Authors: Robert Preece
Copyright ©2002, Robert Preece
The two women giggled nervously as they held the spell book Sara Slocum had found in her mother's old things. “Are you sure we want to do this."
"Have we gotten a boyfriend any other way,” Sara's best friend Katra O'Hara reminded her. “Besides, what can it hurt?"
Sara didn't want to think about that. She read the words of the spell out loud, her eyes suddenly heavy.
"Keep chanting, I feel something."
She sputtered back to full consciousness at Katra's voice. “Let the powers of the east lend us strength,” she said, trying to sound like the preacher at her grandmother's church.
"I think you already did that part,” Katra whispered.
"This isn't working.” Sara slowly closed the spell book. “I told you casting spells for boyfriends is stupid."
Katra giggled, but she sounded nervous. “Just your boyfriend so far. We'll do mine next. But I
"Maybe you shouldn't have eaten all that chili."
"Oh, yeah. Well—"
Sara felt rather than heard a whoosh sweep through her Dallas apartment like a Texas Norther, dropping the temperature twenty degrees. Whatever it was cut Katra short, something of a trick all by itself.
The row of scented candles on the table in front of them flickered then winked out slowly, one by one. The room sank into a darkness more complete than should have been possible, even on a late-spring Dallas afternoon.
"It's just your air conditioning,” Katra whispered. She didn't sound convinced.
"It isn't on."
Sara heard the sound of Katra flicking her lighter but didn't see the flint's spark.
"What the heck is going on. I just bought this lighter.” Katra paused. “Hey, do you think this is magic? I told you I felt something."
Sara had felt something too, from the moment she'd touched her mother's book. She, not Katra, had suggested this seance even though she'd never believed in hocus-pocus. Of course Katra had been the one who'd suggested starting with the spell for summoning their true loves, and then insisting that they do Sara first.
"You think my mother hid that book for a reason?” Sara asked, her voice a whisper.
"We're thirty and single. We have to take chances,” Katra snapped. “Besides, sitting around in the dark isn't any worse than sitting around with candles and no boyfriends. Our biological clocks aren't going to wait."
Sara hoped Katra was right. Sitting around in a candle-lit room asking the Guardians of the Earth to supply her true-love was asking for trouble, even though she didn't really believe in the Guardians of the Earth. An icy feeling trickled through her veins even though Dallas had been warm all spring.
"If you blew those candles out,” Katra continued, “I don't think it was very funny."
"It wasn't me.” Sara inhaled and caught a faint odor of sulphur. Funny, they'd used a lighter, not matches.
Katra's grip seemed way too strong for her tiny friend. The poor thing must be even more afraid than she was letting on. Sara gave a tug but Katra's grip seemed rock-solid.
"You're squeezing too tight."
"I'm not touching you."
Something gripped down even harder. She didn't remember Katra's hands having those calluses. “Don't kid me,” she urged, but without much hope.
"You'd better be joking.” Katra didn't sound like she was kidding.
Panic welled in Sara's chest. “Oh my G—"
"Don't say it.” The voice was male and strong and it sent a tingle of sexual need, mixed with sheer fear, down Sara's spine.
"Don't say w—"
Katra interrupted with a scream. “There's a man here,” she gasped after she'd made enough noise to awaken people in Oklahoma City a hundred miles to the north.
"Free me from this blasted pentagram; I'll take care of any men,” the male voice urged.
Sara didn't know what it meant, but the voice held a compulsion so powerful she wanted to do whatever it demanded.
"Tell me you learned how to do voices.” Katra begged to be reassured.
"It isn't me.” Sara put all her strength into yanking her hand free this time. The grip tightened around her fingers in a grip that stopped just short of pain. The evidently male grasp felt warm, almost sizzling, to her touch. How could she have mistaken this for Katra's touch?
"Let's get out of here.” Katra's voice shook. There were a few more cigarette lighter noises, then a clunk as Katra evidently heaved the recalcitrant tool into the corner.
"Don't go without me,” Sara begged. Admittedly she had been casting a spell for a man, but that didn't mean she was just going to glom onto any male that snuck into her darkened bedroom. She relaxed, pretending she had given up, then grabbed the candlestick and swung it, full force, at whatever was holding onto her.
The heavy crystal candlestick clunked, then shattered. If she'd hit the man who was holding her, Sara was certain he would have let go. Unfortunately, she'd misjudged her distance and smashed her own hand.
"Oh my God that hurts."
Evidently something caught the man by surprise. He didn't let go, but his hand jerked against hers.
"The wards,” Katra breathed.
"Wha—” except Sara saw them too. Where they'd drawn the five sided star with sea salt, almost imperceptible blue lines glowed.
The faint light shouldn't have been enough to see by but Sara's eyes had adjusted to the dark. A male hand clasped hers where her hand crossed over the plane of the wards.
Using every bit of the strength her panic lent her, she yanked her hand away.
Even with all her force, her hand barely moved. Yet it was enough. When it reached the sea-salt boundary they'd drawn, a shower of sparks surrounded the male hand. It jerked, then dropped hers.
Sara collapsed to the ground panting as if she'd just run five miles. The eerie blue of the wards glowed more brightly now as if they'd sucked power from whoever they held trapped.
Sara gasped for breath, then struggled to her feet, reached for the light switch and turned on the overhead light.
If she'd thought the harsh glare of an electric light would explain everything, she was sadly mistaken.
