Last week we announced that Tawny Stokes’ DEMON WHISPERER was our new Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category: over 250 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Tawny Stokes
“Tawny Stokes has created a brilliant paranormal world within our own. There are demons, witches, zombies, and all sorts of crazy creatures that occupy our world. The mythology Stokes has created for Demon Whisperer blew me away, and I simply cannot wait to read more about Caden, since I want to visit this world again, as soon as I can!” – Alex, 15, Electrifying Reviews
During a year-long coma–literally spent in hell–seventeen-year-old Caden Butcher developed a special power. He can speak to demons in their own language. Awakening with this new ability, Caden takes over the family exorcism business and becomes known as the young whiz-kid exorcist to the stars, obtaining most of his work from Hollywood. But what others don’t know is the exorcisms are all staged with the help of his best buddy, Dantalion, a demon he met in while he was in hell.
When an exorcism goes wrong, Caden discovers the demon inside a teen girl is not your normal malicious entity, but an adversary from down under who is hell-bent on Caden’s destruction because of what Caden did to him while in hell.
Now with the help of Dantalion and Caden’s girlfriend Aspen, a skilled necromancer, Caden must track down the rogue demon before he can expose Caden as a fraud and end his reign as the one and only Demon Whisperer.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
The skin on Alan Bigby’s pock-marked face rippled as if something was alive underneath it. Something big and bad and nasty wanted out to rip something apart. Unnatural black veins popped out on his forehead and temples as he bucked and writhed against the iron shackles chaining him to the chair. The fat rolls of his enormous ass hung over the sides and jiggled with each spasm. If it had been under different circumstance I would’ve laughed at that.
“I’m going to rip out your innards, Butcher, and eat them raw,” he spat at me.
Then he really did spit. Viscous green phlegm spewed from between his thin cracked lips and landed on the toe of my black Doc Marten. Disgusted, I shook it off, and then dug into the beat-up, brown leather bag I had slung over my shoulder and across my chest for the holy water. It was time to get busy. No more messing around. I had to exorcise this guy and be done with it. The money from this one would pay the rent for the condo my dad and I had. Groceries too for a few months.
“Not today, you’re not,” I said as I unscrewed the silver cap on the bottle of holy water.
I glanced over at Eleanor Bigby standing in the corner wide-eyed, wringing her hands as she watched in horror as her husband twisted and pulled at the restraints I had put on him. He was bound to a metal chair in the middle of a pentagram that I’d inscribed in blessed chalk on the blond hardwood floor of their big expensive house overlooking the Hollywood Hills. I could see the white sign out the front bay windows.
She probably had no idea that when she called the Butchers to exorcize the demon possessing her husband that it would look like this. She probably thought watching her fat husband crab-walk across the ceiling of their bedroom was disturbing enough.
“Dude, is he going to hurt himself?”
I glanced over my shoulder at the guy holding the camera trained on Alan Bigby. He had shaggy blond hair and a freshly clipped soul patch that I nearly envied. Except I didn’t like him much. He was a dick with too much time and money on his hands.
“For the last time, dude, shut up. I’m the only one supposed to be talking,” I answered, forgetting that the exorcism was being televised.
Trey Summers was an up-and-coming film maker, touted to be the next Tarantino, but I thought he was a hack. He’d directed one lousy music video for some useless pop star and voila, he was an insta-star. I thought he was a talentless hack with delusions of grandeur and of getting a lot of ass. Although he did appear to be getting quite a bit by the looks of the two chicks he’d come to the house with.
The red-head smiled at me around the little white straw she had in her mouth. She was enjoying the drink just a bit too much.
I didn’t smile back. It kind of made my stomach churn that she’d come to an exorcism for a good time. The fact that the house was full of people, watching, waiting, while drinking and enjoying finger food passed out by waiters in tuxes, made me down right nauseous. Why in hell did I hang out with these people? Why did I ever agree to this being put on TV? Ten thousand, that was why.
Seven in my pocket, well me and my dad’s pockets, and three to the International Order of Exorcists. Because they were going to be some pissed that I agreed to the recording. It was against the order’s mandates to involve the media in what we did. The world knew we, meaning exorcists, existed but we preferred to keep our business on the down low. But since I’d been crowned the exorcist to the stars, I figured it was good publicity for everyone involved. I was hoping the three grand would appease the more militant members of the I.O. into letting me off with a warning.
I returned my attention to Alan, who was still struggling against his restraints and mumbling under his breath. He was speaking Latin. I recognized the dialect but not the particular words. As far as I knew, it was probably a bunch of gibberish. A bunch of scary sounding Latin words strung together nonsensically to sound menacing and ominous. It was par for the course. Every exorcism was the same. Demons were so predictable.
I took off my black wool cap, shoved it into my bag, and then ran a hand through my short mess of brown hair. I was starting to sweat a little. It wasn’t the exorcism that had me sweating, it was the scrutiny from the masses of people watching. I had to be careful with this one. More cautious than I usually was in situations like these.
