Author: Justin Ketter
Publication Date: June 30, 2021
Length: 269 pages
Where to Buy: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B096D9LV1X
A year has passed since Skye Williams took the fall for her twin brother, James, and was expelled from Comagique University. A year gone since she last heard from him.
After a grueling nightshift at Zeke’s Bar, Skye desired a night of casual fun, but the night is disrupted when her estranged brother shows up at her place, pleading for help. Reluctant, Skye caves to her brother’s anxious pleas and allows him inside, only to see he’s high. Angered by his broken promise, Skye asks him to leave, but when she’s about to turn him away, James’ possessed girlfriend, Caitlyn, comes scratching at Skye’s door, seeking his life. Skye fends off the demon, and James informs her of a séance gone wrong.
With her only family member’s life on the line, Skye teams up with James to exorcise the demon. In doing so, Skye earns a letter of readmittance to Comagique, and the Williams twins quickly learn the séance was no mere accident. Fearful the person responsible will strike again, they take it upon themselves to untwine the mystery of who tampered with the séance instructions and, in the process, discover something far more diabolical than they could have ever imagined.
About the Author
Justin Ketter is just a guy roping himself along the entangled pulley system of authorhood. An introvert who loves gaming, reading, and binge-watching, Justin also writes as a means of escapism and, by writing, he hopes to offer readers the same chance to lose themselves in a different world and allow their problems to fade away, at least for a while. He enjoys cooking but not quite as much as eating. When he’s not writing or working, he’s probably lounging around the house playing with his best boy, Roo.
Another hectic shift at Zeke’s entailed another night faceplanting into bed, but at least—this time—Skye Williams wasn’t alone. A night of casual fun was well-deserved, and Annie, who Skye had spent the better part of the night eyeing up, was more than eager to comply.
Skye trailed her tongue along Annie’s smooth stomach, circling the rim of her navel in delicate laps. Her back pitched into a sensuous arch as she dug up a handful of sheets. Hooking her index fingers between Annie’s lace panties, Skye lowered them teasingly when an eruption of knocks pummeled her door. Her tongue retreated, and her bottom bounced onto her heels. Glancing at the digital clock on her nightstand, she saw its glowing red numbers: 3:23 A.M.
Who the hell is at my door this late?
An enticing warmth coiled around her wrist, and Annie pulled herself to Skye.
“Eyes on me,” Annie whispered, her heated breath tickling Skye’s earlobe. “Whoever it is can—”
Another series of feverish raps sounded at her door. Skye wondered who it could be. She mostly kept to herself. Shifting off her bed, she scooped her crumpled tank top off the floor. A disgruntled sigh came from behind as her liaison flopped onto her back.
“Expecting company?” Annie inquired.
“Yeah, ‘cause nothin’ spices up a spontaneous hookup more than a third,” Skye quipped as she pulled her tank top over her bra.
“I don’t like to share.”
Skye smiled a little, rising from her bed. “Just wait here.”
Stepping into the jeans at her feet, she yanked them up and staggered into the living room. Strewn heaps of a month’s worth of laundry littered the floor. How they had managed to make it to the bed without tripping into its hungry clutches was a mystery. She would have cleaned up in advance had she known she was going to bring someone home. Snorting, she zipped up her pants.
Home, as if such a place existed anymore—or ever did for that matter.
The thumping at her door intensified.
“I’m coming!” she shouted.
The hammering persisted, and impatience rose in her throat.
“I said, I’m coming!” Her voice lowered to a hushed mutter. “Damn.”
Upon reaching the door, she sprang to her tippy toes and leveled her eye with the peephole when a hopeless voice yelled, “C’mon, Skye! Open the door!”
She dropped down, a groan pattering in her throat as she instinctively reached for the doorknob. She withdrew her hand before grabbing hold. The voice belonged to her twin brother, James, though she preferred to call him by his nickname. “What are you doin’ here, Jimmy? How did you find me?”
“Does it matter? I need your help, please!”
The absolute gall. Had he no shame? Raising an arm to her door, Skye leaned against it. “Yeah, you do need help, but unfortunately for you, I’m neither licensed nor qualified to be your therapist. Go back to school, Jimmy.”
“Skye, please! I’m begging you! You know I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have any other option!”
