The package had no label or return address. It was just left on my front porch, wrapped in layers and layers of packing tape and cardboard, square and slim, about a foot and half in length. It was heavy as I picked it up and rather than open it there on the front porch, I brought it inside, and sealed my doom.
Inside, I found a clock. It was clearly old, the rim ornately decorated with motifs of vines, and while I was no expert the material was suspiciously reminiscent of gold. It had to be valuable. I was bewildered as to why I'd find such a thing left on my front porch. I turned it over, inspecting each side of it, and that was when the note that had been tacked to the back slipped off.
'To the person who receives this,' the note read, 'I don't know you and I'm really sorry, but I had to get rid of this. It's killed both my husband and children and now it wants me. I'm sorry.'
For a long moment, I just sat there, the note in my hands, staring at the clock sitting on my kitchen table. Outside, I could hear cars and birds and some kids playing down the street, but inside my house it was completely silent. The hands on the clock were moving but there was no ticking, no click of gears, and I felt like I was froze in place.
“This is a joke, right?” I whispered.
And every door in my house slammed shut.
I screamed. Fell out of my chair and scrambled away from the table on hands and knees until I fetched up against the wall, my back pressed against the drywall. My breath was coming in quick, hysterical gasps and only after the house remained silent for a tortuously long few minutes did I find the composure to speak again.
“Okay,” I said, my voice high with terror, “someone left a cursed clock for me. What – how – can I keep you from killing me?”
It seemed like a reasonable thing to ask. There was a clatter from the kitchen and I flinched, but after a moment things grew silent again and I pushed myself to my feet, staring through the archway into the other room, ready to bolt at any moment. The closest exit was the front door – but if it could control my house – would it let me out? I didn't want to go into the kitchen either though, as there were... well, I hadn't any interaction with supernaturals yet, thankfully, but I knew the stories. There were lots of ways to die in a kitchen.
Something moved. I watched as a piece of paper fluttered off the kitchen island and landed on the floor. I could see lines of ink on it.
“Oh,” I squeaked. “I uh, I need to go read that, I guess?”
Silence answered me. I gave the clock one more look, then forced myself to stand, to put one foot in front of the other. In my head, I was screaming that this was ridiculous – that I'd just gotten home from work and was going to fix dinner and enjoy a quiet evening and now I was trapped in my house with a haunted clock that might want to kill me. Eventually. I sucked in my breath and held it as I stepped through the entryway into the kitchen, stooped, and picked up the note.
'You can't,' the note read.
“Oh,” I said quietly. “Okay.”
There was scratching to my left. I shrieked, dropped the note, and spun, putting my back to the wall. The pen on the counter was moving on its own across a pad of paper. I exhaled and forced myself to walk over, watching the knife block by the stove out of the corner of my eye.
'Well, I suppose you can give me to someone else,' the clock amended on the paper, 'but do me a favor and at least have the courage to make it someone you want to die, rather than a random stranger.'
“I don't want anyone to die,” I protested, “not even a random stranger.”
'Then you may have a problem.'
It paused and the top page of paper ripped off and drifted to the side. It wasn't done talking, it seemed.
'I'll refrain from doing anything permanent until you give away your pets,' it continued. 'I like animals.'
“But not people,” I replied.
I exhaled. It didn't seem inclined to answer that and remained ominously silent.
“I could find someone to banish you,” I said. “I could contact some mages.”
'Hahahahah good luck with that,' it wrote. 'Make sure to tell them my name is Renfield.'
I walked away, in something of a daze. I went to my study and turned on my laptop and started searching for names. As the clock had predicted, it didn't go well. Some of the mages at least had the courtesy to apologize and wish me well once I said the words 'clock' and 'Renfield'. The rest just hung up without another word. I was starting to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and I turned my attention to research instead, as it seemed the magical community wasn't wanting to get involved.
There was a lot of information out there about Renfield. The clock was listed as the most dangerous cursed objects in existence, responsible for hundreds of deaths in the current century alone. They'd tried to exorcise him a handful of times, which only resulted in the deaths of everyone involved in the attempt. They'd tried to imprison him with varying degrees of success, but somehow he always managed to get stolen and returned to circulation. The latest attempt had lasted ten years until the building he has housed in simply exploded. Gas leak. The clock was presumed destroyed, but now here it was. On my kitchen table.
I sat back in my chair, numb with shock. Why would someone do this to me? Dump a murderous artifact on my front porch? I understood the desperation – but why not throw him off a bridge? Was this some sort of appeasement, hoping whatever was imprisoned inside wouldn't come back for her? If she fed him my blood instead, he'd leave her alone? I ran my fingers through my hair.
