1.08.2018

RBC Week 2: The Party Crasher

We are in the second week of the year 2018, and I am (so far) sticking to this particular goal/resolution. I'm speaking of course of Ray Bradbury's challenge to new writers. Part of this challenge (and the one that many writers including myself seem to focus on) is to write a short story a week for 52 week, as it was "impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row."

I present to you week 2's entry, well on my way to proving or disproving Mr. Bradbury's assertion.

Enjoy,
Todd

***

The Party Crasher
by Todd Skaggs


The red bulb of the joint’s cherry grew with a fiery intensity as I heard him inhale.

Moments later it was floating my way in the dark room. A strained, disembodied voice spoke to me out of the pitch dark, “you want a hit off of this? It’s the good stuff. It’s the stuff the government grows but doesn’t talk about. The Church gives it to me on account of what I do for them.”

I reached below the glowing amber dot and felt the joint. As I took it my hand brushed its holder. A leathery texture brushed against my hands as I took the spliff, guiding to to my lips, and drew the first slow, sweet drag that I hoped would lead me to oblivion.  No stranger to weed, I could feel the effects of this strain almost immediately. I had picked the right party to crash. Fuck Jones for not being here, too. Of all the times for my roommate to be out of town. She would be sorry she missed this.

I leaned the direction opposite my benefactor, looking for someone to pass the jay off to while it was still lit. It was too dark to see much of anything.

“Just you and me, Holmes.” The voice again spoke.

I took another hit and passed the lit cigarette back in the direction of the voice.

Speaking my own strained dialect, wanting to hold this smoke as long as possible, I asked, “What is it you do, man?”

I heard another long exhale before he spoke. “I hunt and kill demons for the Church.” The words floated through the darkness to my quickly reddening ears.

I choked out the last of the smoke I was holding.

“This must be some primo shit man, because I could swear you said you hunt and kill demons.”

“It is. And I did.”

At the exact moment my mysterious host said these words, I felt the full effects of the smoke kick in. I was vaguely aware of more words directed at me, but wasn't quite sure which order they went in. Finally my brain sorted them out.

"You really should be more careful when you crash parties, Mr. Thomas." Another inhale. Another flare of red from the darkness in front of me.

"Who? How did you know my..."  The words weren't cooperating.

A table lamp came on. Though on its dimmest setting, the effect was blinding. After my eyes remembered what it is they were supposed to do, the room came in to focus, spotted by the purple after-image of the light bulb floating in my field of view.

I could see the man now. He looked ancient.  At least twice as old as any of my oldest relatives. His frame was small, unimposing on first glance. The word that floated in my head was wiry. I had an uncle that had that same body type. He looked to be all skin and bones, but there was an ungodly strength hidden somewhere in that wiry frame.  I learned from an early age never to underestimate the wiry ones. I saw the patchwork leathered hands, one still holding the lit joint.  He reached out, offering another hit to me.

I shook my head no. I didn't know what was in that shit, but I didn't want to wind up in a bathtub of ice missing one of my kidneys. The way I was buzzing, I feared that might be the most likely outcome as it was.

"You're going to want another hit after I finish telling you what I have to tell you. In fact, it would be a damn good idea if we both sat here and killed this. It's going to be a long night and you're going to need it more than me."

There was an edge to his words, a warning that was undercut with a hint of compassion. It felt to me as though he didn't really want to do what he was about to do.

I let out the slow sigh of someone who had just resigned himself to making a bad decision. "Fuck it, lots of people live perfectly normal lives with just one kidney," I said, reaching out to take the joint. Taking another hit, I noticed something different this time. The smoke didn't burn. It was cool. And it filled my lungs. There was no feeling that I was about to choke.

The look on my face was the old man was waiting for.  He smiled and simple said, "good. That's better." I felt my body sinking into the bean-bag chair. No that wasn't right. I wasn't sinking. I was melting into the chair. I could no long tell where the beanbag chair ended and I began.

This was indeed some good weed.  I looked up at the old man again. His face looked like a worn leather attache case. Some parts worn smooth with age, others showing the scuffs that no amount of buffing could remove. But what struck me most about the man was his eyes. His eyes sparkled like the flash of lightning cracking through a midnight sky. I have never seen such eyes.  He motioned for me to take another hit.

"Dude. I'm beyond baked at this point. I'm about to pass the fuck out." It was all I could do to get the words out of my mouth. I hoped they actually did come out of my mouth.

He smiled at me and took the joint from me. When I looked at it, I saw that it was nearly roached. I don't remember taking that many hits off of it, but clearly someone did. And it had been in my hands.

This would normally be the part where I would start laughing. Something about smoking a spliff down to where it needed a clip and not remembering should have struck me as immensely funny. I should be laughing. I wasn't. This wasn't going at all how I had hoped it would go.

"I think you're ready now, Mr. Thomas." Those lightning eyes pierced me. I realized I was still holding my breath. I slowly exhaled.  No smoke. That's going to hurt like hell tomorrow. If I lived that long.

