“The Price of Eggs”
by J.C. Pillard
That morning, when I opened the refrigerator to the boiling red glow of a nether portal pulsating on the top shelf between a half-empty jar of salsa and Saturday’s leftover egg rolls, I really wished I’d just hit the snooze button.
A green imp with beady black eyes perched on the top shelf, grinning and clutching my egg carton. It hissed, taking a swipe as I tried to yank the carton away.
“For heaven’s sake, give me my eggs!”
“They are my eggs,” the imp hissed. “I found them. But I will sell them to you for your soul.”
I groaned and shut the door. Even imps wanted a piece of me, it seemed. The portal must have opened during the night. It wasn’t a total surprise: we’d had the Portal Problem a couple of months ago when I’d first bought it. Martha’s parents had paid for an exorcism at the time, but it obviously didn’t stick. Shit.
I grabbed a Sharpie from the junk drawer and scrawled a couple of runes from the Elder Futhark onto the outside of the fridge, hearing the imp squeal inside. The runes wouldn’t seal the portal, but they’d at least keep the little bastard contained until I figured out what to do.
Cracking my neck, I debated making some oatmeal in the microwave, but given the machine’s condition, the palatability of the outcome was in doubt. Instead, I retrieved the box of Captain Wheat Flakes from the pantry, pouring the forlorn squares into a bowl with some apple slices and cinnamon. Dry cereal for breakfast. Oh joy.
I was just sitting down on the couch when a door slammed further in the apartment, and moments later my roommate stumbled into the living room, yawning and squinting in the early morning light. She started towards the fridge.
Martha glanced at me. “Why not?”
“The portal opened again.”
She groaned and threw herself on the couch beside me. “Christ, not again. I thought the exorcism was supposed to take care of it. We can’t afford a new fridge right now. Can’t you just magic them away with your degree?”
I glanced at the wall, where my undergraduate diploma hung like a withered laurel wreath. “I told you, it’s not that kind of Demonology degree. I already sealed the fridge with some runes, but that’s not a permanent fix.” I sighed, taking another bite of my cereal. “Look, I can ask for an advance if we want to have it exorcised again. Otherwise, I think we need to sell it.”
Martha winced. “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Ask McAlwright for an advance, if you don’t mind.” With another groan, she stood and grabbed a granola bar from the pantry. “That’s the last time we buy an appliance from Craigslist.”
I sighed, glancing forlornly at the microwave. “Agreed.”
I didn’t relish the thought of asking my boss for an advance. As I waited for the elevator that would take me to the company’s fourth floor office, I steeled myself. My boss, company VP Charles McAlwright, was a cheapskate, but he could be reasoned with. I’d been working in Accounts and Collections for six months, and I was always on time and always done with my work long before it was due. It wasn’t like the request for a little bump was unreasonable, given the circumstances. I just needed to explain the situation; namely, that we really needed to get rid of the hell-portal in time for the holidays.
The elevator chimed, and moments later I pushed open the frosted glass doors into the hush of the office. Some employees were already there, quietly hunched over their computers and surreptitiously checking their social media. I set my bag and coat at my desk before heading towards McAlwright’s office. His was the biggest, its heavy oak door emblazoned with a brass plaque. I paused as I neared it; through the door, I could just make out the murmur of a conversation. I bit my lip, unsure if I should interrupt. Just as I turned to go, however, the door opened and McAlwright’s portly personage emerged. His slightly bloodshot eyes fixed on me.
“Bennett. Excellent. Please, come in.” McAlwright opened the door wider, and I swallowed against the sudden dryness in my throat. Squaring my shoulders, I crossed into his office and stopped short.
There was a demon hunter leaning against the opposite wall. Her long, black hair hung in a braid, and the duster she wore brushed the carpeted floor. A sword hung in a weathered scabbard at her hip, the rubies on the pommel glinting in the office’s fluorescent light.
McAlwright took a seat behind his desk and gestured to the two worn chairs across from it. “Have a seat, Bennett.”
Warily, I did.
“May I introduce Riddle Theraux? Riddle, this is Lily Bennett.”
