Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins III: Luxuria”, can be found here.


The sea was crashing madly
towards the empty shore
And lightning lit the heavens
along with thunder’s roar

The port town seemed abandoned as
I entered in the rain
But looks can be deceiving when
you deal with the profane

Thus I resumed with caution
and soon I reached the sea
And well there I discovered what
fate had in store for me

For there amongst the surges a
monstrosity emerged
A serpent from the depths of Hell
repulsive and unpurged

And as I watched it slither
there rose up from the waves
the people of the village
turned into green eyed slaves

Undead they came towards me
a hunger in their eyes
And moaning accusations
filled with the demon’s lies

They hungered for my life force
they hungered for my quest
Denying me in envy
those things and all the rest

Aversely I conceded
that these people were lost
I could not bring them back from
the line that they had crossed

So I brandished my weapon,
the magic staff of myth
That angels once did grant me
to banish darkness with

The glowing staff before me
I fought my way ahead
Attempting to convince myself
they were already dead

When finally I stood there
right at the water’s brim
The demon pierced me with his gaze;
I stared right back at him

“So this is what it comes to”
the snake hissed with a grin
“You’ve come to meet Invida,
the fourth and mightiest sin?”

I nodded then in silence
and suddenly I knew
That all the power he possessed
was actually my due

For after all my triumphs
why should not also I
Be blessed with all the powers
befalling those up high?

A sudden rage did fill me;
I was worth more than so
And thus I raised my staff again
and fell upon my foe

And I struck out in anger
to take back what was mine
But somewhy the staff failed me and
the snake did me entwine

I fought with all my strength but
the demon only laughed
“Your puny tools can’t harm me when
you’ve fallen for my craft”

With that he bared his fangs and
my will began to shake
For suddenly I realized
my fatal, grave mistake

I’d fallen for his envy
and let it cloud my mind
And now the snake would kill me –
how had I been so blind?

But as fangs closed around me
I struck a final blow
And my relief was endless when
the staff began to glow

The snake screamed out in terror as
I pierced right through its eye
It slithered back in panic but
it still refused to die

The sea parted around me when
I walked to where it lay
And brought forth now the crystal
to catch my fourth big prey

The snake called Leviathan
tried both to beg and bribe
But I had learned the hard way not to
listen to his tribe

The crystal’s light burst forth then,
outshone the thundering sky
And when the flash subsided
alone stood only I

Despite another triumph
a sadness filled my soul
For so many had died here
for me to reach my goal

In silence I retreated,
without turning around
Not looking at the bodies
still lying on the ground

A fourth sin was defeated
but at a heavy cost
And as I journeyed on I knew
that innocence was lost.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Envy – Leviathan. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next poem in the series, “Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula”, can be found here.

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The Forest

”Have you ever been to the Forest before?”

She struggled through the underbrush as she tried to fight off the dizziness and the haze that prevented her from seeing anything but dark, blurry shapes in the murk around her.

”Which one?” She didn’t know who she was talking to, or even where she was.

The voice in front of her – something not quite human – laughed quietly. ”Oh, but there only ever was one”, it said.

”What? No, I’ve been to several–”

”They are all connected, child”, the voice interrupted her. ”All the forests of the world, connected. There’s only one Forest, and you’re in it now.”

”How did… I don’t remember getting here. Who are you? Did you bring me here?”

”You don’t even have the sense to be afraid, do you?” That soft, purring laughter again. ”Well, good. Then you might be ready for what I’m going to tell you.”

She tried to walk faster, to catch up with whoever was walking before her, but her whole body felt strange and slow.

”Something’s wrong with me”, she said. ”It hurts.”

”Yes, I know it hurts”, the voice said. ”That’s part of the beauty of it.”

”The beauty of wha–”

”Don’t speak now, just listen. What you think you know about the world, yourself and reality is a lie. A carefully constructed lie, composed long ago by creatures far wittier than you and I, but a lie nonetheless. It is a lie that tells little children what they need to hear in order to remain sane and alive. A lie that holds human society together, and a lie that protects that which needs to dwell in darkness from the merciless light of day. It is a lie that I myself dread see exposed. But tonight I shall still dare whisper secret truths to you, truths that you shall then help me protect.”

