Liz etched the final point of the pentagram and sighed. She rolled the chalk between her fingers. It usually helped her thing, but something was distracting her. She glanced around the room, paused.
Was that a chill?
Candles. She needed candles.
Hurrying to her purse, Liz tried to ignore the creaking floorboards and dust. This place was ancient, full of childhood memories. The last etched into her mind like fire: a decade-younger Liz screaming in the face of the hellspawn that had walked through her magic circle.
It wasn’t supposed to follow her, but it had. At first, being stalked by a minor demon had been mostly harmless: a broken shot glass at the bar, a book flying off the counter, dogs barking, cats growling.
Over the years, those tricks had grown in ferocity. Dogs snarled and snapped at her anytime she got too close. A month ago, a sinkhole opened up right in front of her. Twice in the past week, she’d almost been hit by car. Her life wasn’t just becoming a nightmare. It was becoming a deathtrap.
A decade ago, all Liz wanted to do was protect her family home. Who would live here if this place was haunted? Strapped for cash and drowning in college debt, calling on a minor spirit to keep prospective buyers away seemed like the only way to protect the place when her mother passed and the bank foreclosed.
She could have challenged the foreclosure or found a way to buy the home back. But in life, there were no guarantees. Instead, she’d summoned a hellspawn and spent the better part of a decade haunted at and every turn.
She swallowed hard, licked her lips. Her mother had died in her own bed, right below where Liz was standing now. Liz still remembered looking into those desperate eyes before death took hold of her. She’d promised to protect this place, and that’s what she was going to do.
“I will protect this place.” She said it aloud, drawing strength from her own voice.
Liz might not have made much of herself over the past ten years, but she wasn’t a liar. She pulled the candles from her purse, along with a silver knife and a lighter. She flicked her thumb against the striker. The flames lit, then sputtered. One by one, Liz lit the candles and set them in a circle around the edge of the pentagram.
When she finished, she returned to the northernmost point of the pentagram. She nicked her thumb with the silver knife and squeezed a drop of blood onto the chalky floor. A deep red glow pulsed through the outer ring.
“Begone spirit,” she said, recalling the latter half of a spell learned long ago. “From this place, you were summoned. From this place, begone.”
For a moment, nothing happened. Then: darkness, as if the sun winked out of the sky. An unseen wind swept in through the walls, and the pentagram vanished, replaced by a fiery portal into the depths of a hellscape that twisted Liz’s stomach into knots.
A figure floated in the air above that portal, charred and disfigured. Unholy.
“Please,” it cried, the wailing voice of her decade-old tormentor pleading for mercy. “Don’t send me down to that place.”
“Begone,” Liz shouted.
Candlelight winked to a fine point, the flames guttered. The demon sank toward the portal as if pulled down by an unseen anchor. Liz worked up the nerve to stare her worst nightmare in the eyes, to let it know she’d won.
From beneath the cracked skin and charcoal skin, Liz saw a familiar set of eyes staring back at her in desperation.
She knew those eyes.
“Mom?” she whispered. But the spirit tumbled into the void and the portal snapped closed, leaving Liz alone in the empty attic, her mother’s desperate eyes haunting her own beleaguered soul.