“This is bullshit,” I muttered.
Something grabbed me from behind. I went over, the chair topping and throwing me to the floor, and I was pinned there on my back, something tight across my neck. I clawed at the pressure and my nails only found skin. I kicked, I wrenched, I struggled in blind panic as my oxygen grew thin and spots danced in my vision. Then, finally, my muscles started to shut down and a black haze settled over my mind and I went limp.
I came to with my dog licking my face. The sun had set, plunging the room into darkness, and I dizzy and hungry. The golden retriever was laying just beside me, and from the sticky feeling of my arms, she'd been licking every inch of exposed skin for some time. Dazed, I sat up, feeling around my neck. The only mark was the scratches I'd left with my own nails.
Renfield wasn't going to kill me just yet, it seemed. He was going to have his fun first.
I kept my dog close while I fixed dinner. I ate at the kitchen table, glaring at the clock sitting there at the opposite side.
“So,” I finally said, “what can I do to keep you from killing me that doesn't involve giving you away? Surely there's something.”
I'd brought the pen and paper in with me. It didn't budge.
“C'mon,” I persisted. “There's gotta be something you want.”
'My freedom,' the clock said, the pen finally stirring into motion again.
“But you killed the people trying to exorcise you.”
'That wasn't me. That was the curse that imprisoned me here.'
“That's a powerful curse,” I whispered.
'Yes. Humans aren't sure they really want to break it and my own kind have been unsuccessful.'
“Your own kind?”
A pause. The glass in one of my paintings cracked in two and I winced. It seemed Renfield was disappointed in me.
'Did you think to look up what I was?' he wrote, and I thought the handwriting looked annoyed, if such a thing was possible. 'You were in front of the computer for hours, what were you doing, updating your Facebook status?'
“Hey-”I protested, but he kept writing.
'I'm a demon,' he continued. 'At least, that's the name you gave us. I don't know about all those crazy religious connotations you lot tacked on, but you got the evil and preys on humanity part right. And I was so powerful and then some asshole comes along and imprisons me in this stupid clock and all my allies back home are like... well, sucks for you Renfield. Bastards.'
The windows behind him cracked as well. I winced.
“Can you please stop destroying my house?” I asked quietly.
'This is the first conversation I've had in centuries,' he finally said. 'I'll think on what you asked.'
And the pen spun away, flying across the room to embed itself in the drywall like a knife. I quietly returned to my dinner and tried not to look at anything other than my meal.
Nothing untoward happened for the rest of the evening. It took a long time to fall asleep, even with my dog sleeping next to me in the bed, but I finally managed. I had nightmares. I dreamed of dying, over and over, in a myriad of ways and through it all the clock watched. How odd, to be afraid of an inanimate object. But Renfield left me alone through the night and through the morning. I went through my day at work in a daze and I accomplished a lot, for it was easier to focus on my work than to let my mind wander back to the problem waiting for me at home. I could leave, I thought. Just grab my animals and not come back. Abandon the house and have a chat with the bank and police and see if we could just... leave it there. Leave it alone and not let anyone on the property. That was what I'd do, I thought. I'd go home tonight and talk to Renfield and see if he'd thought of a bargain, and if not, I'd leave. Just get up and walk away.
I didn't want to leave my house behind. I liked it. But it was better than staying.
The door opened for me when I got home. I stood there on the stoop for a moment, listening, but it seemed my security system had also been disarmed. Renfield was welcoming me home. Tentatively, I stepped inside, and the door swung peacefully shut behind me. Locked. I swallowed hard and went into the kitchen.
There was writing all over the table. Chalk. I couldn't read any of it, just lines and symbols in a pattern that was unmistakably magic. And there was a pocketknife set out next to it, along with writing along the pad of paper. I walked over and picked it up.
'So I've got an idea,' the note said. 'I can't get my freedom back, but you can give me a semblance of freedom. I'm already bound to this house and the surrounding property and as the homeowner, you can grant me permission to manifest inside. You just have to spill some blood on the spell here and recite the words I've written out for you. But that's not all I want. I've been trapped inside houses and warehouses and vaults and all kinds of shitty little buildings for centuries. I want to ride shotgun in your head. If you leave the house, I leave with you. Think of it like having a roommate. A very intrusive demonic roommate that'll kill you if you don't comply with these demands. So hurry up and get on with the spell.'
“You've got to be kidding,” I said, putting the note down.
