It was the weekend before Valentines Day, and me and Pedexyng were hanging out on the cross street of Elm and Main, people watching.
"You know," I said after the tenth couple holding hands passed by. "I don't get what the big deal is."
We were both leaning against a bike rack right in front of a restaurant advertising its 'Lovers Discount Breakfast'.
He nodded. His eyes were on a group of school kids nearby, playing with a soccer ball while they waited for the lights to change.
"I mean, they build it all up like it's some great thing. They've got all this art and poetry and shit dedicated to it." I absently played with the lanyard around my neck.
"And it's all just hormones, right? All just the chemicals and brains and junk, right?"
The kids lost hold of the ball. It went flying straight for us. Pedexyng expertly snatched it out of mid-air and, with a small smile, threw it back to them. They giggled and went back to kicking it back and forth to one another.
"It's not even the sex!" I said.
That got his attention. "What?" He looked over at me.
The kids lost hold of the ball again and it flew out into the street.
"I'm serious! I've talked to a few about it and they seem to think there's more to it than that." I threw up my arms. "It's friggan ridiculous."
One of the kids darted into the street. We both watched in silence as a car screamed to a stop right before hitting him. The kid was fine: he grabbed the ball and ran back to the sidewalk. The Ford, however, was not. The SUV behind it wasn't as quick on the brakes as it was. And then the pick-up behind that. And a Mini Cooper behind that. . .
Me and Pedexyng bumped fists. We watched as people started pouring out of their vehicles, all shouting and cursing, with a few trying hopelessly to get down insurance information.
"Maybe it's like glamour," he said eventually.
He shrugged. "Glamour. Only with humans. They use it on each other to make each other think there's something there."
I thought about this. It did make a kind of sense. Why else would they spend so much time around one another unless there was some spell involved?
"Humans with the inherent ability to make you like them." I shuddered. "That's a downright scary thought." I stood up and stretched. "Well," I said. "I'd best be heading back now. The meat sack's probably hungry."
Pedexyng snickered. "Dunno why you hang out with it," he said.
"What can I say? I'm well paid. Enjoy the show, dude."
"I will. Bye, Bri."
I wandered off about the same time the cops and ambulances showed up. I moseyed along, enjoying the sounds of sirens in the air.
* * * * *
There was a woman sitting on the couch when I got home.
I opened the door, dumped my bag onto the floor and was halfway through the living room before I noticed her, watching me. She sat politely on the couch, sipping a cup of what smelled like mint tea. She was pretty enough, I suppose. If you like the skinny, poofy-haired blond type.
"Oh." I said. "You are in my house."
She nodded and gently set the cup onto the coffee table. "I was invited."
"Ah. Okay. Do you know where-?"
"In the kitchen."
"Oh," I said. "Thanks." I passed by and caught the strong and familiar whiff of magic.
Oh good, I thought. For a second, I'd been worried.
"Who's the floozy, and why'd you have to go and summon her up?" I said, walking into the kitchen. "Couldn't get a date the old fashioned way?"
Bossman was at the counter, doing something that looked like it might have been culinarily relevant, but couldn't possibly have been because he was the one doing it.
"I mean, you've already got one hellspawn in the house, do you really want more?"
He was busily preparing food. It was painful to watch: he hadn't cooked his own meal once in the past five years I'd been here, and I'm pretty sure he lived on fast food and catering before that. "I'm afraid I haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about," he said, happily chopping away at vegetables. "Nor do I really care to."
"The chick in the living room," I said.
"That chick has a name," he said. "It's Lily. And it's a beautiful name."
That was . . . odd. I didn't think I'd heard him use the word 'beautiful' before. Like, ever.
"Well, beautiful or not, she's a succubus." I peeked around his waist over the top of the counter. "What are you doing to that innocent celery?"
"She is not a succubus. She's a librarian over at the college, and she's staying for dinner."
I snorted. "First off, there's no way that pile of . . . stuff there can in any way be considered 'dinner'. Second off; I hate to break it to you, Fausty, but she's a succubus. A demon. One of hell's bitches-"
He whirled on me with the knife.
"Demon," he said sweetly. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't talk about the lady like that."
He had the strangest look on his face. A dreamy sort of smile, semi-focused eyes. He looked relaxed, despite the big honkin' butcher knife in his hands.
I put up my hands in surrender. "Okay! Yeesh. She's practically perfect in every way."
His whole face lit up. "Isn't she just? You know she paints? She said she'd show me some of her paintings later. And we both read the same books. That's how we met; at the bookstore. And she-"
I backed slowly out of the room. "That's great, dude. I'm happy for you." I hurriedly closed the door behind me before he could start saying things like 'eyes like limpid pools'.
