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The Trial of Agent B

Copyright 2012  P.N. Elrod All Rights Reserved. Please respect the site policy regarding excerpts and links.

Legal stuff: The stories posted are not released from copyright, under creative commons or any other licensing procedure.  They are not for reproduction elsewhere, with the exception of small excerpts for the purpose of linking or commentary and other purposes covered under fair use. 

THANK YOU for respecting this! -- P.N. Elrod

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The Name of the Game

   by   P.N.  Elrod  

Originally published in All Hell Breaking Loose DAW Books, 2005, Edited by Martin H. Greenberg

 

Succubae tend to be very giving and generous—or so went my experiences with them—and when one asked me to be her date for a Hell convention I really couldn’t turn her down.  She’d just been so kind to me.

Of course her timing was perfect, that sort of talent is in their bones.  She waited until I was out-of-it exhausted, verging on an extended bout of checking my closed eyelids for leaks, then sprang her question.

“Myhr…?  Sweetie peetie pitty-pie pooh?”  No kidding, they do speak like that. 

“Hnnughungh?”  Annnnnd no kidding, that’s how I speak, at least while in a gawd-that-was-incredible-but-I-really-need-to-sleep-we’ll-talk-in-the-morning-I-promise post-coital state.

She giggled as the thought flitted through my sex-numbed mind.  Just like with any Realside female, if you spend enough time with them they DO know what you’re thinking.  “I won’t be here in the morning, you silly-billy hunny-bunny in the beddie bye-bye-bye.”

Crap.  I’d hoped she wouldn’t have figured that out.  She and her look-alike sisters tended to vanish with the dawn thus preventing any awkward morning-after scenes on who gets to use the shower first.  Bunny?  I wasn’t a bunny.  It’s pure cat DNA that improved my looks.  Not to mention endurance.  The human in me wanted to roll over and snore, but there was enough feline within alert enough to stay just on the edge of consciousness. I cautiously opened an eye to see how solid she was.  Come morning and she’d fade along with any need to give her an answer.Yup, she was still very much with me in my rumpled bed, nubile as a vintage Varga babe right out of Playboy, but with fluorescent orange skin, electric blue hair, matching horns, a long, arrowhead-tipped tail, and full, full lips with a wonderfully flexible tongue.  She was naked, of course. I’ve seen (hooray!) my share of naked human females, but somehow succubae tend to be even more naked.  I was still trying to figure out just how they did it.

“I want you to be my date at the InfernalCon,” she said. “It’ll be soooo much fuuuuuuun.”

“Whazzat?”

“Only the biggest gathering of the year for everyone on my Side of things. You’ll love-love-lovey-dove it, I just know.”

Well, she’d been right about everything up to now concerning my likes, albeit in the specific venue that took place while I was in dreamland.  Since going on a semi-involuntary walk in the Hell-plane for reasons I won’t go into here I’d not lacked for Otherside female company of the horny kind.  Real horns.  On their heads. Though the other kind of horny was definitely involved.  A bunch of the succubae there had mistaken me to be a virgin, then gave their all to try to cure me of what they thought was a terrific inconvenience. I’d been in no position, so to speak, to argue and since then continued not to argue as one after another of them dropped in on my otherwise boring sleep to make sure I was happy and healthy.  An all-human male might have been strung out exhausted from so much dreamtime exercise, but the cat side of me just kept singing “bring it on and woo hoo!”

I made myself wake up just a little more.  “Where is this convention?”

“In Otherside, of course.”

“In Hell?” That meant I’d have to be asleep to go there and stick side-by-side with my bodacious Beelzebub babe to make sure of getting back safe.

“It’s at a very nice hotel,”  she added.

“Like the ones we have in Realside?”

“Where do you think we got the idea?”

Not as crazy as it sounds.  I’d learned there’s a lot of different levels to Hell, some furnished according to who’s to be confined there for punishment.  A nice hotel to me might be wailing perdition to someone else.  One of my ideas of true Hell has to do with being stuck at a play-to-the-death canasta challenge where everyone has blue hair and wants to give me the details of their last bowel movement. That’s a mental picture that keeps me on the side of the good guys for the most part.

“Oh, it’s nothing like thaaaa-aaaat,” said the succubus, picking up on my brainwaves again.  I was used to it by now.

“Why me for a date?”