In answer, the pocketknife unfolded and floated over to hover in front of me. I hesitated, lifting one hand and then freezing. I didn't want to die – but -
The knife moved. It snapped down, like a hand had driven it towards the table, and the blade went right through my hand and slammed into the wood of the table, burying itself through skin and muscle and pinning me there. I screamed and my knees collapsed. There was a chair waiting to catch me and for a moment I just lay half on the table, writhing in pain, gasping and sobbing. I felt like I was going to pass out. I felt sick, my guts twisted up with pain and my head was spinning. My body felt hot, impossibly so, and I just pressed my cheek against the table and swallowed back nausea. A piece of paper floated to rest just before my eyes.
The spell. If I said the words, if I finished this – then maybe he'd release me -
I stumbled my way through them. My voice was shaking with pain and when I reached the last word, I spat it out and closed my eyes, finally giving in to the weakness that was stealing through my body. I felt nothing except for the pain in my hand and I thought, that maybe, the darkness closing in felt very inviting.
Something wrenched the knife free. I screamed, convulsed, and then I was aware that I was on the floor, laying on my back on the carpet with something holding my hand. I felt fingers. Blearily, I opened my eyes and saw a figure leaning over me, humanoid, and he had his hands wrapped around my wounded palm.
“Almost done,” he murmured. He sounded... pleased. “Let me in your head now.”
He reached out and pressed his fingers to my brow. I shook my head, trying to dislodge him, and his grip tightened.
“It's fine,” he said, annoyed. “It's not like I can possess you. Demons can't forcibly take control of someone, that's only something ghosts can do. I'll only be riding along with you. Getting to see what you see and feel. Just a tiny measure of freedom from that damned clock.”
I heard the anticipation in his voice. The yearning. What would it be like, to be trapped for so long? I felt some of his anger, just on the fringes of my subconscious, and I exhaled into it, trying to find some measure of calm. There was a door, I realized, inside my mind. I couldn't see it but I somehow knew it was there and I reached inside... opened it... and something settled inside me. Just beneath my sternum, warm, and heavy. Then the sensation faded and everything went still and quiet. The pain from my hand even faded away, the last vestiges of agony traveling up my arm and then dissipating.
I opened my eyes. I was no longer alone in my house. There was a man there – not quite human – stooping in the doorway to the kitchen and petting my dog. Her tail was waving enthusiastically. That's the problem with golden retrievers. Sure, they're big and can sound scary, but here she was consorting with a demon with her tongue hanging out and hind legs twitching in joy.
I studied Renfield for a moment while his attention was elsewhere. His skin was a strange shade of gray and the shadows along his body seemed more pronounced, somehow. He had hair, black, and it started from a peak higher up on his forehead and fell past his shoulders. There were horns, a pale ivory, that curled back over his skull and then tipped upwards into a point. And he had wings and a tail. The wings were thicker than I'd expected, less like a bat and more like a dragon's, the sheen of something like scales along the backside, and they were tipped with a single claw at the joint. His tail reminded me of a whippet's, but devoid of fur. And, thankfully, he was dressed in jeans, but nothing more.
I looked down at my hand, afraid of what I'd see. There was a mark there, an old scar, on both the back and palm of my hand. I traced a finger over the tissue and then I began to shake, violently, and I began to cry.
“So while you have your panic attack,” Renfield murmured, his voice smooth and liquid, “I'll be looking around.”
And my traitor dog followed him out of the room.
As promised, Renfield rode along inside my head when I left the house the next day. Briefly, I'd considered calling off work, but the demon had appeared at that moment and declared he'd be very unhappy if I did that.
“I've been trapped in a clock for centuries,” he snapped. “I can't remember the last time I saw the sun.”
I just stood there, mute in shock, with my towel wrapped around my body. Then he was gone. Just – gone. While Renfield's body was corporeal enough, it seemed he didn't have to obey the laws of a physical body. I sensed, somehow, that his physical form was simply an extension of his consciousness, a sort of enhanced version of the control he had over my home earlier, before I'd done his ritual. I didn't know how I knew that. I just did, like it was sitting inside my mind, like it'd bled over from Renfield. It was a disturbing thing.
The demon was sitting quietly in my head as I pulled the car of the drive. I could feel him there, an alien presence, and even a silent as he was I could still tell he was there. Like a little part of my thoughts had been partitioned off for him to reside in.
“How is this going to work?” I asked quietly. “Can you read my thoughts?”
'Sadly, no,' he answered, the voice in my head. Like I was talking to myself, there inside my own skull. My hands tightened on the wheel. 'I can feel – I know the texture of your clothing, the warmth of the sun...'
I felt... joy. Inside my head. And he remained quiet for a little bit, just processing this.
'I can see and hear, all these things, but there's no further access,' he finally continued. 'Try not to get into the habit of talking to yourself.'
