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Three Red Seconds

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The demon looked much as I expected it to.

Standing at roughly twice my height, its skin was cracked and burnt as if it had been pressurized under heat high enough to charbroil humans and strong enough to snap metals like twigs. Though hunched over, its vestigial wings flapped futilely as it threw itself against the barrier of table salt I'd scattered around it - all eight of its compound eyes blinking in confusion, and finally - understanding.

"Good evening - it seems I am at your beck and call, o' mighty summoner."

Bowing with overemphasized courtesy, the demon licked its lips with both of its tongues - not once taking its eyes off of me.

"What is it that you wish? Money? Vast fortunes that rival the greatest of the powerful and wealthy men that rule your world? Yes, you'd like that - wouldn't you..? Oh, but no; perhaps not. Power is what you crave!.. The power to shape your own destiny, to take your life into your hands and drive before you all those that have done you wrong. Power to challenge your own weakness... Or perhaps something else..? Romance? Love, naked lust - that's what you want, isn't it..? A selection of the finest skins for you to drink and eat your fill from - speaking in metaphor..."

The demon prattled on, finally falling silent as I said nothing at all, simply watching it -

And watching...

And watching.

Finally, it began to pace around in the circle it was trapped in, nervously; its spade-like tail swishing back and forth nervously, and its eyes no longer to keep step with my own. Occasionally it opened its mouth to speak - but my silence took it by the throat and strangled the words from its lips, and my guest remained quiet as well - uncertain and unnerved. Finally, it spoke.

"Don't you have some sort of command for me? I can't imagine you brought me into your world simply to stare, ahaha, ha."

But its courage was beginning to break - I could already see the creature beginning to think. This was not how things usually went - by now most would have made their demands, petty and useless things that were as ephemeral as anything else in this world. I wanted something else entirely. Something more interesting. Slowly, I permitted myself the luxury of a smile, and began to speak. The demon relaxed visibly, its shoulders sagging into its skin.

"Yes. I want you to play with me. I want to have fun today."

If it were possible for skepticism to be in the lightning-like eyes of the demon, then all of them blinked in disbelief, like peripats of obsidian and silver. Tilting its head to the side, the demon coughed nervously, wringing its hands together while searching for words it could not find.

"That's... Quite the request ya got there. I'll definitely want, uh... Blood. Soul. Uh. Is that really all you want? Absolutely nothing else?"

"Yes. That is all."

"Damn. Well, I don't normally do this, but consider this on the house. Because I'm feeling courteous! Don't expect this to become a regular occurrence, though! Ahahaha! Well then, summoner - no need for these circles, right? Since we have a deal - "

Already, my boots were kicking the salt out of the way and the demon capered towards me, stretching to its full height with a crack of bone and leather. It reminded me of an unusually tall dog in the way it seemed to savor being free of the confinements of my summoning wards, leaping and frolicking around the room before settling before me in another low bow.

"Yes, well then! Fantastic to meet you - I'll be your companion for the day, and have you laughing in the time it takes to build a castle from sand! So, what do you humans usually do for enjoyment in these times? Perhaps we shall string some servants from the balustrade, and frame others for our cruelties? Oh, oh! Or we could plant seeds that grow twisted and fell, nurturing the hatred in the hearts of others! Yes - oh, best of all! We could spread nasty words that give people hurt feelings on your human in-tra-nets!"

Cackling to itself, the demon looked at me expectantly, eager to cause mischief and sow panic.

I scratched the back of my neck.

"I suppose we could go for a walk. I like walks."

The demon look nonplussed as we left my large house in the countryside, and stepped into the cold morning air. Being a demon, it wasn't too fond of the chill, so I let it borrow two of my coats as we left the house. It looked ridiculous - its leathery red-orange skin wrapped in coats that didn't really fit any of its limbs - but at least it didn't shiver every other step.

I live a little ways from town - it takes perhaps fifty minutes to walk there, though the walk is nice and refreshing. Birds were singing, and I admire the solitude.


Constantly darting from too and fro with a look of awe and confusion atwixt its eyes, the demon lunged at songbirds and clambered up trees, spider-like limbs tearing chunks of treeskin and resin from them as it scampered into high canopies and stared into the world around it. I could hear it yelling excitedly, listening to the echo of its own voice - then jumping from the top of trees and landing on all fours.

"This is great! This is fantastic, there's nothing really like this where I come from! Aha, haha! You humans are really lucky, you know. I'm happy, thrilled, envious, excited! No wonder you like walks, I definitely like walks as well! A wise human like you is a wise summoner! I think we shall get along swimmingly..."

Saying nothing, I nodded my head. The town was making its way slowly into view, and I was hungry - so I brought the demon to the local diner.

A ceiling fan drifted lazily over head as the demon helped itself to five, perhaps six portions of gravy and biscuits as I sipped my tea and ate a pastry with somewhat stale cream-cheese frosting. The waitress - an aging woman who'd known for me as long as I'd been alive - smiled as she brought the demon its twelfth cup of coffee.

