LISTEN CLOSELY… 

There is never a good reason to be in a situation requiring a demonologist.  But should all your precautions fail, it’s best to have some basic techniques on hand to avoid having your soul sucked out of the handiest orifice available or being skewered by a hairpin as you walk in the front door. Certain rules can keep you ticking, as Aunt Edna says. Edna’s an aunt I didn’t even know existed till about ten years ago, but I know not to argue with her. The problem is that being a demonologist isn’t a career choice in the normal sense of the word. The work tends to choose you, and I never really wanted to be in the business. I can’t imagine a worse social life than hanging out with other demonologists. And you certainly don’t get women that way, if you can even imagine mentioning your occupation at a party. So, as you might imagine, abandonment rates are very high.

Basically, there are two kinds of demonologists. The kind most people have heard of or seen in movies are the exorcists, like the Professor, who get invited to cast out demons and have to deal with sad, psychotic clients and the occasional very dark soul, according to the movies, whose head spins three hundred and sixty degrees on provocation. The work may sound exciting, but it’s most often a priest-driven craft and grows isolation. The isolation is what it has in common with the second kind of demonologist. The demon-hunter. That’s me. And while you can choose to be an exorcist, you can never choose to be a demon-hunter before the work has chosen you.

All these thoughts rush forward to torment me and then are put on icy hold as I approach the house on Lower Curzon Street, past the posh townhouses and offices that generate solicitors and consultants and stop at number 28. A three story Georgian walk-up that’s seen better days, judging by the crumbling masonry. Right away I think of the hat-pin trick that had been done to a writer I knew.  You open the door to be met by a shivering female addict, who looks about seventeen, in torn t-shirt and jeans. The area’s full of them despite the posh look. A few moments later, the four-inch hat-pin is just protruding out of your throat, jammed into the jugular.  Expecting the usual or reasonable evil, you’re unprepared for sudden mirages or transformations baiting your sympathy. Or at least that’s how I imagine it. And if you think that I’m just talking about addicts or muggers, then you don’t know that a demon can take any appearance at a blink.

I’ve tracked her this far, not the addict apparition but someone or something else.  The house has been known for all kinds of weird activities in the past twenty years. So I stand at the dark blue door without knocking or pressing the buzzer. It might be her haven or it could be the latest scene. I remind myself to scan the outside first. I pass my hand over the wood in the door. The energy is cool, but with two defined hot spots. An over-all sense of dark emotional density that I don’t want to enter, but at least there’s nothing facing me on the other side of the door.

The door latch is not a problem. Latches are there to keep out ordinary citizens. On the other hand, I am now breaking and entering, a potentially embarrassing predicament. On the inside is a large vestibule that acts as a greeting and waiting area, judging by the sofa and the two chairs. On the right is a small office that was locked, and on the left a spacious living room. Ahead the vestibule feeds into a corridor. I go into scanning mode, a technique in which you look at your over-all space and all the objects in it to make sure that nothing is amiss, that, for instance, the chair is just a chair and not a voidal, or a morphed chair, or a habitation site, or just a plain old bomb.

A “voidal” is an apparition that looks exactly like the object it is replacing, but in the case of the chair, if you were unlucky enough to sit on it, you would fall into a hole. Think bottomless hole. A morphed chair is a temporarily transformed entity wearing a disguise, in this example the disguise of a chair. Such morphing lasts only a few hours and then the entity is revealed. A habitation site is rather nasty as it is the “home base” of a demon. The site will be disguised to appear to people as any object, but a small opening will be the portal to its lair, a place that co-exists on two different planes. (Yes, yes, I know:  the explanation always spoils the demonstration and brings out the rolling eyes and the look-who’s-cuckoo signals). Unless you are a hunter, you are not required to know these things, or, unless, and despite being normal, you have strayed into demon territory, like the house on Lower Curzon Street.  The plain old bomb trick was just stolen from the terrorists, who enjoy the idea of your last moment being the sigh of comfort as you sit down.

