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The Believer's Dictionary

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Was there any better atmosphere for investigating a haunted house than a thunderstorm? Clear skies would likely be better, because the thunder would probably interfere with any EVP they might capture, and it'd definitely give Shane a way to explain any sounds they'd hear, but the entire atmosphere of spookiness was enhanced by the dreary weather. In Ryan's opinion, this was the perfect time for them to be investigating a creepy, abandoned mansion. They'd be staying overnight in the most haunted room of all; the ballroom. Of course, Shane couldn't help but be his usual self, and suggest that each of them take time to lock themselves in the butler's pantry connecting the ballroom to the kitchen. 

Ryan’s eyes widened as the door slammed shut behind him. “Jesus Christ, Shane. Did you have to slam the door like that?!” he asked.

“Two minutes, Ryan; you know the drill,” Shane teased from the other side of the door.

Ryan rolled his eyes and took a breath to calm himself. It didn’t really work, because he was breathing in dust that seemed to take the place of the oxygen in his lungs. Every time they did this, he felt as abandoned as the house they were investigating. He felt like the door behind him would never open, Shane would leave, and he’d be left here to rot. Of course, objectively, he knew he was being silly. He knew that out of the camera crew and all their friends, someone would eventually find him. Still, with all the joking Shane did, he sometimes wondered where his tall friend would draw the line. What joke would finally be enough for Shane to say enough-is-enough?

While Ryan was thinking on this, he felt something brush his elbow. “Shane, I thought you were going to stand outside!” he said.

There was no reply, and Ryan started to feel that creeping feeling of dread again. His mind felt like it was numbing, and his senses started to heighten. Everything seemed to be moving in slow-motion as he turned to look behind him, only to find that there was nothing there. Suddenly, there was a breath on his neck. He whipped around, and still, there wasn’t anything there.

“Shane, how long has it been?” he asked. Still, he got no response.

When a heavy box fell off the shelf at the other end of the room, Ryan finally decided he’d had enough, and booked it out of there. He ran out of the room and slammed the door shut behind him, but when he looked in the hallway, Shane was nowhere to be seen? Had he actually been abandoned to the room by himself? Suddenly, a hand landed on his shoulder, causing him to let out a scream to rival any horror movie maiden. He turned around to see Shane, looking at him with some mixture of concern and amusement.

“You alright there, buddy?” he asked.

“Where the hell did you run off to?” Ryan replied. “I thought you’d left me behind.”

Shane rolled his eyes. “Oh come on, I’d never do that. I’d miss scaring you too much,” he explained. “My camera battery died, and I had to get another one from the bag.”

Ryan was so relieved that he didn’t even get annoyed at the statement. He breathed out a laugh, and leaned against the wall in the hallway while Shane went into the room by himself. He truly believed that Shane wouldn’t abandon him, and the feeling gave him more comfort than he thought it would.

Chapter Text

Ryan shivered in fear as he watched Shane pat down the last of the dirt that filled in the hole he’d dug. In that small hole was a little box, complete with all the things they needed for this ritual; a ritual that Ryan was not happy he’d agreed to do.

According to local superstition, all you had to do was sign your name on a piece of paper, and put it, a bit of your hair, in the box. Then, you would bury it at midnight, and a kindly ghost would appear and grant your wish after you said the incantation. Honestly, Ryan didn’t know if he’d go so far as to believe that this was true, but he did think there was a ghost here, and if this was the way to summon it that’s what he’d do.

Ryan and Shane sat across from each other, and Ryan couldn’t stop glancing at the other man. The full moon was bright, and gave the entire graveyard an eerie glow. The circle of candles surrounding the freshly moved dirt gave even more ambiance to their little section, lighting up headstones and all in their amber light. It was altogether creepy, but when he looked at Shane, it looked almost picturesque.

Although he had his moments, Ryan wasn’t the most romantic guy out there. Sure, he loved to show his affection for people, but he would never think to describe people in romantic, eloquent terms. But lately, every little thing about Shane had become less humorous and more intriguing. His laugh suddenly seemed musical, his eyes would shine, and Ryan couldn’t be more confused.

