The demon Albargon, The Harrower, Stalker from the Hidden Places thundered from inside the summoning circle. His rage crashed against the invisible circumference, tested it for gaps and cracks. When he found none, he shrieked in a language no mortal had ever spoken. His anger only abated when he felt the short, sharp tug on the center of his being from the one who had summoned him. Albargon focused on the summoner. “How may I serve you, he who has called me from the courts of Azathoth”, he asked in a voice that rumbled and menaced like a distant avalanche. Inside the circle, the things that had writhed through the inky blackness around Albargon stopped moving, as if they were listening to the answer.
A boy stepped forward, in grubby jeans and an oversized t-shirt. His shoes were frayed and worn and there were dark circles under his deep brown eyes. In those eyes, though, Albargon sensed purpose. “I–I called you. As the Compact allows”, he said. His voice shook, but whether that was from concentration or nerves, Albargon had yet to determine.
But he would.
The demon lord moved to the edge of the summoning circle, pushed back the darkness so the human stripling could see him in this horrible manifestation. He looked over the lines and runes etched painstakingly in the floorboards. He already knew he could not force his way through them, which filled him with rage anew, but perhaps there was something in them he could learn of the summoner. He was in no hurry to speak to the boy and, since he had been asked nothing, no compulsion diverted his attention. He had time and so he would take it.
A wind-up alarm clock on the dresser ticked. Albargon looked around the room, saw how the boy — Alex, he knew — had arranged the sparse furnishings to allow for enough space to carve the circle into the wooden floorboards. The chalk he used to draw the runes and boundaries was blessed, the book — an old and deeply blasphemous volume with which Albargon was well acquainted — appeared to be an original. For the first time, the demon wondered exactly who this boy was and what he wanted.
It was, he thought, time to ask.
“My young lord. I have answered your summons as the Compact requires”. He spoke the ancient answer and Alex straightened as he recognized the words from the book that lay on the bed next to him. “What do you wish of me?”
Alex did not reply. His head dropped slightly and, curious as to the delay, Albargon allowed his will to fill the room slowly. Too much and the boy would choke him off or perhaps even banish him. The demon felt great strength here, a purpose he had not felt in decades, if not centuries. He did not want to waste it by acting too hastily. He could use this power, he thought. Shadows began to fill the corners of the room, filled with whispers and scratches. One brushed a cobweb and the spider in it fell to the floor dead. He spoke again, with a slight impatience.
“What do you wish of me, stripling? Why have you invoked the contract? Why am I here?” He bent his great horned head low, and the madness of the void flashed in his eyes.
Alex lifted his head and looked into those eyes. He did not quail under the gaze that had driven to many would-be sorcerers and kings mad over countless years. He took a deep breath, held it, then answered. “Because I have no one else.”
The demon Albargon, The Harrower, Stalker from the Hidden Places straightened and laughed, a deep booming sound that caused a small cloud of plaster to fall from the cracked ceiling of the bedroom. “Yes! I see! You seek vengeance then? Power? An army to worship your name and cleanse the world of those who despise you? Oh, these things I will provide, as the Compact demands. Tell me the desire of your heart!” he paused for a second, and resumed before Alex could speak. “No. Do not tell me. We do not need such imprecision. Still yourself, young wizard, and I shall see for myself.”
He smiled, all graciousness now. The shadows retreated slightly as Albargon’s mood shifted from anger to caution to the familiar calculation that always preceded victory. The things that swirled in the blackness around him tittered and writhed happily. Soon they would feed.
Albargon pressed his will against the young man’s mind searching for that bright beacon of desire. After a moment, he found it, diamond-hard and as bright as the sun surrounded by the darkness of the boy’s sorrow. With great eagerness he examined it, searched it deeply. He saw the faces of a mother and father gone when he was barely five years old. He felt the despair when he learned he would live with an aunt and uncle who had no use for a thoughtful, awkward boy. He felt the boy’s misery in his new school, among new children who would never be his friends and would always be his tormentors. He saw the bruises inflicted by the bullies and felt the red-hot shame. finally, he heard the sobs the boy held until he was sure he was alone in his ramshackle room, and the keen longing to be anything but alone, to belong somewhere, to be want–no.
