the details of the endlessly spiraling horns and the flowing facial hair that made the heads look like the elders of a timeless cult. Their eyes were nothing more than metallic spheres, lacking color and expression, their noses pierced with rings the size of shipping chains. Ed thought the structure would swallow them whole, and it would in time. For now, all they could do was stare at it in awe.
“Do you hear that,” Gus asked.
Sam was too busy staring behind them to answer, and Ed perked his head, listening and dreading the report. “I do,” he said. He sounded resolute. The end was inevitable but, Ed hope his newest plan would work.
The sound that emanated from where they had just been in the tunnel was a low, crawling hum. It was growing with each passing second. After a few more seconds it was a growing buzz. Ed pointed the flashlight to himself, then the others, then to the darkened emptiness where they had just came from. Daemon House.
“We have to knock,” Ed said. Gus held concerned eyes at Sam, and for a moment the double doors provoke more fear than the sounds that were fast approaching.
“To hell with that, man. We have to go back.” Gus’s voice, tense and absolute, held the underlying statement that if Ed side quickly, Gus would decide for them all.
“Where are we gonna go? We have this option,” Ed said, pointing at the foreboding doors, “or we can face whatever in God’s name that is.” Pointing the flashlight into the blackness, the sound grew more intense with each passing second.
Gus looked back, turned round again, and snatched the light from Ed. Ed let him take. Gus looked around the cavern and saw nothing but solid stone. He turned, his hand shaking the beam of light, and looked first at Sam, then back to Ed.
“Fine, let’s just get whatever this is over with,” Gus retorted. The look in his eyes said he didn’t trust Ed anymore, and he had good reason; after all, Ed had been the one trying for the past six months to mend his friendship with Gus, and things were going steady until tonight. Gus openly blamed Ed for that night, too, however long ago it may have been. Gus didn’t think it mattered. Sam was Gus’s twin sister, but the rule between friends was that you just don’t get involved with their family. Ever.
Ed, seeing whatever chances he may have once had to salvage their friendship diminish, tried the right goat’s nose ring. “Gus, this thing weighs a friggin’ ton. Help me.” Gus didn’t hesitate the challenge and pushed. Rust dust fell from where the ring and the pierced nose met. After the initial break, it swung much easier.
The sound the rings made only dwarfed the buzzing for a moment, sounding like the fist of a giant striking the door. It shook, shifted, and broke inward, showering the three in a steady drizzle of dust. The inside was lit by a single torch, and Ed ushered them inside the dim room.
The door shut behind them. The buzzing ceased as the darkness consumed them.
The beam of the flashlight flickered as he turned and phased out before he could illuminate anything. He popped it on his open palm several times but held no such luck. Ed could still feel the presence of his two companions.
“You guys okay,” he asked.
“No, not really,” Sam said. Ed could hear the shakiness of her voice. Soon she would have tears forming in her eyes. The night, mixed with the uncertainty of their circumstance, had made Ed and Gus both proud of her for keeping it together this long.
“Ed,” Gus said, allowing Ed time to consider what he was about to say, “what do we do now?”
Before Ed could answer, the three of them started hearing something that disturbed their senses more than the buzzing outside: It was a bongo drum playing a beat. Stage lights, flames rather, rose to life, reflecting off of silvery direction panels that illuminated a large stage on the far end of the room, complete with the large velvet curtain, various instruments, and the band to play those instruments.
‘It’s a concert hall,’ Ed thought.
A man, evenly built and moving as smooth as silk, crept out from behind the stage as the song they were playing intensified. He wore a suit that wasn’t quite black, nor was it gray. Certain colors in the fabric had a shine to them, even the darkest ones. The color of this suit, matte charcoal in finish, looked as if it swallowed the light in it’s close perimeter. It was the color of darkness, cold and lifeless, in a scale-like pattern. Scales of the beast.
The man began to sing, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste. I’ve been around for a long, long year. Stolen many a man’s soul and faith.”
As the melody persisted, six chandeliers, two vertical rows of three that were evenly spaced, flicked to life, revealing that they were, as Ed thought, in what looked like an ancient concert hall. The wood on the floor held the same bronze as the wood from the door. Same for the ceiling above, seen only through a dense network of aged rafters, holding steady still. The center of the room held what looked like a few dozen, circular dining tables, all dressed with wine glasses, utensils, plates, and floral decor; the flowers were all deep crimson with blackened edges.