“You’re not sayin’ much since I’m alwaysyour only option.” She slouched her head against the door and crossed her arms.
“You’re right, you’re right.” His breathy voice calmed. “Look, I’m sorry for everything I’ve done, I’m an asshole, but can you please open the door!”
She bit the inside of her cheek, and her gaze rolled to the side, falling on the knob. You open that door, and he’ll know it’s always open. Huffing a profound sigh, she unlocked the door. He was her brother, no matter what. She stepped back, declaring, “It’s open.”
The door slammed inward, and James barreled inside, banging it shut behind him. He twisted the lock and slid to the ground, the back of his head thunking against the door. Groping his chest, he panted like a chronic smoker after a mile run. The city lights, filtering in from the living room windows, cast a pale light onto his cheeks, reflecting a sweaty sheen. She moved to his side, primed to console him, but when they locked eyes, his saucer-sized pupils skittered away in shame.
Skye snorted, her hand bundling into a fist. “Right, of course. You know, I thought things might’ve been different. That you would’ve changed.” Her jaw clenched tight like a bear trap. Restraining her shaky fist, she shook her head. “But hey, what’s another empty promise, right? Guess I should’ve expected nothing less.”
“Skye.” He swallowed, catching his breath as his hand shot up. “I know what this looks like, but it’s not what it seems.”
“Oh, cut the shit, Jimmy.” Unfolding her palm, she held out her hand. “Hand them over.”
“What are you—?”
“Stop!” she exclaimed. “You know I can see through your bullshit, so don’t fuckin’ lie to me, okay? Not to me. It’s insulting.”
“I swear, I’ve got nothin’ on me!”
She scoffed, nodding slowly. “Right. Is that because you took them all? I know what a strung-out junkie looks like.” She pressed her hand closer. “The gels, now.”
James swatted her hand to the side and stared at her with swollen, raw eyes. “I told you, I don’t have any!”
“Skye?” Annie questioned, approaching from behind. Great, just what she needed. Skye cocked her head back to the haughty sneer imprinted on Annie’s face. “I’m a pretty carefree girl, but I draw the lines at addicts who can’t keep their shit together.”
Skye leered at her. “He’s my brother.”
Annie’s scrunched up lip flattened into a humble line. “Oh…” She pointed at the door. “I should probably go.”
Annie gathered her things, but when she made it to the door, James blocked her path.
Clambering to his knees, James shook his head in protest. “I wouldn’t go out there.”
“Not the best neighborhood, I know,” Annie stated, examining her nails, “but I can handle myself just fine.”
“No, you don’t understand—”
“Then explain it to me.”
James looked at Skye, eyes pleading. Annie’s head cranked to Skye. How she detested being the one stuck in the middle, but her decision was easy. Skye stared him down. He shook his head. She nodded to the side, and James reluctantly crawled away from the door. Annie departed, and in the silence that followed, Skye shared a prolonged stare with her brother.
“Sorry, Skye, I didn’t know you had— I didn’t mean to ruin—”
Rubbing her brow, she stated, “No, you never do, but yet, somehow, you always manage to find a way.”
“I get it, Sis. I’m awful,” James said, “but now is notthe time for you to chew me out.”
“I disagree. Now is the perfect time!” she retorted. “It’s been a year, Jimmy! A whole year, and I haven’t heard shit from you! I took the fall for you, and you didn’t even try to get in contact with me until you needed something? For what? So you could make the same, stupid choices again? Are you insane? Am Iinsane? I should’ve known better. I’m such an idiot.”
“Hey, don’t pin that on me! You gettin’ kicked out was your choice, not mine! I never told you to do that.”
She could have laughed out of frustration. “And there he is! Why is it you never take an ounce of responsibility for your actions? As if you had no culpability in the situation whatsoever. God, could you be more ungrateful?! Tell me, what was I supposed to do?! Headmaster Walsh was looking for any excuse to kick you out on your ass, even after I claimed they were mine! You wouldn’t have survived out here by yourself!” She sighed, not intending for her voice to have risen as loud as it had. “I’m your big sister, it’s my job to look out for you.”
His hands tossed in the air, mockingly. “Yep, that’s Skye, ever the martyr, and you don’t know if you’re actually older.”
