“Are you the paranormal investigator?” the woman standing in the doorway asked.
“Delton Waynes,” he nodded and extended a hand in greeting. “I believe I’m looking for Jim?”
Delton pointed at the blue stylized logo above the door. Jim’s Gym.
“Oh, there’s no Jim. It’s my place,” she explained. “I’m Bernadette.”
“Excellent. Makes sense,” he replied noting how fit and spry she looked, hardly what he’d have expected from a woman obviously pushing sixty. “Nice to meet you. So, where’s the patient?”
Bernadette stepped aside and let Delton into the brightly lit building.
“She was in yoga class when it happened, the possession, I suppose you’d call it. We thought poor Julie was having a fit. Then her head started to pivot three-sixty and she floated above the ground so I figured it had to be… well, something else,” Bernadette sounded embarrassed even saying it out loud. “Will you be able to help do you think?”
Delton grunted vaguely.
“Strange devices these,” he indicated the lines of treadmills, bikes, and rowing machines. He removed his jacket and hung it from the upright arm of a nearby cross-trainer. “Would you believe I’ve never even been in a gym before?”
Bernadette couldn’t help but glance at where the ghost-hunter’s shirt bulged, as poor buttons fought bravely to keep his ample belly contained. It was a fight she doubted they’d win for much longer but said nothing.
Delton rolled up his sleeves and entered the yoga room.
Three sculpted men in monogrammed Jim’s Gym t-shirts stood around a young lady in neon pink and green. She was stooped over, face hidden behind long, frizzy hair.
Delton pointed at the most over-inflated of the personal trainers, the one whose shoulder and arm muscles resembled stacked up balloons. “You, jump on an exercise bike and pedal as fast as you can. Don’t stop for anything.”
The gym-monkey gaped at Bernadette, who glared, and he tottered away on skinny legs.
“Now, what have we got here?” Delton surveyed the hunched figure like a zookeeper approaching a wounded animal. “Hello, Miss. I’m here to help.”
The woman’s head jerked, and she bit the air with a snap almost sharp enough to shatter teeth. Delton, despite his size, moved deftly to the side.
Then Julie got up.
Limbs unfurled, untwisted, and unfolded until she stood at an imposing eight feet tall. Delton tilted his head to admire the three feet of empty space between the ground and her feet.
“She hasn’t left this room since it happened,” Bernadette whispered.
Delton looked around. “Makes sense. All these mirrors. Keeping whatever jumped into her contained.”
As if on cue, Julie made an inhuman noise, like an apple being squashed with a hammer.
Delton picked up a nearby gym bag and peeked inside. He walked around the floating woman and paused at regular intervals to deposit a random item from it.
“So, she was doing yoga. Is there a set lesson plan?” he asked.
Bernadette handed Delton some illustrated print-outs. He frowned.
“It’s possible she mixed up these moves and the sequence of shapes created inadvertently called up a demon, which is now housed inside her body,” he sighed. “People think the biggest risk with yoga is farting, but they’re so, so wrong.”
Delton knelt, touched the water-bottle he’d placed directly in front of Julie and started to mutter incantations. The lights dimmed, electricity sparked in the air. The five items he’d put on the ground lit up, the lines of energy between them crackled and joined to form a pentagram.
Trapped at the center of this, Julie howled and attempted to breach the confines. She shoved her arms through, slowly gaining ground. Sweat broke out on Delton’s brow and the utterances from his lips came faster and faster. The thing inside Julie continued to push through, and its tormented face began to break through the mystical barrier. Suddenly, Bernadette jumped up and dove into the pentagram. She pulled the younger woman to the ground and held her there, arms pinned, convulsing.
Thirty seconds felt like ten minutes. Then the lights came back on and the smell of rotten eggs filled the room.
Julie’s eyes opened, clear and afraid.
“It’s okay dear. Everything’s fine,” Bernadette whispered and indicated for the personal trainers to help the stricken woman.
“That was brave of you,” Delton said as he helped the gym owner to her feet. “I really appreciate the help.”
“Happy to. Hopefully Julie’ll be okay now.”
“I’m sure she will, but I don’t think she’ll be back attending yoga again,” he patted his stomach. “This gym stuff really gives you an appetite, doesn’t it?”
“What about him on the bike?” Bernadette asked as she remembered the other personal trainer. “Can he stop pedaling now that Julie’s alright?”
Delton said with a wink, “Oh don’t worry about him. That wasn’t a part of the ritual at all. I just thought Mister Muscles could do with a leg-based work-out for a change.”
Ken McGrath lives and writes in Dublin, Ireland. He’s been previously published in Daily Science Fiction and has stories forthcoming through Kzine and Cirsova in 2018. You can find him online if you like.