Save Me

Emily reluctantly slid her head onto the feather pillow and prayed an angel would take her under its wing and save her from the wretched demon haunting her dreams.

Her eyeballs burned, her head ached, and worst of all, she’d shouted at Mr. Quimby when he’d asked for her English assignment and told her she was out of excuses. “This assignment was due on my desk two days ago, Emily.”

“I know,” she’d said timidly, fidgeting with her hands underneath her desk, hoping he didn’t see.

“What’s your excuse today?”

“I’m sorry. I just haven’t been able to concentrate.” No way was she telling him the truth!

“You’re out of excuses.”

Anger somehow blended with exhaustion, turning into, “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see something’s wrong?” Laughter billowed from her fellow students.

Mr. Quimby's eyebrows furrowed. His lips clenched. Then he demanded, “Principal’s office.”

“But Mr. Qui—”

He lifted his arm and pointed toward the exit.

In shame, she quickly walked past a few snickering faces and some concerned ones. Emily promised herself then that she might do just about anything to put an end to her night terrors.

Before she reached the principal’s office, the guidance counselor, Mrs. Marx came around the corner, wearing a signature bun in her once red hair and hobbling over an old wooden cane. “Oh, Emily. What’s wrong, dear?”

“Mr. Q sent me to the principal’s office.”

She made a tisking noise with her tongue, drawing Emily’s eye to the faded lipstick she’d drawn on that morning. “Oh no. That won’t do. Come with me.”

Mrs. Marx left Emily no choice in the matter, grasping her arm and walking slowly down the abandoned hallway.

Once they reached her office, Mrs. Marx opened the door and motioned for Emily to walk in first.

Emily flopped in the closest flowery chair from the door. She’d been in here a few times: once for career day and second, when she had a question about which colleges she should start applying to, so she knew the layout, she knew the routine. Mrs. Marx would hobble over to her desk, clop her cane on the window sill that seemed a perfect height for the duck head to hold onto, and sit down in her top of the line leather chair.

Right now, all Emily wanted was sleep.

“When is the last time you slept, dear?” Mrs. Marx inquired, putting a glass of water into Emily’s hand.

Where did that come from, Emily wondered. “A couple days ago.”

“What’s troubling you, Emily? Are you worried about finals?”

Finals? Oh crap! She’d forgotten about finals! She should have been studying. Oh well, just another thing for her to worry about.

She feared him the most, but she’d never admit it, for he was the devil himself. He’d whisper threats to her in her sleep, revealing his evil plans for her. “You will be my wife. You will bear me a hundred children and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Emily opened her eyes, but there was no one there. Except for a very concerned Mrs. Marx. “What? What happened?” Emily asked.

“I think you fell asleep, dear.”

“I did?” If fear slipped into her vocal cords, Emily couldn’t stop it.

“Okay. You have to tell me right now why you’re so afraid to sleep.”

“I . . . I . . .” she didn’t want to say, but the word came out anyway, “Nightmares.”

Then Mrs. Marx’s skin began to melt like a wax figurine in the hot sun. The untouched glass of water slipped from Emily’s hand as she rushed out of her chair and to the door, heart pumping wildly. She reached for the doorknob and turned but the door wouldn’t move. Fear took an overwhelming hold of her nerves and Emily lost it. “Leave me alone!”

The demon appeared at her side. His green face was gnarled and caked with dried patches of blood. Emily jumped back and tripped over the chair she’d jumped out of. He reached out with a poisonous hand and said, “Save me.”

Emily awoke in her own bed. It had been another nightmare. Only this time . . .

What did he say? Save him?

“Stop toying with me, already!” She demanded as she slipped out from under the tangled covers. Hopefully Nana hadn’t heard the screams and wouldn’t come barreling into her room with a baseball bat again.

Emily swiped her face, as if that could erase her nightmares completely. Then her eyes strayed to her full-length mirror as her favorite, bold red lipstick floated over the glass and an invisible hand wrote the words, “Trapped. Save me.”

“Torture me and then ask for my help? I don’t think so, pal.” How could she help the demon anyway? She was just a girl, nobody special. A teenage girl trying to get through high school in one piece.

The lipstick thudded to the ground as Nana burst through the door, still wearing her thick pink nightgown and curlers in her thick, shiny, newly unbraided hair—no bat this time. “Did you have another nightmare, baby?”

Emily nodded, moving in front of the mirror so Nana wouldn’t see the message. “I’m fine, Nana.”

“Are you really?”

Emily nodded again, just hoping Nana would leave.

Nana was inclined to believe her—for now, and Emily was grateful. “I’m making breakfast. What would you like?”

“I’m not really hungry.”

Nana turned to leave and said, “Eggs and toast, it is,” before closing Emily’s door again.

Emily sighed in relief until she caught the message in the mirror out of the corner of her eye and the nightmare came flooding back to her again.
 

That night Emily sat in bed, staring at her clean mirror. That’s when he came to her, the demon. “Can you help me?” the thing asked.

“Why should I?” 

In answer, the creature’s skin began to change form. His skin went from greasy green to a gorgeous shade of tan, eyebrows popped up, his cheekbones became clearer.

“You think this is some fairy tale?” she asked. “That I’m going to help you because you look more princie than beastly? You have been torturing me!”

“Only because she made me do it,” hot guy demon whispered, as if someone else were listening.
Emily felt frustration boil up. “Who’s she?”

“Bee. She’s Lucifer’s wife. You know? The devil?”

Emily gasped. “Huh? The devil is married?”

“That’s what you’re taking from this?”

Emily laughed, despite herself. “Right. Sorry. Go on.”

“I have to hurry. There’s not much time.”

“So, tell me more.” Not that she really believed him.

“Lucifer and Bee have what you’d call an ‘open’ marriage. She has her misters and he has mistresses.”

“I don’t think they call them ‘misters.’

