The Grimmer by Naben Ruthnum
Vish Maurya wants to go to the bookstore and he’s shouting through the air vent to his mom, Anji, begging for a ride. She refuses, says he can get a ride with his dad, Munish, and to hurry his butt up. Vish really missed talking to his mom through the air vent over the two years he was at boarding school in Vancouver, but he's back now, back for good. Vish spent his time at boarding school alone, relying on music and books for company and now that he’s home, he doesn’t really want to see anyone he knows until he has to, and that includes Matt and Danny, twin brothers that look nothing alike, who are his best friends. Sucks to be Vish though as Matt is looking at him through the window like a creepy creep.
Matt wants to talk to Vish and has wanted to for the last two years. He wants Vish to say he’s pissed at him and his brother for telling their music teacher that his dad was a drug addict and that his parents were sending Vish away until his dad got clean. Matt and Danny have apologized countless times in their letters, they know it’s on them and they are sorry. They’d stayed after school to jam and when Matt and Danny had asked Vish if they were going to start a band or not, Vish broke down and told them everything. By Monday, the whole school knew. Now, they just wish Vish would come over and jam, or watch movies or something. Vish shows Matt his untouched red Stratocaster guitar and walks away.
Munish says he’ll take Vish to his office and that he can walk to the bookstore from there. His dad doesn’t want to listen to any of Vish’s music so the car trip is completely and awkwardly silent. At the office, they part ways, Munish telling Vish he would like to see him start to hang out with Matt and Danny again. Vish snaps, reminding his father he spent the last two years alone because of him.
Vish walks over to the bookstore, Greycat Books. As Vish looks at the books, he daydreams about going from reading them to creating them to inhabiting them. As Vish is wrapped up in the occult section, he is interrupted by the clerk warning him the Necronomicon isn’t what he thinks it is. They talk a bit before the clerk, Agastya, asks Vish to look after the store while he goes upstairs to do sad things in his bathroom and take a couple of Tylenol. As Agastya walks past him, Vish picks up the faint smell of booze. Not long after a customer walks in, a classy goth-looking teen girl. Trying to not be the creepy clerk who follows the customer around, Vish occupies himself by looking at the books, but then he’s interrupted by a creepy pale dude with the thinnest mustache and eyebrows Vish has ever seen. Something is definitely off about him. The Goth Girl confronts the creepy guy when he asks Vish if he's related to the bookstore owner because they have the same skin color. Turns out Goth Girl knows Creepy Dude’s name, Mr. Farris, and she berates him.
During the confrontation, Mr. Farris grabs Goth Girl and presses his thumb into her palm and then Goth Girl spits at him, which is gross, but then Vish sees that the spit created a hole in the creepy guy’s cheek. What the hell?! Indignant, Mr. Farris says he will leave these “rude people” and gives Vish a message for Agastya: “Mr. Farris has come round. Tell him we all know we're in the last fortnight." He also says some weird things about getting new flesh and Vish being protected. During all this Vish finds it difficult to look away from the weird finger moving under Mr. Farris’s shirt. Creepy. Mr. Farris tries to approach Vish but Goth Girl, who we now find out is called Gisela, shouts at Vish to never touch Farris.
Agastya has been earwigging the whole time and announces his arrival by falling spectacularly down the stairs while checking that Farris is gone. Gisela and Agastya have a quiet conversation and Vish only catches one word: grimmer, then he demands to know what’s going on or he’ll tell everyone, but Gisela calls him out. Meanwhile, something catches Vish’s attention at the top of the stairs. The little he could see before Gisela closed the door wasn’t human but also not an animal he recognized. Vish buys his books with a 30% discount for looking after the store, and then Agastya tells Gisela that Vish has seen a lot and that they should tell him more about what's going on. Agastya invites Vish to chat so they lock up the store and head out for ice cream.
