There was grunting and scrabbling coming from the dark portal in the wall. It sounded nasty, and numerous. The smell wasn’t great, either, but that was probably Mandy’s attempt at making porridge for the baby.
Biadet had inadvertently opened a portal to the demon dimension. I wasn’t sure if that’s what it was called, but it was a catchy phrase and if I didn’t name it, some nerd would insist on calling it something that sounded like a sneeze with six apostrophes and no vowels.
She had meant to open a way back to Flatland for me — at least, that was what she said she was going to do — but I guess one interdimensional portal looks pretty much like another.
If this opening was an entrance to the place where Cheng’s army of minions were residing, they were likely to come streaming out and cause massive devastation across the planet.
This was quite possibly the start of the darkest timeline, although some say that moment actually happened when MTV stopped playing music videos. The world began its unstoppable decline that day and look where we are now. Coincidence? I think not.
Now that the gateway was open, monsters were free to enter our world. Vicious, inhuman creatures were what they would find here, so they’d probably fit right in.
I won’t lie, I found the idea of rampaging demons across the globe quite appealing. I imagined it would make great television. Mind you, if the advertisers didn’t like the message the demons were here to deliver, then it would be back to reruns of Friends. Death and murder would be fine, but if the demons got all sexy in front of the cameras, no one would want that on the six o’clock news.
Either way, I was looking forward to seeing how modern technology would match up against the arcane dark arts. Every proud, moral person who despised the weak and the cowardly would now have to put their money where their mouth used to be before their head got bitten off. They couldn’t stop it. The door was open and none of these world powers had the faintest idea how to close it. The world had just been irrevocably changed forever.
“I should probably shut that,” said Cheng. “We don’t want them coming in here and dirtying the carpets. I said white wasn’t a good idea, but I was outvoted.” He moved across the room towards the portal. There was howling coming from it.
“Hey, wait,” I said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to shut it off,” said Cheng, like it was a burst water pipe and there was a spigot you had to turn.
“Biadet sacrificed herself to open that. You said yourself how hard it would be. Don’t just dismiss her life’s work.” Technically, she had used up her life to open this doorway into the nether realms (an alternative name for those looking to expand the Wikipedia page).
“She had no life to sacrifice,” said Cheng. “She just transferred her energy. And missed. Or maybe she intended for this to happen, I don’t know. But once they come through, it will be much harder to get them back in. They get fatter after they feed.”
Did Biadet die? She had gone out like Avengers: Infinity War (but without the overacting), but who the hell thought for one minute that all those top tier superheroes with their own franchises in the works were actually dead? Even the most minor comic book characters never stay dead for very long. About one print run, usually.
New Coke showed us how powerful it is to get rid of something everyone likes, replace it with something nobody wants, and then bring back the original to wide acclaim and boosted sales figures. The sad part isn’t that they try to fool us, it’s that it works so well, again and again. If ever there was clear evidence for the deterioration of us as a people, there it is.
Biadet could reappear at any time. Or not.
“You can’t close it,” I said, standing between him and the portal. “This is what we need here. A magical portal that releases homicidal monsters on a regular basis. Humanity will have something to do other than scroll through social media and jerk off to pictures of naked celebrities. This is why you’re here Cheng. This is your moment to fulfil your purpose as the child of a demon and a human.” I looked over at Mandy, hoping she would jump in and help when it came time to vote.
Charlie also seemed keen. In fact, he was trying desperately to go through the portal, squirming in Cheng’s arms and reaching for the darkness.
“I told you,” said Cheng. “I am not interested in this world. There are too many problems here and I don’t want to be the one who has to take responsibility for them. It’s an old demon trick to make a mess of things just before someone else’s turn to take over, so they end up looking like the one who can’t get things done. Only a fool would take on such a poisoned chalice.”
I would have been insulted on behalf of the Earth if he hadn’t been so accurate.
“Fine, fine, you don’t want the job. But they’re demons, right? Creatures of chaos. Just let them run amok and do what they want. It’ll be good for the fat, lazy shits of this world to get off their arses and run for their lives. Don’t think of it as becoming this world’s overlord, think of it as becoming our personal trainer.”