According to what Ryan knew about himself, he wasn’t gay. He had no problem admitting that people of the same sex were handsome, but he’d never felt this way towards another man before. It was an entirely new sensation for him, and he felt that it was completely unfair for fate to cause him to feel this way towards his best friend and coworker.

While Ryan was busy with his inner-monologue, Shane caught him staring, and Ryan almost panicked - what if Shane somehow knew what he was thinking? Ryan rolled his eyes; even he couldn’t believe something like that. Shane, taking it to mean that Ryan wasn’t buying into the ritual they were performing, grinned his sarcastic grin.

“Well Ryan, the ghost lady doesn’t seem to be granting any wishes tonight,” Shane said. “Looks like I won’t be getting my pony.”

Ryan wheezed out a laugh, and focused on the investigation at hand. He couldn’t let his emotions get the best of him when he was in such close quarters with Shane. His feelings would have to stay buried for another day - another lifetime - until he felt that it was safe to exhume them. 

Chapter Text

Ryan remembered perfectly the day he was asked to join his senior colleague on the dig that would change his life. He was incredibly fortunate to find himself in the right place, at the right time early on in his archaeological career, and shared credit for some rather interesting finds in Greece. Because of this, he got a position at the academy, helping Mister Shane Madej – one of the rising stars of the archaeology world – teach his class.

They were a good team, favorites of the students for their unconventional ways of teaching, and because they had the tendency to go off on skeptic vs. believer rants. It was rare to find someone who disagreed with you on almost everything, and yet you could still be friends and enjoy afternoon tea together. So, when Shane asked Ryan to join him in Egypt for the “discovery of a lifetime”, Ryan didn’t even hesitate before saying yes. Maybe if he were smart, he would have taken a little more time to consider things.

They arrived to Egypt on one of the hottest days Ryan could ever recall experiencing in his life. The moment he stepped outside, both he and Shane were already shedding their jackets and rolling up their sleeves. Shane even removed his bowtie, something that rarely ever happened. Hopefully Ryan wouldn’t be too distracted, because the casual look suited his mentor quite well.

“Thank you both for coming on such short notice,” said the woman who greeted them. Ryan briefly recalled meeting her during a banquet at the academy. Her name was Safiya, if he recalled correctly. “Both of our senior archaeologists had to be flown home, and all we were left with were students. They’ve already broken a jar, which was thankfully empty.”

“Have you found anything else so far, besides pottery?” Shane asked, getting straight to work.

Safiya shook her head. “Nothing too impressive, but I’m sure something will show up soon.”

Shane immediately lost himself in the sketches and notes from the other senior archaeologist, and because Ryan found it best to leave him be when he was immersed, he decided he’d get to know some of the students that would be helping him. There were two young students, likely only in their second or third year, who were painstakingly trying to reassemble the broken pottery that Safiya had mentioned upon arrival.

Ryan took a seat across from them and cleared his throat. “Hello, I’m Ryan Bergara,” he said.

One of them, the young lady, looked up and gave him a smile before returning to work. “I’m Jen, and that’s Steven. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Bergara.”

“What exactly happened here?” Ryan asked, gesturing to the broken clay jar.

Jen sighed and placed her tools on the tray. She stood and gestured for Ryan to follow, and they walked out of the tent into the blazing sun. She took a cigarette out of her trouser pockets and lit it. “We were working on the excavation,” she began. “Steven had found a jar, and was dusting it off, when we heard a yell from the Professor. Steven dropped the jar and immediately scurried out of the hole we’d dug, trying to find out where Professor Ilnyckyj was.”

“Why did he yell?” Ryan asked.

Jen sighed and shook her head. “He had dropped his pocket knife on his foot, and it pierced right through it.” Ryan cringed just thinking about it. “Steven is the professor’s best student, and all-around assistant, so it’s understandable that he’d be more concerned with the professor than a jar.”

“It still doesn’t stop the rest of the class from giving me hell over it,” Steven said, walking out of the tent and snatching the cigarette from Jen. “I didn’t mean to break it,” he added.