I took a step toward the pentagram, making the sign of the cross with the bottle of holy water. It splattered everywhere. Drops landed on Alan Bigby. Smoke curled up from blackened spots on the back of his hands and two pinpoints on his cheek. I winced as the demon inside writhed from the pain. Holy water was like acid to them.
“Dues, et Pater Domini nostril jesu Christi…”
I started the exorcism, incanting the Rituale Romanum, in the original Latin. I’d done the ritual so many times before it was like reciting Jingle Bells at Christmas time. Cake, man. Cake. Although this time, like all the other times, I changed a few words. The last thing I wanted to do was send the demon back to hell. It just had to look like I did.
If I did accidentally send him back, Dan would be so pissed at me. And I really didn’t want him mad. He was a bastard when he was angry. I knew that well. I still had the scar on my chin from his last temper tantrum.
As I continued to say the verse, I recapped the holy water and slid it back into my bag. I figured I’d inflicted enough pain for the crowd’s enjoyment. I didn’t want to damage Alan Bigby anymore than he already had been. His wrists looked pretty raw from rubbing against the iron handcuffs. But he’d heal. Besides, Alan Bigby was a dick. He screwed around on his wife and he bilked two of his business partners for millions. I’d done my research on the guy. My marks always had certain traits—they were rich, influential and total assholes. People who had it coming to them in all kinds of ways.
Karma was definitely a bitch.
Exorcisms were never all that easy on the possessed. Some demons really messed around with their hosts. Inflicting all kinds of horrors on their bodies and minds. I’d seen one demon tear the fingernails off an eight year old girl just for fun. That image still made my gut roil. Luckily, Dan was cool. He’d never do that. Deep down he was a decent shit for a demon. Besides, that was part of our deal. No permanent physical or emotional damage.
For show, I thrust my hand out toward Alan and said the words even louder, letting the pitch of my voice rise higher and higher over the din of the murmuring crowd. They were leaning in, eager for more. I glanced around me and took in all the awestruck faces. They were mesmerized, enchanted by the scene. By my power.
Man, did I have an enormous ego. My dad was right. It was going to get me into trouble one of these days. Hopefully not today.
As I neared the end of the ritual, Alan twitched and convulsed, his eyes rolling back in his sockets. That got a gasp or two from the crowd. The demon was really putting on a show now. Undulating like rippling water beneath Alan’s pale skin. At one point, it looked like it he was going to punch a hole through Alan’s midsection. Mrs. Bigby cried out, putting a shaky hand to her mouth. I hated doing this to her. She was a decent lady–she just managed to marry a dickwad–but hell, a guy had to make a living.
“Qui cum Patre et eodem spiritu sancto vivit et eregnat Deus…”
I could feel Trey pressing in behind me with his camera, like a media happy vulture. I wanted to whip around and knock the guy once or twice in the face. He had no manners. And he had no understanding about personal space. Because he was definitely invading mine.
But I didn’t need to do anything, because the demon inside Alan took that moment to focus on Trey.
“Trey Summers, you lecherous son-of-a-bitch.”
It was funny hearing those words with Alan’s voice. Especially since the two men were business partners. Alan was funding Trey’s first movie. Which after tonight, I imagined was going to be in the dumper. I mean, who would want their exorcism broadcasted to millions on YouTube. Alan really wasn’t looking his best right now. No one looked good with a demon inside them.
I glanced behind me and saw Trey’s face pale. I had to bite down on my tongue to stifle the laugh that wanted to burst out. Not that I enjoyed wallowing in other people’s misery, it’s just that his misery was fair game.
“Have I ever told you how much of a loser I think you are, Trey? You suck.”
Trey looked around, his cheeks reddening. “That’s just the demon talking, right?” He looked at me, pleading in his gaze. “Right?”
I let him suffer for a few more moments while I finished the incantation. “Amen.” I signed the cross in the air.
Alan’s body made one more desperate back breaking spasm, and then slumped down into the chair, his head hanging slack, his mouth open, drool dribbling down his double chins.
“Yeah, Trey, it was the demon talking.” I could hear his sigh of relief. I crossed the lines of the pentagram to unlock Alan’s wrists. “But guess where he gets his material from?” I tapped my finger against Alan’s forehead.
That roused Alan from his stupor and he blinked up at me, spittle coating his chin. Wide-eyed, he looked around, taking in the spectacle that was his exorcism. He would’ve had no idea what was going on. The last thing he likely remembered was whatever he’d been doing twenty four hours ago before he’d become possessed. Everything else would be a blank. Although some demons allowed their hosts to be aware of what was going on. It was the biggest mindfuck of all to watch yourself do horrible unimaginable things and be unable to stop.
I knew Dan kept his hosts dumb. It was also part of our bargain.
I unlocked the cuffs and helped Alan to his feet. He stared at me, his dark bushy eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Who the hell are you?”
“Caden Butcher, sir.”
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Saving your soul, sir.”
