Not every farm grows belladonna thought the weathered, wizened man. Mine does. The deadly nightshade is my best crop. Reaching out with gnarled fingers, he pulled off several leaves and a flower off one plant in the rows and rows growing in the field. He dropped the pieces into a pouch hanging from his belt. The farm stretched for acres around him. A cool breeze nipped the air, and spectacular reds were starting to form on the nearby maple trees. “Time to harvest the corn” he mumbled, walking back towards the ramshackle house. Its white paint was peeling, and grimy green shutters hung loosely on broken hinges, only by some miracle did they still cling to the house. One flapped wildly in the wind, clattering against the cracked siding.
The old man was not looking at that though. He instead stared at the immense limestone tower that connected disjointedly to the rest of the house. It rose high above the tiled roof, and was leaning at an impossibly awkward angle, at the point of collapse but miraculously holding on.
Walking quickly the farmer entered the home, and started up the rough hewn stone steps that rose into the depths of the tower. His legs ached, joints flaring with arthritis, but he pressed on, ignoring his protesting limbs. At the top was a stone room, walls covered with faded and threadbare tapestries, depicting bizarre creatures and covered in blazing runes that bathed the room in a pale red light. The center of the room held a great iron cauldron, sitting in a pentagram that glowed blood red. The giant vessel was spotted with rust, and a greenish liquid roiled inside it, giving off acrid fumes that burned in the man’s nose and throat. The only other thing in the room was a scrawny brown dog with wild unkempt fur. Its eyes were closed, in a deep canine sleep.
The dog raised its head as the old man entered, opening its eyes, which gave off a sickly yellow light. Did you get it? The dogs thoughts echoed through the man’s mind.
“Course I did” growled the farmer, pulling out the deadly nightshade he had collected, throwing it into the cauldron. The liquid swirled and changed to a sky blue.
How long had it been since the demon was summoned into the old bitch? 3 years? His thoughts floated back to the ritual he had performed to summon the fiend. It involved taking a bitch who had just given birth. He had tied the dog in the center of the circle, the poor creature cringing in fear. He then took each of her whimpering puppies and ran a jagged blade across their wriggling necks, letting the blood flow into the symbol. The resulting roar as the infernal creature was sucked into the dog still echoed in his mind. The demon refused to give its name, but it was helpful so the farmer ignored the slight.
Do you remember the words? Thought the dog who wasn’t a dog.
“I ain’t senile yet” the farmer growled in response.
Voice straining the ancient man began chanting “O pater Chronos tempus inuocantem te” a tempest of wind roared from the cauldron whipping the wisps of hair on the farmer’s head crazily “aperire suas aedes ingreditur sanctuarium ut temporis tectis!” his voice was carried away by the wind, which began to spark with green flames.
The dog grinned a human grin, distorting its face in unnatural angles. State the time! It thought, the voice ringing clearly in the farmer’s head despite the roaring winds.
“O decem et novem!” he screamed into the raging cyclone.
The sound of claws tearing through flesh drowned out the howling winds, and a jagged crack ripped across the floor, opening to a sky of a thousand millions stars shining a thousand colors, some shades recognizable, others no mortal being had seen before. The man and the dog tumbled into the abyss, floating down into the sea of stars.
Falling in felt like he was a trickle of water running down into the chasm. The farmer slowly recognized that each star held a place in his chosen time. He firmly grasped the scruff of the dog’s neck and his eyes drop closed, mind wandering over the endless sea of places. Time passed quickly and slowly, warping around and through them while in his mind the man gazed at a thousand places until finally his consciousness came to rest on the where he wanted.
With a thought the man floated towards a glowing red star. As it grew larger, the crimson light changed into a swirling gate. The pair passed through the vortex and into a blackness as silent as the grave. After an infinitely long and fleetingly short time they landed roughly in a cobblestone street. Nearby a stocky brick building with arched windows sat next to an open air marketplace with a fountain in the middle. The smell of sewage filled the air, mingling with the smells of freshly baked bread and pies. Hawkers called out about their wares, and a small boy stood off to the side selling papers and yelling the headlines for all that would listen.
Shouts and noises washed over him, as the foreign words echoed strangely in his ears. Frowning, he pulled out a small pewter model of a face with an open mouth. Biting his finger, he opened a small tear in the flesh. Putting a droplet of blood into the pewter mouth the farmer mumbled “Mercurio, deo verborum me verba intelligunt de Austria” Sound warped strangely and the words changed in his mind, understanding washing over him.
He wandered the market for some time, the dog keeping pace, still holding its cheshire grin. Soon he spotted what he was looking for. A thin, greasy young man in threadbare clothing on an ancient blanket, with canvases placed neatly over it. The paintings depicted scenes of the beautiful city they found themselves in. They approached and looked at the paintings. I still disagree with you but I can’t prove it. Let us ask a stranger for their opinion. The dog’s thought echoed in the man’s mind.
“Fine.” he said and approached a man standing nearby. “Good morning” said the farmer “I have something of a bet going with a friend and I was wondering of you could settle it for us?”
The man was slovenly, wearing a ripped shirt and rough woolen leggings “Yeah fine. Whatcher bet?” his voice croaked, reminding the farmer of a fat bullfrog.
“Well, we are wondering what you thought of that young man’s art?” the farmer said politely.
“Wassat?” the frog man said and looked over at the blanket. “Oh him.” he hocked and spat onto the cobblestones. “His work is shait. He never sells a thing and spends most of his nights at the Good Sisters Home for the Lost. He’s a boil on the ass of the city. Nothing’ll ever come o’ him.” He spat again and wandered away.
“Hah!” the farmer yelled triumphantly “I told you Hitler was a terrible artist!”
Fine. you win. You can keep your soul for now… but next time it will be mine. The demon thought to the man, the unnatural grin falling from its face.