”Me? Help you? I’m sorry, but should I know you?” The trees around her glowed silver and the air smelled of darkness and glass.

”No, but you will. In fact, let me begin by telling you my story”, the voice said – and begun.

”There was a time when I, too, believed in the lie that had been fed to me. This was a long time ago, however, and I have learned my lessons well since then. I was always alone, but I preferred it that way. I never understood other humans, and they did not understand me. I would have been happy to leave it at that, but they were not. For reasons that are more relevant to my own sentimental memory than to this story, they turned on me and I was broken.”

”They… attacked you?” She felt a sudden anger rising up, seemingly from nowhere. The surprising surge of emotion scared her.

”Yes. But as I said, that was long ago and none of them are alive anymore. I have seen to that.”

”You’re not saying–”

”Yes I am. But be quiet now and listen. I was broken and hurting and they left me in the forest for the animals to do their part. But as I lay there, half adream and half awake, I could feel something changing. Slowly, slowly, my mind and body melded with something dark that might have been part of me all along – and suddenly I was not broken anymore. I was not hurting.”

”And what did you–”

”No, this is my story. No more questions. But yes, I killed them. All of them. Grown ups and children just the same. Oh, it was glorious.”

There was such mirth in the voice at this that she didn’t dare inquire further.

”Silence, good”, the voice chuckled. ”But as I said, that’s not part of the story I’m trying to tell you. What is, however, is that I have been living in the Forest ever since, observing, protecting and sometimes hunting. ‘Hunting what?’, I sense you want to ask. Well, sometimes I hunt animals and sometimes I hunt other things. There are other things out here, and the deeper you get into the Forest, the darker and sharper grows the prey. But enough about that.”

The creature cleared its throat with a deep, growling sound, but never slowed down the pace.

”A big part of the lie that humans tell themselves is that the world is simple and logical. There is logic to it, sure, but the logic is not theirs. They limit themselves to seeing only part of reality; build themselves into a confining box, if you will. That box is what the Night Children call Zenith –the world under the sun.”

”Night Children? Zenith? Wait, I don’t–”

The creature growled, and she silenced. ”You have to stop doing that. Asking… Questions. I don’t like it. Zenith is what you perceive as the real world, but it’s not. Reality consists of many worlds, and Zenith is just one of them. But humans cannot handle the thought of this, and they cannot handle the thought of there being truths and creatures and realities outside their own limited perception. And that’s why most often they refuse to see them – and us. Especially those of us who do not blend in well with their narrow scope of the world. We simply become invisible to them.”

”And who are ‘we’?”

”Oh, that’s a good question finally. Maybe the only one that truly matters. We, my dear cub, are the Night Children I mentioned. Those who once were, or at least thought we were, humans – but who fate has proven wrong. We are cursed to live outside the lie and to protect it, thereby protecting ourselves. There are many types of curses that can befall those unlucky enough, but they all end us up outside the box. And outside the box, outside Zenith, is only the darkness of Midnight where few dare tread.

Or that’s not entirely true. Between the two realms is the crossroads twilight of Dusk, and that’s where we are now. It’s the shadow of reality’s hidden nooks and crannies, including forgotten parts of cities and the true parts of the Forest. These places tie all the sunlit woods, towns and corners together. There are doorways here, and pathways and thresholds, that tie secret parts of Zenith together with Midnight. From here you can go anywhere in the sunlit world, but you can also end up terribly, irrevocably lost.”

”And… Am I lost?” There was some kind of fear inside her, but not one that she could easily place and recognize as her own.

The creature laughed again. ”No, dear, you are not lost. I would not have that. It was I who brought you here, and I know these parts inside and out.”

”But… Why? Why did you bring me here? Why are you telling me all of this? I know your story, sure, but I don’t know you.”