Jen gave him a pity-smile, and Ryan patted him on the shoulder. He’d made some mistakes of his own, all students did. He’d learned from them, and so would Steven. “So, is Professor Ilnyckyj one of the two senior members who had to be flown back to England?” he asked.

The students nodded. “The other was Professor Bennett.”

Ryan had been a student of Professor Bennett, and had worked on his first dig with him in Greece. Brent Bennett was a no-nonsense kind of guy, who rarely spoke unless it was to take credit for a discovery. What could have happened to send him home? “What happened to Professor Bennett?”

Jen and Steven glanced at each other. “We aren’t really supposed to talk about it. All we know is that he was just sent home,” Steven replied.

“It’s so strange,” Jen added. “It’s like the closer we get to finding this tomb, the more people get hurt. It’s almost like it’s cursed or something.”

Ryan glanced over to where Shane was standing, instructing his own student-assistants to dig further north, and hoped that it wasn’t true. He knew Shane would continue digging no matter what, unwilling to even believe the curse existed. In fact, he’d probably keep digging just to spite the idea of a stupid curse, so Ryan vowed to not even tell him. He’d worry enough for the both of them.

Chapter Text

It was a calm night for Ryan. He had taken the day off work because of a headache, which was thankfully gone now, and was enjoying some time unwinding in front of the TV. He had his popcorn, he was watching basketball; things were chill. He was glad he decided to play hookey today, because the stress of video planning for the next season was honestly taking its toll.

As the basketball game on TV got less-and-less exciting, he decided to turn it off and get on Twitter. Before he could pick up his laptop, though, there was a knock at his door. It was odd, because he wasn’t expecting anyone. He didn’t have a peephole, so he cautiously opened the door with the chain still latched. He was happy to see that Shane was standing on the other side, smirking at him through the crack in the doorway.

He unlatched the chain and opened the door all the way, letting Shane inside. “Hey man,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting you to come around.”

“Sorry,” Shane said, sounding anything but. “You weren’t at work today, so I thought I’d come check on you. I probably should’ve called first.”

Ryan grinned. “Nah, it’s fine,” he said. “Since you’re here, you wanna watch something?”

“Sure!”

That’s how Ryan found himself sitting next to Shane, cringing every time the killer in the movie popped up on the screen. Shane seemed to be enjoying the movie, as much as one can enjoy watching a murderous psychopath wreak havoc on a group of teenagers. Every scare had Ryan shifting closer-and-closer to Shane, but something was wrong. Usually this is how it went; Ryan got scared and clung to Shane (or whichever friend was around), and Shane would always relax to allow Ryan to get as close as he could.

It was never weird for them; it was just one friend comforting the other. But for some reason, Shane didn’t feel like he usually did. It was stupid to think, but there was something off about the whole energy of the situation. Usually, Shane’s presence was enough to make him feel better, but not tonight. For some reason, Shane’s presence made him more anxious than he usually was.

Ryan looked up at Shane’s face, and as though he could feel Ryan’s eyes on him, he glanced down at the shorter man. He offered a smile, which Ryan returned, and suddenly the atmosphere shifted. It wasn’t just friendly with a touch of anxiety; the anxiety was now completely gone, and butterflies replaced it in the pit of Ryan’s stomach.

His eyes flickered from Shane’s eyes to his lips, and back again. They both leaned forward at the same time, their lips meeting in the middle in what was one of the most passionate kisses Ryan had ever felt. His mind couldn’t keep up, so he tried to go on autopilot, trying to feel all the sensations at once. Never in his life had he felt a kiss like this, one that could curl his toes, and make a fire light in his belly. But, with all of these sensations going on, there was still that feeling of fear that had underlined the entire night. Ryan couldn’t give himself over completely, because the fear just wouldn’t leave.

Shane pulled away all too soon, keeping his forehead against Ryan’s as they both breathed heavily. Slowly, much too slowly, the world around them seeped back in, and Ryan could think. What the hell had just happened? Where had that kiss come from? What was going to happen between the two of them now; a kiss like that doesn’t just leave your mind.

Ryan wasn’t able to voice any of those questions. All he could get out was; “Wow.”

