One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition with my own team. You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!
Tales from the Asylum is a new feature I came up with for SPFBO. I wanted to create a unique opportunity for the authors to show off their story telling skills by taking their characters and putting them in an asylum room to see how they would deal with the situation. A lot can happen in a closed space…
Mark Huntley-James writes fantasy, science-fiction or any other weird thing that catches his attention. He has published three humorous urban fantasy novels, won the British Fantasy Society short story competition in 2013 (Pawnarchy, currently available on East Of the Web, http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Pawn1096.shtml), and has various short and flash fiction in anthologies, on his blog (https://markhuntleyjames.wordpress.com/demon-trader-series) or on Medium (https://medium.com/@MarkHJames). From time-to-time he says something strange on Twitter as @MarkH_J.
Mark lives in Cornwall, UK, on a small farm with his partner, multiple cats, a dangerous horde of psycho-chickens, and a flock of rare-breed sheep. Sometimes he writes about the animals, but can’t get any of them to read the stories.
I got a new doctor today. I know he (probably – even after sixty giga-aeons, I struggle with the whole mortal gender thing) was new, because he told me so. I do also have trouble telling mortals apart.
“Good morning, Melanie, I am Doctor Vos, your new clinical psychopath.”
That got us off to a good start. I let my room answer.
“Roger! My name is Roger, you bloody great twonk.”
“Ah. Names. Something else to talk about.” Doctor Vos arranged the two chairs either side of the table. The previous doctor didn’t do that – apparently it is too confrontational. “Sit. Sit.”
Roger sat and we both stared at Doctor Vos. I was curious whilst Roger was suspicious, but that’s probably because I’ve been telling him that the previous doctor was going to eat his toes whilst he was sleeping. A bit trivial I know, but it helps to pass the aeons.
I’m sure I recognise this doctor, I told my room. I think he has a taste for…
“Roger. I’m Roger.”
“A good starting point, Melanie.” Doctor Vos smiled, calm and kindly.
I read his face – go on, lash out, just a little bit of violence, then we can use the restraints, go on, you know you want to. That was odd, because I usually can’t read mortals very well.
“How long have you been Roger?”
What sort of question is that? This Doctor Vos was a tricky one, perhaps assigned to catch me out. I’ve led Roger through their questions very successfully, evolving the diagnosis from mild depression to paranoid schizophrenia with a particularly deep mistrust of authority and some nicely emergent violent tendencies, and a toe-obsession.
“I have always been Roger.”
What? That was a lie. I heard it – the echoes really carry inside Roger.
“Let me put it another way,” Doctor Vos replied. “When did you stop being Mel? Can I call you Mel? I think it’s easier.”
My room developed a fault. I know I gave him a severe speech impediment for a half-aeon, but this was different. He just stopped talking. Somewhere deep down, Roger was Mel, or had been at one time. Or if not actually Mel, at least not-Roger.
Possession isn’t easy, you know? Mortals think we demons do it all the time, and I suppose some of us do. Perverts. I have an arrangement with a mortal called Paul Moore. Not bad as mortals go, and he understands magic, even if he has no real idea how the world works. So, I do favours for him and he lets me use his body from time to time when I have to run errands in the mortal realm. I know it’s technically possession, but I prefer the more modern term – body-buddy.
I do not do it for fun. I want to be really clear about that. And I certainly had no trouble agreeing to a clause in our contract not to do anything gross with his body. Really, why would I? I know some demons like to do horrible, squishy things with mortals, but I like my eternity clean and tidy.
I like a good contract with devious clauses as much as the next demon, but my agreement with Paul Moore was honest and straightforward for our mutual benefit. Even with good-will on both sides of the deal, there is so much room for misunderstanding and honest mistakes. After my first use of Paul Moore, he wrote me a user guide. How to dress, how to wash, how to use the toilet and the importance of breathing. Only mortals could come up with such a high-maintenance manifestation.
I freely admit to one mistake, and I will never again try to flush Paul’s head down the toilet. A supposed friend told me it would be a fulfilling experience. What it meant was a nostril-filling experience, and any demon who claims to not feel anything from a possessed body is lying through its horns. I don’t know which was worse, the sensation of drowning, or trying to pick toilet paper out of my nose without proper claws to get into all the tighter corners.
