I’m too impatient to wait for Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenge, so I went back to his archives and used a photo from an old prompt.
“You did what?”
It takes a lot to get Chas worked up but when something does…damn. This vein starts throbbing in his neck like some big blue worm set up house there and refuses to leave. His eyes get all watery like he might cry, but anyone who knows Chas knows this: Chas never cries. And Chas has seen some things. Things that would make grown men piss themselves and bawl like little girls. Not Chas.
“Well, I didn’t mean to.” Obviously. People don’t just go around opening up the gateway to Hell intentionally. “There was this scroll…”
“For the love of Lucifer!” the vein in Chas’ neck looked like it was crawling right up his face.
I didn’t think his chosen swear was exactly appropriate at the moment…but then again, I guess it was. I tried not to cringe as I looked down at Chas. You’re always looking down at Chas since his fight with a demon overlord put him in a wheelchair. But if anyone could repair a crushed spine, fractured femur, and all sorts of tangled nerves out of sheer anger, it was Chas.
“What the hell’ve I told you about reading old scrolls, Elijah?” Chas shoved his chair away from the computer and wheeled towards me.
I resisted the urge to grab something red to fend off his charge. Instead I looked at my feet and scuffed one of my dusty boots against the peeling linoleum.
“It didn’t look demonic,” I said.
“’It didn’t look demonic,’” Chas mimicked, lips curling back from his yellowing teeth. “The hell does that mean, Elijah? When has anything demonic actually looked demonic to begin with? Don’t answer that,” as I opened my mouth to recount, most recently, the Nickar of Narvik, the Jinn of Abu-Kamal, and the so-called Incubus of Fingal, North Dakota.
“Now what?” I asked.
“What do you mean: now what?” Chas looked pretty demonic himself. “Now, you tell me what scroll you read and how you ‘accidentally’ opened the Infernal Gate.”
I retrieved the scroll from my bag, feeling like a teenager caught with beer. Chas has a way of making you feel fifteen years younger. And that would place me at about eight. The scroll was in a tube made out of horn and capped on each end with etched silver. I found it in a tomb somewhere in Croatia but Chas said he didn’t have time to look into it. I got bored waiting for the next frantic call for a clean-up; so the day before, I found the scroll in a pile of other scrolls and took a peek. The writing was ancient Akkadian, but that’s one of the easy ones for me. So I read it. And I was sounding out some of the trickier words and phrases, not even paying attention to the words as a whole until…
“…the ground started shaking and I swear I thought it was the End. The hill burst open at the top like that water demon when we whacked him with the shovel,” I looked up at Chas, hoping the happy memory would cut me a break.
He was scowling so hard he looked like his head was going to blow off, so I went on.
“I guess it didn’t exactly burst off so much as sink into the ground and there this lava glowing like that fire demon’s…anyway…I could feel the heat straightaway and that was when I went back and looked at what I read and…” I gulped. It felt like I’d sucked in a whole mouthful of sand. “I guess it was the chant to open the Infernal Gate.”
It wouldn’t do me any good to tell Chas that you had to recite it on the hottest time of day in the middle of the summer when the sun was directly overhead and that if I had been bored an hour earlier or later, the gateway would probably still be sealed. If I wasn’t bored at all, it definitely would be.
“Of all the…” Chas choked for a minute, unable to think of a bad enough word. Which is impressive considering how many languages—human and demonic—he knows.
“We can shut it though, right?” I gnawed at my chapped lip. “I mean, there’s got to be a way to close it off again.”
“I’m sure there is,” Chas’ voice dripped with honeyed optimism. Not good. “It’s probably on that scroll you had to read. Out loud.”
“Well…that’s the thing…the bottom half is missing,” I made myself stay still, no matter how badly I wanted to back into a corner of the tiny trailer.
“The…bottom…half?” Chas repeated.
“Yeah…like somebody tore it or it disintegrated or…it’s just gone,” I held the horn tube out to him.
He didn’t even look, he hadn’t taken his eyes off me and I thought it had been about a minute and a half since he last blinked. That was a very bad sign. I pushed my hair back from my face, feeling it stick to the sweat running down my forehead. I let it grow out when I took the job with Chas.
“You’re going to take this,” Chas sped across the narrow trailer to the weapons closet and pulled out a pole with a black bladed scythe on the end (courtesy of a reaper demon), an ammo belt stocked with vials of holy water, and a cross that was blessed by ten different popes. “And you are going to guard that blasted gate until something comes out or I figure out how to close it.”
I clumsily caught the ammo belt and cross—Chas knew better than to throw a sharp object in my direction. As I pushed open the door of the trailer with one hand, scythe in the other, the usual wind flung sand in my mouth and eyes. I looked at the faintly glowing hilltop and sighed. I thought I heard Chas mutter something as I stepped out.
“Gonna need a new intern.”
photo found here