Mrs. Bigby took that moment to rush to her husband’s aid. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed his doughy cheek. “Oh Alan, I was so scared.”
He didn’t immediately respond to his wife, but continued to gape around the room as more people started to crush in on him, wanting to welcome him back, or take pictures. I saw flashes out of the corner of my eye.
“Who are these people?” Alan sputtered. “Someone tell me what the hell is happening here?”
I put my hand on his shoulder, preparing him for my big speech I’d practiced like a hundred times before in front of a mirror. Doing exorcisms in Hollywood was very much like acting. “Alan Bigby, you were possessed by a level one demon and I performed an exorcism on you to banish the demon back to hell.”
He looked to his wife for confirmation. She nodded vigorously as she continued to cling to him and kiss his cheeks. “I was so scared, Alan. You were actually crawling up the walls in the bedroom.”
He looked back at me. “You’re serious?”
Shaking his head, his gaze settled on Trey who was still holding the camera on his shoulder. His face darkened. “Are you taping this?”
Trey licked his lips nervously. “Ah, yeah, I am, Alan, but it’ll be really-”
Alan shrugged off his wife’s hands and rushed toward Trey. “Turn that thing off you asshole!”
Smiling, I got the hell out of the way. Good thing I got my fee upfront. There was no way in hell Alan Bigby, up-and-coming producer, was going to pay me for making him look like an ass on TV.
Once Alan calmed down and withdrew to his study accompanied by his wife and with his lawyer on the phone, the party got into full swing. With ten big ones in an envelope tucked into the inner pocket of my black leather jacket, I snagged a beer from one of the waiters making the rounds and started to relax. No one cared that I was underage. It was another job well done.
As I made my way through the party, I received tons of congratulatory pats on the back and a few flirty smiles. I usually just breezed through the parties letting people in the know see me, then I retreated to my hotel room to eat pizza and watch payperview movies and call my dad to let him know the job went well. But tonight I was in such a good-humored mood that I allowed Trey to interview me for his lame-ass show.
Trey sat across from me, on the edge of the sofa, his camera propped up on his shoulder. “How many exorcisms have you performed?”
“I don’t know. I don’t keep count.”
“I heard in the last year, you’ve done about six.”
“Really? That many.” I wondered where he’d gotten that figure. I didn’t think it had really been that many. I thought four at the most. Anyway, who was keeping count?
“You’re what? Nineteen?
I nodded, although I was really seventeen. My ID and passport claimed I was older. My dad had arranged it with the I.O so I could travel around freely, without having to answer the tired old question of ‘Where are your parents young man?’.
“Isn’t that a little young to be doing this job?”
I shrugged. “Exorcists are trained young. I started my training at eight years old. Apprenticed at thirteen. Theoretically, I’ve been doing this close to over ten years.”
“Your dad, Frank Butcher, is a world-renowned exorcist, isn’t he? Why isn’t he here with you?”
I smiled, but there was no humor in it. What I really wanted to do was reach across the small space between us and slap the guy across the face. “He’s enjoying his retirement back in Toronto. He gets to relax while I do all the hard work and make all the money.”
More laughs all around. Which I didn’t think Trey liked so much. He was losing the upper hand.
“Why do you think there are so many demonic possessions in Hollywood?”
“Maybe it’s because your type is so easy.” I tried to keep the loathing out of my voice, but I had a feeling by the raised eyebrows around the room it came through loud and clear.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Demons can’t just possess anyone. There has to be a way in. A weakness they can exploit.” I gestured to the room. “Like greed or gluttony. Or lust.” That got me a few snickers. It was all part of the game, the con. I had a reputation to flaunt. A reputation that kept people guessing and kept the Butcher name in their cell phone address book.
“The seven deadly big ones, dude. Where else but Hollywood are they so celebrated?”
Everyone around me laughed at that. But they had no idea how true my statement was, or how deadly. I’d seen a lot of sin in the past two years. More than a guy my age should ever see. And none of it was very pretty.
“Now. About your past,” Trey asked, and I saw the gleam of triumph in his eyes, “what was it like being in a coma? Can you share with us any insight into that time?” He leaned in even closer. “Do you remember any of it?”
I sat up straight. Everyone knew that particular subject was off the table. “No. Interview’s over.” I pushed to a stand. What I experienced during the year I was in a coma was not suitable material for conversation. Especially not to some punk ass filmmaker trying to make a name for himself.
“You don’t remember anything?” Trey persisted even as I started to walk away. “You didn’t dream? You didn’t have an out of body experience?”
“Nope. Nothing.” I lied.
Ten minutes later, I was in the top floor bathroom taking a piss. I was humming to myself when I felt a rush of hot air behind me.
“So what was our take this time?”
Startled, I said, “For cripe’s sake, Dan, I’m taking a piss.”
“I can see that.”
After squeezing it off, I tucked back in, zipped up and turned around.
