After My Cat, a Genius, While I Was Polishing My Nails and Little Amy, here’s another Angela-and-Azazel story. It was written for a prompt in a writer’s workshop, over a decade ago. Both Angela and Azazel are in it, Philip is only mentioned, it happens a few years after Little Amy, and be ready for some dark humor.
I hope you enjoy it!
P.S. I’ve got nothing against Wiccans, those in the story happen to be on the silly side, which in no way reflects my opinion about Wiccans in general.
Behind the Door
I was switching channels, trying to avoid Britney Spears (or was it Shakira? Christina Aguilera? Can anyone tell the difference anyway?), with Azazel purring in my lap, when the doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone and I’m not exactly a sociable person, so I wondered whether to just stay on the couch. Azazel purred his agreement.
The doorbell rang again. And again. Whoever it was, he or she didn’t intend to leave. I grumbled to Azazel to move and answered the door. Natasha and Alexandra, two Wiccan girls from the neighborhood coven, looked at me uncomfortably.
“Um, we’re sorry to disturb you…” began Natasha.
“We didn’t mean to interrupt you or something…” said Alexandra.
“Can you just tell me what you want?” I said.
“Um… Well… It’s a bit odd. Won’t you invite us in? It might take a while to explain,” said Natasha. I moved aside to let them pass.
Natasha was eighteen, with long black hair which she dyed to platinum blonde. She thought of herself as fat; I’ve never managed to convince her to leave her hair as it was and that every male on the planet who wasn’t attracted to skeletons would think of her as gorgeous. Her normally light tanned cheeks were blushing. It’s not that I was known as a bad-tempered person; it was a rare thing even to see me angry. But somehow, people who unnerved me or threatened me would get seriously injured. I don’t know how. I never did anything to them, honest. I’d just hear from someone that they were hurt in a bad, weird way.
Alexandra was nineteen, naturally blonde, naturally built like a model. Every dumb guy with a desire to show off with a model-like girlfriend wanted her. She wasn’t stupid, though; I can’t possibly call a nineteen-year-old girl whose parents were broke and who owned a house with a swimming pool, two cars and a horse, who was single and without a permanent boyfriend, stupid. I don’t know how she got all that, but it certainly wasn’t through being a retard.
Unlike Natasha, Alexandra looked her usual over-confident self. Nothing but her aura betrayed her nervousness.
“Relax, you two. I’m not going to eat you, and neither is Azazel. Take a seat. Want something to drink?” I said.
“Coke would be fine,” Alexandra said, relaxing. Natasha nodded. Azazel grinned. It seemed that everyone who ever came into my place knew that Coke and Nescafe could be found here at any time. No food, perhaps (except for the cat food, of course), but caffeine was always available. I made a mental note to talk to Philip about that.
After I brought them their drinks, Alexandra began:
“Two days ago, Natasha saw something odd at the lawn between those new buildings, fifteen minutes from here. A door. In the middle of the lawn.”
“Somebody’s idea of a joke?” I suggested. “Besides, with our civil engineering, nothing really comes as a surprise.”
“That’s what I thought, but there’s something odd about it. For one thing, it’s locked,” Natasha looked at me, expectantly.
“So? Locked door in the middle of a lawn. That’s not something you can see every day — well, now you can, you just have to walk there — but what’s so important about it?”
“I had a weird feeling about it,” Natasha said, looking at me significantly.
“Can you stop that oh-it’s-so-mysterious act and tell me in plain words what’s so interesting about that thing?”
Alexandra glared at Natasha.
“I… I just had that weird feeling that the door was leading somewhere. Somewhere else. I don’t really know how to explain it,” Natasha said.
“So what do you want from me?”
“Ravena said we should try to open it. The two of us, I mean. BlackWolf suggested that you might be able to help us if…” Natasha stopped.
“If some shit happens,” I said, “I’ll have to thank him personally for that.”
Alexandra and Natasha exchanged worried glances. I rolled my eyes at that. Azazel yawned; he knew I could never get really angry at Philip. The kid was just too darn nice.
Allow me to explain. BlackWolf was Philip. Ravena was their coven mistress, or whatever she called herself. Alexandra and Natasha had their “mysterious” or “magickal” or whatever names too, but I was never able to remember them. The whole Wiccan thing was silly, anyway. I live in Belgrade, Serbia. Witchcraft had always existed in this area. It wasn’t practiced by everyone, of course — just by a few, actually, but it had certainly been there. It had nothing to do with Goddess-worshiping, or admiring the Mother Earth. It was not a religion, merely a way of living. And the ground here is powerful. A three-year-old gypsy kid can throw a curse at you, and it has a good chance of actually working. If you want to use magick, there’s no reason to import an entire new religion. You just do it.