”No, that is true. But I, on the other hand, know you rather well. I have been watching you for many moons now, sensed the change in you as soon as it started. You have felt it too, have you not?”

”No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She knew this was a lie, but could not clearly remember why.

”You sure? So the increased growing of your nails and teeth, the sudden surges of emotion and the inescapable hunger for raw meat did not strike you as anything outside of the ordinary?”

She remembered something like that, but it felt like it had happened to somebody else, sometime very long ago. ”Well, I guess it did, but I just thought…”

”That you were going mad? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. But you don’t have to hide the change anymore now, it is done. Finished. You are what you are now, and your little stunt there couldn’t stop it.”

”Stunt?” The memories were starting to come back, but very, very slowly.

”You tried to do something really stupid to yourself, but I stopped you. I told you I have been watching you, didn’t I? Well, I was waiting for something conclusive to happen to you, like it once did to me. And then I stepped in. Lifted you out of that bathtub and carried you here.”

She stopped walking. ”Wait, what? You were in my apartment? You… lifted me out of the bathtub? No. No, this is too much. Sorry, but I have to go. I’ll just, I have to go home now.”

She started turning around, but stopped and jumped as the voice spoke up again – right beside her this time.

”You could do that”, it said. ”But I would not recommend it.”

”Why not?”

”Because we are here now.”

And just in that instant the moon far above them left its nest in the clouds and cast its cold, merciless light down upon the forest. Suddenly she could see the world around herself clearly – including the still surface of the lake right in front of her feet. The water was so dark and quiet that it flawlessly mirrored the forest, the moonlit sky – and the two creatures standing by the water’s edge.

Creatures, not people, because their skin was clad in grizzly fur, their eyes glowing and their pupils little more than horizontal slits. Their hands and feet were adorned with big, monstrous claws and gleaming fangs protruded from their too-wide mouths.

She just stared, too shocked to scream or run or even say anything. The creature to her right, the one who had been walking in front of her this whole time, calmly met her eyes through the reflection in the water.

”You could go back”, it said in a low voice. ”But it would not be the same. I do not know why you have been blessed or cursed with Night, but life as you knew it is over, gone.”

She looked at her own reflection, at the face that she did not recognize but which still reminded her of something she might deep down have known for a long, long time. She shook her head. ”So this is what I am now? A… a monster?”

”Not a monster, dear. You have been blessed with the Wilder heart, cursed with the beast’s mark. This is your true form, yes, but you can still blend in, regain your past form for a while.”

Relief surged through her strange body. ”I can?”

”For a limited time, yes. But it comes with a sacrifice.”

”How?” She turned to face the creature for the first time, grabbed its ragged shoulders and stared into its terrible eyes. ”Just tell me, I’ll do anything!”

The creature met her gaze in silence for several heartbeats. ”The price is beyond ‘anything’ to many whose humanity is still intact”, it said. ”And that is also part of the curse’s irony. To retain the appearance of humanity, you have to commit monstrous acts and ingest what we call vitalem – human flesh and blood.”

She started to say something, but stopped as the meaning of the words suddenly sank in.

The creature nodded solemnly. ”Yes, that is the sacrifice. To give up your inner humanity in order to keep up the semblance of your outer such.”

”But you, you…”

”Yes, I stooped to it initially. I killed those who had wronged and hurt me, and that act kept me human – for a time. But then the realization of what I had done drove me back into the Forest, and for shame and guilt I have seldom left it since. I have been so very alone, but now I am not alone anymore.”

She let go of the creature’s shoulders and backed away a few steps. ”What, so you mean that this is it now? That I am to stay here with you, looking like this, feeling like this, for the rest of my life? Until I die?”

”You will not die. Not in the sense that you appreciate the word, anyhow.”

She let out a frustrated scream that resounded off the surface of the lake and far beyond the slowly dancing treetops. ”No”, she then said as she continued backing away. ”No, I can’t do this. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I can’t be like this, I can’t live here and I definitely can’t stay here with you.”

