They’re not real. They’re not really here. They can’t hurt you. They’re not real. They’re not real.
The silent mantra played over and over in his head, reassuring him of what he already knew yet still did not believe. Sabine hugged his knees tightly, rocking back and forth on his bare mattress. The white sheet lay crumpled on the white floor of the small white room. The excess of white made him feel lost in a vast expanse of nothing.
Just beyond the boundaries of his consciousness, dark, blurry beings roamed. Impossible beings, of scales and horns and leathery skin stretched over similarly impossible formations of twisted bone. Creatures so terrible that even concentrating his gaze upon them for a moment would give him a fit of seizures and waking nightmares for the rest of the day. They swarmed the edges of his mind and, if he opened his eyes, his vision. They whispered to him. Terrible words. Terrible voices. They told him things. Terrible things, in terrible voices. Their voices grated on his soul and his sanity, giving him shivers whenever he could make out what they were saying.
The doctors told him they were products of his schizophrenia – hallucinations, nothing but his mind playing tricks on him.
He knew them for what they truly were. Demons. Servants of the Devil, sent to corrupt him and break him and drag him down to Hell. So he denied them power by denying their existence, as his father had taught him when he was still a child.
They can’t hurt you. They’re not real. They’re not really here. They’re not real.
One of the shapeless monsters clawed at his defenses, destroying the calm assurance of his mantra.
“AHHH!” the scream ripped itself from his throat before he could clamp his teeth down on it.
They’re not real. They’re not real. They can’t hurt you. They’re not-
His eyes snapped opened in primal terror as another raging demon rose up in front of him, its presence tearing the breath from his lungs. He coughed, gasping; the demon breathed in the stolen air, swelling and growing, gaining color and definition.
It’s not real, it can’t hurt you, it’s not real, it can’t hurt you, it’s not real, it can’t hurt you, he pleaded to himself, shaking his head vigorously. Trembling, he crawled down off his bed and curled into a ball in the corner of the room.
With a roar like the sky itself opening up and reality coming apart, the demon shook itself free of the remaining wisps of shadowy blurs that still clung to its horrid body. It’s hulking form filled the room, all gnarled skin and bony protrusions. It roared again, and Sabine felt his mind snap as the demons inside his head roared back all together.
His tortured cry mixed with the sound of an explosion as the beast charged through the wall, knocking aside chunks of concrete like styrofoam. Bits of them flew back and peppered him with cuts and bruises; dust filled the room, entering Sabine’s open mouth. He coughed heavily as the air cleared. Silence reclaimed the room for a few scant seconds – then a blaring alarm went off out in the hallway, and a blinding red light on the room’s ceiling began flashing in warning.
Pressed into the far corner of the room, Sabine shuddered a few times with fearful sobs, staring at the wrecked wall and the dark green forest beyond. Tears carved laborious paths through the dust on his cheeks. “It’s not real,” he whispered to himself, voice barely audible. “It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.”
As he continued his whispered chant, the demons in his head – which had grown silent since their joint roar – began to melt. It seared his mind, and as they melted some of the molten puddle of horror flowed out, condensing into shadow in the air before him.
“It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real!” he screeched in desperation. The shadow shifted and began to take shape, enlarging as more of the horror exited his mind. The flow cut off suddenly, and the demons in his head began to reform.
Sabine cried out involuntarily as the creature in the room solidified and drew itself up to full height. It stood at least seven feet tall, humanoid but as far from a human as Hell was from Heaven. Thick, red horns curled back from the front of its bony skull, brushing against the ceiling and gouging lines into the painted cement. Dust rained down as the monster turned its head to Sabine.
Smoke curled from flaring nostrils. Its lips drew back in a crude imitation of a grin, showing rows of dangerously pointed teeth and no gums to speak of. It’s skin was stained red as if its entire body had been tattooed with blood; thick claws capped its thin, many-jointed fingers and long, wide feet. A forked tongue flicked out over the creature’s dagger-like teeth.
“S-S-” stuttered Sabine, shivering spasmodically.
“Antoine Sabine, so nice to meet you,” it hissed politely, flexing its claws.
“Satan,” Sabine finally gasped. His teeth knocked against each other as a violent shiver ran the length of his body, and more tears crawled out from the corners of his eyes. He’s not real. He can’t hurt you. “You’re not real,” Sabine whispered weakly, lips trembling. “You c-can’t hurt me. You’re not real.”
Satan cackled, long and loud, the sound echoing hollowly and igniting an even deeper fear in Sabine’s mind. “Come, Sabine,” hissed Satan, beckoning gracefully with a long-fingered hand.
“It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real…” Sabine’s mouth kept moving, making sounds his mind knew it should understand, but didn’t. Couldn’t. Not now.
“Oh, do stop that incessant muttering,” said Satan harshly, scowling.
“It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real…”
Satan sighed and took two long, fluid steps forward, until he stood directly in front of a shaking Sabine. “The hard way, then,” he huffed, bending down.
“It’s not real it’s not real it’s not real it’s not real!”
He reached out with a clawed hand and wrapped bony fingers around one of Sabine’s ankles.
“The touch of the Devil cannot touch me, the touch of the Devil cannot harm me, the touch of the Devil cannot breach my soul!”
Satan straightened up and turned towards the large hole in the cement wall, rolling his eyes. “You humans and your words; honestly, the things you come up with. What would I want with your soul?” He began to drag Sabine across the floor, then over broken pieces of wall, then out and onto the grass. They approached a chain-link fence, which had a large hole torn through it and was leaning forward almost horizontally. “This might hurt a bit, but just ignore the pain. It’ll go away eventually.”
Sabine was crying uncontrollably, hands clawing at the ground, tearing up grass and chunks of soil. Blood soaked parts of his white garb from cuts on his arms and back. “My soul is the shield, my soul is the sword!” he yelled, face bleached white from terror.
“Yes, yes, a lovely sentiment,” Satan drawled, dragging Sabine into the shadows of the trees. “Now shut up and get a hold of yourself.” He smiled darkly as they crossed into the forest, disappearing from the sight of the institution’s security cameras. “We’ve got work to do.”