“It won’t be the way you think,” said Cheng, adjusting the baby while trying to get round me (by which I mean trying to get round me without hurling me out of the way like a ragdoll). “This isn’t a game. I’ve seen what you people think it’s like to fight a war with creatures of magic. You won’t get saved at the last minute and have a happy ending.”
“I know that. I have fought a monster or two in my time, you know.” To be honest, I still found it hard not to think some hero would come in swinging his dick at the last moment to deliver a killer line and turn the tide of a fight. Unfortunately, that hero tended to be me, and there wasn’t much swinging going on, I can tell you.
“That was nothing,” said Cheng, feinting to the left and then slipping past me on the right. “These aren’t the domesticated creatures you encountered. These are wild beasts.”
He was suggesting that I had thought myself in the jungle when I had actually stumbled into a petting zoo. I wasn’t going to disagree with him, he knew his own kind better than I did, but even a petting zoo can be a dangerous place. A kick from a donkey can leave a nasty bruise.
Cheng stood in front of the portal, kid in one arm, the other hand raised, ready to cast a spell or pull down a metal shutter. I wasn’t entirely sure how these things worked.
“Look, look, don’t be hasty,” I said. “Even if you don’t want the relatives visiting, this could be my only way back. Is there a way through there that would lead me to Flatland.”
“You wish to return?” Cheng sounded surprised.
“What am I going to do here? I thought my absence would have improved this place, but clearly I was not the problem. It’s a mess, and no one’s willing to do anything about it.”
“Neither are you,” said Cheng. Fucking demons, always going for the jugular.
“Can I get back through there or not.”
“Demons will be in your way.”
I looked at him. “So what else is new?”
“Theoretically, yes, you could find your way back. You in particular have a knack for it. But I don’t know how long it would take you. The world you return to might not be the one you left. Hundreds of years could have passed. Are you prepared to take such a risk?”
There were no guarantees, but when were there ever? Stories always made it seem like destiny would guide you to the appropriate outcome, but that was because stories were fake and for every person who really did get the dream ending they had prayed for, hundreds of other muppets fell by the wayside, forgotten and ignored. No one wants to see the movie where the orphaned kid goes to the far east to learn about martial arts, gives up after two months because the monks keep shouting at him and decides to become a vegan YouTuber instead.
“It’s fine, I don’t mind time on my own. Maybe I’ll become friendly with the demons. What do I do, let them smell my hand to show I mean them no harm?”
“They aren’t dogs,” said Cheng. “They will eat anything you put near them, including your soul.”
“Good thing I don’t have one, then.” I was fine with facing a demon horde. Even if they killed me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Either life ends with nothingness, which would be fine, or there’s an afterlife, and boy would I have a thing or two to say to the people in charge. Give me a Karen haircut and let me speak to the manager.
“Let him go,” said Mandy, casting her deciding vote. She took the baby back and he started wailing, desperately flailing to get closer to the portal.
“Very well,” said Cheng.
I hadn’t intended to just book it, but now that the opportunity had presented itself, it seemed the obvious choice. Biadet had gifted me a door but it was up to me to go through it. I wasn’t desperate to get back to the land of fairies and Elfs, but there wasn’t much for me here. The problem with finding your way back to Kansas was that you had to live in Kansas.
Cheng grabbed one side of the portal and peeled it across like there was a layer of cellophane covering it. He hadn’t even picked at it with his fingernail to find the edge; total pro.
The sounds from within got a lot louder, and a lot unfriendlier. Snarling and snapping and something licking something else that seemed to be enjoying it.
Did I really want to make this my next adventure? I was no stranger to pain and suffering — one night I had walked through the living room when Mandy was watching Love Island — but the prospect of fighting my way through infinite demons suddenly didn’t feel quite so appealing.
Before I had a chance to lose my nerve, Cheng decided to provide a distraction. He did this by flying across the room. He was still holding onto the edge of the portal, but the portal had moved up the wall and along the ceiling.