"You heard me correctly before, on all accounts. I work for the one true Church. I am employed as a demon hunter. My official job title is Community-Spiritual Liason. The IRS doesn't really have a check box for "demon-hunter." When I find the demon, I normally kill it. Depending on the age of the demon and the integration of the demon with the host, this generally means that when the demon is killed, the host body is left in a vegetative state. The church is usually pretty good about taking care of the lost souls and their families, so no worries there." 

He stopped and pulled a pair of reading glasses from his front shirt pocket. Once those were on, he dug a little notebook from his jeans pocket. The little book was well-worn, pages and cover secured with a rubber band that had been folded over itself several times. He opened it and flipped, landing on a page somewhere near the back.

This should have been freaking me out or eliciting uncontrolled laughter. I found the urge to do neither. I was calm and focused. Listening to this stranger talked to me about fairy tales and things of make believe. Who in their right might would believe demons were real?

At that moment, apparently I did.

He went on, "And then there are those rare instances where a demon doesn't actually possess the body. Rather, they attach themselves to the body and use it as an anchor in this realm. They use the anchor as launching point. A demonic base of operations. They integrate themselves into the psyche of the host without actually possessing them and then proceed to possess whomever they need to for whatever nefarious mission they've been sent to this realm for. If by some chance they are exorcised, they simply leave the body they are possessing and return to the anchor. The priest usually has no idea and considers the exorcism a success.  Anchored demons are the hardest to hunt and kill, Mr. Thomas. It takes careful calculation and timing to get them at the precise point they are returning to their anchor."

I knew he had been watching me intently as he told me the bit about the anchors. Clearly he was looking for some soft of reaction. I was honestly too high to know if I gave him one or not.

I saw his fingers run across something on the page as he looked back up at me. Taking off his glasses, he folded them and put them back in his shirt pocket.  Twisting the rubber band three times around the notebook and put that back in his pocket. When all of this was done, he looked back up at me.

"Mr. Jeffrey Thomas, you are an anchor."

Something deep the recesses of my mind screamed out. I should be terrified. The fight or flight should definitely be kidking in right about now. Nothing. No reaction, save one. Pity.

I'm not sure where it came from, but the waves of pity flowed out of me, riding a crest of darkness I never knew to exist in myself before that night. I felt sorry for whatever life this guy had and whatever it was that led him to believe this bullshit story he was telling. I tried staring him down, but I couldn’t focus. His head seemed to be vibrating like an old movie right before the film does that clackity-clack thing at the end when the reel is still spinning but there’s no more film going through the projector.

I stifled a laugh at thought of this old man winding his way through a film projector.

"Mister..I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?" I waited for a reply.  The old man simply smiled and joined in the waiting game. He won. "Right. So, anyway. Look, dude. I'm high as balls from whatever you packed in that doobie. But I'm not too high to see that this is some kind of scam."

I looked around at the room I found myself in. The couch the old man was sitting on looked just like my stained mocha loveseat. Apparently we shopped at the same place for bookshelves, too. There was still a layer of herbally induced fog clouding my logic, but enough synapses were firing to cause me to seriously question my surroundings.

"Something amiss, Mr. Thomas?"  The lightning eyes bespoke of a raging storm, but that damnable smile somehow comforted me.

"This. This looks like my apartment. I went out tonight to crash a party, but this looks like-- This IS my apartment. What the everloving fu-"

His leathery hand hit the side of my face with the crack of a pistol in the night, jarring me back in to this moment.

"Mr. Thomas, I need you to focus. We don't have much time. You are the anchor, and very shortly you are about to have a very dark visitor docked in your soul's harbor.  We must act quickly."

Face still stinging from the smack, I didn't notice until that second that his hands had grabbed my wrist and were holding my hands palms up.  I tried in vain to pull free. There was an ungodly strength in this man's grip. I suppose it came with the territory, a perk of battling demons. I succumbed and ceased my struggling.

"Fine.  What do I have to do to stop this demon from anchoring?" I asked. I'm not sure where the question came from, but in the current circumstances, it seemed appropriate.

"Just be still, Mr. Thomas. This will all be over soon" he said to me, loosening the grip on my wrists just long enough to shift the way he was sitting.  I looked with equal parts awe and confusion as his started speaking in an ancient tongue. It wasn't anything that I recognized, but it felt old. I feel like part of me should know it if part of me was anchored in the demon world. Still, the words were foreign. They washed over me like a dark wave. I felt my body soaking them in like a sponge overfilled with dirty water. The pressure was building. Finally he paused.

"So...these words. This thing you're doing," I said, "it's going to kill the demon?"

A burst of laughter bounced off the walls of my tiny apartment as he looked up at me. The eyes that once danced with the lightning of a summer thunderstorm held a sheen of pure, polished obsidian. They stared at me with a darkness blacker than the words that just invaded me.

"Kill it?" he asked, and then squeezing my wrists tighter he said in a near whisper, "Oh no, my dear Mr. Thomas. We are most certainly not going to kill it. We are going to anchor it to you. I have been waiting 75 years for a vessel like you."

The last sentence sent the chill down my spine that had wanted to run free there all evening. This feeling was multiplied exponentially by the glassy black marbles staring back at me from the old man's eye sockets.

