The Portal: An Urban Fantasy Short Story
The Portal: An Urban Fantasy Short Story
By Neal Martin/ September 17, 2018
Last Updated April 26, 2023
I don’t really write that many short stories, preferring the longer novel form, but this is one I wrote a while back. It’s urban fantasy, but with a big Lovecraftian horror element to it…
When Sasha Benedict first saw the portal, she was trying not to scream in pain as the man who was supposed to be looking after her rode on top her as he dripped sweat and filled the air around them with the fumes of his whiskey breath. His thick appendage was buried deep inside her, to the point where Sasha thought he was going to split her wide open. Her tight opening wasn’t meant to engulf something so huge. Every time he forced that thing inside her, she would bite her bottom lip so hard it would bleed. When he mashed his hacked lips against hers, it felt like he was a parasite feeding of off her.
Please hurry up…hurry up and go away…
Which he would eventually, his sloppy rhythm becoming erratically faster before he finally squirted his thick muck inside her. Then he would lie on top of her for a minute as he breathed hard into her ear, and she would turn away as tears rolled down her cheeks. In some ways, that was the worst part, having him lie there on top of her like that, all his weight on her so she couldn’t move. She would feel his shame then, but it was nothing compared to the shame and disgust that would fill her at that moment. If she could have died right then, she would have. The blackness of death seemed preferable to the darkness of life. What was the point in surviving if this is what she had to do to survive? To stay in a place where one of the main caregivers violated her every night? It just didn’t seem worth it.
The sight of the portal appearing in the room as her foster father lay on top of her was enough to rouse her out of her usual dark despair, however. She didn’t know it was a portal at first–she only found that out later. In fact, she thought she was hallucinating after taking too many Diazepam. She got the pills from someone she knew on the street because she thought they would help numb the pain of being raped nearly every night by The Man. The pills worked to some extent on a physical and mental level, but nothing could block the emotional pain she felt at being so routinely violated. Pills stopped nothing, and only made everything fuzzy and slightly out of focus.
So when she saw the shimmering light manifest in the room, she latched onto it like it was something that would take her pain away, and maybe even help her forget that there was a dirty, disgusting man lying on top of her. The cascade of light was so beautiful, about the height and width of a normal door, but fuzzy around the edges. It also seemed to bend the shadows around it, pulling the darkness toward it until it seemed the whole room became bent out of shape. The light itself was a bright reddish-yellow color that bled into shades of darker red and black. It also seemed to move downward in waves, reminding her of a waterfall. Sasha got so transfixed by the amazing light show that for a glorious moment, she forgot there was anyone else in the room with her. Her hallucination felt so real and so inviting. The light exerted a pull on her it felt like, almost as if whatever power was creating it wanted her to move toward it. But of course, she couldn’t because she was pinned to the bed, and once she remembered this, a sense of panic overcame her.
What if he gets up and sees the light?
But of course he couldn’t because she was hallucinating, and only she could see the light.
Somehow that made it more special, the fact that only she could see the beautiful light and he couldn’t.
Or at least she could until the door of light disappeared as quickly as it had come, throwing the room back into darkness again.
Suddenly reality made its cursed presence felt once more, and the grimness of her situation flattened her as surely as the dead weight lying on top of her.
Get off me…please just go now…
He did eventually, pausing by the foot of her bed like a dark shadow wordlessly peering down at her. She didn’t look. Her eyes were shut tight so she wouldn’t have to look at him, but she still felt him standing there. Then she would hear his heavy footsteps moving across the threadbare carpet, and the sound of the door opening and closing, followed by his footsteps across the landing and down the creaky stairs.
She would finally open her eyes when she heard him close the living room door downstairs. He slept there most nights while his wife was out working the late shift. The wife was as fucked up as her husband was. She knew what he got up to when she was at work, and she did nothing to stop it. Sasha was pretty sure the couple’s previous foster kids, of which there were many apparently, fell victim to the husband’s filthy ways as well. The only thing Sasha couldn’t understand was what the wife got out of it all, at least at first. Then Sasha discovered the wife was an inveterate gambler and the extra money she got every month for taking in kids helped to fund her habit. So it seemed everyone was happy and got what they wanted.
Except for Sasha. Sure, she got a roof over her head for the winter, so she didn’t have to sleep on the streets like last winter. Last winter she got taken into hospital with pneumonia and almost died. She wouldn’t be sleeping rough again until the weather warmed up, which would be at least another month or two as it was still January. Until then, she would have to put up with being raped several times a week by a man too weak and pathetic to resist his own filthy urges. Sasha was only fifteen years old, after all. It was child abuse, pure and simple.
And there wasn’t much Sasha could do about it.
* * *
The portal continued to appear in her room, always when her abuser was riding on top of her. It got so Sasha looked forward to the portal’s appearance because its beautiful and dazzling light took her out of the situation she was in. That light would captivate her the way it seemed to flow downward and give off an inviting glow. It was mesmerizing.
But it always disappeared too soon. Almost the second the man got off her, the portal would fade, and the room would be plunged into darkness again. It was a horrible occurrence for Sasha, for it felt like all the light drained from her soul in the process.
One night, the man turned around while the portal was still there. Sasha stopped breathing as the dark figure of a man stood for a moment as if gazing at the doorway of light. And then he just walked out of the room without saying a word. When Sasha started breathing again, she realized the man did not see the portal.
Only she could see the portal.
