Esther woke up to the buzzing of her alarm clock, sprawled on her chest with her blankets thrown over body haphazardly, tossed about from her nightly movements. She could recall the vaguest of dreams, the face of a young woman… auburn hair, long, with green eyes. Shaking the cobwebs from her mind, Esther swung her arm out woodenly and slapped about to try and silence her alarm, succeeding after her third attempt.
Cracking open her left eye, she let out a small shriek when she found the pallid face of a dead child looking back at her, the blackened veins stark against the pale flesh.
“Sin!” Esther said, clutching her chest, trying to calm her racing heart, “you can’t do that!”
“I was waiting for you to wake up,” Sin explained, as if it were a good excuse.
“Just… just wait across the room next time alright, not inches from my face!” Esther ordered, heaving a sigh. Running a hand through her hair, she looked at the eldritch creature and studied the bleeding runes running up its limbs and sides. They seemed to be bleeding a little faster, as if the wounds were fresh, “are you alright?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Sin said, smiling to reveal his brown teeth, “I found you a suitable subject last night and did what had to be done.”
“Already?” Esther asked. She hadn’t expected the demon to work so fast.
“Yes, you’ll have to perform the ritual to receive the gifts from me though. It will require a sacrifice,” Sin said, his smile growing wider.
“What kind of sacrifice?” Esther asked, getting out of bed to begin changing her clothes.
Sin shrugged. “The woman I claimed was a beauty. To gain her full glory you’ll have to grant the best kind of sacrifice, though anything will do. The lesser the sacrifice, the less the benefits you will gain from the woman’s… donation…”
“So, what would you want? What would be optimal?” Esther asked, shedding her night shirt and pajama pants as she rooted through closet for work clothes.
“A child,” Sin said after a long moment, licking his cracked lips, “a baby. Preferably female. The Rite of Five Daggers would release the energy to me and allow me to grant you the power to become what you desire.”
The Rite of Five Daggers? I’ll have to look that up… Esther thought, hooking her bra on over her meager breasts. “Right, well store her energy for now. Hop into my shadow as I’ve got work to do and I can’t have you lurking around scaring people. There are a lot of people here in town that are gifted, and they might panic if they see a half-naked dead boy covered in bleeding runes.”
“You humans are a strange lot,” Sin said as he crawled across the floor, clambering into the shadow as if it were a crevice.
“Yeah,” Esther said with a smile, “we are.”
Esther spent the next half hour getting her outfit together, her uniform for work at the small bookstore across the street a menial job required almost no preparation besides ensuring that there were no stains from the previous day. Checking it over, she pulled down an apron and tied it around her waist, knowing that old man Giger would likely be busy pricing out the newest assortment of old books he’d purchased from an estate sale. They’d only shown up yesterday after the old man had hobbled home.
“He was so mad he missed them,” Esther smiled, thinking of the happy cackles that came from over her phone when she called him about it, just after she’d had the deliveryman drop the crate off in the back room, “he’ll be busy for the next week, no doubt.”
Grabbing a bagel from her pantry, she slid the split slices into the toaster with a wordless tune. Selecting a dark roast K-cup for her Keurig, she put her mug under the nozzle and selected the dark roast option, licking her lips in anticipation at the coming caffeine rush. She tapped her foot as the glugging of water filled the air, matched by the trickling of coffee and the clicking of the toaster.
Her breakfast underway, Esther reached for a slim matte covered book that rested on a stand with several other books. As she pulled her coffee away from the machine, taking a sip from the scalding fluid in abject pleasure, she flipped open to the index.
“Pagan rituals…” she muttered, eyes driving down the list as she sought out anything resembling the Rite of Five Daggers. She smiled when she saw on page one-hundred and ninety-three.
“The Five Bladed Rite of Release,” Esther said aloud, looking askance at her shadow, which was twitching ever so slightly, “does that sound like the ritual you need me to perform, Sin?”
Sin emerged from the floor partially, his nude upper body and forearm dripping with inky darkness as if the shadow were merely water. His eyes seemed to consider her for a moment and Esther could, for a second, hear distant cries of tortured souls ringing in the back of her head, before Sin snapped to attention and gave her a toothy smile.
“I think that one should suffice. So long as it pierces all but one of the anchor points on the child long enough for me to draw its last breath, then I’ll be able to give you what you want, in spades as they say.”
Esther smiled, turning away from Sin to flip through the pages. The toaster popped as she found the ritual, prompting her to stand and go about her morning routine of buttering her bagel before layering it with jam. Still reading as she performed the task, working her breakfast with one hand, she read through the rituals required materials and preparation that would need to go into the process.
“Five knives bathed in witches’ blood… easy enough,” Esther said as she read off the requirement, “then a victim that is cleaned with honeyed liquor. I suppose Amaretto will do…”
Snapping the book closed, she set it on the counter and picked up her bagel, biting into the crunchy treat. Looking at the clock, Esther sighed.
Time for work… Esther thought, today is going to crawl by. At least Giger is going to be busy.
Polishing off the bagel, Esther wiped her hands off on a rag before grabbing her keys and heading for the door. Closing it behind her and locking it, she walked down the stairs to the street and walked across the street to the bookstore. The lights were out, the hanging sign jutting from the building bearing the shops name.
“Welcome to Towle and Giger Books,” Esther whispered, a smile spreading across her face, her keys unlocking the heavy wooden doors to allow her entry to the store.
Stepping inside the store, she sighed as the cool interior washed away the warmth of the muggy August morning; she loved working in a bookstore for an old man who was perpetually hot. He was willing to pay the electricity bill to finance the air conditioner that flooded the store with perpetual frigid air, something that enticed residents to flock to the store during the warmer months. Esther locked the door behind her, knowing that she had two hours before the store opened, and walked over to the register and counter, stepping behind them to find the boxes of textbooks for the local college.
“Sin?” Esther said, curious to see if he could help her.
He stepped from a shadow across the room, crawling from beneath a set of shelves. Looking up at her, he stared with passive eyes, waiting for her to say something. Despite his fearsome appearance, he seemed content to play the servant, more so now than last night.
“Could you sort out and stock these books for me? The way they’re supposed to be stocked?” Esther asked, “you only have an hour and a half to do so. Would that be enough time?”
“So long as you know how to do it, I know how,” Sin replied, clacking fingernails on hardwood flooring, looking at the stacked cardboard boxes. There were at least thirty of them, all wrapped in plastic and duct tape, “and an hour and a half is sufficient. I have the energy for a few weeks to do such menial tasks.”
“Okay, please do it,” Esther asked, “I need to research where I can find a child for you.”
That seemed to put a spring into Sin’s step as he leapt forward, landing with a splash of shadowy water into the floor, sinking like an anchor into the ebon shade. She watched in morbid fascination as the cardboard boxes began to peel apart like orange rinds, books in plastic getting labels from the label maker slapped onto them before flying across the store in groups of eight or more to land in the correct sections, all in the dark.
All in silence.
Esther shivered, turning to go and look in the occult section. Giger was a fan of the strange and unusual, and catered to Faye and her own collection. She figured he would have something to read while her demon did her work for her.