Agastya explains that Mr. Farris is a shell that holds nachzehrer and his current flesh sack is deteriorating. And what are the nachzehrer? Terrible souls of terrible people that Farris ate, tricking them into believing they will live forever. Agastya and Gisela have been waiting for Vish to come to the bookshop because Agastya’s late wife Isla knew Vish was going to be part of this. This time and this place, especially the lake that they are sitting next to, are packed with magical potential right now, and Farris knows it. He has been waiting for over a thousand years collecting over 12000 dying people while following Isla’s trail because she knew important information that Farris needs to basically take over the world, and since her death, he’s followed Agastya’s. Isla hid whatever she knew and protected both Agastya and Gisela with magic. Isla’s spells were complex and Gisela can only do so much to protect them now. Because of their shared skin color, Farris is convinced Agastya and Vish are protected from him because of Isla’s magic.
Gisela explains that magic is all about finding gaps in the world, looking for them and making them. Farris filled his gaps with 12000 dead people. Gisela then shows Vish an example of magic by making a cup of water vibrate apart into atoms. She tells him they need to stop Mr. Farris from bringing all the dead people back because if he does, each of those souls will take over bodies from the populace of the city. It’s not a possession, they actually take over. Vish says he’ll help but only if they answer his questions. Firstly, what was that thing in the apartment? (Nothing.) Secondly, what is a Grimmer? (You are.) Gisela then offers Vish a job because they want to keep him around as a distraction to stop Farris from taking over the world. He’ll think about it, for now he needs to meet his dad.
Vish’s parents say no to the job. He has to do some serious negotiating for them to finally relent, including agreeing to go to therapy to process and heal from his father's former drug addiction. Later that night, Vish waits to hear his parents go to bed to watch TV and eat the chocolates he had hidden during his last visit home. Something outside catches his eye, a giant shadow darker than the night followed by a very white face that turns toward the house. Vish goes out to investigate and hears slurping noise. A creature unfolds its inhumanly long limbs and Farris takes shape before blowing away into the night.
On Saturday morning, Anji meets with Agastya to vet Greycat before allowing Vish to take the offered job. It’s soooo embarrassing but necessary to get his parents' agreement. Finally his mom leaves with the promise to pick him up at two for his first therapy appointment. Vish tells Agastya about what he saw last night and Agastya reassures Vish he was protected, in the change he was given from his book purchase Agastya gave him a protective amulet with an asteroid shard inside. Later, Agastya heads upstairs and leaves Vish to watch the old portable TV behind the counter sitting on an old crate and holding Moby, the bookstore cat. It’s Isla, or at least an illusion of Isla, explaining things Agastya hasn’t yet covered. The bookstore fades away and Vish is standing with Isla in a fake looking graveyard. Isla shows Vish an illusion of his amulet being created before blowing away. Isla explains she was a real person, a witch who could move through space and time because she understood how. She explains that a witch made the mistake of teaching Mr. Farris how to as well and he used it to eat people. A crypt door opens and Farris enters the illusion, but luckily Moby leaps at Farris and burrows his claws into him. Agastya comes back and turns the TV off, bringing Vish out of the illusion.
Fifteen minutes before the end of his shift, Gisela comes into the store. Vish accuses Gisela and Agastya of not telling him everything, especially after what Isla said in the illusion. After some tasteless remarks, Vish walks out of the store and Gisela follows him. She invites him to a music festival that night and tells him she can only depend on him since Agastya is drunk most of the time and that she’ll tell him more tonight. Vish, needing some honesty, asks how old Gisela is, and she reveals that she has two ages: sixteen and seven-hundred-and-eighty-three. After Gisela leaves, Vish waits outside for his mom who takes him to his therapy session with Rita Goodis.
Anji leaves Vish outside Rita’s home where she has her therapy sessions. Vish heads to the garage entrance as instructed, but it’s dark inside. As he reaches for the doorknob, he touches flesh instead. It’s Mr. Farris who creepily says TRICKED YOU. Mr. Farris then starts pulling out his yellow upper teeth, and once all six are out, he grabs Vish and pushes the teeth onto Vish’s tongue and forces his mouth closed. This disgusting scene is interrupted by Rita Goodis’s tabby cat Buddy biting Farris’s ankle, driving him away. In reflex, Vish swallows the teeth and can feel them in his stomach.
