Astral travel is real and with Terminus under quarantine it's the only way for a freelance mage to hustle up a buck in the gig economy. Control wants its outside consultants both on the job and properly engaged in the arts of social distancing. Which means all assignments are to be conducted strictly through the astral frequencies. The thing is, with a global pandemic going down, those frequencies are infested with the collective psychic dread of a population one meme away from using the social contract for shit tickets.
What was once a simple jaunt across the frequencies is now a game of Dungeons & Dragons if your therapist had invented all of the monsters instead of Gary Gygax.
Here, roll a six sided die.
1-2: Nightmare Elementals. These are lumbering psychic juggernauts, stitched out of bad dreams, that have escaped the sleep realms to feed upon those wandering the astral frequencies.
3-4: Sentient Suicide-Plagues. Fast breeding psi-viruses that incubate through isolation and the Internet to telepathically broadcast 24-7 self-hate speech in your own voice.
5-6: Rage Parasites. Spectral hentai lampreys with flames for teeth that sink into the thoughts draining the host of memory and love while inducing an artificial sense of invulnerability.
Fear. Depression. Anger.
A Cerberus beast, roided up on planetary wide hysteria, freed from its chains to hunt the frequencies with insatiable need. You think anyone really wants to deal with that shit on top of risking a 1 star rating because Karen doesn't approve of my methods to exorcise an ancient love goddess from her teenage brat?
But a glance at my checking account insists otherwise.
So log into my Hexx app in my pajamas, confirm I'm still rated as a level 7 Narromancer despite some drama on the last gig, and scope out what jobs are out there that I've been cleared for.
Assignments available to my profile: 1.
That's no good. One assignment means it's been turned down by every other mage in the city.
A click of the app wins a bet my intuition placed against my hope.
Assignment: Troubleshoot a Qliphoth outbreak just off Memorial.
Okay, hold on, the Hell's a Qliphoth? some of you without a casual background in the occult arts might find yourself asking.
As far as I understand the concept (which is probably just enough to get in trouble) it goes something like this. Imagine if demons weren't a separate, fallen breed of angel but instead self-aware cocoons from which said angels grow and sprout psychedelic butterfly wings. Now keep in mind 'angel' and 'demon' here are just placeholder terms for mystical concepts about Kabbalistic emanations of the Sephiroth and such. Buy a book or learn a secret handshake if you want to learn more about that. The main take away here is that sometimes the husks of these discarded angel cocoons linger and take on a life of their own. Other times the cocoon, the shell, is satisfied with what it is and won't allow what's growing inside it to hatch.
These demonic 'shells' or 'husks' we call Qliphoth, and while their danger is usually confined to the pilgrim-mystic climbing the Tree of Life, they've recently manifested before the uninitiated.
And what's currently manifested among quarantined sex workers and drug dealers, is Gamaliel - the evil opposite cocoon of Yesod - "The Obscene Ones."
The Obscene Ones feed off the shame and violence of sexual repression we inflict on ourselves. Once they are able to tune into and breech the frequencies of everyday consciousness it doesn't take long for them to take root in our reality. With every same sex kiss devoured by fear and shit into ambush, Gamaliel grows more powerful. With every erotic urge guilt sublimated and porn distorted, Gamaliel grows in number. With every lover's need met with jealousy and suspicion, Gamaliel grows closer.
Gamaliel amplifies the repression that it feeds off until those under its influence do horrible things to themselves and each other and any pets in between. Real 'Hellraiser' shit apparently - complete with weaponized kinks and razor sharp fetishes.
Make no mistake. This kind of situation is way above my pay grade. Normally Control would outsource a case like this to an experienced Mossad Combat Kabbalist or an executive occult kill-team with a few hardened battle shamen on the payroll.
Instead it's being delegated to the Uber of magick with yours truly hustling for a five star rating.
What does your street look like when filtered through the astral frequencies?
Open your window. Activate the old Phantom-Vision. Behold.
It's a collage of your neighborhood, snipped from thousands of random memories, some recent, some ancient, that have fossilized into spectral architecture. Old photographs of houses that have other home's windows and doors and gutters cut-out and pasted on top and lined up in rows. Haunted trees rooted in half-memories of geriatrics. Exaggerations of memory's perspective everything a Cabinet of Doctor Caligari warp to the walls and sharp slants to the roofs.
The memories that form the block I'm on aren't very pleasant. Faceless children stumbling from the bushes. Shades doubled over vomiting up money and bullets. Hollow eyed ghosts anchored to glowing chalk outlines stare mutely at my approach.