”You’re not thinking clearly”, the creature said. ”You haven’t thought this through. I told you about the alternative, and I’m sure–”

She laughed manically and shook her head, still slowly walking backwards. ”You don’t know me”, she said. ”You don’t know what I’m capable of. This isn’t fair, this shouldn’t be happening to me. None of it. I’ll have my life back, even if it means drinking blood or whatever. I–”

”You don’t know what you’re saying”, the creature growled. ”I have suffered through the consequences of that road, and I can tell you that it changes you. It makes you into something that–”

”So let it!”, she screamed with a wide gesture of her arms. ”Let it change me. As long as it also changes me back. This isn’t me! Fuck this thing, fuck Dusk and fuck you. I’m going home and you can’t stop me.” She backed a few more steps, then turned around and disappeared between the trees.

The creature remained by the water’s edge, a melancholy glint in its glowing eyes. As the sound of running steps abated and finally silenced altogether, a black bird landed on its right shoulder.

”You’re not very good at this, are you now, Ira? You’ve just lost us another one”, it croaked.

”Virdis, please don’t”, the creature said lowly. ”I did what I could, but she just wouldn’t listen.”

”Well”, the bird called Virdis cawed mockingly, ”Let’s just hope that she’ll at least calm down and listen to her own reason before she kills anyone in Zenith, or worse.”

”Hopefully the Organization will get to her before that. But they will not be happy about it”, Ira sighed, staring into the woods where the other had disappeared.

”I’m sure they won’t mind”, Virdis mused, but the bird’s sly eyes said otherwise. ”Well, I’d better be off then. Gotta let Vincent know that there’s another one coming. Can’t wait to see his reaction. Seeyah.”

And with that the black bird left Ira’s shoulder with a strong beat of its huge wings. It quickly soared into the air and was soon gone into the night, off to whatever strange places crows and ravens use to cross between worlds.

Ira remained alone by the lake, staring at the reflection in the water and wishing, not for the first time, that the world were indeed as simple as the lies from a far away childhood had once made it out to be.

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-02-15

This story was written in response to a title writing prompt, 

It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?

I have, by the way, previously written another short story set in the same universe. It is called The Sound of Silence, and you can find it here.

Seven Deadly Sins II: Avaritia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins I: Superbia”, can be found here. The next one, “Luxuria”, can be found here.


Next dawn I reached a city
its walls were made of gold
Its people heaped with riches
and endless wealth of old

And towering above it
in contest with the skies
There was a ruinous castle
its windows full of eyes

My courage almost left me
when I my gaze let glide
Up to its very summit
and saw what hid inside

For from the rooftop terrace
a pair of eyes met mine
And those two eyes were yellow;
I knew this was a sign

And when it left the shadows
I could make no mistake
For from its wolf like body grew
a tail as from a snake

And as I stood there frozen
the fiend let out a roar
And avaricious thralls swarmed
out every gate and door

“Can you see that crystal?”
the demon frothed on.
“This thief has stolen it from you,
retrieve it or it’s gone”.

The people fell upon me,
drew blood and cursed my name
I fled towards the castle,
my lungs and veins aflame

I darted up the staircase,
and still the mob gave chase
Within my hand the crystal
was already ablaze

I fell onto the rooftop
and quickly shut the door
And suddenly stood face to face
with the fiend I’d seen before

“You’re Mammon” I said, trembling
and saw the monster nod
Its vicious smile grew wider
“You stand before a god”

“You people will obey me
because it’s in your blood
To strive for gold and glory,
so bow now in the mud”

“My favour lends you riches,
your pledge will give you wealth
And if you feed on others
I’ll also grant you health.”

“But if you still defy me
you know how this shall end.
Your death will be more painful
than you can comprehend.”

I hesitated briefly
then went down on my knee
“Please spare my life, and in return
accept this gift from me”

I offered forth the crystal
now glowing like a blaze.
The demon reached out hungrily,
a mad look on his face.

