Rain was a little comfort that Jane could never understand, but there was something about watching water fall from the sky that made her feel better about everything. Her fingers wrapped around the neck of the clear bottle, and she took another swig that sent fire cascading down her throat. It wasn't enough to get her inebriated, but it did give her a bit of a kick. Her fingertips bounced between the keys of her laptop like a hyperactive game of pingpong, the story gradually unfolding before her eyes. It wasn't much, just an idea she'd come up with in a dream. It was relatively easy so far, as the heroine had only started walking down the literary street. Several keystrokes later, and there was a tall man leaning against a lamppost, his face barely illuminated by the soft glow of a cigarette. Jane made an executive decision that he looked scruffy, and had a bit of lecherous grin that sharpened when his eyes landed on the heroine, who had yet to be named. Juliette, she thought, and she wrote the name down elsewhere. Her typing continued for but another second, as the alarm that was supposed to wake her up blared out in the crisp morning air. She swiftly switched it off and held her face in her hands.
Another night with only thirty minutes of sleep.
And now, to go to work, smile and crunch numbers for eight hours before she could go home and try to sleep.
It was disgusting, but it was survival. And it was the loneliest thing Jane had ever consigned herself to.
Fifteen minutes later, she had dressed herself in a work-appropriate skirt, hose and button-up. She was careful not to spill the caffeinated drink that would keep her vertical until lunch, and she'd try to forget how menial her task always was. Jane Florence Benjamin grabbed her phone and headphones before slipping out into the gloom. The vodka hadn't had any effect more than she had anticipated, since it was only two sips worth. Which is the exact reason why she didn't expect to crumple to the sidewalk, vomiting. Knees weak, her hands coated in bile, and the cold rain pounding on her from above, she threw up, her stomach spasming in pain. It was the one of the most miserable things she had ever felt, even before she stared at the tar-black swirls of liquid intermingled with vomit. Jane had never seen anything of the sort before, and it sickened her more to think that that had come from her. She upchucked again shortly before passing out, slumping over on the concrete.
When she awoke, she was back within her own home, cleaned up and dressed in her usual stay-at-home clothes. Compared to earlier, she felt much better, and she detected the aroma of shampoo in her hair. The ashen-blonde stepped out of her bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes before glancing at the mirror. For the merest fraction of a second, who she saw didn't look like her. But all the same, it still did. In that singular moment, she saw her eyes above all else; blackened orbs with luminescent pupils that were teal in hue. It startled the accountant enough to force her to blink, and when her eyes glanced back at the mirror, she appeared normal again. "Christ," Jane groaned, walking into the living room of her apartment. "I need way more sleep."
It was easy to pass the blame for her hallucination to the figurative shoulders of sleep deprivation, and so it was easy to try to continue on with her day. The accountant dialed up her boss, prepared to give a reason, or excuse, as to why she wasn't at work. "Hello, Ms. Aquinas? Yes, it's Jane. I just needed to tell you I need a sick day today." She braced for the storm of likely expletives, but they never came. "I understand, Miss Benjamin. Try to relax, and please return sometime next week." "Thank you, Miss Aquinas." "Enjoy your day." Jane gave a small smile at the click that signified the end of the conversation. Her day was her own, and it was only Thursday.
When the amateur writer opened up her story, she noticed that a few sentences had been added, even though she didn't remember writing anything else that morning. She decided to read the mysterious addition to her writing, in addition to what she originally wrote, and settled onto the couch with a cup of espresso.
The night was a gloomy cauldron of rain, darkness and silence. The kind of night where one would normally curl up with a movie to watch and a warm bowl of soup, but yet there was someone on the streets this very evening. A woman, clad in a grey peacoat, strode down the boulevard, her pace portraying purpose. She looked determined, fierce even, as she approached a figure standing in the shadow of a building, just out of the range of a nearby streetlamp. This figure, tall and also well-dressed, was more casual in his pose. He leaned against the brick and mortar, lighting a cigarette. His semi-lecherous grin was illuminated by the glow of said product, and his jawline was scruffy. The woman stopped nearby him, looking with an incredulous glare.
"What do you need, Mister Devaroux?"