I'm driving to the location of the outbreak. The Hex app has a little pentagram that glows on a map like a video game. I'm bending the limits of Control's quarantine protocols but they're short staffed and I'm just a freelance mage. Besides, as long as I don't step out of the Corolla I should be golden. So I hope. Got to remind myself it's the same risk every delivery driver in this town is making right now just to keep the economy going. So I swallow my reluctance. Now look at me. I'm all decked up for the job. Got my old goth night respirator mask strapped around the jaws. My Hoodie of Invisibility thrown up around shaved head. Phantom Goggles shade the gaze.
Have to risk the commute cause I can't risk getting there via astral body. Not with the foot traffic between here and there. My ass is too old to be fighting monsters that can otherwise be avoided.
The flock of naked folks in gas masks kneeling on the dead lawn of an abandoned home let me know I've arrived before the app pings. I pull up behind them. No one breaks concentration from their genuflections towards the abandoned home. There's thirteen of them. Because of course there are. The focus of the congregation's devotion is directed towards a decrepit front porch where a green door has been sealed with yellow tape. The congregation all have open wounds or bandaged stumps below elbows and knees. There's an offering on the porch. A pile of sex toys, laptops, severed limbs.
Check it out. There's a sigil on the door painted with what I can only assume is blood.
Looks familiar. I hold my phone up and activate the camera mode on my Hex app. It zooms in on the sigil. Translates it - "Gamaliel."
When I lower my camera and look back up the car is surrounded by the congregation. Pressing gas masks, genitals, and amputated stumps against the windows. They're trying to claw their way in all while shrieking through those masks (Christ only knows where they get them). One of them hops on the hood. A real bruiser by the looks of it. She's banging away with both fists on the front windshield. Fuck this noise. I fire up the Corolla, startle them with a horn blast, and peel out when muscle memory sends the congregation leaping back. I floor it out of there. I'm swerving but can't shake the insane woman on my hood. When I reach just beyond the street she seems to snap out of the spell. I pull over and she scrambles off the hood clawing at her gasmask.
Hate to be a bastard and leave her there but mass Qliphoth possessions and national contagion issues leave me no other choice. I peel off not looking back.
Right. Plan B it is then.
Did you know that there's not only holy water but holy gasoline as well?
Did you know any priest can bless gasoline, or water for that matter, be they Christian, Muslim, or whatever... just so long as their ordination is recognized by the State?
Did you know that the Holy Molotov Cocktail goes all the way back to resistance fighters lobbing them at a demonically possessed SS?
Filled up a 2 gallon red plastic gasoline canister for chump change at the pump. Texted in a favor. Got a reluctant reply. Drove down to just outside Vampire Country. Parked outside an old acquaintance's place. Walked up to his front porch with the canister. Rang the doorbell with fingers wrapped in disinfectant wipes. Set down the canister. Returned to the car.
A minute later the acquaintance steps out of his house and picks up the gasoline canister. He's a graying Gen Xer, looks like the type of cat whose day job is in an IT department somewhere. Dude studies the canister, looks over at me, and waves.
I shoot him back a pair of devil horns that triggers him to shoot back the bird before I drive off.
Dude's an old school Satanist who used to sell me weed. Doesn't get into Anton Lavey carnival theatrics or proselytize the Morning Star gospel. But he does believe in... something and has apparently risen in those satanic ranks over the years to become a priest. Enough so to be officially ordained to legally marry folks and all that other good shit.
Which means he can bless my gasoline.
If you didn't know Satanic priests have as much power to bless liquids and repel vampires with their chosen symbols as the Christians then that's your prejudice to wrestle with not mine.
Anyhoo, I return an hour later and the canister is right there on the porch waiting for me. It doesn't feel any different. Doesn't exude fumes that form a pentagram or anything like that. But I trust my old contact as he's never sold me a bag of just shake, stems, and seeds when he could've gotten away with it.
Sometimes you just have to have faith in the devil you kind of, sort of, know.
Later, when the moms walks out on the front porch to see me filling empty wine and liquor bottles with satanically blessed gasoline, she inquires what's up?
"Side hustle," I shrug.
"Okay, I'm thinking pork chops for dinner."
"Sounds great, mom."
She steps back out onto the porch and I continue filling up the shell of a decent, cheap cab.
Control wants me to astrally project into the Gamaliel House and pull off some comic book shit.
You know. Weird hand gestures that have glowing orbs around them. Bolts of arcane energy all the colors of Italian ices fired into a Lovecraft monster crawling out of a black velvet paining. Free versed incantations sounding as solemn as they are esoteric - "By the sacred laser-pointer of Bast and Nuit's celestial nipple rings I command thee away, demon! Away!"
Let me tell you what is though.
Me bringing the Hell Fire they're so desperate to raise here on earth.
I park two blocks around the corner from the congregation and their 'temple'. Got me a satchel bag slung around the shoulders with (Un)Holy Molotov Cocktails clinking against each other. Glamouflage cast. Cybergoth respirator and Phantom goggles strapped. Yellow rubber dish washing gloves snapped tight around the grip. A .38 tucked in the back of my jeans because magick only gets you so far in a neighborhood that refuses to gentrify.
