J.P. Jackson © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Deal with a Demon
Snow crunched beneath my taloned foot as I searched. My breath hung as fog around my face until the winter wind whipped it away. My padded soles were too tough to feel the iciness, but my mind was frozen numb, ignoring the guilt that came with the job. The drudgery of stalking the city streets was tiresome, and the possibility of attaining success depressed me.
I was just north of the city’s downtown, where all the houses had been built during the war, and their age showed. Master had sent me to search there. Somewhere among these wartime houses, behind the cracked walls and beneath the peeling shingles, there was something that belongs to us.
I hunted a lost child: a dark child.
A thick blanket of grey wrapped the night sky as snowflakes landed atop trashcan lids, cars, and untrimmed hedges. The sight before me felt darkly ethereal. Perhaps it was because of my one scarred and injured eye, or maybe it was the snowstorm, but the night was hazy and blurred. Beams of light from the nearest streetlamp illuminated the snowflakes as if they were hundreds of thousands of falling stars.
Make a wish, I thought to myself. A silly human expression.
I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish I wasn’t so lonely. I wish to be free.
Silly thoughts. Punishable thoughts.
The winter breeze soothed my skin and tousled the dark curls of my hair, which was just a little too long. I stopped on the corner of the street, just out of reach of the lampost’s exposing brightness.
The snowstorm cocooned the neighbourhood, muffling the city under a layer of pristine, untouched innocence. The fresh snow made me feel comforted and safe.
With the street empty, I shook my wings out, sending a flurry to the ground before draping them back over my shoulder. My wings would look like a cloak to any human who might see me, but then it was late at night, and humans didn’t see well in the dark. Besides, I didn’t really want to be seen by anyone.
I was being cocky. Walking around with my wings exposed was technically against the rules, but my heavy clothes prevented me from tucking them away.
There were rules that must be obeyed. First, no human was to know what I was, or that we existed. Second, Master’s orders were never to be questioned. Third, complete assigned tasks on time, and never, ever displease Master. They were his rules, and I was to follow them, for fear of retribution.
But I did not always obey.
I loved to watch humans: their relationships, the “busyness” of their lives, the drive and passion that sparked creativity and ingenuity, but mostly the kindness in them. Despite what some would say, they were inherently gentle in nature. And I confess I was a little jealous of it all.
But tonight, I didn’t watch. Tonight, I hunted.
Walking down the ragged neighbourhood, the houses all began to blur together with the same small structures and stucco-faced veneers. Massive trees lined the boulevard with branches that reached high like outstretched arms as if to welcome the inclement weather.
I stopped at each structure as I passed by, analysing if only for a brief second to see if the beacon shone through the windows. The glow would be a cold colour, white but tinged in purple, a phosphorescent violet that could only be seen by my kin, the D’Alae. It emanated from all children who possessed latent demon blood. The result of a hybrid mating. Children who were still human and yet, in part, demonic.
We call them the Daimonion.
Hours passed by as I examined each house. And then, one abode, just slightly smaller than the rest but without the obvious need of attention, grabbed my interest.
The demon-light presented itself, glowing in slow pulsations of violet-white light from the furthest window from where I stood. Every time I found this light, my body reacted instinctually and involuntary. I hated my other self, the demon within and the dark violence that surrounded it, but hate wasn’t strong enough to stop the fiend from emerging.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Closing my eyes, my head dropped as the change began. There was nothing I could do to stop it. My fangs elongated, my barbed tail stiffened, and my hands morphed from their human shape into the required rakish talons, deadly and sharp, elongated and pointed, with venom beginning to ooze from the base of the nails. Another night, another child ruined by my nocturnal visit.
But you have to do this, Dati. You have to ensure Master is kept happy, I reminded myself, repeating the last sentence like a mantra, trying to justify the gnawing ache in my stomach.
Within seconds, I found myself next to the window where the demon-light beckoned. With a quick push, the old window slid open, and I slipped into the child’s bedroom.
There, beneath a hand-stitched quilt, slept my prey. Such a small boy, with auburn hair surrounded by small stuffed animals. He couldn’t have been more than five years old. Toys littered the room and crystals hung in the window, catching the streetlight and casting prisms all around the room. A small nightlight shone from the corner, its warm yellow glow distorting my shadow across the room into a large ominous silhouette. From the boy, the ebbing radiance glowed fiercely.
