How To Summon a Beast
A Sudden Horror
In a flurry of tears and shouts, the rain fell. It battered the sidewalk until every cigarette for two miles washed down a storm drain. Most slept soundly during thunderstorms, but the rain made Elijah’s skin crawl as if every pitter-patter was made of dropped needles, every rumble a dead man's moan. How was anyone to sleep in this?
Stop calling, is what she messaged him. As if his breath had been a burden in her ear. Had they not spent the last six months in starry-eyed wonder of each other? What caused her to doubt so suddenly? Elijah swirled his coffee and tried not to think, but the dark liquid felt like an abyss— a deep hole that tumbled down, down, down.
He needed air.
He slid open his porch door with a roar of wind and mist, but the balcony remained dry by some sympathy of the gods. Almost pleasant. Elijah let the warm steam tickle his nose. Lyla, he thought. What did I do wrong? He checked his messages.
The last time they were together, things had been tense. It was the kind of simple tension that all couples go through after months together: the realization that there would be many agree-to-disagree’s and bad habits that could not be ignored. Of course, he still loved her dearly. He loved her more than the sun— but now she would not return his messages or calls. Had things been worse than he thought? As he stared off into the rainy street, it felt as if darkness itself stared upon him.
Then, the darkness blinked.
At first, Elijah thought it was a trick of light or a terrible wind, but no— a creature stared at him from the dark. It was hulking, taller than any of the buildings surrounding it, with the fluff of a baby hen and eyes of a blood-sucking beast. Even worse— he had its full attention.
“All in my imagination,” he mumbled. With all the life left in him, he reached for his cellphone and tried to get a photo of the wretched thing. He pressed the camera repeatedly, but the mist made the touchscreen ineffective.
A message from Lyla appeared.
Lightning flashed and stole his attention, for the beast stood clearly before him. It was not a mass of fluff or feather as he had thought—no— the beast was made of black smoke! And oh, how it snarled in his wake. The anger in those eyes— and then, thunder! Thunder as loud as he had ever heard it and sharp as an off-key violin. He leaped back. Elijah tried to catch his phone, but it slipped through his hand once— twice— then went tumbling down, off his balcony, and into the pouring rain.
He stood, for a moment, in horror. Oh, what should he do? Before him, a beast; below, a message from Lyla. If his phone took on any more rain, he might never know what she needed to say. Elijah tightened his bathrobe in a flurry of fear and madness and headed for the stairwell. His feet fell like a pianist running scales, down further and further until he reached the exit.
He held his breath and pushed open the door.
The beast had vanished. Elijah moved slowly, afraid it would reappear. Have I finally lost it? Was the creature ever there at all? He picked up his phone and cleaned the surface with his robe. The screen had lightning-shatters in all directions, but— thankfully— it was still in working order.
A sound like nothing he had ever heard before. Like a train screaming to a halt on rails of glass. The sound came from— where? He gulped. It came from above. He was sure of it. Elijah’s heart hammered in his chest as he placed his phone in his bathrobe pocket and looked up.
It loomed over him.
The monster was so close, the black smoke felt like hands brushing against his cheek. Eyes, so full of hatred before, now seemed full of deep, deep sadness. They looked familiar. So familiar, he could not bring himself to react as one should when facing a beast. As if he were being drawn into it.
Instead, Elijah whispered, “Hello.”
The creature roared in response, but it sounded forced as if it were bellowing out in agony or crying for help. Perhaps, then, it could be subjected to reason. He had to try.
“You shouldn’t be out here, you know. It's just not right. Someone could get hurt.”
This time, the roar was quieter. As if it acknowledged that it should not have come here at all and was apologetic. This encouraged Elijah. He felt in his gut that he was doing the right thing, scaring it away— facing the giant.
“Monsters don’t belong in places like this. Not one bit.” His voice sounded strong, more confident than ever. “You should leave. Go.”
It leaned close to him. So close, he could feel its breath race through his hair. It smelled like an attic, one that had been left alone for hundreds of years. He noticed it had brown eyes— eyes so brown it reminded him of Lyla, sweet Lyla. To his surprise, Elijah felt tears welling up and cleared his throat. He wanted nothing more but to reach out and touch the smoke before him.
Then, it shrieked.
Elijah put his hands over his ears and closed his eyes. The sound carried on and on, echoing down the empty street. His legs trembled, and ears rang-- as if every bone in his body was being crushed. If it were going to devour him, now would be it.
The only sound was the rain crashing down from the sky, and even that grew faint. The storm was finally beginning to pass. Elijah opened his eyes slowly. The creature was gone. A deep sadness tickled in his throat, and he wanted to scream, scream into the air, and fall to the ground but— instead— he walked.
He walked down the long street, paying no attention to the honking cars or long stare and not caring whether he was drenched or barefoot in a bathrobe. A man in a suit tried to ask if he needed help, and he waved him off. None of it mattered. Elijah knew where he needed to go.
It was the last time he and Lyla went on a date. When things were normal, she smelled like vanilla and cherries and smiled like the future was an excellent book worth reading again and again. They drank root beer floats and talked about movies. The diner did not deserve her there, lighting up the place. It was a long walk, but he made it just as the rain stopped and most stores were closing up for the night. He paused.
The diner had vanished.
Instead, there was nothing but an empty patch of grass, as if the monster had made it here first and swallowed the building whole. This was it; he was sure of it. Elijah looked left to right, but the diner was gone. An older man eyed him from next door, blowing smoke from his lips as he leaned against the building.
“Excuse me,” said Elijah. The man looked him up and down, sizing him up as a threat or harmless drunk. “I was wondering what happened to Dawn’s Diner.”
“Dawn’s?” The man scoffed and dropped his cigarette. He cursed, now annoyed. “You playing a joke or something?”
“Please, I need to know.”
He observed him for a minute more, then nodded. “You’re looking at it.”
“I don’t understand,” choked Elijah.
“The building fell years ago, bad structural integrity or something.” The man looked at his fallen cigarette with longing. “Happened during a bad storm. Lots of people died.”
Elijah’s chest formed a hole so big he couldn’t breathe. “Did anyone survive?”
“A couple of people did, I think. Maybe just one.” This time, the man picked his cigarette from the ground. He grinned like a shark, eyes as vast as the sea. “Poor bastard, I’d never sleep again if that was me.”
Elijah thought of the beast and the great, rumbling cry that shook his bones as it caved over him. He thought of her eyes, always so deep and sad. Why? Why did he take her there? He pulled his phone from his bathrobe and checked his messages. There was only one.
Elijah, you need to get help. We miss her too.
He smiled, a sickly sort of smile that didn’t reach his eyes. As he walked to the nearest storm drain, the phone was heavy in his hands. He tossed it in, and the screen dissolved a flurry of leaves and rain. Elijah tightened his bathrobe and thought nothing at all, for his mind was an abyss.
A deep hole that tumbled down, down, down.