But in the very instant
he closed his claws around
the gem its light exploded
and magic had him bound.

Unsteadily I stood up,
and heard the people call
And realized my triumph
had not cured them at all

They screamed at me in anger
and gave the door a thud
And I knew Mammon had not lied;
The greed is in our blood

So I fled from the castle,
not once did I look back
Luxuria was out there,
and I was on its track.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Greed – Mammon. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next poem in the series, “Seven Deadly Sins III: Luxuria”, can be found here.

The Shadowsmith

I read about the artists
who sold their souls for skill
in trade with darker forces
that always have their will

I read the works of masters
now long lost, gone and dead
and relish in their worlds that now
reside inside my head

I too have struck a bargain
not once but now and then
where souls have been involved to
make sharp enough my pen

But I don’t need dark forces to
inspire me to write
I smith my words in shadows
so what I need is light

I meet them at the crossroads
and listen to their plea
I grant them inspiration
and they inspire me

And as they build their artworks
I work on my own draft
inspired by their fervor
in practicing their craft

When thus wrought masterpieces
have reached their final line
the authors of those stories
become characters in mine

For nothing is as perfect
to make my stories whole
as to lock in them a mortal
who has volunteered their soul

And thus my inspiration and
the sharpness of my pen
depends on souls of artists and
the vanity of men

So meet me at the crossroads
and sell your soul tonight
I smith my words in shadows and
for that I need your light

The Dead Poets’, Manual Writers’ and Pseudonym Authors’ Society

Julian Jersey’s job sucked, and on a particularly sucky day at the office things got so dull that he decided to summon a demon from another dimension.

You see, writing user instructions for cheap furniture and electronics was boring at the best of times (although it included several stimulating challenges including but not limited to formulating bullet-proof how-tos that deprived the customer of any and all legal claims if the worst should happen and somebody lost a finger. Or a hand. Or a reproductive organ), but ever since Rich Gimmons, the only person at the office not totally dull, was sacked after being sent to prison, it totally sucked. Sometimes this dull job of his became too much to handle even for such a master of daydreaming and distraction as himself.

Julian had actually even begun to suspect that nobody really read his work anyway. Sometimes he fancied himself in league with the great masters. Homer. Shakespeare. Franklin W. Dixon. Surely their contemporaries didn’t afford them heroic status during their lifetimes? The latter, even, he wasn’t totally sure was a real person. Well, the same could be said about the former. And Master William? He could as well be grouped in with the other two, as far as Julian was concerned. At least non-existent people didn’t have to suffer lousy jobs and lousy payment for lousy jobs. He sat sometimes looking out his twelfth story window, dreaming away to a time in the distant future when his work, too, was afforded the attention it deserved, and he himself was contemplated in the same way as scholars of his own time pondered the writers of The Iliad, Macbeth and The Hardy Boys.

That people of today didn’t seem to acknowledge and appreciate his masterly user instructions was of course only natural. For heroes and poets, after all, fame is a benefit that comes with death. Therefore he struggled on, making the best of the situation and even occasionally squeezing in small bits and pieces of verse in between the third and fourth steps of “How-to-Build-Billy-the-Shelf”. Nobody would read the crap in his lifetime, anyway.

The ritual he found on Google, and the demon came with a loud explosion in a puff of smoke and a nice symmetrical cardboard-box with its name printed in a tacky font across the front label. Julian eagerly tore open the box and started digging around in the compact mass of Styrofoam flakes that welled out of the package as soon as he opened the lids (he always wondered how the people at the packing department even managed to fit that much Styrofoam into boxes in the first place, because he never managed to fit it back in).

One of his hands closed around a paper folder, the other around something small and furry. The flakes fell away, and he retrieved from the box some kind of manual, and a little hairy demon the size of his thumb. It grinned demonically at him, and he knew that this was the real deal. Sadly, the manual was written in some strange font that he couldn’t read – but what the heck, who read manuals anyway? He held the demon in one hand, and lifted the box with the other. More Styrofoam fell soundlessly to the floor. Shalyoo was the name written on it – along with more letters he couldn’t make out.

