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Stories from The World, Chapter 1: The Television Demon

{--- Previously | Later ---}

The white noise continued, unabated. I managed to not smash my head on the underside of the table as I crawled backwards out of my awkward half-kneel, and tiptoed out to the recliner.

"Oh, this is just a laugh riot," the television said with a voice like a lifelong smoker's grunting wheeze. "Really? I mean seriously? I knew you were clueless, but I didn't know you were retarded too!"

There was high, shrill laughter that sent chills down my spine and was full of stop-motion images of a pack of hyenas dismembering an unidentified carcass. The stop-motion was a new sensation, like being under a strobe light but without the rainbow beads and glowsticks.

I yelled "GO AWAY!" in a voice that was only meant to sound panicky enough to sustain the ruse. I needn't have worried about my acting skills, I was actually only a hair away from wetting myself. I was starting to realize what exactly I was trying to do - outwit and trap a demon using a children's book and a piece of furniture.

As the sheet started to bulge outwards, the unidentifiable bony outlines crawled and squirmed like a sack of snakes. I kept my hand glued to the recliner handle, not sure what to expect. The volume on the television seemed to be increasing as the demon melted outwards.

There was a set of hollow thumps as the demon plopped first one hoof, then the other, down on the floor. I saw clawtips scrabbing under the sheet, the outline of horns, and the tip of a tail as it flicked back and forth like an angry cat's. As soon as I thought all of the limbs had been accounted for, I slammed the recliner handle backwards, retracting the footrest, and yanking the plug out of the wall.

The white noise, which had risen to an unbearable volume during the demon's exit from the television, cut off suddenly. There was a half second of silence except for the still ringing springs from the guts of the recliner, followed by a series of hoofclops as the demon turned in place to face the screen, careful not to get any more tangled in the sheet than it already was. There was the muted sound of claws tapping on glass through a bedsheet, and then a moment of silence.

I realized I was holding my breath.

And then I realized that the demon looked like he was wearing a really shitty ghost costume.

And then, I wasn't holding my breath anymore, because I was pointing and laughing hysterically at the concept of an actual demon, horn, hair, and hooves, wearing a really shitty ghost costume and trick-or-treating.

There was a whoosh as the bedsheets were swiped off and thrown to the ground, a briefly puzzled look as it turned another full circle to trace the line of chalk, and then an wordless screech of primordial rage as it fixed its gaze directly on me. It was a good holler, too - the thing threw its shoulders back, hands clenched, back arched, mouth wide open.

I wasn't laughing anymore, but I realized I was still pointing. Without the faintest clue of what I was supposed to do next, I asked, "Are you quite done with your little tantrum, or shall I go have a cup of tea while you cry some more?"

It started crying the kind of cry that isn't so much a cry as a wail. No, a roar. A force of nature. The kind that peels paint and breaks glass. I figured that at this point, it was either trapped or not, and I wasn't exactly equipped to fight it, so I went back into the kitchen to sort out the herbs. The cry rose in intensity, and the little red bastard never even seemed to pause for breath.

The shine on the chrome of Bob's Used Cars had tasted like hot lemons. Shark Week smelled like fish, and also the smell that your hands get after handling a lot of metal. The demon's cry was an incredible sensory overload. It was like watching a PETA propaganda film, but instead of cows, it actually starred me, my head being crushed with a captive bolt stunner, my carcass being hung and bled. I had only managed to get the sense of motion once before, with the stop-motion effect earlier. This was like remembering scenes from a movie in such detail that you feel like you're really watching it.

I got the smell of blood and burning fat, and the taste of vomit.

I stared at the pile of herbs, overwhelmed, and unable to shut off the synaesthesia. By my watch, it lasted for an hour and a half, and suddenly stopped. The sensoria abruptly halted, and I was back in the kitchen.

I poked my head round the corner and found it squatting awkwardly on its goat haunches in the center of the circle. I figured that if that didn't prove he had been successfully contained, nothing would.

"Hey," I said, head still poked around the corner.

It looked up from his pout, ferocious scowl firmly plastered on.

"So I take it you'll be staying for dinner? Are you okay with fish or would you prefer veal?"

"FUNNY! YOU'RE A FUNNY ONE! FUNNY FUNNY FUNNY!" was the shouted, childishly sarcastic reply. Its voice was terrifying. It was a burlap sack full of gravel, glass shards, and rusty Slinkies. A constant death rattle.

It was covered in wiry black hair from the waist down, and not a small amount trailed upwards all over its body in seemingly random patches. Its skin was six or seven mottled shades of red. Its hooves and claw-like fingernails - no, actually, they were just claws - looked like black anodized aluminum. It had a wiry, muscled upper body, but the muscles were not even close to human-shaped. They seemed to be steel cables inside molded rubber conduits that ran from random point to random point under the skin.

Its face only seemed human because of the beard. In profile, it had an enormous jaw - far bigger than would have even fit on a human skull. And though I couldn't be sure, I was pretty sure that I could see the tips of hundreds of teeth.

And all of this in a package about four feet tall. I realized there was a reason that "demonic" was such a powerful adjective. This thing was... demonic.

I grabbed a bottle of water and plopped down in the recliner. The only change from him as I got closer was a sly swivel of his eyebrows. I tried taking a closer look at him, but was distracted by the hundreds of hoof marks scorched in the floor, and laughed a bit at the ones that did a few continuous circles around the inside perimeter.

"Look," I said. "The way I see it, you're in a pretty interesting predicament."

It didn't move. There was only breathing.

Drawing on my extremely limited knowledge, and with a few educated guesses, I figured I would throw a little bullshit and see how much of it stuck.

"Listen, little guy. You made a couple of interesting mistakes. The first was making assumptions about what I am."

Its eyes narrowed a little bit. I realized that its eyes were completely black, like black glass marbles.

"I think you may have realized as much for yourself by now, little guy. I think that you are probably pretty uncomfortable now that the tables have turned. I think you expected you had hit the jackpot. You thought you'd found a dumb mortal who would know what you are, namely a creepy little demon."

I couldn't be sure, but I got the feeling he didn't like being called little. I wouldn't either, if I was him.

"But wouldn't know what you aren't - all that smart, or even powerful."

Its head swiveled a fraction of an inch towards me, and its breathing picked up a little.

"You figured anybody doing that kind of magic without any precautions was a mark. You figured you'd show up, flash around a little, and suck him in. Isn't that right?"

I certainly was a mark, but I figured it was really, really in my better interest for the demon to think otherwise. Its mouth narrowed and I could see its little claws start to dig into the skin on its elbows where they were clasped.

"But instead, the mortal laid a nice trap for you. You want me to think you're some kind of high and mighty, and you were fooled by a bedsheet and a piece of furniture! You waltzed right in here through a doorway that wasn't under your control, that you couldn't even see through!"

Yeah. It cringed. Just for a moment, but it definitely cringed.

"So, little guy, now that you're done throwing your tantrum, we're going to talk about some things. Because it would seem that I know an awful lot more about you than you do about me. And it would also seem that you're here until I decide otherwise."

There was no mistaking the cringe, or the sigh, or the hanging of the head.

"Fine," it said. "Let's talk, you've got me fair and square." But the image I got was a shark circling a dive cage.

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