Snatching hold of the knob, Skye’s lips pursed together, and she jerked the door open. She pointed toward the hall. “Get out. I don’t want you here, go.”
James’ gaze stiffened, and his jaw drooped. Launching to his feet, he lunged at her. Skye sidestepped out of the way, and the door banged shut. He pressed his weight against the door, fumbling for the lock. “Fuck!”
“Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?” she asked.
James locked the door and retreated to the edge of the hall, tugging the hood of his gray hoodie over his forehead. “No, no, no! I thought I lost her!”
Lost who? He couldn’t have been referring to Annie. As Skye was about to peer through the peephole once more, James pushed his hood back and shouted, “Skye, no! Get away from the door!”
Skye faced her brother. His eyes bulged, sickened with terror. Another episode? She approached him with light steps, her hand extended.
“Hey, it’s okay. I’m sure whatever it is—”
The doorknob rattled, then ceased. The grating shrill of fingernails scraped at her front door, begging for entry. Skye’s spine stiffened, and her head slowly rotated to the door.
“Found you,” a feminine voice cooed. A dour echo lay masked behind the whimsical voice, making Skye’s skin crawl. She inched away from the door as the scratching amplified, clawing deep.
“Jimmy?” Skye asked.
James backed into the living room and paced around, stroking the nape of his neck so frantically he could have rubbed it raw. He glanced at her. “Okay, look, so maybe you were the littlest bit right. I had a slip-up, but I don’t have any magus gels on me. I promise you that.”
The crude scraping slid to the bottom of her door, trilling in her ear. Skye hurried to her brother’s side. “What’s going on?”
“No way that door is gonna hold,” he warned, fetching her hand. “We have to run. It’s not safe here!”
She yanked her hand back. “Well, at least tell me what we’re dealing with.”
The irony was downright palpable. “How appropriate.” She smirked.
“Skye, this is serious! That demon possessed my girlfriend and she— It killed—” His gaze whizzed around the room like a fly. “Do you happen to have a—?” And then he turned toward the windows. He rushed to the windowsill, swerving around the couch. When he reached it, he hefted a window open.
“Who, Jimmy? Who did it kill?” she asked, jogging over to his side.
“Let me in, James,” the demon said like a whining child as it pounded on the door. “We haven’t finished playing yet!” The battering strengthened, and a small section of the door splintered inward. Jagged slivers of wood clattered to the floor as the demon delivered another blow. Fluorescent lighting filtered in from the hallway, infiltrating Skye’s loft.
Skye’s head jerked to the door as the lighting receded. A glowing amber eye glared at her through the damaged opening. Icy talons plunged deep into her heart, squeezing without mercy. She was unable to see it, but she knew an ear-to-ear grin was spread across the demon’s face.
As she pushed James forward, panic seeped into Skye’s voice. “Go, go.” While he climbed onto the fire escape, the words of her demonology professor surged back to her, inspiring an idea. She dashed into the kitchen, eyeing her spice cabinet. Tossing it open, she sifted through various spices. “Come on,” she pleaded as the demon collided into her front door, “where are you!?”
“What are you doin’!?” James shouted.
Relief washed over her when her hand fell upon a medium-sized container. Sweet sodium chloride. Skye snatched the salt container out of the cabinet, knocking a few spice shakers onto the kitchen counter. As they rolled onto the floor, she dug her nail under the container’s metallic latch while scurrying to the door.
Apprehension fluttered in her heart when the demon delivered another blow, creating an opening big enough for it to fit its hand. A slender arm slipped inside, groping blindly for the lock. Skye slid to her knees and dumped a thick line of salt at the edge of the hall leading into her loft.
Broken wood jabbed and dragged across the demon’s arm as it flailed around like a limp noodle. Finding the doorknob, the demon twisted the lock. Skye shook the container harder than a kid dumping out a full cereal bag to reach the toy inside. When she finished pouring another layer, the demon’s bloody arm slithered out of the opening, retreating into the hall. The door stuttered open, and Skye’s calves tightened as she squirmed backward.
A girl loomed at the foot of her doorway. Her skin was ashen like stale milk chocolate, and her honey irises beamed as bright as her bleached teeth. Her eerie smile fell, and flecks of contempt smoldered in her gleaming orbs, springing like embers as they fixated on Skye.