Vish tries to quietly throw the teeth up in Rita’s bathroom but it’s no good, instead he takes the amulet from his wallet and wedges it behind a back molar. Rita wants an informal first session so she introduces herself, her history with his family and talks about what their sessions could do. Vish opens up and starts to get things off his chest.
After dinner, Vish heads to meet Gisela at the cultural center for the concert. He needs to tell her about the teeth which he can still feel inside his stomach. As Vish and Gisela go to talk, he sees Matt and Danny go inside the cultural center. Gisela doesn’t believe him at first but when Vish fades out and seems to channel Farris, Gisela slaps him hard and drags him to the magically important lake. At the lake, Gisela orders Vish into the water, tells him to submerge himself and drink the water until the teeth come out. As Vish feels the teeth coming up, he starts to feel and see the magic in the water and throws up five of the teeth.
Gisela is very worried because there is still one tooth left, so she’ll need to work something out, but in the meantime, Vish needs to be careful. Gisela explains the concentrated magic in the water pulled the teeth and the magic of them out of Vish, all except that last one. If she or Farris were to go in, they would be pulled apart. Farris needs the magic in the lake to give bodies to all the people he’s eaten, but to do that, he needs to know all 12000+ names, but he’s lost them. Isla got the list of all the people Farris has absorbed and hid them, and now, they need to find the list before Farris does. After this revelation, Vish and Gisela head to Greycat Books because he doesn’t want to be around people right now. They chit-chat, mainly about Gisela’s past and how she found her ability with magic and about her time with Isla, all the while eating mint chocolates Isla had hidden in the bookstore floorboards. Vish lets Gisela talk until she declares they should see a bad rock show.
Gisela heads to the bathroom while Vish pays, however Matt and Danny have Vish’s wallet which he’d forgotten at home and his mom left with them. They have questions about who Gisela is and Matt says he's sick of saying sorry while Danny will keep apologizing as long as he needs to to repair their friendship. Suddenly their fight is over and they’re friends again and decide they’re going to start a band. Gisela comes back and offers to sing for them in their band, which she has done so to secretly recruit more loyal hands to their Farris-fighting cause. The more they know, the safer they’ll be and the more they'll be able to help, and so they'll tell them all they need to know eventually, but not right now. Vish can tell Gisela is keeping things from him, and she is because she can’t trust him with Farris’s tooth still in him, which means they can't tell Matt and Danny what's going on either. Vish, full of anxiety, heads to the bathroom and vomits the last tooth up.
Vish gets a ride home with Matt and Danny and finds his mom in the kitchen, hyped up on coffee, looking at real estate listings. Anji confesses she got into a fight with his dad who left in his car, she hoped, to pick Vish up. Just then the lights of a police car pull onto their drive. The police tell them that Munish is in a medically induced coma after his car crashed into a cement median at eighty kilometers per hour. Anji is sure the pills are back, but Vish isn’t. He thinks Farris used his body to do something to his dad's car. In the morning, Anji urges Vish to go to work.
In Greycat Books, Vish tells Agastya he’s sure Farris made him do something to his dad's car. As Vish and Agastya start arguing about what is going on, Gisela comes in and reassures Vish that his dad will be okay. Gisela takes Vish into Agastya’s apartment, telling him she has something to show him. Gisela opens one of the kitchen cabinets and releases a giant spider-like creature with tentacles that crawls on Vish. Everything turns black as a sharp fang pokes into his ribs.
After waking up, Gisela grinds up the tooth Vish vomited up in a mortar and pestle and explains the spidery-tentacled creature is Zerg and it’s what happens when three witches made a “little transportation miscalculation” and some of their body parts fused and the others got lost across time. Zerg is now something like a helpful, spidery-tentacled demon. Gisela and Moby the cat spit and hack up a hairball into the mortar and Gisela tells Vish to drink up in order to fully clean Farris from him. Vish drinks and immediately throws up, the liquid turning to a hard substance then to powder when Moby steps on it. Agastya comes into the apartment then, pleased that Vish is finally rid of Farris so they can tell him the rest. Isla didn’t hide the list of Farris’s victims in a book or in the walls, she hid them in Vish’s mind. She opened a gap into his mind and read every single name to him a couple of years ago when he was in the bookstore.
Later, Anji calls to announce that Munish is awake and his bloodstream was clean of drugs, but he says he saw a peeled face just before the crash, which, to Anji sounds drug-induced, but to Vish sounds like Farris. Anji has also arranged for Matt and Danny to sleep over as she’s going to spend the night at the hospital. Vish leaves the bookstore carrying the heavy suitcase Gisela packed for him that he’ll need later. On the way home, Vish stops by his dad's office and sees Rita Goodis leaving the vet next to his dad’s office with her cat Buddy in his carrier. Vish explains what has happened to his dad and Rita says she’ll go visit him. Vish asks Rita if he can look after Buddy, thinking of how cats react to Farris: violently! and Rita agrees. Agastya comes by in his car and gives Vish and Buddy a ride home. As he leaves, Agastya confirms he and Gisela will be over later that night.
Vish calls Matt and Danny asking for them to come over later because he needs to sleep for a few hours. As he drifts off, he sees Zerg watching over him. In his dream, Farris is waiting for him so he can threaten him, but he isn't looking so good. It takes a lot to maintain his human shell and Munish took his eyelids with his windshield wipers, the cat's claws have left scratches in his face, and all his teeth are gone. Vish notices though he may be cold in his dream, he isn’t scared. Farris monologues about taking Vish’s body and killing his parents, about the lies witches spew, and how honest Farris has been with him. Vish wakes up suddenly just before his alarm goes off. Feeling completely unrested, Vish gets ready for Matt and Danny to come over.
Over pizza, Vish tells Matt and Danny everything in a fevered monologue. He did warn them that it would make him sound crazy. Matt and Danny try to reason out what Vish told them and ultimately come up with cult stuff. Sigh. Vish calls in Gisela to help who magically disappears her hand into a tree to show them that magic is real which works a treat. This is good as Gisela tells Vish they need to get the names out of his head tonight with Matt and Danny’s help. Gisela tells them the names of the 12,506 dead souls aren't just letters and spaces and sounds, but that each nachzehrer's name is only half of them, and the other half is in the flesh that Mr. Farris ate. Names bring the energy needed to make contact through the portal and take a new body on the other side. If the list is extracted and destroyed, they can make it so the dead things will never get back into the world. Tonight the portal is ready to spill over, so they have to get the names out now.
Agastya arrives with a duffel bag and typewriters and honestly looks awful. He had some Dutch courage in the car, but before Vish and Agastya can start in on each other, Gisela orders everyone to prepare. They need to move the furniture, set the paper and typewriters out and lay planes of glass around the room. Gisela and Vish kneel in front of the fireplace and she explains that Vish is Isla's last Grimoire. Gisela, dressed in a blue mask and hood, invokes a spell and it sounds like she is speaking in many voices as she walks around the room. She then uses ash from the fireplace to paralyze Vish who starts feeling colder and colder, unable to move and feeling disconnected from his body. Agastya comes over with the amulet in his hand, and at Gisela’s unseen command, pushes it into the slit of the blue mask's mouth. The amulet starts to glow and grow hot. Agastya starts a blaze in the fireplace and Gisela spits the amulet into the flames.