Katra's earlier scream had something theatric about it. This one was real and from the heart.
crouched in the midst of the pentagram was male all right. It wasn't a
, though. He looked instead like one of the demons from the stained glass windows in the old-country church her grandmother attended. Small horn nubs protruded from a too-handsome face right at the hairline. He was shirtless and a pair of bat-wings extended from his muscular shoulders. What appeared to be a pair of leather pants did nothing to hide his male swell.
Ironically, Katra's scream gave Sara a moment's pause. A real demon, if such a thing existed at all, wouldn't look like a medieval fantasy. The thought was too absurd for words. And if he wasn't a real demon, he was a real something else. Like somebody's idea of a practical joke. Maybe one of their girlfriends had decided to play a game on them when Katra and Sara had shared their plans.
She took a deep breath. “Halloween isn't for another two weeks, so what's the big idea?"
"He's a demon,” Katra breathed. “He's probably going to blast us both."
"There are no such things as demons,” Sara declared with more confidence than she felt. If this was a costume, it was the most realistic one she'd ever seen. And if the rent-a-stunt services had a lot of guys with builds like this working for them, maybe she should look into a new line of work.
"Whoever told you there were no demons,” the male voice declared, “lied."
Something in the male voice reverberated down her spine and set off hormonal signals Sara had ignored since high school. It had to be the tension, she reassured herself. Nobody could respond sexually to a freak in a cheap costume.
The demon flexed his bat wings, bringing his broad chest to fuller definition.
Cancel that thought about cheap
"You can drop your game now,” Sara told him, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice. “If there are demons, they are symbolic, representative of the inclinations within us all.” She held up a hand to forestall his objection. “But let's suppose that's wrong and there really are grubby little imps running around. You aren't one of them. After all, a metaphysical being couldn't have grabbed me physically."
"You know a lot about this, do you?” His voice sounded amused, practically condescending.
"Trust me, your costume is something out of fairy tales meant to frighten European peasants.” Someone like her grandmother. If Nana had seen this costume, she would really have been weirded out. “Anyway, you did your job. We were scared for a second. Go home and tell whoever hired you that you deserve a bonus."
"No, I really don't think I'll go back home just now.” His face contorted and his deep blue eyes flickered. It took Sara a moment to realize it was a smile. “Trust me, Hell is no place to rush back to. I could get used to being around here."
"Hand me the phone, Katra.” She turned back to the supposed demon. “You may think this is a big joke, but the police will think it's breaking and entering. If you don't want me to call the police, you'd better tell me who you are and who hired you to play this nasty joke on us."
"But you must know my name.” He reared back, his wings extended until they brushed against the ward lines. Blue sparks flew at the touch of costume wing against wards that could not really exist. A scent of ozone joined that of sulphur. His voice sounded doubtful. “How could you have conjured me without mt name?"
Sara shrugged. “All right, play it that way. Katra, dial 9-1-1."
"Uh, maybe he's got a gun. Why don't
call the police?"
Sara looked the supposed demon up and down. If he had a gun, it was well hidden. Those pants could have been painted on from the way they hugged his narrow hips and muscular thighs.
"All right, I will.” She stood and took a step toward the phone, careful not to cross the sea-salt line on the carpet.
The supposed demon held up a hand. “You can call me Beljackoninan—uh, just call me Jack.” As if he really had some ancient Babylonian title.
He showed Sara his teeth in that expression he must mean as a smile. At least they weren't sharpened to points. That would have been taking the costume too far. Still, those teeth looked strong and the grin could have been meant as a threat.
"Listen to me, little girl. I can—” He jabbed a finger in her direction. His finger met the line of the ward and a sheet of blue light swept up from the floor blinding Sara for a moment.
Sara hung up the phone and rubbed her eyes, trying not to breath too deeply of the ozone-rich air. Jack glared at her and blew on his smoking finger. She was sure a finger couldn't actually catch fire but it had looked that way.
"That's a pretty good ward,” he admitted.
"Thanks, I think.” She wasn't a weirdo. Semi-naked men with fake wings on their backs and fake horns on their heads were not a turn-on for her. So why didn't she just call the police and have him carted off to the looney bin or Science Fiction Faire where he belonged? She'd do exactly that, except she was curious about those wards. Maybe somebody could have snuck into the apartment while she and Katra were concentrating on the spell. But what kind of equipment would it take to make the salt lines glow like that?
Still, he had to be a man in a costume. Any other explanation was silly.
Jack stretched again, this time careful to avoid the painful touch of the wards. It had been centuries since he'd last walked in the physical plane. Although he could never fully escape the pains of Hell, it felt good to be breathing again, to stretch his wings without bumping into a thousand other demons.
He couldn't believe his luck. The woman had actually summoned him without being able to remember his true name. Without that, she could never compel him to her will. Once he was free from these pesky wards, he would stride the earth like a king once more. Of course he'd have to get free fairly quickly. He didn't want to open a pathway for all the other demons in Hell. This was going to be his own personal pleasure.
He looked at the women more closely. Peering into their souls, he could read so much about them, their hopes, fears, their pride. An innocence and inherent goodness overlaid the shallow layer of toughness in the one called Sara.
That wouldn't help her. The two human women had been playing with magic, he saw, to attract men. Their mistake. The two women were certainly attractive enough to catch any man they truly set their heart on, but they hadn't and now he would use that fact to his advantage.