Shane chuckled, but it sounded off. It sent a chill up Ryan’s spine, but it wasn’t a pleasant one. “That was almost as fun as I thought it would be,” he said, but the voice was wrong. It sounded… distorted? “I feel like you were holding back, though.”

Ryan pulled away from Shane completely, and his eyebrows pulled together. That didn’t sound like a Shane-thing to say. Shane would have made some sort of joke, or he might have lightheartedly teased Ryan a bit, but it would have been easy for Ryan to play along. This… this was all wrong.

“Shane, are you okay?” Ryan asked.

Shane blinked a few times, before smiling in a way that Ryan had never seen him smile - a smile that Ryan never, ever wanted to see on his face again. When Shane blinked once more, his eyes turned into black pits. Ryan had never seen anything like it, and it scared him so badly he couldn’t even scream.

“I’m fine, Ryan!” Shane said in a completely-innocent voice. “What would make you think there’s something wrong?”

Chapter Text

For someone as scared of the dark as Ryan was, it certainly became his favorite time. In the dark is the only play he got to see him . It had been years now, and to the rest of the world, Ryan had moved on. He had returned to work months after the incident, and his family was happy to say that he’d been in contact with them again. Sure, he hadn’t had a successful relationship since Shane died, but lots of people went through life without having a significant other.

The bottom line was; Ryan seemed happy, and nobody wanted to do anything to spoil that. If only they looked a little deeper, they’d see that he still wasn’t 100% healed. He had believed in ghosts his whole life, but when it mattered most, he couldn’t find the proof. He couldn’t find anything that satisfied his need to see his dead friend. The only place he seemed to find any proof of Shane still being around was in his dreams.

In his dreams, they were the old team again. They were back together, exploring anywhere and everywhere - from old and abandoned houses to the woods surrounding his family’s old vacation cabin. Ryan began to long for the dreams; he looked forward to every night, because his dreams would take him back to Shane.

He dreaded waking up, because his life was unfulfilled now. His apartment was too quiet, the work desk to his left was still empty, and the feelings he would always get when he was certain ghosts were around weren’t there anymore; at least, not where it mattered.

Now that he was alone, he was just… empty.

Chapter Text

Growing up, Ryan had always believed in ghosts. Of course, the angsty years of being a teenager caused him to grow skeptical, but his experience on the Queen Mary brought all the belief back, and made him wonder if he ever really stopped believing to begin with. Up until he was about twelve, though, he knew that ghosts existed; he was more certain about that than he was about anything else in his life.

Growing up, he would tell everyone about the ghosts that lingered in his bedroom. Some were scary, dangerous-looking. Some of them were nice, and they just wanted to play with the little boy who had just moved into their house. His parents and grandparents would smile, and tell him not to lose his imagination. People were so much more accepting when he was a child; when they didn’t have to give credit to what he said.

Now that he was an adult, when Ryan talked to people about ghosts and the paranormal, they looked at him strangely. They looked at him like he was silly, or ingenuine. Certainly he couldn’t believe in fantasy, right? Clearly he was just joking, because no adult as smart as Ryan could possibly believe in the supernatural, right? It was obvious they didn’t believe him, but they never disputed him. They simply gave the equivalent of a pat on the head, and sent him on his way.

It was incredibly annoying, and made him feel like a fool. If these people believed so strongly against ghosts, why didn’t they argue their side of the story to him?

When he met Shane Madej, he just assumed he’d do the same. He was reluctant to tell Shane anything about his belief in the paranormal, because he actually liked this dude. He was chill, he was fun to hang out with, and he shared in Ryan’s popcorn obsession. Why should that have to be ruined by something as silly as ghosts?

So he kept quiet; he didn’t really bring it up, he just let it fall into the background. Besides, who talks about ghosts all the time anyway? If Shane were to bring it up, Ryan wouldn’t lie. He’d argue his point until he was blue in the face, because he truly believed it, but he wouldn’t bring it up. He didn’t need another friendship tainted by someone treating him like a child.