Hot guy chuckled. “Don’t be sexist. Anyway, Bee has a very short temper and when you piss her off . . . well, you get this,” he turned back into the scary demon again.

“Eww, gross. Go back to the hottie.”

“I can’t. She watches. I’ll explain more when I can.”

And suddenly Emily was being chased down a hallway by the demon. She was confused, but she was also frightened, so she ran. As far as she could, as fast as she could. And he was closing in as if she was running backwards on a treadmill.

When the demon bit down on her shoulder, Emily screeched and fell out of her bed, smacking her hand on her nightstand.

Nana came rushing in, finding her on the floor, she shot down to help Emily up. “I’m scared now, kid. I think we need to see someone about these nightmares,” she said, looking Emily over with her big brown eyes full of concern and fear.

“No, no, I’m okay,” Emily insisted. “Really. Thanks, Nana.”

Nana wasn’t convinced. “That’s what you said yesterday.”

“I know, but I think I’m just stressed because finals are coming up and I haven’t been studying.”

“We need to go to church, baby. You need Jesus.”

“Oh, Nana. I’m just going to sit at my desk and study for a bit, okay?”

Nana was clearly worried. Her frown lines dug in and her eyes were puffy; she’d obviously not been sleeping either. Emily looked at the alarm clock she’d nearly knocked over. It flashed a taunting 4:02. “Nana, seriously. Go back to bed. I’m okay.”

Reluctantly, Nana left. Emily was not going to convince her again tomorrow. That left Emily the rest of the day to figure something out.

Emily reached for her laptop and set it in front of her. She whipped out her two pointy fingers and began two-finger typing in the search bar.

B-E-E

Well, that brought the obvious: nearly a dozen pages about the insect. Emily clicked the back button and thought it through a moment. How could she narrow it down?

She typed in ‘Lucifer’s girlfriend’. She got results for a TV show, someone’s book, someone answered with the name Lilith, there was even a Twitter account, but no Bee reference.

Frustrated, Emily typed in something more obvious: ‘biblical references to Bee’. It took a lot of searching, but eventually she found a reference to the demon Beelzebub. Although, they claim Bee as a boy demon, or the devil himself, Emily knew she’d found the right one.

A book that’s thousands of years old may have a few hiccups, she thought.

Bee is known as the prince of demons. There was a reference to Bee being one of the seven deadly sins, but Emily didn’t find anything she thought would help her.

Her demon boy’s face suddenly appeared in front of her. Emily jumped, nearly a foot in the air, noticing that she was sitting on a large rock at the top of a mountain, looking down at a large city of multiple shades of brown and green as a giant, stuffed elephant floated by. “Boo!” The demon said, laughing.

“Freak!” she hollered. “You nearly gave me a heart attack! When did I fall asleep?”

“About ten minutes ago.” The demon changed into the hot guy again. “I was waiting until the boss was . . .” he looked behind her and then finished, “occupied.”

Emily turned to see what hot guy demon was looking at and nearly laughed at herself for it. “So, what do you need from me? I tried to figure it out but all I could find was a demon named Beelzebub.”

“That’s her!”

“They say she’s a he. You know, in the books.”

“They always get that stuff wrong.”

Nana would understand that, but Emily wasn’t big on the church stuff. She only went to church because it made Nana happy. “If I help you, can you promise not to attack my dreams anymore?”

“If you can get me out I’ll do whatever you want.”

Her cheeks reddened; she felt it. He may have haunted her, but he was hot! “What am I supposed to do?”

“I need you to find the key.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Not so fast. Then I need you to break into hell and bust me out.”

Emily squealed, then non-humorous laughter burst out. “I don’t think I heard that right.”

“Yeah, you did.”

“No,” she answered plainly.

“If you get me out your nightmares stop, isn’t that enough motivation?”

Emily jumped to her feet, snapping a couple twigs beneath her. “I don’t care how hot you are, I am not going to hell for anybody.”

Hot guy laughed at her.

“First you torture me, then ask me to do something nutty and then you laugh at me? What next? Stab me in the back, why don’t yah?”

“I—” he inhaled deeply. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I sound like a total jerk. But that’s not me, the real me.”

“Excuse me if I don’t take your word for it, pal.”

“Julian.”

“What?” she asked.

“My real name’s Julian.”

“Oh. That’s not a very beastly name.”

He ran a hand through his thick black hair. “Well, I’m not a beast, or a demon. I was trapped by Bee and forced to do this.”

“So, you’re a real boy then?”

“I’ve been trapped so long I don’t know what I am anymore.” 

“How did she find you in the first place? Did you piss her off or something?”

“I pissed my father off and he sent me to her. Bee seemed to think I was a toy and has been forcing me to do her bidding ever since.”

“That’s evil. I’m sorry. How long have you been trapped?”

“What year is it?” He sighed and shrugged. “They all roll into one extremely long year for me.”

Emily opened her mouth and Julian was gone, just like that. She heard a whispered, “Sorry” run through the air and then she woke up at her desk, face planted into the keys of her laptop. She wiped at the key imprints on her cheek with the back of her hand and decided to jump right back into work. The faster she figured this out the sooner Julian would be free—the sooner she’d be free.

She typed in ‘key’ and ‘biblical’ into her keyboard and came up with a few references. The house of David was the top verse. Keys have a strong symbolism it seemed. “When he opens no one will shut. When he shuts no one will open.”

That sounded like the key she was looking for, but where did she find it? If it was a centuries old antique, she’d never be able to find it in a million years.

A pop-up appeared on her laptop. “That’s weird.” It was about a key that had been added to the library at the History museum in St. Paul, just two towns over.

“What are the odds?” she asked aloud.

“Odds of what, dear?” Emily jumped at the sound of Nana’s voice. She hadn’t heard the door open.

Emily closed the laptop and yawned. “I was just reading before I go back to bed.”

“Child, it’s ten in the morning. I figured you slept because you weren’t screaming.”