“ ’Cause you’re so ring-a-ding-dilly-billy cuuuuuute.”  She breathed the last, stirring the fur in one of my ears, making it twitch.  Much more and I’d wake up all the way.

Okay, I was cute.  Had to agree with her on that. “And what else?”

“I just don’t want to go on my own.” She almost pouted.

“Like a class reunion?”  I couldn’t remember ever going to one of those, but had seen enough movies and TV commercials to have an idea. The main characters want to show off their success to their friends; if you didn’t have a pricey car or a dream job, then turn up with a dynamite date. Sounded rockin’ to me…

She let out with a squeal.  Did I mention that succubae are real enthusiastic and not shy about showing it?  Good thing most people on Realside couldn’t hear her or my nights would get embarrassing for the noise.

“Yow! Wow! That’s iiiiiiit!” she yodeled. Her long blue tail thrashed and lashed, finally winding affectionately around one of my legs.  Eeek, but the tail’s arrowhead-shaped tip tickled, in all the right ways.

“Yeah, okay, sure-fine-you-betcha,” I said, then couldn’t talk for awhile because she was busy demonstrating her gratitude to me. Stage One involved some serious lip-lockage.

No rest for the not-too-terribly wicked, I thought.  

§ § §

  The next night, right after I drifted off to sleep, the succubus was waiting for me to be her Otherside escort. There’s no way to figure how she did it but she looked even better than usual, maybe her orange skin was more orangey and she’d spruced up her horns and tail with special polish. There was definitely some blue gloss on her lips; she’d even teased her hair up twice its height so I wondered if she’d originally come from Texas. Big Hair is an art form there; I liked it.

“Whyyyyy thank youuuuuu, Myhr, the purrrrr, the hot stud with the furrrr,” she crooned, doing a slow turn to give me the full effect.

“Better tone it down or I won’t be able to walk,” I said, my heart rate going up.  Among other things.

One aspect about succubae that makes them different from their human Realside cousins is when they get decked out for a date, they don’t have a problem with a round of pre-game fun. The human ladies I’ve gone with tend to save that for the last. No problem for me, I can be patient, if sometimes a bit frustrated for the wait.  But I don’t blame them for it, they went to a lot of trouble to get prettied up and want a few hours of appreciation for the effort.  Succubae, on the other hand, can instantly restore themselves from a serious mussing no matter how crazy it gets. I think that’s why their any-time, any-place attitude keeps them so popular with guys.

And in this case, ohhhh yeah, we were late getting to the Hotel Hell….

But she looked great all over again when we appeared just like that in the lobby. She was cozied up against me and smiling, which is always nice, but had forgotten something.

“Clothes,”  I said.

“Never wear ’em,”  she sniffed.  “Except for shoes.” She was in some very spiky blue heels.

“Not you.  Me.”

The body fur goes down a long ways, but still…mustn’t scare the public.  I insisted, and she finally obliged, and I was suddenly in my favorite outfit, of dark pants, boots, and a nice, soft Ren-fair style shirt with embroidery. It was suitable for all kinds of social occasions, and in this case blended just fine with the other attendees. A number of them were checking in, drifting toward the sports bar (why was it always a sports bar??) or on their way toward the convention area. They were dressed in everything from bloody skins (ick) to Fortune 500 business suits (double-ick) to polyester (off-the-scale-break-the-needle ick).

As for their physical appearance, demons are in ALL shapes, sizes, and colors, some of them able to morph into countless variations of whatever, depending on their mood. I did recognize a few types that rarely changed their looks, mostly other succubae (yow, more naked babes!) and their opposites, the incubi.  The latter all tended to look (and dress) like male models for romance novels, heavy on the Schwartzenegger pecs and flowing hair, and for some reason succubae just can’t stand the guys. As much as they each enjoyed non-stop nookie, you’d think they’d have common ground for having lots of mutual whoopee but each thought the other too ugly for words.  I once asked a succubus about that and she explained that I couldn’t see demons the same way that demons see each other. She also told me I wouldn’t want to, either.  I took her at her word and left it at that, grateful the incubi were dressed.  Open to the navel pirate shirts and waxed chests (in a manly-man shade of orange) was the fashion this year.

Since succubae do look exactly alike—who needs a twins fantasy when you can have sextuplets, emphasis on the sex—I kept an affectionately firm grip on my girl as we strolled over to sign in.

“This gonna cost anything?”  I asked, wondering if she remembered to include my wallet with the pants.