When he got the idea for Unsolved, Buzzfeed was all for it. All he needed was an opposing side to his belief; he needed a skeptic. He was bummed about this, but eventually realized that it was probably a good idea, so he asked Brent, one of the least annoying skeptics he knew, to be a co-host. Brent was excited for it, and the show went off without a hitch. What Ryan wasn’t expecting was for Shane to see the videos.

He should have been expecting it; most of them watched each others’ projects. Ryan supposed he was just so excited about making his own project for Buzzfeed that he didn’t think through what Shane would think when he watched it.

The answer was… nothing.

There was no mention of anything ghostly from Shane in the days following the second installment of the series, and for a while, Ryan had wondered if Shane had even seen the series yet. That question was answered when Shane had complimented Ryan on the research he was doing for the episodes, which had made Ryan happy to have that acknowledged, but he wondered why there was radio silence about the whole ghost issue.

Ryan didn’t even know whether or not Shane was a skeptic until one fateful day. Brent called to explain that he couldn’t finish out the season of Unsolved, citing family drama and other projects. Ryan fully understood, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t bummed about it. He was even more bummed when he got the email from the company explaining that, if he didn’t get another skeptic co-host, the show would be cancelled.

Ryan sighed and ran his hands over his face when he read that, and it caught Shane’s attention. “What’s wrong, buddy?” he asked.

“Brent can’t do Unsolved anymore - family drama or something - and now they’re going to cancel the show if I can’t find another skeptic to co-host,” Ryan explained.

Shane hummed and read the email over Ryan’s shoulder. “I don’t know if you’d consider it, but I’d love to help you co-host,” he said.

Ryan didn’t know if he looked as shocked as he felt, but he wasn’t about to pass up on the opportunity to continue his show. Shane obviously knew how he felt about ghosts, and hadn’t brought it up yet, so maybe he wouldn’t be so annoying about it… right?

“So you don’t believe in ghosts, then?” Ryan asked.

Shane wheezed. “Of course not,” he said. “But you obviously do, and I hope you don’t expect me to just sit there and let you carry on about sounds and whispers without trying to explain them away.”

Ryan smiled. “I’d expect nothing less,” he replied.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions he’d make, because Shane was one of the few people who didn’t make Ryan feel like a fool for believing in ghosts. His constant debating showed that he thought believing in ghosts was a legitimate belief for adults to have, whether or not he thought ghosts existed himself. It was a feeling Ryan was happy to have in his life.

Chapter Text

It was pitch black outside as Ryan finally emerged from the woods, running as fast as his legs could carry him, running towards the motel he and Shane had been using to hideout in. He finally made it to the door of his room, but his hands fumbled so much that he could hardly get the key in. He spared a glance behind him; nothing. He didn’t see anything in the trees behind him, but he knew they were there.

He knew.

Shane and Ryan had both been on the run for two weeks now. They’d left Buzzfeed to try and avoid detection, and when that didn’t work, they hit the road. They packed their things and never looked back, because they were in this together. But their pursuers had finally caught up with them in a small Minnesota town.

The problem was, up until today, Ryan didn’t know exactly why the Monastic Order of Peace was after them. He didn’t think he’d done anything particularly bad in that respect, but apparently he had something in his possession that they wanted; or more specifically, that they wanted to get rid of. He had found out about thirty minutes ago that possession was the key word.

They had been driving for days on end, with the person who wasn’t driving sleeping as they went, but eventually Shane put his foot down. They needed to stop and get actual sleep in an actual bed and, hopefully, take a very long shower. Ryan couldn’t argue with the idea of a shower, so he agreed, and they’d stopped once they saw an exit to take. They had ended up in a town with less than 100 people, and only one motel.

It had only taken half a day for the Order to catch up with them. How were they moving so quickly? Ryan didn’t know, but now that he’d had a chance to rest, he noticed how unsurprised Shane actually was. He knew Shane was skeptic about most things, but these were actual people seeking them out, there was no way Shane could deny it, right? When he asked Shane about it, he brushed it off with the excuse that he was still a bit in shock about everything, but not to worry, because it’d catch up with him soon.