But a bunch of silly teenagers thought that Wicca was cool and gathered in a coven. Thirteen silly members. I knew of the coven because they were in my neighborhood. I knew the members of the coven because Philip had introduced me to them. It’s not that I blame Philip; he’s a nice kid, but being a sixteen-year-old gay who likes magick isn’t easy around here, and the coven was the only group where he could really find support and understanding. But Christ, their silly ways… Their looong rituals and “mysterious” names and symbols and… If you want to do something, just focus on it and do it. End of story.
Yes, yes, their spells worked too. The golden rule of magick is “whatever works for you, works”. If you want to perform a five-hour-long ritual in order to make a fire, you can do it. But using matches works just as well. It takes less time and doesn’t look as mystical, but it works.
“All right. When do you intend to go?” I asked.
The girls sighed with relief.
“We can go now, if you want,” Natasha said. Azazel threw a disapproving glance at her.
“Of course not, it’s dark already,” I said.
“What’s there after dark?” Alexandra asked.
“A pack of stray dogs gone wild because of winter,” Natasha replied. “But I didn’t think they’d be a problem.”
“Go and fight them if you want to. You might get away with just a few bites,” I said. “It’s not likely, though.”
“I didn’t think…” Natasha began.
“Go on, finish what you were saying. I said I wouldn’t eat you,” I said. Alexandra looked calm, but her aura showed her dismay.
“I didn’t think you’d be afraid of a few dogs,” Natasha said. “I mean, everyone says you fear nothing,” she hurried to add.
“Everyone says you’re an imbecile,” I replied. “It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true, though in your case, I begin to wonder. Why would we go there now and risk a fight with a pack of wild dogs if we can go during daytime and perhaps avoid them? Or is there something you didn’t tell me? Some reason for a rush?”
“Well, no. I was just impatient. It’s so… Creepy. I’d just like to know what it is and to get over with it,” Natasha said uneasily.
“First it’s just odd, now it’s creepy. Are you sure you told me everything?”
“Yes, of course I am!”
“Well then, one more night of waiting won’t kill you,” I said. “Come here tomorrow, when you get ready, and we’ll see what it is. Just don’t come too early.”
“Is there something special we should get?” Alexandra said.
“Breakfast,” I said. “I’m out of food.”
Alexandra laughed, though it sounded a bit forced.
“I’m serious,” she said.
“So am I,” I said. “I really am out of food. Look, just bring everything you think you might need, unless you want to come back for it, okay?”
“Yeah,” she said.
With a Blessed be, they left.
“Any thoughts about it?” I asked Azazel.
He was asleep already. Well, that’s an answer, I guess. And a good one at that.
Someone — my guess is Alexandra, she was the brighter one — had probably asked Philip at what time I usually get up and whether I have any breakfast preferences, since they came at noon, accompanied by two bags of potato chips. Very unhealthy, I know, but I like the taste. I munched them with Nescafe — I made some for Natasha and Alexandra, too — and off we went.
Natasha led the way. She was showing off a bit, probably proud because she was the one to spot something so odd. The fact is, Natasha was probably the only person in the neighborhood stupid enough to walk that lawn at winter. It was the favorite playground for the local kids during the warmer part of the year, but in the winter, it belonged to the dogs. While there was daylight, we had a chance to get unnoticed, since it was their time for scavenging for food, and there was none to be found at the lawn; after dark, the pack defended it as fiercely as a pack of wolves would.
The day was cold and my fingers and toes were soon freezing. Natasha and Alexandra had warm, heavy coats. I opted for my feather-stuffed jacket which ended below my waist; if there was some danger, I wanted to be able to run. Azazel was the only one who seemed undisturbed by the cold; then again, weather never disturbed him, though he didn’t like rains.
“How… How’s he doing it?” Natasha asked. Alexandra was trying not to look at Azazel.
“How’s he doing what?” I asked. We have entered the lawn, and the door was clearly visible. There was no sign of the dogs.
“He should be having trouble to go through the snow, it’s too deep for him. But he’s just walking on it, like… Like he has no weight at all!” Natasha said. Azazel turned and looked at her, then sat and began licking his paw.
“Of course he has weight, look at the tracks he’s leaving,” Alexandra said. “He’s just very light. He is a cat, after all.”