“Only your soul,”  intoned a gum-chewing demon busily writing names on badges.

“Get real,” said my date, rolling her eyes. 

“Dammit,” he shot back, friendly.

“That’s the idea.   I’m pre-paid and this is my guest, M-Y-H-R, rhymes with purr.”

The demon spelled my name out on a badge using arcane glyphs and a pen with red ink.  At least I hoped it was ink. The letters smoked a little until they dried.  “Your name…?”

“L-I-S-A.”

Name? My succubus for the night had a name? None of them had ever hinted in the least about me calling them anything more personal than “baby-oh-baby.”  Then I recalled just how important names were in the demon-side of things. Once anyone knew your name they had power over you…and she’d just given away MY real name…

Lisa-the-succubus smiled at me.  “Oh, hunny-bunny, don’t worry, the rules are different now.  On Realside we don’t give out that kind of info, but it’s okay here. Safe.”

“What about when I wake up, I’ll remember it.”

“No, you won’t.”

Oh.  Uhhhh.  Okay.  Whatever.  Must have to do with Magic or something then.  Magic was boring.  To me, anyway.  Some went in for it big time like my roomie, who’s a wizard.  It’s his Thing.  To each his own and where was the bar…?

But Lisa wanted to see the convention and began energetically hauling me around from one chamber to the next.  They looked like ordinary convention rooms for a large hotel, but what with us being in Hell and all “chamber” just seemed to work better. 

This event really was huge, with no less than three huckster areas, but only one was open to me. The others were too hot or too cold.  I didn’t think it was a Hell Thing, just the hotel climate system living down to one’s worst expectations.

The vendor décor was heavy on dark reds and blacks. Just about everyone used a black background with red lettering—or glyphs—so they looked alike to my non-demonic eyes.  Lisa was in Heaven, figuratively speaking, darting from one to the other cooing over the goods, most of which I did not recognize, (scary) or did know rather well (scarier).  One of the larger spreads had their name in English: Shoes From Hell, and Lisa spent a lot of time there checking out the styles, some of which were genuinely bloodcurdling because they had Realside designer labels inside.

She didn’t buy anything, but the heels she did have on morphed, acquiring gold studs and a patent leather sheen.  I asked why the studs were gold not silver like the originals.

Lisa shrieked—no one seemed to notice—with horror. “Silllverrrr!???  Sweetie pie, you wanna kill meeeee?”

Oops.  She was right, certain types of metals and demons just did not get along together, like Superman and glowing green rocks.  “Sorry—ahh—is that the Art Show?”

Fortunately she had a short attention span, and we went for a look, or tried to; there was a waiting crowd.  From what I could see of the exhibits within some torturous performance art going on.  Literally.  Lots of screaming.  I’m into art, but that kind was a big turn-off, I don’t care if the screamers deserved it or not.

I ducked us into the next chamber over, which was full of snickering Car Key Gnomes (I always knew those guys were out there). The short, Robin Hood-styled celebs at the front table were apparently well-liked in the field as the audience was roaring with laughter at their war stories of successful heists and their chaotic aftermaths. Several of the diminutive were carrying autograph books, and it promised to get interesting later as other gnomes were happily picking pockets for pens. Lisa told me the next topic would be about swapping Phillips and flat head screwdrivers around, followed by “Training That New Dryer to Eat Just ONE Sock.” 

Oh, what joy.

“The bar,”  I said, firmly returning us to the hall where various demons milled, checking their program books. “That is, if it’s safe for me to drink anything here.”

“Suuuuure it is. This is strictly for fun. We’re not doing any of the down ’n’ dirty Magic stuff here.  We save that for Realside.”

Good.  I hoped the bar stocked Shiner Bock…

“Lisaaaaaa!!!!!!!”  A male voice hailed her from a few yards away, and he sounded harassed. Not unexpected, given the location. How he could tell her from all the other succubae, I didn’t know.  Must be a Demon Thing.

Lisa took her time turning around so she could enjoy his reaction. There’s nothing like being with a woman—or whatever—who knows she can make guys trip on their own tongues.  She snuggled closer to me, and I got the impression this was one of the beings she wanted to one-up on the show-off factor.  “Irving,” she cooed.  “Loooong time.”

Irving, who, from the suit looked to be a middle-mis-management type, staggered toward us, a peculiar look on his warty face, which was saying a lot considering the surrounding company. His gray skin—and I mean real gray like for battleships—paled an unhealthy—on him—shade of pinky flesh color.  He made a gasping, gagging sound then dropped in front of us.