She spent the rest of the night and all of the next day thinking about the implications of that.
* * *
The next night a stranger came into her room. Not the man she had come to expect, not the man who was supposed to protect her. Not the man who could barely make eye contact with her during the day.
This was a different man.
This man was much bigger and heavier. He also smelled of whiskey and cigarettes.
When he grabbed her legs and forced them apart, she screamed at his brute force. She screamed again when he forced himself into her.
And again when he hit her.
Even the appearance of the portal couldn’t stop her from screaming or take her mind off the pain running through her body.
When the stranger left, she lay half conscious on the bed as she felt the blood run from nearly every orifice. All she could do was lie there crying and whimpering as she stared over at the portal. She knew then that she had to go through it. It was her only escape. Why else would it keep appearing in her room like this?
But when she went to get off the bed so she could walk to the portal, her legs collapsed from under her, and she banged her head against the bedside table, knocking herself unconscious.
* * *
She spent the next week in bed healing after her brutal treatment at the hands of the stranger. The wife tended to her during the day. The wife’s face was full of guilt and pity as she brought Sasha food that usually went uneaten.
The Man never came near her during that week. Sasha didn’t care why. She was just glad not to see him or have him on top of her. She wasn’t stupid, though. She knew the man would be back creeping into her room again before long. And maybe even another one of his friends as well. Perhaps the same one who assaulted her that night.
Sasha knew she had to go. But it was bitterly cold outside, and it snowed heavily most days. The streets were out. That only left the portal as her means of escape.
Only the portal hadn’t appeared again since the night she was beaten up by the stranger. This filled Sasha with despair. She missed its soothing light, and she also began to panic because she thought her means of escape had gone for good.
But that wasn’t her only means of escape, was it?
She still had a bottle of Diazepam stashed in her room. Enough to put her to sleep for good.
So she swallowed the whole lot and washed them down with vodka she had stolen from downstairs a few weeks previously but had never drank. Then she lay back on the bed in floods of tears and waited for death to come and take her.
But before death could get a chance to sink its icy fingers into her, the portal appeared again.
* * *
At first, Sasha was overjoyed to see the portal. Its familiar light made her smile, especially when she realized she could go through it this time and leave this wretched world forever. But her smile soon faded when she remembered what she had done. She was already overcome with drowsiness as sleep, and then death, tried to claim her. “No!” she said with a dry mouth as she tried to sit up, but sitting up was difficult as her limbs felt like lead weights. So she rolled off the bed instead and hit the floor with a hard thump. Then she managed to pull herself onto her knees, at which point she stuck her fingers down her throat and held them there until a long stream of vomit erupted from her mouth. She stayed on her knees being sick until the vomiting turned to dry retching and there was nothing left in her stomach to throw up. After a few moments, she was able to get to her feet.
Sasha stood and faced the portal, now knowing it was her destiny to walk through it. She didn’t care what lay on the other side of it. Good or bad, she was going through it.
She moved toward the portal but stopped after a few steps when she realized she was dressed only in her underwear and a black Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. She felt vaguely ridiculous worrying over the fact that she wasn’t properly dressed, but who knew where she would end up when she stepped through the portal? Wherever it was, she didn’t want to be going there in just a damn T-shirt and no pants. So she pulled on a pair of dark jeans and the heavy boots that came almost to her knees. Then she put on a black leather jacket which she zipped up over her T-shirt, allowing her long dark hair to spill down over it. Now she was ready.
As she walked toward the portal again, she could feel her heart thudding against her chest. Fear suddenly gripped her, and she stopped two feet from the portal.
This is madness. This thing could lead anywhere. What if I end up in hell?
But she might as well have been in hell already. And that hell would get worse as soon as the man and his friends started paying her a visit again. No way was she hanging around waiting on that to happen.
What do I have to lose?
She had nothing to lose as she stepped forward and walked into the unknown.
* * *
When she emerged out of the other side of the portal, Sasha did so into a dark land that felt like Earth but which she knew wasn’t. Wherever she was, the place was shrouded in a gloomy sort of twilight that rendered everything into shades of gray. Not that there seemed to be much in the way of surroundings anyway, except for forest. As Sasha summoned the courage to take a few steps forward, she soon realized that she was in the middle of a thick forest made up of trees that seemed to stretch on forever into the starless sky. It didn’t take her long before she started to get a bad feeling about the place she had ended up in. Something wasn’t right about it. Even the air she was breathing seemed different. It felt hot and sulfurous, as though there was an active volcano nearby.
And why did it feel like she was being watched?
Suddenly, she decided she had made a mistake coming here, and she turned around to step back through the portal. Winter on the streets of Boston seemed preferable to this place of…
“Fucking evil,” she said.
But when she turned around, the portal she had come through was now gone. She wasn’t surprised by this at all as the realization that she had entered into a trap hit her.
She had been tricked into coming to this strange, desolate place. But by whom?
Or by what?
Fear gripped her then as she heard screams in the distance. It sounded like people screaming. People in horrible pain.
“What the fuck?” she said looking around, wondering what she was supposed to do or where she was supposed to go. She was in the midst of a forest. Where was she to go? And who the fuck was looking at her?
“Who’s out there?” she called out, her voice like that of a little girl’s in distress. Not the voice of the hardened foster kid that she had meant to use.
As she looked around, Sasha saw no one. The forest was shrouded in so much shadow she could barely see a few feet in either direction. She soon began to shiver even though she was wearing a jacket and the atmosphere was warm and humid. “Shit, shit, shit.”
