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Stories from The World, Chapter 1: The Television Demon

{-- Previously | Later --}

There was a pause, and the sound of tearing paper.

"First off," she said, "Isolate the vector as best you can."

My response was probably uninspiring, sounding something like "Buhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-".

"Unplug your television! Put the phone down and do it right now," she said.

"Yeah, I uh, already took care of that. It was bothering me this morning with things it's not supposed to do," I said, trying to clench the phone between my ear and shoulder while pouring the dregs of the pot to warm up my coffee.

"Well then, I can't help you any more than that. I won't even charge you for it, but I can give you a couple referrals. What nature of demon is it?"

There was another pause, this time on my end. All I could muster was "I, uh, I don't know. Small? Red? Pointy tail, and he left a bunch of little hoof marks on my wood floor."

She sighed a long hissing sigh, like a teapot that hasn't quite got up the gumption to whistle. "Look, I don't know what your situation is, but I'm guessing you're in waaaaaay over your head. Why don't you tell me a little about what's going on, because otherwise, I might end up referring you to the wrong people, and they're going to fleece me on the kickbacks."

I fiddled with my bathrobe belt as I told her what I remembered about the Lord of Color and Emotion wanting me to kiss his ring. She asked me what name he'd given me, and I told her I didn't remember if he had or not. She tut-tutted a little and muttered something about "dumb, but not dumb enough to be easy, unfortunately". I assumed she was talking about the demon, but didn't ask. Then she asked about the ring, and I had to think about it for a minute. I told her that from what I could remember, "It looked an awful lot like a cheap mood ring like the kind kids play with."

She said, "Make some more coffee while I make a couple of calls, and have you considered cleaning out that carafe? I'll call you back."

Then she hung up, leaving me to look back and forth between the brown rings etched into the glass of the carafe, and the silent phone.

Twenty minutes later, elbow-deep in dishwater, I answered the phone, expecting anything but a witch doctor.

"Yeah," she said, "I have good news and bad news."

"Okay, I'll take them in whatever order you want."

"The good news is, I know a guy who can take care of this no problem. The bad news is, I guarantee you don't have any of what he takes in payment."

"Right," I said, clearing my throat. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I get the vibe off you that you wouldn't have bothered calling me back if you didn't have some way to hustle me."

She laughed. It was a nice laugh, and the laugh looked like strong white teeth and plump brown lips. I got the same funny buzzing in my metal plates as when I was sniffing Shark Week commercials.

"Very perceptive," she continued, "If not exactly polite. I was going to make you a deal. I found some things out, and I am willing to share."

"Right, sure, yeah, share. So like you're just going to give it to me, right?"

"Weellll," she said, stretching that word out like a limp rubber band, "No, it's more like a trade. I tell you some things, and I get something rather minor in return, rather minor indeed in the grand scheme of things."

I had an inkling that things were being oversimplified as a way to skew the truth. This was an inkling I was to become very familiar with in my dealings with The World.

"Look," I said. "I don't really know what's going on here, but I'm acting in good faith and expect you to, as well. Granted, you are a stranger on the telephone who may be a hallucination, so there are a couple layers of danger in trusting you, so let me try something out for a second. I want you to repeat after me, OK?"

There was silence on the line. I couldn't decide which bizarre part of what I'd said was causing the hesitation, but she didn't hang up.

"OK, ready? Say, 'I put an ad in The Speaker.'"

"I put an ad in The Speaker," she said, hesitantly and sullenly. I got an image of eyes rolling.

"OK, say, 'I'm disappointed that I won't be getting any kickbacks'". Her response left me with those same strong white teeth biting a lower lip, and some scrunched eyebrows.

"Are you embarrassed to admit that?" I asked. When she said "No!" I could see fingers crossed behind a back, toe swirling in the dirt on a playground.

Was I a lie detector or something? Was this the unauthorized magic that the demon had been talking about?

While I was standing there, silent and probably with a stupid look on my face, trapped in a circular current of self-referencing doubt and introspection, she said, "I think I may be, ah, misinformed. I apologize if this is not the case, but I believe you to be a mortal, non-able, ranked less than two on the conventional Perfmeier scale. Am I mistaken, sir, madame, or other?"

The voice was inflected with an air of artificial professionalism, like a brand new doctor trying out his textbook bedside manner. It was the same voice she'd used when she first answered my call.

"Listen," I oozed, trying on an affected tone of my own. "I'd be happy for any assistance you'd be willing to provide, in terms of information. If you have clear terms for payment, I'll let you know if I'm amenable to those terms."

"Well, uh... You most probably aren't willing to take on a geis after all, so, how about a thousand bucks?"

"Perfect," I chirped, brightly, amenably, "So let's discuss whatever it is you've managed to dig up."

"Well," she said, still playing professional, "First of all, he's not The Lord of Color and Emotion, unless it's some kind of honorary title, demons are big on those. At best, he's an assistant to someone important. A very minor assistant. Probably an assistant's assistant. And the ring is not just a signet, it's almost certainly also the repository of his empowerment. The description you've given me means that most likely, he is responsible for a minor function somewhere, and more likely even less. I was able to dig up a description and naming formula for a very similar demon who was under a geis of responsibility for the successful blossoming of a certain grove of cherry blossoms."

"Right," I managed to spit around a mouthful of cornflakes, "So how do I deal with him?"

"Well," she said, with a vision of fingers rubbing briskly in the universal sign for cash, "Will that be cash or money order?"

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