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I’m such a sucker for stories about home… It’s a wonder to me how Ms. Spence got so much of it right… I wonder if she’s ever been there?



Anita Spence

            The tightness in his chest constricting even more, Eris pressed against a cold, brick wall and clamped his eyes shut. His breathing had become labored, and he longed for a few drops of anything cold to sate his thirst. Winds blew against his sweating form, making him shudder. He opened his eyes to see streetlamps and neon lights flicker on and off, sputtering in the night air as faint drizzle fell. He ran a hand through his thick, black curls and jerked at the sudden wetness on his face.

            Where were the demons that had been chasing him? He didn’t dare walk outside the wet, dark alley where he stood and turn only to face his potential killers.     But they would find him. And when they did, he would be done for. It was better to die like a hero than cowering like a child in dark corners.

            As he crept out from the alley, he saw a pile of corpses—demon corpses. Mangled and rearranged, the massive, blue bodies that lay still in the street remained unmoving, black blood flowing from them.

            Who or what had done this? The only person he knew of who could do such a thing was Calliope, or “the bitch in constant heat” as he’d nicknamed her. Ruling Hell as a high lord by her side had had its benefits, but after two hundred years, he’d become tired of her constant demands and ruthless behavior. She either wanted him to kill someone for her or sleep with her, and he didn’t enjoy either. Despite his high rank and powers, demons didn’t become easier to kill over time.

            Apartment buildings stood like tall, unmovable sentries to the city. The sound of cathedral bells filled Eris’ ears. Still no indication of who had caused so much carnage. But Calliope wouldn’t waste so much time and energy doing this.

            Eris felt a tugging at the side of his leather trench coat and peered down to see a boy of no more than six staring up at him with the most vibrant pair of twilight eyes he’d ever seen, an eerie fusion of midnight blue and darkest violet. The boy’s cheeks were ruddy. He stood in the street in his shorts, blazer and vest, a little cap covering a mane of red curls.

            “Father?” The child’s eyes widened considerably, his blood-red lips parting in anticipation.

            “No, child, I’m not your father,” Eris replied dryly. “Now please remove your clutches from my coat—it’s expensive.”

            The little bugger had claws like a cat and mustn’t have realized his tiny nails were digging into the trench coat and Eris’ leg like sharp blades.

            “Won’t you help me?” the child cried. “I’ve looked everywhere, and I can’t seem to find him. He’s a demon like you. Do you know him?”

            Eris’ eyes went wide. Who was this child and where had he come from? Could he have been the one who disposed of the demons? He sensed demonic energy swirling inside the little one. Is it possible that he is from Hell? he thought. But I would have known, unless he has links to the underworld from the outside. “What is your father’s name?” Eris took the matter very seriously now. The child could have been the newest gatekeeper of Hell, if his link to it from the outside was so strong. Whatever the case, he couldn’t ignore the little bugger.

            “Ariel,” the timid reply came.

            Eris shook his head. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” Here or in Hell. He started to walk away when the child tugged at his trench coat once more.

            He turned and saw the child’s eyes blur with black tears.

            “I can’t help you,” Eris said, which prompted the ebony tears to continue flowing down the child’s rosy cheeks.

            Eris was tempted to walk away, although he had no place else to go in this realm. But why should I care if he’s missing a father? he thought. What does the little bugger think I can do?

            “I know about your son,” the boy said, sniffing. “If you care about him at all, you’ll help me.”

            Taken aback, Eris restrained himself from gasping. How in God’s name did this child know about his son? The demonic aura he sensed from the boy became stronger now, so it was safe to assume he had a definite tie to Hell. He felt a strong link to the underworld inside the child as he stared into his twilight eyes.

            Eris’ eyes went to the fallen demons that lay dead behind the boy. He crouched next to the boy. “What’s your name?” He wiped some of the tears off the child’s face.


            “Do you have a mother, Rafael?” Eris shrank back as the tears turned to tiny, black diamonds in Eris’ hands, darker even than his sharp, ebony nails.

            “She stays in that flat there.” Rafael pointed to a large, gray building with high spires and a stone staircase. Two lamps burned brightly at the door, welcoming entrants. She must have a lot of money if she lives there, he thought.

            Eris furrowed his brows. “Why did you wander from her side?”   

            Rafael shrugged. “You needed help. Those demons wanted to kill you, but that wouldn’t have been right. But now that I’ve done you a favor, I expect you to return one for me.”

            You killed them?” Eris raised an eyebrow.

            Nodding, Rafael wiped his eyes. “They couldn’t see through my disguise.”

            Lord, Eris thought. I don’t want to picture what he looks like in his demon state. “What kind of a favor do you expect from me?”