Ten o’clock? She’d actually slept! “I did sleep and no nightmares this time. I didn’t even realize it was that late.”

“You’ve been going through a lot. Why don’t we go and visit your parents today? That might make you feel better.”

“Sure, Nana. That sounds like a good idea.”


 
They wandered through the cemetery in silence. This place always gave Emily the willies. She didn’t know why. The grass was green and cut to an even height. Colorful flowers brightened headstones, their vases kept clean. Even the tombstones were kept up, she thought. Emily walked the edge of the line, so as not to step on anyone; it was her tradition. She wouldn’t like to be stepped on if she were gone, so she wouldn’t step on a stranger. Nana tried to do the same thing but made no apologies if she accidentally stepped out of turn.

“It’s quiet today,” Nana said.

“Where is everyone?”

Nana sighed and looked around, surveying the calm leaves on the trees, the clear sky and the tombstone at her foot. “I suppose it’s the middle of the week and people are at work.” She eyeballed her granddaughter before adding, “Or at school.”

Emily laughed as they reached her parents’ joint tombstone. They’d died in an accident at work when Emily was six. An explosion in the science lab two floors down made the building topple inward. Emily not only lost her parents that day, five other families lost their loved ones. Although the memories of her parents were starting to fade, Emily remembered the love they’d had for their little baby girl, her father was such a good cook and always laughed; Mom gave the best hugs.

“I’ll go to school tomorrow. And I promise to pretend I’m paying attention,” she told Nana.

Nana elbowed Emily and said, “That’s my girl.” She patted the side of Emily’s head and said, “I’ll give you three a couple minutes.”

When Nana was out of earshot, Emily told her parents, “Mom, Dad, I think I’ve lost my mind.” She told them the story, even though they probably already knew everything that had been going on. “What do I do? Should I keep being haunted or help this guy and go to hell?” She reached out and touched the slab of concrete, as if it would offer up some kind of comfort. No, the coolness of it only nipped at the palm of her hand.

Emily turned to call Nana back, but she was nowhere to be found. “Nana? I’m done.” Panic slinked into her core. “Nana?” No answer. “Nana?”

She began to run, not caring where she stepped. “Nana? Where are you?”

“Oh, child. I’m here.” Nana said from the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Emily looked down and noticed that Nana was sitting in the mud, leaning against an old grave marker, weathered from the years. Nana moved her hand and uncovered a date: 1713. That’s not what Emily fixated on, though. It was the key engraved below it. It was the same one that popped up on her computer. Emily bent to help Nana up. “Are you okay, Nana?”

“I just tripped. I’m okay, child. It’s no big deal.”

“We should get you checked out by a doctor, just in case.”

“Don’t fuss over an old woman like me. I’ll be just fine.” Nana smiled. “You just worry about you.”

Emily rolled her eyes. Nana was one of Emily’s favorite people, but boy, was she stubborn. “Let’s get you home to bed. Can I drive?”

“Child, I just slipped in a graveyard and lived to talk about it. Do you want me to end up here permanently?”

“Oh, Nana! I’m not that bad of a driver!”

Nana chuckled, rubbing the spot she’d fallen on. This gave Emily the chance to take one last peak at the grave marker Nana had tripped on. It took one second to realize Nana hadn’t fallen by accident.

The name on the plate read: Bee Elle Zeebub 1579-1713

The date alone sent a shivery fork of lightning through her, but the name? That gave her head to toe goosebumps. “Let’s get out of here, Nana.”

“You okay, child?”

Emily didn’t know how to answer, so she grunted and let Nana lean into her as they walked away.

The name settling itself into the forefront of Emily’s brain. What did it mean? Surely, the princess of hell was not buried in a small graveyard outside of Minneapolis. It must mean something, a clue? Bee. Elle. Zeebub. Not a name? Maybe that’s a clue, in itself.

And if the name’s a clue the key must be one as well. But where did it lead? What was Julian trying to tell her?

“I’m tired, dear,” Nana admitted as they pulled into the driveway.

Emily hopped out of the car and to the driver’s side. Nana opened the door and that’s when Emily saw her face. Her umber skin had paled, and her brown eyes drooped as if she’d missed as much sleep as Emily had. “Let me help you to bed.”

“I won’t fight ya, dear. Just make sure you get your rest, too.” Emily opened her mouth to speak and Nana interrupted, “Don’t you argue with me, girl. I know you’re exhausted.”

“Fine. I’ll go to bed as soon as I know you’re asleep. Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?”

“Course I’m sure. They would charge me and arm and a leg to fix my finger. It ain’t worth it.” 

After Nana fell asleep, Emily found herself staring face to face at a green skinned monster. It didn’t phase her this time. “Are you here to talk or torture?”

Julian’s monster form laughed. Not a pretty sound, Emily thought, like a car accident where one car slides into another and skids past. The loudness she could handle, it was the screeching that made her ears bleed. Monster Julian melted into the hottie.

“Can’t you just appear as this Julian, instead of torturing me with the other thing?” Emily asked.

Julian lifted his hand and brushed a lock of hair from Emily’s cheek. Her knees nearly melted but she held her ground. “Sorry. I had to make sure the boss wasn’t watching me.”

“How many other people does she make you torture? Surely, you can’t just wait for me to fall asleep all the time.”

“Just you. I had another girl, but she’s been sent to the funny farm, so she’s not as much fun anymore.” Julian waved a hand through his thick, raven locks. “I mean, for Bee.”

“Oh-kay. Anyway, have you been sending me clues? I’m trying to figure out where the key might be.”

Julian shook his head. “I have no idea where the key would be.”

Emily grunted and threw her head back. “Couldn’t this just be a simple mission? Like, go to the store and pick up these five things and walk through the door.”

“There’s a saying that you humans have. Something like, “nothing worth having is ever easy,” I think?”