She wasn't on the couch, anymore. She'd gone to the fireplace and was poking through the knick-knacks on the mantle.
"What in the world have you done to him?"
She looked at me. For a second, snakes and deserts and things that felt old flashed through my mind.
Her eyes aren't red, I thought. It seems like a silly thing to notice, but most cacodemons' eyes are red. Hers weren't. They were green with little shots of purple in them. The pupils were diamond shape.
"I didn't do anything to him," she said. "He did it to himself. These human men are all the same in that respect." She gave me a knowing little smile, like it was a little secret between us, and oh those craaazy mortals.
"Why him? Why here? Aren't there- I don't know. Movie stars you could have? Young and handsome billionaires? Dictators of small countries?"
She shrugged. "I like it here. Quiet, comfortable. I can see why you picked it." She offered me another little smile. "I can see why Khoress was so jealous."
The ball dropped. My stomach sank. The elephant in the room decided to stretch, the rubber band holding the universe together decided to snap, and every other colorful way of saying 'oh crap' occurred. My hand shot to the spot on me chest where the Get Out OF Hell Free card was hanging.
"Oh, Bri. Everyone knows. Khoress has been talking nonstop about it for weeks. I just wanted to see it for myself."
Dammit, Khoress! She had been there when I won the card. I knew she'd been ticked off, but I hadn't thought she'd been this mad. "Well, here." I pulled the lanyard around my neck and brought out the card.
When I had cashed my very first paycheck, the first things I'd bought were; one: a good, sturdy lanyard. Plain black with a steel clip. And two: A clear card case made out of good, thick plastic. The card itself was small, yellow, and could have fitted in with a Monopoly deck of chance cards.
She reached out her hands greedily.
"Oi!" I said. "No touching." I tucked it back beneath my shirt. "There, you saw it. Now leave."
"You know what? I don't think I will." she went back to the couch and let herself fall into the cushions. "I think I might like it here. It's been a while since I've had a fleshling to keep me entertained."
"Hey, this place is only big enough for one live-in hellion, and I was here first."
"Out with the old, in with the new."
"Then I'll be seeing you, grandma. Don't think I can't see all that glamour! Tell me, how many layers of magic do I have to cut through before I actually find your wrinkled, sorry-ass self?"
She didn't even twitch.
Bossman picked just then to come in with a tray of the "food". She got up and flashed me a grin. For a second I was positive I could see a hollow tunnel lined with teeth overlaying her face. It was gone as fast as it had come.
"Hello, honey," she said, wrapping her arms around bossman's shoulders. He blushed. The bastard actually blushed.
This was off. Way off. I closed my eyes and let my mind wander off.
I could see it, now that I was looking. It wasn't just that she was coated in glamour, it was that she'd got him into it too. He was steeped in it. Every breath he took got him in a little deeper: the stuff was oozing out of his pores.
I came back to myself, utterly disgusted.
They both sat down together on the couch and started feeding each other like romantically inclined idiots.
"Sorry, honey," she said. She didn't look away from him, but she was talking to me. "I've won. Unless you'd like to arrange a trade?"
I felt the card's case through the cloth of my shirt. "Not only no, but hell no."
"Then I suppose that's settled. Dear?" she said. "It seems we have a pest problem."
"Munchkin," said bossman. "Give us some privacy." He was staring at her like a lovesick puppy.
I headed out the front door. I really didn't need to be in the same house as those two. Once out on the porch, I took a deep breath of evening air. Well, it was obvious. The meatsack had gone insane. He was sucked up by the glamour and the only way to snap him out of it would be to either kill him or to get rid of her.
It was clear: I needed some outside help.
* * * * *
The door opened after the third knock, and I gave my biggest, most friendly grin.
"Hello, Father," I said.
The door slammed shut.
Aww, I thought. He remembers me.
I knocked again. "Hey!" I said. "You can't just ignore me! What kind of priest-"
The door opened again and a silver cross was shoved into my face. "Avaunt, demon!" shouted Father Riley. "Back to the pits of hell with you!"
Word to the wise: crosses don't actually hurt us. If they did, we'd never be able to go anywhere 'cause they pop up all the friggan time. We wouldn't be able to go near trees, or play hopscotch or even walk on sidewalks if we paid too much attention to the cracks. No, it's the faith that gets us. If we come across some person who honestly believes in the great all knowing, all seeing Flying Spaghetti Monster, and they start hurling mystic meatballs at us, it'll hurt just as much as a Christian holding up a cross, or a Jew holding up the Star of David.