There was a big sword sticking out of his back. Black blood smoked from the wound, hissing. A few of the more sanguinary demon types gathered close, licking their chops.

“EEEEEEE!”  squealed Lisa, her blue nails digging into my arm. She darted forward and grabbed at the weapon, then screamed very loud, yanking her hand back in pain.  Her eyes were glowing with terror as she looked at me.  “Help him! Take it out!!”

“It’ll kill him,” I yelped.  Was there such a thing as 911 in Hell?

“He’ll die if you don’t!  That’s cold iron!”

At that the other demons fell back, thoroughly out of the mood for a snack.

“Pull it ouuuuuuut!” she wailed.

Okay, what the Hell, why not….  I grabbed the pommel of the sword and yanked it clear of Irving’s twitching bod.  He gave an alarming cry of agony followed by aftershock moans and groans that finally wound down.  Some of the gray came back to his face.

“Ohhhh, Satan, that hurt,” he muttered. Lisa threw herself at him and helped him sit up.  The crowd gave me a wide berth because of the sword.  The air took on a distinct cookery tang from its coating of scorched black blood.  Ugh.

“Irving? What happened?  Who’s got you on their shit list?” Lisa’s “I’m-way-too-cool-for-you” ’tude toward Irving was gone and she sympathetically patted one of his thick warty hands.

“Hot mama, it’s a heaven of a long story.”

“Awww, tell me all about it.”

“In the bar,”  I said firmly, not caring to stand in the middle of the hall with a bunch of gawpers.  I wanted a drink now, and maybe I could ditch the smoking sword there.  Burned demon blood smelled a lot like fajitas.  I might never eat them again.

Irving-the-demon’s suit was ruined for only a moment before it knitted up again along, presumably, with his perforated hide.  He still seemed shaken and leaned a lot on Lisa, big hands everywhere.  I’d have to remember the technique the next time I wanted to cop a feel.

The sports bar was a crowded seat-yourself place, so we grabbed a table, shoving aside beer bottles left by the last patrons. No Shiner, but they did have Dick’s Dirty Devil Brew.  Well, okay, in a pinch.

Irving downed his drink in one swallow and groaned again, rubbing his chest.  “What a night I’m having!  Hey, watch where you’re pointing that thing.”

Singular, so he was talking about the sword and not Lisa’s prominent—uh—which were all perky and—ah—I politely put the sword on the floor, tucking it close so no one would trip on it.  “Sorry.  What’s the headlines on the attack?”

“I got an exorcist after me.”

Lisa squawked.  “Oh, you poor thing!  Jesuits or Baptists?”

Those were the Holy Hit-Men on Realside.  Either type were not the sorts a demon would want to meet in a well-lighted street.

“Worse.”  Irving groaned.  “It’s a pissed-off wizard.”

“Anyone I’d know?”  I asked.  My wizard roomie tended to be cranky at the best of times, but would happily party with demons if the chance popped up while on an Otherside stroll.

“Some guy calling himself Billy-Bob Sousane.”

I shook my head, but Lisa made an yeeping sound.

“I’ve met him at a few Summonings,”  she said.  “He’s nothing special under the sheets, but has a lot of magical mojo.  Oh, Irving, what did you do to get him mad at you?”

“Not a saved thing!”  Irving was very aggrieved.  “It’s my do-good cousin Ralph.  He’s the one that screwed up the works.  He’s the dope of the clan, can’t even get a simple possession right.”

“What happened?”

“I got a Summoning.  A bunch of us were hanging together and they suddenly went away, meaning that I’d been yanked over to Realside, you know how it is.”

“I don’t,”  I said.

For the first time Irving gave me a close look, taking in the badge with my name.  I hoped he’d forget it.  “Do I know you?”

Maybe I’d saved his life—for which he had yet to thank me—but he was still a demon and it is the nature of the beast to be boorish.  “I’m Lisa’s date.”

“You’re from Realside?”

“Isn’t he cuuuuuute?”  Lisa asked sweetly.  She tickled me under the chin with the arrowhead tip of her tail, showing me off.  What a babe.

Irving seemed flummoxed by my feline features on a man’s bod.  “Is that a mask?”

Lisa replied for me.  “Of course not!  Now don’t be jealous and get back to telling my sweetie-peety-pitty-pie about Summonings.”