“Did you just say, “you humans”? You’re human, aren’t you?”

Julian shrugged it off. “I’ve been masquerading as a demon so long, I forget sometimes. That’s why it’s so important that you help me now. Doesn’t everyone deserve a chance at a normal life?”

Emily nodded. “Is there anything you can say that will help me find the key?”

“You—”

He never finished his response. Julian was torn away, as if Big Foot had snuck up behind him, grabbed the back of his shirt and tossed him into oblivion. Emily’s stomach sank. “Julian?”

A faint noise sounded in the background. She couldn’t hear it, but something was happening.
In Emily’s face, appeared a woman of unnatural beauty: high cheekbones, big grey eyes and long lashes. She screamed, “He’s mine! You can’t have him!”

“Emily!” The faint sound got louder. It was Nana calling out to her.

“Stay away!” The beautiful woman warned. She reached out with long witchy nails and swiped at Emily’s face, meaning to scar her skin.

“Wake up!” Nana shouted, and Emily narrowly missed being clawed by the angry woman, whom she figured as Bee.

“Child, you scared me half to death. What is going on with you? I think I have a right to know.”

Emily yawned, only then noticing how cold she felt. “Promise not to think I’m crazy?”

“Oh, child. I know you’re not crazy. Tell me.”

If anyone in the world was going to believe her, it was Nana. Emily thought about it for a moment, attempting to figure out where to start and then opted for blurting it out. “At first, I was being haunted by a demon in my dreams and then he asked me for help.”
Nana sat back, staring into the brown eyes of her granddaughter. Emily prepared for the worst, inwardly cringing.

“Hmm,” Nana said. “So, what does he want you to do?”

A large butterfly flipped in Emily’s stomach. “You believe me?”

Nana smiled, offering a big shot of her dentures. “Child, you’re going through so much and I don’t want you to do it alone. Tell me all about this demon.”

“Actually, he says he was once a boy and that he’s being held captive by the princess of hell.” As she said the words out loud, Emily knew how insane they sounded and wished she could suck them back in. “If I can go and get him he will stop haunting my dreams.”

“Go—” Nana gulped. “Go and get him? As in go to hell? Is that where he is?” Emily nodded. “Oh! Dear, you can’t go there!” Nana said the ‘there’ as if it were a dirty word that tasted awful on her tongue. Emily thought she might continue but she didn’t.

“I said the same thing. But what other choice do I have? Slowly go mad or die from lack of sleep? Or risk my very soul?”

“What can I do to help?”

“Oh, Nana. That’s very sweet of you to offer, but I can’t let you put yourself in danger.”

“Baby—”

“Nana, please.” The computer pop-up suddenly appeared in Emily’s mind. “Actually, you can help if you like.”

“Tell me how.”

“I need a ride to the museum.”  


 
Emily was so nervous as they reached the second-floor library inside the town’s museum. They walked past the striped walls as a snake uncoiled in her gut. She’d been to the museum on a field trip when she was younger, though she hadn’t come to the library until high school. Emily wasn’t much into history, but she recognized how important it was that people learned from it. As she opened one of the glass doors and let Nana in, the smell of crisp apples and cleanser flew into her nose, not must and mold as Emily would have thought.

The closer she got to executing her plan the worse she felt. What if it didn’t work? No, she silently reprimanded herself. Think positive. It has to work. Nana walked to the desk to check in, while Emily turned to the left and explored the glass case that housed mostly books, no key. She slowly wandered over to the matching case on the right and quickly located the key she wanted. It was an exact match to the one on the grave marker: bronze, with a swirly tip and three prongs at the bottom. Up close, as she stared at the piece through the glass, she noticed very tiny initials etched into the thin metal tip

B. E. Z. est. 1529

If there was ever any doubt as to the owner of this key, they were gone now. Emily had to get that key!

This was it, she thought, slowly pulling the hammer from her pocket and trying not to look conspicuous. If she was going to do this in the short amount of time she had, Emily had to aim the hammer in the right spot. One inhale, two.

Then she faked tripping over her own foot and the metal bulb slipped into the glass just as she planned. A loud shatter echoed throughout the plain beige walls and before she could panic about the blood running down her hand, Emily swiped the key and swiftly returned the hammer to her pocket.

A chubby dark-haired man rushed over to her. Behind him came a frightened Nana. As the man looked Emily over, she noticed his freckles and beyond that, he looked frightened as well. “My goodness, girl. Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry,” Emily exclaimed. “I tripped on my own stupid feet.”

“Don’t worry about that. Let’s just get you cleaned up.”

​​ “I just can’t believe the glass broke; it’s so thick and nearly bulletproof,” the librarian, whose nametag read Stacey, had said as a first-aid attendant patched Emily’s hand. All Emily could think about was how a parent could name their boy child after a girl. It would be different if he’d chosen the name himself, but to subject your child to a life of ridicule purposely seemed a tad bit unfair. Even in today’s society where people are allowed to be themselves, children will still mock a boy named Stacey.

The first-aid attendant rolled her eyes, pursed her full lips as she applied gauze to Emily’s hand. “It doesn’t matter, Stacey. What matters is that miss Emily is okay and no one else was hurt.”

“Yes,” Stacey said. “That is true.”

Emily just wanted out of there before anybody realized the key was missing, but they chatted away about the thickness of the glass for at least fifteen minutes before Emily was allowed to leave the library.

“What happened in there, child?” Nana asked when they got to the car.

“Long story. Just drive,” she demanded. “I’ll explain on the way.”  

Nana sat still, driving quietly while Emily explained.

“Stealing, lying, not sleeping?” Nana finally said. “I don’t like this. What happens if you can’t get back out?”

“I—” Emily paused. “I don’t want to think about it.”