Finally I got me a loaded Scream-Baby.
This is a psychic hand-grenade made from an abandoned baby doll, a sigil of binding, and lots and lots of screaming. I found the baby doll while dumpster diving a few years back. Created a binding sigil by combining random letters plucked from the lyrics of the Exploited's "Alternative" into a single rune. Then, after every therapy session, I would go home, take the doll into the backyard, pop off its head, and scream into the toy baby until my voice cracked. Every session once a week. Ditto for every scream. From the last two years until the contagion.
I stroll up on the congregation like it ain't no thing. It hit me after they swarmed the car that the Qliphoth growing in the house has telepathically cloaked its faithful from the everyday eye. Otherwise pandemic or no pandemic the pigs would've shut that shit show down stat.
Which means no one's going to see what's coming next.
The congregation turn as one when I step before the dead lawn they're praying on. I notice that the brawny woman isn't here. Good. That means the possession is being broadcasted from the house and not linked directly to the host. Demonic Wi-Fi I guess you'd call it. Snaring the mentally fragile or discombobulated - which during quarantine is damn near everyone with an ounce of empathy or common sense.
I hold up the doll - "Behold my Scream-Baby, motherfuckers!"
Then they take turns giving each other confused looks before doing that whole synchronized Borg zombie shuffle towards me.
I twist the head until its backwards. I whisper a secret word that I can only once and somewhere in the city a graffiti tag vanishes from a tunnel wall. The sigil carved on the dolls head begins to glow and I throw it down right at the edge of the lawn they're about to cross.
3... 2... 1...
And over a hundred screams merged and amplified into a single psychic burst.
Twelve gas masked fucks stagger back clutching the side of their skulls. A few of the smaller ones buckle to their knees. A few join the scream with groans and shrieks.
Then the burst subsides.
They shake off the echo of it from their skulls. Then, as one, twelve gas masks stare at me before advancing with unison steps or drags of arms from those with amputated legs.
Looks like my Scream-Baby had no effect on them beyond a momentary disorientation.
Yeah, now look again, only through my Phantom Goggles this time.
Tentacles with lamprey heads slither down out of tree branches, pop up through the brown grass, burst out of mailboxes, or up through sewer drains. Anger Parasites. A flock of them, all zeroing in on the baby doll that hit their senses the way blood hits shark infested waters. The same baby doll the congregation is currently marching over with unison zombie steps.
It just takes a blink for the creatures to swarm the congregation. Sinking fire teeth into back of the head of each gas mask and begin to burrow. The rest swarm around the host trying to find a spot along the nervous system to attach itself to.
I knew if they could see me through my invisibility hoodie and glamouflage then they could be seen by the shit infesting the astral frequencies. Figured the thing trying to crawl their way into our reality was cloaking them from not just regular eyes but the unseen monsters around us.
It would take a lot of trauma and rage to shatter that cloaking spell even for a moment.
And now we find out what happens when a psychic parasite feeds on the demonically possessed?
Screams, lots of screams, apparently. Not just from the hosts but those feeding on them and those controlling them. All at once. Until a telepathic feedback loop is created sending twelve gas-masked freaks to collapse in synch as well.
I pull out one of the (Un)Holy Molotov Cocktails and walk over the unconscious freaks unto the lawn. From my jeans I almost fumble my lighter with rubber-gloved fingers. I stop just a few steps shy of the porch. I can feel the Obscene Ones broadcasting all my buried fantasies and deprived wishes before my eyes.
But what I desire most right now is fire, and with a light of a rag stuffed in a bottle of (un)holy gasoline, that's exactly what I got.
I fling it straight into the door and the bottle shatters against the sigil.
I light next the one shouting a song through my Cybergoth mask - " Watch out! You might get what you're after!"
Toss. Crash. Fwoosh.
"Boom babies strange but not a stranger."
Light. Toss. Crash.
"I'm an ordinary guy... burning down the house!"
Back home and I'm rolling a joint. I should be conserving through this global crisis but I think I've earned a little indulgence.
Control wanted me to banish the Qliphoth and shut down the portal into our reality it was squirming its way through. Instead I skipped banishing the fucking thing and just burnt the house down around the portal. Which means it's still there. Under the rubble. The (un)holy gasoline dousing the ruins will keep what's trapped in it from being able to Wi-Fi up some possession.
The situation is contained, not eradicated.
A few months bought. Maybe a year depending on the economy after all this.
By that time Control should be able to send in proper specialists to handle the situation.
If not... then I'll just burn it all down again on the cheap.
I spark up the joint, lean back on my bed, and open my messenger.
"Hey Love." Her text reads. "How was your day?"