The explanation wasn’t rocket science.  Anyone on Realside with the knowledge and inclination can summon a demon.  Unless you command for a specific kind of demon to answer—like a succubus—there’s a pool of miscellaneous mayhem makers that rotate on answering calls.  I think they got the idea from telemarketers.  Most of the Magically Talented I’d met rarely went in for it, having more interesting ways to play.  Except for succubae (and okay, incubi) demons are hard to control and heavy into destroying things on Realside.  The smart Talents have no need for them, and the rest are just idiots who are obligingly removed from the gene pool by the visiting demon.  Hey, there’s a reason why wizards go through decades of training to avoid that sort of thing. I’ve been in some less than friendly areas of Hell and the creatures there are ones you don’t want as house guests.

Irving continued,  “So one sec’ I’m chillin’ and the next I’m hauled over to Realside into a Circle with sage smoke so thick I could walk on it.  Before I know up from down, Sousane’s in my face screaming blue murder about his niece, Charlene.  Man, he was pissed.”

“What about?”

“Charlene, what do you think?  The squirt was with her Realside buds messing around, experimenting with Magic, trying to do stuff they’re not ready for.  Oh, Satan, you gotta love Ouija boards!  They’re Ralph’s favorite way to infiltrate to Realside.  He’s a dope, but he knows how to play the game, and he had these kids convinced that they’d contacted Edwin Booth.”

“Edwin Booth?”  I asked.  “Why him?”

“Why not?  Maybe one of them was a drama major.  Well, Irving did his song and dance of spelling out answers to their lame questions, sounding profound and mysterious, getting the kids worked up and excited and scared—very tasty.  Then little Charlene decides to call his bluff and issues one of those ‘If you’re Edwin Booth, prove it’ ultimatums.  That’s all the invitation Ralph ever needs so he jumped right into her.”

“Did it hurt?”

Irving gave me a gray, withering glare.  “Of course it did—that’s the whole point.  Haven’t you ever heard ‘I’m infernal, therefore I inflict pain?’  Lisa, you sure can pick ’em.  Where was I?  Okay, Ralph goes into his Linda Blair routine, scares off the party and settles in for a sweet filet of soul, but then Uncle Sousane barges in and queers up everything.  Usually it takes weeks for the Realsiders to figure out what’s happened, and by the time they get around to an exorcism the fat demon is singing and ready to vacate anyway.  Ralph wasn’t so lucky.  He got blasted out of that little chickie and bounced around the room like a Superball on uppers.  It freaked him big time, running into a wizard that strong, then Sousane got a psychic lasso on him and forced Ralph to talk.”

“About what?”

“Gimme a break, he wanted Ralph’s name.”

“To control him?”

“To kill him.”

“So?  He’d just come back to Hell, wouldn’t he?”

“No, he’d be dead.  Not the same thing.”

I worked to get my head around that one.

Dead-dead,”  Lisa tried to explain.  “As in doesn’t exist at alllllll.”

I took that to be a bad thing.  “So he’s trying to kill Ralph?”

“Bingo, Einstein.  We got rules here and one of ’em is when a Realsider has the power and asks your name you have to tell the truth.”

“Why is that?”

“I just obey the rules, I don’t know the why of ’em.  But Ralph, the dumb-ass rule breaker that he is, gave the freaking wizard MY name instead!  While Sousane worked himself up into a death-blast to finish him Ralph slipped his leash and shot clear.  Next thing I know I’m in the Wizard’s clutches, called up like a delivery pizza about to be turned outside-in by a frat boy.”

“How did you get away?”

“Ralph knew he’d crossed the line, so he came back to help get me clear.  What a night!  He busted me loose and babbled the whys and warnings to me, but by the time I shed the sage smoke fog he’d vanished.  I tried the same, but Sousane dropped into a trance and followed me to Otherside.  Don’t know how he managed to track me here, I was going like a dove into Heaven.  Thought I was safe.  I saw you, Lisa, and hoped you might be able to go Realside and distract the guy ’til he got over his mad, and then wham! —I get skewered.  How the Heaven did he get cold iron past security?”

Speculations were not to happen.  A cloud of smoke shot through with white fireworks manifested on—I should also say through-the table  between us.  I was blinded for a second, and the smell of sage and Nag Champa incense filled the place.  Around us several demons made gagging sounds as they blundered hastily away, knocking over chairs with multiple clatters and thumps.