For the rest of the drive home Emily thought about the last of the clue. She pulled out the old, iron key and flipped it between her fingers, as that would tell her where the gate to hell was.
Emily was convinced that the grave marker was a clue. The only thing she hadn’t figured out was 1713. 1529 was when the key had been made. The woman’s initials were also on the key, so what did 1713 mean? Emily shoved the key into her jeans pocket and gave her mind a break, hoping that might job an idea.

When they got home, Nana walked into the house without speaking. Emily moved into the kitchen and decided to make something to eat.

She reached into the fridge and the demon’s green face was lying dead on a platter.

Emily screeched in horror and slammed the fridge shut.

Nana shook her awake. “Child, these nightmares have got to end.”

“You said it.”

“I mean, I’m going with you. We’re going to get this boy out and I’m going to make sure you don’t get trapped in hell.”

“I don’t think so, Nana. This is my mission. You’ve done enough; helping me out after Mom and Dad died. I’m not letting you risk your soul.”

“And you’ve lost more than enough for a child your age. I won’t see you lose your soul, either.” Emily’s instincts told her Nana was hiding something big.

Emily growled in frustration as they pulled into the driveway. “You’re a stubborn woman, Nana.”

“I know.” Nana smirked wickedly and winked at her granddaughter.

Laughter bubbled up from Emily’s gut and spilled over. “Thanks, Nana,” Emily said, knowing that she would die first before she let anyone harm her grandmother. “I just need to figure out the last clue.”

“I’m going to put dinner on,” Nana said, heading into the kitchen.

Quickly skirting by Nana to check the fridge for demons was a gut reaction. Emily hid the act by grabbing a can of Cola from the shelf. 

Emily went straight to her computer and searched for significant dates in 1713. She searched and searched until her eyeballs were on fire and the sun had gone for its nightly nap. Emily smelled dinner just before Nana knocked on the door and opened it, a plate of chicken and dumplings piled as high as Nana’s forearm. Emily laughed. “Nana? I’m never going to eat all of that.”

“I know, child. I just figured you might eat more if it looked like more. How’s the search coming along?”

Emily shrugged, took the plate, and placed it beside her unfinished Cola can. “It’s not. I haven’t found anything yet.”

“Eat something and take a break. Maybe it will come to you.”

“I think I’m going to take a walk.” Emily laughed, pointing at the plate. “A long walk to work off all this food.”

Nana closed the door behind her. Emily looked from the food to the computer and back to the food. She decided the food might not sit well. She threw a coat over her shoulders, tossed her phone in the pocket and headed out the back door, not aiming for any particular direction. It was cold and dark, streetlamps offered a dusty ring of goldish yellow that chased the darkness back. Emily didn’t pay much attention to where she was going, only the mission. If 1713 wasn’t a year what could it be? An account number? A post office box number? Emily’s mind circled ideas in around until she shivered and decided to turn back.

She looked up and then realized she was lost. How long had she been walking? She looked around at the quiet neighborhood, crickets singing their song in the background and decided she didn’t recognize anything about this place. The house she was closest to was a light brick with a wraparound porch, no lights on except a small glow coming from beside the front door, illuminating the house address 1504.

A lightbulb went off in her head and right back on, brighter than ever before. She knew what 1713 was. It seemed so simple now. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?

1713 was a street address. Okay, but to which street?

Emily thrust her hand into her jacket pocket and snatched her phone. Shaky fingers searched for street addresses in Blue County, Minnesota. The wind picked up and nipped at the tips of Emily’s fingers, but she didn’t care. She was so close, and she knew it.

All she needed to do was figure out which street the gate to hell would be on and she could go there, free Julian and all this could be over by morning.

Most of the streets were named after trees: Birch, Cedar, Pine, Oak and Chestnut. She lived off Cranberry and Applewood. The main drag was first, second and third. None of these names rang any bells.

Until she spread the map out further.

At the edge of town, she found the street she was looking for. She just knew it. There in tiny black lettering the words Zeebub Avenue shined back at her. It stuck out because it had nothing to do with a tree and also, because Emily had been seeing that name a lot in the last two days.

Emily zoomed back out and that’s when she also noticed the blue dot. It looked about two blocks away. “You’ve got to be kidding!” She’d accidentally walked toward the gate of hell.
That made her feel colder than the wind blowing in. Again, Emily shivered.

She shoved her fingers as far inside the sleeve as she could and kept her phone glowing in case she needed further direction.

The further out she walked the less lamplight Emily had. This was such a bad idea. Maybe she should go back home and come out here in the morning.

No! she silently warned herself. At least now she could get into hell without having to worry about Nana getting hurt, or worse! Emily braved the cold and darkness, even as the city’s concrete sidewalk shifted to gravel and the space between homes got wider and wider.

“You’d better be worth it, Julian,” she said out loud as the blue dot on her phone reached Zeebub Avenue. Her stomach coiled, making her hunch over a bit.

The house was abandoned. That was her first thought. A large black gate had vines growing up the sides. Emily pictured them trying to hide the evil inside.

She never knew vines to be a warning to back off, but she felt the darkness reach out for her as she stepped closer. She touched the cool metal and the gate creaked open a pinch before getting stuck on an old, matted pile of leaves. Thankfully her phone offered a bit of light or she might have tripped over it when she squeezed through.

Go back, something screamed at her.

Emily didn’t listen to that voice. She trudged on, walking up a paved driveway that had also seen better days. The air was thick and smelled of dirt and fecal matter. The place was probably swarming with rats, she realized and quivered up the last few steps.

Emily removed the key from her pocket. Using the light from her phone she slipped the old key into the front door.

It didn’t turn. She wiggled the old key from the rusted lock. All this way for nothing? No! She could not accept that.

Emily palmed the old door and shoved. That did nothing.

A rustling noise sounded at her feet. Emily squealed, jumped back and dropped her phone. The small light offered from her cell lit up a walkway, covered with years of dirt, leaves, and God knew what else. Emily wiped at the gunk, which revealed the path kept going. She was curious as to where it led. The side door, maybe?