What was she to do now? Run? Run where? Was she to hide? If so, hide where? And for how long? And from what?
Sasha had never felt so disorientated and afraid, at least not since she was told by the police that her parents had died in a car crash when she was six years old. It felt like her world came crashing down around her back then. It felt the same now as she stood frozen in the dark, mysterious forest.
At least until a loud growling noise made her jump. “Hello?” she blurted out in fear. “Is someone there?”
The growling noise came again, from a different direction this time, as if whatever had made the noise had shifted position. As if whatever was out there was stalking her.
Oh fuck, what is that?
A large animal maybe? A bear or a big cat?
She didn’t think so. There was too much menace in that growl, as if whatever was out there was enjoying stalking her and making her afraid.
Instinctively, Sasha reached into her jacket pocket and found the switchblade there, which she took out and opened. The blade was for protection when she lived on the streets. She had never actually used it on anyone.
Another growling noise, closer this time, and more agitated.
“I have a knife!” Sasha called out. “I’ll use it!”
She was aware whatever was out there probably didn’t understand her, but it made her feel slightly less afraid when she said it.
There was silence for a moment, and then a dark shape emerged from the shadows between the massive trees. The figure looked like a person, but there was something off about them. As the figure got closer and more into the light, Sasha realized in horror that it was no person coming toward her. She didn’t know what it was. A monstrous thing with dark scaly skin that looked to be covered in huge boils that oozed a dark fluid. The thing’s face was a misshapen lump in which two beady red eyes nestled and a huge mouth full of sharp, crooked teeth. “Oh, Jesus Christ…” Sasha said as she took in the monster coming toward her.
The monster’s mouth twisted into a grotesque smile as it growled or laughed, it was hard to tell which. Not that it mattered. It was going to rip Sasha to pieces. That’s all that mattered.
You wanted to die…here you go.
“Fuck you!” Sasha snarled in a sudden surge of anger aimed at the voice in her head, and then at the monstrous figure coming slowly toward her. She held out the switchblade and prepared to defend herself against the inevitable attack. If this was it for her, she was going to go down fighting. She had been abused enough by monsters in her life already. There was no way she was going to let this ugly bastard abuse her some more. She would cut her own throat first.
You might just have to…
The monster rushed at her then. Its speed was shocking, covering several feet in barely a second. Sasha planted her feet in the ground, held the knife out and prepared for the inevitable impact of the monster crashing into her.
Only it never got the chance, for when the monster was only feet away from her, something else rushed out of the trees and slammed into the monster, sending it crashing to the ground. Sasha screamed in shock and jumped back in fear, dropping her knife in the process. Whatever was now on top of the monster was frantically stabbing it with something, causing the monster to screech and howl in pain. Dark arcs of blood shot up into the air before landing with a splat on the forest floor.
Soon, the screeching stopped. As did the stabbing.
The figure on top of the now unmoving monster got to its feet and turned to look at Sasha, who by this time had backed off several feet. “It’s okay, you don’t have to be afraid,” the figure said.
Jesus, that’s a person.
“Where am I?” Sasha demanded. “What is this place?”
The figure came forward to the light, and Sasha saw that it was just a boy, not much older than her by the looks of it. He was dressed in normal clothes, even though they looked as filthy as he did. It was hard to make out his face much underneath all the blood and dirt. “You’re somewhere you shouldn’t be.”
The boy laughed slightly. “We should get out of here. It’s not safe.”
“We?” Sasha said.
“Yes,” the boy said. “Unless you want to stay here on your own. There’ll be more of them along soon, I guarantee it.” He pointed his long weapon at the dead monster on the ground.
Sasha shook her head. What choice did she have? “At least tell me your name first.”
“Jake,” he said. “And you?”
“Nice to meet you, Sasha. I wish it were under better circumstances.”
“Me too,” Sasha said as she finally mustered up the courage to walk toward Jake. Up close, she could see that his eyes were blue and his hair dark and shaggy. She put his age at around fifteen, no older than sixteen. Not that it mattered, as long as he was prepared to help her.
“Follow me,” Jake said. “Stay close and quiet. There’s more besides those Bubble Monsters out there.”
What madness have I gotten myself into?
“Wait.” Sasha ran back and retrieved her switchblade from the ground, retracting the blade and putting it back in her pocket before running back to Jake. “Let’s go.”
* * *
They walked for maybe half a mile through the trees and the gray gloom. Jake barely spoke as he moved carefully through the trees, always on the look out for more monsters coming their way. Sasha stayed close to him, but not too close. He may have saved her from being eaten by the Bubble Monster as he called it, but that didn’t mean she trusted him. Not fully anyway. “How many more of those things are there?” she asked in a low voice as she nervously looked around.
“A lot,” Jake replied. “That’s why we have to get back as quickly as possible.”
The cave. Sounded ominous. But Sasha was sure it was better than staying out in the woods like a sitting duck for the monsters here. She still couldn’t believe the portal had taken her to such a horrible place. For all its bright and welcoming light, Sasha thought the portal would have at least taken her somewhere nice and safe. She had thought that the reason for the portal’s appearance in the first place, to offer her a haven from The Man and his friends. At least that was one good thing, though. She was far away from that pervy fuck and his friends now.