Riddle nodded to me. “Nice to meet you,” she said, voice gravelly. “McAlwright was just saying what an asset you’ve been.”
I gave a vague shrug. This was the only the second time I’d seen a demon hunter, and the first time up close. It’s not like you spotted them walking through downtown. About a year ago, though, there’d been a mass possession at a deli near my apartment. I’d seen the emergency vehicles gathered in the street: police cars, ambulances, and fire engines. Pulling up behind them with a growl came a red Crown Victoria from which emerged a black-clothed figure. The hunter had pulled an enormous scythe from the trunk, slung it over their shoulder, and headed into the deli. I still recalled the ragged scream that had pierced the air a few minutes later.
Studying Riddle covertly, I wondered if she might have been that mysterious, scythe-wielding hunter.
“Riddle is from the local arm of the Demon Eradication Network,” McAlwright said, leaning back in his chair with a squeak. “She needs information on one of our clients. You might be familiar with them. Tempest Tech?”
“Yes, sir. I helped with their invoices in August.” We’d been handling the business of the startup for a little over a year. Roughly two months ago, all contact with the company had abruptly ceased. Attempts had been made to contact them for invoices, but the calls and emails were never returned.
“Has something happened?” I ventured.
“I’m afraid so. Arthur and I tried to pay them a visit yesterday, but the damn place is overrun with demons. One put Arthur in the hospital. There’s a card in the break room if you want to sign it. Amy is having some flowers delivered, too.” McAlwright sighed. “The whole thing’s a mess. It seems Tempest Tech was experimenting with demonic energies in their newest line of products, and things got out of hand. Riddle needs information on the building’s layout before heading in.”
“Well, sir, I can pull our records. I’ve upgraded our client tracking system, so it shou—”
“That won’t be necessary, Bennett, as I’ve thought of something better,” McAlwright interrupted. “When Riddle here said she was heading over today, I suggested one of our staff accompany her. We have knowledge of the building’s layout, and since Tempest Tech does owe us a significant amount, we need to value what remains of the property for collections and resale.”
A cold sweat dripped down the back of my neck. “One of the staff? Me? You want me to go with her?” Having an imp in the fridge was one thing. A whole building infested by demons was something else entirely.
“Mr. McAlwright,” I began. “I really don’t think—that is, I am of course invested in the best actions for the company, but I don’t—I’m not—”
“Accounting is a dangerous business, Bennett, not like the Classics department at your alma mater,” McAlwright interrupted again, voice low and serious. “Besides, this is a good opportunity for you. You’ll get a lot of experience.”
I jumped as Riddle spoke, coming to stand beside my chair. Her face was impassive.
“As I mentioned earlier, there are restrictions in place to prevent civilians from interacting with the hordes of hell. If you want her anywhere near the building, there will be a considerable amount of paperwork.”
“Forgive me, Riddle, but I simply must insist. Bennett will accompany you to ensure that no unnecessary damage is done to our property. I can call your supervisor if you’d like.” He began reaching for his office phone.
To my horror, Riddle raised her hand and smiled slightly. “No need for that. She can come.”
McAlwright grinned and smacked his desk. “Perfect! Well, why don’t you get going? I’d like to have this unpleasant business over with by end of day. After all, the end of quarter is coming up and, well you know, investors love positive P&L reports.” He glanced pointedly at the door.
Heart in my throat, I followed Riddle out of the office. Demons. I was going to have to face real demons today, in addition to—
I spun. “Mr. McAlwright, I really need to talk to you about m—”
He was standing behind me, hand on the door. “We’ll talk when you get back.”
The door closed firmly in my face, and my shoulders slumped. Assuming I survived an encounter with real demons, I’d have to talk to him about the needing-an-advance-for-the-fridge thing tomorrow. Which was one more day the imps would be clogging up the refrigerator and ensuring my food went rotten. Great.
The demon hunter came up behind me, and I turned. For the first time, I got a good look at her face. It was not particularly attractive, but it was intriguing. A dark scar sliced diagonally across her right cheek and another on her left temple disappeared into her hair. She thrust her chin towards the door.