In one morphing episode, when I first started out, I hadn’t scanned properly, though I sensed something was off. Three of us had swept the house, and my two colleagues had already left. I was sitting in the kitchen, foolishly, because you don’t hang around sites. I wanted to learn fast, and I knew I had missed something. It’s never obvious; demons don’t want to be found unless they want to be found. I was sitting at the breakfast nook when the teapot shimmered, blinked, and became a toad. Of course, not an ordinary toad. These demon toads, the size of a teapot, like to leap and wrap themselves on your face and kill by suffocation, or else slide down your throat. The death certificate just reads “cardiac arrest.” That time worked out for me, but you don’t want to make a habit of surviving on just dumb luck.

A habitation site could look like anything, even a cookie jar. Once you have located a habitation site, you can seal it off and incinerate it, though there might be some fairly spectacular visual and sound effects in the quick flames. Once, the Professor was required to eliminate such a site. He hates practical demonstrations, but in the circumstances he was not going to walk away from a daycare center. So, with one of his incantations, the piano began to burn in a controlled fire. The screams were very loud and the humanoid faces that flew up in the smoke very striking.  Someone next door called 999. The police would have found nothing but ashes and a rectangular burned spot on the floor.

But nothing like that at Lower Curzon Street on the first floor. The living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the conservatory, and the locked office have nothing in them that isn’t supposed to be there.  Successful scanning requires one hundred percent attention, and there are no signs you’ve done it wrong until you get an episode. I use my whole body as a receptor, and my hands are particularly sensitive. So, to scan a room, I look around quickly and then walk around it slowly, putting my attention on every object. You can do a shelf of books as one object. But be careful about hopping over things that seem too slight to bother about. I check the full-length antique mirror in the hallway to see if it is being used for invocations, but it’s just a mirror and shows nothing except the sitting room I’ve just scanned with no extra shadows and my own dark, tall self moving with fear.

I walk up the stairs with their elaborate red maple banister like someone walking with the feeling that the next step will cause the ground to open up. But who doesn’t have to take the step? Especially since turning around and descending means you’re even more vulnerable. I don’t like walking up stairs when there is a likelihood of demons. Demons can fling themselves from a height, especially if you are even marginally off balance or can’t quite see what’s ahead. That’s the part I don’t like, the flinging part.

We don’t use guns in this business. Guns are for bad guys. You don’t use a wet noodle to take down a charging tiger. A gun is like a wet noodle in the domain I am talking about. But I do use weapons. None of this pointy finger stuff and muttering shazaam. I have a short sword with a round thin blade of unbreakable silver, on whose surface a kabbalistic formula has been written. Silver is a fairly soft metal, so to have it unbreakable you have to imagine a special and involved process. Not any dungeons and dragons shop or antique dealer tourist trap weapon. The sword lives in a sheath inside my long shirt, a fashion decision I often regret, but am still grateful for on purely life-saving grounds. I don’t wear it as often as I should, for the stubborn reason of not wanting to have a weapon flapping against my body. I also have a special crystal, not the kind you hang in your window or find in places where they play dreamy New Age George Zamfir music, but one that deflects certain probes. Both weapons are necessary. Neither guarantees my survival.

I hear some creaks upstairs. Definitely something up there. The sounds might be a ruse to get me to come. Yet… My steps are of the creak-less variety, but I’ve no doubt that whatever is up there knows I am coming. The upstairs area probably covers about two thousand square feet, spread over six rooms and a hallway. If there were noises, Fredzilla or whatever it is would be out in the open in a blink. I look at the two rooms closest to me, and there’s nothing there. I know the thing is in the farthest room, the one facing me. It’s a certainty based on nothing. I’m as calm as one can be in the circumstances, but my heart rate is definitely up.

When in doubt, improvise. I’ve been in doubt a lot. “Helloo!” I call out, “Red Cross delivery! I need a signature.” I throw a small side table into the room and then dive into the room and roll sideways in a flash, feeling both ridiculous and very exposed. I am lucky, because she’s already occupied. She is straddling her male victim and holding his arm up. His head is rolled back, his face in a kind of ecstasy, so far gone that he can not feel what she is doing to him. She has already chewed off and eaten three fingers from his right arm, and the blood is coursing down her face. This is far too good a meal for her to give up in order to deal with the likes of me. She figures she can destroy me between courses. Her victim makes no sound, but is alive and awake. He’s in a trance and imagines himself in some kind of erotic embrace, when in actuality he’s going to be eaten down to his toes.