“Yes, but…” Natasha looked at me, puzzled. I shrugged.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But, speaking of tracks…”
I looked around, then went further into the lawn.
“Odd,” I murmured.
“What?” Alexandra asked.
“The tracks,” I said, looking around.
“What about them? There are none, except for the ones we just made… Oh.”
“I must be dumb. I don’t understand,” Natasha said.
“The snow is soft, not frozen. And it wasn’t snowing for two weeks now,” I said.
“So where are all the tracks which a pack of Shepherd-sized dogs should have made during the last two weeks? We’ve missed your tracks from three days ago, okay, we’re not scouts and we weren’t looking for them anyway. But the pack tracks should be clearly visible even for us,” I shook my head. “I don’t get this.”
“I told you it’s weird here,” Natasha said.
I looked at Azazel. He yawned. Okay, so he didn’t think there was immediate danger around.
And he certainly didn’t miss the dogs.
“Let’s move, I’m freezing,” I said.
We came to the door. Nothing happened. It was closed. I walked around it. A heavy oak door, nothing special about it. Except that it stood in the middle of nowhere. I looked at it carefully, searching for sign of any danger. Nothing. So what’s behind this door? I thought to myself. A silly thought came as a reply: Nothing. Just you. I shook my head and tried the door. It was locked.
Behind me, Natasha hissed in surprise.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You didn’t protect yourself!” she said. Alexandra looked worried, too.
“Against whatever harm may come to you!” Natasha said. “Can’t you feel it?”
“It’s evil!” Natasha exclaimed. Azazel looked amused, a few yards away from the door, his black fur making strong — and comforting — contrast to the surrounding whiteness. Alexandra looked a bit scared.
“I feel it too. Perhaps not as strong as she does, but I do feel it,” she said quietly.
“Okay, since I’m obviously the only one not feeling it, whatever it is: what is it, exactly, that you’re feeling?” I asked Alexandra.
“Well, not evil, like she says. More… Wild. Untamed. Like a wind. Reminded me of that Wizard of Oz tornado, only wilder,” she said. “I know it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s what I feel.”
“Okay. You?” I asked Natasha.
“Definitely evil. All right, wild too, but like a wild monster. Something big and ugly and scary, with lots of teeth and tentacles and stuff, like in a horror movie,” Natasha said. “You probably think I’m dumb now…”
“No, I don’t,” I said. “Sometimes we sense something odd, and it’s hard to describe it to someone who doesn’t feel it.”
“Oh,” Natasha said. She looked like a puppy that just got a pat on the head.
“So what do we do?” Alexandra asked.
“Well, you both feel something is wrong with this door, so I suggest we just leave it as it is,” I said.
“We can’t do that!” Natasha said.
“We came all the way…” she began.
“Spare me; we walked for entire fifteen minutes to get here. You feel there’s something bad about this door, she feels there’s something bad about this door, so what in the world is forcing us to open it?” I asked.
“It’s here,” Alexandra said.
“That it is. What about it?”
“Ravena said we should open it,” Natasha said like a school child. Okay, so she was in high school. Was I really only three years older than her?
“She said you should try to open it, she didn’t order you to do it. And besides, you’re not obliged to do everything she says,” I said.
“Are you afraid?” Natasha asked.
“No, I just fail to see a single reason to tamper with something both of you sense is dangerous.”
“Aren’t you curious?” Alexandra asked.
“Not particularly, no. I’m freezing and I’m beginning to think that even watching Britney Spears isn’t so bad if I can do it while I’m warm and cozy.”
Natasha and Alexandra looked at each other. Finally, Alexandra said:
“Look, will you just stay here while we open the door? You can stay aside if you want to.”
“Thank you so much for permitting me. Okay, but hurry up,” I said. Azazel looked bored. I squatted and he stretched to meet my hand. I scratched him behind the ear. He purred.
“We’ll get home soon enough,” I told him. “After I do some shopping.”
He looked at me, surprised.
“Hey, I can’t eat cat food, can I?”
He seemed to agree with it heartily.
Alexandra and Natasha were discussing what ritual they should use to open the door.
“On second thought, maybe we won’t get home so soon,” I said and stood up.
“It’s just opening the door, for Christ’s sake!” I said. “You don’t need a ritual for that. Just focus on it!”
“But there must be some preparations, motions, words…” said Alexandra.
“Fine. Wave your hand and say Alohomora,” I said.
“This isn’t Harry Potter. It wouldn’t work,” Natasha said. I rolled my eyes.