I bent over the child and delicately pushed his scruffy hair off of his forehead. Freckles danced across his nose. His breath smelled and tasted of cloying sticky-sweet innocence.
I straightened myself up and stretched out my wings, cramped from the long night’s walk, then held up my clawed demon hand, tensing it. The skin was black, like liquid ink, and the ebony demon flesh flowed up to my elbow where it faded back to pink. Veins of evil persisted up towards the shoulder.
Reaching over, I steadied myself to tear open the skin on the back of the boy’s neck and inject the venom that would unleash the evil hidden within his body. I gently pushed the boy down into the mattress, ensuring there would be no struggle.
Just a hair’s breadth away from making the incision, the cut that would change everything, I stopped. Guilt churned my stomach, making me nauseous, the same way it did for every child before this one.
The bedroom door burst open, and light from the hallway exploded before me. Standing straight and scampering against the wall, I raised a hand to shield my eyes from the blaring light.
A small stout woman with fuzzy slippers and a tatty nightshirt walked into the room and flicked on the boy’s bedroom light, her flat nose and cheeks ruddy with anger. She was furious. How could someone who looked so unassuming appear so fierce, despite the jasmine and vanilla perfume that clung to her clothes?
“Back away from my boy, beast! He is not yours to take.” Her voice was thick with an eastern European accent.
I had broken Master’s most important rule. No human must know what I am. Remorse flooded through me, and my tail went limp as I came to one realization. I would have to kill her.
I lunged forward, faster than her human eyes should have been able to see, but before I was halfway across the room, she raised her hand and, with short, thick, but deft fingers, tossed a piece of paper into the air and spoke.
“Відкрий!” She spoke with specificity and authority. To my ears, it was harsh and unfamiliar. The air around her swirled, causing the flannel night skirt she wore to rustle around her covered feet. Her long hair, plaited, had been disturbed and shanks of dark blonde waved around her head like medusa’s snakes. The piece of paper disintegrated before me, but the symbols and writing from the page hung in the air. With sudden quick movements, the writing encircled me in a spiral.
“Злови!” As she said the foreign word, the hanging writing vibrated with a high-pitched hum. Lines emerged from the tails and stems of the suspended script. Lines weaving and wrapping, growing into long threads.
“Замотай!” With the last word, the letters wound about me. Wrapping me tightly, the strings bound my feet and hands and looped around my torso, lifting me up off of the floor. This woman, in her bunny slippers, wearing threadbare clothes, had me ensnared, and all I could think was how Master was going to be angry with me for getting caught.
I had never met any human who could contain me.
I had no idea what to do.
I was a demon. I would unleash Hell.
As I glared at the woman, my eyes felt as if they were burning. I flexed every muscle in my body, straining against the magical spell, and released a howl so deep, so guttural that the walls of the house shook. The lights flickered, and the air became tainted with the smell of rot and death.
In response, the ropes wound tighter, cutting into my flesh and constricting my limbs so that there was no escape.
Very quickly rage turned to panic. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Humans were supposed to fear us. This woman should have been weeping uncontrollably in fear, prostrating herself at my feet.
Looking around frantically, I tried to determine how close I was to the window and pictured myself hurling my body out of the opening.
As if she could read my thoughts, the window slammed shut.
“You are mine, creature.” Her green eyes twinkled with pride at being able to restrain me. But her anger never left her face as she pursed her thin lips and locked her jaw, seeming to settle in for a fight.
I had no choice, and not wanting to do so, I went deeper and let my evil rush like a fevered virus through my body. Embracing its darkness, power surged through my veins. I could feel it. If a corpse could feel its body decaying, that was exactly how the dark felt as it took over. It was dreadfully painful and yet deliciously addictive.
My face became hollow and gaunt as the flesh wasted away, while my eyes sunk into my skull and skin tightened over my bones, turning it translucent and greasy. The bedroom light flickered and then dimmed as my pupils enlarged until the irises were all but gone, reflecting light and making them glow. My voice deepened and thickened.
Being in the presence of a creature from Hell turns most people’s courage into a melted puddle of their own waste. This woman was beyond comprehension, standing there, waiting for me to finish.
“For how long will you hold me, woman?” I asked. The light in the room popped and crackled as I spoke, my bottomless voice cutting through the air, its reverberation causing her to grimace. The lines that held me fast tightened a little, and as they did, the skin on my talons thickened and each claw elongated further. My unrestrained wings stretched out, unfurling to their full span, but despite my obvious nonhuman form, I felt as scared as I imagined this human female was. I needed to escape my binds and then end this bitch.