Riddle did not drive a red Crown Vic, but a 1969 black GTO. I held my breath, careful not to ding the door when I got in. Now, driving through the city, I clamped my sweaty hands together. I’d seen the images of demonic carnage that flashed across the nightly news. Most large-scale portals were removed with relative ease, but some…some lingered. There had been one big portal that opened a year ago on the campus of the University of Houston. That had taken days to close, and I remembered the screams of students in the first clip released from the incident, the chemistry building on fire behind a glowing red portal.
My eyes strayed to Riddle. She drove with one hand on the wheel of the car, the other resting on the shifter. At this angle, I saw that the scar on her face slashed down further than I’d realized, ending in a hypnotic swirl along her neck. How had she gotten it? What claws—
“Are you done gawking?” Riddle spoke while keeping her eyes fixed on the road.
I reddened, turning my gaze on my clasped hands. “Sorry,” I muttered.
Riddle sighed. “It’s all right. Your kind are usually fascinated with people like me.”
“Laypeople,” she replied. “Folks who don’t know anything about demons.”
I bristled. “What makes you think I don’t know anything about demons?”
“Because you were staring at me like I’ve grown horns.”
“I just. . . your scar. I was wondering how you got it. It looks like . . . teeth.”
My mouth fell open. “Really?”
Riddle snorted. “Yeah. We don’t have time for the whole story. We’re here.”
I turned. We had, indeed, reached Tempest Tech. Riddle turned smoothly into the parking lot beneath the towering office building. Reflective gold windows marched up the façade, subdividing it into a tall, glittering chessboard. The parking lot was full of cars, but it was clear they hadn’t been driven in a while. Many were covered in moldering leaves and spattered with bird droppings.
Riddle parked. “Stay in the car.”
“You heard me.”
“But McAlwright said—”
“I don’t particularly care what your boss said.” Riddle glared at me. “Like I said, there are procedures in place to prevent the citizenry from interacting with the hordes of hell. I’m not in the habit of bringing tourists with me, and I’m not about to start now.” She shoved open her door, slamming it behind her.
I sat in the passenger side, staring after her. I felt the car jerk as she opened the trunk, dimly saw her pulling out weapons in the rear-view mirror. She was right. Going in would be incredibly stupid and dangerous and would probably break several laws.
But I really needed that advance.
Riddle shut the trunk and stalked towards the front doors. In my mind, I could already see McAlwright’s disappointed expression. I could kiss any advance goodbye if Riddle messed up Tempest Tech. Or have my career sidelined. Or, worst of all, get fired. God, I didn’t have enough saved to cover rent for more than a month after student-loan payments and food and utilities.
Riddle was at the front doors. She rattled the handles before reaching into her pocket and removing a small, black cylinder that she began attaching to the doors.
“Oh, no. Oh no. Oh shit!” Before I knew it, I was out of the car. “Wait! Stop!”
The hunter whirled. “I thought I told you to stay in the car!” she growled.
“I know the pass code! You don’t have to blow it!” I scrambled to the discreet keypad beside the entrance, dredging up a memory of the numbers from paperwork I’d seen. Quickly punching them in, I breathed a sigh of relief as the lock disengaged.
“Thanks,” Riddle grunted, dropping the secured bomb back in her bag. “Now, get back to the car.”
I swallowed. “There are more key codes inside.”
“Then give them to me.”
“No. I mean—” I fumbled for words, anxiety clouding my thoughts. “Please let me come. I promise not to get in your way, I-I’ll stay behind you the whole time, I’ll be quiet, I’ll even let you break things if you need, I just . . . I can’t lose this job. Please.”
Riddle studied me, face impassive. After an interminable amount of time, she sighed. “Fine. Here.” Reaching into her bag, she removed a sheathed dagger and handed it to me. “Slip that on your belt. It’s for emergencies only. If you get cornered and I can’t get to you, go for the heart or throat. Demons die just like mortals. Well, their bodies do, anyway.”
I slipped the sheath on the belt of my slacks. “What if I’m not fast enough?”
The demon hunter shrugged. “Pray, I guess.”