Eventually, Jake led her into a small clearing that revealed the opening to the cave he was talking about. He moved aside some branches that were stacked over the opening, presumably to try and conceal it from the monsters. Sasha hovered around the entrance as Jake stepped inside. “You coming?” he asked after picking up a torch made from a stick and old rags and lighting it with a zippo lighter. “You can stay out here if you want, but you won’t last five minutes before the monsters come.”
He had a point.
Sasha was about to step forward when an almighty roar sounded out from somewhere, the noise freezing her to the spot as it echoed off every tree around them. She had never heard such a noise before in her life. A roar like that could only belong to something huge and monstrous.
“Come inside now!” Jake pressed.
Sasha didn’t have to be told twice. There was no way she wanted to be outside when that monster, whatever it was, made an appearance. “What was that?” she asked Jake as she ran into the cave and began to help him build the branches back up again.
“You don’t want to know.”
He was right. She didn’t want to know. At least not right now.
Lighting the way with the torch, Jake led her deeper into the cave until they came into a large chamber. Then he went around lighting various torches that were jammed into small nooks in the rock walls. When he’d finished, the whole room was lit with a soft flickering light that made Sasha feel slightly more safe and secure. Jake went and sat down next to a small fire that was already burning when they came in. “Are you just going to stand there?” he said to Sasha as he pulled a small dead animal from the inside of his coat. Then with a knife, he began to gut the animal.
“How long have you been living in this place?” Sasha asked as she sat on a slab of rock opposite him, so the fire was between them.
“Too long.” Jake continued to pull the guts from out of the dead animal, which looked like a squirrel or a woodchuck. She was surprised by the fact that animals existed in this place at all.
“How did you get here?”
“Same as you. Through the portal.”
Sasha shook her head. “Big mistake.”
Jake snorted. “That’s a fucking understatement.”
“Are there others here?”
After sliding a skewer through the now skinned animal, Jake rested it on two forked sticks at either side of the fire so the flames could begin to cook the meat. “Others?” He looked sad for a moment as he started to turn the spit slowly. “There’s been others. They are all dead, though. At least as far as I know. This is a big place. I’m sure there are others out there surviving like me.”
“So you’re all alone in this place?”
He smiled. “I was.”
Sasha couldn’t help smiling back before looking away. He had a nice smile. It was a wonder he was even able to smile at all, given his circumstances. “What made that sound out there? Another monster?”
“The monster. The one that brought you here in the first place. That brought all of us here.”
“And where is here?”
Jake shrugged as he stared into the fire. “I’m still not sure. Hell, maybe, or somewhere like it.”
“The monster you heard roaring out there? I call it Cthulhu. It seems to run the show here.”
“You never read Lovecraft? I used to read a lot of Lovecraft, and Poe as well.” He smiled sadly. “I miss reading.”
Despite her situation, Sasha couldn’t help feeling sorry for Jake. God knows what he’d been through since landing in this place, or the things he’d seen.
They sat in silence for a while as Jake continued to turn the spit. Despite the adrenaline still coursing through her, the meat smelled good, and Sasha realized she was hungry. She guessed nearly getting killed by a monster was good for the appetite. After a while, she summoned the courage to ask the question she most wanted an answer to but was afraid to ask until now. “So is there a way out of this place? A way back home?”
Jake breathed out heavily. “The short answer is yes, there is a way out.”
“And the long answer?”
“It’s almost impossible to get to.”
“Because it’s guarded by the monster that rules this fucking place, that’s why. If you get anywhere near that thing, you’re dead. It may have wanted us here in the first place, but there’s no way it’s going to let anyone leave. It will kill us first.”
Sasha shook her head as she tried to fend off the despair at knowing she may just be trapped in this cursed place forever, or until something killed her. “How do you know all this?”
Sighing, Jake said, “Because I’ve tried to escape this place before. Twice. Both times didn’t end well. People died. Friends died.”
“I’m sorry,” Sasha said as she wondered how there could be anything as normal as friendships in a place like this. Although, it seemed that Jake might be proving her wrong on that score. He saved her, after all. Took her in. Isn’t that what friends did?
Jake shook his head. “No one was ever supposed to escape from this place anyway.”
“You mean we’re just stuck here until one of those things out there kills us?”
He went back to turning the spit like there was nothing more to say on the subject, but Sasha had trouble accepting that she was stuck in this place until some monster ripped her apart. She may have wanted to die before she got here, but now the thought of dying appalled her. It could have been just the adrenaline surges kicking her survival instincts into high gear, but either way, she had no intentions of dying, at least not soon, and at least not at the hands of some monster from hell. Distance from her previous situation had given her perspective. She had a life, and dammit she was going to live it. If nearly dying twice had taught her anything, it was that she was sick of being a victim. “Screw that,” she said firmly, causing Jake to look up at her. “I’m not staying in this place. I’m tired of being pushed around by monsters. I’m fighting back this time.”
Jake just stared at Sasha like he was lost for words. Then after a moment, he shook his head like he felt sorry for her. “You don’t get it. You will, though.”
Sasha tried to stay strong in the face of Jake’s defeatism, which wasn’t easy. He clearly wasn’t lying to her about the direness of their situation. But that didn’t mean she was giving up. “All right,” she said just as the monster outside roared again, a roar that chilled her to the bone with its terrible menace. “Tell me about the monster that runs this place. It must have a weakness.”
Jake shook his head. “No weaknesses. It’s not the sort of thing you can just kill.”
“Then we don’t try to kill it. We just need to get around it, right? So we can get to the exit portal.”