            “Help me find my father.”

            Eris mulled the matter over. It couldn’t be that hard. Ariel might not have been a high-ranking demon, but Eris could find him.

            With that, the sky overhead went from midnight to the red of a rose in full bloom. Eris straightened, hiding the child in the folds of his coat.

            Icy blue thunderbolts raged in the sky, rumbling so loud they nearly shook the ground.

            “Calliope,” he cursed under his breath. The rainfall increased steadily, weighing his hair down.

            An ancient demon himself, Eris recognized the form of magic being used as the very one he practiced—Megrim. A dark form of sorcery. One had to have an extreme degree of precision, control, and at least a hundred years of experience ascending the ladder of magic hierarchy from white to the darkest black until they could even fathom practicing Megrim.

            With the human-born gatekeeper guarding the gates of Hell, the most powerful demons remained trapped.

            It took nothing less than skill to get past the those hounds, Eris thought, remembering the troubles he’d endured when those mangy mutts who now lay dead had seen through his distraction and chased him all the way out here, one of the human realms. He couldn’t believe that Calliope could have appointed such slobbering monsters as interim gatekeepers.

            And now, she’s free. Impossible. How had the witch broken out of the elaborate prison meant to hold her? The transition between the death of one gatekeeper and the birth of the next one could have been it. Perhaps if Rafael were a gatekeeper, it would explain how Calliope could have slipped through the cracks.

            Raindrops pelted against his face, but he didn’t care. Revenge consumed him, his nostrils flaring.

            “I may have served you once, but I won’t do it again. Go back to Hell where you belong!”

            A deep, velvety voice filled the air, chuckling softly. “I underestimated you, high lord. But things are different now. Stay away if you know what’s good for you.”

            His expression darkening, Eris bared his fangs and felt his skin harden as it turned black, claws sharpening. He made to go after Calliope, to try to find the source of her voice, but Rafael put a tiny hand to his.

            “Wait. Her time will come,” Rafael said in a voice that couldn’t belong to a child. Shadowy and demonic, it resounded in Eris’ head like the voice of Hell, commanding and guttural.

            Eris let out a short, nervous chuckle, unsure of what to do with the little gatekeeper. Whatever the case, he would hold onto Rafael—he could prove useful somewhere down the line. Perhaps his mother could give him some shelter for the time being. He didn’t feel like returning to Hell just yet. 

* * *

            “Why should I believe you?” the woman said, peering at Eris from the doorway, ajar.

            “Listen, woman,” Eris began, “I don’t want to hurt you. Your son is with me. I owe him a favor, but I need to rest a little bit before I go back to Hell. In a few hours, I’ll be out of your hair. All right? But until then, I need a place to stay and I don’t know anyone else.”

            After a few moments, the woman closed the door. He heard her unfasten the locks and re-open it. “Come in,” she said, face expressionless.

            He walked in, Rafael running into his mother’s arms.

            The light bulb that hung overhead fizzled so she tapped it once to get it to shine steadily.

            Closing the white door behind her, she pointed to a chair. “Sit, please.”

            He walked to the mahogany table that rested above a greased-up, shaggy, wall-to-wall carpet and clambered into one of the two torn velvet chairs. “Thank you, miss…”

            “Marianne,” she said sharply. She gave out a small sigh and descended the two stairs that led to the next area of the flat—the kitchen and television room. “Do you want to watch something, sir?”

            “Please, call me Eris,” he said. “Do what you wish, Miss. It’s your flat.”

            She walked across a dusty, creaking hardwood floor and turned the television’s knob. Rain poured mercilessly on the windows nearby, casting a strange light over the floor and making it seem as if the glass melted away. Eris found the pounding of the raindrops reassuring.

            Eris regarded Marianne with a watchful eye. Making her way to the worn sofa across from the television set, she sat beside her son, stroking his hair as he cuddled up to her.

            She raised an eyebrow at Eris. “Come here and watch some television with us.”

            He shook his head. “Forgive me, but I don’t much care for human technology.” Damn meat sacks, he thought. Never mind their own business.

            But as he saw Marianne smile, his heart did a little flip. He hadn’t expected Rafael’s mother to be so beautiful; her name sounded so appropriate as it resounded in his mind: Marianne. It felt like a gentle caress against his skin. He had to ask her about Ariel and how she’d become pregnant, when she’d had Rafael.

            As he gazed at Rafael, thoughts of his own son filled his mind. My poor boy, Eris thought. He was born weak and sick, an unsuccessful interbreeding between him and a human. Not expecting the child to survive, Eris abandoned the realm where he’d coupled with the woman. Only a few days ago had he heard that Calliope had the boy, imprisoned in Hell forever like the rest of the thanes and high-ranking ones.

