Chapter no 35 – November

Hell Bent

We’re not alone,” the Gray whispered, one finger held up to his lips like an actor in a play.

Alex had taken a car to the gates of Black Elm.

She had walked the gravel drive in long strides, her anger like an engine, a locomotive pushing her ahead of common sense.

She had slotted her key in the door, tidied the mail, washed her hands.

She had seen the basement door, a gaping wound, an open grave.

There had been a thousand moments to think, to reconsider. She had stood at the top of the basement stairs, gazing into the dark, a knife in her hand, and still she had believed she was being cautious.

The fall had come swiftly. But it always did.

In the cold dark of the basement, Alex took stock of her mistakes. She should have stayed with Turner and finished the interview with Andy Lambton. She shouldn’t have come to Black Elm alone. She should have told Dawes her suspicions, or Turner, or anyone. She should never have trusted her gentleman demon. But she’d wanted to believe that Darlington would be okay, that whatever he’d endured in hell wouldn’t leave a mark, that she could be forgiven and order restored. He would be made whole and she alongside him.

But what if she was leaping to the wrong conclusions now? What if Not Hellie or one of the other demons had pushed her down the stairs, or some squatter who hadn’t shown up on Dawes’s cameras? What if Eitan and Tzvi had trailed her here? Or Linus Reiter with his white umbrella?

Too many shadows, too much history, too many bodies piling up. Too many enemies. There was no way to fight them all.

At least Alex would be visible on the cameras. Someone would know where she had gone. If she didn’t come back. The pain in her ribs made it hard to take a deep breath. She looked at the Grays in front of her. Not just any Grays. Harper Arlington and Daniel Arlington IV. Darlington’s parents. No one from Alex’s long list of enemies had a motive to see them dead.

No one but Darlington, little Danny left alone again and again. Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out, but even Hell would not receive them.

“How long have you been here?” she asked.

Daniel’s eyes darted to the corner, as if he expected something to appear through the walls. “I don’t know.”

Harper nodded in agreement.

“You can’t get out?” Alex asked. Grays never stayed with their bodies for long, not unless they had a reason. Like Hellie wanting to say goodbye. The real Hellie who had loved her.

“He told us to stay.” “Who?”

They said nothing.

Alex bent to look at the bodies. The cold had helped keep the corpses from rotting too badly, but they still smelled terrible. Gently, she rolled them over. There were gaping trenches carved into both of their chests. Claw marks. And they’d gone deep. Straight through the sternum, the ribs, leaving two dark, pulpy craters. He’d torn their hearts out.

“Who did this to you?”

Harper opened her mouth, closed it, like a marionette worked by a clumsy hand. “He was our son,” she said, “but not our son.”

Again, Daniel’s eyes slid to the corner. “He left that there. He said it could happen to us too. He said he would eat our lives.”

Alex didn’t want to know what was in the corner. The shadows seemed darker there, the cold deeper. She swung the light from her phone in that direction, but she couldn’t make sense of what she saw: A heap of wood curls? Scrap paper? It took her a moment to understand that she was looking at a body—the remnants of one. She was looking at someone who had been devoured, nothing left but a husk. Was that what Linus Reiter

would have left of her? Was that what Darlington had started to do to Marjorie Stephen, leaving her withered and aged but still recognizable?

Alex knew it was pointless, but she tried calling Dawes. The screen hung on the number. Service at Black Elm was sketchy at best and nonexistent underground. She cast the light from her screen up the steps again. What was waiting for her up there? Had Darlington tucked her away for a midnight snack? Was he still somehow tethered to Black Elm, or had he been creeping through New Haven to set his little murder scenes? It made a kind of sense. Darlington had survived in hell as both demon and man. Some part of both of them had returned to the mortal world to sit in that golden circle. And some part of that demon boy still loved New Haven and its peculiar lore, would have known the story of the three judges, would have liked building a macabre scavenger hunt for her and Turner.

But did it really add up? Had his desperation all been an act? Was he more demon than man? Had he always been?

Whatever he was, he didn’t really know what she could do, that she might be weak and injured but that the things he’d left to terrify her were going to be weapons in her hands. Her ribs ached every time she breathed, and her shoulder was throbbing where she’d connected with the stairs, but she’d had worse. Even so, the door up there was heavy enough that she wasn’t going to be able to kick her way through on her own. She touched her wrist where the salt star marked the place the snake had entered her. She could only hope it was ready to strike.

“Who wants to help get us out of here?” she asked the Grays. “You can bring us back to life?” Daniel asked.

So the Arlington brains had skipped a generation.

“No,” she said. “But I can at least make sure you don’t spend eternity in a basement.”

“I’ll go,” said Harper.

“Don’t leave me alone down here!” Daniel cried.

“Fuck it,” said Alex, though she had no idea if what she was about to do was even possible. “Everybody into the pool.”