“Sure. That was the plan on my two attempts. It didn’t work out.”
He gave an agitated sigh. “Look,” he said. “I get that you just got here and that you want out of this nightmare. Most people who survive long enough want the same thing. I did as well—”
Sasha cut him off. “Why don’t you kill yourself?”
“If you hold out no hope of ever escaping from here, why survive at all? Why not take the easy way out and slit your own throat?”
His eyes narrowed. “You think I haven’t tried?”
“You’re still alive, unless of course you aren’t real and this whole thing is just one big nightmare, and I’ll wake up soon and realize it.”
“Trust me. It’s no nightmare. It’s all real.”
“Then what are you still doing here? What reason do you have to survive?”
“I don’t know, all right? I just—” He shook his head as if struggling to find an answer. “I just feel like I have to survive. I don’t know why. Sometimes I wish I would just die like everyone else eventually does who comes here. But I never seem to.”
Sasha gave him a half smile. “Maybe you were just waiting for me and didn’t know it.”
“You?” He smiled back at her. “Why would I be waiting for you when I didn’t know you?”
“Someone like me then. Someone to help you finally escape this place.”
“And here was me thinking I was the insane one.”
“I’m serious. If we put our heads together, we can do it. We can escape.”
Jake’s smile widened as he shook his head. “You’re fucking nuts, you know that?”
“Not nuts,” Sasha said as she moved closer to the fire. “I just see more clearly now. Is that meat ready yet? I’m starving.”
* * *
While they ate the roasted animal and drank water from something that resembled a coconut shell, Jake told Sasha everything he knew about the place they were in and the monster who was king. As far as Jake could work out after being stuck here for years (he’d lost track of how many exactly), Cthulhu, as he called the monster, lured people here via the portal. Somehow, Cthulhu was able to sense when specific people on Earth were in extreme emotional distress. The monster seemed to target young people. Jake said everyone he had met after going through the portal had been under the age of eighteen, and as far as he could make out, everyone also came from a background of abuse. “Cthulhu seems to be targeting a certain type,” Jake said. “What was your situation before you got here?”
Sasha shook her head. “Not good.”
“So then what? Why does Cthulhu want us here in the first place?”
Jake chewed on his food and swallowed before answering. “As far as I can tell, the monster feeds off the energy that comes from extreme emotions like fear and terror.”
“Is that why there are so many other monsters running around out there? To terrify us?”
Jake nodded. “It seems that way. Everyone here lives in constant fear, so Cthulhu is kept well fed. When someone dies, someone else usually comes through the portal to replace them. It’s a constant cycle. It’s like we’re all just walking batteries for this thing, which it just tosses once we’re drained.”
A puzzled look came over Sasha’s face as she held a picked clean bone in her hand. “So if this monster drains us, why hasn’t it drained you dry, so to speak? You’ve been here long enough.”
“I’ve learned to control my emotions,” he said. “I had to, or I’d be dead by now. In the beginning, I felt myself getting weaker by the day, as if my energy was being siphoned off bit by bit. I’ve seen kids that end up looking like mummies before they die. They literally get drained dry. You’d do well to get a handle on your own emotions if you want to survive here. Luckily I found this cave. Emotions are easier to control in relative safety.”
“Don’t those Bubble Monster things find you in here?” Sasha asked.
“Sometimes they stumble upon this place. Luckily they aren’t very bright. As long as I keep the entrance well enough concealed, most of them don’t see it. If one gets in here, I just kill it. I know their ways now. They are easy enough to kill once you know how.”
“You’ll have to teach me.”
Jake stared at her. “I thought you weren’t planning on staying?”
“I’m not, but just the same…”
After sucking the meat from the animal bone he held, Jake tossed the bone into the fire and watched it burn for a moment. “So now you know the score,” he said. “What’s your grand escape plan going to be?”
Sasha gave him a look. “I’m still thinking about it.”
Jake lay back on the cave floor on top of a pile of animal pelts. “Well, wake me when you think of something.”
Ignoring Jake’s barely concealed sarcasm, Sasha stared into the embers of the fire and started thinking.
* * *
A few hours later, she woke Jake up by crouching over him and shaking his shoulder. The second she touched him, Jake’s eyes flew open, and he recoiled like a disturbed cobra, stabbing his pointed stick at her as if she was a monster there to rip him apart as he slept. “Woah!” Sasha said as she jumped back to avoid the point of the stick. “Relax. It’s just me. Sasha.”
Jake’s eyes were wild for a moment until he realized who she was. Then he let out a breath and seemed to relax. “You shouldn’t do that. I could have killed you, you know.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“Forget it. I’m just used to being on my own, that’s all.”
“Actually, that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Jake frowned as he placed his weapon on the ground beside him. “What do you mean?”
She couldn’t help smiling. “I know how we can stop that creature out there.”
“Stop?” Jake’s eyebrows rose.
“Well, maybe not stop, but at least slow it down so we can reach the portal.”
Jake looked at her a second, then nodded. “All right. I’m all ears.”
“We poison it,” Sasha said.
“Poison it?” Jake shook his head as if he’d heard enough.
“Just hear me out, will you? What else are you going to do?”
“Fine. How do you propose to poison something that doesn’t die?”
“Well,” said Sasha. “You know you said the monster feeds off negative energy, right?”
“Yeah,” Jake said.