“I was around when Jesus Christ had his moment,” the man paused for effect, “of doubt and pain. Made damn sure the Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate.
The center-most square of the room was bordered with columns, all supporting the bordering balcony and, seemingly, the darkness that lay beyond it; this darkness had a weight, as though it were hiding something. It wasn’t until the the torches placed at every column and on the upper level between every ‘encasement’ that lay beyond were lit that the contents within the walls were revealed.
“Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name. But what’s puzzlin’ you is just the nature of my game.”
When the man sang the last line, strategically placed torches between each containment rose and flicked the walls. Behind each glass containment, behind a unique banding of symbols from another world etched into each container that shimmered in the light, were unspeakable horrors. As the song progressed, intensifying until the very end, more rows of these unspeakable beasts were unveiled, the torches shattering the curtain of darkness that kept them only in one’s imagination.
These things, some humanoid and others unlike anything the three had ever seen before, writhed, snarled, floated, hurled, and thrust the glass that contained them, creating a rhythmic bass note that added to the song’s thickness that had been thinned from being in such a large room. The song picked up as well, the intensity of it growing.
Abruptly, and unlike the Rolling Stones had done it, the song ended in a snap-to fashion. The last Ooo-oo-hoo had stopped the guitar and drum progressions entirely, but what made the subtlety of it so much more eerie were the creatures that stopped moving, too, halting all sound from their glass enclosures—Ed could see that the enclosures were embedded into the stone walls. The creatures within stood at attention, like trained circus lions waiting for the whip crack of the lion tamer.
The man jumped down from the stage, spreading his hands wide as if to showcase whatever this was and began laughing as he did so. “Well, what do you all think,” he asked. His laugh had been maniacal, and the animosity of it hadn’t left his voice when he spoke, either.
“I’ve spent SO many years picking and crafting some of the BEST monsters from this world,” he said, craning one hand around and pausing, “and, of course, my own. But, you are the lucky few whose made it through Daemon House. You should really give yourselves a round of applause.”
He started clapping, but when Ed, Sam, and Gus failed to do the same, he trailed and stopped. He didn’t clear his throat but spoke reverently, “I’m sure you’re wondering just what’s going on here.” He waited for a retort.
The man spoke with sincerity, and Ed felt himself relax for the first time since the anxiety had struck upon entering the large mansion on the bluff, what the gated entrance of the grounds had proclaimed in large, painted metal letters to be Daemon House.
Ed felt a chilling sensation, something he thought might be death, prickle down him from the crown of his neck to the tips of his feet. This had happened at every ‘tipping point’, as he had called it, during attendance of any event filled with horror; he typically savored that feeling, but now he was just happy to have it out of the way.
Directing his attention towards the man in black, he asked, “Who are you?”
The man had kept a statuesque pose where he left off, holding a matching smile. He let his hands rest at his side slowly, like an animal striking tactful poise before killing its prey, keeping his posture straight and his eyes focused. He began to speak as if they were old friends. “Ed c’mon, you know me man. You’ve been a fan of my work for years, and now, you can be a part of it.” That was the offer before the offer: wet, sticky, and rolling like the tar-saturated cough of a heavy smoker.
As the man was gesticulating like a car salesman, Ed turned to look at Gus and Sam. Their eyes were too busy gazing at the creatures that littered the wall, outnumbering them in an alarming ratio; his friends didn’t meet his gaze.
Ed looked back at the man in black who now wore an expression of disbelief with a hint of aggravation. The man in black spoke out, “Didn’t you read the flyer?”
Ed began milling over the memory of it in his head, but he could only conjure the headliner: Daemon House, the largest funhouse in existence! But, sadly, that was all he could recall. The other, more recent memories of his friends’ deaths would have to clear from his head first. The screaming. The blood. The absence of life.
“No,” Ed said reluctantly, “I can’t remember.” The last thing he wanted was this guy, who undoubtedly had some sort of connection to all of these monstrosities, was to be upset because of Ed’s lack of recognition.
“Sorry,” he added.
The man made a sound that Ed thought was supposed to come out ‘Seriously, man?’ The look of frustration that had started curling its way into his face left as if he had sprung a neat neat little idea. “Check your pocket!” he said, pointing and lashing his finger at Ed’s half-dried jeans.
Ed did as the man said, sliding his hand into his pocket and pulling out a neatly folded piece of coated paper. There were only splotches of the damp, odorous liquids in the patterns of it’s fold; it had only been there a few seconds. Ed looked back at the maniacal man, meeting his gaze with a grim confirmation of receipt.