Maybe the gate to hell was the side door of an old, abandoned house in the small town of Blue County, Minnesota. It didn’t sound far fetched at all, she thought, rolling her eyes at her own thought. This whole thing sounded far fetched when she thought about it.

The path beneath Emily’s feet was uneven. From years of wear and tear, she decided, holding onto the side of the house just in case of any sneak attacks. The sound of her breathing cut through the night. It was harsh and growing heavier the closer she got to the back of the house. Only then did she realize that it was so quiet back here, no crickets, birds or other insects cried out in the night.

Emily quickened her pace and found the back door. She completed the same ritual, lit up the lock with her phone and placed the key inside. Again, it didn’t budge.

Then she heard someone whisper her name. Emily froze, listening to the sound of the quiet night. It wasn’t a voice she recognized, and it sounded like more of an echo in the dark. She aimed the light toward the backyard, but no one was there.

Her fight or flight response kicked in high gear, telling her to get the hell out of there, but she was too frightened to move. No way this could end well. A murderer was probably hiding under one of the dirt piles in the back yard, ready to pounce when she got close enough.

“Wh—who’s there?”

No answer.

Something crawled over her foot and she screamed for the second time, dropping the key. It landed on the ground with a thin clink. Emily bent to retrieve it and that same whisper reverberated through the calm nighttime air.    

Emily’s heart stilled. Her entire body froze. This time she swore the voice was a woman. Could it be that creature who popped up in her nightmares?

She must be getting close if she’s being terrorized while awake.

Wait! Emily pinched her skin and waited. Maybe she wasn’t awake. This could be another nightmare meant to terrorize her. Why not? She didn’t even realize when she’d fallen asleep anymore.

Although, she never suspected she was dreaming while in a dream. No. She was definitely awake.

Emily bent to retrieve the key and it bounced a foot away. “What?” she whispered into the dark, praying no one would answer.

She took a step closer and tried again. The same thing happened. She tried a third and a fourth time, only this time she pounced quicker. The key bounced away from her. Suddenly it dawned on her: the key was telling her where to go.

So, she followed its bouncing sounds to the inground pool and heard the tiniest splash. Emily shined her light on the water, rippling from the force of the small key. The water was such a dark green, she feared if she looked into it too long it would strip her skin from her bones and bury her soul so deep that she’d never feel anything again.

“This is the entrance?” She questioned the darkness. “Seriously? I have to—go in there?”

Say it isn’t so! Yuck!

Emily shook her head, sucked in a deep breath and plunged into the abyss. She never got wet, she didn’t feel any pain. It was a melting heat that fired her blood, the terrorizing screams from beneath her feet that caught her attention. It was pitch black, and her phone wouldn’t work. “Emily,” she heard.

She followed the voice, ignoring the inner one that told her it wasn’t too late to turn back. Emily turned her head to look behind her and saw the stars in the sky and felt the cool of the nighttime air she’d just left. Emily took a small step forward, thinking maybe she would go back and she kicked something, something small. She couldn’t see it, so she bent down and recognized the feel of the cool iron in her hand. The key.

So, she was definitely in hell now. No going back, she thought. Time to get this over with.

“Emily!” This time it wasn’t a whisper. She recognized the voice as Julian’s and she slowly crawled through the dark shadows, hoping for a magical light to send the darkness away. 

She walked for minutes, hours, she couldn’t tell and there was no sign of Julian—no sign of anyone. “Julian?” she whispered. “Where are you?”

No answer.

Oh, come on! I come all the way down here and you’re not going to help me?

“Emily, I’m here.” His voice was much closer this time.

Emily turned around a bend and found a dimly lit cave. Three torches danced along the ashen walls, circling a crumpled Julian. “Are you all right? Did she hurt you?”

“You came!” he said, his voice again sounding far away.

When he looked up at her she saw the bruises and caked over blood on his pretty face. Instantly, she knew she’d made the right choice in coming to save him. “Yes, I’m here.”

Emily ran to his side, noticing then that he was shackled. The shackles weren’t anchored down to anything. They only hung in the air as if being held by two invisible men. “How do I get you out?”

“The key,” he whispered back.

“The key?”

He spit out blood, it dropped like ink from a quill and bled into the orange sand at their feet. “It’s a master key … for all of hell.”

Emily reached out, noticing her hands were still shaking. She placed one hand on the lock, aimed the key and then heard, “Child, don’t do it!”

“Nana?” Emily whipped around to see Nana stumbling out of the darkness.

“Child, he’s not your friend,” she warned. “He’s not a boy.”

Emily turned from her grandmother to Julian and back. “What do you mean?”

“He’s the—” her words were cut off when a hand reached out from the darkness and slit Nana’s throat.

“No-o-oo-o!” Emily hollered, running to her fallen grandmother, tears flooding out of her eyes. “No, no, no, Nana? Nana, no. Please don’t leave me. No.”

She reached Nana, only to be wrenched from her again. “You finish the job!”

It was the woman from her nightmare. The one who’d whispered to her. The pretty brunette with the evil eyes. “You killed my grandmother!”

“And I’ll kill you too if you don’t do what I say.”

“What?” Emily turned to Julian. His face was clean, no bruises or cuts. The blood was gone, he just looked like the hot-guy. “I don’t . . . understand. You’re—”

“He’s the devil, yes. Now, get on with it,” the woman warned.

Emily didn’t move. Was this really happening? Had she been tricked by the devil himself? No, it couldn’t be. Then she turned toward her slain grandmother and realized it was all true. He’d tricked her, and Nana knew exactly who he was.

“I . . . I’m not helping you! You can kill me for all I care.”

Bee sauntered over to Emily, giving an innocent face and said, “If you don’t free him, I won’t just kill you. I will torture you for the rest of eternity. I’ll kill you in a million different ways and bring you back just to kill you again, kid. Do what I say.”