“Well, what if we produce a load of positive energy instead, so that when the monster feeds, it gets poisoned.”
Jake screwed his face up as if he didn’t think Sasha’s plan would work. “How do you even know if positive energy would poison that thing?”
“I don’t. But it has to be worth a try, right?”
No doubt Jake thought she was grasping at straws as she tried to manufacture hope in a place where there was none. And maybe she was, but she also knew the plan could work. She didn’t know how. It was just a feeling in her gut, and her instincts were rarely wrong. “All right,” Jake said eventually. “Assuming that would work, we would need to produce a lot of positive energy to counter the truckload of negative energy in this place.”
“I know, I’ve already thought of that. Love is the most positive form of energy I can think of, and probably the most damaging to a creature who exists on purely negative energy.”
Jake made a slight tittering sound. “Love?”
Sasha shrugged, vaguely embarrassed now. “Yes. I figured we could, you know…” She trailed off, unsure how to say what she wanted to say.
Jake looked uncomfortable as he figured out what she was getting at. “So you want us to…”
“Have…sex. Yes. Unless you can think of another way to produce the energy we need.”
Staring hard at the floor for long moments, Jake looked simultaneously excited and scared to death by what she was proposing, and she realized that he was just as uncomfortable with the idea of having sex as she was. She also wondered if he was a virgin. Despite the abuse from the man who used to visit her most nights, Sasha still considered herself a virgin. Ridiculous, she knew, but it was her way of maintaining some semblance of dignity despite the abuse done to her.
“Jesus,” Jake said shaking his head and suddenly smiling. “I expect a lot of things from this place, but getting laid isn’t one of them. Eaten maybe. Torn apart, sure. But laid?”
Their laughter echoed of the cave walls. So much so, Jake had to usher for them to keep it down. Once they had settled down a bit, Sasha walked toward Jake and sat down beside him. As she did so, she realized she felt as afraid now as she did when the monster attacked her, if not more. Assuming they went ahead with the plan, would Jake be able to tell what had been done to her? If so, would he be repulsed by her?
Stop. There’s no way he can tell…
Sasha couldn’t say for sure, having no experience with anyone else but the bastard and his friend who stole her innocence.
“This is weird,” Jake said. “My head hasn’t stopped spinning since you arrived. I’ve been here alone for so long…”
“Hey.” Sasha took his grubby hand in hers. “You’re not alone anymore. We can be here for each other. We can help each other.”
Jake nodded as he looked at her. For the first time since meeting, they looked deep into each other’s eyes, each reflecting their own form of fear. Sasha knew they would have to somehow transform that fear into the purest love they could manage. Looking at him now, she didn’t think that was beyond the realm of possibility. Despite the circumstances—or maybe because of them—she found herself liking Jake. Perhaps more than liking. It already felt like they had a deep connection, although that could’ve just been a survival thing as they began to rely on each other.
Their heads soon began to move toward each other as if something was drawing them together, and soon, their lips met. Gently at first as they stared into each other’s eyes, and then with increasing passion as they moved closer and Jake eventually pulled Sasha down on top of him where they lay for a long time just kissing and getting comfortable with each other’s bodies. It was hard for Sasha at first to not think about the man from back home. But everything about Jake was different. His touch, his scent, the way his body felt as he pressed against her. It all felt different.
More than that, it felt right.
* * *
Since making love that first time, the relationship between Sasha and Jake deepened further over the course of the next week or so. As it turned out, they didn’t have to try very hard to produce the love energy they were after. With each passing day, Sasha and Jake became closer as they hunted outside for food, killed any monsters that came near them and spent the rest of the time in the cave making love and talking about things they had no business talking about in their situation. Things like their favorite bands, their favorite brand of ice cream, what TV shows they liked to watch, their experiences with school. They talked about it all as if things were completely normal, and as if they were in a real relationship back home.
Sasha had to make some stuff up, though. She didn’t want to mention her experience at the foster home in case it upset or disgusted Jake in some way. Maybe when they got out this cursed place, she would tell him everything, but until then, she said nothing about it. He hadn’t noticed anything different about her anyway when they made love for the first time. Or if he had, he wasn’t saying. Either way, Sasha wasn’t going to mention the subject of her abuse at the hands of a sexual predator.
Over the course of that week, Sasha and Jake also noticed a change in the monster outside. Over time, the monster began to sound more agitated and angry in its roaring and bellowing, almost like it was in pain. There was also an increase in Bubble Monsters running around, as if Cthulhu was sending the monsters out to find them. There were so many that some of them inevitably found the entrance to the cave. A few managed to infiltrate the cave itself before Sasha and Jake killed them. As an extra precaution, the two covered the entrance to the cave with a stack of boulders every time they came back inside.
“At some point, we’re going to have to make a break for it,” Sasha said as they sat on the cave floor hugging each other, their weapons beside them within easy reach, the heat of the fire keeping them warm.
“I know,” Jake said, sounding like he was happy and contented with the situation as it was, almost like he didn’t want to leave.
“The plan is working. Cthulhu is in pain. He’s weakened.” Sasha looked into Jake’s blue eyes, which were a constant source of wonder to her, the way they always seemed to sparkle in the firelight. “It’s only a matter of time before something gets us. It’s a miracle you’ve lasted this long, Jake.”
Jake shook his head. “It’s called surviving, and we can keep surviving here if we want. I know we can.”
Sasha frowned. “Are you saying you don’t want to leave?”