Dantalion, a powerful Great Duke of Hell, leaned against the wall smoking a cigarette, menthol and king-sized most likely. Those were his usual. He was looking like Sid Vicious today. Tall and lanky, wearing black leather pants, black leather jacket, no shirt, trademark chain and lock around his neck, and black spiky hair. Underneath his jacket his pale smooth skin nearly glowed. It was quite the contrast to the No Future he’d carved into his skin, still fresh and bloody. Dan had a remarkable sense of humor. It was sick and twisted. This was probably why he was my best friend.
Well, best friend might be pushing it a little. We were friends as much as a demon could be friends with a human, and as much as I could with a spawnling from Hell. Our friendship was more of a symbiotic relationship based on trust, mutual consent, and the fact that we both got what we wanted from each other. Damn it, if it didn’t sound like we were dating.
“You know that tortured heroin-addicted look is so last year, right?”
He blew several smoke rings, and then said, “Hey, I knew Sid. And his style is never out.”
“Well anyway.” I whirled around to wash my hands. “Why are you here?”
“To see what my take is.”
“Dan, you know we always settle up when I get back home.”
He ground out his cigarette on his tongue, flicked the butt into the corner then lit up another one. “I guess I was feeling left out this time. It’s boring sitting around waiting for you. You always get to party afterwards. I want some fun.”
“You know it’s all an act, Dan. These people are total lowlifes. If paydays weren’t so good I wouldn’t be here.” I lied. And Dan probably knew that. He knew I wanted to make a name for myself out from under the oppressive shadow of my dad.
“Yeah, but you still get all the fun.” He turned to his left, and I could clearly see a burn on his face.
I’d done that, with the holy water.
I winced. “Sorry about that.” I pointed to his cheek.
He waved his hand, the smoke from his cigarette making a spiral in the air. “It’ll heal. It always does.”
“Aren’t you tired? You usually are after.”
He shook his head. “Nah, this one was fun. I didn’t put poor Alan through the ringer. He behaved himself quite well. He’s a scumbag inside, man, the disgusting things he was thinking about, but he has manners.”
Dan was my business partner. We were in the exorcism business together. He possessed them and I saved them, for the right price. For the past twelve months, I’d made a killing. Especially in Hollywood.
By happenstance, I’d been crowned the exorcist to the stars. Who knew there were so many people possessed by demons in Hollywood? I mean it did explain a lot, especially about some stars who will remain nameless, and their wild erratic behavior. Some of them blamed drugs, some alcohol, but it wasn’t until the first exorcism on a big name starlet that demonic possession came out as the new affliction. Now everyone was claiming to be possessed as a way out of their problems.
Fifteen months ago, my dad and I performed our first exorcism in Hollywood on an up and coming actor. It had gone well, we’d done the deed, but when the cameras showed up, my dad freaked out. He didn’t want to be on camera. He didn’t want his photo taken. I didn’t blame him. He wasn’t all that pretty to look at now. Not after the accident. His hands were all burned and twisted, his face too. He walked with a bad limp and had a difficult time handling the equipment. After that one, my dad opted out on the rest. He said I could do the easy ones from now on.
Since then, I’d been on call. Every big name producer and agent had my name and number in their rolodex.
At first all the possessions were authentic. Real, bad-ass demons taking up space in some movie star’s body and wreaking havoc. I went in, did the dirty job, sent the demon back to hell and got paid well. Once I saw how much money I could make ridding Hollywood of demons, I decided to start my own venture. I called up my buddy Dantalion from hell and asked if he wanted in. He did, for a price of course. But it was a price I could pay.
Besides, I gave him something he’d never had on his own. Freedom. Because of my powers, I’d been able to open a door for Dan to come and go as he pleased. No other demon in hell had that kind of luxury. I freed him from his hellish restraints. He never had to go back if he didn’t want to. I did it because he had saved me in so many ways. Dan considered the debt I owed him paid up in full. We were even steven.
To jump start our secret business arrangement, the first thing we did was find a mark. We did some research on who had money and who deserved a smack in the face. It turned out that criteria pretty much covered all of the zip codes in the Los Angeles area. Because Dan could zip in and out of places like vapor, he did a lot of the up close and personal recon. I did all the background and banking checks. The beauty of the internet. A person could find out just about anything on anybody. My dad had taught me some tricks and I used them diligently.
So far, I thought we’d been doing pretty good. Not too greedy, just enough to keep my dad and I debt free with a few luxuries—we were still paying off his medical bills—and Dan well-stocked in his depraved habits.
Besides, exorcisms weren’t new to me. My father had been an exorcist, and his father before him. I witnessed my first one when I’d been only a kid. My dad had the gift and he had been very well respected in the community. This was likely why the I.O. cut me some slack. They had loved my dad, still do. Me, not so much. I think they just tolerated me out of respect for my dad and because of the money I gave them to atone for my multitude of sins.
The last exorcism I’d seen my dad perform on his own was when I was fourteen. It had been the one that crippled him and put me into a coma.