“No!” Emily didn’t know how she managed to get the word out of her tight throat. Tears dribbled down her cheeks, forming a cool pool of liquid under her chin.     

Bee smiled, not out of humor, out of something deeper, something evil. “Fine. How about this? I’ll bring your grandmother back and even let you leave this place.”

That ultimatum would be harder to turn down. Emily really had to think for a minute. Nana wasn’t supposed to die today, but if Emily released the devil onto the world so many more would die. Emily desperately wanted to be selfish. She ached to help her grandmother to her feet and run back the way they’d come in, but Nana would never forgive her—she’d never forgive herself for getting anyone else killed. “I can’t.”

If Emily thought Julian—or whatever his name is—was bad she hadn’t seen a thing. Bee’s face opened up and a hollow screech of terror exploded from the hole where her mouth used to be. In a thousand stories from a thousand Stephen King novels, Emily could never imagine something so terrifying. She tried to shrink back into the wall and make herself as small as possible.

A clawed arm stretched out and grabbed Emily by the throat. It dragged her kicking across the sandy floor toward Julian. Bee tossed her on the ground as if she were nothing, as if she meant less than the dirt now digging into her skin. “Free my husband. Now!”  

Something wriggled to the surface of Emily’s mind. “You can’t do it, can you?”

Bee’s expression changed, and Emily knew she was right. “You can’t open the lock. Why?”

“Open the lock or I will make your life a living hell!”

Emily laughed. “You already have. What more can you do to me? He’s been torturing me. You killed my grandmother. I have nothing left.” It was true. She had no other family. Emily Johnson was an orphan all over again.

Julian spoke, “What if I brought back your parents?”

Emily whipped around to face the man who’d betrayed her. “What did you say?”

Julian smirked, knowingly. “What if I brought back your parents? Would you free me then?”

Emily thought about it. “And Nana?”

He shook his head. “Two’s the limit. It’s the best I can do.”

“Why me?” the words slipped out before she could chase them back in.

Julian looked as confused as Emily felt. “Why you what?”

“Why does it have to be me? Why have you been torturing me?”

“You don’t know? You mean, Nana never told you?”

“Um, maybe she never had the chance to.”

Julian laughed. Bee harrumphed in the background, the sound unbecoming of the half-beauty queen in her. “She had plenty of opportunities.” He looked over at Bee and said, “Do it.”

Bee nodded, obviously knowing what he meant. She waved a hand over Nana’s body and she twitched before inhaling sharply and grabbing for her neck.

“Nana!” Emily went to go to her, but she was stuck to the spot.

“Emily? What happened?”

“Never mind that,” Julian interrupted before Emily could speak. “Tell the child why she is the one who can help me out of these shackles. Why she is the only one who can help me?”

Nana shook her head. Emily didn’t want to see her grandmother uncomfortable, but she felt like the only person in the room who didn’t know the secret—mainly because she was the only person who didn’t know the big secret. “Nana, please.”

She turned to Emily and Emily saw the sorrow in her brown eyes. “If I tell you, Emily, it will change your life forever and I can’t see that happen.”

“What could be so bad?”

Julian laughed. Not the hot-guy laugh that made Emily’s knees quake; it was the monster laugh that instead, made her ears bleed. “Enough. Just tell her or I will.”

Nana hesitated. Bee moved closer, magically sharpening her claw and putting it to Nana’s throat. “No!” Emily shouted in terror.

“I won’t do it,” Bee told Emily. “If she tells you the truth about who you are.”

Nana didn’t bat an eyelash. She wasn’t afraid to die; she never had been. That’s why she decided to come with me to hell. She didn’t think about her own fate. She must have thought of something because Nana sighed and said, “You are the last descendant of our lord and savior.”

Emily’s mouth dropped as low as it could without falling off, then she laughed. Laughter blistered through her throat and bubbled over and she couldn’t stop it. She laughed until her sides ached. “I must still be dreaming.” She pinched herself again, hoping this time she really would wake up in her own bed.

“Emily Michelle Johnson! I would never say such a thing if it weren’t true,” Nana said.

“No, that can’t be. I don’t believe you, any of you. It doesn’t make any sense. If I believed in all that mumbo-jumbo I still couldn’t believe you.”

“Whether you believe or not, it’s the truth.”

Emily actually turned toward Julian. He nodded, waving his hand. “It’s true. Now, would you please untie me?”

“And what happens if I do?”

Julian glared at her. “I . . . will be free. That’s all you should worry about.”

“Enough of this!” Bee shouted in anger. Her evil magic lifted Emily up into the air and slammed her against the cave wall. Then she bounded her into another wall, again and again, she did this, until Emily thought her insides had turned to mush.

“Stop it!” Nana called out. Emily couldn’t see what was happening before the key slipped out of her hands into Julian’s left shackle.

“What in the world are the freaking odds of that happening?” Emily asked as she dropped to the ground and nearly passed out from sheer agony; everything hurt, from the tip of her toes to the top of her head she felt battered.

A glaring red light exploded throughout the cave and a wave a pure evil washed over Emily’s body as the room began to shake and cave in around her, clumps of rocks and dirt. She fought off the wicked feeling and through a wave of nausea she crawled over to check on Nana. The rocks increased in size, slamming into body parts she didn’t remember having. Emily just knew that Lucifer, the devil himself was right now crawling out of hell.

“We have to lock him back up again,” Nana whispered through the evil wavelength.

“How? He’s the devil, Nana.”

Her brown eyes peered straight into Emily’s. “She who has the power to unlock has the power to lock.”

Okay, that sounded really familiar. Where had she heard that before? “Nana, how can I stop a fallen angel? He’s an angel!” Emily screeched.

“Fallen,” she said, as if this made any difference to Emily at all. She stared blankly at the woman who half raised her. She sighed. “That means, you are stronger. You are in his good graces. You must find the power within.”