He looked away for a moment and sighed. “What if we don’t make it past Cthulhu, or one of those Bubble Monsters stops us?”
“Stop that right now,” Sasha said. “Positive energy, remember?”
He shook his head again. “I’m just being realistic. Fate has brought us together, and you want to tempt it by going on a suicide mission. We don’t even know where that portal leads. There’s nothing to say it will take us back to where we came from.”
“I don’t care about going back to where I came from. I just want to go some place safe. With you.”
Jake stared at her a moment before gently stroking her cheek. She took his hand and pressed it harder against her face. “I just don’t want to lose you.”
“You won’t,” Sasha said raising a smile. “And I won’t lose you either. We’ll make it out of here. I know it.”
He stared at her a moment longer. Then he smiled. “All right. I believe you.”
“Yes. We’re getting out of this place.”
* * *
A few hours later, they were outside the safety of the cave as they trod carefully through the forest, the pained roars of Cthulhu in the background getting closer as they went deeper into the forest. “How far away is it?” Sasha asked as she walked with her weapon held out in front of her—a long stick with the switchblade attached to the end to make a spear. She’d had plenty of practice with it by that point.
“Not too far,” Jake said, his voice low.
As they walked through the gray muted light they came across stacks of bodies—young, human bodies—in various stages of decomposition, and a fair few that were completely desiccated as if all the life energy had been sucked out of them. Every last drop. Sasha didn’t pay the bodies much attention. She’d seen enough of them since she’d been here. Besides, she was focusing too much on staying alert in case they came across any Bubble Monsters. The rest of her focus was on maintaining her positive energy, which meant fighting back fear when it tried to pull her into itself.
Over the course of the next few hours, Jake and Sasha walked mostly in silence, as they couldn’t afford to be caught off guard by any monsters. Because of their diligence in staying silent, they were able to avoid completely a fair number of Bubble Monsters which were out on the prowl. The two they couldn’t avoid they killed as quickly as possible and moved on.
Until finally they arrived at the lair of the monster who had brought them there in the first place.
* * *
Cthulhu’s lair seemed to be a massive cave under a towering mountain. There was no telling how big the mountain was because you couldn’t see the top it was so dark and gray. The mist around the cave was so thick you could hardly see further than two feet in front of you. Jake made a signal with his hand for them to stop and they crouched down near a large tree. “This is it,” Jake whispered to Sasha as he kept looking around him.
“Where are all the monsters?” Sasha asked, expecting to see hordes of Bubble Monsters protecting their master’s lair.
“I’m not sure.” Jake frowned. “Stay alert anyway.”
“I take it the portal is inside the cave?”
Jake nodded. “So is Cthulhu.”
As if the monster knew we were talking about it, it gave out a loud bellow from deep inside its lair. The noise was meant to frighten them no doubt, to stop them from going any further. But the fact is, Sasha and Jake were too determined to be put off by any amount of bellowing from the monster. Besides that, the monster sounded weak. Much weaker than the first few times Sasha ever heard the thing roar. This thought only increased her confidence and bolstered her positivity. If her energy were making Cthulhu weak, then she would pump out as much as she could. “Let’s go in.”
Jake seemed slightly uncertain. “Not too late to change your mind.”
“No,” Sasha said firmly. “We’re getting out of here.”
Pressing his lips together, Jake nodded. “Okay. Let’s go then. Follow me.”
Still staying alert for Bubble Monsters, Jake moved swiftly toward the mouth of the cave with Sasha following close behind. She couldn’t deny that she was afraid, but the thought of making it to the portal and escaping kept her going and helped ensure she pumped out as much positive energy as she could. She could almost see her inner light cutting through the gloom that surrounded her, making its way into the monster dwelling inside the cave.
When they entered the cave, they could hear Cthulhu making wet growling noises from within. The monster didn’t sound all that far away. Jake lit a torch he’d been carrying the whole time that he now used to light their way. The cave walls seemed to be oozing black slime, and Sasha thought she could see things moving around within the slime. The gooey substance also dripped from the ceiling, some of it landing on Sasha’s arm, which she quickly wiped on her jeans as she made a disgusted face.
Jake seemed frightened as he led them further into the darkness of the cave. Maybe because he had been there before and he knew of the danger which lay ahead.
Or maybe because he knows we are both going to die…
She didn’t know where the thought came from, but she dismissed it immediately. Both her and Jake were going to make it to the portal. She wouldn’t allow herself to doubt that for even a second.
But then it happened.
Something long and black shot out of the darkness and wrapped itself around Jake, who dropped the torch he was carrying as he screamed and tried to free himself from the tentacle that was closing ever tighter around him.
“Jake!” Sasha screamed and ran forward to pick up the torch. Without thinking, she stabbed the lit end of the torch at the tentacle holding Jake, and when the flames made contact, there was a roar of pain from further in the cave. Then Jake and Sasha both began to stab at the tentacle with their weapons, which made sharp sucking sounds as the black flesh was pierced. The roars from within the cave increased until eventually, Jake was able to wriggle free from the grip of the tentacle.
“This is madness!” Jake shouted. “Let’s go back!”
Sasha grabbed his arm, which was covered in black slime. “No! We’re not turning back.”
Jake looked like he was about to run until Sasha suddenly started kissing him on the mouth. Almost in response, Cthulhu roared again as if hurt by the positive energy the kiss was creating. “I love you, Jake,” Sasha said. “I love you. Do you love me?” She kissed him again. “Tell me you love me…”
“I love you, Sasha,” he said slightly taken aback but meaning every word. “I really love you…”
She smiled at him then. “You hear that, Cthulhu? We love each other! Love, love, love!”