“Cool, huh? Go on, read it!”
Ed turned to his friends. They were glaring at him, and something from Gus’s eyes had somehow infected Sam’s as well: they both gave a look of distrust. Ed felt it could have been toward Ed himself or the paper he held in his hand. He hoped for the latter, but didn’t hold his breath.
He unfolded the paper, remembering the same waxy coating that had been on his own flyer. The design had drawn his attention more than anything. It looked hand-crafted; The design was a mixture of grandeur, both archaic and disturbing, that had the capacity to steal anyone’s attention:
Daemon House! The world’s largest funhouse in existence! Ghouls, Ghosts, Demons, Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, & More! Those few lucky enough to traverse the underworld will have the opportunity to meet their favorite monsters in person as well as our very own curator, The Devil himself!
Ed stared at the flyer, speechless. There were two details that he picked up on, one new and one not quite so. The flyer he had in his dorm room had been neatly folded in this pattern. Ed looked up at the man in black, who was urging him to go on and holding the look of an excited child, eager to show off what he had done. Ed continued looking and saw that below the phrase The Devil Himself had been marked by something. It was a signature.
Ed began to recall what he had continuously told his friends during their trip here, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t bring the damn thing. I was gonna get that curator to sign it!’ Ed remembered Sam consoling him the same way she had consoled Gus about his father’s watch. His imagination was getting the best of him when his thoughts were interrupted.
“Pretty neat, right,” the singing man asked. “Brought it all the way from the dorms for you, man. Even signed it.” The man’s voice, even the way the words rolled off his tongue, was slippery. It reminded Ed of something dangerous, but didn’t he like dangerous? Wasn’t this his idea? Isn’t that why his friends didn’t trust him? Hadn’t he watched as each of the horrors they had encountered had taken their lives, and had even looked onward as if Ed didn’t even exist? Was he this important?
He didn’t think so, but something lingered in the back of his mind that he would soon be proven wrong.
Of all the things rushing through his head, all the ‘experiences of the night’—this was what the old man at the front desk told him, obviously just to creep them out before going in— Ed could only repeat the question.
“Who are you?”
The singing man held an ever-growing look of annoyance, throwing his hands up and letting them pop back down to his side. He quickly rested one behind his back and the other began helping him tell his story, twirling, whirling, and pointing as he explained.
“I,” he said, placing his hand on his chest like a wicked arachnid, “am the curator. I am the angel cast down from the heavens, ruler of the underworld and all of its fiends.” He said this last while open palming his hand. Ed figured he was quite the showman. “Do I have to sing it again for you,” he asked, presenting the stage behind. Ed was starting to understand but trembled at the thought of it.
“I’m Lucifer,” he said in a smooth and proud voice, “and you, Edward, are one of my biggest fans.”
The ease of which he spoke made Ed shutter.
Lucifer dropped his humble smile and spoke reverently again, “but please, I don’t want to take all the credit, Ed. You see, since your childhood I’ve been watching quite adamantly.”
Sam and Gus stood, shaken. Whatever trust they may have felt before for Ed was gone. Ed sensed it, and, just to keep himself from kidding himself, he looked back with a solemn expression to see them once more, only this time it was a hopeless look of those who’ve been betrayed.
“No need to feel negatively, you two,” Lucifer said, as if reading the mind’s of all three of them. “I altered nothing about your friend’s day-to-day living. Only one of an untouched destiny can take a creator’s position.”
He spoke like he was quoting a cryptic prophecy. “Why—,” Ed started to ask.
“You?” Lucifer finished. “Because, dear boy, you are one of the best damn monster creators I’ve ever seen.”
Ed’s face drained of color. It was pallid now, beads of sweat presenting themselves in the dozens. He remembered his first horror movie, Frankenstein, but didn’t feel a single prickle of horror; instead, he felt compassion for the creature. Since an early age, Ed was always making up stories about monsters and how they came to be. He remembered the Lagonian, a more muscular version of the swamp thing that could turn into the creature at will; A Transiac, shape shifting and maniacal; and, he remembered his favorite, the creature with a jackal’s head, the legs of a goat, and the front claws of some otherworldly demon.
‘What was that one called,’ he thought.
“The Sheckla,” the singing man said, growing a twisted smile. Ed looked around for a second, confused, making sure he understood the man correctly.