Familiar with his voice by now I recognized Irving’s hollow pain-filled shriek.  Billy-Bob Sousane must have struck again. 

Sure enough and then some.  When the smoke cleared Irving’s head was on the table, leaking steaming black blood all over the hotel coasters.  His body—also leaking, ick—still sat upright in the chair, arms spasming.  One hit his head, knocking it nose-down into Lisa’s lap.

I expected another scream, but she only picked the head up and scowled at the grimacing Irving.  “Don’t you ever get a clue?  I am off your menu, suit-boy!”  Then she plonked his head back onto the neck stump.  Backwards.

Irving turned his face around the right way and his skin healed up again.  “All this fuss for a TINY little possession thing!  Sheesh!”

“Possession is tiny?” I’d seen the Exorcist and knew better.

“It is on this Side.  Just something you do for fun. Generates a lot of negative energy to feed from.  I don’t go in for it much, because sooner or later they call in some big gun with Holy Water and the stress is just not worth it.  Gimme a nice steady diet of co-dependant relationship misery.  Unless they get therapy it can go on for years and years before anyone gets cured and—”

Lisa let forth with a big raspberry, clearly bored.  She was into feeding on other kinds of energy after all.

Irving took the hint, tugging at his collar, which was losing the bloodstains.  “Man, that wizard’s pissed as Heaven and ready to kick ass and take names.”

“He already did—yours,”  I said.

“Exactly, and it’s a full moon night, to boot.  If he keeps up with the killing mojo I’m going to be checking out—permanently! Please Lisa, couldn’t you go visit him? I know he’s into succubae big time.  If you could just distract him a couple hours and get him to sleep, I can arrange for a Visitation to reveal to him that he’s after the wrong demon.”

“Can’t Lisa tell him for you?”  I asked.

“Why should he believe another demon?  Naw, I have to go through channels and see if the Powers That Be can fit in an emergency Visitation to save my ass.  The paperwork’s murder.”

I was still getting used to how things worked on this Plane.  “You mean the guys upstairs would do that for a demon?  I thought you were fighting all the time.”

Irving shrugged.  “Hey, you gotta have some compromise or the whole power structure falls apart. If we were in a constant shooting war your types wouldn’t be alive.  And then what would we fight over?”

I decided I was unqualified to answer that.

The sports bar manager—clearly not amused by the latest attack on Irving—manifested next to us and pointed toward the exit.  He was large, very serious-looking, holding knobbly clubs in four of his five arms.  Whatever he rumbled in a voice too deep to understand was unnecessary, we hoofed it.  A number of imps popped in, armed with cleaning rags and Windex to take care of the black blood.  The manager roared something at me specifically that made my hair—all of it—stand on end.

Lisa indicated the sword on the floor.  “He wants that gone, too.”

No problemo.  I grabbed up the blade and skedaddled.  I’m a lover, not a fighter, but as we emerged back into the swirl of the convention it was nice to have a hunk of cold iron clearing the way for us.  No demons were curious enough to get closer than two yards. 

Lisa said,  “Irving, I’ll give it a tidy-die-dee try, but Billy-Bob’s not that easy to distract.  I think you should leave before they kick us out of the convention, too.  You could get the whole thing shut down.”

Sounded like a Plan to me.

“Hey, by hiding here I got lots of cover…”  Irving didn’t finish, another cloud of smoke began forming in front of us.

I didn’t think—one of my baaaad habits—and waved the point of the sword into the middle of the cloud.  I wasn’t trying to kill anything, just taking an experimental poke to see if there was any resistance.  To my surprise someone yelped and the cloud vanished.

“Myhr!”  Lisa squealed, throwing her arms around me.  “You’re the one!  YOU can save Irving!”

Hah?  What?  “Oh, nononononono, not me, whatever it is.”

“Hey, you’re right,”  said Irving.  “He’s from Realside to start with.  The wizard will have to believe him.”

I showed my teeth and not in a fun way.  “Hello?  What part of ‘nononononono’ did you not understand?  I’m staying right here until I wake up and—”

 “Come on, cutey-pootie, sweetie-peety pie!”  Carefully avoiding the sword, Lisa bodily wrapped herself around me. 