It moved quickly, sliding across the surface, Cheng dragged along behind it. He was Cheng, so I didn’t think he would get hurt, but it was an odd sight.
“Are you okay?” I shouted as he zoomed left and right across the ceiling.
“Your friend has done something to this gateway,” he said. “I think she broke it.”
“Biadet? I’m sure it was an accident.” I wasn’t sure at all. She had been wary of Cheng, not really believing he was a reformed character.
I’m not really one to give people a second chance, but I thought as far as mass murderers go, he was one of the better ones.
As he was swinging about, he was also slowly being sucked in. Up to the elbow already.
“Let go,” shouted Mandy. “Catch him.”
This was directed at me. It would have been like trying to grab hold of a moving car. “You catch him,” I suggested, ducking as Cheng flew over me.
“It’s fine,” said Cheng. “I just need to counter the momentum. It’s a little delicate but this should… do… it.”
He flung his trapped arm forward and the portal went spinning across the ceiling, leaving Cheng behind to drop to the floor.
The portal didn’t stop, though. It went down the opposite wall and into the window, which blew out into a million shards of glass, creating a vortex that sucked us out with it. The portal didn’t stop there, either. It was making a break for freedom.
As it zoomed away, we were taken out of the window and down the garden. Mandy had the baby who was laughing wildly. Cheng had somehow managed to manoeuvre himself next to Mandy and had one arm around her. I was tumbling arse over tit and had no idea what was going on.
I landed on the grass and rolled to a stop. When I looked up, the portal had attached itself to the garden wall and there were demons flooding out of it. Lots of them. All different sizes.
Some had wings, some had multiple arms, some had horns and forked tails. They were screaming and whooping and generally making a lot of noise. We were under close observation by a lot of people so someone was bound to notice.
An imp, about the same size as Charlie, came flying at me, mouth open, several rows of teeth on display. I don’t want to make it seem like I was all blasé about the prospect of being bitten by some little demon shit, but I’d seen worse. I slapped it out of the air.
Not as impressive as it sounds. If you aren’t freaked out by the fact there’s a small demon coming at you, it’s just a large bug. Easier to hit than a small one.
The imp sat on the turf a little dazed. It looked at me with crimson eyes. I pulled back my leg, took aim, and gave it a punt. It rose with my foot and stayed stuck to it, mouth clamped on the toe of my shoe. They were trainers so I could feel the teeth bite into me.
“Fuck!” I screamed, to assert dominance.
The imp’s enraged eyes changed to surprise and then it let go. It started spitting and pulling faces. Either it was the Adidas leather or me, but the taste was not to its liking.
Men appeared on the walls. The secret agents had decided to go public and were carrying weapons. Maybe they had been prepared for this, or maybe they were just panicking, but they began shooting the demons. They were using guns, actual firearms, which I was pretty sure was illegal.
They were pretty accurate, but there was no blood and no deaths. The demons took the bullets like they were nerf pellets.
Some of the smaller ones jumped on the bigger ones and sucked the bullets out — that definitely wouldn’t be making it onto the news — and then spat them back at the men. Some were hit, other dived out of the way. Cheng needed to do something before the grenade launchers came out. The lawn would be ruined.
But Cheng was ignoring the kerfuffle and was staring at the portal instead. “Something is coming.”
I could sense it too. A presence far more intimidating than these creatures. A real monster. The portal rippled and a figure appeared.
“There you are,” said Jenny.
The demons all stopped what they were doing and flew at her. No, they flew to her, and gathered at her feet.
“Come on, we have to go,” she said to me.
“You only just got here,” I said. “Don’t you want to stay?”
“No.” She was very matter-of-fact. “This isn’t our home anymore. They need you. Things have fallen apart since you left.”
“What’s that got to do with me?” I had been planning to go back, but now that she was telling me to, I didn’t feel like it. Petulant, I know. But it was a bit much. She just got here and already she was ordering me about. What a joker.
“You don’t belong here,” said Jenny. “You live in a society.”
“No,” I said. “I live in Tottenham,”
“You’re coming with me,” said Jenny. And then she sent her demons to get me.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino