39 - Thresholds

When a preteen girl manages to summon an outer god, she uses its advice to make life more bearable - and to flee the consequences of summoning an outer god.

NIA (10) lives with her AUNT PATTY (37) and UNCLE DEREK (40) on their farm in the Midwest. She gets along okay with her cousin HELEN (12), but neither of them like Helen's older brother, DJ (15). Nia has kind of a dark sense of humor and a dim demeanor, which bothers Patty, but Derek gets it, laughs along with her.

Derek picks up a new horror novel for Nia, which Patty disapproves of but Derek wants to encourage - Nia has quite a collection of horror books, and reads at a really high level for her age. Derek hopes she'll enjoy reading enough to do something smart, but Patty wishes she'd read more wholesome and uplifting books. She gets Nia some of her old favorite books, like Nancy Drew and Boxcar Children, but Nia's not interested.

Nia talks with Helen at night about one of the books she's been reading, where a man brings his wife back from the dead. Helen thinks that's too scary and obviously a bad idea, but Nia thinks surely it's better to have someone than have no one, which quiets Helen down. Nia goes on to speculate about if anything in her books is really real - if you could actually curse someone, if you could actually bring back the dead, etc.. Points out that a lot of the books follow similar motifs - she wonders if there isn't some truth in some of them.

Helen is a bit spooked by the conversation, and tells her mom about it. Patty freaks out and responds by confiscating all of Nia's horror books - she tells Nia she will happily buy her anything she wants as long as it isn't about vampires, mummies, or ghosts. Nia yells back, big argument, and Nia runs off alone into the woods.

She draws several occult symbols on the ground, pricks her finger on a thorn, dabs blood on them, basically just tries a bunch of rituals from her books. Over and over again, until one of them takes: a circle she drew summons THE GATEKEEPER, which takes the shape of an empty black sphere hovering above her summoning circle.

Nia's startled, but not in a bad way - she was hoping for this. She asks the Gatekeeper if it can grant her wishes, and it tells her no. She asks if it can curse people, and it tells her no. She asks what it can do, and it tells her it can answer questions about gateways. She asks how to fix a pen the pigs keep escaping from, and it tells her exactly how they're getting out and how to fix it.

She thinks this is a little strange and unexpectedly boring, but she asks if she can summon it again, and it says yes - the same symbol she drew will always open a gateway between herself and it. She thanks it, and it leaves.

Nia starts summoning the Gatekeeper regularly, just to chat. It doesn't have any motivations or desires itself, but it listens to her talk things out, and it answers any questions she has about gateways - which there are more than you'd guess. After it tells Nia how to pick the lock to get her books back, it's also able to tell her how to get Helen to open up to her, how to get Patty to allow her to read horror again, all sorts of metaphorical gates.

In the meantime, DJ stumbles across Nia (thankfully just before she summons the Gatekeeper) at her occult site - turns out he comes out here to smoke weed sometimes. He's surprisingly cool with all her "weird voodoo stuff" as long as she promises not to tell about him smoking. She smokes a bit with him, pretends to like it.

Another day, Nia asks if the Gatekeeper knows anything about the passage between life and death, and it says yes. She's shook. She asks if it's possible to retrieve someone after death, and it says yes. She asks if she can bring back her dead parents specifically, and it says yes. She asks it how, and it tells her she isn't ready to receive the methods yet - it would go over her head, and she would fail to open the Gate. She asks how she can prepare herself to open the gate, and it says she can start by offering an animal sacrifice.

She steals a piglet from a litter of new pigs, and sacrifices it according to the Gatekeeper's instructions. She throws up, cries, can't quite handle it, but muscles through. Afterwards she regrets it, and asks if she'll have to kill anything else in order to bring her parents back. The Gatekeeper says yes - a human. Nia isn't willing to go that far, and scolds the Gatekeeper for "tricking her."

Her uncle notices the missing piglet - turns out a few animals have been going missing, and he suspects there's coyotes breaking in. He resolves to go hunting, offers to take the kids with him. Nia and DJ volunteer, but Helen doesn't want to use a gun. The hunting trip takes them near Nia's summoning circles, and though she and DJ both try to lead them away, they stumble across the remains of her piglet sacrifice.

This freaks Derek out - he calls the police, and the local bishop besides. They find all the signs of Nia's occult activity, as well as DJ's stash of marijuana. They don't know what to make of it, but it's "clearly satanic," and the culprit is decided to be responsible for all of the missing animals.

That night, DJ takes Nia behind one of the barns to interrogate her - he knows she's the one who sacrificed the piglet, after all. She tells him she didn't take the other animals - claims she found the piglet already killed by a coyote and used it then. He believes her, and makes her swear that while obviously they'll both try to cover things up, if either one of them gets figured out, they'll take the fall for the other - if they figure out Nia's the one who sacrificed the piglet, she'll claim the drugs, and if they figure out the drugs are DJ's, he'll claim the sacrifice.

Things get tense around the household - Nia had been getting on well with the family, but Patty definitely suspects her, and even Helen kind of suspects her. Nia summons the Gatekeeper by drawing on the bathroom mirror with dry erase markers and asks it what to do, but she's not specific enough - it can only answer questions about gateways. Before she can rephrase, someone almost walks into the bathroom, and she has to rush to clean the mirror.

The police find DJ's dealer and the dealer fingers DJ, who immediately squeals on Nia - "I bought it for her. She told me she'd claim I raped her if I didn't." His story lands - after all, she is the one reading all these bad stories - and she's locked in her room until they can figure out what to do with her.

It's decided that Nia will be sent to a "youth treatment center" - a facility for troubled kids somewhere in Utah, like a prison/insane asylum/reeducation camp. Nia tries to protest, but her aunt and uncle insist that it's for the best - they pretend she'll have a great time, but nobody is convinced, not even them.

They force her to participate in the burning of all of her books. She cries.

That night, she scratches the symbols to summon the Gatekeeper into the floorboards. It arrives, and she asks it how she can get revenge. It tells her it doesn't know - it only knows about gateways. She asks it about the youth treatment center, and it tells her it can show her the view from any of its doorways. She accepts, and sees how terrible the center is. She asks how she can escape her room, and it tells her.

Helen sees her escaping, and Nia tries to threaten her into being quiet. She somewhat-unintentionally pushes Helen down the stairs, and runs away without checking to see if she's okay.

Years later, Nia lives on the streets of a big city. She has a tattoo on her arm of the symbols used to summon the Gatekeeper, and pricks it at its points to supply the blood needed to summon it. She asks it to tell her when the coast is clear; when it does, she handily picks the lock of a bookstore, sneaks in, disables the alarm, and then browses the shelves. She grabs a couple books, some chips from the snack bar, and slips out the back.

She takes the books into the (fairly nice) house she's squatting in, and summons the Gatekeeper in a large summoning circle she's carved directly into the floor. Then she curls up with the book and reads to the Gatekeeper - her only real friend.