“That’s right. I know all about your monsters, Ed. Your demons. That’s why I invited you out. I wanted to show you mine,” he said, stretching his arms wide. In a short uproar, the monsters all snarled and hissed, showing Ed and his friend’s their fangs, hooks, and snouts, and drooling their congealed liquids. They were all too real.
Then, all at once as if their sounds and animosity were controlled by the height of Lucifer’s hands, he lowered his hands and they ceased.
“But, there is one creature in particular that I wanted you to meet,” Lucifer said. He snapped his fingers. All the torches lining and lighting the walls ceased to flicker. They had all left nothing but embers, all except for two of them on the far end to Ed’s left. The glass container was high, but Ed watched as the man snapped his finger yet again. The glass holding the creature at bay along with its own, unique banding of hieroglyphs and all, simply ceased to exist.
The creature was a hunched mass, and Ed wondered how such a hulking thing could fit into one of these neat little compartments. It reached out, clutching the outside of the encasement, the wall of the concert hall, and swung itself out. It hung, palming the underside of it’s rocky cage, then dropped to the balcony. Ed heard the ancient, ashen wood creak, seeing bits of dust falling from underneath. The creature hopped the railing, landing on all fours like a dog. It’s weight held gravity, or it could be the nature of the beast. It got to its hind legs and began to idly pace towards the man in the suit, halting at his side. Ed recognized the beast immediately. “Scheckla,” He said quizzically. The beast chittered, shifting into a snarl. After a few seconds it relaxed, getting on all fours and laying stolidly next the the man.
It was a sight to see, and Ed, wishing the night had all been a dream anyway, couldn’t bring words past his throat. Just as he had imagined it, a beast with a jackal’s head, the reversed hind legs of a goat, and the talons of a demon. Now, the beast lay in front of him, its body rising and falling with breath reserved for the living.
“Ed, I don’t mean to rush, but time is a fickle thing. I have an offer that you just can’t refuse.” Lucifer had all but rolled out a red carpet shouting Ladies and Gentleman! Ed wasn’t sure what to make of any of this anymore, so he spoke as calmly as he could—to Gus and Sam, it sounded like the eerie calmness of a madman before his homicidal storm.
“What’s the offer,” he asked, reproachful but taking pride in the creature that lay next to the man in the suit. This man, The Devil, smiled.
“I can only presume that you’re stricken by the deaths of your friends. Am I assuming correctly,” Lucifer asked. Ed shifted, looking down, then back to his friends. Sam was in Gus’s arms. They looked like they were just holding onto sanity. Ed had dragged them here because it was his milieu, and he wanted to experience that with his friends. They had never been the fans of horror, most weren’t, and they had all been killed, one way or another, by those horrors. All except for the last two that stood with him now, or were they against him?
Ed Looked back at Lucifer, speaking timidly and upset. “Yeah, we are.”
“I built Daemon House to test them,” he said, dragging his upturned palm through the air, crossing the walls and the glass encasements within them. The creatures weren’t illuminated by the fires any longer, but Ed felt them. Heavy presence. “I wanted to know their…efficiency. I feel there’s no better way than to see what result the controlled conditions bring forth.” He spoke like a businessman promoting a calm and relaxed synergy among a bunch of office workers.
“You, dear boy, are the wildcard. Like me, you have such a passion for creating these beasts. I want you to work for me,” Lucifer said coldly.
Ed almost jumped at the words. He regained himself. “You…want my soul,” he asked, feeling timid in his own skin.
“No, dear boy, your soul is yours to keep. I only want your creativity.” Ed was starting to think of what the man, what Lucifer had said about his friends; he did miss them dearly, but he wondered if there was a way to remedy such things.
“What’s in it for me,” he asked, leaving the timidity behind and taking on a sharper, more determined brow.
Lucifer laughed. “Can’t go anywhere without wages, can we? I’ll tell you what, you make monsters for me, make your monsters a reality! In exchange, I’ll bring your friends back, send you on your merry way, and you’ll never have to step foot in this house again. You simply keep conjuring monsters in your mind,” he said, pointing directly at Ed, “and I’ll continue making them real.” He brought his palm down to Scheckla, who gave a snarl in her sleep.
“Don’t do it.”
Ed turned around and saw that Gus had stepped forward. He turned back to Lucifer who gave Gus a reluctant glance; he shrugged with indifference.
