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Deep down somewhere, everyone on the planet wants to find something that defines them and gives them a purpose amidst the confusion of life. Some are lucky enough to find those things before time runs out, while others spend the entirety of their existence searching. Searching, only to never find it and have cold Death take their lives and leave Earth without their name upon anything. The sad truth of the matter is that most people will have Fate deal them that hand of invisibility.
I am not one of those people. Or, at least, I didn't intend to be. But if I must be, then I have every intention of fighting back.
* * * *
I was bent over the sink, my eyes closed harshly as my hands pressed cool water to my burning face. A grunt slipped passed my lips, and I dropped my hands to clutch at the sink with a tight knuckled grip. I took a couple of deep breaths in an effort to calm myself, feeling the headache slip away, and stared up at the face looking back at me.
A mess of dark hair lay atop my head, my light blue eyes cradled in dark circles that had been there for months. I frowned, the reflection grimacing back at me, and then let a small sigh escape. Straightening up to push away from the sink, I started quickly out of the bathroom.
I looked like Death, and I suppose that was only appropriate considering my situation.
Nine months. The doctors had given me nine months of continued existence, saying that a tenth month didn't seem at all possible. The cancer, which they and myself had been fighting for what seemed like forever, was winning. As it began to eat my life away minute by minute, I found myself resorting to all types of insane things to find a cure.
My jaw clenched as I plopped myself down on the decrepit chair that sat alone in the living room, facing the fireplace which hadn't been lit in months. Reluctantly, I let my eyes wander over to the bookcase that was propped up beside the kitchen door, its presence somehow terrifying and unwelcome. Yet, that was the one thing, this bookshelf, that could end up saving my life.
If what it contained was truly lies, as rational thought insisted, then there was nothing that could be done.
* * * *
The day I purchased the bookcase was when I was in a particularly depressed and aggravated state. I'd been wandering around a street with no idea of where I was and suddenly found myself stumbling into a rundown building. The place had been shrouded in darkness, apart from a couple of sections of the building that were illuminated, revealing rows of dusty books.
I'd blinked, staring around for a moment with a frown. A man had stood behind the counter, his face heavily lined and the whiskers on his face a pale grizzled gray. We'd regarded each other for a moment, and then he had given a crooked grin that had somehow managed to twist his face into a horrible mask. "How can I help you?" He'd asked in a croaking voice, the strange grin still firmly in place.
I'd stared at him for a moment longer, then given myself a sharp shake. "I'm...I'm just looking." With that, I'd made my way toward the back. The end of the bookstore had been packed with rows of dusty, aging books that hadn't appeared to have been moved in years. Without thinking, I'd reached toward one of the bookshelves and lifted one of the books down. I'd swept a hand down the front of the book, sweeping layers of dust away.
There had been a second as I'd stared hard at the cover of the book, feeling my lips part in shock.
A Handbook to Defeat Death
Moments later, my eyes had skimmed the bookshelf that I'd taken the book from, the titles leaping out at me. They all had something to do with defeating the inevitable. Some, even, had seemed to be topics of immortality. I'd felt my heart lighten at the thought, and a smile started to break out upon my lips.
I'd startled, cursing under my breath, and had turned sharply to find myself almost nose-to-nose with the shop keeper. "Yes?"
"Have you found what you came for?" The twisted grin had returned, as though he'd known that I had.
"Yes, I have." My hand had swept back, gesturing at the bookcase behind me. "How much?"
"The entire thing, sir?"
"Yes." His feral grin widened at this, and an almost triumphant look shone in the shop keeper's eyes.
* * * *
Now I was facing it once more, my tongue darting out to wet suddenly dry lips. I took a deep, painful breath and stood to fetch one of the books down in clumsy, unsure movements. It laid flat against my two quivering hands, the title staring up at me and glittering gold in the lamp light. One flick of the hand and it was open, the pages yellow and horribly crinkled. I let myself flip through a couple before finally locating what I was looking for.