Cthulhu roared as if stabbed by something sharp.
“Follow my lead,” Sasha said to Jake as she took him by the hand, the torch in her other hand, and walked deeper into the cave toward the waiting monster. Black tentacles came shooting out of the darkness, but Sasha managed to use the torch to burn them back. “The first time we made love, it was the most beautiful experience of my life, Jake…”
Jake looked at her, and then nodded when he realized what she was doing. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever met,” he said. “When your eyes look into mine, it’s like a door to my soul opens.”
Sasha smiled. “I love the feel of your skin on mine as we make love. I love the warmth of it, the softness of it. I love the beautiful chemistry between us…”
“You have the body of an angel.”
“You have a heart that would melt ice.”
Cthulhu roared a different roar this time. The monster sounded like it couldn’t take any more of the positive, loving vibes radiating from Sasha and Jake.
The two continued their back and forth compliments, their confidence and strength growing as they closed in on Cthulhu, until finally, they came upon the monster itself.
* * *
It was difficult for Sasha to keep talking when she laid eyes on the monster. The thing was huge. A giant black blob with tentacles poking out of it everywhere. She saw no eyes on the monster, but she did see the huge mouth in the center of its misshapen head, a mouth that appeared to be filled with razor sharp teeth. Sasha and Jake stood stock still as they stared up at it. “I…I love you, Jake,” Sasha managed to say.
“I love you too,” Jake said back, his voice equally strained.
Then Sasha glimpsed the portal behind the monster. A doorway of light set into the cave wall, and much bigger than the portal that had first appeared in her bedroom back home, which seemed like a long time ago now. Just seeing the portal was enough for Sasha to remain confident that she and Jake would soon escape from from this hell. As she looked, she noticed a gap between the monster and the left cave wall. It wasn’t much of a gap, but it looked to be enough for her and Jake to run through and get to the portal.
When Sasha looked at Jake, he seemed afraid again. She couldn’t blame him, but she couldn’t allow him to slip into a state of terror. Not now. “Think about making love to me,” she said as he grabbed his face and forced him to look at her. “Think about how good it feels, how warm we get…how wet I get…”
Jake gave a somewhat nervous laugh, but he seemed to be doing as she said. “I’m with you,” he said.
Just then, Cthulhu roared, and one of those thick black tentacles came lashing out of nowhere as it wrapped itself around Jake’s neck and began to pull. The monster seemed to give a garbled laugh as it began to pull Jake toward itself and its waiting mouth. “Sasha!” Jake managed to say as he tried to stab at the tentacle gripping him.
“Jake, no!” Sasha screamed as she ran toward him and burned at the tentacle with her torch, but the flames had no effect. The tentacle just seemed to tighten as it pulled Jake further along, eventually lifting him up into the air.
Sasha could only stand helplessly as she felt fear and terror flood her system, washing away all the positive energy she had carefully built up.
Jake and Sasha’s eyes met then for the last time. “Go!” Jake managed to scream before the tentacle got too tight for him to speak any further. “I love you, Sasha…”
But it was too late. The monster had him, and it was pulling him in toward that cavernous mouth full of pointed teeth.
Sasha screamed as she turned her head away in horror, trying not to hear the crunching and squelching sounds as the love of her life got eaten by the monster.
For a moment, she just felt like dropping to her knees and letting the monster take her as well. But Jake had died to afford her the opportunity to escape, and she wasn’t going to waste it.
She would at least try.
So with tears streaming down her face, she ran toward the gap between the monster and the cave wall, managing to get there before the monster even knew what she was doing. Cthulhu tried to grab her with another of its tentacles, but Sasha was moving too fast and managed to duck under the tentacle that lashed out at her.
She kept running until she finally made it to the portal, then stopped for a second to look back at Cthulhu, who by that time had completely consumed Jake. “One day, I will come back here, and I will fucking destroy you.”
The monster turned its head, no sign of Jake’s remains in its mouth anymore as it gave a low growling sound.
As the monster shot out another tentacle toward her, Sasha escaped through the portal.
* * *
When she came out the other side of the portal, the first word out of her mouth was, “Jake…”
But her tearful demeanor soon turned to confusion as she began to look around at where she was, which did not look like home at all. Before her was the crumbling, smoking remains of a huge city that could have been somewhere on Earth, but which she knew wasn’t. Her new surroundings were cloaked in a muted red light, and the sky above was dark with roiling clouds. Thunder sounded, and lightning struck the buildings below.
And then she saw it. A huge dragon-like monster was flying through the sky just above the ruined city as it shot jets of red fire down below it and then bellowing afterward like it had scored some great victory.
Sasha stood shaking her head. “No,” she said. “This can’t be…”
Then in the near distance, she heard something growling. A creature of some sort.
Sasha considered going back into the portal from whence she came, but she knew there was nothing but death back there for her. As fucked up and scary as this new place was, she knew she would have to stay until she discovered another portal that would take her somewhere better.
If indeed anywhere better existed.
As the growling noise got closer, Sasha moved away from the portal and down a steep hillside. Then she headed toward the ruin of a city in the distance.
What she would find there, she didn’t know…
For more of my short stories, check out The Portal and Other Stories at Amazon.
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