The card at my chest began to feel warm. The cross didn't hurt me. I could feel the faith sizzling around it like static electricity, but there wasn't any of the usual agonizing pain to go with it. I gently pushed his wrist away.
"Come on, padre! You're really going to be like this? After everything we've been through?"
He turned an interesting shade of reddish-purple. "You tempted me! You nearly cost me everything! Foul, deceitful abominable-"
I put my hand over my heart. "Ow." I said. "That hurts. And after all the time we've spent together."
Ah, Father Riley. My favorite little failure. I was sent to be his shoulder devil back when he was still in seminary school. Fun times.
"I swear by all that is holy, I will send you straight back to hell."
"That's actually why I'm here." I took a deep breath. Here it goes. . . "I need your help. I need an exorcism done and you're the best I know."
It's true. He got rid of me, didn't he? And I'm like a grape juice stain.
"Oh well then!" he said. "Just hold still and I'll see what I can manage!"
He turned to go back inside.
"No, wait! I'm on the up and up now!"
"Oh really? Glad to hear it."
"No for reals! I'm heaven approved and everything. Look." I took out the card's case and held it up. "See? Look; in big bold print and everything."
He stuck out a hand. "Let me see it."
I pulled it back. "No."
"Then how am I supposed to believe you? Why should I believe you anyways? Why am I even out here still?" He started for the door.
"No, wait! It's real, and I really do need your help."
"I need to see it."
I held it in both hands, clutched to my chest. "You'll stomp on it. You'll tear it up. You'll sell it, or keep it for yourself-"
"I know your name."
I froze. "You wouldn't. You're not allowed to."
"You're right," he said, crossing his arms. "I wouldn't. I would, however, scream it from the rooftops. I would post flyers all over town. I would make sure everyone knew. Sure, some would think me mad, but I know for a fact a few people would find the information very useful. Unless," he stuck out a hand. "You give me the card."
I gave him the card.
He carefully slid it out of the container, examining it like a jeweler would a particularly odd gem. The spot where it had been hanging before felt cold and empty.
"Be careful," I said as he turned it over.
"Oh relax. I'm not going to-" he choked. His eyes bugged out as he stared at the card's back.
"What?" I said. "What is it?"
"Wh-where did you get this?" he rasped.
"Some asshole gave it to me. Why?"
"It's a trick," he said. His hands were shaking. "It's a trick. You did this, you must have!"
He grabbed my shoulder and held the back of the card up to my face. "This! You wrote this, didn't you? You're the only one who could have!"
A Get Out OF Hell Free card, signifying that the bearer of this card currently is unclaimed by either the forces of Heaven, Hell, Faerie, or other Accepted Parties.
So heaven doesn't want you, and hell spat you up?
The Second Chance is your Last Chance!
"What are you talking about? It looks perfectly fine to me."
He stared at me for a second, then looked back at the card. "You really don't see it, do you?" he said slowly. "No, you wouldn't even know. You weren't there. It was before you . . . " He let go of me and handed back the card. "Here. Take it back. I believe you."
He half-smiled, half-sneered. "Suffice to say that I've been given adequate proof. Tell me."
So I did.
* * * * *
"So tell me," said Riley as we trudged up the walkway. "This boss of yours. Is he even Catholic?"
"Swell," he grumbled just loudly enough for me to hear. "Absolutely perfect." He held his book in front of him like a shield.
"Relax," I said, unlocking the front door. "Isn't this what they pay you for? Come on, time to earn your yarmulke."
"That's actually not Catholic, that's-"
"It is astounding how little I care."
They had moved from the main living room into the upstairs parlor. We opened the door and found them there, necking.
"Oh," said the father. "Ah."
"Disgusting, isn't it?" I said.
Lily heard us and looked up. She grinned, revealing teeth that I know for a fact shouldn't have been able to fit in a human mouth. "Hello, Bri. Back so soon?"
We both stared. Her mouth was covered in blood. His neck was covered in blood. Both of their clothes were covered in- you get the the idea. She stood up and went to meet us at the door. Bossman stayed on the couch, grinning stupidly into space.
"Oh how cute," she said. "You've brought a little snack." She wrinkled her nose. "Looks a little stale, though."
Riley grabbed my shirt collar and dove back into the hall. He slammed the door behind us and wouldn't let go of me until we'd made it into a guest room.
"Hey!" I said, squirming out of his grip. "What was that about?"
"I thought you said it was a succubus!"
I rubbed my neck. "Isn't she?"
