“A Little Knowledge…”
by Avery Vanderlyle
I knew things. I knew the ghost of a servant from the 1880’s haunted the back garden. I’d heard his footsteps. The collapse of the summer house roof was foretold in my dorm-room nightmares, so my parents were able to fix it long before they decided to make it their pandemic retreat, leaving me alone to my mid-college gap year. I fantasized about Jenna in my bed; I knew the only way to lure her to my house was to pretend an interest in Demonology.
We’d met on a fan forum for the author Zeal Forge. He writes dark fantasy erotic romances which combine modern tropes like arrogant billionaires and “enemies to lovers” with ancient cults, abyssal horrors and primeval gods who might be waking….
Forge’s identity is a secret. His fans have tried — stalked and hacked in the way that only obsessed teenagers can stalk and hack — but nothing of his real identity had been uncovered. Then two of the leaders of his fan club died mysteriously. Others disappeared from the internet. Soon after, the rumors about demons started: that Forge was a demon prince and those who got too close to him were ensorcelled. That reading certain words from a limited edition of his books would summon a demon.
Two minutes on eBay and the books were mine. Two weeks later, Jenna arrived. We’d video chatted, but besides her complaints about college I knew little about her. Her flaming red hair snapped to fluorescent pink at the ends. Her shirt was a corset, striped burgundy and silver, laced tightly. I pulled my eyes away from the siren curves of her cleavage and led her into the library.
Her eyes widened. The room was huge, oak paneled, floor to ceiling bookcases, satin curtains over the windows. It was furnished appropriately with an antique sofa, matching ottoman and a Victorian desk and chair. For the demon-summoning project, I’d added a beeswax taper in a silver candlestick surrounded by a ring of pink salt.
“Pink?” Jenna sniffed.
“It’s all we have,” I huffed. “I looked it up, it’s real salt.”
“All right.” Jenna looked at me. “Thanks for setting this up. And letting me visit.” We stared at each other. I longed to lick her maroon lipstick off and slide my mouth down her body.
She glanced away, and her eyes fell on the gleaming gold-leaf trim of the Godmarked Trilogy Special Edition.
“Sweet!” She picked up the first volume reverently. “They’re gorgeous!”
I preferred the cheesy, “half-dressed woman in swamp with hint of menacing tentacles” of the paperbacks, but I’d never admit it. The Special Edition had embossed tentacles on the black leather, gold runes, and the spider-star birthmark that branded heroine Demi as “Godmarked.”
Jenna almost kissed the book she was cradling. She looked at the candle and the salt, the book, then back at me. Her gaze was so intense my breath caught.
“Ready to do this?” She asked. I nodded, waiting for her to take a step toward me. Instead, she grabbed her backpack.
“I got some real parchment,” she added. “Because something has to be dead as part of the deal.” She pulled out a handful of sheets, a vial of ink, and a couple of old-fashioned looking pens.
“I made the ink myself,” she added proudly.
“Your fan art is fantastic — and you make ink.” I tried not to swoon.
Jenna giggled. “I doodle around with calligraphy and stuff.” She grinned at me. “There was info online, but I wanted to do the demon ritual with you.”
“I’m — flattered.” I couldn’t wait for the demon thing to be a bust, and then I’d comfort her and distract her with more pleasurable pursuits. I imagined kissing her, licking her nipples, hearing her moans as she came.
“It’ll be great.” She motioned to the pink circle. “We keep him trapped until we’re sure we have a contract that’s ironclad. Demons hate being trapped. He’ll agree.” Her eyes glowed with enthusiasm. “We’ll learn all of Zeal’s secrets. And then we can set the demon on some people who deserve it.”
“So how do we do this?” I pulled the chair next to her. She’d claimed the ottoman and perched on it next to the end table holding the Special Edition and her supplies.
“It’s supposed to be easy.” She opened the first book in the trilogy. “Put together the 666th character from each chapter, and that’s the incantation.”
“666th? Really?” Only Jenna’s pout stopped my eyes from rolling.
“We know Zeal has a twisted sense of humor.”