“But—”

“Don’t but me, child. I know what I am talking about. Dig deep down in your soul and you’ll find a way. I believe in you.”

Too much. This is too much, Emily thought, as Julian broke free from the chamber and turned his wrath to Nana and Emily. “Now that I’m free. You two are no longer needed.”

He raised a fist and Nana’s body melted into the ground. She was gone again. Just like that, he’d taken Nana away. Emily felt his power within her, trying to tear her very essence apart. It felt as a worm had crawled into her blood stream, seeking and burning everything in its wake. She writhed in agony, but he never found what he was looking for.

Seeing her grandmother disappear like that was all the push Emily needed to keep the wickedness at bay. He was still inside her; she could feel him, but he could no longer do any damage. “That’s not possible,” he said.

Emily laughed. “Five minutes ago, I said the exact same thing and yet, here we are.”

Julian growled. Both he and Bee turned their wrath upon Emily. The two of them brought her back to her knees in agony. She couldn’t do this. They were going to kill her and no one else could lock the devil back into his bonds again. He would soon become the ruler of her world. What would he do to it? What would become of the souls left behind? Would they find their peace? Would they burn for all eternity, as Bee had threatened Emily earlier?

No! Emily told herself. No, that could not happen!

It became clear what she had to do. Emily slowly stood to her feet, letting the power of two of the biggest evil creatures of all time just wash over her and fall away. If they wore themselves out while trying to take her out maybe she could lock Julian back up again.

That’s when she remembered where she’d heard about opening and closing the door. She’d read it while searching for Bee. ‘When he opens no one will shut; when he closes no one will open.’

Despite the bad form of that sentence, Emily understood now. She understood everything. This is what she was meant to do. She was the key. It wasn’t a cool slab of metal. It was her.

Emily searched through everything inside her until she found a coiled-up piece of soul that had been lying in wait for this day. She pulled at it, forcing it to the surface. It flooded through her as her power awakened. It was the power of the savior, the most powerful being in all of creation coiled through her veins, strengthening and warming her blood, preparing her and awakening her potential.

She’d never believed until now. Emily was descendant from a biblical God and she would not let him down. She would not let the world down.

Emily shifted her power outward. Julian and Bee both stood in shock, only faltering a moment, but it was enough for Emily to get in there and weaken their defenses. How she was truly doing it she’d never understand, but the power was there. It was in every fibre of her being, it told her exactly what to do.

Emily raised a fist and pulled thick, black shackles out of thin air and coiled them around Julian’s entire body, around Lucifer’s entire body. The metal wrapped around him, tightening like a boa constrictor until his power broke off and he was finished.

Bee screeched in horror. “You’ll pay for this!”

And then she ran for Emily. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Emily questioned, unphased that a powerful demon was charging. “Ok. Just remember you asked for it.”

Emily paused a moment to think about how to fend off the princess of hell, searching for the strength. Again, she just knew what she had to do. As Bee approached, angry faced and ready to kill, Emily reached out and punched the demon right in the face, instantly causing a bruise to form. “That’s for my Nana.”

Bee ran and hid behind the fallen Julian. Emily was pleased with herself. She knew now that she never should have listened to Julian—or whatever his name is—in the first place.

Maybe Nana would be alive right now.

“Don’t ever make me come back here,” Emily told them. “And I better not ever see you lurking in my dreams again, either,” she added, newly confident.

As Emily turned to leave, she noticed the key sitting on the ground by the door, the very same key that started all this.

Anger slipped into her stomach with the teeth of a piranha and dug in. She picked up the key, clasping it tightly in her auburn fist and crushed with all her might. Without looking back, she let the metal crumbs sink into the sand of the cave.



Emily’s purpose in life had been fulfilled, but she was alone in the great big world. Why did she have to lose it all? This wasn’t some comic book. Or maybe it was. Was this her origin story? Oh, Emily, knock it off, she told herself as she crawled into her house, Nana’s house. She figured she’d sleep for a week and then decide what to do next.

“Emily! My baby girl! You’re all grown up!” She heard as a lady ran down the stairs, looking expressly familiar to Emily. Her jet-black hair was straight as a board, blown-out. She had Nana’s brown eyes and her umber skin, Emily noticed as the woman threw herself into Emily’s arms. “Mom?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Mom?” she shouted again, not believing it. “How are you here? What happened? Where’s Dad? Where’s Nana?”

“Whoa, whoa. Slow down, baby girl. There’s plenty of time for answers. You did so well. We’re so proud of you. We always knew you could do it.”

She hugged Emily close again. Then her Dad walked in the front door, baring gifts in a brown paper bag and tossing her a big smirk. Emily saw a bundle of vegetables sticking out of the top and she thought he was preparing his favorite dish for them tonight. One thing Emily remembered was her father’s cooking. That man could sure cook. “Emily! My darling girl.” He opened his wide arms and she ran into them, hugging him as tightly as she could. He hadn’t aged a bit, his auburn hair had exactly three small streaks of grey touching it, his light skin mostly untouched by wrinkles and his blue eyes as sharp as ever. “You look tired, angel.”

Emily laughed. “It’s been a long day.”

Nana came out of the kitchen, smiling. She opened her arms for Emily to hug her and Emily accepted the invitation eagerly. She was so lucky to have been so loved by so many.

The feeling of belonging washed over Emily so strong, she had to sit down. Her family was here, and she was safe. The world was safe. Emily had done what she was supposed to do, and her family was proud of her.

“I love you all,” she told the three of them.

Emily woke in her own bed, feeling both sad and enlightened. Her family was still gone, but she’d see them again. In her dreams at night.

“Oh crap!” she said out loud. “I still forgot to study for finals.”

Emily could swear that she heard Nana’s laughter echoing in her mind.
  
 
**This story and its characters in no way express the author's beliefs. It is fiction created for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblances to real life people is purely coincidental.**
Back to Short Stories