If you took a photograph of her that moment, with the blood wiped away first, of course, you would see a woman in her mid twenties in a loose white tunic with curling long brown hair, white skin, almost a Pre-Raphaelite look. The hands and legs would give her away, however. Long, muscled legs that can kick barefoot through a wall if necessary and leap thirty feet from a standing position. Hands that could crush a larynx as if it were a soft peach and two inch fingernails that could disembowel you with one swipe. Oh, and the eyes. They’re not eyes schooled in suburb or downtown, but in some abyss that still flows into her.

She looks up as I make my entrance, her face showing nothing but an acknowledgment of distraction. Even my deliberately silly greeting has not disturbed her. Her body makes not the slightest motion, waiting instead to see what I might do. Once I re-gain my balance, I move slowly with my back against the wall. Why have I come alone? Oh, yes, I have to remind myself, there is a reason:  indication of extreme emergency.

“Sorry to slide in like this. You look like you’re busy.”  I pick myself up and include as much of the environment as possible in my awareness while staring only at her. It’s also important to keep talking so long as your concentration is impeccable. The talking compels her to stop eating her victim.

“I’ve been tracking you for three days.”

She looks more interested when I say this.

“You’re unmistakable. I knew you were about to feed.”

She opens her mouth slowly, as if to take a deep breath. Some harsh sounds come.  Her voice, low and hard, travels from a great distance. I’m a little uneasy about the open mouth.

“Can’t allow what you are doing, you know that.”

She orders me to leave wordlessly, by grunting twice and glaring at me in such a way that the meaning can’t be louder. Would you misunderstand a jaguar’s intentions if you came upon it suddenly and it grunted at you?

I slide my hand inside my shirt and feel the handle of the sword. But for a moment my eyes stray to look at the floor around my feet, to check for obstacles. In that instant, she’s catapulted through the air and landed beside me, hissing and taking a swipe at my throat. It takes no more than one second. The moment she’s moved, so have I. It’s all that has saved me. I move in a roll, while freeing my sword at the same time. Important not to expose my back for longer than one second, maximum. That’s her median response time. Her swipe has torn a part of my shirt as easily as a box-cutter slicing through silk, but has missed my skin by a hair.

We now face each other. I grab a swivel office chair and pull it between us, as if I were going to offer her a seat. Anything not to make her next move a routine and obvious termination of me, to slow her down if even for a second or two. I keep the sword between us, held upright. I know she has to respect it. The weapon has obliterated a few of her kin and more than a few of her colleagues. She would have heard of it the way a jaguar or jackal smells a rainstorm coming. Using ordinary swords or knives would be like slicing through a cloud, even though she has a body, but she knows that I know that. Demons have the ability to absorb thrusts and to ignore them. This weapon can find the core in any demon. There is no ignoring its message.

It’s difficult to convey the electrifying awareness you have of the demon you are facing. Part of the realization is that it is an impossible moment: you weren’t born to face demons, and demons don’t exist except as concepts, and yet here a concept is about to kill you. Unless. Unless you can delay or distract. As she inches toward you, every muscle and ligament in her body poised for the instant of release and the moment afterwards of bloody triumph, you likewise cannot waver, and your attention is only and wholly on her. In some ways, you have never been so alive, because not only are you facing your own death, you are doing it at the hands of a creature so different from anything you will have encountered before as a human being. At the same time, you are determined to kill it because you must survive. You are both locked into a terminal dance. So it is crucial that you know beforehand what you must do, what your very limited options are, what she is likely to initiate as a killing flash. And as you adjust your posture even slightly a corresponding ripple answers in her. Every nerve tingles with the sense of her power and your possible death.

She tries one more lashing out, but it’s a fake. I don’t move, the sword still held firmly upright in front of me. She is waiting for me to tire.

“What’s your name?” I am breaking the rules. Only silent combat. Talking takes energy and can also distract you. But my question isn’t entirely silly. Use unpredictability. “Since I have to kill you, I should know your name.”

She blinks. For a moment, her face loses its ferocious concentration, and she looks at me as if she has met me before and has only now remembered the encounter. Then I become a target again.

In one way or another, your life is a shifting target.

 

 

 – End of Chapter One –

 

 

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