It had seemed like a regular exorcism, as regular as pulling a demon out of someone can get, and he’d been optimistic about the outcome. The possessed had been an old Ukrainian woman and her husband had called the I.O for help. They sent in my dad, their best exorcist, and I’d gone along to witness and to learn.
At first the exorcism had been going well and quickly, but then the demon pulled a body jump. Body jumps aren’t easy to pull off. The demon has to be extremely strong and the other body has to have opened themselves up to it. The demon had jumped into the woman’s husband. But before we had noticed, the husband had picked up a can of gasoline and poured it over his wife and lit her with demon fire.
My dad had tried to save her, tried to put out the fire, but it was impossible. Demon fire is extremely flammable and near impossible to douse and it’s also highly explosive. I’d found that out first hand, when the woman on fire exploded like C4 and I’d been blasted back from the shockwave. I guess I smacked the back of my head on the far wall and went under. The doctors claimed my body put itself into a coma to heal my head wound.
Either way, it had been messed up, something I’ll never forget. Especially when looking at my dad brings it all back. Which I know bothers him to no end.
I watched Dan as he took a drag on his smoke. He’d been a good friend to me over the past three years. Two of them outside and one of them on the inside. He saved my life and sanity many times and frankly, I couldn’t deny him a good time in Tinsel town. At least someone had to enjoy being in this city.
“Have some fun why don’t you, but don’t get crazy on me. Last time I had to pay for two damaged cars and repairs to that strip joint.”
Dan flicked his ashes onto the floor. “Hey, it wasn’t my fault Jezebel showed up in a jealous rage.”
“Yeah, I’m not so sure about that. You probably called her up. I know you keep saying you two don’t have a thing, but something just tells me you’re full of shit.”
He moved across the room. He had a predatory way of moving, stealthy. It always looked like his feet never touched the ground when he walked. As far as I knew, they probably didn’t.
Dan swung an arm over my shoulders. “I promise I’ll behave to my best ability.”
“I don’t think that’s saying much.”
I unlocked and swung open the bathroom door. Dan and I came out, his arm still over my shoulders. There was a small lineup outside the door. Eyebrows lifted when we walked out.
One cute blonde at the front of the line smiled at me. “I didn’t know you were gay.”
I glanced at Dan, and then shrugged off his arm. “I’m not.”
“It’s okay, you know. It’s really no big deal if you are.” She brushed past us to get into the bathroom.
I followed her. “I’m not. Really. I can prove it.”
She shut the door in my face.
Dan shook his head. “Have fun dealing with that. I’m off to get right pissed,” he said in a perfect Sid Vicious English accent.
Before I could say anything, he disappeared down the hall, heading toward the stairs and the loud raucous party downstairs.
It had been four a.m. when I caught a cab back to my hotel, grabbed my gear, checked out and headed for the airport to catch my eight o’clock flight out of L.A.X. to Toronto. I knew Dan would meet me back at my place. He didn’t have to travel by airplane. He could just zip through the ether of the next plane of existence. I didn’t envy him though. I knew what that plane was like. And I wouldn’t go back to it for anything in this world or the next.
The flight had been uneventful and I landed at the Lester B. Pearson International Airport on time and in one relative piece. I didn’t much like to fly. Made me uneasy not to have my feet firmly on the ground. But since it was early in the morning and there wasn’t anyone sitting near me, I just put my iPod on shuffle, shut my eyes and drifted in and out of conscious thought. Much like what I had done in school, what little of it I managed to go to.
Dad had pulled me out after grade eight to fully apprentice with him. It wasn’t as if I was learning anything that I would use later in life anyway. There was no Exorcising 101 or How To Draw a Protection Circle 103. It was just all math and history and really, when I was going to ever use that?
When I walked out of the airport to catch a cab, a gust of hot sultry air blasted me. It was four in the afternoon in Toronto and still over one hundred degrees. Summers were often hot and muggy in the port city. It was like living in a hothouse some days.
I was thankful for the humidity though. I’d been out West to take in the Calgary Stampede last July with my dad and Dan on one of the rare occasions we’d had down time to have some fun, and I thought I was going to suffocate from the dry heat. That was like being in a furnace. The beer had been good though. It had been worth the trip just to party at the Ranchman’s every night.
Dan and I had snuck out of the dingy motel room to party and spent a couple of nights at the bar. Dan had been in his element during those nights. Who knew the demon could two-step so well? And sing? We did karaoke for a couple of nights. By the second night, he had his own little following hooting and hollering for him. It was the first and only time I’d seen him extroverted. Most times, he was solemn and brooding. I think he even gained himself a really eager fan. One I was sure he visited every so often since that July.
It was almost five by the time the cab pulled to the curb along Parliament Street in the Distillery District, and I got out, tossing the driver the fare. Adjusting my bag, I started down the road to the apartment, but stopped to go into Balzac’s Coffee located at the old pump house. I needed some caffeine and I didn’t think we had any in the cupboards.