I’d braced myself when Riddle pulled open the front doors, ready for a cloud of green-skinned imps or horned cambions to come rushing out. But instead, I followed Riddle into an empty, silent lobby. Despite my boss’s insistence of a hostile demon takeover, everything seemed normal, if abandoned. Dust covered the chairs and couches, and all the plants were long dead.
“Are there stairs?” Riddle murmured, eyeing the unlit elevators dubiously.
I nodded. “This way.”
I keyed in the code to unlock the back staircase. Riddle went ahead of me, and we began our ascent. As we climbed, I wrinkled my nose: the faint scent of sulfur tinged the air.
“I imagine the demons are on the upper levels,” Riddle said after the second empty floor.
“Closer to heaven,” I replied reflexively, then winced as Riddle stopped, turning.
“You knew what Astaroth’s dragon was.”
“In the car. How?” She studied me. “Are you a demonist?”
“No!” I returned loudly. “God, no. Do you think I’d worship one of those things? No, I was a Classics major. Emphasis on demonology.”
Surprise colored her features. “Really? What are you doing working for a collections firm?”
“The job market isn’t exactly clamoring for Classics majors,” I replied dryly. She was still peering at me expectantly, so I sighed. “Look, I wanted to be a university researcher, but . . . well, I didn’t get accepted anywhere for my Master’s. I’m hoping to reapply, maybe.” The words sounded defeated, even to my ears.
Riddle arched an eyebrow. “Is that still what you want?”
“Does it matter?”
She opened her mouth as if to reply when we both heard it: a soft, scuffling sound behind the sixth-floor door.
“Get behind me,” Riddle ordered, drawing her sword.
I did as she asked, creeping after her as she pushed open the heavy metal service door. A dark, deserted secretarial pool greeted us. On the far side of the maze of cubicles, the wall of glass windows had been entirely blacked out. Letting the door fall shut behind us, Riddle stepped forward, running a finger over the top of one of the cubicles. Her finger came away smudged with black.
I didn’t get to finish. A horrible screeching rent the air, and a black-winged creature descended from the shadows on the ceiling. It rammed into me, knocking me halfway across the room. My back thwacked against a solid wooden bookcase, and my head spun as I tried to get my bearings.
Riddle shouted something, and I saw the flare of flame. All at once, the shadows in the darkened cubicles began to writhe. As I struggled to stand, I watched Riddle wielding a flaming torch in one hand while she cut down shadowy forms with her sword in the other.
Something cold and sharp tore down my back, and I screamed. Whirling, I stumbled backwards. A shadowed, horned being loomed over me. Crackling embers sat where its eyes should be, flaring in the dim light. The creature bared yellow fangs and cackled.
My foot caught on an overturned paper shredder, and I went sprawling for a second time, sending a jolt through my already tender back. The demon crouched over me, radiating heat and smoke. I gagged as the smell of rotting meat and sulfur flooded my nose. Riddle was still halfway across the room, swinging her sword in great arcs and screaming in a language I didn’t recognize.
A memory came back to me, abruptly: sitting in Dr. Pooleman’s 200 level daemonology course, the first class I’d ever taken for my major. Dr. Pooleman was covering early forms of exorcism and banishment used by the clergy before demon hunters had become a proper organization.
“It was discovered that demons were particularly vulnerable to the word of God spoken in Latin,” Pooleman had said, standing before a slide depicting a woodcut of a clergyman waving a cross at a horned being. “Not only are demons averse to biblical phrases, but Latin, with its inherent organization, contradicts their chaotic attributes.”
Pray, I guess.
Words bubbled up from my memory, falling like polished pebbles from my lips. “Pater noster qui es in caelis, santificetur nomen tuum; adventiat regnum tuum…”
The demon’s flaming expression guttered, and it toppled away from me as I continued muttering the Lord’s Prayer. Hands shaking, I got to my feet and yanked out Riddle’s silver dagger, plunging it through the creature’s breastbone while it cowered. It shuddered, convulsing, and collapsed into a pile of ash. I sagged backwards, taking the ash-coated dagger with me.
“Sed libera nos a malo. Amen,” I finished shakily, clutching the dagger like a talisman. My ears rang, and I became acutely aware of the sudden silence of the office.
