This is from my story, Legacy of a Regrettable Game. It’s dark and angry and is set in a gaslamp fantasy world that never existed. Like a lot of my writing, it deals with demons.
The laughter grows louder. If anything, it becomes even more scornful. At the same time, it loses its hollow aspect and becomes more substantial. More localized. And even though Francho assured himself only moments before that he was alone in the sunroom, now there is a shadowy figure seated on one of the chairs.
The figure is indistinct, yet gives an impression of wiry strength. It is like a smudge given form. A three-dimensional shadow. A dirty cloud in the shape of a man.
At its appearance, Francho recoils. His old heart is pumping blood filled with horror through his veins. Yet Francho’s instinct is not to cower in fear, or to run and hide. His instinct, beyond his first hesitation, is to raise his cane and attack, his expression a grimace that combines hatred with murderous rage.
Without pausing to think, without allowing himself to consider the consequences of attacking a shade without true provocation, he swings as hard as he can. He madly lashes the insubstantial form on the chair left and right.
But the cane makes no contact. It cuts through Marzal’s ghost as if through a fog, leaving no mark and rousing no more than a swirl at its passing. And all the while, the laughter continues.
Spurred on by insanity and fear-driven rage, Francho gives voice to a strangled snarl as he continues to swing. But he is old and lacks strength. In only moments, he is struggling for breath and his arms start to ache, both the one swinging the cane and the other holding the lamp. He has to stop, has to step back else risk injuring himself. Already, his heart is thundering too loudly, like the drums of impending doom.
He does so and stands panting like a dog after a run, glaring with hate at the specter before him.
As Francho tries to recover, the laughter fades. It is replaced by a low drawl of a voice that carries infinite menace.
“Is this how you greet your brother after so many years?” it asks. “With violence and hate?”
The shadowy figure seems to expect no response, yet Francho will not remain silent.
“My brother is dead! For half a century he is dead, rotting and forgotten! You are not him! You cannot be him! There is no such thing as ghosts!”
For just a moment, the laughter returns. Then the shade surges to its feet, and the dark fabric that makes up its head swirls in place. Its – his – face becomes clear. It is thin and hollow and appears to be covered in scars. It is the face of a Demon of pain. Yet its eyes are human and blue, and put Francho in mind of a wheat field on a clear summer’s day.
The shade’s eyes also put Francho in mind more strongly than ever of his brother.
Francho flinches away and tries to hide behind arms raised to ward off a blow. But the remnant of Marzal, the shadowy presence before him, doesn’t attack.
Instead, the demonic laughter fades, and the voice returns to bellow out loud. “I am not dead!” the thing that has Marzal’s eyes shouts in anger to more than match Francho’s own. “I am not a ghost! Think back, brother dearest, and remember what it was that you purchased! Remember the results of our last game of chess!”
Despite his burgeoning terror, Francho does as the phantom in front of him demands. He has no choice. The memories come unbidden as if this fragment of Marzal has conjured them from the depths of his mind.
He lives again a moment in time before his second decade was done when playing against his younger brother. He remembers the pride he had taken in his skill at the game, the condescension he held for his opponent. The countless games in the past he had won.
He remembers the creeping sense of surprise as he realized that Marzal had the upper hand and was going to win. The disbelief. The sense of almost betrayal. And the angry denial that led to Francho moving a critical piece out of turn just one square when Marzal had looked briefly away.
That had been the start of it all. The moment where Francho’s life had turned into Hell. Marzal had caught the deception and confronted Francho. It had led to a fight, with Marzal smashing Francho’s nose with his fist. Three drops of blood had fallen onto the chess set, a match for those Marzal’s shade had now reproduced. And worse, Marzal had told their father what Francho had done.
In the darkest parts of Francho’s heart, he always suspected that Marzal was the favorite. And at that moment, his suspicions proved true. Their father had cut Francho’s allowance and treated him with scorn.
With a bitter resentment that followed him for the rest of his life, Francho had sworn vengeance on Marzal for his treatment. He had stolen a great sum of their father’s silver and sought the services of a Diabolist.
Using Francho’s own blood as the catalyst, they had summoned a demon. And when that demon stared out through a wall of red flames into Francho’s soul and asked what it was he desired, Francho had responded.
“Drag my brother into the deepest pit of Hell itself and leave him there to rot!”