When I walked into Balzac’s, I inhaled the rich aroma of coffee. It was always thick in the air. I crossed the tiled floor, happy to see Saleisha helming the counter. There was only one other guy in the place, and he sat on one of the stools at the counter talking to her.
She smiled when she saw me approach, her big brown eyes sparkling. We made a habit of flirting every time I came in. But it was just that—harmless flirting. I never let it go further than that. She was too nice and too innocent to get involved with the likes of me. Besides, I was thoroughly taken with a girl who would pound me into sand if she knew I was flirting at all.
“Hey Caden.” Her voice was laced with a slight Nigerian accent.
The guy at the counter turned. “Hey, yourself, big boy.”
It was Dan. He looked like his usual self—average height, average build, shaggy brown hair, crooked nose and smile. He looked seventeen and I knew he put on this unassuming teenage persona for the benefit of those around me. He didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention to himself. He did it for my benefit as well. He knew that my entire life would fall apart if anyone found out that he was a demon and we had a business arrangement. My dad would certainly disown me. Or worse. He could be a cantankerous son-of-a-bitch when he wanted to be.
I leaned against the counter. “What are you doing here?”
“Dan was just telling me about his trip to Hollywood.”
I glanced at Dan. He was quietly stirring his coffee. “Was he now?”
“The usual Caden?” Saleisha asked.
I nodded, and she went to work building me an exquisite cup of caffeine-loaded, dark, thick coffee.
“I couldn’t get into your place.”
“What do you mean, you couldn’t get into my place?” I kept my voice low, so Saleisha wouldn’t hear. “Didn’t you knock? Wasn’t my dad home?”
Dan shook his head while he added more sugar to his coffee. He set the empty packet on top of the seven other empty sugar packets. “No one was home so I tried to zip in but every time I tried, I got bounced out. It was like hitting a rubber wall.”
Saleisha set the to-go cup on the counter. “Here you are.”
“Thanks.” I gave her a fiver. She gave me the change and I dropped it into the Easter Seals box on the counter. “See you later.”
“See you.” She smiled again. She had a great smile. “See you Dan.”
Dan downed the rest of his drink and then slid off the stool, following my lead. “Later.”
We made our way down the main promenade through the district. It was alive with people milling about the multitudes of restaurants and galleries. In the 1800’s the area was home to a grain mill and whiskery distillery. One of the owners, James Worts, distraught by the childbirth death of his wife, committed suicide by tossing himself into the company well. But despite that, the business thrived and started shipping out to all of Eastern Canada, down to New York, and even to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
Now it was a trendy chic area where the cool people could hang out and be cool, look cool, and see other cool people doing the same thing. People also came to see the ghost of James Worts. Legend had it that he haunted several of the buildings. I had yet to see him though. Dad said he had, but I didn’t believe him, especially since it was after he’d had a half a bottle of whiskey.
The pedestrian only village also served as a backdrop for many movies and TV shows over the years. Cinderella Man, Chicago and X-Men had been filmed in the area. Ah, if only to see Anna Paquin or Famke Jannsen in action.
I lived in one of the old stone buildings just past the main distillery on Mill Street. I rented–well we rented, my dad’s name was on the lease but it was I who forked over the cash–a large second floor condo from an old Chinese guy named Jimmy Chen. He owned several of the outlying buildings around the distillery. He was a cranky old man with bad yellow teeth who always smelled like licorice. But I liked him all right. He was always good for a laugh. Besides, we did an exorcism for him cheap over a year ago and he rented the place to us for a reasonable price, well semi-reasonable. It was prime real estate after all.
Dan and I reached the main door of my building. I dug into my bag for my keys. “Has that bouncing thing ever happened to you before?” “Only happens when a stronger demon tries to keep me out of certain places. Jezebel does that trick when she’s mad at me.”
“So, you’re saying a big bad ass has set up shop in my place and is keeping everyone out? And my dad could theoretically be trapped inside with it?”
Dan shrugged. “I don’t know. Could be. I didn’t hear any screaming, so maybe your dad went out somewhere.”
I opened the front door and we trudged up the creaking stairs to my apartment. As we neared the front door, I scrounged in my bag for some holy water and my silver cross. If there was something bad in my place I wanted to be prepared.
Dan smirked. “You know, if there’s something in there badder than me, I don’t think any of that shit is going to matter.”
He was probably right, but I held on tight to the cross anyway as I unlocked the door. Once it was unlocked, I toed it open with my boot. I peered into the main living area but nothing jumped out at me. I knew if there was a demon inside my place it wasn’t going to necessarily show itself. It could hide in any number of places, including the shadows themselves.
I just didn’t want to see my dad lying on the floor in a pool of blood. That scenario was what worried me the most.
I crossed the threshold and stood near the door, searching the area for anything amiss. Everything seemed in place. Or as much in place as it had been before I left it two days ago to go to L.A. I didn’t have a lot of stuff and my dad spent most of his time in his room either sleeping, drinking, or drinking and doing research on the internet. I know he was still trying to track down the demon that’d crippled him those two years ago.
