It always started with a call. She had gotten used to waking up in the middle of the night to screams at the end of the line and having to piece together where, when, and what. But sometimes, the calls were calm and professional, like the one she had now. Her number passed on private hallways.
“Yes, sir,” she said, encouraging the man to go on.
“They have been acting all odd for a fortnight. The head of the house has been aggressively pursuing other manors in the area, bankrupting even those we thought he saw as friends. And her, she has… she attacked my wife. Physically. And their children. They cannot be taken off school because, you know, how it is with a family like that, but the disturbance they are creating there has caused other families to take their children on sudden family holidays. They say you are specialized in extreme behavioral conditions. I will pay whatever you ask to get my friend back. Mr. Maluma said you could help. But, again, I’m sorry to call you at this hour.”
She heard loud crying in the background with muffled words like she cannot do this to me and she cannot push me out of my own society.
She sighed. This sounded like a bad infestation of demons or other nasty spirits, but she had to be sure what awaited her at the manor in question. “You said this started a fortnight ago. Was there anything that might have prompted this sudden change?”
“What do you mean?”
“A special event or an accident or strangers entering their circles. Anything odd?” She drummed the pen she had dug out of her nightstand’s drawer against the notebook in her hand.
“I’m not sure. Let me check.” The man at the end of the line put his hand over the phone and asked his wife if she had a clue.
She ignored the conversation she could clearly hear or the unimportant parts of it, at least. Instead, she wrote down everything she had pieced together thus far. It was rare for a whole family to get possessed this way. Not at least by restless spirits. They usually took a single mind as a hostage. This was different. The man had told her they mostly behaved like themselves, but then it seemed like they got obsessed with an idea and couldn’t let go. Nasty ideas from the sound of it. There was one option that might explain it. Goblins. But there hadn’t been a sighting of them in ages. The family, though, fitted their style. Wealthy, influential, and having a huge manor. She scratched her head. Taking a goblin pack down was a lot trickier than a demon or evil spirit. They weren’t that into candles and incantations. They were more the brute force sort of fellows.
The man returned to the phone. “I think there was something. My wife says that they visited with my friend’s wife some old ruins and she fell into an underground tunnel. That was it. That can’t be a thing. I know it’s a trauma, but she came out of there only with small bruises and scrapes and nothing more.”
“I will take your case. I can start the day after tomorrow. But, in the meantime, don’t see or speak to your friend or his family. Not even if he calls and visits.”
“I mean it. I will help you regain your friend’s family, but you must follow my rules. No contact.” She couldn’t let the goblins get them too and run this poor man and his wife into insanity. From the sound of it, they had already started with the wife. They always started with the wife. Not because of easy pickings. No. They were a lot more clever than that. Wives were usually the heart of the family. The ones who set the mood and organized the rhythm. If you corrupted that, you had a way in.
“If you see it best.”
That was it. She hung up the phone and read the notes once more. She was sure she was facing goblins.
Goblins were the worst. They hunted humans in packs, and once they got into your house, they were impossible to get rid of. They hid in the foundations of the building, feeding from the chaos they brought about. They came out during the night to whisper into the ears of whoever was their target, persuading, threatening, and lying.
She sighed. She really hated goblins. There was no point going into bed anymore. Planning how to get into the house would take hours, and then there was the question of how to get out of the house alive. Violence wasn’t an option. Goblins usually reacted positively to it. Plus, there was the fact that she was just one person, and there had to be at least four to five goblins. That was the usual size of their pack.
So greed was her way in. But it would be a difficult play. They already had found the ultimate target from the sound of it. What could be more lucrative than a wealthy aristocratic family with ties to power in the city?
She scoffed. It was so simple. Someone with actual powers to alter reality. No politician, banker, judge, or hedge fund manager would do. Poet might. They had the soul of the nation in their hands. But they rarely had manors or wealth to feed the goblin frenzy. But someone like her mother would do. She sat on the council of the shadow society. The one which lurked between this reality and the one with all the demons and dragons. And if she remembered correctly, her mother needed manual labor for all her so-called projects.
But the last time they had spoken hadn’t ended that well. The conversations never did. She detested her mother more than anything. She had made her life miserable beyond necessary. But she couldn’t deny that having her as a mother wasn’t beneficial.
She got up and took her petrol colored morning robe with little flowers and robins from the bench at the foot of the bed. She tied its belt tightly around her waist and headed to the basement. She had a pre-drawn pentagram there with a salt circle to ensure her safety. She was pretty sure she had left even the candles in their places. She only had to lit them, mouth the incantation, and she had a line open to her mother, if her mother would pick up. Part of her wished she wouldn’t. Part of her would rather fight the goblins in hand-to-hand combat than exchange even one word with her mother. Most harm she could get with goblins was a lost limb, claws ribbing open her throat, or a deathly blow to her head. Those sounded much more pleasant than how her mother gradually drew the air out of her, suffocating her with snippets of quilt, hatred, and shame.