They didn’t really have time to see if that were true or not, because there was suddenly loud banging on the doors and windows, and Shane pulled Ryan into the small bathroom to hide. He didn’t say anything; he simply gestured towards the window over the sink, and before Ryan knew it they were both outside and running through the woods behind the motel.

They finally couldn’t run anymore, because they found themselves surrounded. Ryan was sure that he was dead; he was sure that it was all over, but as it turned out, they didn’t want him. They had never been after him specifically. They were after what he had, and what he had was Shane; or who he thought was Shane.

When the men surrounding them began to chant in some strange language, Shane had turned to him with a look of sadness on his face. It almost looked like he would cry at any moment, but all Ryan could focus on was the fact that Shane’s eyes had turned black. There was no light to them, they were deep holes of darkness.

Now that Ryan was back in the motel room, seemingly safe for now, he let his mind catch up with events. He wasn’t thinking about the men in the woods. He wasn’t thinking about the fact that he was in the middle of fucking nowhere with no idea who or what the Monastic Order of Peace actually was. He wasn’t even thinking about the fact that his friend, whom he’d been working with for ages, was apparently a demon and had lied to him about the supernatural this entire time. All he was thinking about was that Shane was gone, he’d been banished and his body had been taken God only knows where.

Suddenly, he remembered something; he had brought all of his supernatural case stuff with him. He rushed to the bag he’d hidden under his bed, and rejoiced when he discovered it was still there. Either they didn’t look, or they just didn’t care about it. Either way, he had what he needed. He unzipped the bag and took out the board that they’d used when they were in Texas.

“Okay, Shane,” he said to the empty room. “I know your body isn’t here, but maybe your spirit never left?”

He placed his hands on the planchette, and it automatically started moving. R-Y-A-N

Ryan’s heart started racing. If these things actually were real, and he didn’t have the skepticism of Shane to make him brave, then how could he go through with this? “How do I know you’re actually Shane?” he asked.

Ryan could almost sense Shane rolling his eyes at that statement. D-O-N-T-B-E-S-T-U-P-I-D

He rolled his eyes and huffed. “Okay, you’re definitely Shane. Now that that’s settled, let’s get this out of the way. You lied to me,” he stated. The planchette hovered over ‘YES’. “Why?”

S-C-A-R-E-D

Ryan felt a bit bad for that, but he was still upset that he’d been lied to. “Were you scared of my reaction, or were you afraid I’d be scared?”

B-O-T-H

Ryan sighed and fought the urge to rub his hands down his face. He had to keep his hands on the planchette. “Do you know where they took your body?” he asked.

V-A-T-I-C-A-N

Ryan rolled his eyes. He wanted to throw the stupid board across the room. All of the fear that usually filled his system had shifted into anger - blinding white fury - because of the loss of his friend. “Of-fucking-course they did. They couldn’t keep it stateside and make this easier, could they?” he asked, somewhat rhetorically.

W-H-A-T

“I’m getting you back,” Ryan declared, making up his mind on the spot.

The room shook for a brief period, and Ryan jumped a bit where he sat on the floor.  T-O-O-D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S

“You listen here, you son of a bitch, I’m getting you back here where you belong. They don’t get to decide who stays in this realm and who doesn’t,” Ryan said, which caused the room to shake even more. The screen of the television cracked a little, but Ryan wasn’t swayed. “Besides, I want to speak with you face-to-face and properly tear you a new one for lying to me about ghosts.”

There was one more small tremor before the planchette started moving again. B-E-C-A-R-E-F-U-L

Ryan smiled for what felt like the first time in forever. “I’ll be careful,” he said. “Stay close, if you can. I’ll keep the board to talk to you later if I need to.” The room tremored again, and Ryan wondered if he were the only one who noticed or not, or if he’d have more of the Order on his hands in a minute.

Right now he didn’t really care. He’d fight through anything at the moment, because his adrenaline was high, and he was almost to the point of begging for a fight. He wanted to knock a few of them on their asses for what they did to his friend. After saying farewell to his friend - for a short time of course, because he would be getting him back - he was ready to leave the small town and get back to LA. He had a lot to pack if he were leaving the country.