Schalyoo…”, he muttered to himself and glanced at the fluffy evilness in his right hand. It already seemed to have grown a little. Perhaps they came in travel size and expanded on unpacking? What an idea… The little creature looked back at him with a defiant grin. The next moment the door to Julian’s office swung open and his boss’ head poked inside.

He wanted to know what the fuck Julian was doing making all that noise. When he saw all the Styrofoam he raised his eyebrows, and when he laid eyes on the little creature from another dimension his expression turned into a rather even mixture between incredulity and fear. He wanted to know what the fuck that thing was as well. Julian answered conscientiously that he thought the creature’s name was Schalyoo, and that he had summoned it from Hell in a moment of boredom. Schalyoo itself, which had apparently been growing some more while Julian was talking to his boss and was now the size of his hand, soberly jumped up into the air and bit Julian’s boss’ head off.

The first emotion to strike Julian’s mind at this rather drastic turn of events was not, as might be assumed, fear and disgust at the limp body falling with a thump to the floor of his office and the blood gushing out of its severed neck. No, initially he was simply amazed that such a relatively small creature could fit a man’s entire head into its mouth and then swallow it whole. Then the full impact of what had transpired before his eyes struck him, and he fell to his knees and yelled “Schalyoo! No!”

The creature grinned at him, displaying several rows of oversized, very sharp teeth, and grew some more. Its belly was round now, Julian observed, and he imagined he could discern the contours of a human nose poking out through the soft, furry skin of the demon’s abdomen. Then it licked its lips and jumped away, out the door. It was not until Julian heard the screams of fear and pain drifting up the corridor that he was able to muster up the will to defy his paralysis and stumble out the door after it, avoiding the sight of the limp body as best as he could.

The creature called Schalyoo ate the heads of ninety percent of the people in the building. Some areas it would simply not enter, so some of the cleaning staff, at least, got away safely. Julian it never touched, but stopped and purred smilingly every time he caught up with it and called its name. Then it grew and jumped off again on its killing spree. When the building was empty, it left through the front door and snapped the head off of a passing Chihuahua in a by-the-way fashion when crossing the street. Julian tried to follow, but was soon thrown off the chase by crossing cars and inquisitive press and police. The last he saw of the creature was its silhouette, now twice man-sized, in front of the burning wreck of a car a couple of blocks away, before it disappeared between the buildings.

Julian told the police everything, and after some consideration he gave the press the whole story, as well. The police set to work immediately roping off the stricken area (although the fact that the stricken area all the time expanded made their efforts quite futile), and did their best to make sense of the situation. The journalists were more effective, and soon Julian’s face was on every TV-screen in the city, and the name Schalyoo on every person’s lips. People were ordered to stay inside and keep away from doors and windows, and this helped for a while – before the creature had grown to such proportions that it could begin cracking houses like nutshells and plucking people from their homes like very small grapes, dropping their bodies back to the ground like apple cores after their tasty heads had been devoured. The National Guard was called in before long, but by then Schalyoo had grown so much that none of their weapons affected it – and they didn’t dare try a nuclear strike.

Things exploded everywhere, people were crawling around in the streets and police and military fought for space in a city that more and more began resembling an outright war zone. The president appeared on TV conducting a speech with lots of mentions of our Lord and Saviour. The speech had to be interrupted, however, when Schalyoo stepped down close to the White House and Mr. President with family had to be evacuated. Simply put, it was mayhem – and all the while the creature continued to grow.

Julian became something of a national celebrity, appearing regularly on TV and radio broadcasts simultaneously as Schalyoo sacked the country. He was allowed to publish several of his user instructions in a large anthology, with every other how-to alternated with a little poem or story of his own. This, of course, made him happy – but he could never quite shake off the feeling that he was responsible for the terror (no shit).