No! It could not be.
For the first time in his long existence, The demon Albargon, The Harrower, Stalker from the Hidden Places was taken aback. He fell back onto his haunches, then sat on the floor, goat’s legs crossed, and chuffed a small cloud of brimstone from his nostrils. The shadows flickered, as if someone had played a dim light across them. The things in the blackness retreated and the blackness fell away until it resembled a morning’s fog. He stared at Alex, speechless. Who was this boy to even contemplate such a request? Who was Albargon to receive it? He had granted power and glory, riches beyond imagining, slaves and lands, but never one time had he ever felt a need like he felt in this young human’s soul.
The demon Albargon, The Harrower, Stalker from the Hidden Places was…unsure of himself, a feeling he had never had, not a single moment in aeons out of time. Outside the circle, barely three feet away, Alex would not look up. His chest hitched in a silent sob, which sent a tear tumbling down his cheek and onto the floor. It landed on the chalk line of the summoning circle, breaking the eldritch circuit, ruining it. The demon lord felt the circle waver and collapse and, for a moment, he wanted nothing more than to rend the boy into pieces and drink his heart’s blood. The blackness surged and the things strained against Albargon’s restraining will. They wanted to feast as badly as he, more even, but he held them back. He held himself back.
He wanted to consume the boy’s soul here and now, in an instant. The keen power would have tasted to him sweeter than he had known in long memory, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Alex’s desire called to him as surely as any summoning, the curiosity bound him more tightly than any circle. He wanted to know so much. He needed to know. Finally, he stood and, with a formality he would have given a rival lord, he addressed the boy. “I have heard your request, young wiz–Alex”. The boy’s head snapped up as the demon said his name. “As the Compact demands and as I wish,” he said with the first honest smile that has ever crossed his face, “I shall grant your desire.”
Alex scoured the tears from his eyes with his forearm and looked at the demon lord. Albargon snapped his fingers and both the blackness and the things retreated from existence with a petulant shriek. The shadows in the corners of the room remained and, from them, the titters sounded curious. He scuffed more chalk from the edge of the circle, sat, and looked at Alex. “So, Alex. What do we do?”
Alex paused a moment, then flashed a smile and went to the bookshelf. He pulled down a thin cardboard box, put it on the floor between them, sat cross-legged, and opened it. “The game is called ‘Emergency’. It’s my favorite television show. You know television?”
The demon lord scoffed. “Mortal Alex, I have many stories of television. But…later. Now, does this game require dice? I do like dice.”
Alex chuckled. “I bet!” Albargon looked up, saw his smile. Returned it. “No. There’s a spinner, only mine doesn’t work so well. It gets stuck, so be careful…”
And that is how the demon Albargon, The Harrower, Stalker from the Hidden Places found himself playing his first board game in the bedroom of his first friend.
My fondest and most wild dream as a writer is to have my stories illustrated by a professional artist. I even had the artist in mind — Kentucky’s own Rachael Sinclair. I’ve been Rachael’s fan and her friend for a few years now, but couldn’t quite work up the courage to ask her to illustrate a story. I had reasons, of course. Aren’t there always reasons?
A few weeks ago, Rachael put a big, fat phooey on my reasons and asked me to write a couple stories she could illustrate. She wanted to branch out from the other amazing work she’d done and illustration was the next area she wanted to conquer!
I might have danced a little bit.
This story is the first of our collaborations. You may remember “The Compact” as a much shorter story I wrote about 3 years ago. I think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written and it deserved more than what I gave it back then. I read it to a small group of people this past weekend and they seemed to like it. I hope you do, too.
More stories and more Sinclair illustrations are on the way. Christmas is coming and there’s a certain British tradition of “scary ghost stories” I’d like to keep alive. I also have my eye on an older story I’d like to revise much like I revised “The Compact”.
Watch this space. It’s going to get fun.