As it turned out, this wouldn't be a problem, as my first day at work with Renfield also turned out to be my last. It wasn't anything the demon did. As he'd promised, he had not ability to influence or control my actions. Rather, I worked with a couple mages and they were able to tell pretty quickly that something was... amiss. And they went to HR. And HR cited hostile work environment and fired me.
“You've got to be kidding me,” I said to the HR lady, my tone flat.
“Well, we just can't have a demon here at the office,” she replied nervously, unable to meet my eyes.
“What was I supposed to do, let Renfield kill me? Or better yet, pawn him off on some other person? Wouldn't that make me an accessory to murder?”
“We just can't have this here,” she repeated.
'I could kill them,' Renfield purred in my head. 'It won't solve the problem but it might make you feel better.'
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Fine,” I said tersely. “I'm going.”
“We wish you luck with your future endeavors,” she called after me, her voice wavering.
I gave her the finger as I walked away.
Renfield didn't want to go home, so I compromised and took us to a bar. This pleased him immensely, as he was excited by the variety of available alcohols that he'd been missing out on. I chose a spot at the far end of the bar, near the wall, where hopefully people wouldn’t take too much notice that I was muttering to myself in an undertone, staring glumly at my glass.
“I have a mortgage,” I told Renfield. “How am I supposed to keep my house without a job?”
'It's not like they can evict you,' Renfield offered helpfully. 'You've got a demon tethered to the house and I won't let them oust me so easily.'
I thought of the failed exorcism rituals, the ones that killed everyone involved. I took another drink of the scotch.
“I still need to eat. I need a job, Renfield.”
'You just need to find someplace where having a demon along is an advantage instead of a liability.'
“And what sort of job would that be?” I didn't try to keep the irritation out of my voice. I was past being polite at this point.
'Organized crime, maybe?'
I didn't deign to answer that one. Maybe I could get a job that allowed me to work remotely. As long as I got through the initial interviews, no one would need to know that I was carrying a demon inside me. Eventually, I stopped thinking about my job situation entirely, and just focused on what I was drinking. Renfield, as it turned out, was a terrible influence to come along. His sheer enthusiasm was contagious and I wound up staying longer than I should have, to the point where it grew late and dark outside. Neither of us noticed. Renfield was too excited to actually be able to taste things again and I was in some sort of shock, too numb to care.
When I finally pulled myself out of my stupor, I had run up a bit of a tab, and was a bit unsteady on my feet.
“You're not driving, are you miss?” the bartender asked as I paid.
“If you’re asking that, then I guess not,” I sighed.
“Need a cab?”
“The buses are still running. There's a stop within walking distance of my neighborhood.”
I was jobless now. Taxis were expensive. That was my logic, such as it was.
“It's a couple blocks to the bus stop.”
I knew what he was thinking. Woman, drunk, walking alone. I just shrugged, signed my receipt, and walked away. Renfield sat in my head in a happy haze, still reveling in his new-found freedom, such as it was.
He snapped to alertness once we got a block down the sidewalk. The street was dark and there weren't many people out, as it was a Tuesday, and the city wouldn't come alive until the weekend. I was just focusing on putting a foot in front of the other and it took Renfield urgently yelling my name into my skull to bring me around. It kind of hurt, like an ache between my eyeballs.
'Do you smell that?' he demanded.
I paused. Something... metallic, I thought.
“Yeah, so?” I asked.
'It's blood. Coming from that alleyway. A lot of it. Fresh.'
I froze, paralyzed by sudden terror and the urgency in the demon's tone.
'Give me control of our body,' he urged. 'Hurry.'
“What – no!”
'Just do it!' he commanded, his voice so loud I winced. 'This is the closest to freedom I've had since I was imprisoned and I'm not going to lose it.'
Something clattered from the alleyway. I heard something like a snuffling and my blood ran cold in my veins.
'I need control now,' Renfield said tersely.
And I relinquished. It was like breathing out and not breathing back in. A very simple transition. I could still feel my body and had connection to all of my senses, but I couldn't reach out to them. I could only take in. I – Renfield – walked towards the alleyway, eyes focused on something near the back, in the shadows. There was a body in the middle of the narrow walkway, twisted at an obscene angle, with thick loops of slick intestine spilled out across the concrete. I would have thrown up, were I in control of the body. But as it was, Renfield just stepped over the growing puddle of blood and continued down further into the alleyway.
I'd thought – I'd hoped – he'd just get us away from the danger. Keep it from coming after us. I didn't think he'd go after it.
“I'm a demon,” he whispered, using my voice. “This is what we do for fun.”