Usually when she does that it’s a lot more fun, but the next thing I knew we’re hurtling through a patch, vortex, dimension—oh, who cares what it’s called this season?—and my guts weren’t dealing well with the change.  They caught up with me too fast, slamming back into place just as we manifested in some dark room filled with drifting incense smoke.  I staggered.  Lisa went “Ugh-foo!” in reaction to what I considered a pleasant smell and vanished.  Poof.

Women.  Go figure.

“Irving!  I bind thee within this circle and cast silence upon thee!”

Thus intoned a very intense male voice somewhere in front of me.  Definitely a wizard in Formal Mode here.

“Ahhh, hello?”  I waved around with the sword again like a blind man with a cane.  So long as I was here I might as well make the best of things and do what I could to fix the situation.  If I got Irving off the hook then maybe Lisa would be grateful enough to wake me up and then I’d never, ever agree to go to another Hell Con again.

“WHO ART THOU?  I COMMAND YOU TO SPEAK THY NAME!”  boomed a fella I presumed to be the pissed-off and now surprised Billy-Bob Sousane.  The thick tendrils of incense parted enough for me to see him.  He looked like an Old School wizard, heavy into robes, special jewelry, and other paraphernalia.  He was in protective black, the magical equivalent of Kevlar.

“Hey, keep it down, I’m not deaf!”  The sword blade had strayed beyond the power lines of a containing circle cast on the floor, which is probably what spooked him.  What worked keeping a demon in check hadn’t done jack on me.

 “WHO ART THOU?”  he bellowed again.  Big guy.  He could have gone a few throws with the sports bar manager and held his own even with two-thirds fewer arms.

“The name’s Myhr—rhymes with ‘purr,’ and STOP YELLING!”

Remarkably, it worked.  Sousane glared at me, then my sword.  Uh-oh. He must have just guessed who had poked him.  There was a nick in his left palm, which he held out flat like a cop directing traffic.  He had a wand in his right hand.  Candles burned all over the otherwise dark room, but the wand glowed by itself.  I could figure he’d used it in some magical way to separate Irving from his head.

What are you?” Sousane demanded.

This was no time to get snarky.  He had every right to be ticked, all I had to do was smooth the waters and get out.  “I are Myhr, and I’m here on behalf of Irving the demon who wants you to know he’s not the one you’re looking for.”

Sousane continued to glare.  Intently. I knew the look; he was checking my aura.  Depending how good he was at reading he’d be able to tell if I was dishing him the truth.

Quickly I went through the Story-As-I-Knew-It, apologizing on behalf of demons everywhere for any inconvenience caused to him and all his kin.  “And, it’s really none of my business, but you should take that Ouija board away from your niece before she hurts herself or anyone else.”

“Are you a wizard?”

“Nah, I just room with one and pick up stuff by osmosis.  Listen, I’m getting a little cold here; if we’re squared about Irving I’d like to go back to my hot date…”

“I want the demon who possessed my niece!”

“No problemo, his name is…uh…uh…that is…crap—I can’t remember!”  Too true.  The succubus said I’d forget names on this Side.  I’d been able to remember Irving’s only because Sousane had said it aloud.

“Too bad for you, then.”  Sousane raised his wand.

“Hey!  Don’t you go Medieval on me!  It’s not my fault!  You know how the rules work about names.  I can’t help you—deal with it.”  Just in case he wasn’t planning to be sensible I held the sword in a guard position across my body.  Cold iron works just as well on wizards, especially in a pointy form.

But he wasn’t going to be a sport; I saw that much in one of his smoke reddened eyes about one second before he cut loose with—well, I couldn’t say what it was, because in half a second I dove the heck out of the way.

Boom crash bang rumble rumble went the sound effects, so loud I couldn’t hear them.  (Yes, it does happen that way.)  I did feel them.  They tromped me like a herd of elephants wearing football cleats.  I rolled and took cover behind an iron caldron big enough to do stews for cannibals.  My ears rang from the aftershock of the blast.  If he’d screwed up my perfect pitch I would be severely annoyed.

“Yo, Sousane!  I’m just a middleman!”

And he wasn’t buying.  He waved that wand and . . . ka—wham!

Psychic blast, a really big one, lots of magic in it.  White hot.

It itched.

My human side didn’t like it, but the cat part of me is fairly immune to magic.  That didn’t mean Sousane couldn’t wear it down and fry both sides to a tasty golden brown, given time.