“Did you kill that thing?” Riddle’s question made me jump. She stood just behind me, coat spattered with black, viscous fluid. I glanced around, seeing the piles of ash dotting the floor between cubicles.
“Well?” Riddle demanded.
I shrugged wordlessly.
“With that?” She gestured to the dagger still clutched in my hands.
“And some Latin,” I added thickly.
Riddle nudged the ash pile thoughtfully with her toe. “Not many people would think to do that. Have you fought demons before?”
“Demons? N-no, no. Just . . . you know, fended off drunk frat boys.”
Riddle’s mouth twitched. “Very similar creatures indeed. Well done, though.” She offered me a hand, yanking me to my feet. “I think this was just a welcome party. We should keep moving.” She turned, gesturing for me to follow.
I tried to take a step towards her, but something had tangled around my ankles. Glancing down, I gasped as tendrils of black smoke began wrapping themselves around my feet like chains.
The demon hunter turned, and her eyes widened as the black smoke worked its way up my legs.
Demons can make themselves intangible, often taking the form of smoke, mist, or steam, the useless Classics part of my brain recited.
“Bennett, listen. Don’t struggle. I will find you.”
“What do you mean, you’ll find me?” I demanded as a black tendril wrapped around my waist, becoming startlingly solid. My body was going numb. “Just cut them off!”
When in this form, a demon can move through solid matter, even sometimes taking humans with it. The effects on the human body are difficult to study, because most humans don’t survive long afterwards.
Riddle was holding up her hands, her eyes wide. “I can’t. But I will find you, I promise. Just stay calm and stay alive. I will find you…”
Her voice faded as the smoke worked its way over my face, into my eyes and mouth. I tried to scream, but there was only sulfur and smoke.
And then there was nothing at all.
“Well, well, well. Awake at last.”
I groaned. My eyes were still shut, but from the pain radiating through my body, I suspected I wasn’t dead. My hands were bound behind me, bruised spine pressing painfully against what I guessed was the back of a chair. The smell of brimstone was unbearably strong, and I sneezed.
“Don’t be shy, my dear.” That silky-smooth voice spoke again from somewhere in front of me. “Let’s have a look at you.”
A hand gripped my chin to pry open my eyes, and I found myself staring at a man. No. Not a man. A demon. Despite his surprisingly handsome face, the curling horns and golden, cat-like pupils of his eyes gave him away. He smiled.
“Not quite so inclined for murder now, are you? You and your friend left quite a mess downstairs.”
“Who are you?” I croaked, wincing at the crackling of my voice.
“Some call me Prince of Deceit, others the Son of Shadows.”
He released me and strode away. We were in a spacious office on what looked like the top floor. The room was mostly empty save for a large desk and three armchairs in a circle, behind which stood a massive, winged demon who watched me silently. I turned uneasily from him and spotted a nether portal, swirling and red, in the furthest corner of the room. A ring of runes surrounded it—some kind of summoning spell, I guessed. It was a lot bigger than the one in my fridge.
“You may have the honor of calling me Belroth.”
My head snapped back to the first demon, who was carelessly rifling through the papers on the desk.
“Ah, here it is. Were you planning on murdering me, then?” He held up Riddle’s dagger.
I let out a high-pitched laugh. “Murder! No, of course not. Not the mighty Belroth, a name known far and wide,” I said, desperately grappling to buy myself some time.
“I’m not surprised you know it, given your profession.”
“Umm…an accounting assistant?”
He frowned. “A demon hunter.”
“Demon hunter?” I let out a genuine laugh this time. The idea was absurd. “No. No, not at all. In fact, I’m a demonist,” I added, thinking fast. The loose-knit demonist internet cult hoped to gain power on the mortal plane by trafficking with demons. Those that did manage to catch a demon’s attention, however, didn’t usually last long. But I didn’t think I had long either way.
Belroth set the dagger down carefully. “What were you doing with a demon hunter, if you’re on our side?”
“I heard on the net that there was a demon who’d set up here,” I lied. “I was hoping to offer my services, but the demon hunter caught me trying to get in. I never imagined that I would have the honor of meeting you, Lord Belroth. You were one of the false angels who led John Dee astray, were you not?” The memories were coming faster now. “You are great and powerful among the demonic scions.”