She reminded herself that she had escaped, putting a reality between them; that she didn’t have to do this; that she was saving a family which otherwise would be consumed by the goblins in a year or so, along with all the families connected to them.
She pushed the door to the basement open, welcomed in by the dark.
She snapped her fingers as she stepped in, making a flame appear on her right hand. There was a switch just next to the door, but the electric light didn’t seem fitting in a situation like this. With flames, you couldn’t go wrong. The room was vast, and the darkness swallowed its corners. Yet, she knew where everything was. There were shelves upon shelves where she stored her books, herbs, and knickknacks to be used against those who shouldn’t have crossed to this world. Those who came here to use their little power to take advantage of the cluelessness of its inhabitants. Here, magic had died out a long time ago, and it should stay dead. So it was written. Not in a permanent marker. No. She was still her, and she had been born here. So had her mother. Both gifted with sight. And there were others like them. But it all was semantics.
She carefully stepped over the salt lines of the ritualistic circle and tiptoed around the symbols to light the five candles one by one. Candles were the real deal. You couldn’t smell electricity. It had no soul. No substance. Not that she was willing to live without it. An electric coffee grinder really made a difference when making her mixes. Mortars were fine and all that. But when you get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the twisting and grinding, you start to appreciate all the modern wonders.
When the candles were lit, and they cast their light, she sat in the middle of the pentagram, killing the flame on her hand. The coldness of the stone floor felt welcoming on the hot summer night. It was no wonder the goblins had come out. Summers like this brought the worst out of people.
She counted to ten and said, “Mother.”
She sat there waiting for a response.
The salt stirred at the edges of the circle, still keeping its form. Something was trying to get in. Something which had smelled the opening between the worlds. It would go away as soon as the ritual was done. And if it didn’t, then it would end up pickled and bottled. She glanced at the shelves visible in the candlelight. She saw a deformed demon spawn inside a little bottle. It had died when she had helped its mother to birth the thing. The demon had let her have the spawn to experiment with the origins of demonic creatures. It still waited for further experimentation.
“Isobel,” her mother said, sounding distant and echoey.
She took a deep breath in before replying. A moment too long for her mother.
“You summoned,” her words sounded accusing.
She cleared her throat and said, “I did. How have you been?”
“We both know that you didn’t summon me for that. So speak out,” her mother said.
“My client has a bad case of goblin infestation, and I was wondering if you needed extra helping hands,” she replied, leaving out the most probable part.
Isobel had always wondered how much meaning you could pack into two simple words. She had gotten so used to living her life interpreting even the tiniest social cue that she wore it as her second skin. But in a way, she should be thankful to her mother for that. It made her good at what she did. Always alert, always reading the room and the environment, and always ready to react.
“You would be doing a favor for me.” There, Isobel had said it. The only words her mother loved to hear. Favor, eternal debt, and owing something. The woman knew how to prolong a debt to last so long that you would gradually lose your mind.
“If they mean so much to you, I will help. And yes, I could use a couple of goblins.”
The silliest thing was that the family meant nothing to her. She could have let them, the manor, and all of those around them to rot away. Eventually, the goblins would have exhausted the resources, and everything would have collapsed, as happened every time. They knew nothing of moderation or planning for the future. Instead, they grabbed all they could like indulgent children would without realizing how there was a delicate balance and one couldn’t have it all. She could have let that happen easily. It was just that the same quilt, shame, and hatred she carried with her had made her mitigate hurt, agony, and suffering to the best of her abilities. And this was the best course of action without putting anyone in danger. A goblin sniffing her coming might have killed the host.
“I will forward you the address.”
“No need. I know exactly where they are.” Her mother cut the line.
Isobel cursed aloud. The salt on the circle fizzed as a demonic wind roared outside the protective field.
She should have known.
“Leave this basement alone,” she snapped and stood up. The demonic wind waved for a moment longer but died down as she narrowed her eyes. She swung her hand in the air, and the candles blew out. She stood there in the darkness. There was only one thing to cure her mood. She would head to the manor before her mother did what she did and sent the goblins back to their realm.
The basement door flew open as she stepped out of the circle.
Thank you for reading. Have a beautiful day ❤
P.S. This was a dream of mine. I had to flesh it out into a story. Sorry, I missed my usual posting time, but I couldn’t write this in one sitting. I hope you have some fun with this one, and see you next time.
P.S.S. I’m so happy to see so many of you reading my short stories. Thank you. It means a lot to me ❤
© K.A. Ashcomb