He smiled at the question, tapping out the cigarette and throwing it to the ground. Mister Devaroux stayed out of the the light, choosing to remain in the shadow. "Just a job. Something the little shits-"
Jane paused, looking at the digital manuscript. Little shits? She thought to herself. I don't write like that. She contemplated deleting the sentence, but decided it could temporarily stay. She scrolled downwards, her screen now filled with text so she could read without interruption.
"Something the little shits shouldn't know about." The woman smiled, her eyes glinting in the low light. "What kind of something?" An arm stretched out from the shadow, the fingernails of the hand well-manicured. In between the fingers of this hand was a vanilla folder. The woman took it, opened it, and began to smile wider. "Recently, the friend of a friend was murdered. Now the initial revenge has already been done, but I want you to deal the final blow." The woman's eyes, an ethereal teal, scanned the document further, intrigued. "Another demon?" She asked without glancing up. "Yes." He replied in much the same fashion, a cigarette lighting between his fingers. She licked her lips as she took in more details. "I'll do it." The man smiled, gesturing his approval. "Excellent. Oh, and Juliette?" He had interrupted her exit, and she spun on her heel to listen. "Bring me its head when you're finished."
Jane grimaced, wondering how on earth her story, originally a romance novel, had turned into what sounded like it'd be a morbid, grotesque science fiction tale. But she didn't want to delete it. After all, it was pretty good, in her opinion anyway. So instead, she opened up Chrome and ventured onto Pandora internet radio. She questioned what station to choose before her stomach rumbled, reminding her of the fact that she hadn't eaten yet, and it was nearly noon. And because of that she stepped off the couch, walked into the kitchen, opened her refrigerator...
And vomited. Twice.
The same black, tar-like substance intermingled with bile again, this time in a greater amount. Jane hacked up a final clump of disgusting, tart stomach acid and pitch before trying to climb to her feet. She staggered to the bathroom, grabbing at every surface that could support her on the way. She breathed a heavy sigh of relief before shedding her second skin of fabric and stepped into the waiting shower. The first burst of water was cold, causing gooseflesh to break out across the woman's body. It warmed up quickly afterwards, and Jane's mind began to wander as she thought about who had originally brought her back home when she had passed out on the sidewalk. No one else had a key to her room; she paid rent by herself without assistance of any kind. She was beginning to think that the doorman had let someone in, but she was distracted by something underneath her fingernails.
Jane's heart skipped a beat in fear as she stared at her hands. Panicked, she examined herself for scabs or scars and, finding none, she realized that she had been the one to wound another human being. Her terror continued when she found a small, perfectly ovoid lump just underneath her sternum, so close to the bone that it felt like a part of it. The lightest touch sent searing pain soaring across her chest, and less gentle examinations caused her to nearly black out. "Oh God," Jane whispered, the dreaded realization crawling upon her like some sort of heavy stalking reptile. "I have cancer."
"Well, the good thing is that it isn't cancer." The doctor said, a slight smirk on her face. "And the bad news?" The ashen-blonde asked, some of the worry relieved, but not all of it. "I haven't the slightest idea what it is, and it's latched onto your nervous system like some sort of parasite." Jane felt shock slam into her, knocking the breath from her body. "I-I don't understand. How can something like this," She gestured to her chest, a panicked glare directed at the doctor. "Not be cancer, and yet be just as bad?!" The specialist shrugged, an apathetically bored look on her face. "I don't know. Listen Jane, I have another patient to tend to. A nurse will be in to answer all your questions in a moment." And with that, the dark-haired woman left. Jane glanced at the mirror and, just like that morning, someone else stared back at her.
Whatever it was, it had her face, her body, but it look all wrong. Its skin was a graphite grey, its hair a lighter shade of the same hue. Teal eyes stared back as the creature's black tongue, at least a foot long and more like a tentacle than an actual tongue, lolled out of a mouth filled with grey needle-like teeth. But what terrified Jane the most was the cluster of tendrils that burst from its chest, all of them branching out from the place where she knew the lump was on her own chest. "Miss Benjamin," Jane snapped herself back to reality, looking at the nurse who had come in. "I'll be here to answer any questions you have." The short-haired blonde looked at the other woman, eyeing her cautiously. "You do have questions, right?" Jane nodded, then felt her body go rigid as something cold spread through her body, pooling in her head before she fell unconscious.