I raised my hands in surrender. “True, true.” I hoped this was all a prank, a chant that was creepy but harmless. “Let me dim the lights.” I turned off the main lights, leaving only the lamps on the desk and by the sofa. The room took on a dusky gloom.
“How’s that for atmosphere?” I asked her.
Jenna just smiled. That’s all it took to warm me.
“I don’t need to light the candle?” The beeswax glowed gold in the dimness.
“No, it should light itself. That’s what the message on the forum said.”
We were using an anonymous message from an internet forum to summon a demon. I let that sink in for a moment. It wasn’t funny anymore. People we knew from that forum had died.
“N..g..at…” Jenna muttered. I turned around to see that she had started already. The ink was a dull red like dried blood.
“Please tell me it’s not-”
“Hush. It’s a plant resin called Dragon’s blood.” Her finger on the page, Jenna bit her lip in concentration. It was adorable. “Please stay quiet while I count. Huh.” She glanced up at me. “The font’s a bit different for those characters. He really does want us to do this.”
I longed to distract her, pull the pen from her hand and suck on her long, slim fingers. They were ink-stained; her nails were painted maroon and black. Then I felt a shiver in the air. Jenna was focused on the book and her parchment.
I looked at the candle. It was lit with a black flame, barely visible against the shadows. The flame danced, and the smoke it gave off didn’t dissipate, but floated above it in a blob of gradually darkening mist.
“Jen….” I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the specter slowly forming over the candle., “H..f.. z… l…g.a.n’…h…a…g..w…” Jenna’s voice murmured. She reached for the second book.
Jenna’s lovely alto dripped out alien syllables and the apparition rising in the circle grew and thickened. I didn’t know what demons looked like, but the misty figure accreting was a formless blob one moment, then a mass of tentacles and teeth, then humanoid, then just mist again.
. “H…e..y l’r….”
The flame was growing larger and the entity that was being conjured rose nearly to the ceiling. The heat from the rest of the room seemed to flow toward it as it gained substance. I shuddered.
This was wrong.
The knowledge struck me like a bolt of lightning. We weren’t equipped to contain or negotiate with this being. If we continued on this path our lives would be destroyed. I had to distract Jenna now, and beg her forgiveness later.
Jenna set the second book down and reached for the third. I grabbed her hand, pushing myself into her personal space.
“What are you doing?”
“I don’t want to summon a demon.” I reached with my free hand and slowly, gently, stroked her cheek. “I want to kiss you.”
“Okay.” Her eyes flicked to the parchment. “But….”
“You’re beautiful,” I told her. “And so talented. I’ve had a crush on you for months.”
“I — me, too.” She blushed. “Flirting with girls is so hard.”
“I think we’re past flirting now.” I caressed her face again. She smiled, and I leaned in for a kiss.
Her lips were firm and soft, and tasted like boysenberry. She gave a little moan as my tongue slipped in her mouth, and she moved firmly into my arms.
The heaviness in the air started to dissipate as I tipped us both down onto the ottoman. My mouth found her breasts as I stroked her thighs. Jenna gasped and slid those strong fingers down my body, touching everywhere. My clit pulsed against her thumb and I gasped.
“You knew I couldn’t resist the Special Edition, huh?” Jenna teased as her hand slid inside my pants. “Clever, clever Cass.”
I sucked hard on her nipple as her fingers pressed into me. I moaned and let her take me over the edge.
A few minutes later, I slid to my knees next to the ottoman and pushed her skirts up. As my fingers searched out her folds, I dared a glance at the candle.
The figure floating there was diminished, its power evaporating. But I swear it winked at me.
Avery Vanderlyle’s stories for Circlet Press have appeared in the anthologies Coffee: Hot, Like a Spell: Fire, and A Beastly Affair: Erotic Stories of Beauty and the Beast. “Deflowered” from A Beastly Affair was also selected to appear in Superlative Speculative Erotica: The Best of Circlet Press 2012-2017. Zeal Forge’s secret identity is exposed in “Rule 34” in Grumpy Old Gods: Volume 1 by Stormdance Publications. She lives in Boston, MA and blogs, albeit rarely, at averyvanderlyle