I glanced behind me at Dan. He was still standing outside the door. “Can you cross?”
Tentatively, he reached out with his hand toward the space in the open doorway. Fingers spread, he kept coming until like an invisible shield, the tips pressed against something solid. I could see the flesh on his fingers splayed out as if he’d been pushing against a window pane.
He snatched his hand back. “Looks like you’re on your own buddy.”
“Damn it.” I swung around, nervous energy swirling in my gut. Sweat beaded on my top lip. Something wanted me alone. Something that knew all about the demon Dantalion and our partnership, and especially how to keep him out.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to fight a demon. I’ve done it plenty, especially during my time inside. After surviving twelve long months in a cesspool of horror and fear, you learn how to defend yourself pretty quickly. Dan had helped me through that time. To the anger of the rest of the horde, he’d shown me a few tricks. Those tricks helped me survive until I got out.
The air in my apartment started to change. It became thick and cloying. The smell of sulfur burnt my nostril hairs. It was coming. And it was big. I could already feel the vibrations of a shift in dimension. It was pummeling against the barrier between that realm and this one.
Putting the cross and holy water into one hand, I reached inside my t-shirt and grabbed the silver Saint George medallion hanging around my neck and brought it forward. It would protect my soul and my body from being possessed. Next I set the holy water onto the floor and reached into my bag of tricks and came away with a black leather satchel of sea salt.
Mumbling a protection spell in Latin, I spread the salt around me in a wide circle. I made the circle wide enough that I could sit if I had to. Once I made the arc too small and my legs ached something fierce from having to stand that long.
When I was finished the circle, I put the salt back in the bag and picked up the holy water again. I uncapped it, ready for battle.
Minutes ticked by and nothing happened. I glanced at Dan who was still at the door, leaning on the invisible shield now, with a look of boredom on his face.
He shrugged. “Beats me. I thought for sure you were going to be pulverized the second you went through the door.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
He shrugged again.
Another fifteen minutes rolled by. I was sitting in the circle by then. Dan was stretched out in front of my door on his back smoking a cigarette. He blew perfect smoke rings into the air.
That was when the shift in temperature happened. It was like an explosion of heat. As if a furnace door had been opened and someone was fanning the flames. I got to my feet, silver cross out held out in front of me, scanning the room. Shadows in the deep corners began to shift and swirl. Or at least to my eyes that’s what it looked like. Maybe the sudden heat was playing with my vision. I couldn’t be sure.
There were several audible pops in the air around me. Like a giant bag of popcorn in the microwave. The vibrations of the sudden shift in equilibrium undulated over my skin. The little hairs on my arms lifted to attention. I shivered from the icy rush going down my back.
Prepared for anything, I stood my ground. My years of training backed me up. I’d put down a few big baddies in those years. This one wouldn’t be any different. At least, I hoped.
Gritting my teeth, I spun around keeping watch on every part of my apartment. The demon could pop out of anywhere. I’d see the air shimmer first though. So that would at least give me a few seconds to ready for an attack and prepare my defense.
“Behind you,” Dan said.
I swung around to face the hallway to the bedrooms. Something moved in the shadows. I could see twin spots of green light. Eyes glowing in the dark. Those points of light continued forward. I’d never seen a demon’s eyes glow green. Red certainly, but never green.
The pressure in the air continued to grow. So much that it was crushing my skull. My eyes felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets. I sucked in air, put a hand to my temple to soften some of the pain, and braced for whatever was going to happen next.
What I totally didn’t expect to see was my cat Bali pad out of the darkened hallway. She stopped right in front of my salt circle, sat down and meowed.
The pressure in the air instantly equalized. It no longer felt like my brains were going ooze out of my nose and ears. The blast of hot arid air disappeared and I could feel the cool refreshing breeze coming through the open window in the living room. My dad must’ve left it open for Bali to come and go as she pleased. I had magical wards set up on the window so burglars didn’t even bother. Besides, there was only a small balcony that only Bali seemed to be able to get to.
I glanced over at Dan. His hand had passed over the threshold. He gave me one of his trademark shrugs again, then stepped into my apartment. The demon shield was no longer in place. Bali’s appearance seemed to have broken it.
I crouched down and picked the cat up. She bumped her head against my chin and started to purr. I stroked her behind her ears where she liked it best and stared into her luminous green eyes, looking for something more than a feline grace. “Is there something you should be telling me?”
She meowed again, and nudged my face.
Dan moved up beside me. He reached over to scratch the cat on the back. She twisted out of my hands and hissed violently at him. I let her go and she hit the ground running. She dashed into the living room and jumped up onto the wall unit, her usual perch.
“I guess the bitch doesn’t like demons.”
“Nah, I think she just doesn’t like you.” I dropped my bag onto the coffee table in the living area, then went to close the door and locked it. It wouldn’t be any good against whatever wanted to scare me. But old habits die hard.