Funny thing – I’m only hiding at the asylum because I told my body-buddy Paul Moore things that a certain very nasty demon wanted kept secret.
“So, how many names have you had, Mel?” Doctor Vos asked softly. “How many?”
Just to be clear, Roger was never called Mel. Absolutely not, but now Doctor Vos was stirring things up I found the buried stuff. It turns out that my room was a triple-murderer who chose to plead insanity, worked hard to make the symptoms look right and somehow got lost in the false narrative. It was a thing of beauty and I wish I had thought of it myself. The apparent depression was… well, I suppose any mortal would get depressed if they messed up their own head trying to making it look like their head was messed up.
Mortals. Can’t reason with them, can’t eat them, or not without getting bones stuck between my fangs.
“Mel? Talk to me, Mel.” Doctor Vos was still on the case. I suppose he was cheating by using some sort of official record of what my room had done, but the whole Mel business was certainly stirring up the mental depths like an emotional jacuzzi. I had to admire the layers of the trick – falsely accusing my room of using a false name. “Mel? How many names have you had? Two? Three? More? Lots more? Many, many more? More than more? Paul Moore?”
Hey. Wait. What was that? My imagination, or Roger’s? Roger is only supposed to hear weird stuff from me, not the medical staff.
“Easy there, Mel. Easy. Easy Mel.” Doctor Vos suddenly droned on like that fool who tried to hypnotise Roger. That had been so easy to edit on the fly: Roger heard you are feeling sleepy as I am feeling hungry. Getting toes in the conversation was easy, easy, easy… “Easy Mel. Easy Mel…”
I felt a chill. Even demons can do that, especially when we’re possessing. Especially before they get the hang of mortal clothes. Even more especially when they hear their own name called out.
Easy Mel. Easy Mel.
That has to be just a coincidence, surely? One of those one-in-a-mega-aeon quirks of sound. It’s like those word-association games that Doctor Peake used to play with us. I really liked him and his just say the first thing that comes to mind. When a mortal gives me an opening like that I can do almost anything. I played with Doctor Peake for weeks. So sad, so satisfying – murder-suicide is such a wonderful word association. It’s the sort of elegant success that makes my horns curl.
Doctor Vos stood up and looked my room in the eyes. All the way through into me.
“Look at me Mel.”
“Roger,” my room whispered in dwindling defiance.
“Look into my eyes and say my name. Say Vos. Will you do that. Say it. Say Vos. Say it. Say say Vos.”
“Say Vos,” my room repeated.
I screamed at my room.
Say nothing. Do nothing.
“Close your eyes, Mel,” Doctor Vos said. “And never open them again. Never speak again. Never hear again.”
There are ways out of a blind, deaf, mute possession. Theoretically. I’ve never tried it. Never had to try it.
Good bye, Eziemel, Doctor Vos said inside my room.
Doctor Vos. The demon Zaevos. The one I’m running from. The one with some sort of dispute with my body-buddy Paul Moore.
Let me out. Someone? Something? Anything? Just let me out?
If you are reading this, my name is Eziemel. I was last seen talking to Paul Moore when the Babylonian Triad came for him. He’s probably dead by now because if the Triad’s awful witch didn’t get him on her next attempt, then Zaevos would have done it. If he’s not dead then tell him he owes me, big-time as the mortals say.
By the way, the world where the mortals live, did it end? Just asking, you know, for a friend.
I am currently trapped possessing a mortal. I am in the asylum, in a room called Roger in room number… you’ll figure it out. Just get me out of here and I’ll give you three wishes. Straight up. Trust me. I’m a demon.
(Exorcist’s Author’s note: Eziemel appears briefly in “Hell Of A Deal” as the anti-hero’s informant and is never heard from again. One demon down, a hell of a lot more to go.)
If you’d like to get in touch, you can find Mark Huntley-James on social media:
Mark Huntley-James entered Hell of a Deal, the first book of the Demon Trader series into SPFBO and got sorted into Kitty G‘s group.
You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!