“Makes no difference to me, boy. Either you make them real or I’ll show you just how real they are.” All at once, the torches blew to life again, but this time, none of the bands of glyphs were present, nor was the glass. Everything, in one way or another, climbed, slithered, rolled, tumbled, and floated out of their holding cells. They crowded Ed, his friends, Scheckla, and Lucifer; Ed remembered a schoolyard fight he had once been in. Deja vu.
The mixture of the creatures bellowing hummed. To the three guests, they sounded like… bees. Buzzing and zipping bees. Then, all at once, the noise ceased.
Lucifer reached into his pocket, pulling with ease a glossy pen. He looked at it, flung it underhanded, and watched as it skittered across the floor, stopping right at Ed’s feet.
“Your choice kid,” he said, glancing the flyer in Ed’s hand.
Ed remembered it, and noticed it’s texture had changed a bit when his fingers rubbed the surface. It felt like some sort of malleable, tanned skin. He looked at it, positioning it the same as he had last and noticed the cover, the flyer itself, hadn’t changed at all. He looked up at the man. Lucifer gave a ‘go on’ gesture, twirling his finger. When Ed flipped it, he notice what he mistook for a miniature version of the Declaration of Independence. The thought quickly faded. It was a contract.
He looked back at his friends and they back at him. “This,” Ed said tenderly, “could bring’em back.”
Sam was welling up and Gus held the angry frightened look, a look reserved for men who’ve seen evil but couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He nodded, not waiting on their acceptance of the situation, and knelt to the floor, signing the tanned and tattered piece. When the last swish of his last name was done, the image of the contract dissipated, leaving only the original white back of the poster.
Ed picked it up and turned it over. It was still the original poster on the reverse side as well, his poster. He looked at the man in the suit, “Now what,” he asked. The man smile a curled twist.
“Time to get crackin’,” he said, snapping his fingers.
In Ed’s mind, the light was intense, but the headache was light. He felt the soft sheets and recognized them. He was in his dorm room again. He checked himself, palming his stomach and checking his head. He was unscathed.
He could hear the distant rummaging of students through the hall, bellowing and carrying on. A young woman with blonde hair poked her head through the closed over door, making the sounds more vibrant. “Ed, let’s go, there’s a costume party going down a Theta Pi.”
It was Sam. She didn’t have tears in her eyes, but she looked immediately concerned. “Ed, did go on another bender?” He couldn’t think of any words to use and just looked at her with a sort of confused grin. “Just come on when you get finished tripping,” she started, growing a sneaky grin, “I hear Beth’s gonna be there, might wanna brush up on your flirt.”
She gave him a wink and closed the door completely with that last and the sound was muffled again. Ed got to a sitting position, rubbing his eyes and the nape of his neck. “Bad dream,” he said to himself. Beth was the girl for the semester that Sam was trying to hook Ed up with, but she had gone with them to the funhouse. Beth had died there, too.
That was just it. They planned the trip to Daemon House in the first week of October, and the fraternities weren’t allowed to throw themed parties unless the holiday was within two weeks, something about outsiders trying to hurt students one year.
When Ed looked out the window, that confirmed it. Rows and lines and crowds of cheering college students all congesting the streets in masks and Halloween outfits.
Ed stayed to look a little longer, then he heard it.
The sound was faint. His eyes widened, and his heart began working triple-time. It was a hallowed echo, dusting his brain and filling it with images of something more. Something that felt more recent than what the remnants of a dream should have left.
He turned to see nothing, with the exception of one thing that was new to him: something different about that. The flyer. He walked slowly to it, reading, again, its contents:
Daemon House! The largest fun house in existence! Ghouls, Ghosts, Demons, Banshees, Werewolves, Vampires, & More! Those few lucky enough to traverse the underworld will have the opportunity to meet their favorite monsters in person as well as our very own curator, The Devil himself!
It was signed.
And, just below the signature was a post script that read, ‘I hope you enjoyed your stay at Daemon House. It will have a grand opening on Halloween to test some of our more…rambunctious types. We’ll see each other again, and you should know that Scheckla had the privilege of walking free yesterday. If anyone gives you trouble, she’ll take care of them. On the contrary, if you decide to deny it, she’ll bring you back to face the music.
Have a wonderful Halloween, Ed.
From the desk of the Writer:
This story is dedicated to a loyal fan who was patient and understanding when faced with the loss of a good story. For that fan, for you Santi, I dedicate this story.