Dan plopped down onto the sofa and kicked his feet up onto the table. “Why you saved that beast from being eaten by that Rottweiler, I’ll never know. Now, Rotties, they make good pets. Good protectors.”
I fell in next to Dan on the sofa. “I don’t know, Bali does a pretty good job of protecting me.”
“Yeah, maybe.” He sniffed. His gaze settled on the cat still perched in the wall unit, and she hissed and spat at him again.
I rescued the cat from a big ass dog about eight months ago. She was scrawny and malnourished so I took her home to feed her. I had every intention of taking her to the local SPCA, but after a couple of days I realized I really had no intention of taking her. Besides I didn’t think she’d go even if I wanted. Bali had thoroughly and permanently adopted me.
“So, let’s talk business.”
Before I could respond, the front door opened and my dad literally stumbled in. The stench of booze, cigarettes and bad body odor followed in his wake.
His bloodshot eyes zoned in on me. “Ah, the prodigal son has returned.” His words were slurred almost incoherently, so it sounded like he said, “Ah, da projica shonz returd.”
“Hey Dad.” I looked at Dan and shrugged. I knew he was fully aware of what my dad was like, but he’d never seen him this wasted before.
Licking his tongue over his gnarled twisted bottom lip, he stumbled forward, kicking one of my boots into the back of the couch. “How did the job go?”
I jumped to my feet then, either to help him or to hurry him along so he didn’t embarrass me any further. Although Dan was watching it all like he didn’t give a shit. Which was likely the truth. It was hard to embarrass or shock a demon.
I grabbed my dad’s arm to keep him steady. “Come on, I’ll help you to your room.”
He shook my hand off and teetered into the living room, almost slamming his knee into the sharp corner of the coffee table. “I don’t need your help, boy.”
He turned his drunken gaze to Dan and frowned. “Who are you?”
“That’s Dan. You’ve met him like fifteen times.”
My dad didn’t look convinced.
I forced myself past the table to stand in his line of sight. The last thing I needed was for my dad to accuse Dan of being anything unholy. “Maybe you need to go lay down. Sleep it off.”
The stink of him made my eyes water. Whiskey mixed with Players, mixed with a week’s worth of sweat, and underneath it all the stench of sadness and desperation. I used to idolize my dad. But now I just felt really sorry for him.
His gaze turned to me and he must’ve noticed the sympathetic look in my eyes, because he grunted, pushed himself away from me and curled his hands into tight ham-sized fists. But then he stumbled again, tripping over the edge of the throw rug on the floor and nearly did a face plant into the easy chair.
“Let’s get you to bed, okay?”
Defeated, he nodded. I softened a little as his eyes welled at the corners with tears. He slapped me gently on the cheek. “Get me to bed, son. I need to sleep.”
And with that, I put my arm around his wide shoulders and steered him down the hallway to his bedroom. I pushed open the door with my foot, helped him to the bed, and laid him down. He blinked up at me drunkenly once, and then promptly passed out.
Shaking my head, I grabbed the fleece blanket folded at the foot of the bed and pulled it up over him. I looked at his slack face for a moment, wondering if he’d ever be the man I remembered him as, then left the bedroom and returned to the sofa where Dan was left waiting.
I slumped next to him on the sofa.
“Is he all right?”
I shrugged, then sighed. “Yeah, as much as he can be, I guess.” I picked up my neglected can of beer and took a swig.
Dan rubbed his hands together. “Now, where were we?”
I slid the envelope out from the inside of my jacket and tossed it onto the table. “Ten g’s.
“Yeah, I’ll keep seven and give three to the I.O.”
His one brow quirked up. “And for me?”
I got up and went to the bookcase, pulling out a thick volume on organic chemistry, something from my school days, a book I knew my dad would never read, and opened it. Inside were two small cutouts in the pages. Perfect places to hide small things. I plucked out a two inch plastic vial. I handed it to Dan. His eyes lit up as he held it up to the light. The thick red liquid inside swished along the sides.
“I hope you appreciate how hard it is to get.”
Smiling, he licked his lips. “Oh, I do. I do.”
He set the tube down on the table, then reached inside his leather jacket and came away with a suede roll. He set it onto the table, untied it, and then unraveled it. There was a spoon, a lighter, and a small syringe. It was his works.
Dan was a junkie. Virgin’s blood was his drug of choice. And I was his supplier.
It was a damnable way to pay a demon for a job well done. But it was the only thing he couldn’t get on his own. I’d procured it from the I.O stores the last time I’d been in to replenish my holy water and sea salt. Virgin’s blood, kept liquid by a coagulating agent, was used in different ceremonies, none I’d ever done, or cared to do, but there were a few vials of it on hand. I wasn’t sure where they got it from, didn’t care to know either, but it suited my purposes so I pilfered a vial for Dan.
I owed him more than anyone could possibly know. He saved my sanity and helped me get out. It was because of Dan that I woke up from my coma. Without him, I had no doubt that I’d still be on the inside, running for my life, vying for my eternal soul.