He hovered the planchette over each letter, one at a time, before putting the board away.

G-O-O-D-B-Y-E

Chapter Text

Ryan had smiled and sighed contentedly as his parents left the small apartment he’d likely be spending the next few years in. He was on his own for the first time, and he was excited. It wasn’t the worst apartment; it was actually quite a steal. He’d gotten it so cheap, while most apartment owners were looking to take advantage of the naive recent-graduates of the local university. Ryan, never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, snatched up the deal and the, thankfully, clean living arrangement that went along with it.

It didn’t take long for Ryan to figure out why he got the apartment so cheap, and honestly, how did he miss the signs before moving in. There was sage burning in the landlord’s office, but Ryan just brushed it off as being incense. There was an almost endless list of tenants that didn’t last more than three months in their apartments, and after three months of being there himself, he found his neighbors on an almost endless rotation. He could only assume they had faced the same issues with their own apartments that he was facing with his.

It wasn’t that the structure was falling down, nor was there vermin in the walls to wake him up at night. No, the infestation in this building was more of the… supernatural kind. It started out small, with things like his keys being moved from the hook by the door to the coffee table. It was so subtle that he didn’t really blame ghosts at first, which had always been his first inclination in the past. He didn’t really start freaking out until his electronics started acting up. First it was his microwave; brand new, yet never actually heating up enough to pop the popcorn. Then it was his cellphone; every time he had a fully-charged battery, it would drain within minutes if he tried to use the camera. Finally, it was his television; every time he would try to sit down and enjoy a television show or movie, the channel would mysteriously change five minutes before the episode ended. He was getting immeasurably frustrated, but when he brought it up with the landlord, he just grinned and said ‘sometimes electronics are funny like that…’

Eventually, he stopped being afraid, and just lived with it. If the ghost wasn’t hurting him, he didn’t mind sharing his apartment. Besides, he worked most of the day anyway, so he was only ever really home to sleep. That was why he had never noticed how draining his apartment could be. Whenever something odd would happen, like moving toothbrushes or flickering lights, it would always come with a drain in energy on Ryan’s part. That was the part of the situation that he didn’t understand, so he simply related it to being so tired from work. It wasn’t until he was home for his two week vacation that he really understood why it happened.

He was preparing popcorn again, getting ready to watch an episode of his favorite show, and he found himself surprised because it was actually popping the first time around. It had been a while since that happened, but Ryan wasn’t going to take it for granted. He finally got to watch an episode all the way through, but his energy levels were still dropping, and he decided that it was time for bed instead of watching a second episode. He dumped the remaining popcorn, and made his way to his bedroom. But, when he got to his hallway, he saw a shadow dart from one side to the other.

It was headed directly into his bedroom.

For some reason, his tiredness outweighed his fear, and he trudged to bed anyway. He opened his door to see an almost-solid figure standing in his room.

“Oh, hello!” it said, and Ryan promptly passed out.

Chapter Text

The winter of 1691 was shaping up to be a harsh one, and Ryan wasn’t sure if his already-feeble harvest could survive being stored for so long in such conditions. The year before his gardens had flourished, enough to feed him, his aged parents, and his brother for the entire winter season. However, it seems that the death of his parents and his brother’s return to England took the Lord’s good fortune with them, because this harvest wasn’t fruitful at all.

These were the thoughts Ryan kept on his mind as the air grew colder, and the snow fell in insurmountable amounts. As the blizzard raged on outside his door, and his small fireplace did its best to quell the cold, he wondered what he could have possibly done to invoke such misfortune as punishment. As he thought on this, shivering as he did, there was a knock on his door.

He was instantly wary. The storm outside was howling; who could possibly be braving it to knock on his door? He got up silently, and walked to the door, removing the small piece of cork from the cutout he’d made. All he could see was a chest, because the person was so tall that their head passed the hole in the door. Warring between his own safety, and the guilt from leaving someone out to freeze to death, he eventually opened the door. The man stood outside didn’t look particularly dangerous or frightening, but Ryan knew well the teachings of his elders; evil can take pleasing forms.

“Hello,” Ryan said in greeting. “Please, come inside. The weather is frightening!”

