I was 13 and Sarah was 10.
The dark things arrived in the room where we sat, encircled in our protective salt. This was intended for we had summoned them to us in the magic of after-midnight. Silence and black had reigned in the gloomy dark of the drafty attic until we had broken it apart with our dark chanting. The chanting now complete, the silence was broken as the house rumbled to life.
A subtle tremor at first; dust spattered slowly down on us like motes of black snow, spiraling from the rafters above. The ancient yellowing plaster on the walls began to crumble a bit more than it already had done before, pattering onto the boards of the floor, creating a sound like the rushing unseen feet of thousands of vigorously scrambling vermin. Some of the audible patter may have indeed been mice seeking a quiet place of reprieve in the crawling space between the shifting walls. They would not find a silent nor still place within. Rather than subside, the shuddering grew. The entire house was shaking now like an epileptic in the throes of a fit.
My sister opened her mouth wide and round, unleashing a startled shriek, which I abruptly killed, pressing the palm of my hand firmly across her face.
“You are the one who wanted to do this,” I reminded her, “knock it off.”
“It wasn’t on purpose,” she said, “it was Them. Theymade me do it.” She pointed into the nebulous billows of swirling smoke that had begun to appear.
This was true, sometimes salt or not, they can get inside your thoughts and manipulate you and make your body move if your concentration breaks for long enough to let them.
“Well then concentrate,” I said. “You’re stronger than that. You know better.”
Their arrival in the room was heralded by the screams of a thousand voices as they erupted from within the fog of curling darkness that crept like a wave of rolling black frost from between the cracks in the walls and the gappy seams of the closed attic door. The smoke was so darkly opaque that it devoured all trace of light in its wake as it crept like a living thing across the attic floor. As it swallowed every space that did not fall within the circle traced in salt around us, the floor began to breathe and change and shift away until it was gone and replaced by the empty void of space. Our little circle or floorboard planks sank down, down, down into hell as the things within the smoke began to rise and swell and take the form of four dark men.
“You know why we have called you,” I told them calmly.
A growl erupted from the one to Sarah’s left, seeming to emanate out from it’s black skeletal chest of swirling smoke. Scream for us again, little one. Let us taste of you once more… it requested. Feed us. Fear us.
“I’m not–not afraid of you,” Sarah squeaked, looking up into the dark place where the thing should have kept its face within the swirling shadow of smoke from which it was made. I took her right hand firmly with my left.
I lifted her chin and raised her eyes to mine, “No. Sarah. You can’t lie to the Shadowmen. They know you are fucking terrified. You always are.” I sighed. “That’s why I’m here.” I searched the shapes of the dark forms around us, my eyes finally falling on the shortest of the four.
“You, Ephriam.” I said pointing to one.
I’m Gerald, it said wordlessly back.
I’m Ephriam, another voice inside of me muttered. I turned and one of them raised a hand.
“Whichever,” I said. My patience with these fuckers was waning. “Go get our mother.”
The four of them retreated quickly away as though they fled in fear of this demand. They departed as quickly and noisily as they came, leaving behind them nothing but the empty dark that remained just outside the perimeter of salt.
Hundreds of yards away in the darkness something white began to form. It grew in mass and height as it began to move towards us. A writhing shifting form of maggots in a swarm, stopping a mere foot from where we stood.
“Scott?” A voice asked from within, “Sarah?” it was muffled by the moving pile of maggots.
“Hello, mother,” I said. I loosened my grip on Sarah’s hand.
“Why have you come here?” Mother asked.
Sarah shrugged her school bag from her shoulders and produced a single sheet of paper. “I need a signature on my permission slip for the field-trip tomorrow or I can’t go to the zoo with everyone else.”
“Your father wouldn’t sign it for yo–ack!?” She hacked and spat, “sorry, one crawled in my mouth,” she said.
Sarah looked ashamed and did not answer, I sighed. “She forgot to ask him. He won’t be home from his shift at the slaughterhouse until 10 in the morning. School starts at 8.”
A pale gray hand reached out from the pile of maggots as it moved.
“Give it here,” she said. Her hand disappeared into the writhing mound, taking the slip of paper into the pile with it. “Do you have a–ack!” she spat a few times more, “–a pen?”
Sarah reached out with one. No hand appeared to take from her this time, so she pressed the tip into the mound until the mound began to devour the pen into itself.
A moment later, “have fun!” Mother said.
After the permission slip and the pen were returned and safely tucked into Sarah’s backpack, we chanted again and the attic room swam back into view around us.
“We really have to stop bothering mom at work.” I told her.