For a few seconds, as I took in the words filling the page, I found myself unable to move. My mind flitted through what I was planning on doing and what the consequences could end up being. Then the consequences of what would happen if I didn't follow through surfaced. As it hit me again, the thought of death, I closed my eyes and clenched my hands around the book. I was not going to die. I would not permit it.
With a sudden resolve I wasn't aware I had, I forced my eyes open and moved quickly into the kitchen. My movements were almost robotic as I pushed the kitchen door open and shuffled through the drawers, searching. Suddenly, my hand closed around the handle of something and I yanked on it until I could see the sharp, glistening blade of the knife.
My hand tightened briefly around the wooden handle and then I took it out, only to wrap it in a piece of cloth and slide it into a coat pocket. I leaned against the counter, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm my sudden jittery nerves. It wouldn't do to fall apart when I was so close to being free of the hell I'd been living in for months. Still, I felt my hands shaking uncontrollably as my feet took me quickly out the front door and to my car.
The car door was slammed shut and I quickly started up the engine after shaking myself. I paused and pressed my forehead against the steering wheel, my eyes sliding shut. My hands clenched and unclenched on my lap, and I made an effort to not think. Thinking would only change my mind, which just wouldn't do.
A thought entered my head anyway, and I gave a laugh.
Anyone who knew what I was doing would call me crazy. I thought I was crazy. But if being so freed me, then maybe crazy was a good thing.
* * * *
I slammed on the brakes and slid the car into park as soon as my destination appeared. My hands tightened on the steering wheel as my body began to shake again. The decision of getting out of the car was suddenly terrifying and overwhelming. I gritted my teeth, however, and jumped out of the car before I could change my mind a final time and drive away without a backwards glance.
My feet carried me forward without much conscious thought until I stood in the middle of the crossroads. I shivered for a moment, the night breeze bitterly colder, and moved a hand to my jacket pocket in a quick, jerking move. The knife was drawn slowly out, the blade tracing against my side as the knife withdrew. It balanced in my hand, sharp and threatening even before I pressed it to the flesh of my palm.
Quickly, I bit down on my bottom lip, the blade slashing down across my palm. My teeth clamped down harder as blood gushed around the blade embedded in the skin, turning it a deep crimson. I stood there for another minute, then slowly turned my palm down, watching with an almost morbid fascination.
The blood slowly dripped and fell to the gravel, seeping into the dirt and blending with it almost perfectly. I carefully withdrew the knife, flexing my hand and watching as the blood flowed faster to the earth. Agony shot up my arm, reaching to my shoulder before flying down again in a searing burn that forced a gasp from my lips.
I lifted my eyes quickly from the slowly darkening dirt, staring intently at the other side of the crossroads. If the books were right, it'd be happening at any moment. If they were wrong, then I'd further damaged myself and lost valuable blood. I forced my thoughts away from the doubts, focusing harder on the spot across from me.
Without warning, the wind started to pick up, blowing my hair in front of my face and disturbing the gravel at my feet. I set my jaw, planting my feet firmly on the ground as the wind started to buffer me from one side to the other. There was a clap of thunder, followed quickly by the pesky hammering of rain on my back and head. I tensed, narrowing my eyes, and blinking as something began to move through the rain with snake-like movements. The figure came toward me, moving faster the closer it got. A flash of lightening lit it up brilliantly, and I had to stifle a startled cry.
It was horrible.
Narrowed cat-like silver eyes with flecks of black stared out from a hollow, incredibly wrinkled face that would have looked helpless if coupled with different eyes. The creature's body was thin and agile, covered in a pin stripe suit and tie that were slowly clinging more to the body as rain seeped through the material. Its gnarled hand reached up, straightening the tie out as its eyes fixed hungrily on my face, a tongue darting out to lick its lips.
When I'd pictured a demon, I hadn't ever envisioned this.
It finally came close enough so that I could see almost every wrinkle in the demon's aged, gray face. I fought back a grimace, then let it slip when the thing grinned. Its lips pulled back, revealing dagger-like teeth that flashed for a moment in the lightening. Then, the demon bowed low. "How can I be of service?" The demon's voice was a low hiss, making it appear even more like a snake. After a moment, it straightened from the bowed position, eyes instantly going back to stare at my own.