“You will not have my boy.”
“And if not me, then some other will come to claim him,” I lied. There were no others like me within Master’s territory. But I resorted to anything to get free. “If you know what I am, and how to do this—” I wrenched my arm, still snagged within the magical writing. “—then surely you know why I’m here.” I glanced at the slumbering child.
That seemed to hit home.
“You lie, like all of your kind. You lie! I know, D’Alae, Bringer of Nightmares, I know.”
I cocked an eyebrow as she spouted my namesake. My barbed tail lashed back and forth in anger. My lip curled, and through gritted fangs, I growled at her. The sound hung in the air between us, but I could smell the doubt she was feeling. Her uncertainty tasted like dirt and sweat. She wasn’t entirely sure.
“Are you so confident? Do you know for certainty that tomorrow night another of my kin won’t visit? There are others. My Master has many. I fail tonight, another one comes tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then another night, or perhaps we steal him away from you in a crowd, or we wait until one day when he goes to school and take him when you’re not there to protect him. Tonight, or some other time—you can’t be there forever. He is ours.” I spit the last part out with as much hatred and darkness as I could. The shadows crept in closer, gaining ground on her light. My mind whirled, attempting anything so I could get free.
The script that ensnared me loosened, just slightly as she took a step back. Her squared shoulders, which had been braced and steady, eased slightly as she realized that she would not be able to have her child at her side forever. She knew that I, the demon, spoke a truth.
“But what if you spared him?” she asked tentatively.
“That is not an option.”
She stepped towards me, her gaze intense and expression unreadable. “You don’t understand. I will not lose this child to your side. So I ask you again, I beg of you, what if you spared him?”
“My Master has spoken. I do not act on my own. There are others who know of his existence.” I looked at the boy. It seemed preposterous that this conversation was being held over such an insignificant human, and that the being could sleep through all of this.
“I can hide him from all others, but you must leave him be. I can’t hide him from you. You have seen him,” she pleaded.
“And why would I do that, even if I believed that you could hide his existence?” The nightlight in the corner suddenly burned brighter and brighter until the bulb could hold the energy no more. It shattered.
The woman closed her eyes at the tinkling sound of glass hitting the wooden floor and appeared as if she would cry.
“Because I will offer you my magic. I can heal any wound. I will keep you alive and healthy if you leave my boy untouched. You leave me his soul, and I will heal yours.” She hung her head in shame as she whispered the next sentence. “And I will give you the name and location of another of your half-breed children.” With that, the writing fell to the floor, freeing me.
“There is no healing my soul.” I rubbed my wrists. It was true; my soul was beyond repairing. It didn’t even exist in one piece. But now I was intrigued. The potential to bring two children back to the dark in one night would make Master most happy.
The woman reached forward and, with one finger, touched my face. She traced the line of the scar that ran down from my forehead, across the damaged eye, and ended at the lip. The scar tissue was a remnant of Master’s unhappiness with my abilities.
As her finger passed over my face, calmness seeped into me. The darkness within subsided. I felt soothed but also light-headed and dizzy, warm and safe.
“Look.” She wrung her hands and wrinkled her face in disgust at what she had just done.
I opened my eyes. She pointed to the mirror that hung on the boy’s door. I peered at my image, and for the first time in a long time, my eyesight was perfect. The scar was gone, and the eye that had been damaged was healed, but the altered iris now shone a bright ice blue.
So she could heal and snare demons. Clearly this woman was more than just a mother of a boy who was Daimonion. My mind raced and schemed at the possibilities this woman had opened up. There was a glimmer, a sense of expectation, a betraying notion that perhaps Master could be bested by another. Hope that maybe Master’s demands would never have to be executed.
But that was disloyalty. Master would destroy me for having such thoughts. But maybe…maybe there was hope that the wounds he inflicted could only be temporary. I was terrified, going against him, but something inside me had to break free, if only just a little.
I made the deal.
Marta, the pudgy, overprotective mother, hid her child from the rest of my kind using more of her words written on paper. She held in her hand a leather-bound book and found the page she needed, ripping it from the spine as she had done earlier.
“Невидимий!” As she spoke, a tear rolled down her cheek.
On a separate piece of paper, she wrote the address of a different child, the one who would replace hers.
And so that night, I became healed, found an alternate child, disobeyed my Master, and kept that dirty little secret hidden for a very long time.