            The only way to free the child would be to spill his own blood and relinquish his demonic powers—in other words, Eris would become human. He couldn’t do that, not for anyone. Eris needed to conserve his strength to fight Calliope. But without his help, the child would be doomed to an eternity in Hell. Death wouldn’t help.  

            Running a hand through his hair, Eris sighed. He had a lot of work ahead of him. If Calliope gained passage to this world, who knew what the reaper inside her would unleash upon humans? They didn’t deserve to be her fodder night after night. They didn’t deserve having their souls taken from them only to feed her.

            He would need an army to prevent Calliope from coming to Earth. Thanes, earls, and high lords of Hell. But to unleash them here would be a fatal mistake. But he knew no one else was powerful enough to oppose Calliope.

            Eris cleared his throat. “Marianne, would you mind if we spoke in private for a moment?”       

            She rose, nodding. “All right, let’s go into the highway.”

            They walked out the door and into the dim hallway, the sputtering of a light bulb above making him blink.

            “Well?” She looked at him expectantly.

            “I realize this subject might be a bit difficult for you, but do you remember anything about a man named Ariel, the one for whom you bore Rafael?”

            She cast him a troubled gaze. “He came to me one evening, promising he wouldn’t hurt me. He seduced and tempted me until I couldn’t resist him. He made me writhe under him like a common whore.” She paused, rubbing her temples.

            “Rafael wants me to find Ariel.”

            Her eyes widened considerably, her thin form shaking. “And what? Bring him here?”

            Eris shrugged. “I don’t know. But your son did me a great favor and I intend to repay it. Although Hell is the last place I want to be, I can gain safe passage there if Rafael comes with me.”

            “Absolutely not. He’s a child! And what do you mean safe passage?”

            “You don’t know what your son is, do you?” Eris chuckled. “He’s a gatekeeper to Hell and Earth. That is what I meant by safe passage.”

            She cast him an incredulous glance. “You would put him in danger for your own personal gain? What kind of a sick monster are you?”

            “I hate to disappoint you, but demons aren’t like humans in the slightest bit, Marianne. Everything we do is for personal gain.”

            “You sick--” She shuddered, holding her head. When she looked up at him, there was something different about her. He sensed something demonic. Whatever had happened, Rafael was no longer safe—and neither was he. Marianne started to speak in an indiscernible tongue—it could have been Megrim, but she was speaking too fast for him to tell.

            She smiled. “In twenty-four hours, this vessel will lose its identity and become empty to accommodate my demon spirit. It is a powerful conduit.”

            “She’s possessed,” he whispered. He opened the door and ran inside, going to the couch to pick Rafael up.

            “What’s going on? Mum?”

            Eris stormed past Marianne, hoping that the demon inside her couldn’t run as fast as he could.

            “Where are we going?” Rafael asked.

            “To Hell and your father. Believe it or not, right now it’s safer than here.”

            “What about Mum? What’s wrong with her?”

            “Don’t ask.”

* * *

            By the time they made it into Hell, Eris gasped in relief at the ease with which he walked by the other hellhounds that Calliope had assigned as gatekeepers. Now that he had Rafael on his side, they would all bow to him, not daring to attack.

            The two stood in a cave comprising one of the less populous areas of Hell where he knew Calliope wouldn’t be able to find him and Ariel would most likely be. And if she did, she wouldn’t be able to touch him now that Rafael was around. A quake ran through Eris’ entire body as he looked at the winged demon pacing but a few feet from him.

            “There he is,” Rafael said, pointing in the direction of the winged one. “That’s my father.” A glint of recognition shone in the boy’s eyes. Eris put a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from running toward Ariel and being crushed.

            Eris avoided Ariel’s dark gaze, looking to the jagged walls and ceiling instead. The smell of putrefaction, blood, and animals mixed with sweat filled his nostrils. He kicked some pebbles on the ground of dried earth, clouds of dust accompanying the motion.

            A bright, blue light illuminated the area from torches in sconces placed along the jagged, uneven walls.

            Ariel met Eris’ gaze, his brows furrowed. Tall, the demon had pale, smooth, green skin and black hair that was cropped on one side and tumbled to his shoulder on the other.

            His eyes were thin, blue slits with reptilian pupils. He wore a dark expression as he regarded Rafael. “So, the mighty gatekeeper returns. What brings you to Hell, my son?”

            “I came because I wanted to see you,” Rafael replied. He wore a serious expression. “But now I can see that I never should have.”

            Eris cleared his throat, nudging Rafael behind him. “Why, if you don’t mind my asking, did you abandon Rafael?”