Demons were famously vain, and my words were clearly having an effect. A small, satisfied smile tugged up the corner of Belroth’s mouth. “And what . . . services could you possibly have to offer me?” He moved closer, eyes fixed on me the way a gourmand might look at a particularly juicy steak.
A slight crackle emanated from the corner of the room. I glanced at the hell portal as none other than Riddle stepped through, sword drawn, and a finger pressed to her lips.
“Holy sh—holy access!” I corrected, gaze snapping back to Belroth as he, too, started to turn. “I am a pure mortal, one who could give you admission to the heavenly bridge.”
Riddle moved behind the winged demon silently.
“Ah, but for that I would need your soul. Are you willing to give it to me?” Belroth leaned closer, a leer growing on his face.
“Why ever not?” He ran a hand along the side of my face, and I suppressed a shudder. “It smells delectable.”
My mind raced. “I already sold it. To an imp. In my fridge. For eggs.”
Belroth frowned. “What—”
Riddle screamed, thrusting her sword through the winged demon’s spine, who howled before dissolving into ash. Belroth whirled, eyes wide, as the hunter leapt at him. I watched in horror as he summoned his own weapon, a double-headed axe, and swung it dangerously close to Riddle’s head.
I jerked at my bonds, trying to scoot backwards as the pair fought. Belroth had a powerful arm, but Riddle was obviously faster. She pushed him back and back until he was pinned against the desk, the axe on the ground.
“Demon hunter,” he pleaded. “You need not kill me. I could grant you power unimaginable, access to secrets long thought dead.”
Riddle smiled a cruel, wicked smile. Then she ran him through.
Belroth’s body dissolved, and I sagged in my chair. My back throbbed steadily, and I could already feel bruises forming on my wrists.
“I didn’t think you were going to make it in time,” I said faintly.
Riddle sheathed her sword. “I wasn’t so sure myself.” She approached the hell portal and smudged the runes at its base with her foot. The red glare fizzled, winking out like a star at daybreak. Then she came back to me, crouching and untying my feet. I groaned with relief as the blood started to flow to my feet again.
“So . . . do you really have an imp in your fridge?”
I gaped at her. “Is that important right now?”
“The demon’s dead. And I’m curious whether you made that up on the spot.” She finished my feet and moved to my hands.
I sighed, tilting my head back. “No. That is, there really is an imp in my fridge. He came through a small nether portal that opened this morning. But I didn’t sell my soul for eggs. The fridge is cursed. That’s what I was going to talk to McAlwright about earlier—I need an advance for the exorcism. I’ll ask him when we get back. Or maybe I can get hazard pay?”
I was rambling, I realized, and clamped my mouth shut. The ropes around my wrists loosened, and I let out a relieved sigh, rubbing at the red marks left there.
The hunter cocked her head. “Why don’t I take a look?”
“Sure.” Riddle gave a half-shrug. “That way, you don’t have to ask for an advance, and I can repay you for being my backup. Besides,” she continued with a wry smile, “a nether portal in a fridge is a new one for me.”
Riddle examined the refrigerator with a skeptical expression. Behind her, Martha and I watched anxiously. After complimenting my rune-work—which probably made me flush an alarming shade of red—the hunter had proceeded to examine every inch of the machine’s exterior. She’d been at it for the past ten minutes.
“What are you looking for?” Martha finally asked.
The demon hunter glanced at her. “The warlock’s mark. It makes it easier to get rid of the portal if you get rid of the mark. Unfortunately,” she sighed, straightening and placing a hand on her sword, “I’m not sure there is one.”
She pulled open the refrigerator, revealing several more imps who had taken up residence on the shelves. The one from that morning was still clutching my egg carton.
“I’ll sell you these eggs for your s—”
Riddle drove a silver knife through the imp’s head. It squealed in pain before bursting in a cloud of green smoke, sending the other imps scuttling back into the portal. The hunter deftly caught the carton before it hit the floor and handed it to me.
