Welcome. Won’t you join me? Please, have a seat. Sure, the one by the fire is fine. Warm your bones, my dearest. For, as you can see, the weather is frightful tonight. The chilling wind whips the trees, their branches lashing at the darkness. Snow falls like the ashes of so many hopes and dreams, scorched to oblivion by the heat of summer, now passed.
Forgive me if I remain here at my desk, where the heat of the flames does not reach and the shadows begin creeping forward to claim the light. It is here where I create, here where I can see through the parted curtains to watch the darkness as it dances among the trees, its movements serpentine and seductive. Here, I know how the first humans must have felt in the garden, when they first discovered the forbidden fruit, giving them knowledge of things they were never meant to know. Things we were never meant to know.
This is my study. You’ll find the art adorning the walls bears the name of no artist. Nor do any equals exist in the world beyond the heavy wooden door through which you passed to enter here. These fantastic works of torment and curiosity came into being of their own accord. They simply forced themselves out of the ether – you see, that is all that exists beyond this room, a physical manifestation of nothingness, tailored to the imagination of the viewer. For those who are suffering, the apparitions pull from their pain. So, this stormy night raging beyond the glass is nothing more than a projection. Of me.
The books behind me are mostly blank, waiting for the stories I have to tell. These stacked at the corner of my desk, their dark bindings gilded in the finest gold, are the stories I have lived. The nightmares contained therein sometimes bleed like running ink from their pages, tarnishing the wooden surface and shortening what time I have left to finish the books waiting to be written.
I can tell from your expression that you see something else. I hope you don’t mind my smile, but it’s only because I see myself in your eyes. I, too, was once terrified of the dark, winged monstrosity hunched over me. Don’t worry, though. She is not here for you. I assure you, for now, you are safe.
She is here for me. She has stood behind me for what feels like an eternity, towering over me with flesh burned to a deep blackened blue by the ever-raging fires of the Inferno. Her charred wings flex above me, stretching to reveal holes like cigarette burns in their thin demon flesh. Deep black eyes stare down at me, sometimes glowing red with rage. Jagged teeth show when she smiles or snarls.
I am but a puppet to her. There have been many before me, and there will be others after, I am sure, so long as she has stories to tell. Well, stories for us to tell. Sometimes, it happens every night. Sometimes, I am left here with pen in hand, waiting for her inspiration to rain down on me like the still-hot embers of the souls burning along the banks she calls home.
She then reaches down with her long, spidery fingers and digs her nails into my wrists, extracting the muscles and tendons that work my hands with surgical precision. Her breath pours over my shoulder, reeking of smoldering life and eternal rot. I hear her mumbling the words she directs my hands to write. Her voice is that of the masses suffering below, legion, one crafted from the many.
Searing pain grips my skull, as if everything inside my head were being cooked by flames now raging beneath the surface of my skin. Look at the dark spots growing on my face, my arms, my hands. This is not some cancer or failure of my internal organs. These are burns left by the beast who has held me here for a hundred years or more, forcing me to write her tales of terror.
Don’t let her get to you, dear reader. Please, leave now while you can. I don’t know how much more my frail mortal body can withstand, but when I am gone, she will need a new host, a new writer. I think that is why you are here, because I do not know you from the world beyond. I have never seen you before in my life – if this existence can even be considered such a thing.
I have written many tales for her in my own blood and sin. I have held her at bay as long as I can, making myself useful to her in every way I can imagine. You don’t want to be used by her. You don’t want to feel what I have felt at her touch, at her command.
Tell me, friend, do you believe you have a soul? Because I know I once had one. It has since been discarded like an unwanted draft. I watched the edges brown and curl like paper. I watched the darkness creep up from the depths and consume it. She is evil, and everything she tells you is a lie.
Please, go now. Do not wait to become her next victim, her newest pawn, though I see it in your eyes. She already has you in her clutches. You’re not going anywhere because she has already cast her web around you, holding you in place, in waiting, while she prepares to make the transition.
That means she is done with me and these are the last words I will ever speak. Please, go now. Go before she devours what little is left of me. Please don’t sit there in your comfy chair and watch as she sinks her jagged teeth into my flesh. Don’t watch as my blood dribbles down her chin, as my bones crunch beneath her bite, as screams escape my body, cries for something or someone in the universe to intervene and redeem what they can from this husk. Leave me. Leave her. Don’t come down this path, my child. Don’t turn this way.
I love you, dear reader. I don’t want to see this happen to you.