The man smiled and quickly entered Ryan’s small home, and helped Ryan close the door against the howling wind. “Thank you,” he said. “You’re very kind.”

Ryan nodded, still suspicious of this man. “What are you doing out in a blizzard?” he asked. “More importantly, how are you not frozen?”

The man just smirked, and Ryan noticed the room getting gradually warmer as the man removed his jacket. “I’ve been travelling for a long while. It’s a long winter; people are desperate,” he explained.

Ryan didn’t even notice the words he said, he was too busy focusing on the two tiny horns sticking up from the man’s head. “You’re not human,” Ryan said, fear seeping into his voice.

“Don’t hold that against me,” the man teased. “Just give me a moment of your time to make you an offer.”

“I don’t entertain offers from demons ,” Ryan replied, spitting out demon as though the very word would somehow blacken his soul. “You need to leave.”

The demon tsk’d. “Now, now… Let’s not be inhospitable. I’m not a demon per se, but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer you great things.”

“I don’t need your offers!” Ryan shouted.

The demon, or whatever he was, wouldn’t keep the stupid smirk off of his stupid face. “Okay, but remember me when your luck turns sour, Ryan,” the creature stated, fiddling distractedly with the rope ryan had used to tie his broken chair together. “I usually don’t make return trips, but I’ll be back in a few months to see if you want to… reconsider.”

Ryan watched, unable to do anything but shake in fear, as the creature donned his hat and jacket before walking out the door, slamming it closed behind him. It took Ryan only moments to realize that he'd never actually told the demon his name. 

Chapter Text

Winter could be Hell, especially when you were sitting in a jail cell. Ryan desperately pulled his clothes more tightly around his body, but they were so threadbare that it did no good. He listened as the wind howled outside his cell, and shivered where he sat. He had since given up pacing to keep warm; it only tired him out.

He had been in here for two weeks, other prisoners coming and going with little goodbyes. Ryan had prayed for each and every one of them, whether they had confessed and were released, or they were the unlucky ones who refused to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. He usually saw those one last time as they were led up to gallows hill, which he had a perfect view of through the iron bars on his cell window.

That was to be his fate; the jury - such as it was - had decided. He was going to hang like the rest of those who refused to lie and save their own skins, and he was terrified. Ryan had tried to avoid this fate his whole life. He knew the dangers he posed to his life and his soul by dealing with the Devil and practicing magic and heresy, and he had avoided it. He had reprimanded his brother Jake when he’d caught the younger boy drawing strange, possibly magical symbols in the dirt behind their barn.  

When the younger girls in his town had been caught playing with a Venus Glass, he’d told their parents swiftly, so that they may avoid a terrible fate. He’d done exactly what he should have, or so he thought. Now, though, he had been accused by those same girls as someone who practiced magic. Were they only trying to get their revenge, or had the Devil been using his image to torture those poor girls?

Ryan’s mind was moving in circles, unable to stay on one train of thought, as each shiver wracked his body. Suddenly, there was a voice in his mind; a memory of a conversation from months earlier.

Remember me when your luck turns sour…

He hadn’t been able to forget since the creature left; from its horns to it well-laced shoes, he remembered everything, and it made him frightened to sleep every night since then. But that fear was nothing compared to the fear of dying; he’d take a face-to-face meeting with that imp any day of the week to avoid this fear.

He was so distracted looking out the window at the swinging ropes on gallow’s hill, that he didn’t register the sound of his cell door opening. He didn’t notice that someone else was in the room with him until they knelt down to look at him. The room began to warm, and a jacket was draped over his shoulders.

“So,” the imp said, “have you decided to give me a chance to make an offer?”

Ryan almost said no. The word was on the tip of his tongue; no , he would say, and the imp would leave so Ryan could die in peace. Maybe, if he were lucky, the cold would take him before the rope did. But the jacket he wore was so warm, and the presence of the evil creature so welcoming, all that came out was yes.

The imp’s smile was wicked as he took Ryan’s hand to lead him out of the cell, and all Ryan could think of was how warm he felt now, even in the dead of winter.