            “I didn’t.” Ariel grunted. “I escaped Hell for one night a few years ago as a favor to the former gatekeeper by promising him I would find someone to relieve him of his duties.”

            “Did you?”

            Ariel nodded. “I consorted with his mother,” he pointed at Rafael, “because I sought to create a new gatekeeper so I could use him to overthrow Calliope. If I could gain permanent access to the human realms and free myself of the chains she bound me with, I could oppose her.”

            Eris scratched his chin. “Clearly that didn’t happen. What did?”

            “Calliope found out, had the gatekeeper hanged, and chained me to Hell permanently,” the blunt response came. “Escapes are always temporary unless you have a gatekeeper on the other side. By the time my son was born, I had long been sentenced to imprisonment here. And his mother never told him how to find me for obvious reasons.”

            “He mentioned he was in disguise when he killed the demons pursuing me,” Eris said. “What exactly does that mean?”

            “He’s going to reach full maturity in a year,” Ariel replied. “He’ll look twenty in a few months and stay that way forever, after a while. It’s the entity inside him—it can mold him into anything it wants.”

            “Can he stop Calliope?”

            “What’s a Calliope?” Rafael piped up.

            Ariel sighed. “The thanes are all prisoners here who want to stop her accession to Earth. You are unbound. You can prevent what will happen if she walks the human realms.”

            Rafael wore a confused look. “What?”

            “The realms will become a wasteland of corpses she feeds from.”

            “But to do that, she needs a conduit to Earth,” Eris protested.

            “She has one already. You need to find her.”

            “The thanes want her overthrown,” Eris whispered. “I can help them. And you.” But will I? It would be a great risk, unleashing horde after horde of merciless demons onto Earth. Yes, they would harm, maybe even kill Calliope, at which point Rafael would imprison her to Hell. But then what? Eris couldn’t live with himself knowing that he’d freed such a horrendous pack of wolves onto humans, even if it meant his personal gain—even if it meant that he’d no longer have to deal with Calliope or Hell.

            He longed to taste freedom. Now that he’d had a bit, he didn’t want to let go—ever. But what other choice did he have? If he didn’t allow Rafael to unleash the thanes onto Earth in the name of defeating Calliope and trapping her in Hell, he took the chance that she would do whatever she wanted, growing more powerful as she would feed off the souls of humans and make them her slaves. She could establish a new order of Hell on Earth, free of thanes or anyone else to control her.

            Eris heard thunderous laughter. It rumbled in his ears. Calliope.

            I want you back. Her voice echoed in his mind. I’ll ensnare you once more whether you like it or not, demon prince, the voice continued. You’ll rule Hell by my side as it was meant to be before you ruined everything by escaping. She chuckled. I’ll never be foolish enough to turn my back on you again.

            The rage welled up in him, his nostrils flaring. Leave me alone, witch. I told you a thousand times that I don’t love you and I never will. I don’t care how powerful you are. Leave the girl alone.

            The thunderous chuckle returned shortly, fading as quickly as it appeared.

            Ariel sighed. “Whatever you decide, you need to do it fast. If you don’t find Calliope’s conduit and snuff it out fast enough, none of us, Rafael included, will be able to stop her. And we’ll be stuck here with no hope of going free.”

            Crouching beside Rafael, Eris regarded him sternly. “Listen very carefully to me. I need you to do something very important for me. You must unleash the thanes and earls of Hell—all the demons, including Ariel—onto Earth. Once there, you will have the strongest connection to the conduit Calliope is using. Find it, and let the demons do the rest of the work. Can you do that?”

            Rafael nodded slowly. “If you think it will help.”

            Ariel furrowed his brows. “But what human would have a link so powerful to Hell without actually being a demon?”

            Eris froze. His mouth went dry. “A human who has given birth to a gatekeeper.” Marianne.

* * *

            Led by Eris and Rafael, the thanes walked past the neon signs and dark streets of the human metropolis toward the apartment that Marianne was staying in.     He knew he was taking a chance by assuming that she would still be there, but maybe Calliope hadn’t possessed Marianne fully—yet.

            Knocking down the door to the flat, he walked inside, flicking the light switch on. She sat, her silhouette clear in the somewhat dim room.

            Eris looked at his watch and cursed. “We’re late by a minute.”

            Calliope chuckled. “This vessel is going to prove very useful.”

            “Too bad you’re not going to get a chance to enjoy it,” Eris countered, signaling the thanes to come in. There had to be at least three hundred of them, most of them standing outside the flat.

            Calliope’s eyes went to Rafael, a smile lighting her pale face. “So, little one, they think you can send me back to Hell, do they?”