The demon’s head snaked to the side and tilted at her. “You smell like him, but you are not. Where’s James?” Its nose twitched, sniffing like a bunny as its head cocked toward the living room.
Skye scampered to her feet with the container of salt in hand. Steadying herself, she aimed the container at the demon while sweat pooled in her palms. A devilish glint sparkled in the demon’s eyes as it stepped inside, skulking forward. Smoke curled from its leg when it neared the edge of her hall. Yanking back, it glanced at the girthy layer of salt and let out a throaty chuckle.
“Smart witch,” it declared, “but you only delay the inevitable. Death will find the one you seek to protect. He is not long for this world. You would be wise to hand him over to This One.”
Skye flicked salt at it. “You’re not taking him!”
The demon leaped back as the thin trail of salt hurtled at it. A morbid grin flashed across its face. “We will see about that, human.”
It twirled around, and there were brittle crunches, like sticks of celery being snapped, as its upper torso folded backward. The demon’s knees didn’t bend when the back of its head hit its buttocks. It stared into the living room.
“We’ll play later, James!” the demon shouted. Its sadistic grin crumbled as it glared at Skye. “Interfere again, and you will die, woman!” Its lanky limbs swayed back and forth as it sashayed out of view.
Skye clutched the salt container, her breathing gradually stabilizing. She inhaled a calming breath. They were safe, for now. A harsh squeal came from behind as the window scraped against its track. The container slipped from her grasp, and she gasped, twirling around to James as he sat at the edge of the windowsill with his hands on his knees.
He leaned forward and gripped his pants, writhing back and forth. She had half a mind to scold him for bringing this shit to her door, but none of that mattered. Her hunched shoulders collapsed as she sprinted to her brother’s side.
“Jimmy?” she questioned.
He flinched, and his panicked gaze lifted to her, but he remained silent.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“No, I’m far from okay. I’m freakin’ the fuck out! I’m worried about Caitlyn!” he admitted.
There was something unsettling about the way he looked at Skye, as if he did not occupy the same space as her. She hadn’t seen him this disturbed since the stone mouth man.
“Jimmy,” she said, softly.
The shock waned from his eyes. “Huh?”
“Caitlyn, is she your girlfriend?”
He inhaled an uneven breath and blew it out, nodding. “Yeah. You okay?”
“A little shaken. First encounter with a demon,” Skye said, kneeling in front of him.
“Welcome to the club.”
“Are you ready to tell me what happened?”
“Depends, are you ready to listen?” he retorted.
Fair enough. “Was it…him?” Bringing up a childhood trauma probably wasn’t the best solution to get an answer, but the more information she had, the better. He looked straight past her and into the hall.
“Do you think it’s actually safe here?” he asked, ignoring her question.
Skye side-eyed the damaged door. Rubbing her neck, she declared, “Honestly? I don’t know. I don’t have any more salt to line the windows to bar the demon from entering, so we shouldn’t stay here long. Now, stop stalling and tell me what the hell happened.”
“You’re not gonna believe me.”
“Are you gonna tell me the truth?”
He shrugged. “It wasn’t him. It was an assignment for one of my classes. Professor Rochubre wanted—”
Her eyebrows huddled together. “Your professor wanted you to summon a demon?”
He let out an immense sigh. “She asks for the story, and when I try to explain it, she interrupts me. May I continue?”
She smiled. “Sorry, yeah, go ahead.”
“Thank you,” he said. “No, our professor didn’t want us to summon a demon. He assigned us into groups of four, and our assignment was to contact a dead person—”
“Like a séance?”
“You’re doin’ it again, Sis, but yes, one of my groupmates, Jeff, lives off-campus. We went to his place, which in retrospect was probably our first mistake. We were supposed to ask a few basic questions when we made contact, but we were unable to. Or so we thought. After a few minutes of nothin’, we decided to call it quits, but Cait wasn’t havin’ any of it.
“She’s kind of like you in that regard: determined, stubborn.” He smiled weakly. “So, we tried again. Cait took charge because no one else was able to establish contact, but it was another failed attempt.” He twiddled his fingers. “That’s when Erin suggested we try usin’ magus gels.”