“Soul saved,” she said with a wink. She returned to her examination of the fridge, prodding the edges of the portal with her knife. It sizzled where the silver touched, sending up a billow of steam.
Finally, she closed the door with a sigh. “I can’t get rid of it. Short of melting the fridge down to its parts and then consecrating those, there’s not much that can be done to remove the curse. But,” she said, holding up a hand to forestall Martha’s groans, “it is an awfully nice fridge. I think I may have a solution of sorts. Let me make a call.”
Riddle pulled out a beaten-up flip phone and moved to the sliding glass doors of our balcony.
Martha eyed her skeptically. “Are you sure about her? She seems a little weird.”
I shrugged. “She’s a demon hunter. Weird is kind of her thing. She did save me from having my soul consumed by a demonic scion, though. And this might save us having to pay for an exorcism.”
“Mmmm, can’t complain about that.”
A loud chime and flash of light had us both turning towards the balcony. Riddle returned, followed by a whirling mass of wings, eyes, and pure white light that towered to the apartment’s ceiling.
“Bennett, Martha, this is Vretiel, a seraph of the high heavens.”
“Do not be afraid, mortals, for I shall not harm ye,” the seraph said. Their voice was resonant, powerful, and also weirdly chipper.
“The portal is in the fridge. Here, I’ll show you.”
The seraph floated behind her. As soon as the refrigerator door opened, the few imps who’d ventured back out started shrieking. Green puffs of smoke emanated from the refrigerator as Vretiel reached out with their many wings and touched each of the slimy creatures. Then the seraph shrank down to the size of the small nether portal, sliding into it like a plug into a drain.
“I shall guard thee from the hordes of hell,” they said from inside the fridge.
“Ummm . . . all the time?” Martha asked.
“Won’t you get bored?”
“Vretiel’s lifetime is millenia,” Riddle responded wryly. “The amount of time this fridge will operate—twenty years, maybe thirty, it is a good brand—will be a blink of their eye. Eyes,” she corrected.
“My Deity believes I need to better understand mortals,” the seraph offered. “This will provide excellent job experience for me.”
I glanced at my roommate. “Will this work?”
Martha looked at the refrigerator, then back to me. She shrugged. “Honestly? It’s cheaper than an exorcist or a new fridge. So, why not? Hey, Vretiel, do you want a drink?”
“I have no need of sustenance. But I do enjoy grape juice.”
“Here, I’ll walk you out,” I said to Riddle, leaving Martha to become acquainted with our new angelic roommate.
“Wait.” Riddle stopped me. “Before I go, I have something for you.” She presented me with a slim black business card. An address and phone number were printed in neat, silver letters across the front.
“You’ve got an impressive set of skills. Not as a demon hunter,” Riddle clarified when I raised an eyebrow. “But as a researcher. The Network hires people called arcanists. You probably haven’t heard of them—there isn’t a lot of glory in the job. But the work they do is essential to keep the world safe. If you want to put that Classics degree to good use, why don’t you come by tomorrow?”
My heart stuttered. “Really?” I squeaked.
“Yeah.” She paused, shifting uncomfortably. “You, uh, should probably turn in your two weeks either way.”
It was my turn to pause. “Why?”
The demon hunter sighed. “I’m not really supposed to tell you this, but the reason I was at your office in the first place wasn’t Tempest Tech. Your boss has been possessed by a demon. I was scoping him out for exorcism.”
“Wait, really? How is that—”
“It’s more common than you’d think, especially with executives. Anyway, he’s bad off enough that we’ll probably have to shut down the business until we can have the building consecrated and the staff checked. You’d be out two months’ paychecks at least.”
I just stared at her, reeling and trying to think of a good response. Before I could, a truly terrific belch emanated from the fridge.
“Human Martha, this grape juice is most excellent! Might I have another?”
J.C. Pillard is a writer living in Colorado with an MA in literature and a love of stories about sad graduate students. Her most recent works have been published by Metaphorosis Magazine and Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine. Her short story “The Tick of the Clock” was included in Tor’s “Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction for October 2021.” Find her work at www.jcpillard.com, and on Twitter (while it exists) as @JCPillard.