He continued his dark liturgy and I felt the presence wash over me again.  Struggling seemed futile at this point. As the darkness crested through me, I felt my eyes close for what I had hoped would be the last time. I didn't know what being the anchor point for a demon consisted of, but I couldn't imagine anything good.

***

I don't know how long I swam in the darkness. A combination of whatever was mixed in with the weed and the feeling of a shadow wrapping itself just along the outer edge of my heart caused an odd floating sensation. I felt a pressure building on my left bicep as my room slowly came in to focus. The whoosh whoosh whoosh of the inflating blood pressure cuff caught my attention. The sounds matching the pressure pulsing around my upper arm.  Red and white flashing pulses danced in drunk syncopation with lights of red and blue through the sheers on my front window.

I panicked. Trying to sit up, still disoriented from my swim in the sea of darkness, I was stopped quickly by the paramedics.

"Sir. We need you to sit still." There were two EMTs flanking me, a male and female. I tried to read their name patches, but focusing took a little to much energy. It was the woman speaking to me now. Ginger hair pulled back in a professional ponytail, tucked under a ball cap with a caduceus.

The male stood up, next to a police officer. The cop had a notepad open and was copying information off of something the paramedic was holding. It looked to be an open wallet, my wallet.

"Sir," it was the woman again. "Sir, can you tell me your name?"

Foggy, but apparently lucid, I answered, "Jeffrey Thomas."

She looked up at the two men for confirmation. I saw the slightest nod from her partner.

"Very good Mr. Thomas."  She was speaking to me in the tone reserved for those people who might be crazy, and she hadn’t made up her mind yet. I could appreciate that.

I answered the battery of questions designed to help determine if I had suffered a concussion as well as the handful sprinkled in there to give them an indication of my mental state.

As I answered, I kept an eye on the officer and the paramedic. They were double-checking my answers. I looked around. There were two other officers walking around my apartment as though looking for something, or someone. There was a fourth officer stationed by my door.

"Mr. Thomas, can you tell us what happened?" It was the closest officer speaking this time.

"I was hoping you could tell me, Officer." I felt a calm wash over me. I don't know why I said what I did, but what came out of my mouth next just seemed to be the right thing to say.

"I was sitting here, working on my next book. I had ordered some takeout. I heard a knock at the door. I answered. And the next thing I knew, you are all here in my apartment. And I don't even have a kettle on to offer you any tea." I gave a feeble smile as I looked up at the officer. The paramedic directly in front of me removed the blood pressure cuff. The loud tearing sound of the hook and loop tape ripped through any tension still left in the room.  The two paramedics helped me up from my sitting position on the floor to my loveseat.

The officer took a seat on the ottoman in front of me.

"Sir, we think you were the victim of a home invasion. There was no forced entry, but that makes sense now. Your neighbor called us after hearing the Chinese delivery driver scream. So we don't think the perp had time to go through your whole apartment.  I'm going to need you to look around and tell me if anything is missing in this room. I see your desk, but no computer. It looks like they got your TV, too."

I stood on legs that should have been shakier than they were, given the circumstances. Walking over to my desk, I looked. Papers were scattered everywhere.

"Shit. Are you fucking kidding me?" The words left my mouth before I had time to think how they might be interpreted.

"What is it? Did they get anything? A laptop computer?" The officer's pen hovered over his notepad. I shook my head and turned back to the desk.   Reaching down to the side, I pulled up a small portable typewriter. I righted it on the desk and plunked a few keys. The fall from the desk to the floor hadn't done any major damage.

"No, officer. No laptop. No TV. I used this," I said, gesturing to the light blue Lettera 22 portable typewriter that I had just pulled up from its unnatural respite on my floor. "I'm pissed because they screwed up my manuscript. You see, I never number the first draft. Superstition from when I got my first book deal. It's going to take me a month to sort through these pages."

The rest of the evening blurred in to a haze where time had little meaning. The medical team cleared me and packed up their tackle boxes and left, leaving only the red and blue lights flashing through my front curtains. Eventually those, too, departed leaving me only to my thoughts. I held a business card with the lead officer's information, "should I remember anything about my assailant."

I smiled and politely thanked him.  I had nothing more to give them. I apologized for not getting a better look before I was sent down to more closely examine my carpet.

Closing the door behind him, I turned back to my apartment. It looked less like the site of a recent home invasion and more like the abode of a slightly eccentric author who had a problem with clutter, but I wasn't about to tell any of them that. Clearly none of them had read my books, or they might have stuck to the line of questions dealing with my sanity.

That was of little consequence now.

I wasn't sure how much time I would have before it came back. I never knew. Sometimes it was days. This last time it was seven years. Nor did know how long it would stay when it returned.

I picked up the pages that had been scattered around the desk, flipping through them trying to find the natural order of things.  I found the title page and the first couple of pages.  I set them to the side as I kept sorting through the rest.




THE DEMON INSIDE
by JEFFREY THOMAS


I met my first demon when I was 5 years old. It was just visiting at the time. It wasn't until 22 years later that it would come to live with me full time.

***





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