The werewolf was crouched at the exit of the alleyway, hesitating. Uncertain if it should bolt into the next street or face us down. The moon was not full, which meant that this one had shifted deliberately. A murder, then. This was murder.
“Here boy,” Renfield crooned. We stooped, gesturing for him to come closer. Mockingly, like one called a dog. “C'mere boy!”
The werewolf growled. That settled it. It lunged for us and I caught a flash of teeth, of fangs, and we laughed. We gestured, sharply, and then stepped back and the werewolf's lunge went past us, further back into the alleyway, and I heard it impact the ground with a strange snapping sound. Then it screamed. The sound was only half animal, a human's throat twisted up inside there as it writhed on the ground, limbs flailing uselessly. We stepped closer, minding the claws, and gazed down on it. There was frothy blood at its muzzle and its eyes were rolled back in the skull. Its neck was taut, the muscles quivering, and it gasped and choked and more bloody foam poured out from its jaws.
I felt, from Renfield, an intense pleasure, so sharp it ached. Like being given water after days of thirst in the sun.
“I collapsed the ribcage inwards,” Renfield murmured. “I suppose we should let the authorities know so they can come collect the bodies.”
And he reached into my purse and pulled out my cellphone. I screamed at him to stop, that this was going to cause problems, that I didn't want the police involved, but he dialed 911 anyway.
“Trust me,” he whispered. “I might have been imprisoned in that clock, but I still know how things work in your world.”
There werewolf was dead by the time the police arrived. They got the body loaded up and into the back of ambulance, then turned their attention to the victim. We were taken out of the mouth of the alleyway, over to one of the police cruisers. The man talking to us had a special badge on the sleeve of his uniform, denoting him as one of their mages. He seemed... uneasy, to say the least.
“Think of this as just saving time,” Renfield said demurely after he finished relaying the sequence of events. “We could have called you, you'd have chased the wolf down and then been forced to shoot him about a half dozen times because that's how these things always end.”
“That's not how this is going to work,” the mage replied tersely. “If you tell us where your corporal body is, we'll just exorcise you out of this girl into it. Otherwise, we send you back to your homeworld.”
“My body is trapped inside a clock,” the demon said quietly.
The mage went still at that, his eyes fixed on our face.
“And my name is Renfield.”
And the police officer swore. Put a hand to his forehead and stood there a moment, then turned and walked away. I saw him take out his radio and talk briefly into it. The exchange went on for a while and we waited. I thought, I could take control back of my body – surely. Take over here.
“You can,” Renfield agreed in an undertone. “You always have that level of control. But let me handle this. I have an idea.”
Finally, the officer returned.
“Okay,” he said, heaving a sigh, “we're not taking you in. You're on the list of things we don't touch. Ever.”
“You just perform damage control wherever I wind up,” he replied coolly. “I'm aware. But – I've been making bargains lately, which is a change, and I’m finding them agreeable. My poor human host here has just lost her job. Does your office do independent consultants?”
“Shit.” He ran a hand over his mouth. “Are you serious?”
“It's not the first time demons have worked for law enforcement. You've made bargains with our kind before.”
“Yeah, but – shit.”
“It's always been a good arrangement for both sides. Demons love to kill and you have people that need killing. All those monsters out there that can't be taken in quietly.”
“But you’re Renfield. You've killed a lot of humans.”
“I have.” We gave a thin smile. “That's what demons do. Think about it, and let us know.”
Then, like that, I was handed control of my own body back. I staggered, my eyes going out of focus, and then something in my stomach twisted. The police officer was polite enough to not say anything while I was throwing up in the gutter, at least.
A few days later they called and made an offer. It was a generous one, enough so that I suspected that it was partly to keep Renfield satisfied with our current arrangement. Trying to keep him here, with me, so he wouldn’t be passed along to the next victim.
“This is going to be so much fun,” Renfield sighed after I hung up.
He was in the kitchen with me, organizing the pantry. It turned out that Renfield had something of an obsession about the territory he considered his, and didn't tolerate anything out of place. He was going room-by-room and setting everything to his standards and I didn't have the nerve to stop him. Besides, things actually did look a lot nicer once he was done.
“I know nothing about police work,” I said, sitting down on a bar stool.
“You don't have to. You just have to let me have the keys to your brain when I ask for them and I'll do the rest.”
I remembered how easily he'd killed the werewolf. Just... gestured, and sent the ribs all snapping inwards like spears.
“How did this happen to me?” I moaned, burying my face in my hands.
“Bad luck,” the demon replied cheerfully.
And that was how I wound up working for the police with a demon in tow.