He looked like he was about to explode. "Lamia. That was a Lamia. Didn't you see her eyes?" He began flipping through the pages of the book, muttering under his breath. "I swear, the things I do. . . "
"So what? There's gotta be a spell in that book of yours to get rid of Lamias."
"First off: They are not spells. The unlike some people I could mention-" little glare at me here. "The church doesn't rely on or condone the use of magic."
"Pfft. You say words and stuff happens. Sounds like a spell to m-"
"Secondly, Lamias are much harder to deal with than the typical succubus."
"Can you get rid of her or not?"
"That depends. What did you say her name was?"
He stopped digging though the book. "What, really? Lily?"
"Yeah. . . "
"And she just told you that outright?"
I shrugged. "I don't think my knowing her name is high on her list of things to worry about. Why? Do you actually think that's her real name?"
"No." he went back to page shuffling. "But I think I do know the real one."
"So you can get rid of her?"
"I'll have to adjust a few of these," he said, mostly to himself. "But yes. This one might work. . . "
"Glad to hear it. You might want to hurry it up though, 'cause in case you didn't notice, she's kind of eating my boss."
* * * * *
I threw open the door as dramatically as I could.
"We are here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and we are all-"
The good father smacked me on the back of the head and started reciting.
"Bri, what is-" her eyes widened. "No."
In one fluid motion, she leapt from the couch, landed in front of us, and threw herself at Riley. He screamed. I threw myself at her. I'm small, but dammit, I can bite and pull hair with the best of them. "Go!" I shouted before getting an elbow to the nose. He started up again while we kicked and clawed at each other on the floor.
I don't speak Latin. I used to, but like anything else in the world, the less you use it, the more you forget. I could pick out a couple biggies- 'padre' 'potestas' 'nomini' and the like, but I couldn't actually piece together what he was saying. The card burned against my skin.
It was so familiar, though. It didn't matter that he was about forty years older, or that we were in bossman's living room instead of a dorm. I was there, he was pissed, and any moment now the floor was going to crack apart beneath me. I held my breath when it came time for the name.
". . . ita impero iste, Lilith!"
She screamed. I may have screamed as well.
The floor didn't crack open, which was a bit of a let down. Instead, Lily-who-was-Lilith began to fall away beneath me. She just broke into little pieces, and those pieces turned into sand, and even that sand turned into nothingness. I fell to the floor with a thunk.
"Damn," I said getting to my feet. Blood dripped from my nose, but I wasn't particularly bothered by it. "For a second there, I thought you were gonna get rid of me, too."
He slammed the book shut. "Don't think I wasn't tempted."
I grinned. I had to. "Aww shucks, you always know just what to say."
Bossman was still sitting on the couch, stupid grin plastered over his face. He was alive; Lilith was apparently one of those people who like to play with their food. She hadn't torn anything out except skin: all the important bits seemed to still be there.
"There's a medi-kit downstairs in the laundry room," I said. "Can you go get it for me?"
Riley looked like he was going to say something. He seemed to think better of it, though, and instead left. A few minutes later, and he was helping me get bossman into one piece.
If bossman minded, he didn't show it. In fact, every so often he would give off a little giggle.
"That's oddly disturbing," said Riley.
"It's the glamour. The poor bastard's positively soaked in it." I finished with the bandages. "You think that's good?"
"For now. You'll have to get him to a hospital, though. I'm no doctor."
Bossman giggled again.
"How long is he going to be like this?"
"Well," said Riley, wiping off his forehead. "If it's anything like normal infatuation, you won't get any sense out of him for at least a week. Then another week or two after that for the heartbreak to settle."
"Aww man, a whole two weeks?"
"During which time he will mope. There may be angsty poetry involved. And mood swings. Expect him switching from berating his idiocy for falling for such a cruel witch, cursing her name to the high heavens, and alternatively hating himself for letting 'the One' get away."
"Even if she was a bitch?"
I glanced over at bossman.
"Love is a fucking stupid emotion. Glad I'll never have to deal with it."
Riley opened his mouth, closed it, then rubbed his temples. "I hope you won't be offended if I decide to take my leave," he said. "It's been a long night."
"Oh, yeah. Right." The room seemed to get a little more awkward. I looked down at my feet. "Uh, Riley? Thanks."
He sighed. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Goodbye, Bri. Remember what I said about the doctor. I'll let myself out." He stopped in the doorway. "And Bri? Come near my house again like that and I will personally have you crucified."
"I wouldn't expect anything less." He started off.
"Hey," I said. "What did the card say? When you looked at it?"
"You know," he called from the hallway. "I really don't think that's any of your business."
I shook my head and went to go check on bossman.