She started awake, grasping at the couch desperately as she took a deep, gasping breath. The laptop was on, the document her story comprised of open. More text had been added to it, and Jane felt a slight whisper of dread at the thought of reading the additions. She stepped off the couch, her knees slightly wobbly as she strode to the kitchen to eat. It was now four o'clock, and she had yet to eat anything. The haunted accountant regretted her lack of chicken soup, but she soon discovered that vegetable vegetarian soup sat well enough. Once finished, she steeled herself for the new writings, and she was not disappointed with what she found.
The demon's proxy shrieked as a second, and then a third tendril entered his body, effectively crucifying the controlled human on the wall. "I'm not gonna ask again," the creature known as Juliette warned in sing-song. "Where's you're boss, bud?" The masked fellow whimpered in pain, his hands and feet beginning to tear from his own weight pulling him down. "Westside suburbs of the city, little- fuck! -rundown house in the middle of nowhere." The humanoid monster grunted in satisfaction, her cephalopod-esque limbs retracting slowly from the wounds they inflicted, holding the proxy up gently before bashing him to the ground. The man screamed, a sound that sputtered out as the creature called Juliette applied generous pressure onto his throat with her foot. She already knew the location of the demon she was looking for, of course, but she enjoyed watching lesser creatures squirm and scream because of the suffering she inflicted upon them. The bloodbath around her was proof enough of that.
On and on, Jane read, unable to stop herself. She felt like she was watching a train wreck; always desperate to look away, but completely unable to pry her eyes from the spectacle. She felt vomit beginning to crawl up her throat like some obscene insect, threatening her with losing her body to 'Juliette' again. She shoved it back down, tolerating it for a few seconds longer to finish the next paragraph.
When her counterpart had finally begun to figure out what was happening to her, she rushed to the hospital for an examination. Juliette could be patient, if the rewards tempted her and kept her in check, and the opportunity arose when Jane gazed into the mirror, taking in the full appearance of the thing that lived just under her skin. It clearly frightened her, enough so that control slipped once again, and Juliette eviscerated the nurse who had come to attend to the creature's contemporary. She peeled the skin along the petite blonde woman's stomach, her screaming silenced by the black substance that held her mouth shut. "You have lovely skin," The monster had said, making sure the victim was still conscious. "It'll make such a wonderful rug." The nurse had simply whined in pain, tears streaming down her cheeks.
A splattering sound filled the room as Jane vomited onto the kitchen floor again, rushing to the bathroom before she created a larger mess. She upchucked into the toilet, every drop of liquid being the thick, viscous tar that she now knew was a byproduct of the monster just underneath her skin. She pulled at the lever, not wanting to look at the liquid any longer. Water rushed into the bowl, and promptly swirled underneath the pitch substance, taking none of it down the drain. The accountant tried a second time with the same result. She didn't feel the need to continue to further comprehend the situation. Instead, she stood up shakily, shuffling over to the sink to wash her face off. The water was a cool, fresh comfort on her skin, bringing some solace to her aching conscience and body. Jane refused to acknowledge the other being grinning at her in the mirror, instead walking out of the room and considering her options.
She thought of only one before control slipped through her fingers again, Juliette's hands taking the figurative wheel. But unlike the previous times, Jane could see through her eyes, watch as the creature shifted from sub-dermal to fully visible, gaze in panicked helplessness as pale skin turned dark grey, teeth turned to fangs and saliva transformed into tar. Jane felt as if she were locked in a room, forced to watch atrocities done with her hands but still not quite her hands. It was enough to make her want to scream, but she had no control over anything but her thoughts. The creature controlling her body moved swiftly, grabbing a coat before opening the door and leaving the room. How Juliette failed to rouse and suspicion, Jane didn't know. All she did know was that her body wasn't hers anymore, and that it was soon going to be the tool of a murderous creature that she knew nearly nothing about. She was going mad.