Unintentionally Vish speaks and says a name, the sound turns to rotten flesh in the air for a second as Gisela keys the name on the typewriter and it disappears and emerges on the paper. Vish watches Matt, Danny and Gisela type endless names being spoken from his still body. Vish doesn’t want to watch so he takes his incorporeal self for a wander, Buddy clearly watching him. In the hallway, Vish finds the front door open and a mass he at first thought was Agastya’s duffel bag moving, but it isn’t the bag, it’s Mr. Farris and he looks rotten. Vish tries to cry out but he has no body, but Mr. Farris still hears him. Farris thanks Vish for leaving his body because it makes things so much easier for him.
Vish’s incorporeal form goes looking for Buddy to help scare Farris away, and returning to the living room, he finds that Farris has nearly reached Matt. Agastya comes running in, screaming his name, and grabs the mass that is Farris and pulls him away. Since Agastya touched Farris, Farris can now hurt him. Farris sinks his fingers into Agastya’s arms, his skin slewing from his skeleton and melting on to Agastya. The typing stops, and Gisela stands holding Buddy. She demands Farris let Agastya go. Agastya, in Farris’s voice, tells Gisela he has taken this one, but he’d be happy to make an arrangement to get him back. Gisela puts her hand on Buddy’s back and then throws a bright light that came from the cat straight into Farris, freeing Agastya. Vish’s body then continues to speak the names and Gisela gets back to work. Soon, all 12,506 names have been put on the paper and Vish comes back to his body.
Matt and Danny’s hands are killing and Gisela needs a coffee before the next stage of the plan. Agastya is asleep on the sofa, barely alive, the right sleeve of his shirt dangling empty, black skin on his chest, a terrible wheeze as he breathes. Buddy is rewarded with two cans of salmon for his heroic act. Gisela tells them that cats collect and store vibrational frequencies and that extreme emotions have a vibrational level of magic. Buddy, being a therapist's cat, has been exposed to more vibrational magic than the typical tabby and Gisela was able to harness this and turn it into the ball of light and energy that was able to finish Farris off.
Now it’s time for the last stage. They need to take the names and what's left of Farris to the rift and send them out of the world forever. Matt and Danny collect the papers with the names and roll them tightly into logs while Gisela scoops up the liquid remains of Farris. They put the paper, Farris and the amulet into the smoldering fireplace. Gisela then takes the amulet, pops it into her mouth, speaks a quiet spell and spits the amulet back into the fire. The amulet turns into a huge golden sphere that encompasses all the ash, papers, and remains. They take it and head to the lake.
At the lake, the waves seem to move strangely like something is underneath. Agastya turns to Gisela and says he wants to finish their task with his own face, and she tells him he just needs to put his face in the water and Isla’s work will be undone. After doing so, Agastya looks and sounds different. He is Vish, only twenty years older. Agastya-Vish isn’t the same person as Vish is now, he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life, including never reconnecting with Matt and Danny after returning from boarding school. He says he kept running away from good things and started drinking not long after college. He tells Vish that he can’t turn into him, or that he at least needs to avoid the bad parts. Agastya-Vish then gives Gisela the keys to his car and the ownership of Greycat Books. Hefting the golden orb, Agastya-Vish walks into the lake until it closes around him.
At home, Vish sleeps through Matt, Danny and Gisela cleaning the house. Anji calls later to tell Vish that his dad is awake and talking and he’s going to be fine. A week later, Vish heads to Greycat Books. Gisela asks if he’s spoken to Danny and then angrily slaps a piece of paper with six names typed on it. Danny found it in his shoe after the clean up. Vish freaks out thinking that everything they did was all for nothing, but Gisela tells him to stop. She didn’t lose two people and devote years of her life to nothing. Six potential nachzehrer are better than twelve thousand. Gisela sends Vish upstairs to the apartment where Matt and Danny are with their instruments all set up. Next to Vish’s Stratocaster is a Fender Twin-Reverb amp left for him by Agastya-Vish. They have a full on jam space now for their band. Danny pulls a pillowcase from the front of his drum kit to show Vish the band name The Grimmer stenciled on.