“As long as you know how to focus on it, everything works,” I said.
“Perhaps you would be so kind to enlighten us?” Alexandra said. Natasha looked at her with mouth wide open.
“Not much of a challenge,” I replied. “So don’t expect much of an enlightenment, either.”
I came closer to the door. Whatever it was they were feeling, I felt nothing. Just a door in an odd place.
I focused on the door. I couldn’t sense anything unusual about the lock. If I had known how to pick locks, just ordinary lock-picking without magick, I would’ve probably been able to open it. But I was no burglar, so magick would have to do.
Natasha and Alexandra looked at me expectantly. With my hand a few inches away from the door, I could feel its simple locking mechanism. I focused on the image of a key unlocking the door. I waved my hand a little — it wasn’t necessary, but I’ve promised it to Alexandra and Natasha — and said:
A satisfying click accompanied this. I turned to the Wiccans.
“And?” Alexandra asked.
“It’s unlocked. You sure you want to go through with this?”
Both of them nodded. Curiosity killed the cat, I thought, for no reason in particular. I looked at Azazel. Somehow, I wasn’t worried about him. Or myself, for that matter.
I opened the door, at the same time covering myself with it. Just in case. The door hit me hard, as a tornado flew out.
Say what? A tornado in Belgrade? Wrong part of the planet.
Weird. Although the tornado could push the door pretty hard, I could feel none of it. Azazel’s fur and Natasha’s long hair weren’t moving, either. Nothing was moving, for that matter, except for the wild flight of Alexandra’s hair and the tornado itself. Alexandra opened her mouth and tried to scream, but no sound could be heard. The wild wind took her and went back through the door.
It was Natasha’s turn to scream as a big creature with a lot of teeth and tentacles jumped out through the door and went after her. Natasha turned and ran. I tried to tell her to calm down and disbelieve the creature, but she was already too absorbed with her fear. She was a good runner, I grant her that, but the creature was just as quick.
There were several screams, and then there was silence.
It was easy to follow the tracks of the creature. They were big and the thing was obviously heavy. I recognized some of the tracks as hooves and big paws with three or four fingers and claws; the creature also seemed to have three or four tails. Or were those tentacles it dragged behind it? I wasn’t sure. Like I said, I’m not a scout.
The creature was standing in the snow. It was hard to tell for something so big and weird, but it seemed to tremble. The remains of Natasha were all over the area. I recognized pieces of an arm, some of her dyed hair, and a leg in a boot. Other pieces were smaller and harder to identify. There seemed to be enough blood to fill a small pool. Just an illusion, I know, but that’s what it looked like.
A small sound came from the creature. It definitely was trembling. The thing was nine feet tall (I have no idea how it managed to get through the door) and, like Natasha had said, it had a lot of teeth and tentacles. Some of the tentacles ended with something which looked like dark eyes; some ended with more teeth.
The creature looked more like an unfinished nightmare than anything else. It was round in shape, with several legs (I couldn’t determine the number); some of the legs ended with hooves, some with paws, some with teeth. There was no order in how the tentacles were placed on the body; while some of them could be used for catching the prey and tearing it apart, and others could be used for looking (the ones with the eyes, obviously), there were just as many tentacles which the creature could only drag behind itself, or stumble over them. If it could float, I suppose those would be useful too, but this was no ocean. And the teeth… They were placed in such a manner that the poor thing would chew half of its face (I think it was the face) if it attempted to use them.
Actually, the face was half-chewed. And the poor thing looked like it couldn’t breathe normally, either.
The creature let out that small sound again. It sounded like a whimper. Azazel came closer to it and sniffed it. The monster lowered one of the tentacles, slowly, and touched the cat’s back. Azazel arched his back and purred.
“Hey,” I said. “If you follow your own tracks, you can get back to where you came from.”
I wasn’t sure the thing could understand me. It did, however, turn and walk, carefully, over its tracks. I followed it. Azazel stayed close to the creature and purred whenever it touched him. That seemed to calm the creature.
The thing came to the door. Some of the tentacles with eyes turned to me.
“When you go through, do you think you could take the door with you, so no one else gets hurt?” I asked. The thing paused, and then went through the door. A moment later, the door disappeared.
Azazel looked at me, expectantly.
“Yes, I know. It went home, and we should do the same,” I said. “We will, as soon as I get some food. I think we’re out of milk, too. Explanations to Ravena can wait until we’re warm and fed, right?”
Azazel purred his agreement. He jumped into my hands. I carried him home, and he purred all the time.