"And there ya go, hun. My, you're awfully hungry for one of your ilk. My, my - it's always such a pleasure to have friends of friends stop by. You really like those biscuits, don't ya?"

"Oh, yes! Yes! The delectability of the gravy, the savory tang and crunch - these are fantastic. You must send my compliments to your food-fabricators. I shall bequeath them a duchy in the next life!"

"You betcha. And - "

She was going to say something else, but my fingers tapped the table, twice. The waitress looked pale and swallowed slowly, turning instead to face me, though not quite meeting my eyes.

"And can I get you anything, hun?"

"Just the cheque please, Delia. Thank you."

The bell rang as we left, the demon managing to juggle two to-go boxes stuffed full of biscuits and leaking gravy across the still-frost strewn ground. A few children running by must have felt it was quite comical, because they laughed - and the demon looked quite embarrassed, dropping one box to the ground. Its face briefly became a mask of misery, though it tried its best to hide it.

"So, summoner - where to now? Perhaps a lake of fire, that we might look at the tar and pitch bubblign from within? No! A lake of ice that glistens with the stillness of a thousand-dead and a silent moon hanging from far above!"

"Close enough."

The lake was still a little icy, even though it was perhaps halfway into spring. This wasn't surprising to me, as the town in which we lived is pretty rural and could be considered somewhat rough by folks from the city proper. There were a few benches around the lake that you could rest on, or admire the geese and swans from. But the real reason I had brought the demon here was the playground.

Aging and rusty as most everything where I lived, the swings still worked. Though I'm not that young anymore, I'm pretty short, and pretty small - small enough to fit into the swings, at least. I did so, and stared at the demon staring at me.

"Push me."

I intoned, and the demon realized the purpose of the swing. I let my legs dangle over the side and just forgot about the world for what seemed like hours, but was in reality only minutes. The sky had began to drift towards noon - and was too bright, my eyes half-shutting every time the swing went higher. From below, I could hear the demon shout something excitedly - but I wasn't really listening. This too would come to an end eventually, after all.

Finally, the demon stopped, and the swing stopped, and I fell back to earth. My half-boots skittered against the ground, causing chunks of frosty soil to leap from the ground as if escaping from my presence. The demon leaped in front of me, smiling with all four of its rows of jagged teeth.

"That looks fun! That looks really, really fun! You should push me! You should definitely push me..!"

I did of course, listening to the demon hoot and holler and the fall silent as it thought about whatever demons think of when they are halfway between the earth and the sky. There were other things in the playground; a slideset, a climbing/hiding cave, a sandbox - but they were all too small, even for I.

Now the day was late, so I motioned for the demon - and it instantly disappeared from the swing in mid-air in a puff of sulfurous smoke, reappearing at my side with an expectant smirk.

"Yes, o' monosyballic one? Did you have a command? Or did something deviously entertaining enter into your mind? Perhaps we shall go acquire more of what you humans consume for food, yes?"

The demon looked at me expectantly, and once again it was half-right; though it wasn't late enough for anything to eat, I did plan to go shopping again. Today was a good day for it. It always took me awhile to find the bookstore - not because it was particularly hidden, but simply because I have a sort of a - a mental block, if you will. The moment I set foot in such places, I am lost for hours, and time is the only thing I really value.

Time is what allows us to do great things - to create, to work, to play, to live. But time is also what I manage worst, and whenever I enter a bookstore all I can think of is the smell of paper and the feel of pages and perhaps coffee and quiet, save for the chatter of children and the questions of others milling about on their own, in couples, in groups...

As for the demon, it seemed quite confused - though not unhappy - with the purpose of the bookstore. It realized enough not to clamber up the shelves and spill books from their perch, which was good - but it seemed not to be interested in the books so much as the people there, watching them intently as they went about their business. No - perhaps it seemed surprised by the fact that people didn't seem to care at all about it, besides a few off-kilter stares at its eyes, bugged-out and off-kilter.

"Summoner, why isn't anyone afraid of me? Am I not terrifying? Am I not mortifying? Do not the people of this world still fear those that dwell beyond?"

My eyes drifted from the page of a novel I was reading. A thriller-romance with mystery elements. It was pretty bad, and I wasn't interested in buying it, but I liked the cover illustration.

"No, not really. No one much cares about anything but themselves."

The demon asked several other questions, but I'd already ignored it and set about finishing my book.

Halfway through, I placed it back on the shelf - and noticed that the demon had already found several books which it had 'snuck' into the remaining box of food from earlier. Gravy sloshed from the pages, and the demon once again looked embarrassed - but hopeful. It opened its mouth, but I already nodded curtly - and then, after thinking about the rest of the evening, threw in a small candy bar as well.

After all, all things considered - it was only appropriate.

The demon consumed its chocolate slowly as we made our way home. It didn't want to eat the dark chocolate and lavender confection quickly, but it was salivating with every step, clearly pleased to the point of madness with the treat. It may or may not have been talking to me, but I was lost in thought. Not lost enough not to hear a question, asked plaintively.