Not tonight.  I dropped the sword and got my shoulder against the caldron, heaving mightily.  My muscles don’t look it from the outside, but they’re way better than human or I’d never have been able to shift the thing.  Metal grating harsh against the floor, it tumbled toward Sousane like a drunken bowling ball.  He was fast enough to dodge and did so, but I launched myself while he was distracted and tackled him square.  We both hit the floor, but he was on the bottom with the breath knocked out of him.

Irving just wanted the guy busy for a few hours.  The succubus had her methods; I had mine—starting with a solid clock on the jaw.  It stunned Sousane for a few minutes, and by then I’d found a roll of duct tape—handy stuff—and trussed him up snug.  He was fully awake and glaring over his gag when I’d finished.

“Don’t be so sore,”  I said, dusting off.  “You were trying to do the right thing, just aimed at the wrong being.  For what it’s worth, I think Irving’s as mad as you are about this.  If you lay off the Death Magic for a couple hours you’ll get confirmation from a source you can trust.  Don’t worry about a comeuppance; Irving’s probably gonna roast the dude for the both of you.  Won’t that be nice?”

Sousane made errrgh—arrrrrrrgh sounds in an unfriendly tone.

“Okay, whatever.  Are you alone here or will someone be by to eventually untie you?  Despite the hoo-rah, I wouldn’t want you starving to death.”

Urrgh!

“Was that a yes-urrgh or a no-urrgh?”

He got real red in the face.  Some people have no sense of humor.  I went to the room’s only door and cracked it, listening.  We were in what seemed to be an otherwise ordinary suburban house.  I could hear a TV blaring and people talking a few walls away, apparently unaware of (or maybe used to) the magical pyrotechnics.  No need to disturb anyone.  I rummaged for paper and pen, finding some on a table.  Sousane groaned as I block printed a note on the top sheet.  The stuff must have been the special kind used for writing out spells.  Ah, nuts, he could buy more.  With a bit of duct tape I put my “do not disturb until morning—busy!” sign on the outside of the door.  If the family below had any inkling of Sousane’s work, then they’d likely leave him alone.

If not, then Irving was in for it.  But I’d done my duty, above and beyond.  Besides, life’s a gamble—even for demons.

I left the cold iron sword behind, it not being mine, and stepped into the circle on the floor, resisting the urge to click my heels together three times.

It took awhile for the magic to take hold and do its thing, like waiting for an elevator, but once started…

Going down.  Rocket speed.  With a gleeful . . .uh. . . Lisa—that was her name!—waiting on Otherside to greet me once my stomach settled.  I decided to forgive her for whisking me off like that.  She was the spontaneous sort, after all.

“Get a room!” someone bawled at us.

“No!  Don’t!” someone else yelled.  Irving.  “Did you kill him?”

I gently peeled enough of Lisa off my face to say no.  “He’s tied up for now.  Get your Visitation paperwork started before—”

Irving vanished.  Poof.  Again, no thank you, but what d’ya expect with a demon?  Lisa eventually settled down from welcoming me back and insisted we return to the convention activities.  I loved her short attention span.

“Am I gonna remember any of this in the morning?”  I asked.

“Only the bits you like.  I’ll make sure you have some gooooood times again before you wake up.”

Just minus all names. Suited me fine. Lisa led off toward another panel discussion about to start.  The chamber was almost full.  “Who’s the speaker?”

“Oh, hunny-bunny!  You’re gonna love this guy!”

Of that I was dubious, but Lisa was in full fan-girl mode now and didn’t notice my lack of enthusiasm.  The attendees roared during the introduction so I missed the speaker’s name.  He was one ugly critter who shape-shifted with every step he took, never the same look twice and each one scarier than the last, not unlike Michael Jackson.

A hush seized the crowd.

“He’s world-famous!”  Lisa whispered, passing me a book being circulated around the crowd; clearly the guest was its author and popular.  Others had copies of their own. The cover read: Coming Out of the Closet , by—oh gawd—the Boogieman.

I checked the guy on stage again.  He morphed into a blue-haired little old lady, a deck of cards in one hand and a glass of Metamucil in the other.

She looked right at me—and smiled.

I woke up screaming.

 

Copyright 2012 P.N. Elrod

The stories posted are not released from copyright, under creative commons or any other licensing procedure.  They are not for reproduction elsewhere, with the exception of small excerpts for the purpose of linking or commentary and other purposes covered under fair use. 

THANK YOU for respecting this! -- P.N. Elrod