The disaster finally turned into some kind of strange every-day situation, and people began to adapt. The weather report began to include Schalyoo-reports as well, informing the public about where in the country the creature should be expected to rampage in the next twenty four hours. People could thus plan their lives, and most often not too many died as a result of miscalculations on this front. The problem was that there was no way to really adapt to the crisis since Schalyoo kept growing all the time. Nobody knew why. Then one day the creature crossed the sea, and the entire world was in turmoil.

Julian Jersey watched the live broadcast from his new penthouse apartment as the crossing was reported by all news bureaus at once. He had an important press conference in a couple of hours about his new book, but at the moment he was caught up in an inescapable vortex of guilt. It was not so much that he had summoned the creature from another dimension that plagued him, as the feeling that he should have read the user instructions before unpacking it. Now he sat with the cardboard box in his hands, struggling to make something out of the strange letters crammed over the sheets that came with it. All to no avail. And what was worse was that he didn’t even know where to send his complaints about the poor manual.

He was not alone in watching this broadcast. In another dimension the Dead Poets’, Manual Writers’ and Pseudonym Authors’ Society had gathered before their altar to observe the commotion. Franklin W. Dixon smiled sinisterly, Homer shook his head and William Shakespeare eagerly produced quill and scroll from somewhere inside his robes to document the mortals’ tragic misfortune. Behind them in the darkness several voices began muttering while pens and notepads were retrieved from pockets and little convenient fanny-packs. This was proving to be a very productive month, and the Society never missed out on an opportunity to occupy themselves. Fame really was a benefit that came with death (for some), but it was also the only benefit that came with death. Homer looked troubled, as always. He’d never liked the idea of tricking people into hubris, because that would imply that the ones doing the tricking had the right to meddle in the affairs of mortals – the task of the gods – and to him that equaled hubris in itself. He’d much rather have had the mortals tricking themselves, leaving him to record the comical or tragic outcomes. William just smiled, always loving the drama following in the wake of a good misunderstanding. Dixon just hated everybody. In fact, this affair with the summonings had been his idea to begin with. Maybe it was because he wasn’t entirely sure of his own existence. Who knows.

There were others there in the dark dimension with them, all dressed in that kind of black robes favoured by evil cultists, ring-wraiths and sith-lords, but these three were the leaders. They had long been watching Julian Jersey, knowing him to be a potential victim and maybe also a future member of their Society. After all, they had all started out just like him (with the possible exception of Franklin W. Dixon).

Behind them in the darkness loomed uncountable rows of symmetrical cardboard boxes, all ready to be delivered in the blink of an eye to whomever wished to incorporate a little dangerous excitement into their everyday lives. They were all adorned with a laminated label on the front, with the name of the contents printed in big, bright, common letters, and below was a lengthy disclaimer written in a language the Society had made up themselves, as a joke. This same language comprised the exhaustive user’s manual that was included in every package, informing the customer how to handle the product in order to ensure the most beneficial outcome for everyone involved. For example the manual warned the user about the risk inherent in calling the product by its label name too frequently, since this triggered its inbuilt proliferating function. It also encouraged the user to keep the product away from domestic animals, children, wild animals, receptionists, firemen, grownups and all other species and persons the user didn’t want dead, or at least beheaded. It should also not be fed after midnight.

The last pages were entirely made up of a collection of very witty formulations (sometimes in rhyme) that effectively deprived the user of all legal claims should he or she refrain from following the instructions and advice provided in this folder. There actually was a phone number at the very bottom – in fully legible, though very, very small, numbers this time – but nobody every called it. And this was probably just as well, since it had long since been taken over by a pizza baker in your town. Homer always thought this was stretching it a bit – I mean, someone might want to call and ask something, especially since the language used in the folder was one nobody knew save for the Society themselves. But Dixon irritably dismissed this notion at once; being famous after death (if assuming one had in fact actually lived and existed at one point) is really quite boring, and they could not be blamed for wanting some fun at least. Besides, he dryly observed, nobody reads these fucking instructions anyway.

And somewhere in the darkness behind them another box dematerialised with a loud explosion and a puff of purple smoke.

THE END