"So then - what shall we do for the evening, summoner? You seem to have had exquisite plans so far, so I have no complaints. Save that this too must come to an end, ha ha, aha! Lead the way, and I shall follow!"

My head bobbed up and down, yes and affirmative. I was already thinking about what I had purchased from the bookseller, or more accurately drawn from storage. The look of unpleasant acquiescence on the bookseller's face as he handed me the package, heavy enough to carry in one hand yet so cool to the touch once removed... It was one of many, of course - but this was one was new, and I was eager to break it in.

"... For the rest of the day, I thought we'd just watch television."

"Oh. Ah."

"Very well."

The demon sounded noticeably disappointed, its tail falling to the ground and its eyes downcast. To be honest, I would feel that way as well - I don't really like television, or anything too reactive - but I had made my decision, or perhaps it had been made for me. My living room had one television, one sofa. The demon sprawled itself out and flicked through channels idly, eventually settling on a stand-up comedy show with some people who had been popular five, perhaps ten years ago.

"I'll be in the kitchen. Is there anything you want for dinner?"

"Ah, are you asking me? How - how very nice of you."

Confusion wavered in the demons voice - as well as genuine surprise. I could no longer see it as I prepared dinner, but could mentally imagine it, agape and pondering what to ask for - not knowing the name of many earth dishes or foods, but knowing tastes and feels and words in its own demonic tongue for the things it might enjoy - and yet not knowing how to phrase them. The kitchen smock I had put on covered most of my body as my knife cut and hacked; By the time the demon had regained some semblance of conversation, I had already finished a meal of fried herring and tomatoes, cut greens and lettuce and radish, and thick rye crackers.

We ate in silence, the demon stuffing food into its face with joy at every bite. I half-lie; the demon was trying to talk as it ate, but failing at both. I finished before it, and watched it finish the last of its food with silent eyes. Once again, the demon realized I had been staring at it, and looked away, chittering to itself. My clock struck eight - precisely twelve hours from when it had been called into this world.

"Well. This is awkward, but I suppose I should go."

I nodded, slowly. My skin was coated with sweat - the demon didn't fail to notice, but couldn't understand why.

"It was - it was really fun. I haven't had this much fun with a summoner for ages, perhaps ever. Usually you're all such dour people that want to cause harm to others; it makes it a real pain to be called forth. I'd go so far as to say you're the best summoner ever! Isn't that great? Congratulations!"

Cooing and crooning in the weird susurrations of demon-speech, the demon bared its teeth in what was a genuine smile for one of its ilk - unsure of how to read me, but assuming that my own smile was a mirror of its own.

Taking it by one hand-analogue, I continued to smile, fighting the twitching in my left eye.

"Yes, thank you, how nice. Come with me now."

The demon looked a little confused, but nodded, and followed me haltingly up the stairs.

I threw some table salt back into the wards from earlier and they hissed back to life with just enough room for the demon to step through before I threw the last of my salt, sealing it off. The demon waved, still smiling.

"Again - thanks, summoner. I wouldn't mind seeing you again. It was... Fun!"

The demon was surrounded by smoke, smoke as dark and ochre-colored as any that had ever graced the earth...

But it did not disappear.

Shocked, the demon tried once again to dematerialize, only to find the wards had grown stronger and more green around it as I paced in endless circles, my breathing heavy.

"It was... Fun for you, you say?"

My turn to lick my lips. They were dry with the cold and sweat and anticipation. The demon nodded, slowly - unsure of where I was going.

"But you... None of you ever keep your promises..."

My hands began to tremble as I reached into my pocket, fingers curling around the tip of my new package, the cold iron butcher's knife that sang joyously into my mind as I grasped it by the handle and drew it out.

"It's never fun for me."

There was no time for a look of surprise as I leapt forward and lacerated the demon limb from limb. Chop, chop - hack, hack. Demonblood gushed from multiple wounds as the light in the eyes of the demon went from confused, to horrified, to quiet - clouded over with grey webs that would never light again.

As the seals of the wards faded away, I knelt over the crumpled demon and sawed and hacked away at sinews and bone. Every few moments, I stopped, wiped the sweat from my brow and the blood from my smock, and took a piece downstairs.

The garbage disposal hummed on, hungry and monstrous - an abomination of steel and progress, eager to devour and consume. The crackle of demonskin as metal teeth ripped through it was met by the gurgle and snapping of bone. After every round of disposal, I would let the tap water flow, washing away the grimy black bile of the demon's blood and carrying away any trace that it had been there.

Finally, I was done. Removing the smock from my waist, I let it drop to my attic floor and sighed, and resisted the urge to cry. All I wanted, all I ever want, was a day that was fun for me..!

Why do all the demons I summon have to be so selfish?

But this next one will be better

I can already feel it in my bones, in my blood.

I'm a little tired, but I always am.

Almost Eight o'clock, it seems.

Sweeping dust away from my circle, I go to fetch more salt from my kitchen...

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