For a moment, I didn't speak, my mouth dry. Now that the moment was here, I was terrified. "I wasn't expecting -"
The demon blinked at me for a moment as though trying to understand my words, its grin gone now. “Ah.” Its head bowed at my words, one of the demon's gnarled hands reaching up to rub at its chin like someone would when in deep thought. “You didn't expect me to look like this, correct?” It lifted its head now, tilting it slightly to the side.
I swallowed, unnerved by the eyes focused so intently on me. It was as though the demon was trying to see into my very soul. I dismissed the thought that it probably was. “I expected something a little – little more normal.” Which, when I thought about it, was idiotic. It was a demon. That didn't exactly fall under the 'normal' category.
“I believe I can fix that.” The demon's voice had shifted from the low hiss to a voice I dimly recognized, but couldn't place. “Give me one moment.” Finished speaking, it lowered its head and entwined its fingers together. A soft hissing fell from its lips, the demon's body tensing as its skin color started to change to a pinkish hue. The next second, its head shimmered and then started to twist and snap as the demon's legs gave out beneath it. Staring with a slightly horrified expression, I took a step or two back before the demon slowly raised itself back up as the rain came to an abrupt halt.
The shop keeper stared at me, his horrible grin once more visible.
Bile rose in my throat, but I fought it down, watching as the changed demon tilted his head back and let out a rough cackle. I shuddered, closing my eyes and bending down to put my hands on my knees before starting to speak. “How?” My voice came out hoarse and shaking.
“Oh, it's quite easy.” The demon chuckled, and then I felt a hand on my shoulder, forcing me to stand straight once more. My eyes flew open, and I flinched when I discovered our faces just inches apart. “Especially when I've had centuries of practice.” He sneered, eyes that were now a dark gray shining monstrously. “You humans are so stupid – so willing to walk right into Death's hands.”
“Centuries?” That had been the only part of the conversation that I felt capable to grasp at that moment, my breathing quickening painfully. “You've been luring people into your shop for centuries?”
The demon pulled a face, snorting. “I hardly lured you. I merely sent subtle hints to your subconscious. The shop did the rest of the work, Mitchell.” I started at my name – how had he known? “Oh, don't look so shocked.” He muttered in a disgusted tone of voice. “You gave me your blood, remember? Summoned me here? That gives me the power to know every little thing about you that I need to know.” He grinned manically. “Such as the fact that you're one of the most desperate people that have ever come my way. So very frantic not to die.” The demon gave another laugh. “Your fear is so very delicious, you know.” He sped on before I could respond to that. “So, you obviously summoned me for a deal. Here I am.” Putting his arms out, he tilted his head. “What can I do for you?”
He acted as if he didn't know, but I could tell from the look in his eyes that he did. The demon just wanted me to say it. “I don't want to die.”
“Ah.” He grinned. “Too arrogant to think the world could continue on without you, hm?”
I glared as best I could as fear shot through me. “What would I have to do in return?”
“You're assuming I'm willing to make a deal, Mitchell.” The voice was calm, his eyes glinting. Then, the demon shrugged. “All I require is your soul. Nothing more and nothing less. Would you prefer being a puppet – a slave – to dying? Because if we make this deal,” The demon smirked. “Then you serve me. You'll never die, but you'll never be free. Do you want that?”
My body shook a little before I responded in a less than firm tone. “I don't care. As long as I don't die.”
“Very well.” The demon hummed, smirking once more and holding out one hand. “Put your right hand in mine, Mitchell.” He waited until I did as requested, then moved his other hand down to wrap it painfully around my wrist. The demon's eyes closed, his lips moving wordlessly. A sudden pain circled my right wrist and I gasped, my hand clenching into a tight fist.
I watched as black ink was suddenly scrawled across my skin in weird letters that I didn't recognize. Whatever it was, the new tattoo was apparently exactly what the demon had wanted, because he opened his eyes once more and gave me a bone chilling smile.
“Welcome to hell, Mitchell.”