She held out her hands and Darlington’s parents rushed into her. It felt like she was standing in a crowded party, a hundred voices shouting, the

noise unbearable. She tasted crisp champagne on her tongue, smelled clove, tuberose, amber. Caron Poivre. The name of the scent arrived in her head, the vision of a bottle on a dressing table, a glass grenade. She saw her lean face in the mirror; a little boy was playing on the floor in the reflection, dark hair, serious eyes. He was always watching her, always needing something from her, the longing in him exhausted her.

Then she was walking the grounds at Black Elm. They were tidier, green and lush in the heat of summer. She was watching an old man walk with that same little boy, a short distance up the path. He loved them both. He hated them both. He hated his own father, his own son. If he could just get a foothold, if he could just find his way to a little luck, he wouldn’t have to feel like this, like a nobody, when he was an Arlington.

Alex gave her head a shake. She felt like she was drowning in self-loathing. “The two of you really need to think about how you want to spend your afterlife. I recommend therapy.”

She glanced at the corpses on the ground. She remembered Darlington in the dream, human and heartbroken. I don’t know how to not love them. Apparently he’d figured it out.

Then she was racing up the stairs. The sense of strength in her was almost too much, as if her body couldn’t contain the force. She didn’t feel the pain in her shoulder or her ribs anymore. Her heart beat loudly in her ears. She took the stairs two at a time, threw her arms up to protect her face, and crashed through the bolted door.

Alex heard someone scream and saw Michael Anselm crouching by the open back door, his face white, his eyes wide with terror.

“Alex?” he squeaked.

“What are you doing here?” Alex demanded. “I … What are you doing here?”

“Black Elm isn’t Lethe property. And someone has to take care of Cosmo.”

“That’s why you just knocked the basement door off its hinges?”

Alex was glad Anselm hadn’t been turned into demon food, but that didn’t mean she trusted him. “What do you want? And where have you been?”

Anselm stood and dusted himself off. He straightened his cuffs, attempting to regain some dignity. “New York. Living my life, going to work, playing with my kids, and trying to forget about Lethe. I met with the board this morning. I came to talk to you about their ruling.”


“Dawes said this was where you were. She’s supposed to be here too. I don’t want to make this speech twice.”

Dawes must have seen Alex on the security cameras. She might have even called to warn Alex that Anselm was on his way, but Alex had been stuck in the basement. The Grays in her head were so damn loud she couldn’t think, but she wasn’t willing to give up their strength yet. Could Anselm have shoved her down the stairs? What possible reason would he have? All she knew was she had to get rid of him. Darlington might be in a murdering kind of mood, but she didn’t intend to let Anselm decide what happened to him.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “It’s cold and creepy.” Anselm narrowed his eyes. “What is going on?”

There are two dead bodies in the basement, probably three, and I’m juiced up on Grays because I’m pretty sure the gentleman of Lethe thought it would be cute to commit multiple homicide and eat someone.

“A lot,” she said, because even she couldn’t sell Nothing. “But you’re out of the business of solving my problems, right?”

“Not if those problems become Lethe’s.” He looked around and rubbed his arms. “But you’re right. We’ll find some other place to talk. This house should be knocked down.”


The sound shook the walls, as if someone had detonated a bomb on the second floor.

“What was that?” Anselm cried, gripping the kitchen island like a drowning man.

Alex knew that sound: something banging on a door that should never be opened, trying to get into the mortal world.


Anselm was staring at her. “Why don’t you look scared?”

She was scared. But she wasn’t surprised. And she’d made the mistake of letting it show.

“What the hell did you do, Alex?” He was angry now, and he stormed past her, stalking through the dining room, toward the staircase.

“Stop!” Alex said, catching up to him. “We have to go. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

“And you do? I have clearly underestimated your ignorance and arrogance.”

“Anselm.” She grabbed his arm and spun him around. It was easy with the Grays inside her, and he blinked at her strength, staring at her fingers gripping his arm.

Boom. Plaster gusted down from the living room ceiling. They were directly beneath the ballroom now, beneath the circle of protection.

“Take your hands off me,” he insisted, but he sounded frightened.

“Anselm, if I have to drag you out of here I will. It’s not safe and we have to go now.”

“You could do it, couldn’t you?” Anselm said, his terrified eyes searching hers. “I outweigh you by what? Nearly one hundred pounds? You could haul me right out of here. What are you?”


Alex was saved from answering by the ceiling caving in.

KITTSCHER: There’s a theory that all magic is essentially demonic, that every ritual both summons and binds a demon’s powers.

Have you never wondered why magic takes such a toll? Our brushes with the uncanny are encounters with these parasitic forces. The demon is feeding even if its powers are contained. The bigger the magic, the more powerful the demon. And the nexuses are little more than doorways through which demons may, for a brief time, pass.

NOWNES: What you suggest is perverse in every way. KITTSCHER: But you do not say I am wrong.

—Kittscher’s Daemonologie, 1933

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