The creature in her flesh rapped its knuckles impatiently against the dilapidated front door, demanding entrance. Someone, a short, emaciated man wearing an ovoid mask, opened the door and examined Juliette. "Get lost girly," he barked, tugging on the handle of a knife stuck in the door jamb. "'Fore you get hurt sumthin' bad." The creature tilted her head, smirking lightly before Jane heard a sickening noise as her breastbone cracked open, a cluster of tendrils shooting out and rapidly impaling the rival demon's proxy. He flailed aimlessly for a few seconds, then went limp as life fled his husk. The Lovecraftian beast through the corpse aside, pushing into the house as several other henchman took notice of her. Jane, trapped inside her own head, tried to look away as her counterpart latched onto the nearest one, lifting him into the air before drawing and quartering the young man. Juliette lashed out with her tongue, taking a teenage girl by the throat before pulling her in. The masked proxies watched in horror as their comrade had her throat torn out. The creature flung the body to the side again, a sadistic grin across her face as she gestured at the cowering group. "What's the matter? Scared of death?" The group pushed forward a man, tall and bulky, as their champion. He looked slightly uncertain before tugging a baseball bat wrapped in razorwire. He shouted, charged at their assailant and took a swing. The bat smashed into the side of the monster's head, the wire cutting into her face as she staggered backwards. Blood, a purple so deep it could easily be mistaken for black, oozed from the wounds.
Wounds that began to seal themselves, the blood clotting the cuts disturbingly fast. Jane felt shocked as Juliette launched herself, latching onto her opponent and outright snapping his head off of his body. "Oh my fucking God!" One of the others screamed. "She just killed Jackson!" The screamer was the first to die, a broken pool cue thrown like a javelin into woman's forehead. It took less than a minute for the dark creature to tear through the remaining seven; bodies being tossed about like ragdolls. Blood had seeped into the floorboards and stained the walls, turning the room into a great scarlet mess. Juliette seemed pleased with herself, cleaning her hands off as Jane wished she could just close her eyes and scrub the atrocious memories from her mind. A thudding footstep distracted them both as a demon, a satyr with the head of a serpent, stepped into view. It towered above Juliette by three feet at the very least, and was practically comprised of just muscle to the point of grotesqueness. The creature underneath her skin sized up the creature, cracked her knuckles, and stepped forward.
Juliette was kinder to Jane's fragile psyche the second time around, mentally forcing her down until later that evening. The accountant nearly jumped from her place in her bed, gasping and shaking with horror at what had been done with her own two hands. She looked down at her clean palms, wishing such filthy hands were not a part of her. She quickly swung her feet out of bed, grabbing her laptop before throwing it out of her third-story window. Perhaps the destruction of the digital manuscript that had brought about the monster beneath her flesh would destroy the beast as well. Juliette spited her by forcing more tar up Jane's throat, the sticky liquid hitting the ground thirty feet below. The thought of suicide came to her mind, and it seemed like her only option to be rid of the creature inhabiting her body.
A knife to the wrist brought only the deep indigo she loathed so much. A cable around the neck resulted in her waking up in her own bed again. Poisonous substances only produced more tar, as did an attempt to drown herself.
With shaky hands, she purchased a revolver from the nearest pawn shop. The clerk looked at her with a concerned glare, but ignored the shaken woman as she left his store. Once Jane returned to her apartment, she fumbled with the firearm, trying to load the single cartridge that would put her out of this hell. She finally managed to chamber the round, clicking the drum back into the firearm before pointing the barrel at the top of her mouth.
A shot echoed into the night, and the scorching fumes of the ignition scalded Jane's mouth and throat, but the bullet only dropped onto the back of her tongue, purple fluid pushing out the foreign projectile before healing the wound. Desperation seeped into her bones as a voice called from the mirror.
"Do you get it now? I'm not letting you slip through my fingers like that, dearest Jane.'"
"Leave me alone..."
"You're mine, permanently. There is no escape from me, from yourself. I'm the monster that is you, Jane. And I control how you live your atrophied, bare bones life from now on. Every move you make will be regulated, every breath you take measured by someone other than yourself. You will have only as much free will as I give you, and even then it will only be for my gain."
"Grab a change of clothes and an empty notebook. We're torching this place, and you're gonna need something to keep you sane. Journal-taking helps. Now get to it!'"
Unwillingly, Jane moved to her feet, grabbing the only coat she had that wasn't spattered with scarlet. She moved quickly, knowing that Juliette gave her this one piece of freedom to make a point. The point that they were one and the same.
As flames reached into the Chicago sky, Jane knew that the point had been well-made.