“You don’t mean Erin Giovani?” she asked.
“Yeah, but does it matter?”
“I didn’t know her well, but she was in a few of my classes,” Skye said. “She’s Professor Holt’s daughter. Christ.”
“Well, Erin figured they would help us initiate the séance since none of us could get it to work. I told them no at first, but Cait said it would be fine, so it didn’t take much convincing from there. Sorry, I know you’re disappointed by that.” He frowned.
“You told them no.”
“Yeah, but I still did it anyway. My future at Comagique depended on getting a good grade, so I complied. I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to take it, regardless of the grade. I missed the rush, and I caved pretty quickly.” He shook his head. “So, we agreed the next attempt would be our last. If we couldn’t establish contact, then that was that. We started the séance, and not a second later, Cait started talkin’ to someone. We couldn’t hear what she was hearin’, but that’s when—”
He ran a hand up to his forehead, pushing his thick, chestnut hair back. “Cait… It happened so fast. She fell out of her seat, and her body locked up. I could hear her bones cracking as her body contorted and thrashed around, but then she stopped, got on her knees, and vomited uncontrollably. I went to get a wet rag because I thought it was a bad reaction to the gels. Next thing I know, there’s a scream from the living room, so I rushed back. Cait’s eyes weren’t her own. They glowed this intense, yellowy-orange, and there was blood staining her mouth.
“I was confused at first, but when I looked down, I saw that Cait, she uh… that the demon took a huge chunk out of Jeff’s throat. He was on the ground, lyin’ in a puddle of his blood, choking. Erin’s a hypnomancer. She tried getting inside the demon’s head, but the demon must’ve had a strong resilience because it backfired. Erin walked into the kitchen to grab a knife and then she—” He blew out a tremulous breath. “She stabbed herself in the throat and I…” he croaked, straining to get the words out, “I could’ve done somethin’ to help, but I didn’t know what to do. I froze, and then I ran. I wasn’t sure if the demon was still followin’ me because I didn’t look back.”
A pit of nausea churned in Skye’s stomach. She bent forward and wrapped her arms around her baby brother, giving him a slight squeeze as he wept on her shoulder.
“Am I a horrible person?” he asked.
“No,” she acknowledged. “There’s honestly nothing you could’ve done. If you had stayed and fought, you probably wouldn’t…” Skye hugged him tighter. “I’m just glad you made it out.”
She could not judge her brother for fleeing. Had she been in the same situation, she would have done the same. James broke from her embrace and wiped at his tears.
“Where do I go from here? What do I do?” he asked.
“You should probably go back to Comagique and tell the headmaster what happened,” she advised.
His head swayed side-to-side. “No, not until Cait’s safe.”
“The best way to ensure her safety is to involve the university. They can help.”
“You said it yourself, Walsh is lookin’ for any excuse to expel me. If I go to him with this, I’m done.”
“It’s not your fault, though. I’m sure he’ll be lenient and understanding.”
“You mean the way he was with you?” he inquired. “You were a perfect student, but he expelled you anyway. And for what, a few magus gels? Bullshit. I know a dozen students who’ve been caught, and nothin’ happened to them. Walsh was lookin’ to expel me then too, and he thought he finally had me. But then you snatched the opportunity from him.”
Skye couldn’t recall when it had started, but sometime in their early adolescence, James had developed an embellished imagination. “So, he expelled me to get back at you?”
“Probably! He’s a spiteful fuck,” he said.
“Do you hear yourself? Why would he do that? What did you do to him?”
“The fuck if I know. He’s had a hardon for me ever since the beginning.”
She shook her head. “This doesn’t make any sense. Headmaster Walsh was always so nice to me. Yeah, I thought he was gonna go easy on me since it was my first offense, but it’s the school’s policy, so I didn’t even question it.”
“I was surprised you didn’t.”
“If I had, they would’ve started an investigation. An investigation that would’ve pointed you as the owner of those gels, and then we both would’ve been expelled. Doesn’t matter though. What’s done, is done. What we need to do now is exorcise the demon out of your girlfriend.”
“How do we go about that?” he questioned.
Skye glanced at her phone lying on her nightstand dresser. “I know someone who can help.”