            Rafael roared like a lion in response, his eyes turning black, fangs bulging from his tiny lips. He steadily shot up to Eris’ height, his tiny outfit tearing.

            Eris put his jacket over Rafael to cover his nudity, but the gatekeeper shook it off with a shrug, revealing massive biceps and a well-defined chest and stomach.

            Drool dripped from Rafael’s mouth as ebony nails the size of scissors grew from his fingers. “I am not little,” he growled.

            Calliope squared her shoulders, putting her hands behind her back. “I’m surprised that you’re so quick to defend someone who is going to kill you once you carry out his hopes.”

            “What the Hell are you talking about?” Rafael furrowed his brows

            “You don’t think for a moment that Eris is going to butcher you the second you do what he asks? With you out of the way, he—or any of those present here—will be free to do what they want. They won’t need you anymore. But they’ll want to make sure you are rubbed out so that they can come and go as they please, in or our of Hell.”

            Rafael appeared pensive.

            Eris grimaced. “You don’t actually believe what she’s saying, do you?”

            “She makes a good case, demon,” Rafael replied. “How do I know you won’t try to harm me once you have what you want?”

            Eris gave out a nervous chuckle. “You know I wouldn’t do that.”

            “Your refusal to sacrifice yourself to save your son proves to me that you think only for your well-being and that you will do anything to save yourself.”

            Eris’ face darkened. “Sneaky prat—I should have known you would turn on me with her.”

            Calliope grinned. “You see! I told you he planned to kill you.”

            “Don’t believe her, Rafael,” Eris protested. “It’s a trap; she’s going to try to kill you.”

            Rafael shook his head. “No, I think I’d rather send all of you back to Hell.”

            “That’s exactly what she wants you to do. You’re falling into her trap, boy!”

            “The boy has spoken,” Calliope said. “He’s made his decision, Eris. Get ready to go back to Hell.”

            “Not without a fight,” Eris said.

            In God’s name, what was Rafael thinking?

            Rafael moved to raise his arms when Calliope spread hers like a butterfly’s wings, prepared to ensnare him like a spider does its prey.

            “Rafael, no!” Eris jumped on top of Rafael, shielding the gatekeeper from Calliope’s attack.

            Torrents of fire ripped through Eris as Rafael slid away from under him, searing his back and sending waves of flames through his entire body. Arms and legs aflame with agony, Eris screamed louder than he ever had in his life.

            He swiveled his head at the sound of Calliope shrieking. Rafael extended his arms to the witch, grabbing her. The gatekeeper placed his hands on her head, pushing her down as she wailed louder and louder. A portal opened under Calliope’s kneeling form, black and swirling, into which Rafael pushed her.

            She shrieked as the blackness enshrouded her in a thick, congealed veil and pulled her back to the depths of Hell where she belonged. She would be chained. But at what cost?

            Eris sputtered as blood ebbed from his mouth in a warm, gushing torrent. The searing sensations in his chest and back hadn’t completely subsided, but they didn’t burn as badly as they had a few moments ago.

            His vision blurred. He thought he saw Rafael standing over him, but it may have been a hallucination.

            The magic attack sent shockwaves to Eris’ core, his chest convulsing violently once more. Breathing became increasingly difficult as the seconds wore on. Eris knew it wouldn’t be long before death lulled him into a sweet release.

            “What have you done?” Ariel’s voice reverberated in Eris’ ears.

            “He…saved me,” Rafael said gently.

            Eris reached out, signaling that he wanted to touch Rafael’s hand. He struggled to hold onto it, the sweat on his palms increasing as the fiery poison spread through his limbs, making them numb. “Listen, my boy,” he croaked. “Take my blood. Take it as it spills from me, my life ebbing away…she was too strong.” He gulped, shuddering at the coppery taste of his own blood. “Take it to my son in Hell—free him. He needs it.”

            “But what about you?”

            “I’m dying,” he said softly. “But I beg one last favor—send me to an unbothered, distant real of souls where I can be free.” His voice faltered, the paralysis numbing his entire body.

            His will fading, Eris closed his eyes and prepared to be cast off into oblivion. “Promise me…”

            “I promise. Your son will be saved.”

* * *

            When Eris awoke, he lay on a pile of leaves, something warm under his back and shoulders. An animal, perhaps?

            He rose and dusted excess leaves off himself—red, orange, and yellow—and gawked at the white stallion he’d been lying on until a few moments ago.

            His lips curled into a smile as he watched it sleeping, torso rising and falling to accompany its breathing.

            He tilted his head to the blue sky. “Thank you.”

            Eris sighed. He was home.